Wednesday, August 13, 2014

They do things differently here

05 June 2014, Wertach im Allgäu

Neighborhood pub in Prague
One of the great things about travel is getting to meet people from different lands, interact with them, and learn about them and their culture.  One of the favorite ways we experience and learn about people and places is by trying out new and sometimes unfamiliar local foods.  Dropping into a sidewalk café and ordering something off the menu by just pointing can lead to interesting discoveries.

Even though this is not our first adventure in this part of the world, we are still learning that things don’t work the way they do back home in Texas.   This was most obvious some years past when we went to the backwoods of Italy, spending a week in a little town far from the usual American tourist hangouts.  There was only one restaurant in the tiny village, and we never did find it open despite trying at different times for the week we were there.

Our view as we walk down into Wertach
Here in the Bavarian Alps, it is not quite so extreme, but there is still some need for adjustment on our part.  Many of the smaller shops are closed from 12-2 for lunch.  This hasn’t been much inconvenience for us since shopping isn’t our top priority.  Most restaurants are open all day, but we have discovered that between “lunch” and “dinner”, say 2-6, there may be only a bare-bones cold menu offered.  So long as you only want cold cuts, cheese and bread or such, no problem.  For us, our routine when traveling in Texas or some of the other United States, is to have a late breakfast and an early dinner around 5 or 6pm, skipping lunch altogether.  Here we are forced to become night owls, not eating dinner until 7pm or even later…horrors!  It is amazing that any of us poor Americans actually survive traveling through a world where the inhabitants just don’t know how things are supposed to be done!

We are now staying in a quiet, small town in southern Bavaria which is far removed from American infiltrations.  There are few here who are comfortable with speaking English, and our German certainly is lacking.  On our first full day in town we stopped in a Gasthaus for something to eat in the middle of the afternoon.  We were hungry and didn’t want to wait for the dinner service, so we pointed at a couple of items on the short "cold" menu.  They didn’t sound totally familiar, but I was hungry.   My wife ordered an open-faced ham & cheese sandwich.  When my order arrived, it turned out that the TellerSulz I asked for was thin-sliced pork roast with pickles & veggies covered with thin-sliced raw onions.
It was only when I moved some of the onions out of the way I discovered the entire meal was encased in gelatin.  Think headcheese and you'll be close.  Each of the ingredients was good and very tasty, but with the gelatin holding everything together, it was very much like eating cold pork covered with undercooked egg whites…every bite proved to be slimy.  I tried to scrape the gelatin from the pork to no avail.  All I could do was chase the slippery slices around the plate with a chunk of brown bread.  Even though each bite seemed to grow in size the more I chewed, I finally finished. 

A quick check of my dictionary after we got back to our condo confirmed I had really gotten what I ordered.  Since then I make a point of carrying it with me to avoid further embarrassments, even though we like to think we are semi-knowledgeable regarding German food.  I'd rather look like a tourist thumbing through the phrasebook, instead of blindly ordering something I'll regret and feel like a fool while eating.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

MayBelle Redeemed

04 June 2014, Wertach im Allgäu

 Many people of a certain age have a love-hate relationship with technology.  The very young embrace the newest gizmo without hesitation, and the very old mostly ignore them.  Then there are us who are neither young nor old, who really want to have the latest gadgets, but can’t quite figure out how to operate them effectively.

This is my lot in life.  I own a computer, a laptop, and a “smart” phone.  I have spent several decades building a tenuous relationship with my computers, but occasionally yearn to return to a simpler time and type in a few DOS commands (children ask your parents). 

 My telephone is a popular brand which has a partially eaten fruit as its logo, and currently, I am on my third one of the same brand.  The reason for my apparent brand loyalty is simple…each new version operates exactly the same as the previous.  No learning curve!  My Lovely Bride has her own “smart” phone from a competing brand, and she is quick to point out its superiority over my allegedly old-fashioned one.  Her bragging sessions usually end with some discussion of the inability of old dogs to learn new tricks.

At any rate, my fruit-flavored phone does what I ask of it, and it functions pretty reliably no matter where we travel.  One of the newer (for me) uses, is the phone’s map function which allows me to plan trips around Texas and other states, even telling me when and where to turn.  Please understand…I have wandered back and forth across Texas since I first got my driver’s license at age 14 with nothing more than a paper map from my uncle’s ENCO station.  Aside from locating a specific street address in one of the larger cities in Texas, the map was rarely dug out of the overstuffed glove box.  After all, it was lost could I get?

My wife doesn’t understand my new-found affection for my map/navigation program, which I’ve named MayBelle.  She is constantly asking why I persist in turning on the map feature to go places I already know how to find, especially since I invariably ignore Maybelle‘s directions and tend to get into arguments with her (MayBelle - not my wife.)  The explanation that I don’t want to go the way MayBelle wants to go somehow doesn’t satisfy her.

We are currently on vacation in Bavaria, with a rental car to explore some of the back roads and find things we weren’t looking for, and I knew ahead of time the car was equipped with a fancy satellite navigation system for our use.  However, on collecting the car we discovered the GPS was set up in German with no discernible way of switching it to English, so MayBelle was called upon.  For probably the first time, I faithfully followed MayBelle’s instructions.  Wonder of wonders, we actually found our apartment in the Bavarian Alps.  Then today, a trip to the lakeside town of Lindau, passing through some of the most beautiful countryside, and most confusing small villages and towns I’ve ever seen.  MayBelle managed with nary a misstep nor wrong turn.  Oh, I missed a turn or two, but she quickly got me back on track each time.  Her only real shortcoming was her pronunciation of German place names, anything ending in -strasse, came out as -stress, and the names of most of the little towns and villages were indecipherable.  Her pronunciation of “Sankt Ulrich Strasse” has to be heard to be believed.

If MayBelle is able to keep up this level of performance, I may have to rethink how I utilize her after we get home.  Maybe I should start trusting her to get me to San Antone or College Station without second guessing her. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

In Search of the Elusive Wasserfall

Written 05 June 2014, Wertach im Algau

After yesterday’s big outing to Lake Constance and the city of Lindau, I knew my Lovely Bride would not be stirring about too early this morning.  One of the premier activities which had been associated with Wertach by our hosts was hiking in all its manifestations.  And so I was determined to get out in the clear mountain air and go for a walk, while allowing Susan to enjoy a more leisurely beginning to her day.

I clamped my shapeless boonie hat upon my head, hung a small pack with a jug of cold water over my shoulder, made sure my map & phone were with me and set out.  There was no well defined destination for my tramp, just a tiny notation on a map of the area surrounding Wertach which indicated the presence of a wasserfall up a nearby trail.  For a Texas boy who has been living with constant drought for the last decade or more, this was an irresistible lure.

Trail-side Shrine
The trek began easily enough.  The first stretch of trail began only steps from our apartment, and was straight and trended slightly downhill.  As I began, I encountered a small shrine beside the trail, which looked eerily similar to the roadside crosses which dot most Texas farm-to-market roads to indicate where some unfortunate lost their life in an accident.  I continued on with a sense of foreboding and about a kilometer down the trail, I was faced with my first decision.  The trail to the wasserfall made a 90 degree turn off the original trail and followed alongside a mountain stream.  There were actually two trails, one on each side of the stream, with one being steep, narrow and overgrown in appearance, while the other was level, well graveled, and well marked.  Fifty meters later, my choice, the well cared for trail, naturally turned out to be the wrong one and I was forced to ford the stream to get to the correct trail.  Not an auspicious beginning! 

Once on the correct trail, the path was easy and presented no problems.  Stopping now and again, I would have a swallow of water or take a photo of the countryside.  Strange bird calls including a loud & persistent cuckoo could be heard, and the trickling of the small stream kept me company.  Thirty minutes into this stage, I began to hear a high-pitched ringing which gradually got louder.  I emerged from the stream bed at a small farm track, and the mystery of my tinnitus was solved.

Just across the road was  a small group of young heifers.  As they spotted me and began to move along the fence in my direction, I realized each had a bell around its neck.  I wasn’t sure of why they were so interested in me, but they followed along the fence as I sought the continuation of the trail.  As I started up the next section of trail, I heard a noise and turned back in time to see a farmer on his tractor drive up to the youngsters with a bucket of feed.  They weren’t really interested in me, it was breakfast time!

I left them behind and trudged up the trail.  No longer the well cared for path, now mud and wet leaves were the norm.  The farther along, the more the conditions deteriorated.  The rougher the trail, the more I kept thinking of my wife’s parting words…”If you hurt yourself again, I know you’ll be fine, but I don’t want to have to deal with that in a foreign country!”  Just because a guy makes one little mistake, they never let you forget.  Well, it was actually more than one...maybe more like 3 or 4 over the years.  But it’s not like I meant for those things to happen.  Really, I don’t enjoy helicopter rides.

Trail conditions kept getting worse, and I kept scrutinizing my map.  After all, my whole purpose was to find that wasserfall and take its picture.  I kept edging up the steepening path, and never saw more than a trickle of water over the rocks in the bottom of the gorge.  By now, the slimy trail had occasional honeycombed concrete pavers reinforced with t-posts driven into the mud trying to keep it all stabilized.  A last map check showed me well past the point where the wasserfall should have been, I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and headed back to more solid ground in Wertach.  I remembered the military truism that retreat is more hazardous than the advance, so I took my time and carefully picked my way down the gully until I found myself on terra firmer. 

Arriving where the farm track crossed the trail, my bovine friends had left for greener pastures, and I decided to follow the track back into town.  A mere 10 minutes found me closing on our apartment, rather than the 1½ hours the trail had taken.  And that phantom wasserfall?  I think I’m going to stop at the Rathaus and have a little talk with the Chamber of Commerce about their map.

Musical cows