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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

venice's great neighbourhood...the enchanting cannaregio!

Venice is magical. It really is like a fairytale...

But, to truly experience Venice you need to move off of the beaten path...only steps away to enjoy Venice's neighbourhoods. Away from the tourists you will find the most beautiful corners where the Venetians actually live.

The six Venetian sestieri (neighbourhoods) are nestled together in bundles of bridges and small canals, and seem to vie for attention from the ‘most beautiful street in the world', the Grand Canal, which carves an elegant ’S’ through each of them.

I hear many comments from visitors to Venice that the crowds of tourists and the cost and quality of the food, made their visit unpleasant and not as remarkable as they had hoped. Trust me, don't leave Venice off of your European adventure. Do not strike it from your bucket list! Just be smart, and visit the parts of the city where the Venetians call home...where the locals eat and live and experience this most incredible place. And most of all, respect the fact that this is their home…where they work and play, and then you will know and see the treasure that this speck of the earth is.

Just like in Amsterdam, where the flow of tourists, like a dedicated stream of ants to a picnic, follow one congested route through the inner city,  in Venice the twenty-minute route along the Strada Nuova, from Piazzale Roma and San Lucia train station to Ponte di Rialto (the bridge) and Piazza San Marco (the square) can seem like three hours. Every day thousands of extra people flood the city between dawn and dusk, only to then clamber back onboard their massive cruise ships and float away again the same day.

Locals say, and I can completely agree after visiting Venice four times (the first time at the tender age of twelve), that the city’s iconic landmarks can only truly be enjoyed in the early morning, or after dusk when the hives of selfie sticks are long back on their boats and preparing to invade the next port.



Cannaregio is the sestieri which the most Venetians call home. Here is where the locals come to live…and to eat. It blankets most of the northern part of the city in an almost orderly lattice framework. It is one of the most beautiful parts of Venice, settled in the 15th century, and exudes charm and elegance around every corner.

The architecture is very traditional, and many of the original facades remain wonderfully intact. I received two local tips on where to enjoy a great traditional meal in Cannaregio; Osteria Ai Osti (Corte dei Pali gia Testori), usually filled with locals and which you will miss if you're not looking for it, and Osteria Bea Vita (Fundament Della Capuccine), another local favourite sitting on a quiet side canal away from the tourist masses. If you ask locals where they love to dine you will rarely be disappointed, and that is something that I try to do in each new city I am fortunate to experience. It won't break the bank and you are sure to enjoy the food.

Walk just a few steps north of the tourist hub and you will enter the Venetian Ghetto, or you'll bump into the incomparable Santa Maria dei Miracoli, or you'll just experience the quiet solitude of normal Venetians running errands by boat or foot. Santa Maria dei Miracoli is also known as the 'Marble Church', built in 1481 with a facade completely made from light pink Venetian marble. The houses along the canals will greet you with blooms overflowing from flower boxes and the constant calming sound of the water slapping up against the canal walls will guide you along your way.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

At the northern edge of the district you will find the Scuola vecchia della Misericordia (School of Mercy) which is attached to the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia, built in 1310. Still very much intact, on the facade hangs an original bas-relief of Madonna with Child by Clemente Moli.

Scuola vecchia della Misericordia

But, what you won’t find here are bikes. I didn’t see a single bike in Venice. Of course, that’s because every 20 feet or so you have to climb 3 or 4 or 5 steps, and then go back down again to cross the insanely many, and oh-so-cute, bridges that pop up around almost every corner.

This is not a friendly place for wheel-chairs or delivery trolleys, or for that matter, luggage-toting tourists. But still they come. Because it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world…at least that I’ve seen so far.

Here, in Cannaregio, you will find many a osteria or trattoria filled with locals dining on the specials of the day, prepared with the freshest ingredients found that morning at the Rialto Market.

Rialto Market

If you’re Air BnB-ing it during your Venetian holiday, then I recommend heading to the market in the morning hours and watching what the locals are snapping up that day. Located just across the Ponte di Rialto, on the San Polo side of the Grand Canal, the market will provide you with all of the local specialties and freshness from the sea you will need to live like a local.

Or head out to one of the simple Baccari, a traditional Venetian bar, and join the locals after work for an aperitivo while standing at the bar. I knew that this tradition, which originated in Milan but has now become all-round Italian thing, was a must-do on my very busy Italian schedule of ‘doing as the locals do’. So, I sidled up to the bar, in a quiet side calle, where I could see a few people already taking a nip, and asked the bartender for an apertivo...whatever he recommends.

He nodded, and within a minute had prepared, as if he’d done so already a million times (probably has), a beautifully peach-coloured concoction (which I recognised as aperol) in a large wine glass and placed it with a napkin on the bar in front of me. ‘With campari’, he said.  Since I’m not an aperol aficionado I just smiled and said ‘mille grazie’. Thereafter it was easy to strike up conversation with a few smiles and a ‘chin-chin’ (the local 'cheers') and a wave of my glass to the others standing along the bar. After a few sips of my spritzy drink I began to notice that campari is a bit stronger than the usual aperol, white wine and water spritz that I was familiar with. No wonder these people are all so friendly, standing here enjoying their 2nd or 3rd aperitivo, while the gentle laps in the small canal outside serves as the best background music.

You will notice that even the darkest little taverns, if you peek inside, will have people standing at the back in the afternoons, loitering about. That’s because in the back of all the traditional baccaris, hostarias, and even pasticceri, there is a bar at the back, along with a serving of inexpensive cicchetti, the Venetian answer to tapas. This is how many locals get their fill when they go out for lunch or a light dinner. You will find them at the bar, always standing, having a drink and munching on a few cicchetti; such as grilled squid, prosciuttos and salamis, all sorts of amazing Italian cheeses and fresh baked bread.

As you make your way around Venice, two things are for certain: you will get lost, and you will experience amazing moments. Just wait for them.

And, a personal tip, book a hotel or hostel with a rooftop deck (and believe me, it doesn't cost extra). On one recent visit, where I spent only one quick night, I stayed in an exceptionally friendly, perfectly situated hostel, which included breakfast and a rooftop for just 35€ (Bed & Venice, Calle della Pietá, Castello) and for a solo-traveller who just needs a clean bed, it was perfect. It is a treat to experience a city, especially one like Venice, from among its rooftops. And Venice is exceptional. 

Not to be missed on your Venetian holiday, no matter how short or long, is to see the Grand Canal at dusk. Sit down and enjoy a glass of Venetian Friuli and a plate of deliciouso pasta at an outdoor osteria, if the weather permits, and soak in the view. It is hollywood magical, and you will pinch yourself to prove to yourself that you're not watching a movie. At least that's how I felt while I sipped wine and ate a delicious bowl of Spaghetti al Arrabbiata at Al Pesador (Campo San Giacommetto 125, San Polo), taking in the sights around me...while snapping a million pics.

For my last night in Venice, just a couple of weeks ago, I finished off with a Tiramisu. It was as beautiful as it was delicious, and I savoured every bite. Gracie mille Venezia!


Monday, July 31, 2017

canada's grand railway hotels...chateau-style.

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday this summer, so I thought it would be interesting to look at one of the most important aspects of it becoming the developed, cross-country country that it is…the Canadian Pacific Railway. This artery of transport and tourism, now over 20,000 kms of track, finally unified the provinces when the last spike was hammered in on November 7, 1885...just 18 years after Confederation.

Anyone who has traveled through Canada has surely seen one or two (or more) of the stunning, chateau-like hotels that are sprinkled throughout the country. Not coincidentally, these hotels were placed in some of the most picturesque locations along the Canadian Pacific Railway line by the company itself.

Chateau Lake Louise, Lake Louise, Alberta
During the building of the longest railway ever constructed at the time, the company had acquired lots of land throughout the prairie and western provinces. In order to encourage settlement out west, CPR began to offer packages to Europeans. The company created enticing advertising campaigns offering passage on a CP-owned ship, travel on a CPR train and a plot of land starting at $2.50/acre. The only caveat: the land needed to be cultivated.

Photo: William J. Oliver
The idea of the Canadian Pacific Railway developing grand railway hotels came from the company’s then vice-president, William Van Horne, who said, „If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists“. Van Horne set about hand-picking the site of the first such hotel, the impeccable Banff Springs Hotel, set at the edge of Bow Falls in Banff National Park.

Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta (Photo: Kim Payant)
Built in Scottish Baronial style to resemble a castle, the original architect, Bruce Price, was one of the afficiandos of building Chateau-style. This type of architectural design went on to become an actual Canadian 'thing' with turrets and towers joining the picturesque Canadian landscape from sea to sea.

Growing up in Calgary, Banff is like a second home to me. My father was born in the mountains of southern Germany and therefore spending time in the mountains of Alberta during winter and summer was a common experience for our family…and still is.

I have organised weddings at the Banff Springs Hotel, have taken countless number of tourists through its corridors, have romped about on the golf course and alongside the falls, and even honeymooned here. But it's not just meaningful in my personal history, it is an iconic part of Alberta, hosting famous faces, such as Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, along with a whole host of Hollywood royalty, with no face more familiar than Marilyn Monroe.

The rooms within the hotel also have numerous stories to tell, if only they could speak. Mount Stephen Hall for example, a medieval dining hall and event space, is the most popular wedding location in Alberta. This gorgeous space is dedicated to the first president of the CPR, Lord Mount Stephen, whom Van Horne took the company over from in 1888.

Mt. Stephen Hall
Directly following the construction of the Banff Springs Hotel, the continued design of further Chateauesque railway hotels, this time on the other side of the country, included the impressive Chateau Frontenac in 1893, in Quebec City.

Arguably the most photographed hotel in the world, Chateau Frontenac, who also has William Van Horne’s fingerprint on it, was built to rival the most elegant European hotels. Located in the old part of Quebec City, its home is also in what most people would say, the most ‚European‘ part of Canada.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City, Quebec
The grand railway hotel to follow was the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. Sitting on the edge of the Victoria harbour, the Pacific Ocean lying at its feet, the Empress Hotel is an impressive sight to behold and a very popular tourist attraction.

The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia
The Empress is not just beautiful on the outside, but remains decorated with turn-of-the-century charm and elegance...while serving possibly the grandest high tea in Canada.

My favourite of the Canadian Pacific Railway hotels has to be Chateau Lake Louise, completed in 1911, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I love this hotel quite simply because of its location. The lake on its doorstep, the mountains looming above, this place is magical at all times of year.

Lake Louise at dusk
Not just Lake Louise, but the surrounding mountains lakes, like Peyto and Morraine, are already instagram stars in their own right. These are incredible sights to see, with turquoise colours so bright my boyfriend said that he’s sure they put something in the water – "like some sort of highly poisonous liquid". The colour is a result of the light refracting off of the rock flour; a minute fine dust the melting glacier erodes from the surrounding mountain. This creates the most incredible colours in a milky bright hue.

Travel Alberta pulled off a great April Fool’s joke in 2015 which had people around the world actually dumbfounded, stating that every 100 years the lake bottom gets a fresh coat of turquoise paint.

“Lake Louise is one of Canada’s most popular and photographed locations,” said Leslie Bruce, President and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism. “Visitors ask us all the time: ‘How do you get the lake so blue? Is the water dyed?’ I can categorically say: no, we don’t dye the water. We paint the bottom of the lake with non-toxic, environmentally friendly paint.”

The mayor of Banff was even in on the gag. “Painting the bottom of Lake Louise is really important,” said Karen Sorensen who apparently volunteered at the centennial event. “My grandpa painted the lakebed 100 years ago and here I am now. We all have to do our part to make sure this province stays beautiful.”

Photo: Travel Alberta
Moving eastward from Banff, across Alberta and into Saskatchewan, the next Chateau-style hotel that the CPR built, was the Bessborough Hotel on the North Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon.  Officially opening in 1935, 'The Bess' (as locals call it) was designed by architect Francis Rattenbury to resemble a Bavarian castle. To this day, it remains the focal point throughout the gorgeous river valley.

The Bessborough Hotel, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Joining all of the provinces with a railroad made it possible for the country to grow and unify, to develop out west, and to entice visitors to get to know Canada. Without the railway, the fastest route to get from Toronto to Vancouver had been a four-month sea voyage. 

Rail bridge across the North Saskatchewan River
The cross-country railroad was also a huge economic boost, allowing the fast movement of Canadian raw materials to get to either ocean port, and down south into the United States.

Photo: Ken Walker
Canada turns 150 years young in 2017, and thanks to its first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, one of the visionaries of a unifying railroad, this beautiful country was built on the welcoming values of diversity, inclusion and acceptance. Not without its flaws of course, including the horrible stain of what settlers and government did to the First Nations communities already living on this land, I think that the good traits and its committment to reconciliation make Canada the best place to grow up in…and that I can say from first-hand experience.

Happy Bday my beloved country...thanks for being you.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

the man who inspired me not to fear the world... but to go

Yesterday, I talked to my dad on the phone and asked him how spontaneous a decision it was for him and my mom to move to Vancouver from Cologne back in 1965. They had met and married just the year before, and the whole story just seems very spontaneous to me. I heard him pause down the telephone line, processing my unexpected question about the long-gone past. Yet again I had yanked him out of his busy present, which currently involved stepmum and him entertaining my six-year-old nephew the morning after a sleepover at their house.

'No, it wasn't a spontaneous decision. We had to quit our jobs and there was paperwork to fill out,' he finally said. Okay, so that would take what three or four months maybe (in Germany one has to give a minimum of three months notice to quit a job, at least nowadays)? Maybe my parents had thought about it for 6 months, I don't know. I couldn't really get into more detail about it because of said nephew-entertaining.

Pa struttin his stuff back in the day
The point I'm trying to make is that my father has, as far as I can tell, always been fearless when it comes to travelling and learning about the world. He has traveled to many countries and has moved across the Atlantic a total of six times (six!) and for all of these times which I've been present for, he tackled these new experiences with seemingly very little trepidation. Often traveling was a necessity for him, but it always felt like he eked out the positives of each new place and then came back overflowing with stories for us. Like teaching in Cuba, or setting up house in Germany so that his kiddies would feel welcome, or managing a pipeline project off the coast of Nigeria or in Sudan or Kenya, or just road-tripping through Spain and France.

Don't get me wrong, he's not light-hearted or foolish, and for sure he's no reckless adventurist. He is a methodical planner, a learner, and an obsessive list-maker, as anyone in his life knows. (For example, he just told me that he and stepmum are coming to Germany in the fall - I'm sure I'll be receiving the excel spreadsheet with the itinerary details in the next couple of weeks - love ya, dad!!).

Pa and I...just hanging out
I guess it's not surprising then that travelling came early for me...real early. A few years after moving to Vancouver, they moved back to Germany separately (I'll skip the gory details) and then pregnant with me, they moved back to Canada, this time settling for good in Calgary. That is where I was born (yay! being Canadian seriously rocks).

I've always said that growing up this way, having all of my extended family on another continent had its advantages and disadvantages. Yes, my brother and I grew up with a big view of the world, experiencing other cultures, traditions and languages and knowing that there's nothing scary about them. But, of course, that also meant that we didn't have grandmas and grandpas, or cousins or aunts and uncles to hang out with. We mostly only saw them when we went back to Germany.

Flying was old-hat for me by this time ;)
For some reason, from both of their families (they each have 3 siblings) my parents were the only ones who moved away from home. They embraced the adventure of a new country, even though the language and culture were pretty much completely foreign to them. My dad has hilarious stories of their adjustment period, like the time he saw a rootbeer stand and got so excited for a good dark ale, that when he downed the glass he almost spit the entire thing out in disgust. For those of you who don't know, rootbeer doesn't taste anything like Bavarian beer.

Things weren't always rosy. My father, just like many many people, often had to travel and move as a result of pretty difficult decisions he had to make. As kids we caught on, of course, but I never saw fear in him, and I never saw worry about being in a new place. Mostly being away from us was, I think, the hardest part.

My first trip away from home and loving it
But, he brought us gifts! Always the one to focus on the positives, let me tell you about some of the things I remember him bringing back for me from his travels abroad. From a market in Egypt, he bought me a pair of rust-coloured, very pointy leather shoes. They were huge, because finding shoes that fit was (and still is) the bane of my existence. Man, were they odd. While teaching in Cuba he picked up the most intricately beautiful drawings of old Havana for me. In Abu Dhabi, he bought me a very heavy dog-collar-like silver necklace, which I'm sure cost too much for the fact that I don't think I ever wore it. It's the thought that counts! And when he returned from a gruelling, extended trip managing an off-shore oil platform in Nigeria, he brought back his smiling, weary face and a very full beard. That wasn't exactly for me, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

My father is a great storyteller...long, very detailed stories that often go off on all sorts of not-random tangents. He always has a point, and he remembers experiences and conversations he's had with people he's met in airport bars or with taxi drivers or, in some cases bodyguards, from trips dating back to the late sixties. It's an incredible gift he has. I have inherited his list-making obsession but not at all his ability to recall conversations. These details make his travel stories come to life no matter how long ago he lived them.

My obsession with fountains started early
So, my brother and I grew up travelling back and forth to Germany, which sometimes included a hop, skip and a jump to countries like Switzerland and Italy. Eventually we started travelling on our own, and never once did we hear either of our parents say, 'oh but that's so dangerous', which unfortunately I hear so many parents say nowadays. The world is not, in my opinion, a different place now. You know, there were bad people back then too, doing all sorts of random bad things. I remember the Lockerbie plane bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 (a route almost everyone I know has flown since then). When I was seven a terrorist bombed the Munich Oktoberfest killing 13 innocent people (Munich is my father's hometown and we had been to the Oktoberfest the year before). A bomb exploded in a market square while my dad was working in Tunis, and he often needed to ride in an armoured car to and from his office in Nairobi. That is just the world we live in...have always lived in. It won't change much, because the world is made up of people and people are the same everywhere. That is what I have learned growing up internationally. All of the millions of groups of people in every corner of the world are inherently similar. There are good and bad folks: peace-loving and hateful, extreme and apathetic and empathetic, nice and not-so-nice. It doesn't matter if you're in Paris or Mexico City, Seoul or Saskatoon.

The difference nowadays, in my opinion, is just that we hear about the bad things on a 24-hour news cycle so that we cannot get away them. They stick in our heads. Every person, even much-too-young kids, have a smartphone and see every detail of every bad thing that's happening...constantly. I hear from friends in North America that 'Europe's getting to be really dangerous', while we in Europe are bombarded with each new week's mass gun murder in the U.S. The horrific events that happen are all true, but unfortunately bombings and killings and random acts of bad have always been happening. As Jo Cox's husband just pointed out on the one-year anniversary of her murder on the streets of London, there are these few absolutely devastating acts of evil that happen, but at the very same time there are hundreds and thousands of really good, loving and caring acts that occur. These events are just not run on a 24-hour news cycle, if even mentioned at all.

My father was actually much more interested and encouraging of our travels abroad than say, when I told him I was moving to Saskatchewan...the wide-open prairies east of Alberta. A few years later I decided to move to Germany, and now that excited him! Even though I would be a 9-hour flight away, instead of a mere 9-hour car ride, he was inspired and envious and full of joy about all of the wonderful things I would be experiencing and learning living in Europe. It is true, it has been a very rich few years, but the prairies also had a lot to offer...just sayin.

Memorably, my brother and I visited our father quite a few times, either together or individually. One trip I took was to Corpus Christi, Texas to spend a week with him as he managed a project there for a six months. It was hot and humid on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, but we would spend the evenings, after he got off work, exploring the great seafood restaurants and talking for hours.

Our views of the world were not always the same; of course our experiences have been very different.  With my father, you are more often than not listening and talking about the interesting state of the world, which ever corner of the world doesn't matter. He is an incredibly well-read person...always reading about 11 books at the same time; ranging from small-town crime novels set in the Alps, to  Freakonomics, to Margaret McMillan's The War That Ended Peace. He is always learning...and that is possibly the greatest gift that he's given to my brother and me. Our father always said there's money for books.

When I was working in refugee settlement about ten years ago, we clashed often. At the time, I was meeting many people from across war-torn parts of the world and trying to assist them in making Alberta their home. They had fled Southern Sudan or Afghanistan or Colombia or Iraq. At one point I was having many frustrating conversations with the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi trying to process applications for refugees from that region. My father had had many dealings with that same embassy over the years, while working as an expat there, and obviously his experienced had been very different to the hundreds of refugees flooding that office. He and I would get into heated discussions about white privilege pretty much anytime the subject of my work would come up. But, in the end he encouraged me to just go. I really should have taken the opportunity to visit Kenya, but I didn't. I'm sure I would've been able to prove my point to him better...and with pics!

Years before, when my brother was getting ready for his many-month trip to Ghana to visit a friend who was working there, the three of us sat together and I lamented the fact that I was not going anywhere interesting but had to stay and work. My dad said, 'Why not go?' I didn't have the time or money to go to Africa, but we ended up finding the 'half-way' point between Ghana and Calgary: France! My brother and I ended up spending to this day the best two weeks of travelling I've ever experienced. We created our own French language using all of the vocabulary we could think of and sounding absolutely atrocious, my brother regaled me with very interesting (but completely made-up) historical facts about wherever we happened to be walking, we narrated the opera we were watching from our standing seats of the top floor of the Nice Opera House, because we didn't understand a word of the Italian opera with French subtitles (needless to say, our interpretation was filled with humour and clever bits). We nutella crepe-ed every morning, washed down our standard meal of baguette and cheese with red wine on every park bench or sandy beach we could find, shared a bed in most hostel-y places cause we had no money, and my brother would randomly head off in search of vegetables to ward off scurvy. He's just the most relaxed and hilarious travel companion.

Standing on the train platform in Gare Nord, as we parted ways after two weeks training up and down France, we bawled our eyes out - he was heading off to Africa and I was returning home. That really was an all-round perfect travelling experience. And we had mostly followed all of our father's many tips of where to visit along the Cote d'Azure and Provence.

Pub night...whenever we're together!
One lasting tradition of our evolving family is that wherever two or more of us meet, it's pub time! We always have traveling stories to tell cause it's in our blood and I can't wait for the next we just need to find pubs with a daycare attached.

Thanks for the travels Pa. Happy Father's Day.
Love from Germany,

Sunday, May 14, 2017

the day I delivered blooms for mother's honour my own

It's blooms day! Mother's day.

Even though I grew up in a family who didn't make a big deal about 'hallmark' days such as this one, ever since this day 10 years ago, I hold this day in high respect. I'm so grateful for Mother's Day because it was the last time I saw my mom...talked with her, made dinner for her, spent too little time with her...before she passed away.

Mother's day, Father's day, Valentine's day...many say these days are trite and trivial, created by commercial greed. But, I disagree. I think these are days for opportunity...we make them into what we want to make them, just like Christmas or birthday celebrations.

I think we can use these days to show (extra) love to our moms and dads, or valentines and friends. I mean, why the heck not? Love is good to throw around a little here and there!

On these days people usually make the effort to see or telephone or facetime that special person; they write cards, say 'I love you' (which might not be said every day) and they just plain and simply, take the time. Or hey, they might each his own.

But I thankfully took the time, on this day ten years ago, not knowing how sick my mom was, not knowing that she would pass away two weeks later, because it was mother's day. I wrote her everything I wanted to say, I took the time to think of a small gift which I thought would make her smile, and I spent time with her and told her I loved her (again).

It had been a busy time for my little business, and I had been traveling to see a new man I was in a relationship with, and if it hadn't been for mother's day, I honestly might not have made the effort at that particular time to be with her. Two weeks later we were called to her bedside in the ICU where she passed away just hours later.

So, for this year, in honour of my mom on mother's day, and not believing that it has been ten years since I've seen her and told her that I love her, I wanted to do something special. How much more special can delivering flowers be, to quaint, beautiful flower shops, up and down the Rhine, knowing that they will most likely end up in the hands of other much-loved mothers?

And let me tell you, it was a great day!

It was a few days ago, amidst the flower industry's busiest week of the year. With my very good friend, whose family owns a wholesale flower company, I drove to their warehouse just before 5am. We spent the next 8 hours packing and delivering big bunches of beautiful blooms, such as peonies, Gerbera daisies, hydrangeas, and a whole assortment of roses in all shades of pinks, reds, yellows and whites.

After packing the various orders, we loaded the truck and in the dark, early morning hour, we crossed the Rhine with the ferry and proceeded to wind our way through the vineyard-covered hills of the Rheingau, the district on the north side of the river.

The delivery route included many unique, independently-owned florists and small garden centres, either set among narrow, cobblestone lanes of town centres, or out on the hills adjacent to a beloved-ly kept-up cemetery. The most fun parts of the day, along with just being among gorgeous flowers, was watching the customers' faces light up as I followed my cheery friend into each little shop. Her family has cultivated and cared-for each of their customers with such focus, often driving kilometers out of the way just to deliver one much-needed bloom.

I was along for just such a special delivery, for a unique customer (who is at this point, more of a friend) at an ultra-special location: Schloss Vollrads. This castle and its immaculately-kept gardens are located high above the Rhine, north of the quaint town of Ostrich-Winkel. And because I was along on this particular morning, the gentrified caretaker, who greeted us with a nod of his greyed head and a generous smile, opened the castle doors to us for a quick, spontaneous tour.

Oh what lovely treats arise when someone gratefully receives flowers handed over with a smile!

And how fitting since my momma also loved herself some castle time (well, who doesn't really?). So here's one for you too, mom. Happy mother's day...every day. Love, Nina

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