Monday, April 16, 2007

Ciao Bamberg, Hello Portland!

I have booked a plane ticket and am coming home! May 18th is only a few weeks away, and it would be an understatement to say I am looking forward to it.

I am taking a break from bike riding, to give me knees some recovery time. But I've already been scouting out on GoogleEarth long rides I want to do in NW Oregon.

The above picture of barley, onion and raps was taken on my last long ride, two weeks ago. The fields smell so good; that is probably what I will miss most about Germany: riding with my nose.

I shot the sunset on the Main-Donau canal on my way back from Buttenheim. A 20km ride south of Bamberg, the St. Georgen brewery produces a world famous Kellerbier, one of my favorites. It is addictive enough that I rode all the way down there just for a beer, on more than one occasion. Kellerbier is an unfiltered, low CO2-content lager, and St. Georgenbrau makes one that is impossibly tasty while at the same time very simple and refreshing. I wish I was in Buttenheim right now...

Another top choice is Ayinger Jahrhundertbier. One's first sip of this beer drains half of the Stein, and from the second comes the thought "I could drink twenty of these." No kidding. Now, I have only drank this beer from Ayinger's pub in Munich, served flat and warmish from wooden kegs. Wait a minute, I'm in Munich right now... sounds like I have my research lined up for the evening, cheers!

Saturday, March 31, 2007


After having spent a few days in the Allgau Mountain Bavarain postcard land, Whitney and I took the long way through Austria en route to Salzburg. By way of Lindau, and Innsbruck, the road tucked itself beneath towering snowclad cliffs, all the while rolling through the inescapable bavarian pasture-scape. Normally quite an attentive, safe right lane driver, the views had me pointing at this cabin or that ruin, wouldn't that be a nice ski tour, wow look at that... swerving all havoc like and scaring the passenger.

Salzburg was where Wolfgang A. Mozart was born, and you won't forget it. His birth house is on main street in old town, the house he lived in his adolecence is right across the river, and his balls are for sale in every store in town. Mozart Chocolate Balls. Click on the link for this blog entry.

Apparently this is what happens to you if you become famous in Austria. They use your name to market chocoballs and then build a goat-legged, leprositic, too much lipstick wearin' statue of you. What will they do with the guy that invented Red Bull?

Old town is compact and beautiful, medieval and civilized all at once. Cliffs backdrop 700 year old buildings, spirous chuches ubiquitous as Starbucks, and a never-conquered castle looms atop the city. Castles are cool.

Our first night in Salzburg, we got tickets to see a string quartet in the castle above town. The main course of course was Mozart, including Ein kleine Nachtmusik, with a Vivaldi piece thrown in to mix things up. A far more intimate musical experience than a full orchestra, or say, a Springsteen concert, we both left feeling... whatever you would have said late 18th century in place of "groovy".

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bad Rain, Good Struedel

Whitney and I took our holiday together in the Allgaeu mountains. The Allgaeu is a region of southwestern Bavaria and includes a small chunk of Baden-Wurtemberg. The bucolic countryside with ever alpine backdrop is immediately welcoming.

The famous mountain cheese that originates here (Allgaeur Bergkaese) is wickedly sharp tasting, somehow unlike anything I had tried in the states. It smells very strong, so strong that one best wear gloves to slice or serve.

On our first day, we had sunshine and brisk winds and here Whitney is doing her best Maria Van Trapp impression. If you like to walk, the endless rolling hills and farms of the Allgau Alps and walking culture make it a dreamland. I must add again that the layout of small towns and cafes offer the hiker an infinitum of plumcake and coffee options.

I had visited my parents in the small spa town of Oberstaufen, which is known as a "Kurort", last September. Kurort directly translates to "cure town", but the Kur must be expanded upon. Folks needing some for of wacky alpine crash diet due to too much Bavaria consumption come to punish their bodies for several weeks.

From what I could tell, if you are doing the Kur, you wake up to a hot towel wrap, followed by an all day hike with nothing to eat but four carrots and six grams of stinkycow cheese. Then, upon return to the hotel, half starved, sunburnt and dehydrated, they are allowed only to drink red wine. Needless to say, we didn't sign up for the Kur, but rather enjoyed fabulous breakfasts and walks and tried not to plan the wedding.

Day One was sunny, the hills were alive with cowsmell and the music of spring birds returning from their Italian holiday. Day Two we had a foot of snow. The cowsmell was erased and the birdsongs confused.

Braving the snowstorm for a beer, westepped into a public house called "Bubi's Bar", which wasn't at all what I expected.

Our last day was sunny and beautiful. We walked through the woods and on the snow to a cafe called "Bad Rain", where we had Struedel and a Cherry-Nut Torte for lunch, both outstanding.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Portland Rain

As March opens spring, and my program in Germany nears completion, I realize that I have finally started to become comfortable here. I understand the language, the train system, how many half liter doppelbocks I can drink and still ride my bike the next day... About once a week, I go to a pub, introduce myself to a group of locals and share a couple pints with them. But there are so many wonderful things I look forward to returning to in the US.

I had heard of M Ward for some years before hearing a podcast. He recorded a song "Paul's Song" with Portland's Paul Brainerd playing pedal steel guitar.

You say how does it feel to be travelling,
How's it feel to live your life on the train,
And the aeroplane? Well I ain't gonna lie to you,
Every town is all the same, when you've left your heart in the Portland rain.

So cheers to everyone back home, I miss you and look forward to an excellent summer!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Franconian Switzerland: Bamberg to Kulmbach via Hollfeld

I seemed to have biked straight through a rift in the time-space continuum, disrupting my pleasant Saturday bike ride, and found myself in Eastern Oregon. The stunted trees, strawgrass, and oldwood barns looked in some places just like country near Prineville.

I rode from Bamberg to Kulmbach, a legendary brewing town in Upper Franconia, through a town called Hollfeld. The bike computer said it was a 72 km ride, but with the cold cold wind, and the hills, it took me all day and kicked my butt.

I have been seeing these doors built into cliffsides, imagining hobbits lived there. Or maybe Germans lived there in the days of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales. Frequently seen along backroads, most of the doors are rotting or missing all together; this one has been rebuilt and cared for. A local solved the mystery for me: before refridgerators, Franconians carved these holes into the rock for cold food storage, as the caves stayed cool year-round.

I'm back in Bamberg for a week, after two weeks in Munich. I wasn't able to take my bike with to Munich, and am fortunate to find good weather whilest my bike and I are reunited.

I stopped for lunch in Hollfeld, and after a wonderful local standard (Boiled ox breast served with horseradish sause, dumplings and cranberries) the chef chatted for a while about bicycle touring. Being a roadbike rider himself, who every year makes a weeklong, 900 km tour in the alps, I thought he might know where I might buy some cheap gloves. My fingers had been freezing due to undercooperation of the chilly east wind. He just happened to have some workgloves he could give me, them produced a map I could have too, and pointed out a route to Kulmbach that would be extra good.

When strangers are so generous and friendly, the rest of the day seems filled with promise and goodwill. With my fingers and soul warm again, I headed northeast toward Kulmbach.

I followed his guidance best I could, losing it somewhere and not noticing until turning back to regain his path no longer made sense. The mistake actually proved a good one, as I rode through Felsengarten country. Felsengarten translates as "Rock Garden"; dolomitic rock outcroppings pop up everywhere in the Franconian Switzerland. In the middle ages, castles and fortresses were built atop these outcroppings, realizing a strategic vantage point.

Right about when I reached the Felsengarten Sanspereil, I took another gander at the map, finding that my current route would take me through Thurnau, a town I had seen last fall while slightly lost, looking for a place to eat lunch.

The castle in Thurnau is connected to the church via a bridge, making a rather striking visage. It had suprised me last fall, find this impressive castle by accident. I have learned since then, that there are so many fortresses, castles, palaces and old churches in Bavaria, you practically trip over them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Laketown in the Alpine Foothills

From Munich, you can take the BOB train (Bayrische Oberland Bahn) into the alps, go skiing for the day and take the train back to town. Thanks to global warming, skiing isn't an option this winter, so I went for a hike. On the advice of a classmate, I visited Tegernsee, an hour south of Munich.

Walking in the mountains is a simple integral part of the culture here. At the top of the hike was a restaurant, where I sat next to four old ladies, who were drinking beer and discussing their hiking boot designs.

Vocational School for Brewing in Munich

The education system in Germany is different than in the US. Traditional apprenticeships still prepare many people for work life here; they train in a trade with a company for blocks of time, then attend trade-specific classes for three week blocks.

I am attending two blocks of brewing apprenticeship school in Munich, and find attending and understanding technical classes in a second language is tough but rewarding, good for the ol' Gulliver.

Everyone I talk too in the US asks whether I have seen the movie, "Brewfest" I think it is called. No I have not, because it was banned in Munich for misrepresenting the culture and purpose of Oktoberfest. I'll just have to watch it when I get home. I was told drinking boot sales have skyrocketed because of the film.

Berlin Reunited

Visiting family in Berlin turned out to be a welcome practical history course. Since the reunification of Germany in 1989, neighborhoods in the eastern side have undergone severe overhauls. When the Russians pulled out, the stripped buildings of everything, electrical boxes, window frames, doorknobs, etc. and hauled it back with them.

On a driving tour of Berlin and Potsdam, one sees the distinct building styles of the last few hundred years. Palaces built by the Kings of the 18th and 19th centuries, their ubiquitous redbrick troops barracks, Nazi housing from the 1930's, communist-era block housing.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Altenburg Castle