Wednesday, July 31, 2013


I'm way behind on this blog, which is what usually happens on these trips. I still need to write about this year's passport snafu (what would a summer trip for us be, without a passport snafu?) and post photos of Prague. In the meantime, here's a bunch of flower photos. Roses were abundant all over southern Germany, so most of the shots are roses. I was apparently less interested in whole blooms than in how far into the flowers I could stick my camera lens, but I think I got some pretty shots that way.

This bloom was about as perfect as a rose can get
It rained almost every day for two weeks...

Poppies were abundant too.
Pretty amazing what a point-and-shoot can pick up if you stuff it far enough into a flower...
Prague also had abundant roses
This reminds me of human body parts
Peaches are not flowers, but I like the fuzz
Target practice
Elias took this photo. He's a whole rose guy.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What we do in Steinebach

When we visit Helen in Steinebach am Wörthsee, we are always very busy. After starting the day off right with Semmeln and assorted accompaniments for breakfast, we turn our attention to what to do for dinner (the kitchen is small; shall we cook at home, or go out again?). Once a decision has been made, it's time for lunch. Between lunch and dinner, our late afternoon is made complete by observing the sacred German tradition known as the 4pm Carb (Kaffee). (When I first met Stefan, I couldn't understand how he could wait until 7 or 8pm to eat dinner, while I was ravenous by 5:30. A few months later, I learned he was eating a big cinnamon bun every day at 4:00.)

In between all of that eating, we do sometimes manage to get out and about to see the marvelous sights, like the lakes, the bakeries, the gelato stands, and the grocery store (it used to be stores, but Tengelmann closed earlier this year. Indeed, much has closed over the past many years. When I first came to Steinebach with Stefan, there were separate stores for baked goods, milk-related dairy, eggs, meat, beverages, and fruits and veggies. It used to be that you never ever dared touch a piece of fruit at the fruit store, but instead waited for the proprietor to select the [hopefully] best pieces for you. Now everyone feels free to squeeze the peaches at Edeka). And of course we always get together with Stefan's relatives. Kaffee and dinner provide excellent opportunities to catch up with one another.

But do not think we do nothing but eat in Steinebach! On this trip, we did manage to take an excursion into Munich for a day, in order to meet with the family banker; afterward we expressed our gratitude by taking him out to lunch at a fine Bavarian establishment around the corner (not pictured).

Outdoor seating at a Munich restaurant on a typical Bavarian
midsummer's day. Notice the jackets, umbrellas, and heat lamps.

Another afternoon, we drove to Utting, a small town on the Ammersee, to meet a decades-long friend of one of my mom's decades-long friends; Dvora is an accomplished potter and retired art teacher, so in addition to all of us simply getting to know each another, we enjoyed talking about our art, first over hors d'oevres and again after a fabulous homemade dinner.

And on a Monday, we and a subgroup of relatives made a sunlit evening caravanning tour through the local countryside to admire a range of upper Bavarian country restaurant exteriors. (We could pretend this had an architectural and cultural purpose, but it turns out Monday is a Ruhetag [rest day] not only for German museums but also for Bavarian country restaurants; it took us four tries before finding a place that was open for dinner).

Our visit to Steinebach was timed to coincide with a big family birthday bash: Helen turned 90 earlier this year; Stefan's brother Rodi had turned 70; an aunt had turned 80; and Stefan was about to turn 50 and his niece Vroni 40. All of these "round birthdays" warranted a celebration!

The party was held in beautiful Schloss Sulzemoos, in what had formerly been a large arcaded stall for horses but had been converted into an exquisite restaurant, with an emphasis on locally-grown organic foods. Festivities of course began with the 4pm Carb, with coffee offered by the restaurant and an array of tasty desserts provided by several of the 50 or so guests. Selections ranged from sponge cake topped with fresh fruit to chocolate cake to apricot cake to cheesecake to spice cake to rum-soaked nut cake to creamy mango pudding, and on and on and on.

During the pause between Kaffee and the onset of dinner, we mingled with relatives and friends who had traveled from near and far. We worked off some of the calories by walking all the way to the church next door (at least 100 meters distant--200 if you count the walk back) to look inside. The Baroque church is one of the oldest in the county, with a foundation dating back some 1200 years.

Later, back at the restaurant, everyone enjoyed a four-plus course meal, beginning with a salad (the perfect mix of crisp, tender, and crunchy), followed by the best ravioli I've ever had (homemade pasta filled with ricotta and greens, on a bed of fresh spinach, topped with fried sage leaves and lightly warmed cherry tomatoes; holy moley). There were main courses and sides for carnivores and vegetarians alike, and then, several hours after dinner began, it ended with Bavarian creme and sliced mascerated strawberries.

Rodi and Renate had arranged for someone to bring in an electronic keyboard, and Helen's neighbor Berthhold had checked out some scores from the Munich City Library, so between courses we built up our appetites by playing sentimental oldie Tangos while friends and family sang along. Renate had written some humorous Staenzl (verses)--a Bavarian big party tradition--to roast the birthday honorees, which she and a trio of other relatives sang to the accompaniment of Berthhold's accordion. Things wrapped up at a regretfully early 11pm, but the immediate family hung around a while longer, chatting contentedly about food and other topics.

11pm: Satt

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Der ewige Igel

I've been visiting Stefan's mom in Steinebach about once a year for 23 years. Throughout that time, Stefan's mom has been feeding two kinds of animals (not counting the mosquitoes): cats and der Igel ("the hedgehog"). The cats have changed--first there was Maxl, then Döpferl, and now Döpferlkatze--but the hedgehog has remained a constant, always der Igel.

Helen has a large yew tree just outside her front door, next to a flag pole on which flies a banner in Bavarian blue and white, and for as long as I've known her, she has kept two small glass bowls under the tree, into which she puts quality food scraps for der Igel. I have never actually seen der Igel, but the scraps disappear, and Helen replenishes the bowls, so I assume the hedgehog really does exist. He must be a very long-lived hedgehog, to have lasted these 23 years--but of course he's also been very well fed. So well fed, in fact, and for so long, that he has become somewhat of a legend, at least to me: the eternal hedgehog, der ewige Igel.

We spent last week in Steinebach with Helen, and as usual, I did not see der mythical Igel. I still need to blog about that week, but for now I will jump ahead to Prague. For the next few days, we're staying in Černý Vůl, a 40-minute schlepp from the big city. Tonight, after a long day in Prague that ended with a metro ride and then a bus ride and then a brisk walk from the bus stop along a busy road and then down some steps to a shortcut over a bridge and then finally back to our rental cottage, there it was: ein Igel. Not der Igel, of course, since der Igel is presumably wandering around the yew tree and the flag pole in Steinebach, quizzically wondering where the food has gone; but certainly a hedgehog. It's the first hedgehog I've ever seen in the wild (if a hedgehog playing dead on a crumbling concrete sidewalk by a stone wall next to a metal gate outside of Prague constitutes a hedgehog "in the wild").

We'll have a few more days in Steinebach before this trip is over; perhaps, given tonight's auspicious sighting, this year will be the year when I finally see der ewige Igel.

A Czech hedgehog playing dead in the wilds of Černý Vůl

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A day in Italy

I had never been to Italy before, and Italy is just a hop, skip, and jump away from Nauders, so the day after Stefan's bike race, we drove 5km south, out of Austria/North Tyrol, and into Italy/South Tyrol. Most of the people I have told this to in the week since then have observed that despite being in Italy, South Tyrol is "basically Austria." The road signs are in both Italian and German, and the towns have both Italian and German names.

After driving up to the Stilfser Joch/Stelvio Pass, we headed back down the way we had come to have lunch in what we called Glurns (since we were traveling with a German speaker)--though I think Italian has the upper hand with this one, as Glorenza sounds far more musical. Glurns/Glorenza is a walled medieval town;'s article on Glurns, when cranked through Google Translate, states that Glurns is one of the smallest municipalities in Tyrol, second only to "the city rats mountain in North Tyrol." I take this as a reminder that while it might be smarter to read text in the original language, it's often more entertaining to use Google Translate.

A biker heading down from atop the Stelvio Pass
Glurns arcades
Glurns doorways
Glurns windows
From Glurns, we headed to Meran/Merano, which was low enough in elevation to give me a taste of what I thought Italy (versus "basically Austria") would look like, with palm trees and majestic cypresses. We wandered around the city center for a bit and found not one but two kitchen gadget stores--joy!--where I picked up three snazzy fluted ravioli cutters. A salesperson noticed that I was lingering for a ridiculous amount of time over the ravioli cutters, spinning assorted wheels and examining their edges; I was pleased to be able to explain in sufficient German that I needed the wheels for pottery, and to explain why the fancy five-cutters-in-parallel model he showed me wouldn't work for my needs. I was also pleased to realize that Italy is probably the cheapest place in the world to buy ravioli wheels.

After that exciting shopping excursion, we ended up on the Tappeinerweg, a path that rises steadily and with many switchbacks through well-tended gardens on a cliff side over Meran. Thus a day that began with snowy mountain peaks ended with prickly pear cactus blossoms.

Cactus flowers on the Tappeinerweg

View of Meran from the Tappeinerweg
We happened upon one Stolperstein on our way to dinner:

Dinner was pizza. As was the case with fondue in Switzerland, it turns out that pizza doesn't taste any more intriguing than usual for being eaten in Italy, but it was nice to have the experience. After dinner, we left northern Italy/south Tyrol for one more night in southern Austria/north Tyrol. On Tuesday, we headed north for Germany.

Monday, July 1, 2013


While 3,000 jocks were biking the Dreilaender Giro, we spent a few hours poking around Nauders. This included eating too many Pommes (french fries) in the race tent, meandering up to Schloss Nauderberg (a castle first mentioned in historic documents in 1239, now privately owned and used as a hotel/restaurant), and saying hello to an abundance of garden gnomes on a narrow street leading back to our pension. I was inspired to remember the garden gnome Stefan and I received as a wedding present, though not sufficiently to bother finding the gnome in my mother-in-law's attic.

One of these things is not like the others

Only one of these central European fire hydrants is an award winner. Can you tell which one?