holidays

Pumpkin project!

Yesterday, since it was cloudy, Bill went to the local market to pick up some pumpkins. We have new German neighbors who have small children and they asked us to celebrate Halloween this year. So we obliged, although it wasn’t easy to find pumpkins. Halloween is becoming more and more popular in Germany, especially in areas were a lot of Americans live. Bil had to go to three stores to find suitable pumpkins for carving. The local farm near us was having a corn maze/Halloween fest, so he thought he might get lucky there. But there was nowhere to park! All the kids were celebrating Halloween!

I remember our first year in Germany, back in 2007. We were living in a hotel on Halloween, although it was our last night there, as we moved into our first German house on November 1. The following year, we had people ring our doorbell, but since we didn’t know if Germans celebrated Halloween, we were completely unprepared. Then in 2009, we had to move back to the States prematurely.

In 2014, we came back to Germany and lived in Jettingen. That year, we had candy, although I’m not sure if we carved a pumpkin. A pair of German teen boys in rather lame costumes rang our bell. That was it for trick or treaters. Ever since then, if we’ve been home, we have candy just in case, but we don’t usually bother with jack o’lanterns. Last year, we were Croatia on Halloween, which was a marvelous place to be. Croatia in the fall is glorious, as you can see here.

Anyway, below are some photos of our pumpkin project. I think they turned out okay. Bill is going to go get some American candy, and hopefully our neighbors will ring the doorbell tomorrow night. Otherwise, I’ll end up doing what I do every year for Halloween, and eat all the candy myself. God knows, I don’t need to be doing that! Our jack o’lanterns aren’t very menacing. I’m not that good at pumpkin carving.

We have pretty nice weather today. The sun is out, and it’s not too cold. We probably ought to go out and do something fun, but Bill is still resting up after his bout with COVID. Except for a little fatigue, he’s fine now, and will be headed back to in person work tomorrow. Meanwhile, our sweet Arran continues to improve on the medication he’s getting for lymphoma. Yesterday, he even started jumping on the bed again. The chemo regimen is obviously doing some good for him as he enjoys what will probably be his last fall season. We continue to cherish our time with him and marvel at what a trouper he is. I’m grateful that we’ll be able to enjoy his company for a little bit longer.

Today is also the first day of standard time. Next week, everybody in the States who change the clocks will be moving their clocks back, too. I think if we have to change the clocks, it’s better to do it before Halloween. That way, it’s dark enough for a proper Trick or Treat experience. That’s how it was when I was a kid, anyway.

Anyway, if you celebrate, Happy Halloween!

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Germany, holidays, housekeeping tips

The last day of 2021… (cross post)

This post also appears on the main blog, since I have different readers there. The featured photo are cookies brought by our landlord.

I’m getting a late post up today. I was actually thinking of taking off the last day of 2021. I didn’t have anything earth shattering on my mind that I felt compelled to write about. Bill had the day off, and we were both kind of tired. Bill was especially tired, since he never gets a full night’s sleep. So I worked on reading my book, and he took a nap. Later, he’ll fire up the fondue/raclette grill set I got him for Christmas, and we’ll try it out. He’s already used the new hot tea pot I got him. He’s drinking tea as I write this.

Bill and Arran, preparing for tonight.

Arran took a nap with us, while Noyzi tried to steal my brand new fuzzy slippers. I think he thinks they’re small animals. I might let him take them, but he’s already eaten a couple of toys. The emergency vet is the last place we want to go tonight.

I managed to accomplish a couple of other chores, too. After I worked on trying to rid the toilet of limescale and calcium stains, I went on Amazon.de and bought some citric acid, as well as cleaning soda and salt. Today, I tried the acid on a really terrible hard water stain in the shower that I’ve never been able to get rid of. I poured the acid on the stain and, wouldn’t you know it? That stain was gone in minutes! There’s no trace of it. I think it’s a wonder drug. It’s hard to believe it’s taken seven years to figure this out. Vinegar is good, but citric acid is the bomb! And it’s cheap, too!

I also climbed up on a stepladder in the shower and knocked the calcium off the shower head jets, so the nice rainfall spray won’t squirt all over the place anymore. Now, the new shower head is as nice as it was in September, when it was installed.

I heard that fireworks weren’t supposed to be sold in German stores again this year. Like last year, the government wants to discourage people from setting off fireworks, because they don’t want people getting hurt and needing to go to the hospital, thanks to COVID. I suspect there will be fireworks, anyway… Germans are law abiding people, but they love fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I think that’s pretty much the only day they are allowed to be set off, at least by the regular rank and file folks. I seem to remember that there were fireworks last year, despite the ban on them.

Our New Year’s celebrations are usually pretty boring affairs. We spend them much the same way we spend any night at home… listening to music, drinking wine, and talking.

I’m hoping 2022 will be a better year for everyone… although 2021 wasn’t, for me, a particularly bad year. I’ve had worse. But this COVID-19 shit needs to be fixed. Hopefully, 2022 will bring us some breakthroughs.

In any case… I want to offer sincere thanks to everyone who’s been reading my blogs. This main site, in particular, has really taken off this year! In the past month or so, I’ve had an explosion in traffic. That really does my heart good, and makes writing this blog worth the time and effort.

The travel blog has been somewhat less trafficked this year, but I can understand why. I haven’t been traveling as much… nor have many other people! I’m sure the traveling we have done may even be a downer for some folks. I know some people suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), and it can be depressing to look at other people’s travel posts when travel is so potentially risky and definitely stressful. I am very grateful, though, that we finally managed to go to Croatia. I hope we can visit again. There are more places I want to see. And with any luck and maybe God’s grace, if you’re into God, that is– maybe COVID-19 will be more under control by this time next year.

I’m still making music, too… Been getting better with my guitar skills and can even play some songs. There are some times when I find myself playing things completely spontaneously. I still have plenty of learning to do, which is a good thing. And I’ve also found someone to collaborate with on YouTube, too, which is very rewarding. Maybe I’ll put up a new song or two, now that I have new gear. Maybe I’ll try to learn bass guitar and banjo, too… if the virus continues to spread, I might have to do something else to pass the time.

Well… I don’t have much else to say, except…

I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year’s Eve, and a very fortuitous New Year’s Day… and 2022!

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Austria is locking down… will Germany be next?

The local news in Germany has been all abuzz about the COVID-19 situation in Austria. Fed up and frustrated by the ever increasing numbers of people falling ill with the coronavirus, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that Austria would be locking down for at least ten days. The lockdown will apply to everyone, vaccinated or not, and it means that Austrians will be asked to work from home and non-essential shops will close. Schools will remain open for children who require face-to-face learning. The measure will apply until December 12, and then the COVID situation will be reassessed at that point to determine if there should be another ten days of lockdown.

As I read the news yesterday, I realized how lucky Bill and I are that we managed to take our recent vacation and get through all of the countries unscathed. Croatia and Slovenia are considered “high risk” areas– higher risk than Austria was– but we didn’t interact with many people at all during our time there. I think the risk is mainly because fewer people are vaccinated, but the reality is, there aren’t that many people congregating in Slovenia or Croatia at this time of year and social distancing is actually super easy. That may change as winter approaches and people want to ski, at least in Slovenia.

Austria, on the other hand, was like 2019. During our trip, it wasn’t considered a “high risk” area. Masks were only required in grocery stores, on public transportation, and in healthcare facilities. I won’t lie. It was really nice. And, in fact, Salzburg and, to a lesser extent, Wels, were sort of “alive” with people, which was a morale booster. I’m not sure if the lax masking is the reason why this surge is happening. Germany is a lot stricter about masks, but people are still getting sick here, and the hospitals are full. Personally, I don’t think the masks are going to be what saves us. What needs to happen is mass immunity, and that will come as people get vaccinated and boosted, and others manage to recover from the illness. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people may get very sick and/or die in the process. The only way to avoid the risk is by staying away from other people.

Austria has also taken the unusual step of requiring everyone to get vaccinated by February 2022. Frankly, I don’t think that’s a bad decision. It’s certainly groundbreaking. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t agree with forcing people to do things, particularly when it involves healthcare. However, communicable diseases are different. With my background in public health, I already know that there are some public health situations that require detaining people who put others at risk. On my main blog, I have written about how I think COVID-19 could eventually become an illness like tuberculosis. If you get TB and you refuse to get treated, you can and will be detained so that you don’t threaten other people. Many of us are really sick and tired of COVID-19, and the way it’s disrupting normal living. It’s also costing the world’s economies a lot in lost business, and like it or not, money matters. I don’t think people should be surprised if the rules become more draconian in an effort to get rid of the scourge.

Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, who is a champion of the dreaded FFP2 masks for everyone, everywhere, has already declared a “de facto lockdown for the unvaccinated”. All of the Christmas markets have been cancelled, and all bars and clubs will be closed for the next three weeks. In areas where “weekly incidence rates top 1,000 per 100,000 people – restaurants, hotels, sport and culture will also close.” I believe the rules in Germany recently changed, as Angela Merkel plans to leave office. Now, they’re letting the states decide, rather than the federal government. I think I might enjoy the incoming government. I read that they’re also considering making recreational cannabis use legal. I never thought I’d see the day. I have limited experience with pot, having only tried it in The Netherlands a few years ago. But I did enjoy the experience…

I will not be the least bit surprised if other countries take a similar approach against the virus. It really sucks that this is happening, since Christmas is approaching. I do have some hope, though, because this year, at least there are vaccines. Some medications are also being developed to treat COVID-19– legitimate ones, rather than hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. Historically speaking, pandemics always end at some point. So I continue to hold out hope that this one will end eventually… COVID-19 is a terrible illness, but it’s probably not even the worst humankind has faced, and nowadays, we have a lot more and better technology, which will continue to evolve out of necessity.

But yes… I sure am glad Bill and I managed to take our trip, enjoy ourselves, and emerge unscathed. We were very lucky. If there’s one thing COVID-19 has done for me, it’s make me a lot more appreciative of being able to travel.

Bill has been in Warsaw, Poland all this week, sadly missing our 19th anniversary at home. He brought home a few things for me last night. It would have been nice if I could have gone with him, but the COVID situation makes it dangerous. In fact, we were supposed to see James Taylor in Frankfurt in February, but he had to postpone his stop in Frankfurt until next November. With any luck, we’ll still be here and alive in November 2022. We’re supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ in May of 2022… but the tickets I bought were for a show that was supposed to happen on November 16, 2020– our 18th anniversary. So far, it’s been postponed three times. So we’ll see if we manage to see James in November 2022. I hope so. We have second row seats.

I was thinking maybe we’d go somewhere to celebrate our anniversary, now that Bill’s home… but I think we’re going to be locked down again very soon. So maybe we’ll just stay home and fuck or something. Just kidding… it’s more likely that we’ll turn on music, light a fire, and drink wine.

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Austria, Croatia, road trips, Slovenia

Ten things I learned on my Aus-cro-slo-aus trip…

I always like to cap off my travel series with a top ten list of things I learned while traveling. Even when I’ve been to places repeatedly, I usually do learn something new on every trip. That was especially true as we visited Croatia overnight for the first time. We had visited there once before, but only for a couple of hours as we took a “joyride” while visiting Trieste, Italy. So, I’ll dispense with the useless palaver, and commence with my list. Here goes.

10. The word “slap” means waterfall, both in Croatian and Slovenian.

As we know, “slap” means something entirely different in English. But when you see it on signs in Croatia and Slovenia, it means you might be in for a beautiful view of something special.

9. Croatia is very friendly to English speakers.

I couldn’t help but notice that Croatia really seems to have embraced visitors who speak English. A lot of Europeans know English, because it’s a very practical language to learn. If one speaks English, he or she can communicate with Americans, Brits, and Aussies, just to name a few. But I was still surprised that so many people in Croatia spoke English so fluently, and many of the signs were also in English.

8. The off season in Croatia and Slovenia means very few crowds, but also a lot of closed businesses.

The Lake Bohinj area was especially empty of tourists, although to be fair, we were there in early November, rather than late October. November 1 seems to be the cut off day for things to close up for the winter.

7. But even though places were closed, the fall colors were fantastic, and there were still some things to do.

We still managed to see and do some things, even if it was harder to find open shops and restaurants. And the trip was so worth it, if only to see the incredible fall colors along with so many lakes and waterfalls.

6. Salzburg is still hopping, even though it’s November.

Of course this isn’t a surprise, but the fact that Salzburg was still in full swing was great, especially after spending time in places where it was so quiet. We managed to do a little shopping and enjoy a very fine meal in a restaurant. I could definitely spend more time in Salzburg, and Austria as a whole.

5. Wels, Austria is known for its catfish.

I don’t really enjoy eating catfish, but this was something I didn’t know before we visited Wels. In fact, I didn’t even know Wels existed before we took our trip.

4. Sometimes it’s interesting to visit lesser known cities.

I’m truly glad we visited Wels. It’s probably not high on most people’s travel itineraries, but I found it a pleasant place to spend a couple of nights. I wouldn’t mind going back. I’m also glad we visited different places. I’m rather proud that I came up with a plan to visit Plitvice Lakes and Lake Bohinj. And I’m glad I listened to Slovenians in Lake Bled who recommended Lake Bohinj.

3. I need a genuine kit bag for all my stuff.

I typically carry a digital camera, a phone, and my iPad when I tour places. I could have used a better bag, especially when we were hiking. If anything, I could have used a place to put my layers as I stripped them off. I got hot at Plitvice Lakes and ended up having to carry my sweater and hoodie. I also need to bring snacks.

2. The word “jezera” means “lake” in Croatian. And the word “ključ” means “key” in Croatian.

I only learned the word for “key” because the lovely couple at the house we rented used it several times.

And finally, 1. Planning ahead is difficult, especially in the age of COVID-19, but it’s always a good idea to try…

I wish we could have visited the Krka National Park during our time in Croatia, even though it would have been physically challenging. But now we have a reason to go back. I hope we’ll have the opportunity. It’s good that we came back when we did, as COVID-19 has become even more concerning in the past week. I still don’t regret our trip. We had a really great time, in spite of my occasional crankiness and griping.

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Croatia, restaurant reviews

Chasing lakes and waterfalls in Aus-cro-slo-aus… part seven

As I mentioned in a previous post, Bill and I gave serious consideration to trying for a visit to the Krka National Park on Sunday. It was located within a two hour’s drive of where we were staying in Croatia, and we had nothing else planned. But when we went to try to buy online tickets for the park, they were all sold out. I suppose we could have shown up at the park and tried to buy a ticket on the spot, but that would have been a risky proposition, given how far away the park was from our accommodation. We were also considering this plan BEFORE we knew how tired and sore we were going to be on Sunday morning.

What we ended up doing was buying tickets to go back to the Plitvice Lakes on Sunday, only we planned to enter through entrance 2, which is on the other side of the park. To be honest, when we got back to the house late Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t really wanting to go back to the park on Sunday. Duje, the Croatian caretaker, had suggested it. But Saturday evening, I was just really tired, stiff, sore, and hungry. Bill cooked, which put me in a worse mood, not because he’s a terrible cook, but because I had a real craving for barbecue and would have preferred takeout. I love and appreciate Bill very much, but sometimes he’s makes productions out of things that don’t need to be overthought… or overwrought.

We woke up on Sunday to warmer temperatures and clearer skies. I knew I wouldn’t need to bundle up like I did on Saturday. And I also knew that I would not be walking all over the park. Instead, we walked to the boat area closest to the entrance and just sat down on a bench. We listened to the wind and the waterfalls, and watched people set off on the massive hike we did on Saturday from the other side of the park. I watched ducks beg for food, and people rented boats and paddled around. Maybe we should have rented a boat, too, although we were both really sore.

Just sitting at the park, sipping Croatian beer, talking to each other, and enjoying the natural beauty was enough. I realized that Duje was right. It is worth it to spend two days at the park. Maybe it would have been better to do two shorter walks over both days instead of the super long one on Saturday. But, again, I didn’t have a concept of what the park was like until we went there. If we ever go back, I might plan differently. I want to go to the Krka National Park first, though. Check out this scenery…

This video was made by drone. I’m sure the park forbids drones, just as they are forbidden at Plitvice.

I’m sorry we missed our opportunity to visit this park on the Krka River. But now we have a great reason to visit again. We still got some beautiful photos on our second day, too. Have a look.

It was almost lunchtime, so I decided to have a Croatian beer… As you can see by the first photo, Bill was amused.

We only stayed at the park for an hour or so, then went to get lunch at a local roadside restaurant I kept noticing. I took a few parting shots before we made our way to Vila Velabita for hearty, authentic Croatian food.

We probably should have gone to Vila Velabita on Saturday, as they had the kind of food I was craving after our long hike. I am glad we stopped on Sunday, so I could try smoked chicken. Bill had sausages made with beef and pork. We finished with an espresso for him, and locally made brandy for me.

Monday morning, we awoke to a glorious sunrise. I’d had a look at the forecast for Slovenia and figured it might be the last we’d see of the sun for the week, so I took some pictures. We loaded up the car, cleaned up the house, and Bill went over to Duje’s house to hand off the keys. While he was giving the keys to the caretaker, Bill mentioned the Jung book he found, which was inscribed by Duje. He told Duje that he was also a student of Jung’s. Duje smiled and said, “You’ll come back next year.”

Maybe we will… I wouldn’t be opposed to it. Croatia is officially wonderful. Below are a few parting shots of Croatia.

Stay tuned for part eight.

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Chasing lakes and waterfalls in Aus-cro-slo-aus… part six

Saturday, October 30, was the big day. It was also really cold and foggy that morning. Bill had purchased our tickets for the Plitvice Lakes National Park for 10:00am. We were allowed to enter the park only from 10:00 am until 11:00am. I think this system is to prevent huge crowds of people showing up at the same time. It’s probably better for the natural environment and everyone’s enjoyment if the crowds are staggered. Of course, COVID-19 also makes the crowd staggering important, as it prevents too many people mingling and creating a superspreader event.

The park’s Web site recommended dressing in layers. I was cold enough that I took that advice. I wore heavy wool socks, a hoodie jacket, and my big Irish wool coatigan (basically, a long cardigan that zips and stretches enough to cover my beer gut). After breakfast, we made our way to the park. I was a bit afraid that it would be foggy there, as it was at the house. But as we entered town, the fog lifted, and we had glorious sunshine. It was going to be a great day for a walk through the sixteen named lakes, several unnamed lakes, and waterfalls that make up Plitvice Lakes.

I took so many pictures over the six hours we were at the park. Bill and I ended up walking almost the entire park. We did Route C, which is the third longest. If we had done Route K, we would have been there until nightfall and I would have probably needed an intravenous line. As it was, I was exhausted by the end of our day, but I will never forget the incredible beauty of the lakes and falls, even if the crowds got a little bit annoying. Brace yourself for lots of photos!

After about a half hour of walking, I knew that I was going to get too hot before long. I had been cold at the beginning of the day… but walking makes body heat. Plus, the sun was out in full force. We were very lucky, weather wise. I also got some videos of the waterfalls, which I will eventually turn into a YouTube video. Maybe I’ll get to it today. Maybe not.

Edited to add… here’s the video!

Phew… this was a trial to make on many levels!

As we were walking, jaws dropping at each new sight and the huge panorama of so many brilliant colors, I couldn’t help but realize that summer and late spring are probably madness at this park! But I’ll bet it’s so beautiful, too, since everything’s blooming and green. I’m sure this park is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I think they do close part of it in the winter, though, which is smart, since there are a lot of slippery areas and the paths don’t usually have guardrails. I wonder how many people have fallen into the lakes, even though swimming there has been forbidden since 2006.

It was at about this time that we found ourselves at one of the several rest stations. This was where toilets, souvenirs, and food were, as well as the boats to the other side of the park. I was ready for a rest, so we went into the restaurant, where sandwiches and french fries were available, as well as a dizzying and surprising array of drinks, many of which contained alcohol. We stuck with good old Croatian beer. It’s important to know that cash is not accepted at the park, so bring your credit card if you visit. Also, don’t buy anything at the souvenir shop if you’re just getting started, because you’ll have to cart it with you… I didn’t learn this the hard way, thank God.