Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dropping in On 2014

Are you waiting for the pickle to drop?  No..perhaps you are waiting for the possum to drop. Still not your city's thing?  I am not entirely sure what is dropping here in Kansas City and that might be a good thing.

 ■Tallapoosa, Ga., will be dropping the traditional stuffed possum at midnight. It's name is Spencer, and PETA isn't a big fan of the endeavor.

 ■ After a North Carolina judge decided to let the event proceed despite PETA's protests, a captured possum in a plastic box will drop in Brasstown at midnight. This live possum drop has happened every year for two decades.

 ■ Marshall P. Muskrat, who is a stuffed muskrat, will soar over downtown Princess Anne, Md., on a zip line at midnight.

 ■ Chuck, a 6-foot-tall fake chicken, will drop in Delta, Ohio, at midnight. "We couldn't do a live one," says Mabel Hudson, a committee chairman. "We would have had PETA out here."

 ■ A giant fake sardine will drop from a building in downtown Eastport, Maine.

 ■ A hog sculpture will drop in Fayetteville, Ark.

 ■ A 600-pound, 20-foot fiberglass fish named Wylie Walleye will drop in Port Clinton, Ohio. "When we're going down I-75, the truck drivers are talking about Wylie the Walleye," says the fish's handler.

 ■ Beavertown, Pa., drops a ... stuffed beaver. Of course.

If you aren't into watching animals...stuffed or otherwise being dropped, maybe food items are more up your ally.

 ■ Plymouth, Wis., will drop the "big cheese" at midnight.

 ■ A bit earlier in the evening, a doughnut will drop in Hagerstown, Md.'s public square.

 ■ Miami will do something of a reverse drop, sending its "Big Orange" up the city's Hotel InterContinental.

 ■ A pineapple will drop in Sarasota, Fla.

 ■ A giant peanut M&M and a giant peach will drop in Atlanta. Why an M&M? Because not even the wholesome New Year's holiday drop can escape corporate sponsorship.

 ■ Vincennes, Ind., will drop 14 watermelons at midnight, with "entertainment" from "comedian" Gallagher who is known as being funny for smashing watermelons with a mallet. Before the drop, there will be a Gallagher look-alike contest.

 ■ A massive, glowing pickle will drop before midnight in Mount Olive, N.C.

 ■ A 75-pound, light-up Peep will drop in Bethlehem, Pa.

 ■ A giant, foam potato will drop in Boise, Idaho. The potato cost $10,000 to make.

  •  And Last but not Least ....in Key West, Florida there is a drag queen named Sushi that will drop while sitting in a very large shoe.

But if you live in or near any of these cities, perhaps you have time to join in the festivities. For a complete list you could check out  the Objects Dropped List on Wikipedia.

This year our New Year's Eve is going to be rather low key.  Who are we kidding?  It's usually a very "stay in" and "stay away from the crazy"  night for us, but this year we have a rather unusual time disparity.

When it is midnight here tonight...hubby is getting ready for work at 7 AM Frankenthal, Germany time. He will have been in the new year for 7 hours by that time. 

Happy New Year ...Whatever time zone you are in. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Next Stop, Cologne

Prior posts  The Travelogue Begins and The First Day

To pick up the tour from where we left off...Day One was spent in Andernach, Germany just getting a peek at the many of the  historical remnants left in a town that was founded by the Romans on the site of a Celtic settlement before 12 BC.

Careful planning helps get everything accomplished
While we weren't finished seeing the sights in Andernach, our plan was to circle back later in the week to meet up with friends and finish our "sight seeing." We had created an itinerary for the week and the following morning we were preparing to drive to Köln....or if you prefer the English name that is Cologne.

I was recently talking to another blogger about how we prepare for trips. Here's how we approach travel...When our time is unlimited and flexible,  there is something to be said for just "flying by the seat of your pants."  That is taking each day as it comes.   However, when  there are time constraints and we are only in a country for a limited amount of time, there is something to be said for planning very carefully on the front side of the trip so we can make the most of our time limitations.   That was the case for this trip.  I had 10 days to work in as much as I could, knowing that even with the most careful, preemptive planning, I wouldn't get everything seen. With that being said, hubby had already made hotel reservations, purchased train tickets, routed day trips etc.  prior to my arrival.

There are meats, cheese, yogurt, and soft boiled eggs.

Luckily for me, my husband had the luxury of knowing the area very well as he had been living in Weissenthurm at that point for 85 days.  Unlike prior trips we have taken from the vantage point of being totally unfamiliar with an area, it was quite helpful that he had already visited all the places that I wanted to visit.  In fact, he had been to some of the locations several times and had a working knowledge of how to get around.

After spending my  first night at the guesthouse, the Rhein Hotel, we got up for our breakfast.  As hubby has been living there, Mama makes his breakfast every morning at 9 AM.   The breakfast is typical German fare....meat, cheese, yogurt, bread, and soft boiled egg. The breakfasts don't vary much from hotel to hotel.  You might get a few extra choices if you pick an American chain hotel.(Notice: I said "you might" so don't get your hopes up.)  At one restaurant we went to, there was some scrambled eggs and we were the only people in the place that recognized their "deliciousness.". The fact that my husband ran to them with the same eagerness as a crack addict scoring crack, might of scared the other patrons off...but to be fair he has gone nearly 3 months eating a singular soft boiled egg and sliced meat for breakfast. I gave him points for not physically maiming  someone over the little pan of bacon that was on the same buffet table as the eggs. 

Driving into the city center
While I am taking a momentary detour to talk  about  German breakfasts....In most cases, the eggs are served soft boiled.  The "container' next to the egg cup keeps the egg hot until you eat it.  For those of you living outside of the U.S.  that might think this is so obvious that it is not worthy of being mentioned. You would be wrong.  It is very unusual to have eggs served soft boiled in most parts of the U.S. I would bet money on the fact, if you handed most people here in the states an egg spoon, they would be looking around the room trying to get a clue how to use it. I might go so far as to say most men would be crackin' the shell of that bad boy on the table. 

In honor of my first morning at The Rhein Hotel, Mama served us apple strudel fresh out of the oven.  It really is a shame that smells and sounds can't be incorporated into blogs. While strudel isn't normal breakfast food there...it really should be.
After breakfast, we packed an overnight bag and set out  for Koln.  We chose to drive to Koln as it is just 57 miles.  Considering the highway speeds are over 100 MPH, it doesn't take very long to get from point A to Point B.

Arriving into Koln has a similar feel of other large cities or at least at first glance...lots of commercial buildings and a lot of traffic. However, as we got closer to the city center, we started seeing some of the charm of the city.

 Our first order of business, was to find our hotel.  Again, we had chosen a small local hotel over one of the larger chain hotels because we were hopeful to experience a little  more of the local flavor than previous trips when we stayed in recognizable chain hotels. As I mentioned in one of the earlier posts, we booked rooms off of bookings.com (the European equivalent to hotels.com) The  Cerano Hotel  had excellent customer reviews and a lot of pictures that looked as most European hotels do...very contemporary in decor.

Husband is usually walking ahead because I tend to pause to look at things.
Many of the smaller hotels in the city center are tucked in on unassuming side streets that have a bit of an "ally" quality about them.  One-way alleys with no apparent place to park.  We knew that there was to be a private parking garage with our room.  (FYI...we knew this because if one wants to park a car one gets to pay for the pleasure....we happily paid for a space.)

The hotel turned out to be a lovely place to stay.  The group of owners, that refer to themselves as "like family" were gracious and welcoming.  The breakfast the following morning, was not only tasty but the presentation was beautiful.  The young girl that makes the breakfasts made each dish a work of art. I wish I could of brought myself to be the consummate tourist and take pictures of all her little "tapas style" plates so you could appreciate how pretty everything was. Alas, I couldn't reduce myself to that level and it didn't help that the next table over the people were all speaking French. Eavesdropping on their conversation, I figured out they were from Switzerland.  Anyway, I concluded they were  the type  of people that would NOT take pictures of their breakfast.
Our room for the night

BUT...on the day of our arrival,  after getting checked in and getting the car into the garage, we set off for the Cologne Cathedral. From the hotel it was a quick five minute walk.

The Cathedral is the most visited tourist site in Germany averaging more than 20,000 people visiting per DAY. No matter what faith a person might have, the Cathedral is jaw-dropping in it's scale and majesty.  While we aren't Roman Catholic, I had to respect the fact that at least a  portion of the people in the church weren't tourists.  I suspect a rather small portion judging by the obvious "touristy" look of the swarms that were milling around the church.  Plus...call me crazy, but most worshippers don't bring their cameras to Mass.

[Side Note.....Actually, I found this rather odd that all the towns we visited had historical churches that were wide open for tourists to come into.  In fact, I found that a bit unsettling. The people that were actually in the churches lighting candles or praying seemed oblivious to the crowds of gawkers.]

 A little bit of history concerning the cathedral....The construction of the cathedral commenced in 1248 and after several stops and starts was finally completed in 1880. 

It is 144.5 metres (474 ft) long, 86.5 m (284 ft) wide and its towers are approximately 157 m (515 ft) tall.[3] The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.  Its two huge spires give it the largest facade of any  church in the world. The choir has the largest height to width ratio, 3.6:1, of any medieval church.

The church houses a number of valuable art and historical treasures but one of the most noted is the Shrine of the Magi.  The Shrine is  a large gilded and decorated triple sarcophagus that is believe to hold the bones of the Three Wise Men.

The exterior of the Shrine is covered in a total of seven feet of gilded silver and jewels.  Images of Old Testament prophets line the bottom while the twelve apostles decorate the top.  It is considered the high point of Mosan art.  In 1864 the shrine was opened and three skeletons were found inside; one of a young man, another of a middle aged man, and the third of an older man

 A few additional facts about the Cathedral....
  • The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during World War II. It did not collapse, but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. The great twin  spires are said to have been used as an easily recognizable navigational landmark by Allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany in the later years of the war, which may be a reason that the cathedral  was not destroyed. The stained glass windows were removed during the war to keep them from being damaged and were later reinstalled. 
(the picture above that shows the church standing in the midst of WWII's  devastation of the city. The photo  came from a Flickr account of Kevin Trotman

  •  Some repair and maintenance work is constantly being carried out in some section of the building, which is almost never completely free of scaffolding, since wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. The Dombauhütte, which was established to build the cathedral and repair the cathedral, is said to employ the best stonemasons of the Rhineland. It is said that once a person is hired to work on the church, the job is theirs for life.
  •  The Cathedral has 11 bells...four of which are medieval. The largest of the bells is the Bell of St. Peter which weighs 24 ton. It is the largest free swinging bell in the world.
Perhaps being the only lay person entombed in the Cathedral isn't without it's down side
  • There are a number of tombs in the Cathedral. However, Count Gottfried of Arnsberg was the only layperson to be buried in the choir of the Gothic cathedral along side archbishops and saints in the Middle Ages. During his lifetime he transferred his entire estate to the archiepiscopal state of Cologne. The sandstone tomb chest is decorated with mourning figures, coats of arms, and helmets. The gisant of the count, which is protected by an arched iron grid, shows him in full armour. Legend has it that the grid was put in place to protect the recumbent effigy of the deceased from being vandalised by disappointed relations.

Next time we will be going to the Christmas Markets...stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Am Talking About Christmas

Thought Number One:  Have a Politically Correct Holiday

Happy Holidays is now the politically correct term to say, as not to offend people of other religious or non-religious beliefs.  So here is a version of a toally PC greeting.

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions  of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2014, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other countries nor the only "America"  in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishes.

Thought Number Two:  To Those That Use the Word Christmas, Celebrate Christmas, and Are Comfortable with Embracing the holiday that is Christmas.

Click to enlarge
(Note:  While I gave it my best effort to add all my regular readers names, there may, in fact, be omissions. I assure you the absence of your name doesn't mean that you aren't on the "nice list" as much as it means my memory isn't what it used to be.)

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Someone's On the Naughty List

Yes...my friends...if this was a gift, you could accuse me of re-gifting.  I have reworked a previous post so it may look a bit familiar to my regular readers.  I will be posting a nice list tomorrow, so check back to see if your name is on it.

 Some of you might remember, the modern day version of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Pardon the more "colorful" words but in the spirit of accuracy of what one might see in this situation, here is my version of the classic.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two Turtle Doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 3 French Hens, two Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 4th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 8th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 10 Lords a leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 pipers piping, 10 Lords a leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me to me 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 Lords a leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a pear tree.

Cancel the drummers!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The First Day

I know some of you purists out there that feel the need to think in a systematic, organized way are wondering why I am posting "Day ONE" when I already posted a post named Day Two. [Day Two link] Well...because it's my blog and I  can play fast and loose with the timeline...but in reality that post was referring to the day, I posted it...not what we did on day two.  The REAL Day Two post will be coming soon. 

So...to bring you up to speed,....when I first got into Germany, I landed in Frankfort at 11:45 AM  German time...but, of course, that is 4:45 AM Kansas City time.  I know some people struggle with jet lag but that has never been the case for me.  As  a regular member of Club Insomnia, being awake at 4:45 wouldn't be out of  the norm anyway. 

The Guest House where Hubby  was residing is  79 miles down the autobahn (or 127 Km if you prefer the metric system) away so we first had to get back to his place.  I might point out to those of you that haven't been to Germany before, you might want to brace yourself for a really fast commute.  While there are speed limits, no one ever uses them.  Hubby was going over 110  and people were passing us like we were sitting still.  I am fairly confident that some of them were calling us "pussies" but as I don't speak German..so I am not entirely certain of that. 

After dropping off my bags in his room, I was anxious to go see some Germany. Weissenthurm is a small little town with a couple of notable historical sights but on that first day, we went 6 miles to Andernach where hubby has been  working the last three months. 

I have been to quite a few German towns but Andernach  is one of the most interesting, quaint and charming towns along the Rhein in my opinion.  It is, also, one of the oldest towns in Germany having celebrated a "Bimillenary feast" in 1988.

A few other little facts....  First of all, the pronunciation isn't "Ander-nak".  It's something akin to "On-der-nuukk"...with the nuk part sounding like you are trying to clear your throat. 

Andernach is a town of about 30,000 people.  It sits on the left bank of the Rhein River and the people there have there own German dialect. The dialect is considered Low German.  One of the local residents that had a working knowledge of English told me that they can't understand the German (High German) spoken in other parts of Germany.  I was tempted to say "Welcome to my world...I can't understand any of you"  but I thought that might not make the best impression.    Their dialect, by the way is called Annenach.

Andernach was settled in 12 BC by the Romans.  The town is surrounded by the medieval remnants of the fortifications that surrounded the town.   There are also, the remains of a castle, a toll bastion, and a geyser. Yes, you read that correctly...there is the world's highest cold water geyser is in Andernach, Germany.

But back to our tour...One of our first stops was the Round Tower. 

The Round Tower is one of the original 5 towers, two gates and wall that acted as a fortress for the city. Construction of the tower began in 1440 and completed in 1443.  The French troops of Ludwig XIV tried to blow it up in 1689 but all he managed to do was knock a bit of a dent into it. Currently it is a museum open on weekends allowing visitors to walk up to the top.

Ludwig XIV dented it but didn't destroy it

climbing, climbing, climbing

view from the tippy-top of the tower

After leaving the tower we walked through a historic church and then toward the  the downtown area where there was a small Christmas Market and a pageant taking place.

Going through one of the old fortress gates toward the town square

Getting closer
Nearly There

Let's Eat,  Drink and Be Merry

This was a tiny little market compared to the ones we went to later in the week. At this point it's time to head back to Weissenthurm but we return to Andernach to see the castle, bastion and geyser.  Crabby Pant's Tour bus  will pick up where we left off on the next post...

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Travelogue Begins

I am going to do a series of posts about my recent trip but for today, I am going to back up a bit to talk about how this trip was different than a normal holiday.  As my husband is on a long term work assignment, lodging and travel is quite different than how we typically would do things had we gone to Germany as tourists.

Thought Number One:  Work is the Opposite of Vacation

On our last trip to Germany, we went as tourists.  Yes, an adventure strictly for fun and seeing the sites. Easy-peasy plan for 15 days based in Munich.  We had a good travel agent that booked out rooms at the Marriott, made rental car reservations and lined out some guided bus tours to Switzerland and Austria.  On that trip we went with a group of friends as well, so we had our own built in group of English speaking people.  In fact, one of our group had German parents and claimed she had a working knowledge of the German language.  Monica, as it turned out, didn't have it working enough to keep us from getting on  the wrong train out of Dachau.  Which brought about a language lesson that was pretty self explanatory i.e. "dumme Amerikaner"

BUT in preparation for this trip...not so easy-peasy.  If one is going to a foreign country to work, there are things to be reckoned with.  Housing, car insurance, medical insurance that will cover you in a foreign country, foreign currency, a charge card that doesn't pick your pocket on conversion fees, getting a Euro-based cell phone (or unlocking your U.S. phone and finding a carrier that will not send you to the poor house on media, text, and Internet roaming charges) and last but not least having the proper Visa to be in a foreign country. 

As far as Visas go.... I timed my visit to see my husband near the end of his Schengen Visa.
As a non-German, hubby is allowed to stay in Germany for 90 days within an 180 day time period. There are a number of visa rules in Europe,  but when people talk about the “90 day limit”, they are talking about restrictions of the Schengen Visa, which is the visa rule that governs 26 countries in Europe. It includes all the European Union except Ireland and the United Kingdom as well as a few non-EU countries.

So...if you plan on visiting Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria,  Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, better keep the three month rule in mind. (gasping for breath)

As I was saying, my husband's 90 days were coming to an end and his job wasn't.  I needed to get my trip in before he was asked (do you suppose it is a request?)  to leave the country.  As it turned out he was not booted out on his keister but that is another story for another day.  (I will cover what Hubby had to do to stay past the 90 day mark in a later post but here is a link to give you a bit of how to ward off deportation if you are camped out in Europe illegally..How to Stay in Europe Legally After 90 Days. )

Mr. Germany is a little fussy about his 90 days "get out of here" rule.

Thought Number Two:  Making A Home Away from Home

As my husband's company (OK to be clear...his company is just him with me handling the day to day boring crap that comes across my desk) tends to work in rather small towns, it might not surprise you to know there aren't major hotel chains built just to accommodate him.  There is a web-site www.booking.com   that covers all the little hotels and German Guest Houses available.  As my husband was working primarily in the area of Andernach, Germany, he found a small hotel/guest house in Weissenthurm. (Sorry, my computer doesn't type German, so that isn't exactly right.)

So begins the list of plus and minuses.  The Rhein Hotel is a 10 room house that is kind of a cross between a very small hotel or a very large Bed and Breakfast. The family that lives there consists of Mama and Papa, their daughter and son-in-law, and 2 grandsons. Since none of them speak a lick of English, we aren't sure of anyone's name but it all worked out with smiles, hugs and nods. 

The same family has owned the little hotel for over 75 years.  One of the reasons, we booked a room in this particular hotel is that Mama, was very accommodating. They installed a DSL line so Hubby would have access to a computer while living there. A lot of the hotels in these less populated areas, either don't have Internet or you have to go to a common room to use it.

Rhein Hotel is a bit like going back in time in a quaint charming sort of way.  It sits right on the Rhein.  AND I MEAN right ON the Rhein.  Occasionally IN the Rhein.

In both 1993 and 1995 Mama and Papa had the river come in for a visit.

The walking trail along the Rhein from hotel room. The river is being good about keeping itself
out of the hotel today.

barges and passenger ships are constantly going by
So that is where, hubby was calling home for the first 90 days.  Crabby Pants will be taking you on a tour of the the small and not-so-small towns along the Rhein, the German Christmas Markets and Amsterdam, Netherlands in upcoming posts.

Next time, I will start with the local food and have more information and pictures from the area around Weissenthurm and Andernach .

To be continued.....

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