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Written yesterday.

When we last spoke, Eric had just arrived and you were not invited to the welcome party.¬† ūüôā¬† We have since had four and a half lovely days in Germany, and I‚Äôm writing to you from the Hamburg airport where we are waiting for our two-part journey to Ireland.¬† Tonight we fly to the London Luton Airport and stay overnight, and then tomorrow morning very early we hop over to Dublin.¬† Finally!¬† But first, our time in Germany.

Friday was spent in Frankfurt, Eric’s old stomping ground from four tours with the English Theater there.  He got to show me his Frankfurt, which was fun for both of us.  Of course we ate dinner American-style (why not?) complete with BBQ ribs and French fries!  Thanks to the generosity of old friends, we spent the evening watching a riveting production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the English Theater Рso fantastic that Eric even stayed awake despite 48 hours without sleep.  Afterward we hung out with some of the theater staff and had a great time.  Then we went back to our very nice hostel (don’t let its surroundings in the heart of the Red Light District scare you!) and Eric passed out for the better part of 12 hours.  Day One of jetlag: done!

By the way, this was Eric‚Äôs first stay in a hostel, and he was impressed.¬† I‚Äôve been staying in them since I was 17, and it was fun to show him that a cheap bed doesn‚Äôt have to be a dirty or dangerous bed (unless you want it to be).¬† The Five Elements Hostel gave us a lovely room to ourselves on the 8th floor of the building, sharing bathrooms and a kitchen with four other private rooms on that floor.¬† In the lobby the staff served espresso and beer, provided tourist information, held events in the evening (we missed out on trivia night in favor of the play) and served a fine breakfast in the morning for ‚ā¨4 ($5.50) per person.¬† Cereal and yogurt, meat and cheese, rolls, juice and coffee filled us up for another nice walk around Frankfurt, including a stroll along the Main River, before we packed up and headed to the airport for Hamburg.

There we were greeted by Sonja and her family, who warmly welcomed us into their home.  We apparently are bringing rain wherever we go, and it was drizzly in Hamburg the entire time we were there.  But no matter!  As soon as our luggage was inside we all went for a walk to the Elbe river, where we shared drinks and ice cream at the famous Strand Perle riverside cafe, watching dogs play in the high tide and the shipping docks at rest.  Then it was back to the house where Sonni and Dirk made us a fantastic dinner and Eric promptly passed out, this time for 13 hours.  Day Two of jetlag: accomplished!  (This one set him aright.)

Sunday was a leisurely day and after a lovely late breakfast where we discussed international politics for a couple of hours, the kids stayed behind while the adults went out for a tour of Hamburg city in the rain.¬† Hamburg is an understated city, beautiful and lively but not in a flashy, touristy way.¬† This city is for its residents – I found that to be pretty refreshing. That night they took us to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Engel, which sits on a pontoon boat in the harbor. ¬†We enjoyed wonderful company, and food that was simply divine: pumpkin and mushroom soup, scallops on beet puree, veal steak (fish for me) with risotto, and finally “Chocolate Disaster” with ice cream, truffles, and nougat squares. ¬†Lordy!

Early Monday morning Eric and I headed out by bus for a daytrip to Berlin, with our friend and guide, Ralf.  What a beautiful city!  And of course, what a heart-wrenching history.  It was interesting to walk around and see how the two halves of the city have, and continue to, weave back together as a whole.  We visited the requisite sights Рthe Brandenburg Gate (where we, yes we did, took a picture with a Storm Trooper, why we cannot say), Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery (a 1.3km portion of the Berlin Wall which still stands, painted in a series of murals by artists from around the world).  Checkpoint Charlie was particularly interesting, as it is now a hub of capitalistic marketing of a deeply tragic history.  We took part in it, each buying a souvenir, but not without awareness and some discomfort at the irony.

The Holocaust Memorial is a haunting city block full of blank rectangular monoliths gridded like a hedge maze. ¬†Walking through it is incredibly powerful and, as Ralf and I discussed, a poignant experience of wading into something that seems manageable until you’re in the overwhelming thick of it, and suddenly the way out (or even how you got in) is difficult to see.

We also visited the new media hub, the Sony Center and the Walk of Fame celebrating Hollywood Boulevard-style the greats of German cinema such as Marlene Dietrich, Wim Wenders and Billy Wilder.

In eight and a half hours we saw quite a bit, but of course it was only the tip of the iceberg of what Berlin has to offer.  One could easily spend a week there and not run out of things to do and see.  The bus ride back to Hamburg was a bit long so late at night, but what a wonderful day.

Tuesday was an easy day, sleeping late, doing some leisurely breakfast-and-shopping, packing up, spending a bit of time with Sonni’s youngest, and then before we knew it we were off to the airport. ¬†Goodbye, Germany! ¬†With Ireland ahead of me I can hardly take the time to feel into the great many gifts this country has given me in the last two months. ¬†But it has been an unforgettable time in a land, culture and people of great beauty. ¬†I hope to come back someday soon!

Next post: YOU KNOW WHERE!!!!

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Friends! ¬†I now present to you: Oktoberfest. ¬†Opening day. ¬†All day. ¬†Donning my dirndl, I took a bus to and from my hotel which was awesome – no traffic or parking worries. ¬†We left the hotel at 8am, got to Oktoberfest at 10am, left the party at 11:15pm and got back home at 1:45am. ¬†I had no idea what to expect, especially since I get a bit anxious in big crowds and can’t drink beer, and I was also a little nervous about not being able to control when I could leave. ¬†But I dove in and had an amazing time. ¬†I was saying to some friends on the phone tonight that the only thing that could have made Oktoberfest better, would have been sharing it with others. ¬†Hence, I took a lot of video in lieu of the “Wow! ¬†Did you see that?? ¬†Awesome!!!” that I didn’t get to say to anyone I knew during the actual event.

The festival takes place right in the center of Munich, surrounded by other sights of the city, so it is a very picturesque setting. ¬†First of all, I have to say that I love the happy accident that I got to attend the 200th year of Oktoberfest! ¬†How cool is that? ¬†And opening day, no less. ¬†The first Oktoberfest was a horse race held in celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. ¬†So while known for its beer, it’s actually a festival to celebrate love. ¬†And beer.

There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance that opens the 16-18 day festival. ¬†First: the procession of the landlords of the fest. ¬†This is just a snippet:

Can you see the mad crowds? ¬†Tens of thousands of people. ¬†Yet most everyone was in a joyous, raucous mood all day. ¬†In the late afternoon and evening the dark side of the fest did start showing up – garbage piled waist high around seriously undersized garbage cans in what is normally an incredibly clean city; tented gurneys started transporting the Bierleichen (German for “beer corpses”) in a hurried fashion; I’m told that the tents fit over the gurneys so oxygen can be pumped in for the poor unfortunate who will soon nurse the hangover of his life. ¬†Some fights broke out too, and I did see a bit of blood, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised at the good nature of the people there.

As soon as I got onto the grounds I started exploring the beer tents. ¬†Each brewery has its own, decorated to the hilt and already – even at 10am – full of people drinking the beer, which cost a flat ‚ā¨8.80 (about $12) per liter. ¬†I soon realized that I was really hungry as I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so I went outside to look for food. ¬†Candied almonds did the trick – hot and sticky, straight from the copper pot! ¬†From the almond stand I found a spot and watched the parade of landlords, then found my way into the Hofbr√§u tent for the tapping of the first keg, which in itself was an absolutely fevered event. ¬†I don’t even think it was the actual first keg of the Oktoberfest – just the first for that tent! ¬†Still, it was madness:

“O’zapft is!” (“It is opened!”) is the traditional phrase yelled by the keg-tapper, at which point everyone breaks into that song that they are singing, with great gusto. ¬†I heard that song about every 15 minutes, all day long. ¬†And every single time, every single person within earshot was singing at the top of their lungs. ¬†It filled me with a giddy joy to see the music carrying so much importance and community.

After the keg-tapping, I left the tent and would not be able to gain access again, to any of the dozen or so tents, until about 9pm.  But no worries!  There was plenty to see, especially the carnival which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It turned into a little photography artist date, and I also rode a few rides.  Girlish screaming fun!  I also visited the Raumeshalle (Hall of Fame) on the side of the hill, presided over by the absolutely enormous Bavaria statue.  Both the hill and the ferris wheel gave me great overviews of the festival grounds.

In the late afternoon I was ready for lunch, and the Wildstuben had caught my attention early on so after waiting 45 minutes in line I sat with two Germans, two Italians, a Brazilian and a Colombian at a large table in the corner. ¬†The place was no different than any other beer hall, singing the theme song every 15 minutes and dancing in the aisles between tables – sometimes even on tables – while I sipped only about three sips from my $10 glass of wine (there’s a reason Oktoberfest isn’t known for its wine, I guess) and ate fleischpflanzerl (meatballs) made from wild meats – I’m guessing venison and/or wild boar, since those were also on the menu.

Since I wasn’t drinking (except the regrettable few sips of wine), I went a bit overboard on the sugar front: candied almonds, Turkish nougat, hot chocolate, chocolate-dipped dates, and candied walnuts to finish up the night. ¬†Don’t judge. ¬†It was Oktoberfest! ¬†And it was delicious. ¬†My nose is super stuffy today and my gut isn’t totally happy with me, but at this point I figure, what the hell?

It had been a chilly day, but at around 6pm it started to get just plain cold and I started to wonder how I was going to make it for another 5 hours if I couldn’t get in a beer tent. ¬†Happily, the Teufelsrad saved me. ¬†This is the Teufelsrad:

So simple. ¬†A turntable in the middle of the tent, padded around the edges. ¬†People pile on the turntable and do silly things while it turns. ¬†Like the crowd above, all older than 40, who tried to stay on. ¬†Or couples of lederhosen-clad men boxing with a dirndl-clad woman refereeing – while the turntable spins. ¬†Or girls hula-hooping. ¬†It was crazy and silly and fun, and amazingly I spent over two hours in there, standing and watching the insanity. ¬†(No, I didn’t try it because I would have had to lay my purse and bag down, and didn’t have anyone there to hold them for me – otherwise I would have been all over that!) ¬†The Teufelsrad has been in operation at the fest since 1908, and a sign said something like “My grandfather did it, my father too, and today it is my turn.”

Around 9pm I finally tore myself away from that madness, and did a little more wandering before making my way into the tents. ¬†The first tent greeted me with 6,000 people standing on tables and singing “YMCA” – the second was rocking and rolling to “We Are the Champions”. ¬†Here’s my favorite story from Oktoberfest: as I walked through one of the tents, a very…um, happy young man grabbed me and danced for a bit while his friends cheered him on. ¬†Then he kissed me on both cheeks before going in for the “deep kiss” if you know what I’m saying. ¬†I kept my mouth shut tight, but the poor guy was too wasted to notice so he made out with my chin for a minute before I could wrestle myself out of his arms, curtsy with a “Danke sch√∂n!” and run for it. ¬†I have to say, though, I actually felt kind of initiated!

By the time the bus pulled out for home at just past 11pm, I was ready to go, but thoroughly thrilled with my day. ¬†Oktoberfest is on my list of top ten experiences – it really is a must-do. ¬†I can see why people go every single year – it’s pure joy and celebration, rooted in meaningful tradition which I appreciated tremendously.

Friday I spent the evening in Regensburg with a work colleague and was reminded of how much I love that city.  Just, just love it.

Today I woke up a bit sleep-deprived but not too badly considering the late night. ¬†Mid-morning I decided I wanted to go to Rothenburg and see the famous medieval walled city, but traffic would not have it and after being stuck at a snail’s pace on the Autobahn for 45 minutes, I turned back and opted for knitting and relaxation instead. ¬†On the way home I took some back roads, and was reminded of how much I have grown to love the Bavarian countryside. ¬†And Bavaria in general, for that matter! ¬†I love the culture and the traditions and the lovely cities, towns, villages and farms that make up the rolling hills here. ¬†Next weekend I’ll get to visit the north of Germany for a few days and I’ll be interested to see what’s different, or not. ¬†But Bavaria has a big place in my heart and I hope I get to come back someday.

Ah, Bavaria!

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Can I just give you a quick run-down of my day today?  No, the last 24 hours.  Just a quick one, okay?  Okay, here goes (in bullet form it looks more impressive):

* Last night I chased a huge thunderstorm across southeast Germany, nearly running into the end of a road, encountering a 30-minute detour due to road closure, and trying to check into the wrong hotel before finally reaching my destination for the night.

*At breakfast this morning, I made use of my fancy new German word, “koffeinfrei” which means caffeine-free. ¬†Unfortunately, either I said it wrong or the guy just couldn’t imagine someone wanting to drink coffee in the morning without the actual jolt that it brings. ¬†Or maybe he thought I was asking “Is the coffee free?” ¬†Jitters and anxiety for about eight hours.

* The tourist center was closed; the park information center had no resources in English; the Zwiesel information center had no resources in English and denied any knowledge of walking paths around Zwiesel, even though my Lonely Planet chapter indicated this was the place to get that exact information.

* I forgot contact lens solution but remembered my contact lenses.  In my eyes.

* The restaurant I chose for lunch had gluten in every single menu item. ¬†I realized this after ordering a drink. ¬†When I asked for simple sausage and sauerkraut, the owner made a face and said “Blagh! ¬†This is Bavarian restaurant!”

* After lunch, I returned to my car to find a parking ticket on the windshield.

* After hitting a couple of galleries and shops along the Glasstrasse, I realized that…glass doesn’t really interest or excite me. ¬†In the least.

* The starting point of the hiking trail to Lusen Peak denied being the starting point of any such trail, even though the Lonely Planet said it was here.

* I was completely underdressed for the hike to the Lusen Peak, anyway.

* On the 1.5 hour trail I did find on the mountain, only one animal joined me the entire time: a sweet old dog that was being walked.

* At the Freilichtmuseum, I enjoyed what I saw, but they had no signs or literature in English so most of the time I didn’t really know what I was looking at.

* I reluctantly decided to hit the town of Bodenmais “real quick” on my way back to the pension, just so I could see it. ¬†My GPS took me completely past the town. ¬†I gave up and headed for the barn.

* The barn (pension), when I reached it, averaged about 61 degrees from room to room.

* For dinner I tried desparately to avoid eating another plate of sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes. ¬†I tried a Thai restaurant – nope, full up for the night. ¬†I tried an Italian restaurant – nope, they only served pizza and pasta. ¬†I gave in and had…wait for it…sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes.

Now, why on earth am I recalling this day? ¬†Honestly, this is not a complaint or a rant at all. ¬†I feel there’s actually a really important lesson here for me. ¬†You see, last weekend a person who knows such things told me that it’s part of who I am to feel frustrated and stuck when I initiate action, try to make things happen. ¬†When I sit back in receptivity, and accept invitations, all flows well for me. ¬†This makes so much sense (as did many other things this person told me – I kinda fell outta my seat talking to her) that I have been observing myself intently on this point all week. ¬†I have been watching what happens when I do sit back and wait, and when I get antsy and try to make things happen. ¬†Observing myself make calls to the hotels in the forest…and not receiving any calls back. ¬†Calling again…and again…and finally reaching someone. ¬†I didn’t really know what I was going to do once I got here, and nothing I read about really excited me in my guts – in fact, I kind of kept thinking about just staying home, but for some reason I put this pressure on myself to “make” the trip work. ¬†Well, apparently the Universe decided that since I was ignoring subtle cues, it would have to bitchslap me a little bit before I would pay attention. ¬†Well buddy, I am paying attention now! ¬†I’m going to go to sleep as quickly as possible, be much more specific about my coffee in the morning, and head back to my homebase here – which is where my guts really wanted to be all weekend. ¬†Oy!

Epilogue: ¬†Now that that’s done, I’ll share with you some cool things that did happen this weekend.

* The thunderstorm was actually pretty awesome.

* At lunch, the guy ended up being kind of funny in a grouchy-old-man kind of way. ¬†He asked where I was from, and then called me “The Californian” for the rest of lunch. ¬†His staff giggled every time he said it. ¬†When I asked him how he made the amazing popcorn crust on the roast pork (see picture above), he took me into the kitchen and showed me the special oven they use!

* At dinner, I was waited on by a very nice woman who listened closely, made sure there was no gluten in the dish I ordered, and treated me warmly and with respect.  The table across from me giggled every five minutes for the whole time I was there Рit was really cute and contagious.

* The fact that so few people here speak English meant that I had the opportunity to take more risks and see what I really could say in German, when I had to. ¬†It always surprises me what I can communicate in this language. ¬†(Apparently, I have not mastered “decaffeinated” but tomorrow is another day!)

* The forest was quite lovely at moments, especially when I found the sweet pond backed up against the trees.  And the beautiful mushrooms!  See the quartet of them above.

* I laughed all day long, at the sheer absurdity of everything that happened.

Lesson? ¬†Sit back. ¬†Relax. ¬†I don’t have to make anything happen. ¬†I only have to answer the call when it comes. ¬†Wuuuuuuuuuush….

Drip.

Drop.

Drip-drop.

Drippity-drip…pitapatapit…dripdripdripdrip…pitapitapitapita

STORM!!!

Yep, that’s how it happens here in Germany. ¬†The weather is more bipolar than any I’ve experienced – sunny and warm can turn grey, windy and downpour-ish in minutes. ¬†And I love it! ¬†It’s invigorating to my soul, a cleansing energy that washes through me and leaves me feeling brushed off and new again.

Tonight, on my way to the forest, I stopped in Regensburg to finally get myself a proper jacket (H&M to the rescue with a perfect fleece zip-up for ‚ā¨24.95!) and as I exited the mall I felt the familiar pit-a-pat of a brewing storm. ¬†I looked up and sure enough, the sky loomed heavy and charcoal over my head. ¬†I got to the car. ¬†The rain came. ¬†I drove onto the street. ¬†The rain became a car wash. ¬†By the time I hit the corner we were in full downpour, with lightning and thunder to boot. ¬†A smile crept across my face. ¬†My heart opened. ¬†I got the jolt. ¬†Pedestrians in dresses and suits dashed headlong into the intersection, ignoring the streetlights altogether. ¬†Patient, dry drivers waited understandingly.

I hit the road for Zwiesel and the storm followed me, determined to keep me company on the way.  It stayed right on top of me for almost two hours dead east, but we did part ways eventually as I turned north into the forest and the storm headed for the Czech Republic border.  The rain slowly eddied, but only completely for about five minutes Рthe exact five minutes that it took me to find the darkened but lovely Landhaus Karin and get inside and up to my room.  Then the rain bid me a fond goodnight with one final, resounding downpour.  I was hoping to fall asleep to the sound of it, but that particular storm belongs fully to the Czechs now.

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Yesterday was a basic workday, punctuated at the end by some exciting trip-planning: a bus ticket and hostel bed in Prague for only $75 total! ¬†You’ll read about Prague around September 12th.

Today I joined some of the kids I work with, on their field trip to the N√ľrnberg Zoo (Tiergarten). ¬†Now, I’ll be honest with you. ¬†I had a nice time with the kids, and it was great to spend the day outside and walking in what looks like nature. ¬†We ran into two sudden downpours (that left me soaked to the bone and with the certain knowledge that I need raingear – stat) but spirits stayed high and we made the most of the day.

But I don’t like zoos. ¬†Zoos make me really, really sad. ¬†To see magnificent beasts confined in cages or habitats that may resemble home, but in the way a stage set resembles home, hurts my heart quite a bit. ¬†It may be my imagination, but the gorillas looked downright depressed, and the cheetahs seemed to have the space, but absolutely no natural reason, to run – to fully express their “cheetah-ness”, to borrow a concept from visionary farmer (and personal hero)¬†Joel Salatin. ¬†The pigs rooted in a foot of mud that had no truffle-y rewards at the bottom – why? ¬†The dolphins and seals followed directions at the dolphin show, and looked like they were having fun, but were they? ¬†I know, it’s a bit morose of me to rant on about it, but it’s just the way I feel. ¬†I instinctively captured the feel in some of my pictures, particularly the caged great birds (griffon, eagle and owl) and the tagged cows. ¬†(Oh those beautiful faces!)

My sister loves to tell the story of when my family went to the Livermore rodeo many years ago. ¬†I was still a vegetarian back then, maybe even in one of my vegan phases, but spending the day with the family outside seemed like fun. ¬†Well, the food vendors gave me no shortage of strange and annoyed looks as I ordered my tacos without meat or cheese, and sitting in the stands I was definitely the only spectator rooting for the horses and cows. ¬†I actually applauded and whooped when a calf got away from a cowboy’s lasso! ¬†And I’m sorry, but the tight 501’s make the cowboys run like they have pineapples up their asses. ¬†I tried not to make a scene, but that worked about as well as…well, a rodeo clown trying not to make a scene at the opera. ¬†Oh dear. ¬†My empathy for our furry friends goes way back.

Tonight I am tired (the zoo trip required an early morning) but determined to carry on some ritual practices that I’ve started establishing in my life, and even put attention toward a new one tonight. ¬†In the meantime, I think I have established trips for my remaining weekends in Germany. ¬†More later this week, perhaps.

Solvo Bestia!

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Welcome to my first official crapload of pictures!  Plus a couple of videos.  This weekend was my best yet, by far: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a twin hamlet nestled in a valley just north of the Bavarian Alps, a beautiful place and my homebase for a weekend of sightseeing Рa full but leisurely, totally lovely weekend.

Saturday: I drove down to Garmisch after work on Friday so I would wake up in the Alps on Saturday morning.  After a lovely breakfast on the veranda of the Hotel Aschenbrenner (my-home-away-from-home-away-from-home) I set out for the western portion of my weekend: the castles Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, at the southern end of the Romantic Road.

Hohenschwangau was the weekend hunting lodge for the royal family of Bavaria, and the childhood home of infamous ‚ÄúMad‚ÄĚ King Ludwig II.¬† A gorgeous residence, it is no wonder that poor Ludwig had a hard time accepting the real world.¬† Hohenschwangau is a fairy-tale castle in a fairy-tale valley, leaned up against a fairy-tale mountain range.¬† It could not be a more picturesque place.¬† Every view is a sweeping vista, and the castle itself is Italianate, Baroque, Romantic in the architectural sense of the word.¬† (The golden castle you see is it.)

Ludwig became kind of obsessed with castle-building, and for 17 years oversaw construction of his still unfinished piece de resistance, Neuschwanstein, a 40-minute hike across the valley from Hohenschwangau. ¬†You know this castle; Walt Disney based his Disneyland centerpiece, Cinderella’s Castle, on Neuschwanstein. ¬†I don‚Äôt know if I‚Äôve ever seen a more elaborate or stunningly beautiful building.¬† Every detail is sublime, and I wish I could show you but pictures are forbidden inside the two castles.

‚ÄúMad‚ÄĚ King Ludwig…I‚Äôve tried to support a case for him not earning his nickname, but I just can‚Äôt seem to do it.¬† The poor boy struck me as a photo negative of Prince Siddhartha, choosing to use his royalty to surround himself with fairy tale and legend, and support his delusions with extravagant expenditures of Bavaria‚Äôs money, rather than look reality square in the face and live in the real world.¬† The guy did have pretty exquisite taste, though, and an awesome vision for Neuschwanstein, which I kind of wish he‚Äôd been allowed to complete.¬† Instead he was charged insane, and died under “mysterious circumstances” on the shore of a lake near Munich.

The castles took me all day, and I returned to Garmisch exhausted, ready to eat and sleep.

Sunday: Another breakfast on the veranda, then I headed out to Eibsee to catch the cable car up to the summit of the tallest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze.  Zugspitze straddles Germany and Austria and can be reached from both countries, and I’ll just let the photos and video speak for themselves.  It was exhilirating.  Please note the picture of my sandaled feet standing in snow!  Yep, there were little pockets of snow here and there, alongside the glacier Рa startlingly small, thin glacier, and a stark reminder of the climactic changes happening around the world.  I took the round-trip, up the cogwheel train through the mountain to the Zugspitzplatt (where a Bavarian oompah band serenaded sunbathers while the highest chapel in all of Germany rang its bell for Sunday service), then a short cable car up to the summit, then a longer cable car ride straight down the north face of the mountain.  There’s that word again: exhilirating.  At 47 Euro (about $60) it wasn’t a cheap ride, but so worth it.

The afternoon was spent exploring the town of Oberammergau, the site of the famous Passion Play that was first performed by the town‚Äôs inhabitants in 1634 as homage to God for saving them from the bubonic plague, and has been performed every ten years since then.¬† It‚Äôs happening right now, but unfortunately tickets are dear and I haven‚Äôt really tried to get one. ¬†It was enough to see the town, just as well-known for its intricate wood carvings.¬† I picked up a good number of wooden souvenirs there, thanks to the odd fact that Oberammergau seems to be exempt from the German ‚Äúno shopping on Sunday because it‚Äôs the sabbath‚ÄĚ law.¬† Every shop was wide open, which I found ironic in the most well-known Christian town in the country, where every shopkeeper greeted me with ‚Äúgr√ľ√ü Gott‚ÄĚ (sort of a ‚ÄúGodly hello to you!‚ÄĚ).¬† Why isn‚Äôt this town, of all towns, closed on Sunday?¬† I don‚Äôt know, but I enjoyed the shopping nonetheless.

The weekend inspired me to search out more of Bavaria‚Äôs charm and beauty, and I‚Äôm looking at a trip to the Black Forest, even though it‚Äôs a four-hour drive from my home base.¬† Is it worth it?¬† I don‚Äôt know; I can‚Äôt really tell what‚Äôs amazing about the Black Forest yet.¬† There‚Äôs also the Bavarian Forest to the east, hugging the border to the Czech Republic.¬† Hm…so much to explore. ¬†Of course, outside of Germany, Prague is a scant three hours away; Austria the same; Switzerland maybe five or six. ¬†What to do with my remaining weekends…

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When I was in middle school, my family’s third exchange student came to live with us for a year. ¬†We’d previously had exchange students from Sweden and Yugoslavia, but Sonja came when I was close enough in age to really click with her. ¬†She was a punk and introduced me to counterculture in a very cool way. ¬†Our family has stayed in touch with her over the years, and I’m so glad to be able to spend some time with her while I’m here, including our Girls’ Weekend in the capital of Bavaria.

Munich is a beautiful city. ¬†There’s culture, architecture, history, and shopping. ¬†Sonja and partook of all these fine attractions. ¬†But mostly the shopping. ¬†Armed with my new fascination with the 100 Thing Challenge, I went out and bought 5 new things, only 2 of which I love. ¬†Ho hum.

But! ¬†This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy our weekend together. ¬†Friday night went late as we joined Frank and Sanni for dinner and conversation. ¬†A lovely couple, Sanni and I had lots to talk about since, as it turns out, she’s a musical theatre actress and kind of a big deal in Europe. ¬†Besides theatre, we had great discussions about world politics including what I think of my country, what they think of my country, what each of us thinks of theirs, and also the price of gas. ¬†It’s always so fascinating to widen my lens, and learn how my world is perceived by those who are not so ensconced in it.

Saturday we slept late in our lovely hotel with the tiniest elevator I’ve ever seen (see picture above). ¬†A full and fancy breakfast was included with our room, and by noon we were out to shop. ¬†And shop we did! ¬†Hoo boy, I’ve never seen such a shopping town. ¬†We walked for hours and hours and couldn’t get away from all the shopping. ¬†We also got to walk through the old town center, which included some lovely architecture (and three Esprit stores alone). ¬†By evening we were pooped and stayed in our hotel room, watching Pirate Radio on my computer thanks to the magic of iTunes movie rentals.

Sunday we hit the museums – or rather, museum. ¬†Of the many, many choices in Munich, we chose the Pinakothek der Moderne (Modern Art Museum) which featured a huge collection from some of the big, big names in modern art. ¬†Yeah, I can’t recall any of them right now. ¬†Oh! ¬†Baselitz. ¬†Warhol. ¬†Lichtenstein. ¬†Alessi. ¬†That other guy. ¬†Oh, and yeah. ¬†Him, too. ¬†Women represented? ¬†Can’t remember. ¬†What really caught my eye was the people looking at the art. ¬†I got fascinated with it and ended up taking a bunch of pictures of that subject. ¬†My first formal “series”, if you will. ¬†I am so high-brow.

In the afternoon we sat in the Englisher Garten for a bit – a gorgeous Central Park-like green space in the middle of Munich, only I’m told it’s much bigger than Central Park. ¬†Well known for its nude sunbathing, we saw no booty but did see a city alive and in love with the sunlight that it gets. ¬†I’ve noticed that cities where winters are harsh just come alive when the sun is out (unlike in California, where we sort of get spoiled, I think, and take it for granted more than would someone in, say, Chicago). ¬†The Englischer Garten sports temples of the Chinese and Greek persuasion. ¬†Go figure!

All in all it was a lovely trip, and a tiring one. ¬†I was wiped out by the time I got back home. ¬†But Munich has won my heart, and I’ll be back in a few short weeks to witness the opening of Oktoberfest. ¬†Do you think I’ll be the only glu-tard there who can’t partake of the beer??

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Tonight my teammate Julie and I checked out Dietfurt, another Bavarian village about 28km away from work. ¬†(I’m starting to think in kilometers and Celsius – totally rad!) ¬†I’d been told that it was charming, and at first I have to admit we were a bit…underwhelmed. ¬†The town seemed trafficky and not very lively, although we started to notice little streams running under and alongside many of the buildings. ¬†Then I started noticing signs for a Meditationshaus, which intrigued us both so we followed them to what was, for me, the main treasure of Dietfurt: the Franziskanerkl√∂ster or in American terms, Franciscan monastery. ¬†Right there. ¬†In the middle of town. ¬†A sweet courtyard garden sheltered a stone sculpture of Mother & Child, and St. Francis presided over the fountain while wild apples presided over him. ¬†Inside was a simple chapel with some beautiful religious artifacts. ¬†One that caught me totally by surprise was a shrouded skeleton, encased in a glass coffin, on display. ¬†The sign said something about a saint and 1781, I believe. ¬†Whoa! ¬†I’d never seen anything like that. ¬†The skeleton couldn’t have been more than four feet long. ¬†Was it a child? ¬†Or just a pygmy saint? ¬†I felt a little weird taking a picture of it, and if anyone here knows for sure that it’s a bad thing to have taken it, let me know and I’ll take it off the post. ¬†I do not wish to offend.

The chapel did get a little stuffy for me, what with all the confessionals and…you know…shrouded pygmy skeletons. ¬†But the courtyard really was lovely, and as I followed the streams I became all the more enchanted by the sleepy town. ¬†On the far bank of one of the streams stood two boards with words written on them – I haven’t translated them yet. ¬†Is it graffiti or a prayer? ¬†Hm. ¬†And the plump Mexican…a quirky fountain in the town square. ¬†Love his face. ¬†And then I found a beautiful little garden – someone’s front yard, and behind it a funny, tall building with only one small window at the top. ¬†What could it be?

I can’t say enough about the aesthetic beauty everywhere I go. ¬†It makes me wonder why in America we give so little thought to cultivating beauty in our public surroundings. ¬†Of course we have beautiful places, but Sacramentans: has anyone seen the majority of Folsom Boulevard lately? ¬†I rest my case.

Dinner was touch-and-go; for the first time, our server did not speak any English at all. ¬†My German is improving, I think! ¬†I translated about 30% of the menu, which was enough to let Julie figure out what she wanted. ¬†I even communicated with the server about my gluten intolerance and lo and behold, the menu had indications of different allergenic ingredients! ¬†Hot diggity. ¬†Julie had knoblauch (garlic) steak and potatoes, and I had a champignonomelette – mushroom omelet. ¬†Not the best food I’ve had here, but pretty yummy. ¬†After dinner we headed back home, with a quick stop to snap a pic of the wall of posters, and the absolutely spectacular sunset (which got more and more spectacular, but I couldn’t pull over every five minutes to capture its fiery beauty).

Today my friend Amy posted an article about living with less, and it got me seriously inspired. ¬†I have been a student of the Voluntary Simplicity movement for many many years, although in my own life I vary between simplicity and astounding complexity. ¬†ūüôā

Earlier this year someone broke into my dear old Saturn, in a rather violent and thoughtless way. ¬†Some very valuable valuables were lost, and the car was basically totaled on the inside. ¬†Knowing I had a good 7 months of work travel ahead of me, I donated the car to the local PBS and decided to stay car-less until October, when I come home from this assignment. ¬†Now an idea is hatching, of maybe staying car-less and seeing how it goes. ¬†After all, I live in a city that is compact and well-designed for walking or bicycling. ¬†Most of my needs can be met within a few miles. ¬†Over the summer my sister and I got good at me taking the light rail and her picking me up, for family outings in the north. ¬†And I just discovered that if I need a car, Zipcar is now in Davis which is only a 20-minute train ride from the downtown Amtrak station. ¬†It will cost much less than buying, insuring, and gassing up a new car. ¬†Hm. ¬†I’m not making any commitments, just thinking for now. ¬†Thinking of the money I’d save. ¬†Thinking of the great exercise I’d get. ¬†Thinking of the thought I’d have to put into my day, and the possible chance to become more present to my moments. ¬†I’m also thinking about the rainy season and how thin my sister’s patience might wear.

So the article features a woman, Tammy Strobel, who has committed to a simpler life, and one way that manifests is that she lives by the 100 Things Challenge. ¬†Hm. ¬†So I looked it up. ¬†HM. ¬†I’m intrigued. ¬†What would I keep, if I could only keep 100 Things? ¬†Living out of suitcases for most of the last year has definitely distilled it already, to some degree. ¬†But what a concept. ¬†Some of you may know that I am not one to hang onto things; I ruthlessly purge my belongings regularly, and love to lighten my load. ¬†Probably the “wander” part of me. ¬†But this 100 Things Challenge got me thinking about which possessions are really meaningful in my life, which have energy on them that make them worth space in my backpack, so to speak. ¬†This, I think, is the “nest” part. ¬†Wanting to keep my backpack light, but filled with people and memories and relationships and significances. ¬†I don’t know…there’s something brewing here. ¬†I’ll probably post more as time goes on.

Tomorrow right after work, I head to the train station for a weekend with my dear old friend, Sonja. ¬†I won’t be able to blog again until Sunday night, so bear with me. ¬†I’ll be back then with a 3-day series on beautiful Munich!

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Who’s tired of Regensburg? ¬†Not me! ¬†My teammates and I went on an impromptu trip last night; Julie had a parking ticket to pay (what a PITA that’s turning out to be, in a foreign country!) and we figured we could catch the Danube at sunset, and a good meal somewhere. ¬†It was a delightful little weeknight trip, and we agreed to take more of these so that we can see the surrounding towns. ¬†I think we are set on Dietfurt for tomorrow night.

I took videos this time; a new addition to the Wandernest blog experience!  I hope you enjoy.

After finding the police station and learning that Julie couldn’t, in fact, pay her ticket there, but has to go to another place which is only open about seven and a half hours a week, we stopped by the Dom for a quick sit from one of the balcony-like platforms, then hit it for the Danube River to see sunset from the Stone Bridge. ¬†It was lovely. ¬†The Stone Bridge was built in the 12th century, and it’s a pretty marvelous piece of engineering. ¬†I particularly loved the big gate at the one end of it (seen in the slideshow above), with a clock tower and some fierce-looking stone saints. ¬†From the bridge we caught sunset.

We also caught a harem of drunken Punks, who decided that we should take their picture.  Being good Americans, we obliged.

In the dim light of dusk we walked to the distinctive, triangular Haidplatz for a Thai dinner under the stars, serenaded by two guys, one of whom wheeled a piano into the square. ¬†The piano sounded surprisingly good, considering all the travel. ¬†My favorite tune of theirs was “Thriller”. ¬†Unplugged. ¬†Awesomeness. ¬†(Graham-a-Rama, if you read my blog, this is for you.)

Dinner was fantastic and we decided to follow it up with a little gelato, just for fun. ¬†Despite my dairy intolerance, I decided to have some, and I’m glad I tried it, even though I totally paid for it today. ¬†Cherry Amaretto…sublime. ¬†Only in Italy could I get better gelato, I think.

We got home late and I did lose some sleep, but it was totally worth it.

Today was a regular day of work, with a lunchtime stop into Parsberg for some toiletries and a quick look around. ¬†Most of the shops close between 12-2pm, which was a bit inconvenient but I still vote it as very civilized. ¬†Tonight after work I experienced stones of another kind: a luxurious, much needed 100-minute hot stone massage, courtesy of the best masseuse in the area. ¬†Michaela was so kind and careful to make sure I was comfortable, and even threw in a quick spinal rub-down with St. John’s Wort oil – a new one on me. ¬†Lovely all around!

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Yesterday I went back into Regensburg with one of my teammates for a day of shopping plus a little bit of sightseeing. ¬†It really is such a beautiful town – but I have to admit that I went primarily for the shopping. ¬†When I packed for this trip, I had just finished paying $50 to get my 70-pound suitcase (just one of my three bags) home from Maryland, and also heard a few horror stories from colleagues who had lugged heavy bags up and down three flights of stairs at various German train stations, surrounded by glaring angry commuting Germans, all yelling “Achtung! Move it, American!” ¬†(I think the stories may have been exaggerated.) ¬†I vowed that I would pack as light as possible for Germany, because yes I would be parked for two months while I did my work assignment, but after that I would be actually traveling as a traveler for two weeks in Ireland and didn’t want to anger any commuting Irishmen. ¬†So I would pack super light and do without my creature comforts. ¬†I could do it! ¬†Go minimal!

What the hell was I thinking?

While adjusting to an essentially new job in a stressful culture, and life in a foreign country (including foreign currency, language, driving laws and social mores), there’s a great way to ensure that you will be even less comfortable, and that’s to leave all your favorite things at home. ¬†For me that’s my favorite: weekend shirt, yoga pants, cardigan, iPhone armband, books, pastels and sketchbook, yoga mat, travel coffee mug, and Klean Kanteen water bottle. ¬†Probably a total of ten pounds of things, with an incalculable amount of comforts-of-home packed in it. ¬†Talk about something being worth its weight in gold!

So yesterday I found some workout/lounge clothes, a vaguely snuggly work sweater, and a couple other pieces of clothing that will make life a little bit easier here. ¬†I didn’t find flat shoes or work pants that could be worn with flat shoes, and that’s really high on my list. ¬†See, about 3 years ago I stopped wearing heeled shoes (initially to decrease the distance between Eric’s lips and mine, but I grew to really feel better in flats), and now my body just doesn’t like being slightly tipped over all day! ¬†I have worn my 1.5 inch heels every workday since I got here, and my skeleton feels absolutely awful and achey, like I’m skating on jello. ¬†Probably a bad analogy but, sheesh. ¬†Anyway!

Regensburg’s crowning glory is the Dom, St. Peter’s Cathedral in the center of the old town. ¬†It is an impressive Gothic structure, and I was duly impressed, although not charmed in the least. ¬†I was struck most by the highly oppressive atmosphere inside the cathedral – it’s very dark inside, and despite the very high ceilings I actually started to feel short of breath and was relieved to get back out in the fresh air. ¬†(Organized religion and I do not always mix.) ¬†I did find myself in artistic appreciation of the statues and stone engravings in the Dom, though. ¬†The colorful angel with the sword was my favorite; I imagined it to represent either Joan of Arc or the Archangel Michael, both figures that hold space in my heart. ¬†Also the statue of the woman holding up her apron or skirt, was kind of lovely. ¬†Her face is so beatific and beguiling. ¬†I imagined that she was Hildegard Von Bingen, although again I have no idea whether she actually is or not. ¬†(Notice also the picture of the three statues side by side, the one on the right being a new replacement. ¬†It kind of tickled me, but also – imagine the whole Dom when it was gleaming new and marble white! ¬†That must have been blindingly brilliant.)

The cellar of the Dom houses the tombs of several bishops, dating back as far as the 1300’s, I believe. ¬†Along the walls on the main floor are these big stone panels, each about the size of a door and engraved with a life-sized image of a bishop laid to rest. Their faces were haunting and strange, and I found myself entranced by them but in a disturbed way. ¬†Notice the pillows underneath their heads.

Enough of the Dom and those darned Middle Ages!  Can you breathe again?

Today is Sunday, and did you know that Germany is closed on Sundays? ¬†Germany actually has a “Sunday law”, originally passed in 1919 and affirmed in 2009 after much scuttlebutt. ¬†The law reserves Sundays as a day of worship, and it is illegal for businesses to operate on that day. ¬†Okay, now I knew about this before I left, and I held it as a charming, enlightened custom. ¬†“Oh, how civilized! ¬†What a nice contrast to the 24/7 American culture! ¬†I think I’ll like that!”

I don’t think I like it. ¬†No, let me put it another way. ¬†I am uncomfortable with it. ¬†Ah, screw it. ¬†I don’t like it, at least not today. ¬†My job requires me to be in my work environment but not become part of it, and I’ve been totally fine with it on every other assignment. ¬†But this time around I am also living on site at my work environment, which means that when I go to the local gym or the movie theater or the Burger King or the dining facility, I don’t ever quite feel like a private citizen. ¬†I am always at work. ¬†So it’s nice to get away on the weekends, and maybe when I travel further from work it’ll feel different, but going into town today would be a lonely prospect. ¬†It’s not that there is no solution to this – after all, I could go to a park or hang out by a river. ¬†But you know. ¬†I’m in a mood to whine a bit.

So I went for a walk and did some bodyweight-lifting at the gym, and now I’m working on my blog and getting caught up on my finances and budget. ¬†And later I’ll knit for a bit, and a big-name comedian is giving a free performance here later this afternoon, so I’ll check it out. ¬†But today is the kind of day when, if I’m going to have a quiet day at home, I start to wish I was actually home and could wake up late, legs and arms entwined with my beloved’s; go for a walk with him and our dog; fix leisurely meals and play cards together, or watch a movie; visit the family and comedically lose while trying to wrestle both niece and nephew, who are getting stronger every day; have coffee with a friend or two; meet up with many more at Graham-A-Rama and enjoy the live entertainment of my very talented friends. ¬†Future Sundays may not all feel the same, but that’s how this one feels.

The Author

This is a site about saying yes to life - written by a multi-passionate rock star who loves to take life between her fists and kiss it full on the mouth.

"Make my boy realize that, at the end of the everlasting why, there is a yes. And a yes and a yes!"
- Mr. Emerson,
A Room With A View