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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

fast cars, fast city

This past weekend, I dragged great guy to the German Formula 1 Grand Prix taking place at the Nürburgring. I was very excited. I wanted to experience the crazy noise of the race cars and the throngs of people and I wanted us to just have fun doing something we’ve never done before.

The weekend did not disappoint.

Great guy got into the spirit of the race, beginning already on Saturday afternoon with the qualifying round. He had his binoculars hanging around his neck, he picked out a great place for us to stand so that we could see the straightaway and the shikane (tight curve), creating max opportunity for excitement.

After the qualifying round ended, we fought the crowds to get to our car and headed to Köln (Cologne) for the night. Our navi frau, Ms. Tom Tom, guided us away from the autobahn along landstraßen (smaller, secondary roads) for most of the way, assuring us that it was the fastest route, through the beautiful, dense, woods of the Eifel region.

The city of Köln has a reputation. It is known for some hard-core partying during carnival time. At Christmas, my cousin told me that you cannot visit Köln during carnival with your significant other because traditionally everyone’s morals are a bit looser during this time. I didn’t quite believe him, and assured him that great guy and I could handle Köln during carnival without sleeping with random strangers. Nevertheless, there are many stories about carnival craziness…I’m guessing it’s a little bit like Stampede time in Calgary…but thankfully carnival happens only in February!

We cruised into the altstadt (old city) of Köln around 5 pm, found the hotel which I had booked online and were pleasantly surprised at how cool it was. One entire outer wall of the hotel was made of thick, glass cubes in a bright shade of blue which let the sunlight stream through in bluey goodness. We went down to the sauna and swimming pool where great guy shocked a few American guests by lying in the sauna buck-naked, while I swam in the pool and saw their horrified expressions as thez quickly came running out. Funny.

Then, we headed outside to experience this incredible old part of Köln, an area new to both of us. The Dom is a massive structure and one of the only things in the city to miraculously survive WWII bombing raids. I can’t even begin to describe how huge it is. We went inside the dom and then walked around the outside, just staring at its impressiveness.

Afterwards, we walked the uneven, cobble-stoned streets which were packed with Saturday evening Kölsch drinkers…soon including us. Kölsch is a pale ale, brewed in Kölner breweries and served in short, narrow glasses. In any locale, waiters come round with trays of kölsch, continuously replenishing your supply until you put a coaster over your glass signifying that you’ve had enough.

Great guy and I dined on schnitzel and kölsch, in an historic building, packed full of young and old. There was singing and laughter and we thoroughly enjoyed the gemütlichkeit (comforting atmosphere) of this altstadt. A great night.

Sunday. Race day. Pouring rain.

Great guy and I found another perfect place to see the race. He ‘built’ me a silly rain cap out of a plastic bag, laughing every time he looked at me. Miraculously though, the rain stopped almost exactly at race time.

I wish I could describe how great the race atmosphere was. The speed, the super-sleek cars, the noise and the cool fans…somewhat schicker (more elegant) than, say, monster truck fans. Seeing the ‘fighting’ of the three leaders, Hamilton, Webber and Alonso, over 60 laps was totally spannend (exciting). We encouraged Vettel, who seemed off his game right from the first round, and were shocked when Heidveld spun out off the track, right in front of us.

Great guy was an awesome sport, taking an interest in the event and making it as fun for me as possible. One of the best things about him is his ability and interest in making me laugh. And, he did that a lot over the course of the weekend. Good times. Good race. Good guy.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

running phone guy

Today, a guy got on to the treadmill next to me, at great guy’s gym where I run. I honestly can not describe this man because I didn’t look at him at all. But, the moment he got on and started running, I noticed that he was holding an iphone to his ear, and chattering away.

He was running the same speed as me, and talking on his phone the entire time. He would end a call and then dial someone else and continue blabbering away, all the while running at 10 km/h...even 15 minutes into the run. Meanwhile, I, on the other treadmill was trying very hard to just keep going, giving myself little pep talks, as I usually do. I was half way to my goal and did not want to stop, especially with running phone guy next to me, chattering away. I mean he wasn’t even huffing and puffing…that is a whole different level of being in shape.

But, the good thing is…no, the incredible thing is, that I ended up running 5 km in 30 minutes. I know for many people that’s not fast, but I’m pretty sure that’s the fastest I’ve ever run that. All thanks to running phone guy.

I will leave you with a great quote off of a card I received from a sweet friend:

If I could,
I’d find a fairy godmother
with a magical wand
and combat boots
so that she could grant
your wishes and kick
the crap outta anything
that tried to get in the way
of your happiness.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

a bachelorette party

The invitation said, ‘Dresscode: Kittelschürze und Kopftuch (apron and head scarf)’.

First of all, I had no idea what a ‘kittelschürze’ was and second, this was going to be my very first, lone, social event. I was nervous. But, it turns out, I was not as nervous as the bride-to-be, whose surprise bachelorette party we were all going too!

Max and Bärbel are getting married. And, everyone who knows them is very excited. They are a lovely and interesting and very easy to be around. I don’t think that Bärbel really wanted a typical bachelorette party (who really does…except for maybe my soon-to-be sister-in-law!). But, she knew that something was happening, because she had been given her kittelschürze, so it’s not surprising that she was worried. I was worried too. I had no idea what a German bachelorette party looked like!

So, great guy and I headed to the second-hand store in Ingelheim for me to find my ‘costume’. He directed me to the kittelschürze section (yes, there really is an entire section). Now, these are not your typical, tie-around-waist, aprons. These are the long, sleeveless, button up, dress-like, mou-mou things that you would picture an old hausfrau in, who is cleaning the house all day. And, surprisingly, that is precisely who they are for! Every single kittelschürze was in size 50 or higher. There are, apparently, no Kate Moss-type hausfrau, cleaning ladies around.

After getting a colourful (and baggy) kittelschürze, with a matching kopftüch (why shouldn’t I try to match?) I began to mentally prepare for spending an entire evening with a bunch of women who I don’t know very well, on a planwagon (I’m not sure if there’s a specific name in English cause I’ve really seen one like this in Canada…except for at the Calgary Stampede or on Little House on the Prairie re-runs… a little covered wagon with a wooden table and benches inside and little holes to hold your wine glass…pretty much the cutest little wagon you’ll ever see) touring the wine bergs (wine hills) and drinking lots of wine. (I apologize to my writing prof, that was a very long sentence.)

Of course, the moment great guy dropped me off at the designated meeting spot on party night, and I climbed out of the truck, all was well. We all screamed and laughed at each other’s outfits and I preceded to have one of the most fun evenings I’ve ever had in my life. Truly.

This was a really wonderful group of women; a few who I knew a little and now much better, and a few who I didn’t know and now can’t wait to see again at the wedding. There were 13 of us in total, with Mickey driving the tractor (in the pouring rain) which pulled the wagon through the hills. It was bumpy and loud and hilarious. Mickey drove right through his family’s vineyard, back and forth, through the rows and rows of plump, ripening grapes. The tractor putt-putted up the steeper parts and, after a few shared bottles of sekt, we all just laughed and hung on to each other, hoping the tractor would not start reversing.

Our destination was a tiny hut, where bien-chen (little bee) pulled out picnic baskets stuffed full of meats and cheeses, spündekas (a delicious, cream-cheesy dip) and pretzels, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, and the best bread I’ve had up till now. It was a smorgasbord of goodness…along with many bottles of Mickey’s sekt and grauburgunder wine.

We spent hours standing around talking and laughing, eating and drinking, getting to know each other better, or at all. And, at…I have no idea what time it was…dusk-ish, maybe, we all climbed back into the wagon, with Mickey at the tractor wheel, and we putt-putted down the hill, back into town.

This was the absolute perfect way to celebrate an absolutely wonderful person. This is how all bachelorette parties should be (no North American kitschy ‘suck-a-buck’ t-shirts!!). Great women=new and old friends, great food=baggy clothing, some grapes=all forms, and a tractor.
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

mickey and minnie and the east

I have a loud boss. Let’s call him Mickey. And Mickey has a loud family. There are 9 siblings in all, who, along with their numerous, small, yappy dogs, create loud, albeit friendly, mayhem whenever and wherever two or more are gathered.

Mickey talks a lot…in harried, spontaneous fashion…going off on every conceivable tangent, but again, always happy and friendly; stopping to talk and tell stories to anyone he meets.

Mickey’s lebensgefährten (a great German word for life-partner, much better than ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ if you’re over, say, 19), let’s call her Minnie (because it fits better than I could ever hope for), had a baby girl four months ago, who her step-brother has named ‘wurst’ (sausage).

Last week, I went with Mickey and his small dog, Emil, on a northern Germany tour to personally deliver wine to over 40 of his customers. It was a loud, but happy day. I learned a lot about wine, and about the towns and people who we visited.

We started off at 5 am, heading north on the autobahn, in a wine bus filled to the brim with boxes of weiss and grau burgunder, riesling, dornfelder, CAbernet-meRLot (which Mickey has named ‘Carl’ in honour of his newest nephew), and sekt, of course. We headed as far east as Magdebourg and as far north as Braunschweig, through towns with names like, Wolfbüttel, Gunsleben, Schöppenstedt and Hornburg.

But, the most outstanding part of the day for me, was definitely crossing the former East German border. At this particular border crossing, almost everything from 20 years ago was still intact, except for the actual machine guns and soldiers. The gun towers were still there. The high, spiral, barb-wired fences, which used to hold machine guns set to automatically fire when motion detectors were set off, were still there. The panzer brechers (tank breakers) were still there.

I stood there. And I could not believe that just 20 years ago I would have been shot for doing just that. Standing THERE. Mickey spent hours telling me stories about young Russian soldiers being fed and clothed by East Germans, the very same people they were supposed to shoot upon sight if they were seen trying to escape; or how the Russians ordered all hog barns near the border to be dug down a few extra metres so that in the event of an uprising of East Germans trying to escape, soldiers could be hidden there to surprise and kill them; or about Gorbatchev’s leadership and how his decision to stand firm with the West led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nearby, at a roadside cherry stand, Mickey loudly and jovially bantered with the bored, East German guy who was manning it. Mickey loaded up on cherries and apples to bring home to Minnie, wanting to pump a bit of money into this fella’s pockets. And, for the same reason, we stopped at a very, lonely-looking bakery and bought some heidesand cookies (an East German specialty) for Minnie and great guy (though his didn’t survive the 4 hour trip home). After 30 years of a wall, 20 years has not been enough time to erase the impact of it. There are signs of restoration and rejuvenation…all good things…next to signs of shambles and shame.

It is completely incredible how quickly the world (or the places in it) can change, either for the bad or for the good. And, often it comes down to one person.
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Friday, July 1, 2011

canadian on the rhein

Ok, so I know that I’m not the only Canadian living close to the Rhein, but today it really feels like I am.

It’s Canada Day. This morning I told great guy that he has to wear red today. He didn’t. I didn’t either. I don’t think I have anything which is red…and besides, I never used to do that in Canada. But, I did love this holiday. It was always the first major camping weekend, if May long was too cold and before I started attending Anniversary camping in June. It’s also usually the first, great, summer weekend in Alberta (especially this year, from what my sources tell me). And, best of all, it’s a day where everyone gets to celebrate and be included…new Canadians, old ones, the very, very first ones, the younger ones, those young-at-heart, and even the ones old-at-heart. Cool.

I walked through town today and nothing. No kids running around with flags tattooed on their faces. No annoying car flags flapping from every car window. No red and white hats or sunvisors or big, Styrofoam fingers. No parks overflowing with bbq-ing wieners and steaks. No one singing ‘Oh say can you see…’ my bad, I mean, ‘Oh Canada, our home and native land…’ I guess that wouldn’t really make any sense if Germans were singing that, hey (eh)? But, I can! Just watch me!

Come on people! A country was born today. A really good country no less.

And, if I see American flags here in 3 days, I am going to be ticked. Germans are supposed to love Canada…the mountains, the bears, the cowboys and Indians, all the really, really nice folks. Maybe, since Obama gave Angi a medal and threw her a big, whitehouse bash, all that has changed. Well, at least we have Will and Kate.

Man, what I wouldn’t give for a trad, a hamburger, some fireworks, and all my friends!

Calling all Canadians on the rhein!
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