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

Monday, March 31, 2014

these are a few of my favourite (fleamarket) things.

One of our favourite things to do on a Sunday afternoon, now that the air is heavy with the scent of cherry blossoms, is to go to the fleamarket. They are ubiquitous here in Germany, and a great way to window shop, treasure and bargain hunt all at the same time. Whether at Portobello, Hell's Kitchen or  the parking lot of a grocery store chain, I love to fleamarket. Everything from vintage jewelery to mason jars to Easter decorations or books, I love searching for my new favourite thing!

Here, set to the tune of a favourite ditty, a few of my favourite fleamarket things. Warning: you will need to sing.

Worn-down old frocks and vintage white linens...

Stone antique statues and people you run in...

Bright flowery packages tied up with strings...

These are a few of my favorite things.
Cream colored bunnies and bright coloured dollies...

Doorbells and clock bells and veggies and lollies...

Mother and child in gold framed paintings...

And of course some really weird things.

Girls’ wedding dresses with white satin sashes...

Cookbooks that play to my nose and bare dishes...

Pungent ripe cheeses that make my mouth zing...

These are a few of my favorite things.

When the sun shines...

Then the 'stands' rise...

And it’s Sunday noon...

We simply collect all our smallest change...

And then we can’t help ourselves.


Monday, March 24, 2014

a whole lot of fairytale.

As great guy enters his third smoke-free week, his mood deteriorating with each clean breath he takes, I decide to head south for a couple of days.

Do you ever think you could use more fairytale in your life? I do. And, I knew just where to go to find some. The mountain town nestled high in the Bavarian Alps, of Schwangau.

Take a crazy king, one large swan, a hint of grail; drizzle some hollywood, throw in a splash of Disney, add lots of fresh spring air, pre-heat with Celtic folklore and Roman ruins, and you’ve got yourself plenty of fairytale.

This region has been enchanted, long before Clooney or Disney or even the mad King Ludwig himself drew attention to it. Maybe it's the thin mountain air or the laid-back ease of the people, but to call this place magical does it injustice. Schwangau has seen the likes of one or two fairytales in its time; Ludwig creating the most jaw-dropping building as their setting.

Once upon a time… there was a young king who was shy, tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. He could have been a real hit with the ladies, but he was from all accounts, a recluse with a wild imagination. His parents summered in an old castle nestled in the Bavarian Alps on the shore of a deep, mountain lake. Also known as the fairytale king, Ludwig’s favourite place was here. Hohenschwangau.

Ludwig wrote to his friend, Richard Wagner of his dreams for a new castle: “It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day…the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world…This castle will be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau further down, which is desecrated every year by the prose of my mother; they will take revenge, the desecrated gods, and come to live with Us on the lofty heights, breathing the air of heaven.

Castle of the grail.

With traces of human habitation in the area from as long ago as 14000 B.C, the region was settled by a Celtic tribe long before the Romans ruled over it. In 54 A.D. Emperor Claudius built the Via Claudia, a road still navigable through this area, leading from Venice all the way to the Danube River.  

As Ludwig grew older he identified more and more with Parzival, the medieval Grail King. Ludwig was obsessed with topics of sin, purity, faith and redemption. He had Neuschwanstein’s rooms designed to reflect this never-ending conflict; the ultimate quest for good. What would have been the Throne Room turned into the Hall of the Holy Grail, and plans were made to create a bath hall in homage to the ritual bath of the knights of the Grail, but they were never finished.

The Hall of Singers - Wikipedia
The Swan Knight.

The swan, which was already an important symbol within the dynasty, became a figure of purity for Ludwig, beginning in childhood. In Neuschwanstein, Ludwig covered huge walls with romantic scenes from Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin, about the Swan Knight. And his patronage allowed Wagner to avoid bankruptcy and created the now wildly popular Bayreuth Music Festival.

This is Wagner’s prophetic account about meeting King Ludwig: "… Today I was brought to him. He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world … You cannot imagine the magic of his regard: if he remains alive it will be a great miracle!" Ludwig only lived to be 41 years old, dying under mysterious circumstances in Starnberger See after being declared insane by the Bavarian government and stripped of his power.

Monuments Men.

Hitler's stash of more than 20,000 stolen pieces of art, was rescued in 1945 just before the castle and contents were to be destroyed by the retreating Nazis. Over a six week period, members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allied forces (in total 350 men and women) found and removed paintings, drawings, and statues from Neuschwanstein; including Rodin's bronze The Burghers of Calais.

I saw one of the original castings of this impressive statue at the Met in New York City years ago.

A casting of Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais” stands on a farm cart in an Allied collecting point- photo
The casting found at Neuschwanstein was recovered in this account: “I was heading for a remote castle in some woods, but I couldn’t get to it with the Jeep because it was perched high on a rock. So I got out and started walking through the forest. Soon I spotted some woodsmen who looked as though they were taking a break, standing around in a group talking. As I got nearer, it occurred to me they were standing quite close together and looked rather dejected … and they weren’t moving much. And if they were talking, they certainly were being quiet about it. Then in a flash I realized I had stumbled on The Burghers of Calais, Rodin’s famous bronze grouping of six men about to be martyred, just sitting in the woods!” — Charles Parkhurst (


Shortly after the end of WWII, Walt Disney toured some of Europe’s most romantic locations looking for inspiration for a new little movie he was working on, Cinderella. He found just what he was looking for when he saw Neuschwanstein Castle. Disney and his engineers copied Neuschwanstein’s multiple turrets and white, fairytale magnificence to create the perfect backdrop for Cinderella’s triumphant good over evil ending; perfectly in line with Ludwig’s whimsically, romantic dreams. 

The real thing. When you come to visit the area of Schwangau, you will find the real fairytale in the freshest mountain air, heavy with the scent of newly dunged fields (okay that's not so fairytale) and the comforting smell of wood-burning stoves throughout. Tiny white flowers burst into the cool spring air, dotting the fields, while a lone white church makes itself heard with a gong, gong of its bell. Mouth-watering, hearty German cooking will greet you in each brauhaus and braustüberl, to accompany home-brewed weizen beer; perfectly thirst quenching after an afternoon of hiking in the footsteps of mad men. Watching over it all, perched on the side of the mountain, is Neuschwanstein.

As the sun moves to sleep and dusk settles in, the mountains create a safe, silhouette cradling castles and crazy on three sides, tucking everything safely in. Now, I will head to my tiny, attic room in Haus Martina, my head spinning with weizen-filled wishes and fairytale dreams......I feel good here.

Neuschwanstein Castle information

Schwangau tourist information materials

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

victoria revealed: a love story till death do they part...or longer.

In reflecting over the past week; starting off with the first birthday of my newest nephew; then midweek saying goodbye to great guy’s uncle; and yesterday starting my Lenten ‘fast’ (better late than never to cut out sugar and bread), life and death are running through my mind, as if in a race. I am confident that life will win, even as death will pull a last minute, daring stunt to pass. Life will ultimately cross the finish line. But it sure is a strange race.

In the impressive Victoria Revealed exhibit currently on at Kensington Palace, I toured through the life of an equally impressive woman, who ruled the British Empire for 64 years from 1837 to 1901. Queen Victoria’s descendants made up significant parts of the royal houses in Sweden, Norway, Greece, Romania, Germany and Russia, during her reign.

Walking through the rooms where she was born, spent her childhood, heard that she had become queen, and met her husband; I caught a glimpse of the love story she shared with Albert through her journals, intimate portraits, his gifts of music and jewellery, and the letters she wrote.

I stood in Victoria’s former bedroom; I should say Queen Victoria’s former bedroom, in the understated, yet grand Kensington Palace. Situated in North London, next to sprawling lawns as far as the eye can see, the palace feels royal, yet also like a large home. 

Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, Will, Kate, George and Harry all have or do make their home here. Reading letters Victoria had written to Albert, I felt a bit like I was intruding on something intimate…which I was.

Just a few months after she was born on the 24th of May, 1819 Victoria's father died of pneumonia leaving the princess and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, penniless. Wanting to prepare her for her future role as queen, her mother kept her isolated from life at court with few friends her own age. Victoria had a vivid imagination and loved the arts. She sketched, sewed costumes for her wooden peg dolls, loved riding her beloved horse Taglioni, and took singing lessons from an Italian opera singer named Luigi Lablache. 

And then one spring day, it all began…

From her journal on the 18th of May, 1836 Victoria wrote, “we went down into the hall, to receive my Uncle Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and my cousins, Ernest and Albert, his sons…Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth.”

On June 20th, 1837 His Majesty King William IV died at Windsor and Victoria became Queen. 

Can you imagine the problems trying to find a guy ‘man’ enough to handle dating you once you become queen? But Albert stepped up to the plate, responding like an actor in a well-scripted rom com. He sent Victoria gifts and letters when they were apart, and between 1838 and 1839 he composed pieces expressing all of his love-lorn emotions; such as, Gruss aus der Ferne (Greeting from Afar), Schmerz der Liebe (The Pain of Love), and Einsamkeit (Loneliness). Some of the pieces you can experience in the exhibit.

The coup d’état upon their engagement in 1839, was called Der Orangenzweig. Prince Albert composed a piece set to a poem by his brother Ernest, joyful that Victoria:

‘Would agree to the intimate bond
With Saxony’s most upright princely son
A zephyr with its whispering tones
Reached the distant land of flowers.’

Albert was one thoughtful fellow. He often tried to bridge the relationship between Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Victoria harboured quite a bit of resentment against her mother due to her lonely childhood. So, Albert commissioned a bookmark formed of four green, silk ribbons with a circle of eight semi-precious stones, the initials of which spelled VICTORIA: Vermeil, Jargoon (J was often used as an I); Chrysolite; Turquoise; Opal; Ruby; Jargoon; Amethyst…I wouldn’t have thought of that.

They were married on the 10th of February, 1840 and ended up having 9 children. Throughout her pregnancies, beginning with the first one, Victoria, Princess Royal, who was born on the 21st of November 1840, Albert helped fulfill her political and practical responsibilities. Victoria even formalized Albert’s role by asking Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to give Albert his own set of keys to her dispatch boxes. Victoria in turn supported and encouraged Albert in his projects, such as the Great Exhibition of 1851.

After they were married, Victoria and Albert often sang and played music together. They also formed a warm friendship with Mendelssohn, who visited them several times at Buckingham Palace. Between 1844 and 1847 he transcribed eight of his famous Songs without Words for the royal couple to play together. Throughout the exhibit, you realize how very suited to each other they were; they thoroughly enjoyed being together in work and play.

I moved through the exhibit slowly, taking it all in; her former rooms. Reading, listening, I was exploring someone's life. And then I turned a corner and the walls, the floor, the ceiling all went black.

People handle the loss of a beloved partner as differently as the people themselves are. Some move on fairly quickly, needing to grab life by the horns again and laugh and love; some fall apart completely and join their partner soon after; and others wait.

Queen Victoria waited forty years for her time on earth to be over, and to join Albert. He died of typhoid fever in 1861, and Victoria was never the same again. “My life as a happy one is ended”, she wrote.

Immediately upon his death, Victoria insisted that her entire household and her children all wear black. For the rest of her life, she wore a black dress, black stockings, black shoes and a black ‘sad cap’, as her young daughter, Beatrice, called the widow’s cap Victoria wore. She even wrote all of her letters on paper with black trim, sealing them with black wax. She faced a lot of criticism in the time after Albert’s death for not attending public events, nor dealing with her official duties as she should.

This is how she described her last moments with Albert: “I bent over him and said to him “Es ist Kleines Frauchen” (it is your little wife) and he bowed his head; I asked him if he would give me “ein Kuss” (a kiss) and he did so. He seemed half dozing, quite quiet…two or three long but perfectly gentle breaths were drawn, the hand clasping mine and…all, all was over.” Queen Victoria, 14 Dec. 1861

This afternoon, I had an unexpectedly moving conversation at the post office. The lady behind the counter, who is the father’s neighbour, asked when they were returning from their wintertime in Spain. I mentioned that the father had just been here for the week because his brother had died on Wednesday. The expression on her small, wrinkled face changed; her eyes grew dark. ‘Andreas died?’ she asked in disbelief. She began to repeat what I had heard from others, including Andreas himself. He was never the same after his Moni died 22 years ago. Even though he had children and grandchildren of his own, it was as if the light that kept him going; the interest to wander through each day, was gone.

No matter where you live, brothers are brothers and sisters are sisters. The bonds that keep family close are the same no matter where you are. [Takayuki Ikkaku;Arisa Hosaka]

Ultimately, time is all you have, and the idea isn’t to save it but to savour it.[Ellen Goodman]

Monday, March 3, 2014

zum schnuggele...

Everyone knows that the best dinners are spent with family around a big, wooden kitchen table; fireplace roaring, candles glowing, a hearty meal steaming and a jug of wine breathing. Well, when we’re in the family mood and family happens to be in town visiting, then there’s only one place where we want to eat…the kitchen. Just not ours.

The Historisches Weinwirtschaft in Oberwesel on the Rhine is where we go when family is in town; the father and ms. marion, dad and stepmum or even when it’s just the two of us wanting an intimate, quaint atmosphere with an excellent meal. It is our favourite ‘home’ to eat in, because in almost every way, it is a home.

Recently, I had taken the day off work because stepmum was rolling through town, as she sometimes does. We had had a lovely spa afternoon and after great guy got off work we headed out for a cozy dinner in one of the most beautiful towns on the Rhine.

Oberwesel, all fairytale-like with buildings dating back to 1010 A.D has a deep sense of roots, of history, and of belonging on every corner. Like being in a minute chapter of an epic historical novel, there is no better place to hang out with family.

The Oberweseller have great fun showing off their historical location, with night watchman tours every month, huge medieval festivals every two years, and an appreciation for all things old. They value and preserve their Geschichte (in German ‘history’ translates into ‘story’, which I think is just perfect) and it oozes out of every cobblestone.

What Iris Marx has done with her wirtschaft is no exception. Taking one of the last remaining fachwerkhäuse (timber-framed houses) in the area, she has created a restaurant unlike any other that we know. Each room to dine in is a ‘room’; the lived-in living room (Wohnstubb) with guitar and fireplace; the long, narrow kitchen (Kich) with old stove and cracked eggs and flour on the counter; the intimately small dining nook (Gaststubb) with passage into the bedroom (Schloafstubb). It is in here, decorated with plump, white linens and feather pillows, that you can sit in a wooden bed built for two or nestle into a tall, oak cupboard with your glass of red wine and a schnitzel.

With her wit, straight-talking charm, and heavy dialect, she will entertain you just because she’s there. And, as is standard in German locales, the owner is always there. I don’t know how they do it, but it is a tradition which I find lovely and warm. It is the feeling of being hosted in someone’s own home. There is no good English translation for ‘wirtschaft’…it isn’t really a pub or a tavern or a restaurant. The images of those words paint the wrong picture. It really is more like a home…with great food and drink.

The impressive, regional wine list is displayed on each table on a magnum bottle; easy to read and handy. Wines with names like the finest racehorses such as; the 2011 Bopparder Hamm Feuerlay Riesling Spätlese from Weingut Matthias Müller in Spay and the 2012 Handstreich Engelholler Bernstein Riesling Kabinett from Weingut Winfried Persch in Oberwesel...

are served at the table in terracotta jugs. A little bit of old tavern flair.

And I can't forget to tell you about the food. It is the best home-cooking around...with names even some Germans need to have translated. 

Fier de Große Hunger...for the bigger appetite:

Zwiewelnaggesteak vun de Wutz met Broadkrumbeere un Salad
(Onion pork steak with pan-fried potatoes and salad)

Hunsrigger Krumbeereklees, gefillt met Läwerwurscht en Broadesoß un Salad
(Hunsrücker Potato dumplings filled with liverwurst with gravy and salad)

en was zum Schnuggele…and for dessert:

Zironesorbet met Treschder 
(Lemon sorbet with brandy)

Espresso-Rahm-Kerm aff Cranberries
(Espresso whipped cream, with cream atop cranberries)

And at the end of a fun-filled, familial evening, touring all of the rooms in the house including the old wine cellar, we head back along the B9 towards home. To our own kitchen.

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