July 2005

Another post pilfered from my scribbled travel diary from 1995. Part of the reason I went on this trip was to see my Grandmother’s homeland. When I was a little girl, she would tell the stories of growing up in her family’s vineyard with her 10 brothers and sisters. She would talk about how the workers would sing as they picked the grapes, and the song would float down the Mosel River. And she talked about the great sundial carved into the rock. She died when I was 18, and I still miss her. On this day, the day before I turned 26 years old, I finally made it to her tiny home town.

9:05 am, 31 July 1995
Koblenz HBF


So I’m here at the Koblenz hauptbanhauf (station), waiting for a train to take me to Wittlich, which is actually past Bernkastel-Kues, so I can take a bus back to B-K. A convoluted way to do it, but there is no train station in B-K and no bus from here to there.

Last night ended up being the best night! After dinner, I was sitting in the fortress courtyard enjoying the view and wondering if 7 pm was too early for bedtime when I started chatting with this crazy Australian guy named Tom and his friend from L.A., Peter. We sat around shooting the shit for a while, and another Australian girl named Veronique joined us. We went over to the patio for a beer, and played euchre until it was too dark to see (considering the sun goes down quite late here, I’m sure it was 11 pm or later by the time we quit.)

It was great, just like it was supposed to be! They even teased me about saying “eh” a lot. Veronique has been traveling by herself for some time now, and completely reassured me about traveling alone, even through Italy.

Tom was the ultimate Aussie backpaker – irreverent, bold, looking for a good time. For dinner, he hauled a HUGE box of corn flakes out of his pack, and some milk he had filched from the hostel and ate it out of a tin camping pack. Imagine a surfer-boy version of Crocodile Dundee.

The train is moving now. I’m going backwards. I can see quaint German towns hurtling past me. I’m going to stare aimlessly out the window for a while…

10:39 am, same day
Wittlich, Germany


What a beautiful train ride. From Koblenz to Cochem (about 40 minutes) the train tracks follow along the winding Mosel river, past tiny medieval villages, huge fortresses and of course, scores of vineyards. Between Cochem and Wittlich (about 15 minutes) the train pulls away from the Mosel to go overland but we go through several long tunnels through the mountains. Breathtaking! I spent the first 45 minutes of the ride standing in the aisle (even though I had a seat) just so I could look out the open window onto the Mosel valley. Absolutely heavenly. Now I’ve got 45 minutes to kill until the bus to Bernkastel-Kues. I thought about renting a bike and riding into B-K, but this is a tiny blip on the map town and they don’t seem to have a commercial-area-cum-downtown, let alone tourist info or bike rentals.

6:45 pm, same day
at the edge of the Mosel river


This is the most beautiful, tranquil, peaceful place! I’m sitting on a little stone ramp less than a foot from the Mosel. There is only a bike path behind me and it’s so quiet and so wonderful!

Today was a good day. I scoped out Bernkastel-Kues (two linked towns on either side of the Mosel) and got myself a nice room for the night in Kues. Bernkastel is really something to see – I wasn’t expecting it to be so, so medieval. I sat for a while in a courtyard trying to translate a sign with my German-English dictionary. It said generally that Bernkastel received town status in the 1300s, something indecipherable in German, rebuilt in the 18th century. The streets go every which way and are so narrow and unpredictable that they make Amsterdam look like Ottawa.

After I got myself a room, I dropped off my pack and set off on foot for Wehlen. Vince had said it was only two kms (ed. note: Vince is a relative of my Grandmother’s who contacted my dad out of the blue and completely by coincidence in the months preceeding my trip to ask some questions about genealogical research he was doing. He happened to live in Ottawa, and gave me a lot of information about the Keifer family and Wehlen, the town where my Grandma grew up.) It was godawful hot again today, though, and just as I reached the edge of Kues, I found a gas station with bicycles for rent. So, for 10 DM I rented myself a bike for the afternoon and set off for Wehlen.

It was a nice ride down the highway (and I use that term loosely) of only 15 mins or so. Finally, I found myself in Wehlen. It’s just a tiny little village, but it’s SO beautiful. I rode around the streets for a while, wondering how much it had changed since Grandma’s childhood and wondering where she lived. I stopped by Juippe Keifer’s Sonnenuhr Weingut (Sundial Vineyard) but no-one was there. Finally, I rode down to the river to get a better look at the Sonnenuhr.

I had seen it from town, but there is a great bike bath that skirts along the river’s edge, with some benches directly across from the sundial. I sat there for the longest time. It was such an interesting experience to finally BE there, looking at the sundial and the vineyards, almost listening for Grandma’s workers and their songs. I was glad I came. I felt a little bit more connected to my own personal history.

After puttering around Wehlen for a bit, I followed the riverside path back to Bernkastel-Kues. What a beautiful ride! There were wild raspberries growing everywhere along the path. But it was so SO hot! I was seriously considering going for a dip in the Mosel (I had already washed my face and hands in it in front of the sundial.)

After returning the bike, I was wandering along the path back to Kues when wonder of wonders, I heard that most distinctive sound of children laughing, and shouting… lots of children… and was that — the smell of — chlorine?? In the air?? I had stumbled across, on this hotter than hades day, a public park with two huge swimming pools. So I hurried back to my pension and grabbed my ‘kini and my towel and spend the best 3 DM of the trip so far (except for the phone calls home).

That was 1/2 hour ago, and I walked a little ways further toward Kues when I fond this little spot. Twice while writting this I’ve had to quickly move to higher ground to avoid the waves from the wake of a tourist ferry and river barge. Now I’m off to find some tasty German dinner. Bratwurst – mmmmm!!!


(Ed. note: My trip was just before the arrival of the Internet, and I never thought to try it before, but look! I found the sonnenuhr on Google! God bless the Web.)

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The latest entry in my retro-travelogue. Ten years ago today, I was riding the rails through Holland and Germany.

8:58 am, 30 July 1995
Somewhere between Utrecht and Düsseldorf.


An auspicious occasion: the first day of Eurail travel. I’m in a train compartment in a relatively nice Euro City train between Amsterdam and Koblenz. We left Amsterdam at 8:00 am. ETA in Koblenz is 11:05. I haven’t yet decided how (or if) I’m getting from Koblenz to Bernkastel and/or Wehlen. (ed. note: Wehlen is the small town where my grandmother grew up.)

I’ve been temporarily adopted by a nice American family from Dallas. I was a little lost at the station in Amsterdam, and so I approached the friendliest, most non-threatening looking person I could see. Of course, at 7:30 in the morning, there just weren’t that many people around period (especially station attendants). It ends up they are going to Düsseldorf (where my dad was born) to fly home. Düsseldorf is a few stops before Koblenz, and they asked me to join them in their compartment. The mother, Dorthy (about mom’s age) called me, in her twangy Texas drawl, a “gutsy lady” for travelling thru Europe by myself. Personally, I’m thinking “crazy” may be a more apt term.

10:45 am, same day
Düsseldorf HBF


I’m in the station at Düsseldorf. The Americans just got off at the last stop to go to the airport. I gave them each a Canadian flag from the stash Todd gave me and they gave me a “Texas Longhorn” soccer club pin (they were in Europe for their son’s soccer tournament.) What a nice cultural exchange!

So this is Germany. It looks so – so – so industial, kind of like Hamilton. Smokestacks and electrical towers everywhere. The towns are so close together, you can hardly tell where one ends and the next begins. No passport or luggage check at the Netherlands/Germany border. The only way I could tell we were in Germany was the language on the signs in the station.

***


Okay, now we’re in Koln and I’m trying not to panic. Not only do they not translate all the announcements, but the German is much harder to understand than the Dutch, which I could at least pick through.

It’s okay, I’m sure I’ll be able to figure this out. Just over 1/2 hour to Koblenz. I just read in Let’s Go that the youth hostel in Koblenz is in a mediaval Prussian fortress. Cool! Maybe I’ll stay there tonight and go to Bernkastel first thing in the morning.

11:25 am, same day
Bonn HBF


In the capital. The countryside is much more picturesque around here; tiny villages clinging to the hillside. Even the city of Bonn is much more attractive than some we’ve passed through. My compartment is now full of Germans (imagine! In Germany!) including a young student/businesswoman, and a grandmother with her young grandson The downtown is beautiful, with houses stacked on top of each other like the Amsterdam canal houses. They’re often draped with vines and ivy. Toward the edge of the city are pretty single-family homes with colourful stucco walls. It’s funny how noticably different the architecture is, even from Amsterdam to here.

3:00 pm, same day
fortress above Koblenz


Travel tip: avoid, if possible, arriving in a small German town on mid-day Sunday afternoon, with no deutschemarks, no reservations, no idea of the language and no idea where you are going.

Having said that, I’ve survived the aforementioned, and am now in an overpriced tourist restaurant in the fortress Ehrenbreitstein, which also happens to house the youth hostel. You should see this place! I had to take a chairlift to get into the place. The view is absolutely spellbinding! I’m looking down into the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, right down on top of it! As soon as the hostel reopens (20 mins or so), I’m going to dump my backpack and go exploring. It’s awfully hot, though – 33C degrees is pretty hot for hiking up and down to mountaintop fortresses. I wish the rivers had beaches – but the water looks pretty brown and kinda gross.

The German food is much better than the Dutch so far – I had a tasty bratwurst with mustard at the station.

By the way, that German “girl” on the train earlier? Turns out she’s a lawyer on her way to Geneva to represent some small Serbian faction at a UN conference. She was quite nice, and we chatted a bit. She told me a little about the German countryside we were passing through, and pointed out this huge chateau/hotel called the St Petersberg or something – apparently it’s a favourite of the rich, famous and politically important.

6:05 pm, same day


Okay, so things can’t always go smoothly. The youth hostel here is in a spectatular location, but I’m not so sure about this whole youth hostel thing. Mass sleep-ins with strangers just don’t appeal to me. And I know it’s a 10th century fortress, but it’s also damp and dank and the room (with TEN bunks in it) has centipedes. I’m trying to be brave.

Actually, it’s been a bit of a rough day. Hardly anyone speaks English, which is a real change from the Netherlands. We’re less than 50 miles from Bernkastel, and no one’s even heard of it, let alone knows how to get there. Basically, I’m just killing time here until a decent hour to go to bed, so I can get up and get the hell out of here.

But I’m still doing okay for myself. I got this far, and this afternoon I taught myself to count to ten in German. It’s all just so new and strange… I just got used to Amsterdam (in hindsight, a good choice for a starting point) and now I have to start all over again.

But a 10th century fortress, the Rhine and Mosel reviers, strange cultures and stranger people: this is the adventure I was looking for!

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Inconceivable

by DaniGirl on July 29, 2005 · 10 comments

in Uncategorized

I just read this morning that NBC is running a new show this fall called Inconceivable, set in a (cringe) fertility clinic. Here’s the synopsis from Yahoo TV:

Come inside the world of the doctors of the Family Options Fertility Clinic in this ensemble drama, where one of the most complicated questions is to conceive — or not to conceive. Assuredly, theirs is a noble quest as they help desperate couples give birth; however, clinic co-founders Dr. Malcolm Bower and Rachael Lew and their staff (including psychologist Lydia Crawford, Nurse Patrice, office manager Marrissa and attorney Scott) are not above their own occasional adventures involving sex, deception and secrets. Navigate through the ultrasound and super-egos, the missing frozen embryos and impending malpractice suits, and it’s positively clear that life inside this clinic is anything but sterile.

This makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. This is wrong. I try so hard to keep my sense of humour about my infertility struggles, and not be one of those relentlessly cheerless people who can’t take a joke, I really do. But come on, “navigate through the ultrasounds and super-egos, the missing frozen embryos and impending malpractice suits”? Give me a fucking break.

There are already so many misconceptions (pardon the pun – see, I can be funny about this) about infertility and fertility treatments as it is, I can only imagine this show will do nothing more than perpetuate the myths and muddy the waters even further. And I know it’s TV, for goodness sake, they aren’t out to educate the unwashed masses. In fact, they’re out to tittilate and entertain and make a buck.

No doubt, they will find lots of ways to play up the drama. I don’t think there was anything more suspenseful in my life than the infamous two week wait (between treatment and knowing whether the treatment was successful or not), but that was a very personal drama, and frankly, one I’d rather not relive.

I can’t imagine myself watching this show. I’ve lived it, and continue to live it vicariously with friends still struggling with infertility. Dramatic? Hell yes. Suspenseful? You bet. Full of interesting personalities and life-altering circumstances? Absolutely. Perfect fodder for Desperate Housewives meets St Elsewhere meets Ally McBeal? I don’t think so.

Am I being thin-skinned about this, or does this whole thing seem incredibly tastelss to you, too?


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I had a date last night. He came to the door and picked me up, took me to a fancy restaurant for dinner, and took me to a concert that’s part of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. I wore a dress. And even make-up. And I got to leave the kids at home with my husband! My escort for the evening was my dad.

In honour of my birthday next week, he picked up tickets for us to see PDQ Bach. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the alter ego of musicologist and professor of music Peter Schickele. When my dad first told me about the tickets, and tried to explain that it was a combination of comedy and classical music, I was curious, if not a little perplexed by the unusual juxtaposition.

But it was amazing! I know just enough about music to be able to appreciate the humour and the skill of his compositions. And the front-row seats were terrific, too. There was one movement that was written for “a viola and four hands” – two men playing the same viola at the same time (something you have to see to really appreciate). And they sang a madrigal called “My Bonnie Lass, She Smelleth.” It was terrific! The performance will be broadcast on CBC Radio Two’s In Performance on August 31 at 8 pm if you’re interested. I highly recommend it if you are at all interested in music. Or laughing.

It was great being out with my dad. He was a professional musician when I was growing up, and has been nurturing a love of music in me my whole life. He took me to my very first rock concert when I was nine (Hall and Oats), and has tended to my “I want to learn about classical music” and “I want to learn about jazz” phases with careful attention.

We see my parents often because they live more or less around the corner from us, but it’s not often I get to spent one-on-one time with them without demanding preschoolers dangling from one of us, so last night was a real treat on several levels. A night away from the boys, a nice dinner, fantastic music and belly laughs, and an entire evening to remind me what a daddy’s girl I really am. A perfect evening!

Now that you are grown up (more or less), has your relationship with your parents changed very much?


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Ten years ago today – Amsterdam

by DaniGirl on July 28, 2005 · 3 comments

in Uncategorized

If I’d had a blog 10 years ago while I was traveling through Europe, this is what I’d’ve written today.

10:45 am, 28 July 1995
Amsterdam


If the tiny, twisting cobble-stone streets winding around the canals is Amsterdam’s heaven, then its hell is definitely Centraal Station. It seemed innocuous enough at 8:30 yesterday morning when all I had to do was breeze through it. This morning, however, I thought I’d be smart and get my seat reservation for Sunday (2 days hence) to Koblenz. There’s only 50 people in line ahead of me. I had to wait in line to take a number! If I had a guilder for every backpack in this waiting room, I could fly to Koblenz.

My first night in Amsterdam was pretty calm. I wandered the streets for hours, from the crazy shops in tourist hell (they seem to love “The Tie Rack” here – I’ve seen at least four of them. Go figure.) to the residential and artsy streets near the Jordaan. I took a nice canal boat tour (cliché, I know, but nice!) and was actually asleep before dark. No, really Mom, I’m serious!

7:25 pm
same day


I’m sitting in a sidewalk café drinking a cappucino, after having finished a light supper of a salami-and-cheese sandwich on a crusty baguette with a beer and some sort of pickled salad.

I’ve found eating to be a bit of an inconvenience, partly because I’m shy about entering a restaurant and sitting by myself, and partly because the menues are all in Dutch, and I’m not ordering anything I can’t readily identify in a culture that prides itself on raw pickled-herring-and-hard-boiled-egg sandwiches sold from roadside stands as prolific as chip wagons in Ottawa.

It really is a fascinating city, this Amsterdam. It seems the tourists outnumber the natives 3 to 1.

8:25 pm


From my hotel room, I can hear the carillons of the “Westerkerk” or West Church. It’s a huge, lovely old church with a tall tower called the Westertoren, for which this hotel is named. Oddly, the carillons chime on the half-hour every hour. For example, after the chimes, it bongs four times at 3:30 or nine times at 8:30.

One of the neatest things about Amsterdam is the furniture hooks on each canal house. The doors are so narrow and the staircases so steep that all the furniture gets hauled up with a pulley and goes in through the window. Every single residence in the old city has one. Just further proof to my building suspicion: you’d have to be crazy to live in Amsterdam!

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Ick

by DaniGirl on July 27, 2005 · 6 comments

in Uncategorized

I have no idea what to make of this, but it’s got me quite unsettled.

We are keeping the boys in one day of daycare each week during the summer, partly for continuity for them, partly to ensure a steady paycheque for my darling daycare provider, and mostly because a kid-free day is good for our mental health.

When we stepped out of the house this morning to head over to her house, I found a garbage bag full of garbage (still tied up and bundled) on top of my car. I have no idea who put it there or why. I asked Beloved, who put the garbage out last night, if he knew anything about it (“why yes, dear, I always put refuse on the car in the rain – makes the day a little more interesting for the sanitation engineers.”) and he said that it was a bag from around the side of the house that he had put in our can last night at the curb. Except there was a branch sticking out through the bag, and I didn’t put any branches in our garbage – they have to go in those brown paper bags for composting.

This is such a silly little thing, but so weird. WHY would someone put a random garbage bag around the side of our house, and WHY would they or someone else take it out of the can at the curb and put it on top of the car? It’s creeping me out.

I heard the annoying teens from next door out there at around 11 pm last night, but they were just talking. I was going to holler out and ask them to keep it down, but decided against it. I didn’t hear anything more mischevious, but I guess it could have been them. And it could have been much worse – the bag could have been torn or dumped onto the car, or the recycling could have been scattered all over the lawn.

Ugh. I hate stuff like this. There must be something in the air. Yesterday afternoon, we went to Loblaws to pick up some prints of our Day Out with Thomas photos, and this weird guy got really mad when Beloved tried to go around him as he sat waiting to make a turn (we didn’t realize he was making the turn because he was just sitting there without his signal on.) The guy was giving Beloved the hairy eyeball as we parked in the “for families with children” spot, and yelled that he didn’t look “like no fuckin’ pregnant lady” when Beloved got out of the car. They barked at each other for a minute, then Beloved went into the store while the boys and I waited in the car. A few minutes later, I hear Beloved bellowing “Get the hell away from my car!” and I turn around to see the guy standing right behind the car. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was reading the sign and had nominated himself King of the Parking Spot Police for the day, but it still freaked me out. One of the clerks from Loblaws was on her break and had been watching the whole thing. When she saw him come out and approach the car with us in it, she came running over just about the same time Beloved started hollering. Very weird. He left after giving Beloved and the cashier a few choice words (the cashier was so cute, about 4 feet tall and 90 lbs soaking wet, telling the guy to mind his own damn business and what the hell was he thinking, coming after a mother with a couple of babies) and that was it, but it cast a bit of a pallour on the rest of the afternoon. Did I mention I hate conflict?

Parking lot rage and garbage rage – was it something I said?


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Ten years ago today – My European Adventure

27 July 2005 Uncategorized

Ten years ago today, I set out on one of my most wonderful adventures – a four week solo backpacking adventure through five European countries. Since I’m on vacation in the real world, I thought I’d pilfer from my own material and reprint some of the entries from my travel journal over the next month. […]

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Tristan’s Day Out With Thomas

26 July 2005 Away we go

Tristan had no idea what we were up to. We had parked a ways from the train museum in St Thomas, and told him that we were going to see some trains.We rounded the corner, and we could see the trains off in the distance, across a little park. We started hiking that way, a […]

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In search of a giant blue train

22 July 2005 Away we go

I remember when road trips meant throwing three t-shirts, a pair of jeans, some extra undies and my toothbrush into a bag, topping the bag up with a handful of decent CDs, and making sure I had a full extra-large coffee from Timmy’s. I just finished packing up for our road trip with the boys. […]

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It’s all about me(me)

21 July 2005 Uncategorized

The incomparable and extremely pregnant Jen from MUBAR has tagged me. Wasn’t that nice of her? And if she can play nicely in this heat while trying to keep up with the angelic terror that is Baby Girl and gracefully gestate her upcoming arrival, far be it from me to say no to her. 1. […]

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