Wednesday 31 May 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.


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 29 May 2017


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.


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.

DSC04223         DSC04292

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.


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.


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.



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

Wednesday 24 May 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.


Route 2
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.



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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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 8 May 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.


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.


Sunday 7 May 2017

The day the rally came to town

We live next to a 10 kilometer stretch of dirt laughingly called California Road. Clearly it’s nowhere near California, nor is it anywhere near being what one would consider to be a road. It is sort of maintained during the summer months by fixing the washouts caused by the spring runoff and beaver dams. The township will sometimes run a grader along it, and every few years there might be a load or two of gravel dumped on it to fill the larger potholes and gullies. But that’s it. The sign says “Drive at your own risk” when it should more precisely say “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

All of which made it a perfect venue for one leg of this year’s Lanark Highlands Forest Rally. Sponsored by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa this is the 9th running of this particular rally, and the first year that California Road has been one of the sections. So, of course, we had to walk over and check it out.

We didn’t get there early enough to walk out to what should have been a couple of great vantage points, but that’s probably just as well as we would have been stuck there until they were finished with the section (about 4 hours). And since it was 0 degrees and windy with on and off blizzard conditions (Yes, this was today – May 7!) we would have frozen.

But a little cross-country hike through the woods did get us to a spot not too far from the start where we saw a bit of the action.