Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Highs and Lows 2015

Our October weather felt more like November - gray and dreary almost every day. But the rain held off for the most part, so I was able to reach my 10,000-step goal almost every day. To be honest, it's good walking weather - the sun is nice, but not sweating is nicer. At one point on one of my walks in the valley the sun came out and warmed right through my fleece just at the moment when John Denver's song "Sunshine on my Shoulders" started on my little MP3 player. That's right, I often listen to John Denver while I walk, like all the cool people do.

So here we go...


  • a walk with M to the Uracher Wasserfälle on a beautiful autumn afternoon.
"Not exactly Niagara Falls, is it?"
But look at all those visitors!
the ruins of Hohenurach
  • horseback riding!!! I finally called the stable near us to set up a riding lesson. I've had two lessons, and I'm pleased to say the instructor already has enough trust in me to leave me alone while I get the horse ready. I asked her to let me know when she thinks I'm ready to join the Friday ladies group, and she said I could join them now. "They don't ride better than you." Nice!! But they ride for an hour, and I don't think my butt body is up for that yet!

  • trying a new recipe that we both liked - Whisky Chicken! It needs tweeking, but we both agreed it has potential even though it's chicken (M says chicken doesn't really count as meat because it's not a steak). The whisky - we used  Glenmorangie because it's all we had - goes into the sauce and is then flamed - very exciting, and it smells divine! Can you tell we're missing Scotland? 

  • meeting my friend H for Kaffee und Kuchen and a chat. We hadn't seen each other for a while because of our vacations, so we had lots to catch up on. I drove home along a new (for me) road without using the GPS - another driving baby step! And the fall colors were still gorgeous.

  • driving to Esslingen on the spur of the moment for a short meeting, and not being panicky or afraid at all! The drives there and back went well - three traffic jams, of course, but that's normal. And I was able to buy a new pair of obnoxiously overpriced walking shoes (what I can buy at Kohl's in Wisconsin for $35 cost €119 in Esslingen - and the Euro and dollar are nearly equal these days).

  • trying another chicken recipe that M liked well enough - Jamie Oliver's Hit 'n' Run Traybaked Chicken. It's SO easy!! I used regular paprika, though, and we're pretty sure it needs the smoked paprika (which our grocery store didn't have). They also didn't have boneless skinless chicken thighs, so I had to skin and debone the things myself. Not my favorite thing. But I also threw in a breast to see how that would turn out, and although it was ok, the thigh meat is much better for this recipe.

  • our fourth Kochkurs - this is something we totally enjoy doing together, and it's almost even a social thing!


  • I've got nothing here. In an entire month, I can't think of one single thing that would count as a "low". That's kind of breaking the rules. Of everything that went on, something had to have been the low point. Oh wait, I've got one:

  • cleaning. I don't love cleaning, but it's got to be done, so there's no sense in whining about it.

  • I suppose paying €119 for a pair of damn gym shoes wasn't a highlight, either. But they are really comfortable.

Thermomix Successes of the Month

  • Marmorkuchen and Banana  Bread: Obviously those baked in the oven, but I used Thermomix recipes and the machine for measuring, mixing, and chopping.

  • Apfelmus (Applesauce): I should have left out the optional Vanillezucker, but it was easy, had a great consistency, and tasted good.
third try: possibly perfect this time
(For my second try I didn't peel the apples. It was ok, but I prefer it without chunky bits.)
  • Chocolate pudding: I probably could increase the sugar a bit, but it was good. I don't love the film that forms on the pudding as it cools, so if anyone knows a trick to avoid that, let me know.

  • Frischkäse (like cream cheese): mix and heat Quark (like plain yogurt), Schmand (like sour cream), a frightening amount of Butter, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 6 minutes. Cool. Easy peasy, and a good spread. Now if only I could find good bagels...

  • Carrot-Apple-Walnut Rohkost Salad: basically just chop everything together with walnut oil, salt, and pepper. This one's a keeper!

  • Hefezopf (braided yeast roll): I wish you could have been there when M returned from work as I was trying to mould a third of the dough into a long, floppy dough roll. Rolling it on the counter wasn't working (I'd floured the surface and shouldn't have), so I was dangling it in the air while rubbing it and letting gravity help. "This isn't working well!"  "You're holding it wrong." Awkward (and yet hilarious)...
not perfect yet - I'll have to try again
  • Tortellini-Mushroom Casserole: Not the best, and sadly not great as leftovers. But it was not a failure!
  • Quittenmarmelade (quince jam) with Quitten our neighbor gave us! We just made this today.

Other Moments

  • Two gentlemen from the Watchtower showed up at the door to tell me that many people wonder, when they pray, if anyone is listening*. I actually pulled the "Oh, gee, sorry. I'm from the U.S. and I don't speak German." They had their pamphlet in English, too. No, not that either. But I wished them a nice day.
    *I don't wonder that. I think if there's a greater power up there, He's got better things to do than listen to my drivel. I only pray in gratitude, but I do that nearly every day, usually during my walks.

  • A guy came to our door selling apples. I like apples, but every time I buy even just 3 from our vegetable guy, they sit there for weeks until I either force myself to eat them or stuff one in the cavity of a chicken I'm baking. He took 3 different apples out of his apron and cut off pieces for me to try. I told him I'd buy five apples, but we really can't use more than that. His minimum was 10 kilos. I do not need and cannot use even 2 kilos of apples. But you guessed it - after saying "Nein" at least three times, I bought 10 kilos of apples. They're now in a box in the cellar. He said they're from somewhere near the Bodensee (he gave me the town's name twice, but I didn't understand it), and he said they'll last in the cellar for 3 months.

    It was right after his visit that I called the riding stable to set up lessons. At least I'll have somewhere to take the apples when I get sick of eating and baking with them.

    I really need to stop answering the door.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kochkurs: Wild, Kürbis, & Quitten

This weekend M and I attended our fourth cooking class at Straub's Krone, and this time the main ingredients were wild game, pumpkin, and quinces. Once again we had a great time, and even I am becoming more comfortable taking on various tasks (though if I had my druthers I'd keep my participation to observing, listening, and taking pictures - and eating!).

The menu for today was:

Wildterrine mit Quittenchutney & Blattsalaten
Wild Game Terrine with Quince Chutney and Salad

Kürbiscremesuppe mit Kürbis Apfel Frühlingsrolle
Pumpkin Cream Soup with Pumpkin-Apple Springroll

Rehrücken im Pfannkuchen Pilz Mantel, dazu zweierlei* Rosenkohl
Saddle of Venison in a Pancake-Mushroom Jacket, with Two Variations of Brussel Sprouts

Kürbismousse mit Quittenkrapfen
Pumpkin Mousse with Quince Doughnuts

*Zweierlei is another brilliant German word that has no perfect equivalent in English. When you see "zweierlei" on a menu followed by an ingredient, that means what you'll find on your plate is that ingredient prepared in two different ways. This was "zweierlei Rosenkohl", and we had loose blanched brussel sprout leaves as well as brussel sprout puree.

As always we began with Martin Straub (the Chefkoch) going through the menu explaining what we'd be doing as well as telling us what substitutions can be made, answering our questions, and elaborating on his instructions. One of the participants this time was on a gluten-free restricted diet, so Martin explained the changes he'd made for that: rice cakes in place of breadcrumbs, gluten-free flour and where to buy the good stuff, etc.. I took notes ("If Quitten are steinhart, add Wasser & cook longer") because I can't remember anything unless it's written down. Since both languages are swirling in my head, my notes come out in messy Denglish.

Then it's time to don our aprons and plunge in! Martin knows me well enough by now to suggest easy tasks for me, which I appreciate. I took care of the brussel sprouts - a tedious, repetitive job which was perfect for me. It's not that I'm helpless in the kitchen, but when I'm part of a cooking team, I lack the confidence to do unfamiliar things. I'm often afraid I didn't understand exactly what I am supposed to do, and that freaks me out. Martin knows that M, on the other hand, can do pretty much anything in the kitchen with confidence. So when M is taking care of a task, Martin can tend to his other students. 

This is a 1- or 2-man kitchen, and there were 7-8 of us in there!
For schnibbling we stood at the outside of the counter.
We spend about two hours doing every preparation step that can be done first, under Martin's guidance. He asks, "Ok, who wants to cut the meat (wild boar)?" and someone steps up. "Who wants to start on the pumpkin?" and so on. Even if you have never worked with pumpkin or quince before (as M and I have not), he'll explain very clearly what you need to do.

I seriously have no idea how he keeps that all straight. When he's doing it himself and with his crew, ok - but with strangers? With strangers he has no idea whether they know what to do or not? And he never loses his cool or gets upset - it's not like cooking with Gordon Ramsay! If someone screws something up, he either says "Ok, let's do it again", or he shows us how to fix it. The cooking class started at 10:00 and ended around 16:00. I have a hard time keeping my patience for 45 minutes teaching the Englisch-AG!

M dealt with the pumpkin for the mousse and the soup.

The butternut squash next to him makes me think of Jerry from the Veggie Tales.

Two of the other participants peeled and cut the Quitten. I had never in my life heard of Quitten, even when translated into English - quinces. I was certain we don't have those in the U.S., but when I was in Wisconsin in June I visited a friend and we wandered through her garden. She has a quince tree! 

I have to say, the Wildterrine was really tasty, but the Quittenchutney topping was amazing!

Wildterrine mit Quittenchutney & Blattsalaten

M is pretty sure we're going to make this at home next time we have guests - if we have them when Quitten are in season.

That's yet another thing about Germany that is special - since they care where their produce comes from, far preferring local produce to stuff brought in from other countries on trucks, they pay attention to seasons. Fall is pumpkin and quince season in Germany, and they happily order dishes with either. But they would be quite sceptical if they saw those on a menu in March. 

Pumpkin is a huge thing here. Nearly every German restaurant adds a special Kürbis menu in the fall, and there's even an annual 9-week long pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg, which you can read about on the Stuttgart-based blogs Traveling Hopefully and Kaffee und Kuchen. In Wisconsin the only thing I ever heard of anyone doing with (canned) pumpkin was baking pumpkin pie to serve at Thanksgiving. Otherwise we carve jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins for Halloween, some roast and eat the seeds, and after Halloween - hopefully before the pumpkin has started to rot - it gets thrown away or tossed into a field.

But back to the cooking class...

The saddle of venison was cut from the bone and freed of the fat and sinews, and then browned. The bones were also fried up to be used for the sauce.
"noch ein bisschen Rotwein" = dump a bottle of wine over it
while your students stand there drooling...
Then the venison was wrapped in its pancake jacket, then in a tin foil wrapper like a bonbon.

Most of my photos show Martin doing the steps because I'm never sure how the other participants feel about having their pictures taken, and I try to avoid getting in their way with the camera. Martin often does an example, and then we students take over. Martin is used to my camera by now (though I have a photo from our first Kochkurs of him giving me an exasperated look which clearly said "Enough with the pictures!"), and he knows what I'm doing and pays me no heed.

So we did lots of preparations, managing not to trip over each other too much, and eventually the starter was ready. It was, of course, time for a glass of wine, and Martin had chosen a Rotling - a mixture of red and white. 

We toasted to the fact that no one had yet injured him- or herself or screwed anything up beyond saving, and sat down to enjoy our starter. We chatted, shared some stories, asked Martin lots of questions while we ate.

When we finished we brought our plates to the kitchen where the whirling dervish that is Martin's kitchen assistant had washed everything we'd touched up to this point, and we carried on with the next steps.

Since we now have a Thermomix at home, I was able to confidently use Martin's to mix the brussel sprout puree and then the pumpkin soup. Seriously, all that means is I put the cooked mush into the mixer and pureed it, added some salt, pepper, and nutmeg (Germans put freshly grated nutmeg in just about everything), mixed it again, and poured it into a bowl. Others had done the hard work.

pumpkin cream soup with pumpkin-apple spring roll
The dark bit in the soup is a splash of pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds.
I haven't ever liked anything pumpkin, and still these were both delicious. I would definitely like to do the spring rolls at home, though M would prefer them to also have some meat in them.

Right. I'll bring this post to a close with the rest of the dishes.

main course
venison wrapped in pancake with zweierlei brussel sprouts
Admittedly by this time we were stuffed, and dessert was yet to come. I must say that I'm proud to have been in charge of both versions of brussel sprouts without having screwed them up. M actually saved the loose blanched leaves without even knowing it until 5 hours later when I admitted something I'd misunderstood, but that will remain our secret.

Pumpkin Mousse with Quince Doughnuts
This Kochkurs was every bit as enjoyable as the others we've done. We meet nice people, we learn lots of great tips that help us in our own kitchen, and we eat some truly excellent food that we wouldn't have tried cooking just for ourselves. We don't always cook at home what we've prepared in these classes, but that's not the point for us anyway. We have some new ideas, we've got all the recipes, and we have learned plenty. 

I asked Martin if he thought he could do a cooking course in English or Denglish, and he thinks he could do that. I've offered to translate the recipes and instructions, so bloggers in the Stuttgart area, you may be hearing from me soon! :-)  

You can read about our second Kochkurs from March this year here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

'Merican TV shows

It is no longer a mystery to me why foreigners often have such a sketchy view of Americans. In fact, I have begun to wonder more often how any of them have developed a reasonable impression and still express interest in one day seeing our noble land.

I hope it's due to the part of human nature that all but forces us to rubber-neck at an accident scene to see the gruesome details, or the part of us that leans to Schadenfreude and gets gleeful joy out of seeing others make complete fools of themselves, but I have - more often than I cared to - walked into the living room to find M watching some American TV show I've never heard of, and they are WEIRD! I have found myself several times gaping at the screen and saying, "THIS is NOT right!"

I'm not even talking about Duck Dynasty. While I am proud to say I have never seen that show and don't even know what it's about, I have heard of it and have seen references on Facebook to it.

No, I mean a whole new world of WTF?!?  Why in holy hell would these shows be produced in the first place, but even more - why, in the name of decency, culture, and human advancement, would a German TV station decide THESE are shows that can make them some money here?

I know it's "just entertainment." But just where are we headed, people? We are half a step away from movies called "Ass", as seen in the docu-comedy Idiocracy.

These shows are aired on DMAX, or as I call it, "the Man Chan(nel)." That's also where you'll find car shows, Bear Grylls (he's fabulous!), Mythbusters, and Naked Survival (no, nothing is pixeled out on German TV as long as it's not erect).


Let's begin with a guy named Tim and his friend Tickle. Tim and Tickle are moonshiners in - yep, you guessed it - Appalachia, or the Appalachian Mountains of North and South Carolina and Virginia. They have a whole crew-a-guys, among them Jim Tom, Chico, Digger, and Cutie Pie, a little dog that might be an actual relative of one of the other guys. The show documents how these guys illegally distill, transport, sell, and consume moonshine while trying to evade the local authorities. If you think it's something like "the Dukes of Hazzard," you are soooo wrong. One of the guys usually stands there with his bottom lip dangling and his jaw aslack when he's thinkin'.

Despite his disturbing nickname, Tickle does look like a half-way normal guy. Tim, on the other hand. wears denim overalls without a shirt, which means one of his nipples is usually hanging out, prompting a discussion last Friday about why men have nipples at all. M began "That's one of those..." and I thought he was going to finish with "..mysteries of nature." But no, he actually knew the answer.

Anyway, I really wanted to buy M a pair of those things (overalls, not nipples) last time I was in the States so he could wear them while mowing our lawn, but they're flippin' expensive! Besides, he'd have to put on quite a bit of weight to make them look just right.

Monster Hunters / Mountain Hunters

Right, then there are these guys. Judging from their dialects and... yeah, they're from Appalachia, too. Each episode features a different monster with a creative name like Sheepsquatch, Mothman, Swampcat, or the Bloodless Howler.

The plot of each episode is the same: the team has heard of the existence of a crazy, dangerous, mysterious beast roaming the countryside. They go to the place where the beast was reportedly seen, and they interview witnesses. Then they do a reconnaissance mission, find some kind of "proof" of the mountain monster's presence, make a plan to catch it, shoot guns into the dark, and fail to catch, kill, or even clearly see the beast.

If we were still in our 20's we would make a drinking game out of this show. Everytime one of the following happens or is said, you take a drink:
  • they interview someone who has proof of the monster's existence
  • that proof is a blurry photo of nothing discernable
  • the guy with the white beard appears to be taking notes while a witness describes what he knows
  • the big(gest) guy trips over something, falls, and says something grabbed his leg
  • "What was THAT?!"
  • "Did you HEAR that?!"
  • "What the f----?!"
  • at least two of them start building a trap
  • they find a footprint (and it's briefly outlined digitally since viewers wouldn't see it otherwise)
  • one of the guys determines the beast's size based on that footprint
         Note: Mothman doesn't leave footprints for obvious reasons.
  • all six guys armed with shotguns go tromping through a forest in the dark
  • one of them starts yelling, "Go go go go go go!!!"
  • all six guys cock their rifles at the same time
  • most of the guys start shooting into the woods in the dark because they hear something
  • half of those guys turn suddenly and start firing in the opposite direction
  • the beast runs past them and they give chase, trying to herd it to the trap
  • the beast runs right past the trap
  • or jumps over it
  • someone shouts "knapp vorbei!" ("just missed it!")
  • they find a blood spoor
  • they congratulate themselves for "getting him"
  • they relive the exciting moments with guffaws and friendly punches
And you do a shot when one of the guys says...
  • "Well, we didn't catch him, but we now have hard proof that he exists!"
Anyone still able to remember his own name at the end of the show wins.

Honestly, Germany, why do you have to air shows like this from America when we actually have really good shows?!?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Riding in Another Language

Last week I finally put on my big girl pants and made a phone call I'd been putting off - because I really really dislike talking on the phone in German with strangers. I called a riding stable near us (so near that I can even drive there without my guts twisting up with terror) and made an appointment for a riding lesson.

The riding lesson was today!!

It was a bit awkward because the instructor didn't know how much I know, I didn't know the horse, and I am unfamiliar with their routine.

Oh, and the damn language:
  "gibber-jabber, blahblahblah."
  "Sorry - I should do _what_?"  (do a half-circle)

Thank goodness for body language and pointing.

She (Frau Hirsch) didn't know anything about me before the lesson except that "I have ridden before", so she was in an awkward position as well. I told her I expected the language would be more of an issue than the riding. She put me on a mare she called "sehr brav" (very well-behaved), but when I entered the stall to brush her, she stuck her head in the far corner and pinned her ears. Uh... Fine. I brushed her anyway. At hoof-picking time she pinned her ears again and flashed her teeth at me. Look, I'm not afraid of horses at all, but one never knows with an unfamiliar one! Frau Hirsch was standing in the doorway of the stall, scolded the horse and assured me she (Mallory, the horse) was just testing me and wouldn't bite.

Mallory and I had no other issues except that she hugged the rail so closely that I think she was pondering trying to scratch me off. I talked to her mainly in English, and she didn't seem to mind. Luckily much of the horse world is pretty much the same in Germany as in the U.S.. The one main difference is that to get a horse to stop, you don't say anything resembling "whoa", but rather make a noise that sounds like "brrrrrrr" with the German rolled R.

It was just a 30-minute lesson, but still I'm feeling wonky. I'll stick to 30 minutes for a few weeks until I'm in better shape and then I think I can join a group on Friday mornings that rides for an hour - it's several women who start at 9:30, go for coffee afterwards (of course), and are home by noon. Sounds about right for me, except the woman who invited me spoke in such a strong dialect that I could only understand about half of what she said. It didn't sound like Swabian to me.

Thank goodness Frau Hirsch at least tried to speak slowly and clearly. However, at one point she said something about the length of my stirrups, and I stopped and came up to her to say I did think they were a notch too long. She told me the stirrups were fine, and then I understood she had told me to shorten my reins, not my stirrups. Yeah, I better actually study some German horse vocabulary rather than just saying I will.

Since she had no idea about my abilities, I think Frau Hirsch was surprised (relieved?) that I could confidently do everything she asked me to do when I understood what it was she had said. For obvious reasons we stuck to the basics - walk, posting and sitting trot, canter, switching directions (though no flying lead change just yet), circling... None of that was a problem (though perfect stylistic execution of the commands was not, perhaps, achieved), as long as I understood what she had told me to do!

There were several awkward moments for me. For instance, Frau Hirsch told me in the beginning to bring Mallory to the middle and have her face the place where spectators would be - that's their routine for getting started and the horses know the drill to stand quietly while riders mount, dismount, adjust the stirrups and tighten the girth. I went to the middle of the large arena, right under the center chandelier. Apparently she meant, though, just the middle in one direction - meaning I could pick any spot along the long center line. So she had to haul the mounting block quite a bit further than she should have, had I understood more than just the phrase "in der Mitte"!

It really is a strange experience to do something I know well enough how to do, but in a new environment and in a still-foreign language. I guess it's a little like starting a new job. You get a simple instruction to do something you know how to do, but you don't know how this company does things. The first days are always awkward. Add to that a second language, so you're not entirely sure you understood every detail, but you want to make a good impression. Luckily for me, I'm much more comfortable around horses than people (I swear, horses are therapeutic with their mere presence), so the awkwardness is off-set by being able to be around horses.

The world of horses is pretty much the same in Germany as in the U.S.. There is, however, one glaring difference I noticed. There was no paperwork to fill out before I approached the horse where I signed off acknowledging that I know horses can be dangerous and unpredictable, and promising that I will not sue the stable if I get kicked, bitten, stepped on, thrown off, injured in any way, or killed. That notice is on their website, which is good enough for Germans.

Have a good evening. I'm off now to study German horse vocabulary.

"Weeeeee!!!" (riding in Scotland, 2010)

Monday, October 12, 2015

the Great Polish Map of Scotland

If I told you that you can walk from John O'Groats in the north of Scotland to the Scottish Borders in the south in less than a day and see the islands of Skye and Mull besides, would you believe me?

What if I told you it's possible to walk the entire coastline of the Scottish mainland and view Ben Nevis from all sides in less than an hour?

You'll think I've gone daft, but it is possible - sort of.

Even if you have been to Scotland recently, you may not yet have heard of this unique attraction. The Great Polish Map of Scotland is the largest terrain relief map in the world. It was created between 1974 and 1979, forgotten about, rediscovered in 1996, and is now being lovingly and painstakingly restored by a group of dedicated volunteers. It is located in the town of Eddleston 17 miles from Edinburgh and 12 miles south of Rosslyn Chapel (making for a nice half-day trip from Edinburgh), and well worth a visit.

aerial photo credit: Robbie Macdonald
used with permission

The story of the map is fascinating, and you can read all the details on the restoration group's website as well as watch a BBC show (Secret Britain) featuring the map from April 2015. The map was the creation of Jan Tomasik, a former builder who had served as quartermaster in WWII with the 1st Polish Armoured Division which had been stationed in Scotland for a time before being deployed to Normandy in 1944. The 1st Polish Armoured Division was under the command of General Stanislaw Maczek.

View this 2-minute fly-over video of the map with music and place labels.

In the early 1940s about 17,000 Polish troops had been responsible for defending Scotland's east coast in case of a German invasion. After the war many of these Polish soldiers, including Tomasik and General Maczek, decided not to (or could not!) return home to Communist Poland and made their homes in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Tomasik had married a nurse from Edinburgh and became a successful hotelier in Edinburgh. His hotel bar was frequented by Polish veterans in the area, including Maczek, and they became good friends.

This is my Schwiegermutter's cousin and our dear friend Keith,
who is leading the restoration project. Ben Nevis is just behind him
(the white pole sticks out of it).

In 1968 Tomasik bought the Barony Castle Hotel located in Eddleston, which had been used as a training college for Polish forces staff officers from 1942 to 1945. General Maczek and his family were regular summer guests and stayed in a room in the family accommodations.

With the encouragement and assistance of Polish glaciologist and geomorphologist Mieczystaw Klimaszewski from Krakow University, the idea to build a great open-air relief map on the grounds of Tomasik's hotel in Eddleston was born. The work began in 1974 and continued throughout six summers. A team of young Polish geographers was led by map designer Kasimierz Trafas from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Construction started with the help of hotel staff, local people, and members of Tomasik's family. The completed concrete map was coated with a plastic resin, the surface was painted (green for forests, cities outlined in brown, etc.), and the lochs and major rivers were painted blue and had water flowing through them. Sadly, shortly after completion the Tomasik family sold the hotel and subsequent owners took no action to preserve the map. Thus it was almost lost as a victim of neglect, frost weathering, vegetation and atmospheric pollution.

I will leave my map as a gift to the Scottish people." ~Jan Tomasik

The restoration of the map is now a work in progress, but the seabed is sealed and soon they'll be doing a test flood of the area around the map as well as the lochs and rivers. In their long-range plans is also building an observation platform so that visitors can view the map from above*. I cannot wait to see that! Truly, it is one thing to see pictures and videos of the map, and quite another to actually stand there and walk around it!
*Update: The viewing platform was completed by 2017.

Keith is pointing at Mull of Kintyre
The map is built of concrete on a scale of 1:10,000 with a x5 vertical exaggeration, which was standard for relief maps created and used during the war. The vertical exaggeration makes the relief features and general topography more readily visible. The map measures roughly 50m x 40m (164ft x 131ft).

This lobster-like shape is our beloved Isle of Mull!
It's lighter in color because frost damage required extensive repairs.

I have a photo of me sitting on Mull, but I like this one better.
I can now say that I did reach the peak of Ben Nevis,
Scotland's highest mountain!

The map was rediscovered in 1996 when our friend Keith was at the Barony Castle Hotel for a conference. He went for a walk around the grounds during a break and basically tripped and fell onto the weed-covered map.* When he stood up he noticed that the strange surface in front of him was shaped a bit like the Mull of Galloway. He explored further, growing astonished with each new discovery - the Isle of Arran, Ben Nevis, Cape Wrath... When he realized what he was looking at, he made fruitless inquires at the hotel but eventually found others who knew of the map's existence. So he started gathering a team of enthusiasts with the goal of saving and restoring the map.

*If you knew Keith, it would not surprise you at all to hear that he literally stumbled across this hidden international treasure and is now driving its restoration. Although he is retired from his career in the nuclear power industry (most recently as safety and technical manager of a nuclear power plant), he still runs up and down mountains and cycles - often on a tandem with his wife - around Europe in his free time. One journey some years ago took them to Krakow to find surviving members of the map's original design and construction team. His fascinating life and experiences would fill the pages of a blog for years...

In the foreground in reddish brown is the Isle of Skye.
In this view I'm standing at the west coast of Scotlandand looking north/northeast.
The Barony Castle Hotel is visible through the trees.

In 2012 the map was granted Category B listed status with Historic Scotland, and it is supported entirely by grants, donations, and the hard work of devoted volunteers.

There is no charge to visit the map, but donations for the restoration project are welcome. Set your GPS to Barony Castle Hotel in Eddleston and park in the hotel parking lot.  You can otherwise enter the postcode "EH45 8QW" into your navi or Google Maps for further help in locating it. Bus X62 gets you from Edinburgh to Eddleston in a bit more than an hour. There is not extensive signage yet, but we were able to find the map without a problem. 

To make a day of it from Edinburgh - stop at Rosslyn Chapel (made famous by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code), drive on to Eddleston to visit the Great Polish Map of Scotland and have lunch or a coffee at the Barony Castle Hotel, and go on to the lovely little village of Peebles where you can stroll along the banks of the River Tweed.

I want to leave you with this (appropriately) concrete poem written by Christine De Luca, who met Jan Tomasik and saw the map in the 1970s. The words of her poem form the shape of Scotland, and if you're well familiar with Scotland's topography, you'll be able to identify in the layout of the words the isles of Lewis, Skye, Mull, and Islay and the Mull of Kintyre.

The map was also recently featured on the ITV show "Border Life". 

Thank you, Keith, for the time you took to personally show us the map and explain your team's progress and future plans, answer my questions, and offer corrections and clarification for this blog post!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Exploring the Isle of Mull

Now that I've described what there is to do at Glengorm castle & estate, I thought I'd continue with what else there is to see and do on the island if you're staying long enough to do more exploring. It's also worth noting that if it's raining at Glengorm, you could quite possibly get into your car and drive to somewhere else on the island and find sun! The reverse is also true, of course.

I wrote about the Isle of Mull earlier this year and what we've done on our previous trips there - Duart Castle, of course, the isles of Iona and Staffa, and pony trekking, to name a few - so I will try not to be too redundant.

We keep returning to Mull because, although many islanders rely on tourism during the non-winter months and the island is well-visited then, there are still fewer people than on Skye and the mainland. I liked Edinburgh, but there were just way too many people there for our taste. Tobermory can get pretty crowded because it is a tiny town with one main street of shops, but we spend most our time out walking anyway. It's not that we don't like people, but...well, maybe that's part of it. We just really like our peace and quiet and value time alone.

Duart Castle
The ferry ride from Oban to the island takes 45 minutes. You drive your car into the belly of the giant ferry and then go upstairs for the sail out of the harbor, past Kerrera Island, Lady's Rock, and Duart Castle (seen in the Sean Connery film "Entrapment"), and finally land at Craignure ("Crayn-nyur'") on the Isle of Mull. Before you come to Mull with your own or a rental car, make sure you read instructions about driving on single-track roads. Once you get the hang of it, this style of driving is logical and not even difficult (I say this having only observed M driving there, not doing so myself). The road from Craignure toward Salen starts out as a two-lane road, but after a few miles you get this...
single-track road
If you have a guy on your tail seemingly pushing you to go faster, stop on the left side of the road at the very next passing place. If the passing place is on the left, pull into it. If it's on the right, stop opposite on the left side of the road. STAY LEFT! When you see an oncoming car, use the passing place in front of you in the same way, and either use your left blinker or flash your headlights at the oncoming car to indicate that you are waiting for him. If he gets to a passing place and flashes at you, drive on and pass him while he waits. Give him a bit of a wave as you pass to thank him for waiting.

Be aware that on the other side of every bend and curve in the road there could be suicidal grazing sheep and frolicking lambs, or a group of highland cattle. They have the right-of-way.

So...once you get the hang of driving on Mull, what can you see and do? In order to not reinvent the wheel, I thought I'd provide a few links I've found to what others have already written followed by photos of what we've done.


Holiday Mull's extensive website offers tips on driving as well as links to wildlife tours, self-guided walks, accommodations, places to eat, and things to do.

The Scotland Info Guide site offers similar information with less flash and flare. Helpful for the basics.

Check out the Round & About Mull & Iona diary for scheduled events during your visit!

This blog post by a country hopping couple lists ideas for things you should do on the island with pictures. I'd add to their list a boat trip to Staffa, combined with the boat ride to Iona.

The Walk Highlands website offers helpful information on various walks you can take around the islands. The site shows you how difficult each walk is, how many km/miles it is, and roughly how long it will take you.

What We Did

Visited Tobermory

Although we are not shoppers, I do enjoy stepping into the quaint little shops, and I always find something to buy. Don't miss the bakery, the chocolate shop, the book shop, or the soap shop.

I believe the whisky distillery offers tours, though we haven't done this yet.
Stop in here if only because it smells so wonderful!
Isle of Mull soaps make for nice gifts to take home.

I love handmade pottery, and we have several pieces from Mull.

Aros Hall, next to the big church (which is a cafe and shop, not a church).
This is where the Producers' Market is held on Mondays.

A tip for when you find the bookstore (on the north arm of the harbor): check out the local interest books. There are some unforgettable collections of stories, tales, and legends about Mull collected and written by islanders as well as several great books describing walks to take on the island. If you didn't bring any Ordinance Survey maps with you, pick up one or two of those as well.

This is our Scotland shelf. Of the 24 books, 10 of them are about Mull.
Of course we had to have fish-n-chips while in Scotland, and our favorite place is on the Fisherman's Pier in Tobermory. It's a little van near the clock tower.

Hikes / Walks

This is the main reason we come to Mull. We are by no means serious hikers, which means unless you have a physical disability or serious injury, if we can do it, you can do it. This is where the hiking books come in really handy. You can decide how far you want to walk on any given day, how much up-and-down you can handle, and choose a walk that fits. We've done the Ardmore Shore walk, been to 's Airde Beinn (the crater loch), walked much of Glengorm's land in the north, and this time added a few new walks.

It's during our walks that we really get to explore the island and forget about everything but where we are.

Speinne Mor, the hill we didn't quite climb. I know it looks like a little bitty bump,
but the walk was more strenuous than we were prepared for.
It didn't help that we kept losing the darn trail, which was described as
"clear and easy to follow".

Loch Frisa

the Mishnish lochs

waterfall on the Aros Park walk from Tobermory

Lochan a'Ghurrabain, Aros Park walk

Calgary Bay

This beach is a popular site during the summer months on a fine weather day. We tend to go for a drive on days when it's raining, and it's rare that the rain doesn't let up for at least a bit. So we like to stop here and stroll on the beautiful white sands. There's also a walk from here called "Art in Nature" where you'll apparently see sculptures along the way.

The waves leave artistic patterns in the sand.

Loch Na Keal is another place to stop, and especially to hike along. If you're knowledgeable about the tides, you can get to McKinnon's Cave - and you can read about the legend in one of the local books about the island! 


We stopped for a restroom coffee break in Salen, and something helpful to know is that there are public restrooms here in case, as happened with us, the restaurant is closed and the coffee shop's restrooms are out of order and being seen to by the local plumber.

Not far from Salen are the ruins of Aros Castle, and that is a nice short walk through some bracken, along the shoreline, and around the ruins.

There is much more that awaits us!

What's Next?

Climbing Ben More  Yeah, right. Perhaps at least we can get up Speinne Mor next time.
Hiking on the isle of Ulva
Exploring more of central and southern Mull
Attending a performance at the Mull Theatre, "the smallest professional theatre in the world"
Attending a ceilidh
Meeting Iain Thomson, Mull's "singing shepherd," and hearing him sing live at a pub or ceilidh

Do you have a holiday destination that you love returning to over and over again?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

25 Things That Make Me Happy About Germany

Today is October 3rd - Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or the Day of German Unity. Twenty-five years ago today the former East and West Germanys were officially reunited into one country. In our mailbox yesterday was a special issue of Bild, which I assume was delivered to all households (we don't subscribe to it), and in it were articles about Germans and Germany emphasizing the number 25. There were interviews with twenty-five 25-year-olds who were born on October 3rd, 1990, there were lists of 25 things every German should do or have done, 25 German museums one should visit, 25 German books every person should read, etc.

There were also 25 fun facts to discuss, such as 71% of Germans cross streets even when the Ampelmännchen is red (!?), 22% of all couples in Germany have sex less often than once a month, and a German is sick on average 17.6 days of the year (I assume those are workdays).

The article I liked the best was an interview of Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, in which he listed "Was mir Freude macht, wenn ich an Deutschland denke" - what makes him happy when he thinks about Germany. Some of his answers seemed rather politically motivated, but that wasn't too surprising. When I took my walk that afternoon I pondered on what I would say to that and decided to make that my next blog post. So here are the

25 Things That Make Me Happy When I Think About Germany

1) Weihnachtsmärkte / Christmas Markets

The season starts at the end of November, so it won't be long now. I just can't get enough of the atmoshere, the handmade gifts, the food, and the Glühwein.

2) Sundays and Holidays

As I've written often enough, in all but the most touristy of towns and cities, most stores and businesses are closed on Sundays and Holidays like today. Here in the Schwabenland we are not allowed to mow lawns, trim hedges, blow leaves, or do any other work outside that is noisy. It's hard for some to adjust to that, but I appreciate it. It forces encourages M and me to relax and enjoy the day as well.

3) the German Language

It's surely not without its challenges, but in fact that is one of the things I like about it! 

4) Esslingen

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog a while knows that Esslingen is my favorite city in the world.

5) Public Transportation

Being able to get anywhere in Germany - even the smallest of villages - by train and/or bus is so fabulous! If you don't have a car, you can't get from my hometown in Wisconsin to the next town south (14 miles away) unless you walk or hire a cab.

6) Walking and Biking Paths

They're everywhere, and not just next to busy highways. Through fields and forests, along streams, over hills and mountains...

7) the Wine

And I don't mean Riesling! I like Grauburgunder best, which is a dry white, and there are plenty of wineries in our area to chose from. I also like the fact that I can ask a waiter or waitress for a recommendation, ask if a particular wine is dry or sweet, and they can answer my question.

8) German Films

At some point I'll post a list of "must see" original German films, but suffice it to say for now that there are quite a lot of really good ones. My all-time favorite movie is still Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa - 2001), which is even available in English because it won the best foreign film Oscar that year.

9) Spargel Season

White asparagus, my friends. Available from mid-April to June 24th. Read more here.

10) Straub's Krone

This restaurant in our tiny little village (and its chef and staff) has become the standard by which we measure all others. The biggest compliment we've given any other place in the last three years has been "Well, it's not Straub's Krone, but it's pretty good."

11) Castle Ruins

Palaces are nice, but I'd rather tromp through castle ruins, especially ones that attract few tourists.

12)  Location, Location, Location

Germany lies in central Europe, and within a few hours' drive I can be in France, Switzerland, or Austria. Within a few hours' flight I can be in Vienna, Rome, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen.

13) die Altstadt

Most towns and even large cities have an old section where the buildings look like they did centuries ago. Here in the south the houses are half-timbered, the streets are made of cobblestone, and the churches were built in the 13th or 14th century. So charming...

14) the Food

Trust me, it's not all Bratwurst and Sauerkraut (neither of which I eat). Traditional German fare is hearty and filling, creative, and delicious.

15) Punctuality

It's a typical German thing, and of course not all Germans are punctual. But most are, and this fits to my personality as well. I appreciate other people valuing my time, and I value theirs as well.

16) Churches & Cathedrals

I'm not a religious person, but I love beautiful churches. I enjoy challenging myself to recognize religious figures - saints, for instance - and Biblical stories on artwork. Every church is different, and most of the old ones are stunning in their majestic beauty. 

17) the Two-Mattress, Two-Duvet System of Double Beds

Many expats - including me - have written about this. Some are confused, some are annoyed, others are intrigued. I love it. I don't have to share my blanket, M doesn't have to touch my scaley feet, and if either of us farts, the other one might not ever know.

18) the Landscape

The Swabian Alb, the Alps, the Bodensee (Lake Constance), the northern coasts, the chalk cliffs of Rügen (which I've never seen but hope to), the forests, the valleys... 
Horb in the Neckar Valley

19) die Nationalmannschaft

I've enjoyed watching soccer far more than I ever liked American football. And I adore our boys: Schweini, Poldi, Neuer, Müller, Götze... I miss Klose, but they can't do it forever.

20) Michael Jung

Equestrian eventer and Olympic champion from our little area! He has won many competitions locally, nationally, and world-wide, and he is a pleasure to watch.

21) Day Trips with my Schwiegermutter

She and I have very similar interests and like to learn as much as we can about the towns we visit. We both will gladly return to the same place several times until we know it well. 

22) Kaffee und Kuchen

On Sundays and holidays it is common to have an afternoon cup of coffee with a piece of cake or two. There is quite the coffee culture in Germany (Germans drink more coffee per capita per year than beer), and it's always rich and aromatic.

23) Germans' Sense of Humor

If you think Germans have no sense of humor, you're wrong. Their humor is typically subtle and ironic, at times self-deprecating, and often depends on dialect, so we outsiders miss a lot of it. I don't get all the jokes, of course, but that's ok. I find Bavarian comedian Michael Mittermeier hilarious.

24) Reasonable and Sensible Gun Laws

In Germany you cannot walk into a sporting goods store, fill out a form, wait three seconds for the automated background check, and walk out with a pistol, handgun, shotgun, or semi-automatic rifle. Germany has made it very difficult and expensive for people to obtain guns.

25) All the Places I've Yet to Explore

I'd like to visit all of Germany's sixteen Bundesländer (states), and I've got seven more to go! I have quite a few cities and towns on my list of future places to visit, as well as areas like the Lüneburger Heide, the Erzgebirge, and the North Sea coast. My favorite place will always be the Schwabenland (Swabia), but I look forward to getting to know other parts of Germany as well.

Happy Birthday, Germany! It's a beautiful day to celebrate!