Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Course There Were Castles


The major point of moving down the mid-Rhine region of Europe on a riverboat cruise is the ancient castles that dot the hillsides. Some of the castles are abandoned and in ruins, others are privately owned---one by a Japanese man who paid 25 million Euro(!), and others have been turned into hotels, perhaps charging prices not reflective of their service(?)...some even with parking at the top of the hill!





Most of the days were overcast and trying to get good photos of the castles without the definition of sunshine was a challenge.


They were all sizes and shapes.


Seeing castles from a cruising river ship is certainly the lazy way to experience the history and architecture, but I was able to visit a few castles. They require walking up many stone steps and then navigating lots of cobbles and slate and rock beds. People trip and fall all the time as they look away for a second from their foot placement.  The photo below was the only one I could find where I captured the uneven terrain.  You can see the threshold was smooth, but further in, it was treacherous!


"To reach my bed, I have 158 steps to climb, explained Hermann Hecher, the genial owner of the Burg Reinstein, near Bingen. " And it's really terrible when I forget something. Because then I have to go all the way back down and up again!"  Taken from Castles in the Air, A Journey Down the Rhine.  Hecher, a former opera singer, purchased his castle from Prinzessin Barbara von Hessen und Rhein, Herzogin von Mecklenburg, for the sum of 360,000 Deutschmarks---whatever that translates to today.



This one above is definitely a hotel.  I read that nearly all the castles on the mid-Rhine are not medieval castles, but nineteenth-century reconstructions of medieval castles.  "Most were built in the 13th and 14th centuries to collect customs duties for the Holy Roman Emperor.  Seeing what a good business it was, so-called Raubritter or Robber Barons, build their own castles to get a piece of the action."  This was an area of Jewish merchants and they were especially preyed upon.  By the end of the 17th century, most castles had been destroyed in feuds and wars.  Today more than 60 castles remain.

The stories from this area are haunting like the Grimm Brothers horror tales and romantic like words that were written by Bryon and Shelley.

Die Pfalz constructed by King Ludwig
This castle in the photo above was known for breaking up the pack ice that came down the river in the spring.

Castle maintenance and repair is not for the faint of heart.  The government sometimes will provide a grant or loan, but like agro-tourism, they make money by putting on falconry shows, having butterfly houses, and renting out for weddings.


And as you can see from these photos wine is an important crop.  It is a passion with the Germans and I learned for the first time that Reisling can be dry.  The slate stone upon which the castles are built is important in absorbing the heat of the sun which is important to the vines growing at the upper limit of this wine growing area.  I did not go on a wine-tasting because they are usually unrewarding to me.  If I ever return I will pay for a private tour, which is better.

Yes, the grape harvesting on these steep hillsides is still done by hand, but fewer and fewer are willing to work that hard and small wineries appear to be closing.

Well, thanks for coming along the river with me.  By the way, do you have a favorite castle?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Kicking off the ancient dust on my shoes


Back from my ten-day trip starting in Amsterdam and moving to Kinderdijk, to Cologne, to Koblenz, to Heidelberg, to Strasbourg to Breisach and ending briefly in Basel, Switzerland.

Lots of food and wine, lots of tours of cathedrals, museums, cultural spots and quaint medieval structures. This type of thing always reminds me of how naive Americans are to think that the history of our country is weighty in time. We are just babes in the woods of civilization.


Amsterdam is a high-energy city with a young population.  They have a population of close to one million and at least 1.8 million bikes.  While they have an excellent tram and bus system, the streets are cobbled in places and narrow in others with limited car parking.  Most bike owners have "backup" bikes to use when their bike gets stolen.  There is a whole black market where a stolen bike can be purchased to replace your stolen bike.  The police offer no real assistance as this seems to be too routine to attempt to enforce.



I did wonder how on earth a tired worker found his bike at the end of the day!  


We were cautioned about kami-kazi bike riders many times as we got in the habit of looking both ways when crossing streets.

Amsterdam is a very liberal city as most people know.  We accidentally walked around the red-light-district, but the only way one would recognize it in the daytime was the pornographic postcards and the fluorescent condom displays in some windows.  Night time is when the curtains are drawn open and women advertise, and we were tucked safely back in our hotel rooms by then.




The flower market sells cannabis seeds and there are pot-pubs to kick back and relax.  These areas were obvious by the many cigarette butts in front of the sidewalks the next day.



The city itself is very safe and lovely with surprisingly clean canals.  We did take a canal ride, but the walks were more rewarding.




We have been home for days, but I caught a cold two days before our flight home and while I managed to hold it together for the 7.5 hour flight, I completely collapsed upon our return and have been in bed being lazy for the last three or four days...what day is it anyway?  I actually felt sorrier for the Ukrainian of over 6 feet who had to sit next to me in the window seat in pretzel formation listening to my sniffling!  I hope his business trip was healthy!



Friday, September 01, 2017

On The First Day

There is little to calm the spirit more than a small child's enthusiasm and laughter for things that become somewhat routine to an elder. My grandson is six and has a mind interested in many things. On the first day of his week long visit, we had been charged with looking for a new bike as he had outgrown the one from last year. We are lucky to have a small bicycle shop in town and he found a lime green/red racing stripe bike that just suited his needs. It even had hand brakes! Something new for him to try.  The photo is filtered to hide faces a bit.



Then we had to plan dinner as it was late in the day.



First, we had to check the crab traps to see if that was what we were having!



What fun hearing him squeal when the traps had crabs.



We ended up with 9 medium sized crabs which made enough for the three of us!


Back up the hill to start cooking.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Stalking the Wild Mushroom


We have gotten lots of rain here. (Not the bad rain that south Texas is enduring.)   When it rains in my woods this time of year, it usually means an abundance of mushrooms pushes their heads through the moss. These photos below were taken just a few feet from my back yard in what we pretend is the "lawn."  While the weather seems a bit cooler, the ground was wet and muddy and soaked through my jeans while I balanced on my knees to capture these.









Since mushrooms grow well on dead matter you can guess that my lawn is not all that healthy. It used to be woodlands, after all!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Skating on Black Ice



You cannot see it and even if someone warns you, how long can you keep your antenna up and your attention sharp. You have a life to live, after all, as you go blindly forward. Being cautious all the time is not the way to live life fully nor is it even being healthy. Yet just when you think you have your balance, it comes at you sideways and you find yourself tumbling and frightened and helpless as you are pushed head over heels. Things are going to be broken and maybe irreparable and most certainly scarred.

I am now in the phase where everyone still has shards of glass and is in prickly pain and is lost in their own thoughts while they lick their wounds. We are all pulling our tools of amazement, shock, anger, bitterness, love, hate, helplessness from the deep dark shed.  There are still those of us who naively think we can fix it.  Others have drawn their lines in the sand.  As our eyes clear we can see down the foggy road and do not like what is ahead. The road is longer than we thought and far rougher and covered in the blood of others as if warning us to turn back. But there is nothing behind us. We can only plod carefully forward.  Now looking for my thin, light tool called strength which I can wrap around my shoulders against the cold and loneliness.


(This is not about politics.  It is about other stuff which I just cannot write about, but this vagueness helps me, if not you.  Two friends have had some tough times this week as have I.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Art in Calgary

During our Calgary visit the city was in the middle of a heavy controversy about what to do with their arts council and all its expensive mistakes.  The city is full of interesting sculpture which is relatable, for the most part.  In downtown Calgary, we saw these bronze sculptures that were in Olympic Park, a lovey if small, quiet place in heart of the city.


They represented this part of women's suffrage in Canada:



 
Sorry for the lens flare above.


This was an impressive park sculpture only a few blocks away.


My daughter-in-law added her foot for perspective.



This photo above was taken from our hotel room window.  If you look closely you can realize its' actual size by taking note that the rectangle in the back right is a double door for the building behind it.  It is the sculpture of a young girl named "Wonderland" and created by Spanish sculptor Juame Plensa representing youth and energy of Alberta.  It was really beautiful even up close.

So, where is the controversy?  There are several very large 6 figure projects which the citizens of Calgary are angry about.  One is this brand new piece.


It can only be seen while whizzing by on the highway to Banff!  Read more about this "Indian" tribute here:

There were at least two more art pieces that cost 6 figures (or more) and for which taxpayers were gobsmacked.

http://www.reddeeradvocate.com/national-news/calgary-mayor-weighs-in-on-controversial-art-piece/

Then there is THIS accident waiting to happen:


Taken from this article below---please read as it is kind of funny:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/when+attacks+city+pulls+sculpture+after+visitor+jacket+singed+reflected+rays/10276470/story.html

And then there was this which we passed every single day from the parking garage to our hotel.  I loved it!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lists and Restrictions

It is good to be home even if I have a long list of things to do.  We all have errands, chores, etc. waiting for us when we return from being away from home for several days.  I am detailed about these things and try to put them in order of importance.  This becomes a joke because I end up doing the easy things first, always.  I am currently down to my last load of laundry.  Mail and bills are all done.  Birthday gift for granddaughter is wrapped.  Food has been replenished and produce bins cleaned.  Photos are sorted and many deleted. I have not looked at the weedy flower beds, but since it is currently raining pretty heavily, I feel no guilt for that.

We set Calgary as our base of operations.  We were going both east and west from there.  Years before we stayed in Canmore which is the gateway to Banff National Park but this restricts touring to the park itself.  This year the park entrance fees were all waived because it is Canada's 150th anniversary.  



The weather was perfectly warm, mostly hot some days!  Banff was flooded with tourists (mostly from Asia) and Canadians.  The main attractions had little if any parking and we finally tried the major features on a Thursday early in the morning just to get in.  The remote trails and lakes were more available.  



Everyone above is waiting in line to see the waterfall up close through a hole in the rocks at Johnston Canyon.  When we came here years ago there was only a handful of people.  Not exactly the experience one hopes for on a mountain vacation.

In addition, further south and west there were hundreds of large and small forest fires.  Some started by lightning storms and others by careless campers.  Ranchers had evacuated leaving behind sheep and dogs to watch the sheep and only taking a few horses.  Large parts of the park were closed due to that.





The air was not difficult for breathing and you could just barely smell smoke, but when the wind shifted the scenery disappeared.  My eyes were red the next day.  Fortunately, later in the week, we got rain followed by some lovely scenery.





To make things even tighter all the Bears were down by the valleys eating the berries to get fat before winter and those parts of the park were closed off with "crime" tape.  Of course, the bears were not following the rules and sometimes pulled away the tape to get at more food.  One local Canmore woman who jogged each morning with her dog wandered into the restricted area and was attacked (only slightly injured) by surprising an eating Bear.  There was some talk about her being charged for entry into a restricted area, but then the Park realized the tape has long disappeared and she would not have known.  What an insult that would have been, a wounded shoulder and then a Park fine!  Park Rangers do not get paid enough.  It was an adventure.

I had seen the popular spots (Lake Louise, Bow Lake, etc.) years before and did not care, but my son and DIL had not, so we braved the crowds.  Quite frankly I could have closed my eyes and imagined I was back in NYC, it was so crowded in those places.  We spent some days going to the eastern "badlands" area and even those places were well visited.  Maybe everyone who had planned to come to America decided Canada was more friendly.

Next a view of the "cowtown" of Calgary.