Wildflowers and Wine

Wildflowers and Wine

Saturday afternoon I returned from a business trip in Brazil. As always, completely energized by my experience in the fabulous country and a bit worn from the overseas flight, I unpacked, started some laundry and reacquainted myself with my Tony cat. Then I packed a day pack (yes, I commonly unpack and repack on the same day…) and hit the sack early to rest up for a Sunday adventure with my travel buddy Tilghman and some friends. I’ve discovered there’s no better way to clear the airplane air out of my lungs than a good stroll in nature.

The plan was to meet some naturalist friends at a nature preserve near the Eifel and hunt for Wildflowers. Wildflower hunting and collecting were a passion of mine when I was a kid. Ok, back then I had time enough for many hobbies – rebuilding old cars, reading, drawing, raising chickens, managing our fruit orchard – it was a great life! There was a time when I knew nearly all the common Wildflowers in northern California and I enjoyed calling them by name as I hiked through the Sierra Nevadas and along the northern coast. So, I was very pleased to pack my camera and lace up my new Hanweg hiking boots for a relaxing stroll through the flowers.

My first pleasant surprise was to learn that I’d spend the day riding in a convertible with our host. What fun! I used to have a corvette convertible and it was great to once again enjoy the open air driving experience. Our first stop was a natural meadow that is preserved for endangered species of flowers to flourish. 


We discovered that much of the grass had been cut, which is done intentionally to prevent the natural succession of woody plants in the meadow. Fortunately, we found some uncut areas and began our happy hunting.


I can’t remember the names of all the flowers, but I’ll post them here and then add the names later after I consult our naturalist guide.


As you can see, I also had some good bug hunting finds. It turned out that our guide is also an entomologist, so we enjoyed bugging-out and  identifying the families of insects together.


I noticed again the lovely signage that is common on German wanderweg (hiking paths). This is truly a paradise for wanderers. You can’t get lost and if you do, it will probably just lead to a better destination, and there will be a brauhaus to refresh your thirst.


Our second stop took us closer to the Eifel region. As we walked across the first ridge we heard and then quickly saw a tractor mower cutting the grass. We steered clear of the tractor and were able to spot a few lovely specimens including the rare German gentian. Just beginning to bloom for the season.


Now, about this time it was approaching 2 pm and we decided to begin our drive to the Ahr valley region. The scenery was pastoral meadows sprinkled with cultivated woodland as we chased a tiny sliver of road following the meandering path of the river. This might sound familiar to you, and that’s because I’m pretty sure we followed the same river from Nurburgring to Trier. I was happy to repeat what is so far one of the prettiest drives I’ve experienced in Germany.


My host generously offered to stop if I wanted to snap a picture. As we left Ritsdorf, this beautiful chapel came into view. “Please stop”, I asked, and thankfully there was a place to pull over safely. I looked both ways and then dashed across the street to climb an overgrown hill and snap this photo. Lucky for me there aren’t any venomous snakes in Germany so I could walk with abandon. As I snapped my photo I was filled with joy. It’s hard to find a more beautiful view. I do believe that the couple on the bench were very entertained by the endeavor. 


We continued to follow the Ahr valley and took a turn a bit too early which afforded us some beautiful sweeping views of the valley below. As we entered the Ahr valley and came closer to our destination I spied an interesting looking building that I knew would be the perfect place for lunch. To my delight, this was our destination, the Kloster Marienthal. 


We shared a table with two couples – one from Belgium and another from Cologne. My German is suddenly starting to come together now and we had a fun conversation in our best versions of Danglish. Lunch was a simple meal of delicious flammkuchen – a thin crust pizza topped with season vegetables or the traditional schinken (ham) and kase (cheese). This was complimented by a refreshing crisp white wine. All enjoyed in the belly of the old Kloster courtyard. After lunch our hosts departed and we couldn’t resist the urge to take one more walk up among the vines and capture the fading light lingering over the valley. We walked a tiny section of the Ahr wine wanderweg – a path that follows the 25 kilometers of the valley. As we left, we promised to return another day via the train from Cologne for a wine walk weekend.

Look where you want to go

Look where you want to go

This is the universal mantra of mountain bikers and motorcyclists. On a bike this is done to avoid a crash, on a motorcycle it’s necessary to avoid death. Mistakes have much bigger consequences on a motorized two wheel vehicle. The mantra flowed through my mind as I rode the steeply banked trails at the Bike Park in Winterburg, Germany.

While biking I often apply this principle when I deliberately look away from a tricky root, or a line I don’t want to follow, and focus my attention on the line where I want to go. It surprises me every time it works, but it’s really true, if you’re looking at that rock in the middle of the trail, your tire will go directly over it and you’ll probably crash. But, if you purposefully look away from the obstacle and focus your eyes on the tiny sliver of clean path just to the left, that’s where your tire will go.

On the drive back from Winterburg, I got to thinking about this phenomenon and how it’s also true in life. It’s important to consciously decide where you want to go. Once you do this, I can say from experience, everything in the universe will line up around your goal. I’m not saying it will easy. Heck no, sometimes you have to fight hard to refocus your attention away from some shiny object that suddenly appears and back on to the durable, although still exciting, object you’re focused on pursuing.

Sometimes the goal becomes less intriguing and exciting over time and this is when you should reassess – do I want to take the known, safe route, or should I try an experiment and do something totally different. Such as, maybe I’ll learn how to ride over that rock instead of taking the safe track to the left around it. Interestingly, to make this happen, you’ll need to refocus your attention on the Rock and then balance your body correctly over the bike to make it to the other side without a spill. And, you know what, it you crash, odds are you’ll be ok, or you might be laid up for a while recovering, which can be a great time to reassess your goals.

In the end, it comes back to looking where you want to go. The truth is you’ll be doing it subconsciously, or consciously, so why not take control of your thoughts, and deliberately choose the path and accomplish your goal?

Doors

Doors

 

Today a friend posted a picture of a beautiful door – coated in a fading azure blue paint. The top of the door was rounded and I thought, if I saw that door I also would have stopped on my stroll and snapped a photo. This got me to wondering about why I’m so fascinating with doors. It’s a rare day when I walk through a new place without admiring a beautiful doorway or going so far as to pull out my iPhone for a picture.

Why?

Why the fascinations with doors?

There are very few things that are constants in my life – my husband, my parents, my wanderlust, my love of two wheeled transportation (either human or petrol powered), an intense need for time in nature, being in the middle of three books at the same time. Ok, more constants that I thought.

But, taken on the measure, the majority of my life has been a theme of change. Walking through a new door into the unknown, this might be the strongest theme of my life. I’ve lived in 16 homes in 2 countries and 4 US states. It’s possible I forgot a few, but I doubt it. Each of these places has held a special meaning for me and made a little memory bank in my soul.

I’ve experienced living in a variety of conditions – from a cinder block room in a chicken slaughter house, to various styles of apartments, the living room of a lovely English lady named Lilian who was a war survivor and normally boarded to Japanese exchange students but with great trepidation took an American girl as a boarder. This woman was the one who convinced my mother that at 20 I was going to marry my husband. So, if she didn’t want a wedding in Reno she better make me a dress. Incidentally, she also taught me that it’s worth collecting the dripping off of baked chicken in the oven and using it for all sorts of vegetable dishes. Now I split my life between two homes – a lovely country home in North Carolina with the typical southern wrap-around covered porch which I absolutely love, and an apartment in downtown Düsseldorf that overlooks a beautiful garten and has a grocery store right up the road. These places are as different as night and day, and both perfect in their own way.

Back to the blue door… They say doors are the window to the soul. Maybe for me behind an old door I will find an old soul. With age comes wisdom, and perhaps this is what I crave, the wisdom that comes from opening a door into the unknown and learning what life will teach me next.

Of Romans, Communists and Christianity

Began this post on Sunday…and I had a lot to say in bits of free time this week.

…………………….

A couple of hours ago we arrived in Luxembourg, grabbed a quick lunch and then I started to re-explore the city with my travel companions. As we stood overlooking some of the city views, I realized that I’m feeling a little tired and this afternoon might be a nice time to rest and refresh myself for the week. I decided to be self-aware and take care. So, we made a plan to meet up at the parking garage and I set off in search of a cafe that I fell in love with last time I was exploring the city. Strangely enough, the weather was very similar when I visited last fall, overcast and drizzling, albeit a little colder. On that day, like today, a warm, cozy cafe with good music pumping was the place to be. After a few turns, I found the Konrad Cafe. It is just as I remember! I wish I could transport this place to everywhere I live, although then it might lose its novelty.

imageWe arrived in Luxembourg just after lunch after a fun morning exploring the German city of Trier (pronounced Tree-air). It was a quick spin through the city. We stayed at a hotel in the city center that had a very reasonable rate and nice, clean rooms. The rooms were a little larger than the average German hotel. Last night we had dinner on the Marketplatz while admiring a beautiful sunset.

imageWe wrapped up around 22:00 as the city bells were ringing. I’d read that these bells have rang every day for centuries to tell the city drunks it’s time to go home. Yes, Europe has some long traditions. After dinner we strolled through the city centre, paused to admire some nice courtyards and were walking at a relaxed pace when we heard a small explosion. My fight or flight instinct kicked in and I told my travel companions, “let’s go”. We began to speed up our pace on the 10 minute walk to the hotel. We avoided the city square and got home. When we entered the hotel lobby, I checked at the front counter and on Twitter to see if anything had happened. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but, seriously, I didn’t want to risk getting caught in the middle of a bad situation. When I travel about now, I’m more alert than ever before. Honestly, being alert helps me feel like it’s still ok to be out and about. I read a blog recently that had some great advice on traveling safely in this changing world. One tip was to monitor your surroundings and always have an exit route mapped out. Once you make this a habit it becomes second nature and then you’re not as worried while you travel. So, like last night, I immediately knew where to go and how to get there without consulting a map. This is also helped by my increasingly good city navigational skills. Traveling around on my own has forced me to rely only on my self to pay attention to surroundings and get from point a to point b. Nice skills to build!

Trier was our destination for a few reasons. 1. I’ve had it on my list since a friend visited a while back and said it was great fun. 2. It’s in a part of Germany I’ve wanted to explore. 3. It’s too far for a day trip, so I wanted to combine it with another destination. On Saturday I went to Nurburgring to cheer on some friends who were racing in the Rad am Ring 24 hour mountain bike race. The race event was fantastic! Good enough to deserve its own post, so more about that later.

Then it was a quick drive to Trier – a winning combo. The drive from Nurburing to Trier is stunning. You’ll follow the Mosel during much of the route as you trace a winding highway through beautiful little country villages and herds of happy cows.

Trier itself is a small town. Touted to be the oldest city in Germany. Established in 12 BC, it housed a population of 40,000 making it one of the largest cities in Rome. Trier also claims the first Christian church in Germany and the birthplace of Karl Marx. As I reflected upon this later, I found it to be an odd trio. How one physical place could be the home of such diverse perspectives on life, society and humanity.

Trier has a rich collection of well-preserved roman ruins – some original and many rebuilt after the war. On the recommendation of a friend I’d thrown my Rick Steve’s guide into my Harley overnight roller bag. I read through it on the way to make a quick plan for our city tour.

Our experience was a great example of the best laid plans gone awry. In this case the reason was pretty odd – we started too early on a Sunday… One of my traveling habits is to accept the little city map that they usually offer at the hotel check-in. Then I’m not constantly consulting a phone while I’m walking about. It’s more relaxing, especially because I’m usually photographing with my Nikon and not my phone.  During breakfast on Sunday, I traced out a route on the little map. The plan was to walk a counter clockwise path around the city sites. Our first stop was the amphitheater. At one time large enough to hold 16,000 people, the remaining structure is worth checking out. We didn’t go inside because we’d spent so much time looking through the fence that by the time the site opened we had seen enough.

The most interesting part of this stop was when I spotted some bumblebees mating on the sidewalk in front of the amphitheater. My inner entomologist came out and I got some great photos of them. My travel buddies were entertained by me kneeling on the ground for macro shots.

image

We continued on our route past the Roman museum and then through the city walls toward the imperial throne room / basilica – the largest roman ruin outside of Rome.

As we passed through the city gates we entered a lush green space dominated by a pink building ostentatiously looming above a reflecting pond. I read that this was the palace of the archbishop built in the 1700s as a wing on the basilica.

I felt a need to check the map and confirm that we were heading toward the roman imperial throne room. I was surprised to find it was actually connected to the pink building! It would be hard to find two more different architectural styles joined in one building. I much preferred the roman architecture.

The size of the imperial throne building is hard to describe. You’ll get a sense of it when you try to find me at the bottom of this picture. I’ll be the tiny ant you eventually find in the bottom middle.

 

image

imageThe building is huge! Unfortunately we didn’t make it inside because on our first stop we were too early, then when we returned church was in service. I might go back another day.

We then proceeded to the nearby church which is the oldest Christian church in Germany. A beautiful structure. We explored inside and then the bells began to  toll calling the parishioners for Sunday mass. We sat out front and enjoyed the Bells echoing through the square while watching the folks enter the church. Most came by foot, and some by bike.

As the mass preparations were underway, we walked toward Porta Nigra – the old city  gate. The name means black gate and I read conflicting reports of why it has this name – either because it’s black from pollution, or from the fungus growing in the stone. Either way, it’s a nicely preserved structure and it’s worth the 4 euros entrance fee. His building was also at one time converted to a church. Ironic that Romans killed Christ, but eventually most of their structures were eventually co-opted by Christianity.

By now it was threatening rain, so it wasn’t a bad time for our final stop, which was to visit the birthplace and childhood home of Karl Marx. Honestly, I didn’t know much about communism before entering the museum. I probably wouldn’t have gone inside but one of my travel buddies is originally from China and he was very excited to explore the house. He was even kind enough to pay entry fees for all of us and we also were given English language audio guides. All the displays are in German language with some Chinese translations.

The museum is hugely popular with Chinese tourists and I saw more than I’ve seen in all of Germany so far. The museum does a great job exploring the life of Karl Marx and his legacy. I couldn’t help but think he left a sad legacy – a trail of death and disillusionment in his wake. My Chinese travel colleague left China to live in the US largely because of communists ideals and how much they limit freedom. As he described it the fundamental precepts of communism are not accurate and it’s a failed ideology. I picked up a copy of the Original Communist Manifesto to read and understand for myself an ideology that once held such a strong grip on the world and still causes much suffering even today. I would recommend to check out the museum which had a rich collection of images and texts putting into context many key historical events. It reminded me a little of the experience in the Museo Picasso which also was exclusively focused on one remarkable individuals contributions to society.

As we walked out of the museum rain began to fall and it matched my mood, which was now contemplative and a little sad. Contemplating the rich history of this place and all the people who have lived along the Mosel. Sad because of the legacy of communism and the influence one persons ideas can have on society. Mostly though I was sleepy and a little annoyed that both my umbrella and my rain coat were in the hotel room… Oh well, next time I’ll be better prepared for rain, which happens nearly every day in Germany, in case you wondered if the rumor is true…