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My yearning took me to Regensburg today after work – I had no idea you were so close, so very close to me! I had to find my way to you, through the crooked streets of the best-preserved Medieval city in all of Germany, and I was almost there…almost…and then like a slap in the face, suddenly there you were. Closed. Closed at 1900! Silly American, I forgot to check your hours. Oh, the sweet agony. So close, and yet so far. You broke my heart, Noa Noa. But I’ll be back.
Heart-broken but only a bit, I decided to poke around the old town of Regensburg anyway. I was not disappointed! This is the real deal, folks. The kind of ancient Bavarian city that Disney loves to turn into backdrops for its fairy tales. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, perhaps? Regensburg might be the oldest settlement I’ve ever visited, and the history is palpable. First a Celtic settlement in 500 B.C. called Radespona, the Romans took it over in the 1st century A.D. and renamed it Castra Regina; its position at the northernmost point of the Danube River made it a powerful stronghold for Marcus Aurelius during his Roman reign. After falling to a German family in the 5th century, it served as the capital of Bavaria for about 700 years. So basically, it’s kind of a big deal of a city, and beautiful to boot.
I wandered past the Dom (in the slideshow with spiky spires), walked out onto a bridge over the Danube (sunset shots – I probably missed a really spectacular sunset by about 30 minutes), dashed in and out of narrow, crooked streets that take you this way and that. Everywhere there is beautiful, unique architecture spanning 2000 years of time, and the city blends old and new very gracefully.
Tomorrow is the Ironman Regensburg, so pre-race festivities were underway throughout the old town, especially in the Haidplatz where tents were set up and fancy racing bicycles were everywhere. It was startling to see this ancient and regal spot outfitted like a flea market for buzzed, buffed triathletes.
Surprisingly, I felt a bit intimidated about eating in a restaurant tonight; every place posted a menu solely in German, and I didn’t trust my language skills to order me something that wouldn’t mess with my system. Finally, though, hunger took over and I stopped in at the Regensburger Weissbrauhaus, established in 1620. That would be the year the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, folks. Just for a bit of perspective. Haltingly I asked for a table for one, and the waitress had trouble hiding her horror at my massacred German but she kindly seated me outside and enquired, “English menu?” Um…ja, bitte. There were a fair number of choices, but in the end I made the predictable choice: the würstlplatte, with 3 kinds of sausage, sauerkraut, potato salad and a pickle. Sad to forego the no doubt fine and gluten-y brews of the Weissbrauhaus, I washed down my dinner with another Schweppes Bitter Lemon drink instead.
For some reason this meal got me thinking about local food, and suddenly I could see the history of agriculture in Bavaria: thousands of years of farming the land for what it would grow, which I’m guessing would be cabbage, potatoes, pickling cucumbers, and pork. I have a tremendous respect for Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other books) but I do think he’s a bit short-sighted and, well, spoiled when he talks about the importance of eating a wide variety of vegetables. Many peoples across the planet lived healthy, robust lives for millennia eating what their locale could support – for some there was plentiful vegetation, for others it was scant and seasonal. That said, I had a big ass salad earlier in the day, so I’m not saying I would want to live on cabbage and potatoes alone. But I could, especially when it comes to the way the Germans prepare it. The Irish too, for that matter. Mmmm, Colcannon…wait, that will surely be in another post. Check back in two months for Colcannon.
On the way back to my car I noticed many storefronts advertising the traditional Bavarian dress, presumably getting an early start on the Oktoberfest shopping. I was told today that if I go to Oktoberfest (and I am going) that I really need to buy a dirndl and do it up right. Totally!!
This weekend: Stuttgart, with old friends and new friends.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy…I’m gonna do my best not to harp on this issue while I’m here, and only talk about the amazing dishes I try throughout the region. But yesterday I believe I had my (accidental) first ingestion of gluten in at least a year, and I’m still feeling it today – tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing, digestive pain. Not fun! (Don’t worry, it’s going away now.) One of the many challenges of living in a foreign country is figuring out what you’re eating. It occurs to me that this issue is made more challenging by one of two things: 1) not knowing the language, and 2) having a body that hates a lot of foods.
It started out as a great Jaegerschnitzel. It’s true. A thin slice of pork cooked to perfection and doused with mushroom sauce (which I believe had the offending ingredient), with a side of fries that was a surprisingly perfect match for the meat, especially when dipped in the sauce. I love German food and this was right up there. Delikat! By late afternoon, though, I noticed the symptoms starting. Did this stop me from eating my leftovers for dinner? Well, I had a few bites. So. Good. So not worth it.
Today, however, I finally visited the Alnatura organic market in nearby Regensburg, and apart from buying baking powder when I meant to buy baking soda, I think I did all right. I found some old stand-bys and some new things to try (sauerkraut juice in a juice box? really?) and I am determined to do better from now on. That will include eating more meals in my room, and when I’m out utilizing the hell out of the phrase “Ich bin allergisch gegen gluten und milch.”
Pictures from my last day in Frankfurt: Die Alte Oper, kids in a fountain, a bird on the head of Goethe.
I. am. so. tired. This morning I had to get up at 6am to catch my train to Nuremberg, close to where I’ll be working. After a late start at sleeping last night (11pm) I got about an hour’s worth, until someone called me on my phone at midnight (caller unknown). I missed the call, and the chance to get back to sleep. Suddenly my stomach was grumbling and I remembered I hadn’t eaten much, and I was getting night-hunger symptoms: racing thoughts, sweating, can’t sleep. So I dragged on some pants and ventured out into the airport in search of late-night food. A pepperoni stick and bag of mixed nuts later, I parked myself and surfed the web for a good couple of hours before heading back to my room around 3:45am, where I journaled and read until finally I felt sleepy at 4:30am. The wake-up call still came at 6am, and by the grace of God I got myself through my day, meeting the people I’ll be working with. If I can just stay up until 8pm, then I can give in and sleep away this terrible brain-fog.
On the upside, Bavaria is beautiful. And charming. I can’t wait to roam. But first, sleep.
The things I love so much about traveling are the differences between cultures, and experiencing the daily unconscious ways that human beings live. For that reason, I always find overseas travel much more satisfying than domestic travel – getting out of my comfort zone gets me awake, challenged, reminded that I am not home (in a delightful, delicious way). Things like:
Here in Germany the computer keyboard is quite different – Z and Y are swapped, the ä is where the ‘ is at home, and it took me almost a full minute to find the @, on the same key as Q but using an additional keystroke to get to it.
Eggs are sold by the 6 or by the 10, not the dozen.
No matter what size food you buy, the nutritional content will be per 100g.
When walking down the street, it is customary to pass oncoming traffic on the left, not the right. Trying to pass on the right gets Germans quite flustered.
Toilet bowls are freestanding and installed into the wall; to flush you hit a big button on the wall. You’d be surprised how much cleaner an aesthetic this makes!
Speaking the native language, even terribly, will make for a friendlier conversation than starting with “Do you speak English?” Even “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” can get you glowered at something fierce. No matter what, start with “bitte” and end with “danke” and you’ll be all right.
I’m sure I’ll discover more but internet time is short, so auf wiedersehen until tomorrow!
The Sheraton Frankfurt Am Main is a massive structure that spoons the airport – it must take up at least two city blocks – and is as ugly on the outside as it is beautiful on the inside. My room is a study in effective use of space, with blonde wood furnishings and soft but functional lighting exactly where you need it. The bathroom is even beautiful – I love European bathrooms for some reason! There’s an aesthetic to it that they have down. I found what would be my first TV experience, Scrubs dubbed into German (awesome) and ironed my work clothes for tomorrow because I knew I wouldn’t want to do it later, then set out to see the town of Frankfurt.
I immediately got lost.
Determined to use my shaky German skills as much as possible, I managed to ask a nice couple if I was going the right way on the S-Bahn, and they kindly told me to get off at the next stop…which was about 8 stops too early. Turns out they were Spanish and just as lost as I was. When I finally got to the stop I wanted, I arrived above ground and was completely dumbfounded about which way was which. My map was far too vague to be really helpful, and wi-fi is very hard to find so far, so my iPhone isn’t much help. After standing in the middle of the Hauptwache for what seemed like forever, reading a map that could not help me no matter how hard I read it, I finally decided to just wander. I figured I’d eventually find my way somewhere.
Frankfurt is an interesting city architecturally: I walked most of the Altstadt (old city) today, the original walled city dating back to the early part of the last millennium (the Dom was consecrated in 1239), marveling at the beautiful old architecture which now sits right alongside modern new buildings – sometimes they’re even the same building. I ate lunch at Haus Wertheym, a Frankfurt institution originally built in 1479 near the Römerplatz, and painstakingly reconstructed after the 1944 WWII bombings that left much of the city in dustheaps. It couldn’t have been more quintessentially European: lunch out on the square under big umbrellas, surrounded by Medieval architecture and serenaded by an accordianist and, later, a man who played some sort of hand-turned calliope. I ordered the Rittchen “Haus Wertheym” (house special?): pork rib, “ham” (really strong bacon) and sausages with sauerkraut and parslied potatoes. Heaven! I washed it down with some Schweppes Bitter Lemon drink, which was great and I wonder if it’s available in the States. I proudly spoke German to the waiter throughout the whole meal Rawr!
After lunch the sky opened up and the rain didn’t let up for the rest of the afternoon. I braved it and walked around damp, enjoying the adventure, window shopping along the Ziel. My favorite stop was the Kaufhof Galeria, a 7-story department store that has everything you need and lots of things you can talk yourself into thinking you need. The awesomeness for me was the bottom level, the food hall (supermarket) where I found cute little cans of coconut milk for my coffee tomorrow morning, a bottle of German kombucha (yes!) and a Schokostick – a Slim Jim-sized chocolate bar that is sold everywhere. I looked for options for a light dinner but struck out – what I really wanted was an apple and some almond butter, but all the nut butters were sweetened with sugar and/or chocolate, a la Nutella. Yes please, but no thanks. I gotta get back on track and lose this ass full of s’mores.
Tomorrow I begin orientation, but will hopefully have some energy to hit the town in the evening so I can post something of interest. For now, I’m going to post this, and do my damnedest to stay up until 8pm so I can sleep hard and deep until 6:00am tomorrow.
This traveling job has made very clear how important it is to stay connected, and to make time for people who are important to me. I got to see some of them this time around, and while Europe is going to be AMAZING, I look forward to being home where so many lovely people make my life better. And it won’t be long before I get to cuddle my honey and my sweet puppy dog!
And here’s my challenge to myself: 75 Days in Europe, via blog. I hope to post every single day while I’m gone, to give myself and everyone else a running commentary of life overseas. I’m excited to see what I learn about myself and the world while I’m over there. Huzzah! Stay tuned!
I’ve been collecting these images over the last few months. What is going on here? When I saw the first such ad I had a cynical reaction: does [insert company name here] really expect me to be giddy about the fact that they finally took all that crap out of the stuff they were selling as food? But then I actually did start to get excited, because I saw that something powerful and profound is behind all these ads.
As much as I would like to believe that Best Foods is adding cage-free eggs to their mayonnaise because they really truly care about their customers’ health, I know that this is an idealistic and unrealistic fantasy. And I don’t really begrudge them for it…much. Having owned my own business by now, I understand the power of the bottom line. Money rules decisions most of the time, especially as corporations grow in size, and we know that soybean oil is cheaper than conventional eggs, which are cheaper than cage-free eggs. We know that partially-hydrogenated oil is a cheaper way to fluff up baked goods than good old butter.
So why are these companies making decisions that cost them more money?
This is the exciting part, folks: the only reason I can come up with is that they are listening to us. Not through focus groups or meaningful discussions (well, maybe), but primarily through the single most powerful way we can have a voice in America today – the way we spend our money.
For years and years friends and family have looked askance when I spend what seems like a lot of money on my food, or beauty products, or cleaning products. And I have said again and again that I have to put my money where my mouth is, and that I can use my purchases to communicate to companies and the larger economy about what I want to see more of, what I am willing to support. And I still stand by that belief 100%. It’s exciting, really! Because it means that I am far from powerless in my own world.
These companies are changing their ingredients because they see us wanting better quality ingredients in our food, and Best Foods, Starbucks, Haagen-Dazs and others are hoping that if they up the quality of their ingredients and tell us all about it, they can keep us as loyal customers. Whether or not they will isn’t what concerns me – but the fact that we, the “small people”, are making a huge difference and being heard every time we go to the farmers’ market, or the local co-op, or the family farm down the road. Every time we say no, we will not skimp on what we put into (or on) our bodies, we make an impact.
And see that other picture, of MOM’s Organic Market? That’s a locally-owned, fantastic grocery store up the road from where I’ve been living and working in Maryland. The first time I walked in, I was absolutely delighted to learn that they were in the midst of expanding their store to twice its original size so they could better accommodate their customers’ needs. They are also in the process of phasing out the sale of plastic water bottles altogether – not because it makes for a good bottom line, but because it lines up with their values. In this economy, with stores and businesses closing left and right, they must be doing something right.
Ah, capitalism! Ain’t it great, folks? :) God bless America indeed. Happy 4th!