Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

wine

In the Rheintal (Rhein valley), there are two major industries; tourism and wine. Up until yesterday I had focused on the tourism side of the river, and as of today, I am going to throw myself into the wine side…and hopefully not drown.

After thinking a lot, and being totally exhausted all the time, I decided to quit the hotel job. I had asked for weekends off and a regular shift. Bossman said that he really didn’t want to lose me and gave me weekends off, but said that he couldn’t tell me ahead of time when I would work…and that just stresses me out. That, along with working until 10 pm and then being back again at 6 am, was wearing me out. I was close to booking a room in the hotel, for myself.

So, yesterday, after getting off work and after taking a wonderful pedal trip with great guy up the Rhein and down on the other side, I got a phone call from one of great guy’s wine friends. He asked if I would like to work for him, doing this and that and everything, and I said ‘sure’.

I buy wine. I like wine. I drink wine. I can’t foresee any problems.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

gramps

The other night, great guy and I went to our lieblings platz (favorite place), called ‘the bauer’. On this particular evening, a cheery, old guy approached us and loudly said, ‘Hallo!’ Here was a man; white, wavy hair, over-sized glasses sitting too far down on his nose, a blue, plaid shirt with suspenders, too short trousers, with brown socks and sandals…seriously, a text-book description of a fairy-tale grandpa.

He used to help great guy get parts for his old BMW motorbike, but they hadn’t seen each other for a while. So, gramps sat down with us and chatted away.

Gramps talked about everything, from motorbikes to how he and his wife were star-crossed lovers when they first met, from being a postal carrier to how his son and daughter-in-law won’t move out. But, then he started talking about his wife’s family, and how his wife’s sister (the first child) was born in a Lebensborn, on the outskirts of Wien (Vienna), sometime around 1942.

I had no idea what a Lebensborn was, and so he explained it to me. Shocking. The abridged version, is that Hitler created these idyllic, serene, luxurious nests in the late ‘30’s and through-out WWII. The Nazis would hand-pick all the blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful girls from around Germany and Austria and ‘invite’ them to live in these beautiful places. Here, they wanted for nothing, where all around them on the outside people had nothing. And, in these places, the soldiers and generals from the Nazi Reich, and these girls would ‘hook up’…thereby creating, what Hitler hoped, the perfect people.

It sounds so unbelievable to me…like it could only have been a film plot. Of course, I know that there were many unimaginable things that happened here, and which still happen in places all around the world. But, I just would like to ask one question: Why was Hitler trying to create a perfect group of people which he never would have belonged too?
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

work

So, apparently my great job isn’t actually so great in reality. I received my work contract yesterday and great guy translated it for me. Wow, I didn’t really know how little hotel folks pay their employees….they can actually contract themselves out of paying minimum wage. That is not possible in Canada. Along with not having any breaks in an 8-hour work day...working every Saturday and Sunday all summer (plus 3 days during the week which are never in a row)…a boss that reems you out for every little mistake but just chuckles when he himself makes one=fun.

I spent the entire night thinking about what is important to me and how I want to spend my first summer in Germany and I’m not sure this particular place of employment is the place. My co-workers are very nice and I like the checking in/out, chatting with guests about their trip, computering invoices, etc., but not if I have to work every night until 10 pm or every Saturday and Sunday at 6am. Even the wonderful ferry ride across the Rhein is not so wonderful at 5:30 am!

Likely I will spend the short night tonight, again, thinking about what to do and nervous about making demands tomorrow, or pissing bossman off by giving notice. Crummy. I had such high hopes about this job. Can I say that I will not miss answering the phone in German? Man, I hate that! People speak so darn fast on the telephone, and every time I take a message for bossman, I misunderstand something and get a 5 minute lecture!

Oh well, we’ll see what happens. I know that it’s important for me to work and to get ‘out there’ in German, and in this community. It’s good for me and good for my relationship. It’s all just a little bit harder than it was in Canada. But, it’s worth it to me to persevere, and so I will. Wish me luck.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

fascinating

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fascinating

I have been spending my evenings (well, the rainy ones) watching TV, with great guy beside me and a fascinator on my head. Yup, I ordered a Vivien Sharp fascinator. It arrived, all fancy, in a black and white hat box, with a gold, Royal Mail postage label, from London. Honestly, wearing my beautiful fascinator (which is now my favorite article of clothing) makes me feel a little bit British, a little bit royal.

Great guy laughs when I come up the stairs wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and my fascinator, or… if he comes home and I’m working on the computer, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and my fascinator. He just smiles and shakes his head, like I’m a little bit crazy. But, he also says that it actually looks kind of good. So, I’m going to run with that. Either way, I kind of love it.

My brother recently sent me some money, which in a roundabout way came from our mom before she died. So, I used a little bit of that money to buy my fascinator. I think my mother would approve. She loved interesting clothing especially when she was younger...loud prints, bright colours, show-stopping hats...she had great style back in the day.

My family is having its own royal wedding this summer and I’m hoping I’ll be able to wear my fascinator. Because, honestly, other than while I’m home vacuuming, I’m not sure where else I will have the guts to wear it!
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

river commuting

I have a new job. And, the best commute. Four days a week I take the ferry across the Rhein…a total of 9 minutes. There is no road rage or traffic jams, no deer or moose jumping out on the road, no snowstorms or freezing rain to worry about, and no parking fees or packed C-trains to negotiate. All there is are freighters slowly moving along, the peaceful sounds of water sloshing, coolish river breezes messing my hair and the gentle bumping of the ferry slipping in and out of the dock. Quite relaxing.

This entire region is populated by tourists from May until October, and luckily for me, almost all of them speak English, at least as a second language. So, because of that, and my event management experience, I landed a pretty great hotel job. I’m excited. And, surprised.

The hotel lays right on the Rhein, with four floors of beautiful river views out front and rolling weinbergs out the back. Large groups of Americans, Japanese and Belgiums regularly visit, keeping the place hopping. It is quite fun for me to greet fellow North Americans in English, an English which they right away recognize as very familiar. ‘Hey, you sound like an English person!’, and I respond with, ‘Ya, I sound like a Canadian!’ Canada has such a lovely reputation around the world, especially in Europe, and that makes these interactions so much fun.

The challenge, for me, will be to get used to switching back and forth, quickly and professionally, between English and German, in a way which doesn’t make me sound like I have a brain injury.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

brunching, boats, and eurovision

Saturday morning started off with bright sunshine, heat and 6 of great guy’s work colleagues over for breakfast. The pressure for me decreased significantly the day before when he told me that all of his colleagues are male; there wouldn’t be a single female coming over. Whew! Men are way easier to please, I think, with food than women are.

Great guy’s colleagues are, in his opinion, are a bunch of simple, but friendly, misfits…hmmm, interesting. I was excited about meeting them since I often hear stories about them when great guy comes home from work. There is the very nice, much younger than great guy, boss-man. Also zeki from Turkey, the Italian named Mario (of course, what else would his name be?), the 55 year-old guy who still lives with his mother, and the talker named roland.

We sat out on the terrace, me beside the talker (I listened) at our long wooden table, overlooking the river. Coffee was consumed by the carafe fulls, fresh brötchen (buns) were eaten by the basket-full, and I had made easy cottage-cheese bake (that’s it’s official, un-elegant name), which came through for me here, as it always does in Canada. And, along with lots of cheese and würst varieties, we had put out Canadian salmon which I recently brought over. That was definitely a big hit…almost as big as Crown Royal! (Should I clarify? We didn’t serve crown royal…it was only 10am! We’re not in Bavaria!).

After the group toured the house, and ooohed and aaahed (fun!), great guy and I jumped in the land rover and headed to the hafen (harbour) just outside of Wiesbaden for a spaziergang (walk). One thing we both love to do is to be by the water, watching boats, water dogs and ducks, and dreaming about which boat we someday would like to take on a watery holiday. Relaxing.

In the evening, we stayed inside, cozy and warm while it finally poured rain outside, nibbling on peanuts and watching the Eurovision Song Contest 2011. I have been hearing, none-stop coverage of this finale show because last year’s winner was from Germany and she was defending her title this year. But, I honestly didn’t understand what the show was about. In my North American naiveté, I thought this song contest was just some European, American Idol spin-off. Kind of ignorant of me.

Eurovision is in its 55th year and it involves every European country (the current number being much larger than it was in the beginning). Each country has its own competition in the months before to pick their winner, who then competes against the other countries on this finale night. But, the very cool thing is that all the callers who call-in to vote cannot vote for their own country person. Callers vote for a country other than their own. I kind of love that…along with the geography lessons. Did you know that there is a country called San Marino? Then, after watching all of the contestants sing (the songs are all originals, no American idol karaoke happening here) the last half hour is dedicated to watching the results come in…kind of like watching federal election results, but a bit more interesting I must say. By 12:20 am the winner was declared, and this year it was a couple from Azerbaijan. Germany’s Lena placed a respectable 10th. Good show.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

pigeon

If a pigeon could give someone the finger, yesterday, one would have given it to me. As I was implementing great guy’s strict lawn watering program, a pigeon was hanging out on one of the freshly seeded, grassy areas peckishly having lunch. Thinking that great guy would not like a bird eating away all of his grass seed, I proceeded to try and remove said pigeon. I walked right up to it saying, ‘shoo, shoo’. And, it just looked up at me, as if to say, ‘buzz off, I’m eating’.

Later, after returning from one of my tutoring sessions, I saw the pigeon on the lawn with its head in one of our new porcelain bowls…eating my müsli! Great guy had made him/her (how do you tell?) breakfast. The guy surprises me.

It turns out that the pigeon had 2 racing rings on its legs, which I hadn’t noticed (I would make a horrible witness). Great guy said that sometimes, when pigeons are on their way back home, they can’t make it the entire way and need to rest. So, he was trying to re-energize the little guy.

There is something about my character that immediately assumes that a bird would be giving me the ‘bird’. Why wouldn’t I have thought that it needed food, or maybe a ride home? My bad.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

red bull...and a 'red hot' name

On Sunday, great guy and I took the motorbike up to friends, gerd and dora, in Henchhausen. Henchhausen is a small, small town, surrounded by bauernhöfe (farms), nestled high above the Rhein. The drive up and down the steep weinbergs (vineyard hills) was so much fun on the bike…I was hanging on for dear life. But, the smells along the entire drive were just as enchanting; ranging from lilacs in full bloom, wein wirtschafts (vineyard restaurants) whipping up their evening menus, forest earthiness, vines beginning to sprout, all the way to good ol’ spring farm smells! Delightful.

Zooming through turn after turn, giving gas, then braking hard, reminded me of watching the formula 1 race that morning. My dad has always been a huge formula 1 fan, and back when we were kids my brother and I would regularly watch it with him. When bro and I visited France a few years ago, with a day trip to Monaco, we both knew that a ‘must’ on our itinerary was to walk through the ultra-cool grand prix tunnel, which runs right through a hotel and up alongside the ocean. And, recently, while in Canada, my dad and I stayed up until 4 am to take in the live showing of the Shanghai Grand Prix. Spannend!

While watching that race, my dad told me that my name comes from the Finnish wife of Jochen Rindt, who was born in Mainz, very close to where I now live. My parents had seen her while attending a race at the Salzburgring in the late ‘60’s, and had kept the name in their minds until they had, well, me! Unfortunately, Jochen Rindt was killed in a practice race in 1970, but went on to win the world championship that year posthumously.

So, formula 1 must be in my blood somehow. And, right now, I’m a little bit obsessed with the Red Bull Team, and their current German super-star, Sebastian Vettel. The whole Red Bull story is fascinating. A toothpaste salesman visits Thailand in the early ‘80’s, meets a Thai guy who has created an energy drink, the two partner together starting a company in 1987, and go on to build an empire…the most popular energy drink on earth…each man worth something like 4 billion in 2008! They have sports teams, an NFL star, a ‘holy shit’ tab on their website featuring extreme sports photos, and even a Red Bull record label. And, they have plenty of controversy…starting years ago when reports came out of Austria that Red Bull Cola was laced with cocaine. And, of course, we all know the effects of one too many Jägerbombs the next morning!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing Red Bull, the drink or the company, but it is a good story. And, a good story, mixed with crazy roads and fast vehicles, makes for an exciting day in my books.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

bruno engler

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pippi, perfume and bruno engler

A ski jumper sails through the air in a 1973 black and white, Bruno Engler photograph I bought for great guy while I was in Canada. He is soaring over the Banff townsite, with the cloud-covered Rockies watching closely. It is a whimsical photo, almost magical, because the ski jump is out of site….so all you see is the skier flying through the sky in cool, ‘70’s paraphernalia.

I show the photo to step-mother and her close friend, who I immediately upon meeting want to call ‘Pippi’. The two women were giggly and warm and very happy to be together on this particular afternoon. They began to tell me stories of Mr. Bruno Engler. Apparently, back in the day, step-mother and Pippi knew Mr. Bruno a little bit, through the heli-ski operation where they worked after coming to Canada, as young German girls.

One story was of stepmother, at a party at the Banff Springs Hotel, belly dancing for the crowd, whereupon Mr. Bruno tried to get her to dance with him. Her belly must have made a striking impression with the crowd…or would it be the hips? I’m not exactly that familiar with the belly dancing art form.

Upon showing the photo to my father, who also took a great interest in it albeit for different reasons, he mentioned that he used to ski jump a little when he was a teenager living high up in the German Alps. Seriously?! Have any of your fathers ever said, ‘Ya, I used to ski jump a little bit, but the farthest we got was 30 meters’? I guess that’s the equivalent of Canadian farm boys growing up playing pond hockey out on the back 40.

So, back to Pippi. I met her, we sipped Pineaut de Charantes (all I can say is ‘yummy’), and the first thing I bought in duty-free when flying back ‘home’ was Dior Addicted – Pippi’s perfume. Now, I spend my European days smelling like, and trying to channel, this ultra-cool, a little bit crazy, really fun-loving woman. It is inspiring to come into contact with people who you want to be a bit more like…whether it’s through an old photograph or through a front door. We are better people for meeting them.
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

thievery

We have a thief. He or she or it sneaks into our home when we are gone, emptying wine or taking beer. He or she or it leaves behind dirty wine glasses, if there is only beer in the fridge. And, after I have washed the wine glasses and have left them on the counter, he or she or it starts using the clean glasses again. So weird, so rock ‘n roller.

On Sunday afternoon, great guy and I first went on a beautiful bicycle ride along the Rhein towards Ingelheim, and afterwards took the motorbike to Mainz to listen to rock ‘n roller’s shitshakers perform in the Volkspark. It was a gorgeous, warm day and the park was filled with families grilling sausages and steaks, couples sitting in the biergarten having a drink, and kiddies splashing around in the wading pool. Everyone was singing along and tapping their toes to the shitshaker’s rock-a-billy tunes.

At the long table which we joined, there was an older lady, all white, disheveled hair, bobbing along to the music. She nursed one beer over the few hours we were there, and every once in a while she would turn to us, and smile a huge, pink-lipsticked smile…another song she was loving. After the set, I ran over to rock ‘n roller and told him he needs to join us, to meet a new fan. She was thrilled, and actually compared him to Santana! Hilarious. But isn’t this what music is all about? I think this is what rock ‘n roller talks about when he goes on and on about only singing and playing the songs which are in his heart. Without that, I’m guessing the crazy-haired, old lady might not have been as moved. Cool.
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