Monday, July 10, 2017

Getting motivated … or not.

Motivation

Day after day we continue to be deluged with near-record rainfall. May was about 3 times normal accumulations, June came in at about double normal, and we’ve already had a normal July’s worth of rain and we’re just 1/3 of the way through the month. Golf has been rained out more often than not and riding hasn’t fared much better with only a few hundred kilometres put on the bike since I got it – about 4 fill-ups worth. Our garden is drowning and all I’ve done with the boat this year is bail it out – several times. And if one does decide to venture out of doors the fact that mosquitoes and black flies are breeding at a rate previously unheard of for this time of year will drive you back inside in short order. Depressing seems too mild a term.

IMG_0050Instead there’s been a lot of indoors activity, including adding to my collection of ‘some day’ projects.

As some may know I’ve started making cigar box guitars just for fun. Up until now they have been acoustic only because I didn’t have an amp. That changed Sunday when I picked up a gently used practice amp that will allow me to start putting pick-ups in my guitars and test them out. I have a few that now need to return to the workbench to be modified and they have been added to the projects list.

IMG_0135I also scored a vintage Singer treadle machine base on Sunday. Not sure what I’ll do with it just yet (the most obvious solution is to make it into a table, but I have some other ideas as well). It’s intact but for the pitman arm which is missing and I’ll need to make a replacement for that. On this particular model the arm was made from wood so I should be able to create a reasonable approximation from some scrap oak or maple. That’s another project for another day.

Now I just need to get motivated to “git ‘er done”, as the locals would say, and start finishing some of the dozens of other small projects I have underway.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Syringa vulgaris

If the title hasn’t already sent you to Wikipedia, syringa vulgaris is the taxonomic name for the common lilac, which grows in abundance in these parts and throughout much of Europe and the US as well. It is also the state flower of New Hampshire.

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And why am I writing about this? Well this is peak flowering season for lilacs here and the air is filled with their scent, making for very pleasant rides in the countryside.

This month (May) has seen record rainfalls in this area with accumulations more than 3 times the normal average. Combine all that rainy weather with a 2-week absence while we were swanning around Europe and you’re left with about 3 riding days all month.

However yesterday offered up a few hours of sunshine and dry air so I managed to jump on the bike (I really do need to come up with a proper name for her; “the bike” just doesn’t do it) for a quick ride into town to run a few errands. All along the route the lilacs were in full bloom and the smell as I would pass a house with dozens of bushes in the yard was truly divine. Mother Nature’s perfume as it were.

Just another excellent reason to ride rather than being cooped up in a cage with the air-conditioning on.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Curiosities

No trip is complete without at least a few curiosities.

Germany is, overall, pretty progressive when it comes to disabled access. Of course it is an old country and retrofitting for wheelchair access is not always possible. However in this case the shop owner made the effort, installing a small ramp beside the main door. Unfortunately the 6-inch curb surrounding the establishment makes the ramp somewhat useless.

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One thing we noticed was how dog friendly it was. Everywhere we went we saw these Hunde Bars (literally, “hound bars”) where pooch could get a drink of fresh water, or where the owner could ‘park’ Fido whilst shopping or contemplating the stained glass in the local cathedral.

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In Germany getting married is a civil act, not a religious one. Therefore, while you can get married in a church, you must, by law, also have a civil ceremony for it to be legit. And so that’s why on any given weekend you will often see brides (and grooms, of course) hanging around outside the Standesamt (Registry Office or Marriage License Bureau). And that’s how we participated(?) in 3 separate weddings, including the one of Marie Antoinette (really???), and another involving the Wiesbaden fire department, complete with coiled hoses and sirens. A third, just-in-time wedding (no pic) had a *very* pregnant bride who, I expect, was rushed to Obstetrics immediately following the ceremony.



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In keeping with the romantic theme, we discovered what looked like trees emblazoned with ribbons in many of the small towns. Upon closer inspection it became obvious that the trees were recently cut and usually tied to a lamp post or some other fixed item like a downspout. Turns out that in Rhineland one of the May Day traditions is for young men to dress up a tree or branch with ribbons and place it in the yard or in front of the house of a girl he wishes to marry. And during a leap year it’s the girls who decorate and place the trees. Judging from the numbers there are a lot of young ladies out there who are someone’s target. It’s quite a nice idea, and colourful as well.

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Usually the streets in the older parts of the cities were paved with cobblestones. While this is in keeping with historic accuracy it sometimes made walking a bit unsteady when one is used to smooth pavement. My teeth rattled just watching bicyclists traverse these streets, often at speed, and I marveled at the local ladies who managed to get around wearing 4 inch spike heels without breaking an ankle, their neck, or both. And I was certainly not tempted to  take a guided tour of a cobble-stoned city on rollerblades, like this group did.  No wonder they needed a rest.



And finally, the cost of maintaining these ancient churches and cathedrals is phenomenal so fund raising is critical. However I don’t think you’d see too many houses of worship in North America selling booze in the vestibule. Some sold wine, often from their own vineyards, while others, like the Koln Cathedral, sold brandies.

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And those are just some of the little things that can make a pretty good trip truly memorable.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where in the world …. ?

One of the reasons, among many, that I have been silent for a while is that the frau and I just spent 2 weeks in Germany. We escaped miserable spring weather here in Ontario and arrived in Frankfurt to sun and mid-20s temperatures, which stayed with us for the entire 2 weeks with the exception of 1 day of rain. And that was a driving day anyway, so nothing was lost.

The objective was to visit the “romantic Rhine” which is loosely described as the part of the Rhine between Frankfurt and Koblenz. Sloping hillsides covered with vineyards and spotted with medieval castles, it’s one of the more picturesque areas of Germany to visit, and we had wanted to do so for some time.

Of course we could have taken a river cruise, but for maximum flexibility we opted to drive. And as a result we saw more and got much further afield than we contemplated when initially planning the trip.

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It’s hard to overstate how beautiful this part of the lower Rhine is. It’s in the heart of wine country so vineyards cover every surface, some on slopes so steep that maintenance can be done by hand only (and, as one local put it, by people with one leg shorter than the other). As a major trading route during medieval times it also attracted many of the great houses of the time which built castles on its banks to both control the flow of goods but also to extract tolls from anyone using the river for commerce. Now those castles spot the hillsides as ruins or, in some cases, have been renovated as inns (one of which we stayed in) and hostels. And visiting the villages built around those castles 1000 years or so ago, seeing still-occupied buildings that are 7 or 8 times older than our country is, is simply amazing.

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It’s impossible to cover all the key points of a two-week trip in one blog post, but I will touch on a few significant items which, hopefully, might encourage you to visit this area one day. It is well worth it.

One of the highlights for me was to visit Remagen of “The Bridge at Remagen” fame. Though the film was highly fictionalised seeing the actual location, the remnants of the bridge, and visiting the associated museum brought to life an aspect of WW 2 history that had long interested me.

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You can’t visit Europe without also visiting cathedrals. Of the dozen or so we saw, by far the most impressive was the cathedral in Cologne. According to Wikipedia the Cologne Cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany, and with good reason – it’s beautiful. An added benefit is that you can climb the tower, if you’re up to 533 steps up – and 533 down – a spiral staircase that will make you dizzy if you proceed too quickly. Of course we decided to climb, and we did get dizzy, but the views were worth the effort.

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From Cologne we left the Rhine and headed west to Aachen. Back circa 800 AD Aachen was Charlemagne’s preferred place of residence and as a result the two names have become almost synonymous. That’s not a period in history that’s of particular interest to me but the missus found it fascinating. And, to be fair, I quite enjoyed poking around in some of the ancient buildings and looking at religious relics that, supposedly, contained the actual bones of Charlemagne. Of course, hundreds of years later who knows whether the relics are in fact a part of his cranium, or his forearm, but the believers believe.

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While in Aachen I was looking at a roadmap and, purely by accident, noticed that our route to Luxembourg passed close by the town of Bastogne. The name meant little to my traveling companion but Bastogne was the epicentre, more or less, of some of the bloodiest fighting in WW2, aka the Battle of the Bulge. So we had to stop. And I’m glad we did. The Mardasson Memorial at Bastogne is beautiful, and the museum is a fascinating place where one could easily spend hours and hours looking at the exhibits.

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And as icing on the cake, we stayed in a little town near Bastogne called Hauffalize. Located in a small river valley this was probably the prettiest place we saw on the trip. It doesn’t get much more idyllic than this.

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And then we were on the road again to Luxembourg City, a city of traffic jams, impatient drivers, and a million (at least) tourists. But, again, the historical aspects were fascinating and the scenery was incredible. Luxembourg City is one of the 3 official capitals of the European Union and dates back to circa 900 AD. Much of the city walls and fortifications were built during the 10th and 11th centuries, again giving one the sense of treading the ground where history was made.

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Next stop, Trier. Founded in the 4th century BC, Trier is probably the oldest city in Germany. Arguably, it’s most famous artifact is the Porta Nigra, the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. Dating back to 200 AD the gate is still in remarkable condition, its name deriving from the darkened stone used in its construction.

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But to me the most impressive structure in Trier, and the one that left me most in awe on the entire trip, was the Basilica of Constantine. Built in 310 AD (complete with in-floor heating) as a Roman palace for Constantine, the building later became an Evangelical church, which it remains today. It comprises a massive single room, about 200’ long, 75’ wide, and 100’ high, imposing in its scale but also its simplicity. Standing in the centre of that room left me with a feeling I will not soon forget. It’s easy to see how a religious person might feel (as one did actually say to me there) God’s presence in such an edifice.

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Last stop, back to Frankfurt for a few days. We wanted to see the city but also we were going to meet up with Sonja and Roland of  Find Me On The Road fame. I’m not going to post a lot of Frankfurt pictures but suffice it to say Frankfurt is booming (in no small part to the anticipated financial fallout from Brexit) and we had a great time, including a lovely afternoon spent with Roland and Sonja who drove in from their home a couple of hours away to spend some time with us.

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So that’s it, a (very) brief overview of a great trip.

By the numbers:
  • Kilometres traveled by car – 993
  • Kilometres travelled by foot (we like to walk)  - 170
  • Castles visited – 9
  • Churches/cathedrals visited – 15
  • Pictures taken – 1354
  • Harley Davidson dealers visited – 1
  • Socks lost – 1 (??)
  • German cakes/tortes consumed as mid-day snacks – too many.
Auf wiedersehen Germany. Until next time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

We are doomed.

A while ago I saw this image on line. My first thought was, “Hey, that guy’s wearing my shop jeans!”. Those would be the ones the missus won’t allow me to wear into town, and only grudgingly allows me to wear in the shop. My philosophy is, with a pair of jeans like that who cares how often they get washed. Right? It’s all about saving the environment – fewer washes, less electricity used, less detergents going into the groundwater. And, probably most important, less effort on my part.

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Anyway… It turns out that no one actually absconded with my grubbies because this was an ad for Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight-Legged Jeans. According to the ad copy, these jeans “embody rugged, Americana workwear that's seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you're not afraid to get down and dirty.”

Except you are afraid to get down and dirty, else you wouldn’t have to pay $400 for a pair of jeans. And if you did actually get down and dirty your $50 a pair jeans would look just like this in a couple of hours.

Nope. If you buy and wear these (and many have as Nordstrom’s is apparently “sold out” of them) you’re a poser, a wannabe, someone who is probably still living in your Mom’s basement.  Which, now that I think about it, is the only good reason to fork over that kind of cash – to convince your Mom that you really are going to work every day and not to the local Starbuck’s where you sit and play with your laptop all day while nursing a grande frappacino latte with soy milk, comparing ruggedness quotients with tattooed baristas.

Unbelievable.