Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Ole Scotland

Well, I have been horrible about putting up new posts. But one fab trip to reconsider is covering Christmas (and Hogmanay) in Edinburgh. It is still my favorite city, but a giant Santa Stroll, hearing stories from Santa, and watching Santa feed his reindeer made me feel like I should have three little ones and a picket fence. Or buy more gifts and go whole hog into the social and commercial side of Christmas.

It's interesting being in Germany and then Scotland and seeing everything so unapologetically about Christmas. I kind of felt American twangs for wanting to see a Menorah, Kwanzaa candle, something that actually said "seasons greetings"... And in Celtic land I thought I would see something about winter solstice. But, nah. Besides, Christmas is such an interesting amalagamation with pagan and other tradition symbols wrapped in.

So I sat in Santa's igloo, interviewed a Panto cast (very funny interactive take on children's fairy tales with British humor, song and dance, and always a man in drag as a "Dame"), and even made my way out to Dalry in Ayrshire to interview the Member of Scottish Parliament I used to work for on his top ten things in Glasgow. I ate the best cheese and pickle toasty out there, it made up for being dumped on with rain.>

Then again, it wouldn't be Scotland without any bucketing down.
Wow, do I love it there.
Off to London for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gluhwein, Life Sized Chess, a 2 cylinder fiat, and The Sound of... Karaoke?!

Okay, so this is more of a photologue than a blog post... but Salzburg was gorgeous!!! Katie and I hit up as much of an adventure as three days with travel will allow... starting with a teeny tiny fiat on the Autobahn. As much as I love Italy, our two fiat rentals kept me chanting "I think I can, I think I can" in my head. Eight hours plus one stop in Nurnberg for the world famous Christmas Market (we were two days early, oops), we arrived in the darkness to Salzburg's city limits.

With my less than adept navigation, we finally made our way into the walled city after about a half hour of trying.

And wow. I can be a jaded traveller. But not there! The land of touristy Sound of Music and Mozart lived up to the hype. Old cobblestones, stunning views, water in the center, architecture, nature, wine bars, friendliest German speakers I've ever met. You name it.

We had a bit of a bother trying to get our car into the center and getting into our lodging. But really it was blessed, so I shouldn't complain. And I do mean blessed literally. An old school lodging run by nuns... we couldn't find it exactly, after being redirected from dark alleys and distracting a violin player who really needed her practice, we found the gorgeous old building in the heart of the old towm. And bless, they left the key in an envelope. No down payment. So trusting.

Beyond that, we met a former banker cum wine bar extraordinare with blonde hair to his shoulders and drunken older clientele. One older gentleman was particularly keen on Katie. Wow. That being said the two grape Austrian red was fabulous. As you can see from the pics, we did get to go to the "Do, a dear" lake and a Mozart plus others concert in the downtown Mirabelle. Sadly we didn't find turkey for Thanksgiving, but a small foil of turkey spread provided great entertainment if not a yummy eat. And possibly tastier than those frightening Mozart balls- chocolate candies that should be awesome, but sadly are filled with the least appealing marzipan that has ever passed my lips. The Christmas Markets were in full effect, but sadly for the sellers the only parts that were packed were the gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and food stands-

the giant chess board was popular too. I'll be doing an ambient story and a sad financial story that I'll link later.

After the Mozart concert, we did what any good American tourist would do... looked for American football at and Irish Pub. Instead, we found karaoke! In Germany, Germans do not tend to participate. In Austria, like the strangers who struck up conversations, I learned the populace breaks my preconceived expectations. Hilarious, loud Austrian dialect songs. Less hilarious were the American study abroad girls who thought they owned the place. Not classy to take the mic and steal the Abba song the gay Swede waited an hour for. But another barrier shattered... Katie inspired me to sing solo back and forth with her to "These Boots Are Made For Walking". We also were surrounded by the international reps for Red Bull. Little did I know that there are 30 million more cans of Red Bull drunk in the Ukraine than there are people.


Well, off to German class and then Marla's wedding in Georgia for a long weekend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let It Snow...

Need I say more? My friend Katie Grouse and I were singing "Winter Wonderland" and shivering our tailfeathers as my shoes leaked and her winter coat awaits her all toasty back in Virginia.
The photos were taken by Barbara Frommann for the General Anzeiger.
Katie and I are off to Thanksgiving in Salzburg... nothing says turkey like The Sound of Music.
Hopefully will have some off kilter adventures to report, especially since we are braving the autobahn in a tiny Ford Ka (not even big enough to fit "r" on the end).
Enjoy stuffing yourselves with stuffing!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's good to be friends with the (Wine) Queen

Our pagent winners talk world peace... I got to spend a day with local royalty who talks grapes, soil, and fermentation.

Queen Britta I rules the small kingdom of Zell. Situated on the river Mosel with many small fiefdoms that grow acres and acres of grapes. She was able to tell me everything I ever wanted to know. Why the soil is better for sweet white Reisling grapes, how the fermentation process works (be careful not to stay in the cellar with the noxious gases too long), and the legend of the black cat. All Zell wine bottles and even the town fountain features this cat.
Apparently over a century ago, there were three merchants from Aachen (why always in threes?) looking to sample the best wine from the region. They tasted wine after wine. All were good, but nothing really stood out as phenomenal. Finally there were just three casks left. (Again with those threes!) They were tired and had to head back to Aachen and wanted to bring at least one cask to try. But how to determine, and would it be any better than the rest? Just as they went to move one of the last casks, a black cat jumped on it and hissed and hissed, trying to keep the merchants away. Immediately, they knew it must be something special, so they fought the cat off and took that cask with them. When they got back to Aachen and tasted it, sure enough, it was the most fantastic wine they had ever tried, a special Zell Reisling. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now imagine hearing that tale from an 18 year old German teen, who can tell it in German, English and French. A very sweet energetic blonde, whose family has made wine for two generations. They face massive competition from their neighbors and from wine growers in villages throughout the Mosel region, not to mention the rest of the world. They have to find sellers, etc. So when Britta became wine queen (a process that involves knowing answers to some of the most obscure to the most mundane wine question- does sweet wine get you more drunk? No. But you might drink more of it more quickly because it is so sweet, etc., as well as going to over 80 events per year, while trying to finish high school), the family began producing bottles with her pictures on it.

But before you think I might sound cynical, becoming wine queen has been Britta’s dream since she was a little girl. She used to follow the local queens around and collect their cards (more on that later) and even wrote to the national German wine queen to get her advice on how to someday become a queen, too. Well, she won the local crown, which is kind of an art deco tiara that she’ll have to give back at the end of her reign. The only other things she gets with that crown is an orange gown and a special wine tasting glass that she brings with her to all of her events. She pays for her own transformation from teen to queen... hair, makeup, and the carriage that brings her to different villages- namely her parents in their small car. This is especially stressful while her parents are supervising the harvest work and cooking for the workers. But they are all cheery. Queen Britta can’t drive if she’s had wine, and they can’t have a wine queen who doesn’t prost and drink with the guests- they’ll think the wine is not so good.
She gives up a lot to be queen... especially nights and weekends. I’m impressed how well she deals with the public, especially the drunken older men. She is always sweet and appropriate and handles them with aplomb... even when waltzing with someone less than steady on his feet.
The funny thing is those polkas and waltzes under the big tent remind me a lot of my extended family’s weddings. Minus the Federweißer and zweibel kuche, which I must say make for a very gassy combination. Queen Britta says she has to be mightily careful. The zweibel kuche or onion cake is like an oniony, potatoey, warm quiche minus the egg and the federweißer is still fermenting, sweet, bubbly wine with a sour twinge. Both were to be had in large quantities. The Mühl family took me in for the day, to the cellars, to the hairdresser, in the home and then on to the fest. I must say it was lovely. Even though I had to hide every last federweißer and zweibel kuche burp.

If anybody knows a wineseller looking for some good sweet German wine, I have to admit, the Mühl’s has been the best I’ve tried. I’m easily bought... they also gave me two bottles with Britta’s face on the label to take home with me. They heartily invited me back and to bring my family. I just hope Britta wins the Queenship of the whole Mosel, then she can run to be Germany’s national wine queen. I like being the friend of Royalty.

For a link to the story and hear Britta in her own words: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3721814,00.html

Monday, November 17, 2008

Daisy, Daisy...

So, upon arriving in Bonn, my mission was to find a bike. I had these fantasies of living in my bikeable small city, with a basket on front perhaps filled by a bag of greens, with flowers and a baguette sticking out. Perhaps a cute little floppy haired dog barking with a smile next to it. But reality usually works out a little differently. There may be no little dog or bag of greens, but fate didn’t hand me just any bike. She gave me Daisy. Named after a song I was sung as a child. Somewhere along the lines of a guy singing to his lover named "Daisy" hoping she’ll give him her hand in marriage, even though he can’t afford a carraige, cause she’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two. Don’t get too excited, my Daisy is not a tandem. She’s a not-so-gently used purply-pink three speed with handles like my first bike had. Except, I am somehow only able to use one speed. I have a little bell to annoy people with, and even a pedal brake! The basket had to go on back, so any extra riders have to go on the handlebars (yeah, right) The dim little light that satisfies the bare minimum requirement of German law, is powered by my peddling. Sadly, the little red plastic casing on the back light has been stolen. Or knocked off. I have to admit I was very sad. Because despite her less than elegant facade, Daisy gets me where I need to go- day or night, rain or shine. And there’s plenty of rain. Although I don’t really feel like a glamorous international journalist on my three (!) speed in a downpour, it’s okay, Daisy is in it with me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

So, what's this all about?

I'm living in Bonn, Germany. A town that has the heart of a city, but has had its reason to thrive taken away over and over again. This happened most recently when East and West Germany recombined and Berlin was selected to be the new capital. Bonn had been the head of West Germany for decades, and it had just begun to build a new crazy long glass building along the Rhine river to house the growing government. Magically that is now the building I work in. Alongside German's international radio broadcaster is a UN building and the head of Deutsche Post. Bonn also demanded and kept some of the government departments here. So, even though it is small and quiet, I respect it's stubborness.

But it is not a large, bustling city, which is usually where I thrive. So, my sense of perspective has had to, let's say- readjust. I've come to realize that lots of odd little things tend to happen, and maybe that's not just my luck, but something related to me, period. So, for friends and family (as well as my own need to expose my thoughts and "adventures"), I've decided to break down and start a blog. That way you can opt in, instead of receiving mass e-mails ala when I was a "Professor". Comments and suggestions are MORE than welcome. They are seriously desired. Let me know what you think, what you'd like to know, when I need a reality check etc. I'll try to start a fairly consistent updating and have some *flashback* stories I'll try to get up asap.