Falcon hunt

Falcon hunt

Sometimes I plan my travels a little like my husband picks out movies to watch with me. I pull out my iPhone, open up Google, and enter “movie times” into the search box. Then I read to him the titles that sound interesting to me. If a title also peaks his interest, then I proceed to read the movie description and maybe watch a trailer, but this is where our experience differs. He doesn’t want to hear the description or watch the trailer – he wants it to be a surprise from the opening credits to the final scene. I love this about him, by the way.

Last Sunday, I took that same approach to travel. I knew the name of the city, I knew a castle would be involved (ok, I’m in Germany that shouldn’t be a surprise) and I knew I had a good guide. So, I set the alarm for 8 am, barely caught my train at 8:43, and met my travel buddy and her husband for a regional train to Bruehl. This trip has been in the works for about 9 months. The idea developed when I had a welcome to Germany lunch with a colleague I had met a few years back at a project meeting. When I arrived in Germany we met for lunch and he talked fondly about his hometown of Bruehl. Then he offered to host me for a day when the weather was nice in summer. Sunday was the perfect summer day for a stroll through Bruehl.

We originally planned to take an ICE train, they’re quick, but also expensive. Instead we selected a slightly slower, but much more economical option of a regional train. With a group of up to 5 people it’s possible to buy a day pass and save considerably on the fare. The train went fine, except on the way back when there was a problem on the tracks, but eventually we made it home. My friend met us at the platform and we walked into town. The first thing we encountered was the castle, directly across from the train station.

As we walked up our guide began to share the history of this place. The castle was built by a Baron in the 1600s as his summer home. He modeled the architecture after Versailles. I’ve never visited Versailles but my fellow travelers confirmed the similar style. We went into the gift shop and purchased a 60 minute tour pass. A 90 minute tour is also an option but it had already started. Since we had a few minutes before the tour we first explored the grounds outside the castle.


Adjoining the castle is a beautiful English garden that was designed to look like an embroidery pattern. They did a pretty nice job laying it out and the flowers and fountains were beautiful.


Inside the castle we picked up some English language audio guides. The main tour guide spoke German, and she was fast! I toggled between listening to the English audio guide, attempting to understand the German tour guide, and the occasional translation from my colleague. It was a great tour. No pictures allowed so you’ll have to visit yourself. The things I loved were the many nature-themed elements. 

When the Baron visited the castle in the summer the main purpose was to host falcon hunts. Apparently skill as a falconer was necessary for success in political life in Germany at this time. The Falcons were trained to hunt blue herons in trios – two Falcons distracted the bird while a third went in for the attack. After the bird was captured, the falconer banded the leg with his band to show he had successfully captured it. After banding it was released to the wild. I’d never heard of this type of hunting sport and learned it was started by the Romans. Nearly every room in the castle had some sort of art or design element that spoke of Falcons or herons – these ranged from paintings to delft blue tiles from Holland to tapestries. The theme became stronger when we visited Falconlust – the small hunting castle on the grounds. 

We learned that before reunification, Bonn was the seat of government and the German president used this castle to host visiting heads of state – including Reagan and Carter. The marble entry stairway was frankly stunning! I’ve hardly witnessed a more opulent design.


When we walked outside my colleague pointed out some fun-facts like this one. Study the castle. Count the windows to the left of the architectural feature, then count the number to the right. You’ll notice 5 to the left and 4 to the right. This happened because the baron began to run out of money during construction. The castle contains only one piece of furniture that was used by the baton – a writing desk. This is because his ancestors sold off his furniture to pay off his debts after he died. It appears to be a timeless story that when you have it all you still want more…

After we completed our tour we began the 1 kilometer walk to the smaller hunting castle called Falconlust. The walk is a beautiful stroll through the grounds and we were blessed with lovely weather. I particularly admire the keyhole type element the trees created as you can see in the photo above. It reminded me of something I saw in Rome.

We came to the end of the woods path and crossed a road and some train tracks following the signs to Falconlust. I have to admit I couldn’t help but think that in the US there would have been a shuttle service offered for such a long walk. I was glad that all we encountered were other people taking a relaxed walk between the castles. As we walked we passed potato and sugar beet fields.

Finally the hunting castle came in to view. My guide remarked that would be a big enough castle for him and I pointed out that quite a few private homes in the US are just about the size of this place. Really, it’s gotten a little out of hand I think…this place though, wow, I was very impressed by the strong singular focus on one theme – hunting Falcons. Again no photos allowed, you’ll need to see it with your own eyes.


The castle was really worth the walk and it made me want learn more about falconry. If you’re ever in the Rhein region, perhaps staying in Cologne and you have a nice day available to explore I’d recommend hopping the train the Bruehl to explore this gem. You’ll be impressed.

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Stillness

Water like glass
Reflects green leaves
An ancient bird call breaks the silence
A great blue heron passes
White egrets alight and resettle in barren treetops
The curve of a snake breaks the surface
Diving beetles dance
Bubbles break, hinting at creatures below
In this stillness, anything seems possible

Air, oppressively hot, no movement
Clear blue sky above
Ominous dark clouds build on the horizon
Paddles move the red canoe lazily between banks
Steering side to side – avoid stumps peaking above the water
Snag on a submerged limb
Rock rhythmically back and forth to break free

Light blue sky transforms to dark gray and black
Green leaves begin to dance in the wind
Still water replaced by growing swells

Lazy paddle strokes become deep pulls setting course to race the storm

Lightning strikes break across the sky
One-one-thousand
Two-one-thousand
Three-one-thousand
Four-one-thousand
Five
CRACK

Lean in to the paddle strokes
Increasing urgency as the canoe rolls in the swells hitting broadside
Fighting to breach the turbulent transition from building storm cloud to clear blue sky
The edge is the strongest point

Large, cold rain drops fall like heavy coins
Chilling the skin
Frantically search for an exit point on shore

Breathing heavily, we bank, scramble onto land, lift the craft and walk up the shore
Stepping carefully through rip rap, brambles tearing flesh, poison ivy brushing our ankles
We enter the shelter of tree limbs

Breathing slows, turning to laughter and relief

We are safe, we are happy, we are alive
WE ARE FREE

Of Stained Glass and Snails

 

 

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Parc Guell was my first glimpse into the genius of Gaudi and his remarkable ability to blend art, nature and engineering. I learned more about this when I explored Sagrada Familia. This building (to call it a building feels so inadequate) moved me in a way that has rarely happened in my life when I’m in a city. Usually these emotions of calm and peace only descend upon me in the countryside. Gaudis’ goal was to recreate the feeling of being in a forest, and this is how it felt to me. I can only imagine how incredible it would be to explore this place in solitude. As it was, I was surprisingly undisturbed by the crowds.

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I had bought my tickets in advance for a 16:45 entry into the basilica and then a climb up the passion side at 17:15. I thought this would provide ample time to explore the church, then go to the top and leave. I wound up spending more than two hours basically walking around in a dazzled amazement with my jaw often dropping in awe of what I was absorbing.

Every element of Sagrada Familia is an intentional design meant to evoke an emotion or a thought. The eastern portion is called the Nativity. This portion illustrates the beginning of Christ’s life with scenes of nature eliciting the feeling of abundance and hope. As my friend Jessica accurately described the pictures I sent her, the stone work looks a little like it was inspired by a mud dauber wasp. The work is highly textured and complex. Many portions are seemingly impossible to build – curvy dimensions coated in mosaic tiles.

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The western (Passion) side is a stark contrast with sharp, angular lines and dramatic shadows. This side depicts the Passion, or the death, of Christ. I found these carvings to be striking and bold with many faces completely blank.

I was nervous to miss my appointed entry time so I arrived about an hour before. This gave me time to try the famous churros and choco while admiring a view of the church. I found a cafe across the street and placed my order. I have enjoyed many fantastic foods in my travels and this ranks up there in the top 10, such a wonderful, simple food. Delicious and fulfilling is how I would describe this Barcelona speciality. Another friend named Jessica (yes I have a couple…) had recommended I must try this during my visit to the city.

I walked around a little while and still had some time to spare and spied one of my favorite beers on offer at another cafe near the church also with a great view, so I enjoyed a “Punk IPA”.

Hey – I had walked nearly 30 K already and I was a little calorie deficient… I shared a table with a lady who looked about 5 years younger than me. The habit of table-sharing is a wonderful tradition in Europe. It’s pretty common that if you only one or two chairs at a 2 or 4 person table that you’ll share the table with someone else, even, GASP, a stranger! Sometimes I don’t talk with the people at the table, but after walking around all day on my own and in silence, I was curious to meet this lady. She was from Wales. A former fashion designer in London who quit the corporate world and moved back to her home-town to become a baker. She was learning the trade from scratch. We had a flowing discussion about life, goals, career ambition and what truly brings happiness. I was impressed by her boldness in taking a completely different path in life. She had entered fashion for the passion of drawing and creating and when she began to work at a big fashion house all the work went to computer designs and, as she described it, selecting 20 different shades of color for a shirt design was not what she had imagined in school. When she described the act of baking, physically making something with her hands every day, she appeared supremely happy. I had the impression that baking was but one chapter in what would be a fulfilling life. We pleasantly parted ways when it was time for her to head off to watch a Eurocup game with some friends. It’s interesting the conversations that pop up when you meet someone for a bit and know you’ll probably never see them again. I find these can be the most instructive as I’m exposed to a whole new way of thinking and living.

Inside the church, my eyes were first drawn to tops of the columns and a netted area in the top of the northern corner of the church. The filtered light coming through the nets gave a smokey appearance. It reminded me of my visit to Notre Dame and the magic of a plume of incense wafting across the pews. I had a pass that included the audio tour, which was very nice by the way, informative and without too much detail. I learned that the columns were designed to recreate the form of tall trees, which they really did! The stained glass was also purposely designed to be more gentle in color on the sunrise side and more brilliant on the sunset side.

I was drawn, literally I felt magnetically pulled, to the stained glass on the southern edge of the western wall. It glowed like a fire. I have only ever seen such colors in the hot embers of a bonfire in our backyard in North Carolina. Within the stained-glass panels, the blocks of color were simple, filled with very little symbolism, drawing instead the focus to the pure element of light. After this I ascended to the top of passion tower.

The ride up is via elevator, there’s no option to walk, which made me a little sad. I really enjoy walking to the top of church towers in Europe. I learned we would have the chance to walk down the stairs, which turned out to be my favorite part. The views from the top were nice, although you’re not really very high above the city. The most interesting views came on the descent when I could get closer to the intricate towers topped with a bunch of strawberries or oranges, or whatever magical fancy was in Gaudis’ mind. Finally, we excited the main tower and began the final descendant to the bottom.

 

This section of stairway was the most incredible architecture I have experienced in all my travels. I felt that I was inside the swirl of a snail shell. Delightedly I learned that it was the intention of Gaudi to recreate the pattern of a snail she’ll in these stairs. He did it! As I stepped out of the stairs back into the main church I wandered back to the stained glass and watched the light glow on the walls for a few more moments before leaving the church to continue exploring the city. But before I left I stopped in to the gift store to select a souvenir. I was surprised to find a silver pendant that recreated the spiral of the snail staircase. This had to come home with me, and it did.

The spirals spoke to me in a unique way. Since I’ve moved to Germany I’ve taken up drawing again. A passion of mine when I was a child. My drawings often begin with a spiral and then are built into more elaborate patterns that I fill in with bold colors. Why the spiral? I can’t answer that question, but I have found that I continue to encounter these spiral patterns in my life now. The spiral staircase, a lovely pair of earrings, this meme I found on Paulo Coehlo’s Instagram… The spirals that I draw often go out, branching into interesting new patterns. Is this my life now, circular paths which slowly deviate and then come back to the same ultimate pattern? Time will tell as the pattern unfolds and I find myself again at the end which looks very similar to the beginning.

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Freedom

4th of July is like any other day in Germany, I’ll go to work with my colleagues. But before I began the Monday routine, I hopped on my bike for a quick spin along the Rhein. As I rode through the city and then the countryside, I reflected on what freedom means to me. 

Freedom is hosting a bbq with your neighbors in the driveway with the country music blaring and a cold can of bud light in your hand.

Freedom is spontaneously taking off for a ride on your favorite two wheeler with a friend, or alone, and going from the mountains, to the desert, to the beach all in a day.

Freedom is marrying the person you love regardless of race, religion, gender or creed.

Freedom is going through high school and college, getting a steady job and working until retirement OR

Freedom is deciding to drop out of the mainstream, backpack for three months after high school and then go to college and get a job OR

Freedom is deciding college isn’t for you and boldly carving out a life that fits your personality free from the constraints of conventional society.

Freedom is living in a caste-free society and freely choosing your friends and companions from all walks of life.

Freedom is owning a house and a car and a motorcycle that were purchased at a reasonable tax rate.

Freedom is the choice to buy the house and car and motorcycle by taking on debt or saving up your money first and then purchasing them.

Freedom is choosing to live in a neighborhood where everybody looks like you or nobody looks like you and feeling like you are where you are meant to be.

Freedom is being able to travel to nearly any country in the world via an airport that is probably 2 hours or less drive from your home.

Freedom is knowing that in every country where you travel you are an ambassador of America and a symbol of the freedom we enjoy and for which many people will make any sacrifice to achieve.

Freedom is the confidence that your ballot counts on Election Day.

Freedom is the right to own a gun and be trained to use it properly to defend your life and the lives of fellow Americans.

On this Independence Day, I entreat you to remember that we can exercise these freedoms because, and only because, a soldier freely signed over a large chunk of his life and personal freedoms to be on the front-line to defend these rights.

Today, while you join your fellow Americans to celebrate, please remember these precious freedoms and treat them with the respect they deserve. 

Cheers!

Great Danes

Great Danes

“Denmark, I’ve never been there”. Or, “Denmark? You should go south to Italy or France…” These were the most common reactions from my German colleagues when I shared with them my plans to take a road trip through Denmark with my husband and parents. Denmark – a small country just north of Germany caught my fancy because I was seeking open countryside, small towns and peace. I knew that the big cities of Europe offered equal portions of excitement and overwhelming masses of people. My parents were visiting from a small town in southern Oregon that has more pine trees (and unfortunately now pot plants) than people. My husband would be joining from our home in the countryside in North Carolina where we can only see a neighbor when the leaves are off the trees. All 4 of us are country folk who choose to live in open space. I presumed (correctly) that we would prefer to vacation the same way.

In some ways I’m not surprised that I’m working in project management. I really enjoy planning – especially when many different people are involved. I like to think about what each person will love and what would bring them great personal discomfort and then plan an event or process that most people will enjoy – keeping in mind that we all have different preferences. I also apply this philosophy to trip planning. Here’s the method I use to plan road trips – pick the town and then google the fast route and the slow route. Search out which towns look interesting on the slow route (this is usually the one I chose). Then zoom into the town square and search for hotels or inns. Google has very handy features to find a hotel, look at ratings and either book a room online or quickly link to the number to call the hotel. It’s easy to see pictures of where you’ll stay before you book. Granted, this removes some of the mystery but it’s also reassuring. 

I spent one weekend and a few evenings using Google maps to plan our route. Our original route had a first destination of Berlin and I planned that we would pause in a mountainous region known for wood carving prowess. My dad is a lumberjack and woodworker in addition to braumeister (yes, the retired Renaissance man). I planned to stay two nights in Berlin, then take a northern coastal route to Wismar before jumping off for a tour of Denmark via ferry from Rostock.

I gradually booked all our hotels with plans included to stay at an air bnb in Copenhagen for three nights halfway though our trip. This would give us a chance to rest a bit, prepare our own food and do some laundry. I booked our hotels, most of them except Berlin, for some reason I couldn’t pull the trigger which turned out to be fine because we wound up spending that weekend at home with an early celebration of our 17th anniversary while my folks took a cruise on the Rhein.

Now I needed to wait for the adventure. In the weeks leading up to the visit I began to monitor the weather forecast and it did not look good. Highs in the 50s and rain… I began to worry and wish I had planned a southern route, like everyone had suggested. I considered cancelling the entire trip and going to Italy instead. A few days before our trip I sat with a colleague who lived just north of Copenhagen for 6 years. He helped me to refine our route and pointed out places to visit along the way. My excitement about our upcoming trip grew. Fortunately, I did not cancel our visit and we had a glorious (sunny and rain-free) 8 days in Denmark. 

The morning we caught the ferry from Rostock to Gedser was sunny with blue skies above and us running nearly behind schedule. This was the only day we had an appointment and we cut it close, so close that we pulled up to the ferry 1 minute before loading. I contained my impatience and worry as we made the 1.5 hour journey with my husband behind the wheel. I didn’t want us to miss the ferry although I had spent a little extra on the fare to have a flexible pass. In the end this was a silly choice because I didn’t know how to implement the flexibility of the pass and we decided to attempt to board at our assigned time. 

We were one of the first cars in line to board the belly of the ferry. Cars, motorcycles and bicycles pulled in around us. Followed by European size freight trucks tucked together with centimeters to spare between the walls and the bumpers. It was an exciting atmosphere and we really began to feel the spirit of our adventure. We were on the Baltic Sea preparing for departure to another country!


Our sea journey went quickly and soon we spied the shores of Denmark in the distance. As we approached the border crossing in Gedser we were stopped and asked about our citizenship, our destination and warmly welcomed to Denmark. We planned to take a rather direct route to Copenhagen but quickly found ourselves enchanted by the countryside and in no hurry to arrive in the city. We found the main roads on the map and then deliberately avoided the highways to drive through every small town. We covered miles and miles through tiny towns bordered by bright yellow canola fields with frequent glimpses of the coastline.


We began to see signs for the Mons Klint around the same time we headed toward a bridge that would take us to Bogo. I’m not gonna lie, I saw Bogo and I thought of Payless shoes… Which made me smile. We crossed the bridge, then paused at a rest stop to load up on tourist info and maps. The sun was shining, the air was still and life was good. As we had journeyed east, the countryside became more rolling and less flat. We set our sites on Mons Klint, paused along the way to admire a beautiful pink church that is undergoing restoration, bought some jam and pickles from an honor system roadside farmers box, and eventually turned down a dirt road. 


A dirt road has never let me down. This time was no exception.  The forest grew thicker around us as we climbed toward Mons Klint. Filtered light hit the ground in patches. We parked and ventured inside to scope out of first attraction in Denmark. Our steps took us to a dramatic overlook that provided breathtaking views of the bright green sea below. We backtracked to the beginning of the 975 wooden stairs that would take us to the bottom. I was concerned I wouldn’t make it up and down with my torn calf muscle, but I knew I had to give it a try. 


We slowly made our way down the cliff to the water. The views were serene and beautiful as we walked through the trees, many which were precariously perched in the crumbling soil held up by a curvaceous maze of roots. We reached some scenic overlooks and stopped to snap a quadie (my husbands’ name for a four person selfie – he’s a master at taking them). My mother was having trouble with her knee so at some point, they decided to head back. Chas and I continued and made our way to the water.


Miraculously, we were the only people on the shore at that moment. We admired the crumbling cliff and the mix of black and white stones beneath our feet. The waves gently broke and Chas ventured around the corner to take in the view. I sat, back against the cliff and absorbed the moment. We were in Denmark, rambling along the rocky shore, in the shelter of a spectacular cliff, ALL ALONE. As we climbed to the top we savored the moment together and looked forward to the week ahead exploring every corner of this beautiful country.

Night Calls

The hoot call echoed down the road.

Hoot Hoot Hoot

Hoo Hoo

Hoooo
The girl hooted back – channeling her inner mockingbird.

Paused

Hoots responded from the trees.

She continued walking away, paused, hooted back.

Again the owl responded

Repeat

The sound grew weaker.

Suddenly – two owls called.

The boy with the girl was delighted.

She smiled and they walked on.

Mid-mountain Trail

Silver dollar leaves litter the trail, obscuring rocks and roots.
I tread with confidence – slowly, deliberately.

Pause my forward progression to stop, admire, take it in.

Pine trees surrounded by yellowing aspens – leaves fluttering in the breeze.

Breath comes in ragged bits, cold air sharply activating the roots of my teeth.

The path opens into grassy ski runs.

My mind fills the space with fresh white snow.

Ski lifts overhead, still, resting for the summer.

Hard-packed earth, cyclists race by, one passes me and then I pass him.

Peaceful victory is mine.