Sunday, August 29, 2010

East Side Gallery











As of yesterday, I am in possession of a super-short Berliner hairdo. Think Mike Myers as Dieter from Sprokets on Saturday Night Live ("Now's ze time on Sprokets ven ve danse"), only curly.

I kind of like it this short, but it will take some getting used to.

After my shearing, we took ourselves to the East Side Gallery, which is the longest (1.3km) and best-preserved remaining section of The Berlin Wall. In 1990, dozens of artists from around the world created over 100 murals along this stretch of wall, making it, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook, the world's largest open-air art gallery.










It's pretty impressive to actually be looking at a section of the wall itself, and very moving to see all of the different artistic creations inspired by it.










After that, it was off to dinner at a terrific restaurant, Schwarzwaldstuben, for what else.......Schnitzel!!!






Tomorrow we are off to Prague for four nights, followed by one night in Munich as we make our way down to Lake Como, Italy, where we will stay for two weeks.

I am not sure what the internet deal will be in Prague, but I do know that our apartment in Italy doesn't have internet, so we will have to go to an internet cafe in the town 10 minutes away.

All that is to say that I'm not sure how often I will be able to post over the next few weeks. I will do so as often as I can, so keep checking back periodically.

Ciao!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More KaDeWe Food Hall Photos







Cheese!!!
















Parma Ham.
















Salami Extravaganza!















mmmm.........chocolate....














I can't believe I ate the WHOLE thing...





KaDeWe Food Hall






Spent a fantastic few hours yesterday at the KaDeWe Department Store Food Hall. This place is unbelievable. I have never seen such a huge selection of foodstuffs in one place before. The array of items on offer and the variety was just staggering. I think I started hyperventilating a little with sheer joy at being surrounded by so much wonderful food!

Cases upon cases of sausages, dried and cured meats, fresh meat and poultry of all kinds, cheeses, breads, smoked fish, pastries, seafood, chocolates, candies, honeys, jellies, condiments, spices, caviars, pates, foie gras, fruits and vegetables.

Not only were there items to buy and bring home, there were also an endless variety of counters at which to have a hot or cold meal, coffee, sparkling wine, etc.







Here was our lunch. I had a beef bratwurst with sauerkraut, mustard, and of course, a beer! The brat was delicious, and the sauerkraut was the best I've ever had. Served warm, it had been cooked with tiny bits of ham and the perfect amount of vinegar. It was a reflux disaster, but boy, was it worth it.

I have been to Harrod's food hall before, and it is also a spectacular place. What set this KaDeWe food hall apart from somewhere like Harrod's was the affordability of everything. Unlike at Harrod's where you have to take out a second mortgage on your house to buy a loaf of bread, everything we saw yesterday was beyond reasonably priced. It's the food hall for normal people. Our lunch cost us about $20, for two meals and two beers.

After lunch we walked miles, around two very cool neighborhoods: Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte-Scheunenviertel. Prenzlauer is kind of like Park Slope lite. It was one of the first neighborhoods to be re-vamped after the wall came down, and it has a lot of very cool looking buildings, pretty parks and amazing cafes and restaurants.

The one thing that made me feel a bit depressed along our wanderings was the fact that every Jewish-themed building we passed: a synagogue, the Jewish Center, Jewish Museum, Jewish memorial, etc. was surrounded by barricades and fronted by armed guards.

I don't know if there is still a big problem with anti-semitism in Berlin in particular or if they are just showing an abundance of caution, but it was a bit hard to see. The more things change...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Train Tickets and Other Random Thoughts

I forgot to mention yesterday the oddity of Berlin's subway system:

Ticket-buying seems to be entirely on the honor system. There are no turnstiles for which one needs tickets to get in and out of the station, and, from what I have seen, no conductor who walks up and down checking tickets.

Tickets are purchased from a self-service kiosk on the platform and validated at a little machine nearby, and that's it. So far, we could easily not have paid for any of our train journeys. Unless I am missing some very secret way they have of knowing whether or not people have bought tickets, no one need ever pay.

But people do. In fact, everybody seems to. It's kind of incredible. I was trying to imagine what would happen if they took away all of the turnstiles in the NYC subway, and just left it up to people to buy tickets anyway. I'm sorry, but no one would ever buy a subway ticket again!

While I'm at it, a few random observations about our trip in general thus far: one of the things I have noticed and really liked is that the places we have been in Europe seem so much less fame and celebrity obsessed than in the US (this is not quite so true for England with all its tabloids).

One is not constantly being bombarded with stories and photos of Brittany Spears or Heidi Speigel and her ever-increasing ratio of silicone to actual flesh.

There also seems to not be quite the same obsession with wealth and outward symbols of it like flashy cars, massive houses and overly made-up and altered women wearing insanely expensive clothes.

I must say, it is really nice to not always be confronted with what one is not, or with what one doesn't have, which I can often feel is the case in California.

Part of that could be that I just am not watching television, so I'm not getting bombarded with certain stories or images, but there is also definitely a difference in what I see on the street and in the people around me. I haven't found myself looking around at other women in any of the places we've been and feeling fat, or old, or underdressed or under made-up, and that has been such a nice feeling.

The part about not watching television is, I think, a significant one. I do tend to watch a lot of television when I am at home: taping TV shows that I like and watching them, or getting things from Netflix. But there is definitely a link for me between watching television and feeling depressed and inadequate.

Everybody on TV of course, is thin and beautiful and young, for the most part (the women, at least), and not only am I reminded that I am not thin or young, but I am also reminded that these women are extremely well-paid actresses who are getting to do what I dreamed of doing but was not able to. This adds another layer of depression. And what does depression make people do? That's right....eat. And then the depression increases because not only am I not a skinny actress on a television show, but I am a rapidly-expanding, face-stuffing lady who's not on a TV show!

It is amazing how nice it has been not watching any television. I have watched a few DVDs that I brought along on my laptop, but that's it. Instead, we have both been reading voraciously. I used to do this when I was younger, read for hours at a time, getting completely lost in a book, but it has been a long time since I've done that. So far on this trip I have read 12 books and I have just begun number 13. That's a lot of books!! I will include my reading list in another blog.

The result of all this no-tv-watching (plus being sick those times) has been weight loss. Hooray! I think I have finally lost all the weight I gained while on the anti-anxiety meds. I don't know how much weight I've actually lost because there are no scales anywhere, but my clothes are definitely loose.

Last observation: I have not been carsick once since arriving in Europe. Not once, and we have been on some pretty windy roads, roads that certainly would have made me sick in the US. The only thing I can put it to is that the European cars are designed with a completely different style of handling than the US cars.

The thing that makes me sick on very windy roads is that wallow that seems to happen after turning a corner. I don't know if you know what I mean, but normally, on a windy road, the car makes the turn, and when coming out of the turn there is that kind of wallow, or sudden sway back out of the curve. It is that sway that leaves me feeling sick.

In the European cars, there seems to be no wallow out of a turn at all. It doesn't seem to matter who is driving, since I get sick all the time when Steve drives on windy roads in the US, and I have to have him pull over so I can drive. But here, Steve has been driving the whole time, and I haven't felt sick once.

It also doesn't seem to depend on the car. Since arriving in Europe we I have been a passenger in our friend's Range Rover, our rented Ford Fiesta, Steve's father's car, and now our Peugeot. All of these cars took me on windy roads and yet in none of these cars did I feel sick. How can this be?

Any ideas??


Checkpoint Charlie






Berlin may not be the most beautiful city in the world, but it certainly is a fascinating one.

Today we took ourselves to the very touristy Checkpoint Charlie and to the Mauermuseum which is just next door.

Even though Checkpoint Charlie is a bit campy now, with fake border-guards who charge you 2 euros to take their picture, it was pretty amazing to stand there drinking coffee and snapping photos happily in a place that at one point must have been absolutely terrifying for so many people.

Even more amazing to stand on this arbitrary spot and imagine that up until 20 years ago, it wasn't possible to even wander from one side of the street to the other.

The Mauermuseum was a bit arbitrary in its design and layout, but it had a fascinating array of photos and stories of uprisings, and failed and successful escape attempts. Some of these stories of human bravery, ingenuity, and desperation were just beyond imagining. To see photos of people escaping curled up under car engines, hiding in suitcases, jumping out of buildings, running through barbed wire, or sliding between buildings in home-made harnesses was just incredible. So difficult to be in this city as it is now and imagine how it used to be.

Later in the afternoon, we went for a walk in former East Berlin along Frankfurter Allee and Karl-Marx Allee. The difference in the architecture between East and West Berlin is marked. Both sides of the city had major rebuilding to do after the war, and the west side has its share of big, and not so attractive block buildings, which must have been cheap and fast to put up.

East Berlin has buildings and streets that are on an entirely different scale. There are information placards up along Karl Marx Allee, and we learned some pretty interesting facts. The beginning of Karl Marx Allee, which was originally named for Stalin, is a very wide boulevard with massive buildings running all along it. Nowhere that we've seen in the West has streets this wide or buildings so big.






The two towered structures that you can see here were meant, according to one quotation on the placard, to be an impressive and imposing first view of the first socialist boulevard. That's not an exact quote, but it's very close.

What really struck us as we walked along was the size of the buildings, the uniformity and, for lack of a more descriptive word, the ugliness of them. Apparently, the architects and planners of these buildings we sent to "study" in The Soviet Union, and there was a great photo on another one of these placards, showing a street in Moscow which looks exactly like where we were standing in Berlin.

The more we thought about these buildings, the more it made sense. These buildings are large, imposing, and personality-less. The regime wouldn't have wanted a city full of beautiful buildings. There should be no appearance of luxury, of individuality or creativity in its people so why should there be any in its architecture? The last thing they would have wanted was people looking at a beautiful building and feeling inspired, or creative, or moved to have their own thoughts, feelings, imagination or creativity.

There is a certain grittiness to this city, and its people seem to us to be a bit gritty as well, though not in an unfriendly way. There is a difficult history here that is still very real, and it seems to me that its people live with it on a daily basis, even if they are not consciously thinking about it.

Looking forward to the next few days and exploring even more.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spider Hotel

Yesterday, Steve and I left Norway on the long drive to Berlin.

I have to say, Steve was such a champ in the car.

He got in the zone, and he just kept driving and driving. He drove a marathon 12 hours, through Norway, Sweden, the ferry to Denmark and then another 80 miles to departure point of the ferry from Denmark to Germany.

The weather, of course, was dismal: rainy and incredibly windy.

We wound up in the town of Rodby, Denmark, which was where we would catch the Denmark to Germany ferry the next morning.

We stayed in what I believe is fair to call the worst hotel in Denmark. No, in Scandanavia. This place looked like something out of The Twilight Zone, where when you enter your room you are immediately transported back to 1950.

I seriously have never seen anything quite like it: completely worn carpets and furniture and windows that looked like they had not been washed since the hotel was built.

What saved it for me was the fact that it was very clean. Because I can handle furniture from 1950, but dirt from 1950 I can do without.

The ceilings were that kind of weird corrugated metal with the millions of tiny holes in it.
As we prepared for bed we discovered that the underside of that ceiling was home to spiders. Lots and lots of spiders.

Big ones. Kind of like Daddy Long Legs, but bigger, heftier. They would crawl along the walls, or drop down on one thin web-strand from the ceiling and make their way to the floor. We killed about 5 of them, and then got in bed to read.

Steve, being exhausted, turned his light out ahead of me, and I used my little book light to read a bit longer. When I was finished reading, I did a little sweep of the room with my light to check for spiders.

There was a mosquito on the wall right behind me, and from the ceiling was hanging yet another spider, who was happily webbing its way down directly toward my pillow. As soon as my light swept over it, the spider started beating a hasty retreat back up its thread toward the ceiling, but that was it for me. There was no way I was going to go to sleep any time soon.

I just knew that as soon as my light was off, that spider was going to resume its downward journey to my pillow where it would then crawl over my face and lay eggs in my ear.

I pulled the desk chair as far away from the bed as I could so as not to disturb Steve, and I watched Back to the Future and Gilmore Girls on my laptop until 4am by which time I was so tired I couldn't remain upright and finally got in bed and fell asleep.

The advantage of Steve doing so much driving yesterday was that today we had an hour-long ferry ride followed by only about 3 1/2 hours of driving to get to Berlin.

We are staying at a terrific hotel called Louisa's Place on the Kurfurstendamm in the Charlottenburg area. We chose this hotel because it is actually apartments more than hotel rooms, and they kindly upgraded us to a huge three-room suite with bedroom, living room/kitchen and office.





Kurfurstendamm is a long street famous for its array of high-end shops. We took a stroll down it, arriving at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche (Emperor William Memorial Church). What you can see in this picture is all that is left: the tower of a once beautiful church which was bombed out during the war.

We also took the train to Potsdamer Platz and had a bit of a wander around there.

To celebrate our arrival in Berlin we sampled what is apparently a local institution: the currywurst. This is a sausage which is sliced up, sprinkled with curry powder and doused in a sauce which is kind of like HP Sauce mixed with BBQ sauce.

It was yummy, though the curry flavor was not as strong as I thought it would be.

So far, we are really enjoying Berlin, and are looking forward to spending the next few days here.

If anybody has any suggestions of places to go, eat, etc. please share!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Norway Final Day






Our last day in Norway.

We went for a drive to see the Voringsfossen Waterfall, which was pretty beautiful.

I think, however, we are ready to leave Norway now. It is so empty everywhere, and I think we have gotten, dare I say it, a bit saturated with the Norway scenery, as beautiful as it is.

I find it sort of amazing, the way the human brain seems to need differing stimuli so frequently: too much city, needs quiet beauty; too much of the same mountains and fjords, needs something different yet again.

Well our brains are certainly going to get something different, as we are heading to Berlin. I know we sort of swore off cities before, but we are going to give it a go anyway. If it turns out to be a mistake, we can head somewhere else.

Berlin seems like it will be a fascinating place. Steve was there many moons again, right as The Wall was coming down, so I imagine it will be amazing for him to see the differences.
Plus I have been reading so many Len Deighton books over the past few years, I feel that I already know the myself!

In addition to being our last day in Norway, today also marks 11 weeks since we left San Francisco.

Eleven weeks, I cannot believe it has been that long. It feels both like the time has flown by and gone at a snail's pace at the same time, if that is possible.

Thus far it has definitely been challenging: getting sick so often was obviously hard, but there have been other challenges that I didn't exactly expect.

Just filling days can sometimes be difficult, and having to figure out where to go next and where to stay has also been harder than I thought it would be.

Hardest of all I think, has been being without friends for so long. I thought we might meet more people along the way, but apart from our friends' wedding in England in June, the one couple we met while kayaking the Geirangerfjord, and the weekend we spent in Paris with Paul and Christen, we haven't had anyone else to talk to or go out with.

When was the last time you spent 11 weeks, 24/7 with your spouse in, for the most part, small spaces, with hardly any time to yourself or with other people?

It can be difficult at times, and a bit confusing, because sometimes I think we want desperately to just get away from each other, and yet we also know that, for this time, we're kind of all we have!

I think if we can make it through this trip and still want to spend time with each other after, then we can make it through anything!

Next post...from Berlin.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pie





We had a quiet, rainy day today.

It started out at the Hardangervidda Nature Center near where we are staying.

This center is devoted to the animals and flora of the Hardanger Plateau.

The museum begins in a small IMAX theatre where you watch a 20-minute movie complete with scenes of local beauty shot from a helicopter. Because of the IMAX quality, there are those wonderful stomach-dropping moments as the camera sweeps you over a waterfall and into a deep crevasse.

The rest of the exhibit was small and very sweet, consisting of many dead, stuffed animals like arctic foxes, reindeer, and lemmings all artfully posed on cotton-ball-snow with patches of glue still visible. It must have been made in 1950.

After that, we went to the tiny town of Steinsto and the Steinsto Fruit Farm. Though only about 34 miles from Eidfjord, it took us over an hour and one ferry ride to get there.

It is just impossible to get anywhere quickly here. This may be why everyone walks so much; it winds up being faster.

The farm stand was a little house which held a small café on one side and a small shop on the other selling apples, pears, plums, jellies, and their famous apple pies. This farm has the reputation for making the best apple pies in the region, so we went to the café to sample a slice.

It was indeed very good, somewhere between a cake and a pie, and we ate while looking at the rain falling over the gorgeous scenery. We also bought a pie to bring home.

Today was a significant day not only because we ate pie, but also because I had my first driving lesson in a manual car. Well, technically my second lesson since Steve did give me one lesson in Charlotte in his Honda S2000, but I stalled repeatedly and the lesson ended in tears, so I’m not sure it counted.

I got the tears out of the way this time right at the beginning; don’t ask why I cry, I just do. It’s part of the anxiety thing.

Anyway, I managed to pull away in first gear, drive around the parking lot, and come to a stop several times. I only stalled once when I stopped because I thought the clutch was all the way in but it wasn’t.

Here is the strangest part: I felt like I had completely forgotten how to drive. It makes no sense because everything else is the same, you’re just adding the clutch and gear stick, but somehow it threw everything out of whack.

I was driving around the parking lot in first gear shouting “what do I do? What do I do?”

There was just something about adding the new elements that made everything else feel like new, too. I think part of it was that all of a sudden, my left leg was having to do something. Normally it just hangs out there against the seat, the door, the little foot-rest thingy.

It naps, it has a snack, maybe a smoke. It doesn’t get involved. But suddenly, it was having to do something. It was having to not only do something, but it was having to do something independent of the right leg, but it had to coordinate with my right leg and hand. Suddenly, everybody was getting involved.

When it came time to stop, I jammed the clutch in, which would have been fine, but my right leg and left leg felt that they needed to be doing the same thing, so when the left foot pushed in quickly, so did the right foot. So we had quite a few very sudden stops.

And while all of that right leg, left leg, right arm craziness was going on, my brain was saying” steering….what the hell is steering?” It really did feel like starting from square one.

Tomorrow we’ll see if I can make it into second gear.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eidfjord and Bergen

As I mentioned, we have relocated to Eidfjord, which is in the Southern Fjords, though not all the way in the south of Norway.

I have to say that after our beautiful spot at Melkevoll Bretun, this is a little bit of a let-down. We are right on the fjord here, which of course is beautiful, but I think it’s not quite what we were expecting.

In the guide book, Eidfjord is described as this beautiful town that is a major draw for cruise ships and 500,000 visitors a year. With that in mind, I think we were expecting a lively small town, with shops and cafes.

It is, however, absolutely dead here. There are two grocery stores, three or four hotels, a cafeteria-type store which sells hot dogs and hamburgers…and that’s it. Above all, there are no people around at all, so it’s a bit ghostly.




Today we drove to the city of Bergen. Bergen is only 95 miles from where we are, but the roads are all so winding and slow that it took us almost 3 hours to get there. And the tunnels…I have never been through so many tunnels in my life!

We actually counted them on the trip home, and in the 95 mile trip there were 46 tunnels! That gives you an idea I guess of just how mountainous the region is. After a while you can’t go around, or up and over anymore, you just have to go through.

Bergen was quite the opposite of Eidfjord-it was full of people, shops, restaurants and cafes. There is a great fish market there, with loads of stalls selling shrimp, crabs, lobster, and all varieties of smoked fishes.

We shared a fish & chips and it was heaven! Then we followed it with cappuccinos at a funky café.

We also visited a cool one-room museum, called The Theta Room. This room was the meeting place for a group of Norwegian men ages 19-22 who spied on the Germans during World War II and passed the information along to the British.

The woman who was telling us about the museum and Bergen during the war told us that she was living in Bergen with her family during the war, and she remembered Hitler’s birthday in 1944 when a ship full of explosives blew up in the harbor, shattering windows everywhere.

She remembered her mother brushing her hair just before the explosion, and then remembered standing in the midst of glass and ashes afterward.

This was a pretty amazing memory and would have been even more haunting were it not for the fact that she looked to be about 55 years old. Her face was almost unlined and her dark brown hair looked to be her natural color.

So either she is the youngest 70-year-old woman in the world, or she has a slight memory from when she was about four years old and remembers some of what she related to us, and had the rest filled in by her parents with such detail that the complete memory has become her own.

Either that or the next tour group, in addition to the ship-went-boom story was also going to get a very detailed account of how she was captured and held aboard The Death Star where she was forced to watch her home planet, Alderaan, be destroyed right before her very eyes.




As you can see, this part of Norway may not have the glaciers and waterfalls of our previous location, but it has other photo-worthy items to keep a very immature lady happy.

“Photo of the fjord? No thanks. Photo of the fart-sign? You betcha!!”

My parents must be so proud….

Hopperstad






Yesterday we left our wonderful Melkevoll Bretun and headed south to the town of Eidfjord.

Along the way, we stopped in Vik at the wonderful Hopperstad Stave Church. Norway loves its Stave Churches, and this one dates back to around 1140, which in and of itself is pretty fantastic.

From the outside, it looks terrifically like a Viking ship, and something about that deep dark brown wood and the shape of the church in general against the green of the mountains rising up around it and the dark cloudy sky was just haunting.

A fun fact I learned: the wood of the church doesn’t rot because it is actually standing on top of a stone foundation, and therefore has no actual contact with the ground.

I am used to seeing churches in Europe that are equally as splendid and elaborate inside as they are outside, with high vaulted ceilings, intricate carvings, stained glass windows and massive organs.

The inside of this church, however, was simplicity itself. The ceilings were indeed high, but the inside space was surprisingly small compared with how it looked outside.

There were a few very old paintings, but apart from that, the space was bare. No seating, no windows, just a small very simple altar, and that was it.

I am a big fan of large, beautiful, fancy churches and temples, but there was something quite moving I thought about the simplicity of the whole structure. I am not really a religious person, but it made me think about what this church said about these people who built and used it, and about different people’s ideas were of what was needed in order to be able to commune with God.

To me, the Hopperstad space seemed to suggest that for them, it was more about who they were with, what words of prayer were spoken together, and what was in their hearts and minds than what was in the space of worship.






These are the sheep. The Norway roads are full of all manner of barnyard animals: sheep, cows, goats. Now this in and of itself isn’t unusual for such a landscape, what is unusual is that the sheep, cows and goats all just hang out in the roads. They walk across them, they walk down the middle of them, they sit on them, sometimes they even lie down with their heads on the pavement, right where a front tire would normally travel. And the cars just slow down and go around them.

These animals are fearless in the face of tour buses and caravans. If people stop their car to take a photo of them, they approach the car as if they have been waiting for us to arrive for hours and are just delighted to see us. Either that, or they're just wondering if we happen to be edible.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Norway Cake






Behold…the worst looking and tasting birthday cake in the history of the world.

I wanted to do something nice for Steve’s birthday, since it was, as I mentioned, a big one. Being where we are in Norway at the moment, there is no wonderful restaurant to take him to, no bakery from which to buy a stellar cake.

My mother used to make these wonderful birthday cakes for us when I was growing up. Made from scratch of course, but she would cut the cake into shapes and decorate them so that they looked like whatever was our favorite thing of the moment: a rocket ship, a Smurf, etc.

I knew I couldn’t make anything from scratch here, or make anything that would be that creative, but I thought I could at least make him a pretty and delicious birthday cake.

At home, I love cake-mix cakes from the grocery store, so I thought I would give it a go here. In the store, I had to ask two very tall Norwegian guys to translate the directions on the back of the mix for me, so I would know what I needed to add and how much of it.

The problem was that the units for the water and butter that I needed to use were in deciliters. Now I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of a deciliter before, and I had absolutely no idea what to make of it. Add to this the problem that in the cabin, the measuring cups were in ounces, milliliters, and grams. So that was no help.

I went online and the conversion from deciliters wound up as 10 ounces of water and 6 ounces of butter. That seemed like an awful lot of melted butter to me, but oh well.

Right off the bat, it just didn’t seem right. I used only about half of the butter because it just looked too liquidy after all the water. But the batter just didn’t taste right. Normally I love to lick spoons and mixing bowls clean, but one taste of this one and I had had enough.

Well, I thought, maybe it will taste better once it’s cooked. It smelled all right as it baked, and so I was encouraged.

After it cooled I made the icing, which was nearly flavorless and a bit runny.

Then I wrote “Happy Birthday, 7” on the cake (7 is my nickname for Steve). I wish I could tell you that this message was written by either the four-year-old or the goat next door, but alas, I cannot. That disastrous scrawl is mine.

In my defense, I didn’t see until way too late the little attachment in the bottom of the box which would have allowed the gel to come out of the tube in a thin lovely line. I was just squeezing it straight out of the large opening, so it was like writing with a tube of toothpaste.





The other problem, as you can see, is that when I was testing the cake for doneness, I stabbed it so many times in the middle that I created this deep crevasse into which most of the icing and the “H” and “D” eventually slid.

As evidence of his love for me, when Steve looked at this cake, he gave a smile like it was the most wonderful cake he’d ever seen, though his expression could simply have been the beginnings of hysterical laughter, hard to say. He even had me take his picture with it, God bless him.

Then, we tasted it. We took one bite, and we tried to pretend that it was good. We tried another bite, and made a gallant effort to pretend it was at least edible. Then we took another bite and just gave up.

It reminded me a little of a Passover cake, if anyone has ever had one of those mixes. But even that assessment I think is generous.

This mix was clearly made by a people who have never actually tasted cake before. And why should they? They’re far too busy climbing mountains and running up glaciers to bother with cake.

I’m not sure what the chocolate flavoring was that was added to the mix, but let me tell you it was not cocoa.

It was kind of like eating a cake that was made from a leftover mashed potato, with some ground up tree bark added for flavor.

This was not exactly what I wanted to serve my hubby on his birthday, but we laughed about it, and I promised him something lovely in Italy to make up for it.

We found an old Ritter Sport chocolate bar which had melted in the car and then reformed, so we ate that instead.

Happy Birthday, Steve!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brenndalsbreen




(Photo to left is the view from the front of our cabin, where we eat our breakfasts and dinners)


The day before yesterday I went for a relaxing 2 hour stroll along the road which leads to and from our cabin.

Steve, wanting something a bit more strenuous, went on what was billed on the map as an “intermediate, 2-3 hour hike up to a farmhouse-with-a-view”.

About 200 meters into it, he began to question the wisdom of his decision. Though the map had mentioned a “steep bit” at the end of the hike, right from the beginning it was essentially a vertical climb up dirt and rocks.

Brave man that he is, he made it about an hour-and-a-half into it before deciding that he’d better turn back. Not before a Norwegian man in the late sixties had sprinted past him, whistling a happy tune.

Norwegians, at least in this area, seem to be insanely fit. This is probably why the average life expectancy here is 105. Or something like that. It seems to be a very peaceful existence out here. Very simple and basic; a lot of tourist-related work, and farming.

We asked someone local about the lack of fish in the grocery stores, and he responded that with only 4.5 million people in the entire country, and so many parts of the country being small villages having extremely small populations, there just isn’t the demand for it; and the price of getting it from one place to another would far exceed any sales numbers. Plus, he reminded us, around here, if people want to eat fish, they just step outside and catch it themselves.





Yesterday, Steve and I went for a hike up to Brenndalsbreen, another local glacier. There was a pretty steep incline for the first 45 minutes or so, but we had some beautiful views along the way. After a while, the trail went further along into the trees, and then along the glacial run-off-rapids. The trail then became nothing more than rocks in the trees.

Steve was able to discern the path by the trees that had been cut down, and periodic small piles of rocks left on larger rocks. He felt pretty sure that those were Norway’s version of trail markers, but I couldn’t shake the fear that those rock piles were deliberately and randomly left by some crazy Norwegian hunchback (or a troll; they love trolls here) who runs around the woods in the middle of the night, leaving random rock-piles to confuse hapless tourists, all the while rubbing his hands together and laughing maniacally.

Another thing about Norway trail-makers: in addition to just out and out lying about how hard the hikes are, they give you no help at all once you’re on these trails; no signs, no arrows, no white marks on trees. Nothing. You’re just on your own, with your life in your own hands. That would just never happen in the US-there would be way too many lawsuits.

The problem is that here, I think they just assume you’re smart enough to figure it out for yourself. No one makes that mistake in the old US of A, that’s for sure!




In the end, though, Steve was right, and we made it to the rocks near the glacier and the roaring water. I must say the end of this hike was a bit of a let-down, and the view of the actual glacier was a bit off to the side and hard to see well.

Regardles, it was a fun hike, and my heart rate monitor says that I burned 1500 calories, so bring on the Kaviar Tube!! I am completely addicted, by the way, to the Kaviar in a tube. I have no idea what’s in it, and since the ingredients are in Norwegian, they will remain a mystery. But I love it. I am going to have to figure out a way to get some in The States.

Maybe that can be my new work venture: importing the Kaviar tube. I don’t know about you, but I’d buy it.

Reminder: Tomorrow (August 18) is a big birthday for Steve. If you think of it, drop him an email, or post b-day wishes here in comments section. He'd love it!!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Boat-Saver





Yesterday we went on a beautiful guided kayaking tour along the Geiranger Fjord. Here is a picture of the fjord as seen from the road above before we drove down to where we were set to launch. This photo has been taken by everyone who has ever been to Norway. And I guarantee if you ever go to Norway, you will take it, too.

The fjord (any fjord), the giant cruise ship dwarfed by the water and mountains, it is a required photo-op for any visitor. In fact, they check your cameras at the border when you leave the country and if you haven't taken this photo or one just like it, they confiscate your camera (clearly you have no idea what should be photographed and what should not) and charge you 10,000 kroner. You've been warned.

Now, this kayaking trip was to be relaxing and beautiful, and was to include one hour of paddling, then docking at a little inlet, walking 20 minutes to a farmhouse, having lunch and then paddling back. I would like you to pay special attention to the section where I mentioned the 20-minute walk, because that is what the man on the phone told me it was, a 20-minute WALK. Easy, no problem.

I should have known better. The Norwegians are worse than the Swiss in their total underselling of the effort involved in any given task. I thought they were masters of understatement in Switzerland, but the Norwegians put them to shame. An "easy, 45-minute walk" will take you an hour-and-a-half and be straight uphill. A "3-4 hour moderate hike" will take you ten days and require the intervention of Search and Rescue.

But those Norwegians are tough folk, and as we were kayaking along the lovely fjord in the gently falling rain, our guide pointed to cliffs and trails way overhead and described the 95-year old woman who lives alone in a village under constant threat of rockslides who still walks two miles uphill (both ways) to get her groceries.

That was followed by the story of the midwife who, some time in the late 1800's walked in pitch darkness in a snowstorm along a cliffside trail that today people will only attempt with crampons and pack-mules, in order to help a woman birth a baby. Oh, did I mention that the midwife was 77 years old at the time? Well, she was 77 years old at the time. True story, apparently.

There were 8 of us on this kayak trip, plus our guide. Three pair of us were in double kayaks, and then there were three in singles. The paddle part was lovely, though we didn't take many pictures since it was raining, we were paddling and our camera was stowed in a dry-bag, but trust me, it was very pretty.

I was feeling all relaxed and happy when we kayaked our way into a rocky inlet for our "walk", and our guide pulled all of our kayaks out of the water onto the rocks to await our return. There was no word of warning at all about this "walk", other than that it "would get our hearts beating" and we should take our time.

Now let me say here that I have a shady past with hiking. Sometimes I love it, often I hate it. Part of the problem is that Steve is so much fitter than I am that he takes off up or down a mountain like a goat while I am left huffing and puffing (and some time later, crying), in his wake. Being a cyclist, his idea of how long it takes to go a certain number of miles is very skewed, and he will insist that a 9-mile hike isn't very far at all, forgetting that on foot over rough terrain that will probably take about 7 hours. Something like that.

Basically I enjoy a hike that feels like a difficult walk. I don't mind some uphill here and there, and I don't really even mind the distance. I love to walk through woods and by streams to be rewarded with a lovely view at the top, etc. What I don't enjoy is feeling like I'm in danger. I go walking or hiking to relax, breath fresh air, get my heart rate going a bit. I don't want to feel like my lungs are bleeding; I don't want to feel like I'm going to die from sliding off the edge of a cliff. I have never enjoyed pushing myself physically until it hurts and I want to cry for my mama.

I create enough stress in my every day life; I want time spent outdoors to be relaxing. Invigorating is all right, too, but not death-defying.

This hike was horrifying: it was a vertical ascent up dirt and rocks that were wet with rain and moss, and I got up about 100 feet when I realized that there was no way I could do it. Getting up would be bad enough, but coming down....forget it. I hate nothing more than slipping and sliding down a super steep hill over rocks and dirt where you just know that if your feet really get away from you, you have a nice drop down to the bottom of a crevasse to look forward to.

I panicked. I full-on panicked. Steve took one look at my face and was like"oh crap". I told the guide that I couldn't do it, and that I was happy to take my sandwich and hang out on the rocks by the boat until they came back. The guide said that he couldn't leave me on my own for liability reasons. I swore at him in my head and took about 4 more steps. I turned back to him again and this time he really looked at my face and saw the fear and, embarrassingly, the tears starting to form in my eyes.

He very kindly said that though he wasn't supposed to since he could lose his job (though technically he was an un-paid intern), I could go back down and wait it out. He begged me not to hurt myself in his absence, and begged me not to mention it to his bosses upon our return.

Steve wanted to stay with me (well, he didn't WANT to, but that's what a very nice spouse offers to do), but I sent him on his way with a ham and cheese sandwich. Once the others were out of sight, I sat down on the trail and literally slid my way down on my ass over dirt, rocks, and what I am desperately hoping was not Poison Ivy.

When I got down to where the boats were docked, I sat on a rock and ate my sandwich. I am embarrassed to say after all my rantings my sandwich was salami and cheese. You try and escape it-I dare you!!

I watched the water, and I have to admit, I felt bad. I felt like a coward and a failure. I felt that Steve would be disappointed in me for not being brave. But I thought about some of the things I've done in my life: moving out to Los Angeles at 20 years old having never seen the city and not knowing a soul there; being an actor for most of my life, constantly being on stage, or auditioning in front of audiences of 2 or 200, when for most people public speaking is scarier than dying; acting in front of the camera; not to mention putting everything in storage and taking this trip we're on now, and i thought different people are brave in different ways, and I had nothing to be ashamed of.

On the tail of this thought, a very large ferry passed by in the water, and about 40 seconds later, a wake came onto the rocks. It was a big wake and it lasted a long time. It didn't reach me, but it dislodged three of the boats from where they were stowed on the rocks. The one nearest me I was able to grab onto and pull back onto the rocks before it got swept away. But two others got smacked repeatedly up against the far rock wall and then swept out into the water.

Luckily, there was a man in a small boat nearby who was just preparing to leave the inlet. He kindly pushed first one, then a second kayak back toward the rock near me, and I sat at the edge of the rock, butt in the water, grabbed each boat in turn and pulled them back up onto the rocks out of the water.

I felt so pleased, and couldn't help thinking that everything happens for a reason. Had I not been there, we would have returned to find three boats gone. I was the boat-saver!

Our guide, when he returned, insisted that the boats were tied to each other and the rocks and wouldn't have gone far, but I can tell you that when those two boats sailed off one after the other, they weren't tied to any rock, nor were they anywhere near each other. And as he went about getting the boats ready for us to leave, he himself noted that the ties he had fastened from boat to boat and boat to rocks were, in fact, no longer in place.

I was hoping to wheedle a free trip out of my adventure, but the poor guide was so concerned about getting fired that he insisted again that I tell anyone who asked that I had done the hike, since if I told my exciting "I saved the boats" story to anyone he worked with, they would know he had left me alone. Just another unsung hero, me.

Steve later told me that I hadn't missed that much at the top of the hike, and that although he had been disappointed at first that I stayed back, the further he climbed and the worse it got, the happier he was at my decision, since if I'd made it up, he didn't think I would ever have been able to get down again. I would have had one sore butt, that's for sure.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Melkevoll Bretun








Currently we are staying in an area of the Western Fjords called Oldedalan. It is almost impossible to find on a map, and in fact, we couldn't even find Oldedalen on Google Maps, but the town of Olden we could find, and that is about 24km from where we are. I cannot really even begin to describe how beautiful it is here.

We are staying in a cabin (the second on the left in the photo above) that is part of a large campsite called Melkevoll Bretun at the foot of the Briksdalbre Glacier. All around us there are mountains, raging waterfalls that cascade down the mountains and become the icy-blue rapids that rush by our door, and in the distance, the quiet fjordwaters.






It is truly an amazing place. Yesterday we walked up to the foot of the glacier. Well not exactly the foot, but close enough. The walk is about 60 minutes from where we are staying, and, is of course, a straight vertical ascent. People certainly are fit here. Along the way there are markers of where the glacier used to terminate in the 1700's, 1800's, 1900's and of course, now. It is incredible to see how much this glacier has retreated in the past few hundred years.











At the foot of the glacier is a still, peaceful pond of melted ice, and there are chunks of ice floating in it. Brave souls wade into the water to carry out as big a lump of ice as they can carry, and then everyone in sight takes turns picking it up and having their picture taken with it.

We are looking forward to taking some more hikes and to going kayaking in the fjords. This is such beautiful country, and I am so glad we decided to continue our journey. I would not have wanted to miss this.

The Norwegians here have all been extremely nice to us, and so far we are the only native English-speakers here.

I do have one question though: what on earth do the Norwegian people eat in day-to-day life?! Restaurant food that we had in Lillehammer was not good, and the only affordable item on the menus was pizza.

In the grocery stores, meat is incredibly expensive: two salmon fillets cost almost $50, and I'm pretty sure they were from frozen. I had the idea that fresh fish was going to be abundant and relatively inexpensive, but clearly I was wrong. Maybe this is why they eat so much ham and cheese and waffles-they are the only things that are affordable. And hot dogs. They LOVE hot dogs.

They do seem to also have a love for food in tubes. I saw many items in the grocery that were in tubular form: mayonnaises, both plain and in many different flavors like bacon and shrimp; all sorts of condiments; Nougatti (that wonderful Nutella-like spread); plus all sorts of caviar and fish pastes.

These caviar tubes are yummy. Well, the tubes aren't yummy but the stuff inside is. It's like a red caviar paste that you can spread on a cracker and it is tasty. Why we don't have more tube-fish in The States I will never understand. I'd buy it, that's for sure.

Leaving the Hammer







We left Lillehammer on Monday, the day after visiting the wonderful Maihaugen, otherwise known as the Norwegian Folk Museum. I confess to not exactly understanding why it is called a folk museum, unless it’s kind of their way of saying “Hey, this museum, it’s about Norwegian folk!”

So-called folk museums I have visited in the past seemed to contain a lot of raggedy furniture, and freaky straw-stuffed dolls with no eyes.

This museum was not like that at all, however, it was more like a visit to Plymouth Plantation or Sturbridge village, one of those “living” museums, where the whole shebang is outdoors, and you walk along wooded trails by ponds and fields through a collection of houses and villages., complete with farm animals and actor-villagers in costume who pretend they’ve never heard of a television before.

In the Norway version, the houses were either from the 1700’s or early 1900’s. I confess to being a total geek and loving these kinds of museums, though I know it’s just because they feel like a movie set.

You can often pick up a few interesting tidbits along the way, like what Norwegian flatbread is made of (potato flakes and sour milk), and that is sucks to be a milkmaid. I say this because on the rather warm day we visited her at this museum, she was stuck in a very small, very hot stone room, wearing far too many layers of clothes plus bonnet, and churning butter with movements so vigorous they made my arms burn just watching. I suppose for her, if she does that churning on a daily basis, her arms are probably used to it, and I bet she’s one hell of an arm wrestler, don’t let the bonnet fool you.

Anyway, we left Lillehammer on Monday, and after 45 minutes in the car realized that we had left our passports in the hotel safe, so we turned around and went back for them, thereby turning a four-and-a-half hour day of driving into a six-hour one.





The drive however, was amazing, as the scenery just seemed to get exponentially more spectacular the further we went toward the Western Fjords. The surroundings went from Vermont on steroids, to Maui meets “Lord of the Rings” on steroids, and the scale of it is just not to be believed. I have included some pictures, but photos just don’t seem able to capture the scale of the place.

I will say that Norway seems to be home to some truly terrifying tunnels. On the drive here, we went through two of them in pretty rapid succession, and by the end of the last one both Steve and I were breathing into paper bags. Since Steve is normally a pretty unflappable guy, I realized that these tunnels really must be as scary as I thought they were.

I have never been particularly nervous in tunnels before, but something about these was just freaky. For starters, they are really dark and narrow, with only dim yellow lights above at rather sparse intervals. There were no lines on the road, so it was really hard to tell how close to the sides of the tunnel the car actually was. This was really scary when massive trucks and tour buses would come barreling towards us out of the pitch darkness.

The other freaky thing was that the walls of the tunnels weren't covered with any sort of concrete, so there was just the jagged, dark wet rock shining out at you. It even smelled dank in there. Never before had I been so aware of the fact that I was driving through a mountain. It really felt like being in the belly of the beast.

Both of the tunnels we went through were about 4km long, which was just too long for my liking. Apparently there is one that is 15 miles long somewhere around here.

I guarantee to get me through that I will need some serious sedatives. Or for the milkmaid to bash me over the head with her churn-handle.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lillehammer











Instead of going to Oslo, we opted for Lillehammer until Monday, and I must say I am glad we did.

Lillehammer hosted the 1994 winter Olympics, and like all former Olympic villages, the memory of those games is kept alive and kicking.

We decided this morning to head to the Ski Jump Chairlift, which, as the name suggests, is at the former sight of the Olympic Ski jump.

We opted to walk to the site rather than drive, because it was only a 25 minute walk, and after the last three straight days in the car, it felt good to be outside in the sun. For reasons I will soon explain, I was walking at a fairly slow clip, since the route to the chairlift was, naturally, straight uphill.

Steve made a comment that he couldn't walk that slowly and was going to go on ahead, and my competitive streak kicked in and I decided to powerwalk past him up the hill. No one's going to call me slow!

This burst of effort turned out to be a bit of a mistake, because my pounding heart caused me to have a raging case of the head-sweats (this is what I had been trying to avoid by pacing myself and not getting overheated).

I'm not sure exactly what has happened, but my scalp seems to have decided, over the last year or so, to enter me in a head-sweating contest. I was not informed of this contest, and I certainly didn't decide to enter it, but it seems to be out of my control. All I can say is that the instant my heart rate gets above 125, my head seems to set off a very special sprinkler system, that releases sweat in amounts that to me seem unrelated to the task at hand.

The head-sweating definitely started when I was on the anti-anxiety meds, and apparently is a very common side effect of them, but I kind of expected it to subside when I went off of them. I have considered that it might be hormone related, but it's not happening when I'm sitting still, only when I exercise.

I know that the body releases something like 90% of its heat through the head, and I do have a scalp covered with a lot of dark hair, and let's face it, a brain like mine that's constantly ticking over with Mensa-like genius is apt to create a lot of heat, but the geysers that wind up coming out of my head seem a bit excessive. Plus I'm not really sweating anywhere else. It's odd.

I remember that my father, who is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, used to say that when they took the cloth caps off of the babies' heads at the end of surgery, they were always filled with water. So I get it, people sweat from the head, but do I need to constantly look like I just got out of the shower every time I go for a walk?!

I have considered shaving my head, but I'm not sure. I believe that any big trip should bring about a corresponding physical change: a change of wardrobe, a new haircut, a new tattoo, a diamond-and-gold front tooth, something like that, so maybe my GI Jane buzzcut will be my new look. I'll keep you posted.



But back to the Lillehammer Ski Jump. This was far more exciting than I had imagined. First of all, the location is stunning, and second of all, the ski jumps are still in use! I had expected an empty shell of a ski jump, but it's still quite a vibrant and active location.

The big ski jump is not in use (or at least it wasn't today), but the smaller one to the right is. The landing area is made up of what looks like the fake grass that Hawaiian skirts were made of, closely woven together, with the knapp all heading downhill. This fake grass is periodically sprayed with water, which must soften it and, I'm guessing, make it closer approximate the feeling of snow upon landing.

These jumpers must have been professionals, and it was really exciting watching them barrel down the ramp and then take flight. Everybody except one person landed perfectly. We watched one guy make the jump, and he landed pretty short, and Steve and I, in our infinite ski-jump-wisdom commented that it wasn't a very good jump.

We then watched this jumper take his skis and face gear off, and realized that this guy was 70 years old if he was a day. On a fricking ski jump. It put me to such shame, I broke out in a head sweat, just to have something to do.

You can take the chair lift up to the top of the large ski jump, and stand at the top of it, looking down, imagining all of the jumpers who looked at this same view before taking their Olympic runs.





If so inclined, it is possible to walk up the 972 stairs to the top, which we opted not to do: my head after all, just couldn't take it. We did, however, walk down. This was fantastic, as the stairs take you right alongside all of the different stages of the jump, so we could see the jumpers up close as the took off down the run, leapt off the ramp, were airborne and then landed.

The whole experience was very, very cool.

So far, the Norwegians have been very nice and they speak almost perfect, unaccented English. The food thus far is fine, nothing too impressive. There seems to be a very large Turkish population here, as almost every menu has a Turkish section on it.

The Norwegians also seem to have an unnatural fixation with waffles, and serve them at every meal. Our breakfast at the hotel features a make-your-own waffle bar, and they offer various jams and spreads alongside. One of these spreads is called Nougaty, which is their version of Nutella. Yum.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Roadworks

Hello from Sweden!

Yesterday we left Germany, took a ferry to Denmark and then drove into Sweden. I must say, Sweden could very well have been the American mid-west, all that flat farmland.

I must comment on the Roadworks insanity that was northern Germany. It was really not to be believed. Of the 500 or so miles we drove in Germany, about 400 of them were under Roadworks. I'm not kidding. They take their roads very seriously. This has the benefit of creating roads that are amazingly smooth to drive on, but the downside is that they must constantly be under some sort of construction in order to keep them that way.

We would drive along 4 km of roadworks, then have 2km of smooth road, followed by another 6km of works. It kind of took away from the amazing speeds we were expecting to see on the Autobahn, because on these roadwork stretches, you can only drive about 50 mph. And those Germans obey their speed limits.

This foiled our plan to gain loads of time by driving 190mph. And I was kind of disappointed after all I have heard of the famed Autobahn, to not get to see some cars traveling at the speed of sound. I will say that even on the stretches where you genuinely could go as fast as you want, we didn't see anything that crazy; certainly nothing that seemed dangerous. They are very safe drivers, the best we've seen thus far, even in the rain that pelted down during a portion of the drive.

In fact, most of the drivers on the road seemed to be doing around 80mph. I imagine that psychologically, if you are used to being able to drive as fast as you want all the time, it's not something exciting and new to be abused, it's just normal, so you choose a speed that's comfortable and safe rather than one that makes the car you're in shudder.

I have to admit that before I went to Germany, I harbored a bit of a prejudice. I don't like to admit it, but I had it in my head that I didn't like Germans, or the German language, and that therefore I wouldn't like Germany. I know that this comes from being Jewish and harboring old grudges, or being given an impression from war movies and war footage that just isn't a contemporary representation of who these people are. Everywhere we went, the people in Germany were so wonderful to us, and they were always happy to speak English, and never made us feel bad about the fact that we can't speak any German!

And, I must add, that Germany is home to the most fab toilet ever. At some point on the road, we stopped at a rather large rest area, complete with restaurants, shops, etc. Normally I fear public toilets, especially those off of interstates, but boy was I surprised.

I had to pay .70 to get into the bathroom, but then you are given a coupon for .50 off of anything in the shops, so really you're not paying very much. The stalls are all spotless, and after you do your business and stand up, the toilet automatically flushes itself. It is then that the magic begins.

While the toilet is flushing, an arm extends from behind the seat, and releases a cleaning solution into the bowl. The seat then begins to turn in a circle-a full circle. The bottom of this arm has a kind of a squeegee on the underside of it, and this rests against the seat. So while the seat is turning, it is being cleaned with disinfectant and squeegeed dry.

It is my dream toilet. I think I may have cried a little as the seat rotated and cleaned itself. Seriously I want to figure out how to install one in my home. Although I do think, what if it broke, or just went rogue, while someone was still sitting on it, and it started turning and squeegeeing? You could wind up upside down on the seat with your feet against the wall and your head on the floor or something.

I would risk it, though.

Today we might drive up to Oslo and spend a couple of days there. Hopefully I will have internet.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

All Work and no Play







Here are some shots of our lovely Landhaus St. Urban Hotel.

If you are wondering why it looks like there’s no one there….it’s because there is no one there. And when I say no one, I mean NO ONE!!

On Monday the receptionist informed us that Tuesday and Wednesday were their Days of Rest, and that the kitchen was closed. She also informed us that we could just take our key to open and close the main door to the hotel.



It began to occur to us that it was everybody’s day of rest, not just the kitchen staff’s, but then we thought, well surely they can't just leave us alone in the hotel. But sure enough, Tuesday morning, they gave the remaining guests breakfast before they checked out, cleaned the rooms and everywhere else, and locked the door behind them.

There were no other guests staying, so we had the entire hotel to ourselves all day yesterday and all night. I sort of couldn’t believe how trusting they were: the kitchen door remained unlocked, as did all of the booze at the bar. They trusted us to lock the door of the hotel behind us when we came and went.

It was kind of cool having the run of the place, and at the same time a bit eery. It was hard for me not to look down the long hallway to the rooms and imagine those freaky blond twins from The Shining standing there holding hands saying “Come and play with us, Danny. For ever. And ever. And ever.”

Not to mention the freaky naked woman in the bathtub.

Today we start our drive to Norway. We will miss Germany. The people here have been the friendliest of anywhere on the trip, the Schitzel has been delicious, and the drivers are all excellent.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Riesling Riesling Riesling!!!

Today was a festival of Rieslings.

Luckily Steve was feeling better and we were able to go to two different wineries for tastings.

They couldn't have been more different from each other.

The first place we went was Maximin Grunhaus. The website declared that they were open for tastings from 8am-12pm, and so we just showed up at around 11:15. We knocked on the door, and walked around the whole property, but no one was there.

We decided to try somewhere else, and as we drove away, my brilliant hubby observed that the sign at the driveway for the winery actually pointed up toward another driveway just up the hill. This driveway took us to another side of the property with an open cargo door in which you could see crates, bottles, cases of wine, etc.

Inside we found one lone guy, in his working overalls, who led us into a small office with a table and chairs. He brought us glasses, a brochure and price list and told us we could taste whatever we wanted, at no charge. All told, there were 64 wines from which to sample. We tasted about 10. And he opened whatever we asked him for, he never said we couldn't taste something. He even opened a half bottle of their wonderful Icewine, which they were selling for 75.00 euros a half-bottle.

He spoke very little English and we speak essentially no German, so it was impossible to get any great details about the wine maker, or winery itself, but I guess the point is for the wines to speak for themselves.

We tasted all Rieslings, from two different vineyards, and at varying levels of ripeness. The wines ranged from dry to sweet. It was interesting to taste that the wines from one vineyard were far more mineral-tasting then the wines from the other. Yet another perfect illustration of Terroir.

After that we went over to Dr. Loosen Winery. This was a completely different animal, with a formal table set up, and an English-speaking host. We were there with another American family, the parents who currently live in Illinois and their son and his wife who live in Huntington Beach, CA. The son and wife were, unfortunately dull as dirt, but the mother was lively, as was our host.

He gave us 9 wines to taste from almost as many different vineyards, each of which has a different soil composition. There are blue slate vineyards, grey slate, and red volcanic soil (this red vineyard is called Wurzgarten, which means spice garden, and imparts a slight spicy aroma to the wines).

Ultimately, there are a lot of subtle differences in all of these wines: from the sweetness levels, to the exact types of fruits and mineralities, but I can generalize and say that these wines were very bright, fresh, acidic, with a nice balance of fruit and minerality. Overall I would say the fruits ranged from green apple and gooseberry, citrus pith and peel, kumquat, and green plum to unripe pineapple. A couple of the wines were surprisingly tropical. And they age these wines on the lees, so a few of them had that pronounced toast crumb aroma.

I also learned a fun fact: I had noticed that almost all of the vines in this area are trellised upright in sort of a tall stalk, and I asked him why this was. He told me that they do "single stalk training" with these vines because it allows them to plant the vines closer together and therefore get more vines per hectare. They can do that here because with the super steep slopes that the vines grow on, there is access to sunlight even when vines are closer together.

He did say that they have to be careful to not let the vines grow too tall, otherwise the plant is spending more of its energy on growing and less on producing excellent fruit.










On a completely different note, please observe the photo. That is the toilet in our hotel room. Have you ever seen anything more odd? I just don't quite understand the theory behind it. It's like a bench....but with a toilet in the middle of it. It feels very bizarre, sitting on it, and your body has this initial reaction like "wait, I can't pee here...this is a bench!!"

It reminds me of a bad dream I would have when I was a kid, in which I would be sleeping on a toilet (as one does), and would start to pee, only to suddenly realize I wasn't on a toilet at all, after which I would start awake to realize with dismay that I had wet the bed.

To the left of the toilet is a ceramic jar filled with wine corks, and a book. Now, I understand why the book is there, but what on earth are they expecting me to do with the wine corks while I'm sitting there? There are only a couple of things I can think of, and none of those are particularly appealing. Or G-rated.