Sunday, August 17, 2014

European reflections


There is always is often something special about the way the light shines on the land wherever you go. For instance that California sun at midday not only heavily illuminates but is also able to blot out shadow with an internsity set on high.  

British sun is not quite as strong and itens to bend color on a much cooler shade and scale. 
The French sun is more discreet and keeper of secrets as it sends many people home as shops close from 1- 3pm daily. 

Middle East sun is hot and it creates no shadow just a stark brightness that one cannot hide from. Even if you close eyes the sharp light bleeds through.

The Sea bleached Netherlands sky is responsible for energizing the most beautiful flower gardens grown in the flat damp earth of the lowlands. With its purest blue & puffy character shaped clouds it is always a pleasure to watch the constant changes ahead. 

The Berlin sun is up late and continues to illuminate the dark for those late night coffee drinkers, cake eaters, club dancers and the fast moving cab drivers who ply the streets. 

The days are beginning to get noticeably shorter as the sun slips past the horizon minutes sooner with each passing golden sunset. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Haarlem again

Not much to say here but so glad to be back here in Windmill country.  This is Mill de Adriaan built off the roof of a house.  The stunning contraption is across the street from the airbnb flat we rented. 

More impressive was last nights full moon illuminating over the church steeple out our window at midnight.


Friday, August 08, 2014

Ridin the ICE train at 125 kilometers an hour.

 Before any discussion about train travel in Europe can begin I have to say that many of the train stations are magnificent.  This photo is of the Central Station in Antwerp.  A Representative of many of staions built during that period.  Consider them to be tributes of transportation. 

Recently traveled from Freiberg to Amsterdam on our last leg prior to returning home. 
This was a popular route so we reserved two seats in a compartment of six. 

As we entered it was occupied by an older German couple who did not speak English. 
After a while a conversation began with me speaking German. It flowed nicely discussing family and vacations to other places. 

With the next stop two unrelated young women entered filling the compartment. 
One was a fashionably dressed woman who said she was originally from Wisconsin. She lived in Sydney for the last ten years and after a recent marriage will be relocating to Ontario.  She is traveling alone planning to reunite with her husband in a few weeks somewhere in Europe. 

The other person was a bilingual German English speaker.  She was originally from Koln and relocated to Berlin. In discussing Berlin we learned she lived around the corner from us when we there in June.
She in fact rents her flat out to airbnb when traveling.  
The conversation then became quite active discussing travel, airbnb and assorted general life issues. Unfortunately the older couple were no longer engaged. Fortunately for them they had the window seats so they could watch the scenery whiz by. 

Such is the way of international commercial rail travel in Europe.  Spreading the word of airbnb and making new contacts shrinking the world on compartment at a time. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Aubach im Breisgau

Our journey took us to a region in Germany called Schwarzwald-Breisgau which happened to be the general area where my Mothers family the Frankels lived until their lives where disrupted by the persecution of the Nazis. 
Aubach was the small town where the family house stood.  We decided to take the hour long drive from Munzingen to Aubach to trace my roots. 

Aubach is a tiny dot on the map and in reality hardly much bigger.  Gone were the old houses and in its place were residences that looked like a typical suburban sub division.  The iconic German architecture  pictured above was nowhere to be found. 

We went to the next town which was somewhat larger and spoke to the postal workers who explained that all the old homes were destroyed some 30 years ago, updated to more modern structures. 

Most of the Frankels either fled or were taken away to the camps and were killed.  However my Grandfather David a German WW1 veteran died from war a related illness before the regime change and was most likely buried in a Friedhof(cemetery) nearby.  We searched but only were able to locate more recent places of rest. Later we learned that the old burial grounds no longer existed. Not sure what happened in this case. 
Too frustrated and tired we decided to give up the chase and return back to the farm for dinner. 

Satisfied in knowing that it is the journey not the results that matter however for some reason I did not sleep well that night. 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Down on the farm. Von Grimmler

Spending a certifiably wholesome week at the  Organic Vineyard in Munzingen Germany. Located near the Rhine River on the border of Deutschland, France and Switzerland. 
The  Vorgrimmler family are wonderful hosts whom I now consider friends.  They have generously shared their current bounty of garden delights.  
This producer of fine wines grows the grapes using only organic techniques including teas from herbs grown in the garden as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer.   Sadly many of the other growers use round-up.  The Vorgrimmlers own patches on the top of the Tuliberg, thus downstream chemical flow is minimized. 

Different varieties of white and red wine are created on site in the blue barn.  Not using high tech equipment the grapes are fermented, bottled and aged the way it has been done for centuries. 
We were fortunate enough to be given a personal tour of the vineyard.  I learned so much, best class I took in decades.  Sure puts those CEU, evidence based workshops to shame. 

In Spring the intensive crop of white asparagus is grown with careful attention not to expose it to sun which would turn it geen.  That white asparagus is highly prized by the Europeans. 
I still like my green, purple top California asparagus. 

Best of all we arrived at the peak of Gravenstein apple season. Right out the window an old tree with the apples plopping into dew moistened  unmowed grass.  
Gravensteins are considered "heirloom" in the States and according to an article I read in NYTIMES are grown primarily with a short season in Sonoma California.  

Did some day tripping from hiking mountain peaks in the Schwarzwald, traveling across the Rhine to medieval cities in France to visiting Basel in Switzerland. 

Did I mention the magnificent sunsets in the western skies over the vineyard?

Monday, August 04, 2014

World War One

I am not sure how relevant or publicized the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the Great War is in the States but in this part if the world it is highly regarded as an historical moment worth commentating.  Especially hard battles were fought on this ground below our feet. 

There is a media blitz about this event here in Munzingen located very close to that fluid border between Germany & France.  People are talking about it for sure, radio programming is full of memorials and there are allot of flags flying. 

History is not easily forgotten around these parts as their are so many French towns with German names.  We had the opportunity to visit a few today here in Alsace or Elsass.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

BXL wouldn't be anything without the Z's

Without these two guys are days in Brussels would have been radically different.  They were gracious hosts who endured my food issues with characteristic boyhood teasing. 
Having met years ago in Negril Jamaica our friendship has blossomed and endured across the ocean. Because of meeting them and that strong connection I feel the world has become a smaller place..

They helped reintroduce me to The Pixies.  As a result I strongly suggest giving their most recent album "Indie Cindy" (orange cover) a listen. 

Their house is a neat interesting mix of rock nostalgia, well organized vinyl, toy racing cars, posters, Genesis memorabilia, computers, musical instruments & pasta.  Incidentally I learned a whole new better way of preparing the stuff which may have changed my life for the better. 

It is this father and son teams combined sense of history and political savvy that made for the most interesting discussions pretty late into the night.  French champagne not withstanding 

We will not soon forgot that week in July 2014 as it the best of times that can hopefully be recreated sometime again, somewhere in the future. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Brussels (BXL)

So happy to have been visiting Brussels last week. Staying with fine friends who were great hosts and recommended some great off the beaten track places to discover. 
This city is so known for it's many attractions: chocolate, French fries and waffles.  As well as a macho name that rhymes with muscles  (John Claude Van Dammes nick name is "Muscles from Brussels)

In addition to this fun stuff the city is home to the European Union and many important international decisions are made there. 

It also has many classical ancient buildings and an abundant amount noir architecture. 

 While there we took a tram ride from the center of the city into the woods with a final stop at 
huge city park named Tervuren. Featured in the park was an African museum which no doubt was related to Belgiums colonial history in the Congo.  Unfortunately the museum was under renovation so we could not enter but there was a few related sculptures. 
           Also visited a portion of town called Anderlecht (Otherlight).  It is where the philosopher Erasmus came to rid himself of illness.  This fresh air and country light seems to rejuvenate him in ways he could not imagine before he came.  

Anyone recall a band called SLADE?  They are still performing in Europe and we got to sample the show in a small country festival an hour or so outside of Brussels in the Belgium countryside. Some of the members have been together and they still rock. 
As for the food I was least of all most disappointed in the pomme frites. They seemed crisp enough but were for the most part frozen then fried. Much prefer the fresh cut, skins on variety.  Am now also partial to sweet potato fries. 
Anyway the appeal seemed to be with the various sauces  glopped  on top.  Did not try that,maybe I missed out on another gourmet treat due to my food issues. 

So much more to say about our visit but will post again soon. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bruges, Belgium.

Bruges is a moderate size city in the small but important country of Belgium.  Belgium is currently the home of the governing body of the European Union. More on that later. 
Bruges is a city of canals, cobble stone streets, chocolate, cathedrals & beer. 
The sound of the hoofbeats of the horse drawn carriages on those cobble stones still reverberate in my ears a week later. 

For a city of that size there are so many old red brick Cathedrals or Abbeys.  One has to wonder what drew the society of the 16th century to migrate to that area to build such a number of huge magnificent structures constructed to worship G-D.  Religious artwork, statues and paintings boggle the mind as we traverse this city.  Needless to say we did not spend allot of time inside the churches. 
                Besides religious symbolism Bruges is also famous for brewing beer. Many varieties of the beverage are brewed in this country and this small city had its own brewery which provides us with several different varieties with bbbvarious colors and strengths. Some so strong just one can knock a novice off his feet.  With those hard cobblestones one would be wise to wear a helmet after leaving a pub. 
Rivaling the amount Cathedrals and pubs were the chocolate stores. Belgian chocolate is quite smooth and rich. So many different options to choose from one is attempted to try them all. During the brief time we were in town my method was to sample the darkest, most nut or fruit filled I could find. The combination of almost pure cocoa, berries or citron is indescribably delicious. Cheska seemed to prefer the the more lethal creme filled morsels.  Strong flavored chocolate truffles brought smiles to both our faces.  Pictured below are marshmwellows covered in the rich confection. Reminiscent of the American mallomar but so much more. 
We just spent two or three days there and I felt that was quite enough. It is stunningly attractive in monastically sort of way, but that weekend it was too filled with with tourists searching for that quiet beauty to feel the hush of monks. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Planet Of The Apes (Belgium style)

Took some time off from being a tourist and went to the movies in Brussels with some friends to see this American Blockbuster.  This episode of the series took place sometime in the future in a place I am quite familiar with -San Francisco. Always have been a fan of the Apes. 
Going to the cinema in a foreign country has the usual routines: schedule checking, ticket purchase, locating seat in darkened auditorium and settling in while watching trailers and assorted commercials for junk food. 

However each culture can have its own nuances.  Belgium is no exception.  First of all this theatre was ultra modern with comfortable chairs, huge screen and superb audio system. It sounded like the apes were hovering all around us as well as seemingly in the trees above. Nice affect. 
Chose the 3D option and the special affects were spectacular. Unlike in the US theaters the glasses were distributed in unopened plastic bags and you did not have to return them. 

The film was predominantly in the original English, however the Apes often spoke in their subliminal sign language which displayed in sub titles both French and Flemish.  Two lines representing each language. Took a little while to get used to that.  For the most part I was able to comprehend the Flemish as it is close to German.  I did have a little help from my friend Gab who whispered some interpretations that were key in understanding the flow of the Ape dynamic. 

Seeing a film located in the futuristic badly damaged Bay Area made me long to walk past SF city hall and the Hall Of Science again soon.  Hope the Apes will not take over before Mid August.