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

Monday, August 18, 2014

the most beautiful trail award goes to...

Recently I met a man and his dog who love to walk. Here in Germany, the terms walking and hiking mean pretty much the same thing. It doesn’t matter. Germans love to hike, and to walk, and Germany’s Most Beautiful Hiking Trail Award goes to the RheinSteig (the Rhine trail).

“Follow your heart, but don't lose your mind along the way.”
- Zack W. Van 

The folks at Tour Natur, Germany’s largest trekking trade show, had really the most incredible trails to choose from, but the RheinSteig was the first long-distance trail to win. And, I would have to agree. It is the room where I do some of my most effective thinking.

“I have not always chosen the safest path. I've made my mistakes, plenty of them. I sometimes jump too soon and fail to appreciate the consequences. But I've learned something important along the way: I've learned to heed the call of my heart. I've learned that the safest path is not always the best path and I've learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.” - Steve Goodier

There are castles here, almost every kilometer, some even closer together than that; hanging from steep cliffs, perched on hilltops, or even nestled down below in the middle of the river. This narrow stretch of the Rhine was once fraught with much conflict and knight-ery. Everyone and their mostly Roman dogs wanted to show their might, erecting bigger, wider, more imposing castles, yearning for control over this valuable waterway.

But now there is only peace and reflection to be kicked up like dust from the trail. The variety of the RheinSteig gives you whatever you might be looking for, with almost constant glimpses of the river - fields of yellow…

Among the fields of gold
I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I’ve broken
But I swear in the days still left
We’ll walk in the fields of gold 
-Eva Cassidy

or forests of green...

“I will take the sun in my mouth

and leap into the ripe air 
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness” 

- ee cummings

or bridges over troubled waters (although in reality it's pure peace).

Take only memories, leave only footprints. – Chief Seattle

What works so well here, is that along with the train schedule, Germans are very organized when it comes to signage. It is very difficult to get lost. On the RheinSteig you just follow the white ‘R’ on a blue background – it won’t let you down.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. 
It will not lead you astray.” 

- Rumi

You just need to open your eyes and you will see the signs; on trees, rocks, walls, or signposts.

The overall trail is 23 kms long, but great guy and I usually just jump on in stages, depending on the time and energy we have at the moment. Sometimes, when we're feeling more relaxed, and less athletic, we will stop to have a glass of wine, tasting the grapes that grow alongside the trail. Just insert a twoonie, open the doors and have a sip! Brilliant.

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

- Frank Lloyd Wright

My favourite trail (sorry Tour Natur) is not the RheinSteig, but snakes along the west side of the Rhine and is called the Rheinburgenweg (the Rhine Castle Way). Like walking through a time machine, you sneak up on the castles, stomping in the footsteps of the Romans, turning corners, and all of a sudden touching a castle wall.

On trails where donkeys were once the only acceptable mode of transportation, the dirt is damp with trodden leaves and errant rocks. The air smells earthy and fresh, while a constant gentle breeze creates rustling as it moves up from the river valley.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, 
discover that I had not lived.

-Henry David Thoreau

Whether you're on the left side of the river or the right side, the views are the same but different. Each time I see something new or more importantly, think it. I'm looking forward to getting back out on the trail, to walk, to feel, to smell, to sit, and maybe even to have a chat with a man and his dog.

I just have to decide where to start walking - sometimes there are too many darn choices.

But when in doubt, just ask.

"Happy trails to you, until we meet again." - Dale Rogers

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

the captain's great event

With war seemingly on the verge of erupting in more than one corner of the world, as subtle as Mount St. Helens spewing plumes of ash, it feels frivolous of me to give tips on planning a great party. All I can say is that while preparing for this past weekend’s festivities I was listening almost constantly to CNN International; ever more grateful for our peaceful patch of property by this river and so looking forward to celebrating life and love with some dear friends.

Photo credit: Maximilian Groß
I do love planning a party. I have been doing it all my life, something that I got from my mother. She always had loads of people over to the house, effortlessly entertaining friends with much food cooked and many a wine drunk.

What I definitely get from my father though, is the fine art of list-making – so here is a list to help you with your next féte:

Invitation-sending: When I look at this cute boy it still makes me giddy. An invitation that will put a smile on someone’s face will excite them for your event. If you want to make sure that people can attend your party make sure you send invitations early (if you don’t really want them to come, send the invites two days before). I highly recommend sending a real card as opposed to an e-card (who doesn’t still love mail?) and when we received an RSVP in the form of a postcard from a couple who lives just up the hill, I was equally thrilled!

Taste-testing recipes: Why not spend the weeks leading up to your party making yourself and your schatzi some great food – all in the name of research. It also eases your stress level greatly on the day of, knowing how to actually make the recipe.

List-making: Enough said. Make lists and then some more lists; brainstorm and firmly cement the details in your head. Trust me, on party day you will barely have time to look at a list. But having them will prevent a nervous breakdown in the days leading up to your house being invaded by 60 hungry, thirsty revellers on a day which could bring storms or heat or locusts. Plan for everything. With a list.

Appliance, house and garden-cleaning: Like moving to a new house, having a big party is the perfect opportunity to fix odds and ends (we have more odds than ends) and to clean things we (I) normally wouldn’t clean (the outside party fridge). Great guy even built stairs to our front door on Friday – now we actually have stairs!

Tent-christening: As I mentioned before, weather is as unpredictable as cancer.  Plan for bad weather and then in most cases it will be sunny, blue-skies and not a hint of rain or wind. Two nights before the party, we borrowed a long, white tent and with Hansi, Simone, Max and the Romanian we set it up and spent the rest of the evening in it. The only downpour came while we were taking it down the day after – see, planning worked.

Deko-rating: A faint whiff of a theme is fun…will it be elegant BBQ with haybales and Hugos or Gatsby-esque with champagne served in glasses bigger than finger bowls; more flapper less flannel? Our theme was rustic (we have no choice) with a hint of the nautical. I strategically threw big boat ropes and life preservers around, and Bärbel placed a huge orange buoy, with much thought, laying it right on the ground beside her. Great guy thought it was strange that I kept asking him to tie more knots, but he went with the flow – how could he not, he loves boats (and safety, for that matter).

Now for the food and drink tips (the best part and sometimes the only reason to go to a party):

Sun tea-steeping: a super easy, non-alcoholic necessity for the drivers and the pregnant. Mix tea bags, some sugar, lemons, limes and mint plucked from your garden (if you have it growing like a wild crazy weed) into a large, large glass jar. Stir and let it steep in the sun outside all day. Try to move it around with the sunshine. Later, cool with ice cubes. Done.

Local vintner-supporting: We picked up Rieslings and Weißburgunder (pinot blanc) from two favourite weinguts – Kauer and Hemmes. Drink stations were set up on different tables for ease and avoided clustering and clamouring for a drink. Sun-tea and pop, wine and sekt, beer and more beer, espresso machine and whisky – and water was, of course, everywhere.

Ciabatta loaves-warming…with bread on every wooden surface coupled with spündekäs dips or artichoke and goat-cheese antipasto people are instantly happy (just don’t forget a knife otherwise they stand there like lost puppies having no idea what to do - seriously). Along with platters of cheese and grapes, crudités and more bread, pretzels and sesame sticks, your revellers will be satisfied and full.

Tart-baking: More savory less sweet – arugula and brie, zucchini and tomato, yum and yum. Tarts are so easy to make ahead and so excellent to eat. I made five and there was one piece left at the end of the night (which I ate).

Pulled-pork slow-cooking: This strange, new food was a hit with the Germans after I showed them how to eat it on a bun. I love having a slow cooker again. Alongside the pulled-pork, we brated lots of bratwurst during the course of the evening - at one point turning the bbq-ing duties over to my new brother-from-another-mother, Roland. There was definitely enough fleisch in the haus!

One-loving: We thought that rockn’roller would be trilling some of his jazzy tunes wearing his too-short leather pants and converse, but he was a no-show – off to see his new baby mama. So we made do with great guy’s beloved garden disco; Linton Kwesi Johnson, Trance Groove and the Doors to name some of his happy music. He had a great evening strolling the lawns among new friends and some longer-in-the-tooth, childhood buddies, while wearing his captain's hat and calling everyone 'old sport' (kidding - I'm reading 'A Curious Invitation-the forty greatest parties in literature' and am on Gatsby. My next party will be Alice's just in time for my birthday - glorious fun). Just like bread, music makes people happy. If only all the peoples of the world would sway together more…in one love.


At the end of the day, or the begin of the party, the most important thing to do whether you’ve finished all of the prepping or not, is to stop working and to start enjoying the people who have come to be with you.

This is great advice, which I tried to adhere to. Unfortunately I was a bit behind my own schedule – not helped by the arrival of uninvited party guests three hours early!! This is an unforeseen challenge that one just has to make the best of - smile and serve them coffee. No list will help.

As this was a big birthday, invited friends started to arrive on the nose instead of fashionably late. While I did manage to comb my hair, put eyeliner on and slide into a dress, I forgot that I was just wearing flip flops and had only removed nail polish from one of my hands. The plus side is that nobody looks at your hands or your feet if you keep moving, hopping from group to group, like a bride at her wedding. Food, in this case, is also a great distraction from the small details that you’ve forgotten…just keep putting food in front of people and they’ll barely even look you in the eye!

There are no pics of the happy birthday boy because he does not take a happy photo well.
Hours later, as we sat by the river in the calm, quiet late night/early morning hours – great guy’s reggae put to bed and the hard core friends not yet ready for it – I felt the blessings of peace, the glow of contented friends, and the familiar melancholy of missing those far away. The auburn lights of the cathedral softly anointed us, with the only noise being a goose or a duck. If only everyone could feel the safety and love and abundance that we enjoyed this weekend. Happy birthday great guy (I refuse to call you captain).

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