Tuscan News and Views

Not really that new though, since it really feels like I’ve been sitting on this one for a hot minute. Or nearly two months.

Jan. 1. Every year should start with views like this.

Our Tuscany trip was memorable in a lot of ways. We ate well, we drank well, we saw beautiful sights and soaked up lots and lots of much-needed vitamin D over the ten days.

Sun and city trips in Cortona.

But there was something else as well. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, we went for a rambling hike around and over the hill behind Santa Lucia. Towards the end of the hike, we found a nice place to sit and relax for a bit on a sandy hill with a nice view. After awhile the wind got a bit chilly, but before BV would let us head back down the hill home, he had another thing on the agenda. A small change of scenery…

Yep… after seven years together, it’s time we make this thing official. What that will look like though, I have no idea. And when and where is still very much to be determined. We were thinking sometime this fall, but we’re learning that as two very poor planners, we don’t have much time to act if we really want to make that happen. Next year would not be the end of the world, but we also don’t really want to wait that long! It took two months just to see most of the friends and family here to tell them the news,* so now we’re ready to get this show on the road.

So to add a bit of explanation for anyone who may have been confused about why in the world we embarked on that ridiculous train trip last weekend, it’s because we wanted to check out some venues. The cats and Kaiserschmarren were just a most excellent bonus. More on that later.

Though looking back on photos for this post, maybe we should just scrap all the ideas we’ve had thus far and go back to Tuscany to get married. Decisions, decisions… and planning… not either of our strong suits.

The good news is that neither of us have any interest in a big, fluffy wedding with all of the trimmings; nor do I have any interest in chronicling the entire planning process here. There are plenty of mediocre wedding planning blogs out there for that.

The bad news is that all it takes is some basic wedding-related googling to turn your suggested pages into a scary, scary place. My Pinterest home page, previously full of recipes, has now got lots of wedding to-do lists, suggestions for bridesmaid gifts, and assorted ‘shedding for the wedding’ type content. *insert vomit emoji here* If that stuff takes over my brain, it’s possible in six months I’ll be waxing poetic about cupcake dresses and shopping for tiaras.

But for both our sakes, I’ll try to keep it sane. If BV develops a strong opinion on bow ties though, I’m in trouble.

A special occasion calls for a rare BV facial appearance on the blog!

 

6/52

 

 

*hence this post coming two months after the fact!

Bahnventure: A New Record?

Yesterday BV and I really tested the limits of the Bayernticket. Long-time readers may remember my fondness for the sweet sweet deal that is the ‘Bavaria’ ticket. For new folks, here’s the deal…

The Bayernticket (and all its counterparts in the other German federal states), is a train ticket that can be used on nearly every mode of public transportation except for the high-speed ICE trains on any given day. They can be used for up to five people, and the current price is €29 for the first passenger, plus €5 for each additional person. It’s our go-to for pretty much every time we venture out of the greater Nbg area for a day trip. During the week they can’t be used until after 9am, but on the weekends it’s fair game anytime, which comes in very handy on days like yesterday.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we boarded our first train at 6:30. We went from our home station to Fürth (train 1), from there to Nürnberg (train 2), from Nbg to Augsburg (train 3), from Augsburg to Munich (train 4), and finally, Munich to Rosenheim (train 5). It sounds a tad absurd, but everything was bang on time, and we arrived promptly at 10:27. Not bad for the ca. 300km trip!

Our plan was then to pick up a carshare, as we had to get to somewhere slightly less public transportation accessible. We grabbed a coffee, then spent a solid 45 minutes wandering around looking for our car. Due to some construction work at the train station in Rosenheim, the cars had been moved to the other side of the station. While there was a sign where our car was supposed to be, it was tiny and fairly invisible until you got right up to it. It would be nice if the app with our reservation could update the location information, but I guess it’s up to BV if he wants to go all Keyboard Cat on that one.

Eventually though, we found our car and got on about our business of the day. A few hours later, we returned to Rosenheim and perused the snack options for our return trip.

Pretzels (what else?) in hand, we boarded our train at 6:30pm. Our plan was four trains, arriving back home at 11:30.

This time, it went… less to plan. Rosenheim to Munich (train 1) was fine, and in Munich we boarded a train to Nürnberg. There are several options between the two cities, but we’d have to wait another hour for the faster, 1:50 option. Instead, we got on a blissfully empty double-decker that would go over Ingolstadt and Treuchtlingen, and take about 3:30.

There were some storms in the area yesterday and while all we heard was rain slapping against the train window, there were some trees down on part of our route. We wound up having to exit train 2 in Treuchtlingen to an unplanned train 3 from there to Ansbach. Train 3 ended in Ansbach and after a 30-minute wait, it was onto train 4 from Ansbach to Nürnberg. Train 5 got us back to Fürth, and we made it to the last run of our local train (number 6) with just a few minutes to spare. Woof.

We rolled back into our house at 12:44am. Great for a Sunday night, right? Thank goodness my usual Monday morning group wasn’t planning to meet as they moved offices on Friday and we busy settling into their new digs. After 18 hours out of the house and ten hours on trains… nevermind the hiking part of the day… sleeping a bit earlier than usual this morning was not optional.

To be fair, you can’t help the weather, and we knew that this itinerary was pushing it. I still heart the Deutsche Bahn, but I also understand why BV was grumbling about “maybe it’s time for a little car” again by the end of the day. Especially after a solid display of Sunday night crazy people in the  Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof. We should probably take a few more Bahnventures though before we get too crazy with the car shopping. Got a few things in mind already…

An oldie but a goodie. 

 

5/52

Let’s (Not) Give Them Something To Talk About…

As an English trainer in Germany, I spend an inordinate time on small talk. Talking about small talk, thinking about small talk, making pretend small talk. In other words, if you ask me about the weather in my time off, I might throw something at you.

But today I had a conversation that got me thinking about something that has crossed my mind many a time over the years. When you meet someone new, what are the first few standard questions after exchanging names? Where are you from? How do you know (host/mutual friend/etc)? And often, at least as I always thought, what do you do?

That sort of formula even led to a joke on ‘The Office,’ where directly after a character introduced himself to other characters with both his full name and company name, one responded…

Via giphy

But here’s the thing…. why is that so often the go-to question? Even if you like your job (most days), if you’re at a Friday night birthday party, do you want to talk about work? Probably not. And it turns out, it doesn’t have to be this way.

When we were in South Tyrol last fall, we had dinner with a large group of people almost every night. The Tuscan’s have been going there for years and meet up with the same group of folks nearly every fall, all of whom took us spares in without a second thought. It was on about day five or six, when one of the Tuscans made an off-hand comment during the day about one of these people who “used to be a Beamter” (or civil servant), when it hit me: in the nearly week of dinner conversations we’d had with these people, I had no idea what any of them did for work. Or had done, as many of them were retired. And these dinners lasted HOURS. They make ze all-night party.

While them being retirees may have something to do with it, I don’t necessarily think so. When I’ve talked about small talk with various students over the years, they almost never say that they would talk about or ask about someone’s job when they first meet them if they weren’t in a work-related situation. And really, it makes a lot of sense. Unless I work with someone, I probably have no real idea of what they do in any given day and would find the details either 1) incomprehensible or 2) boring. So why are we talking about it?

Now that I think I’ve thought about this too much,* tell me if you disagree on this one. Is it not always the go-to question? Is it just a trope that I’ve internalized from pop culture because I haven’t been in normal social situations with that many new people since living abroad? Or is this really a thing?

And if you agree that yes, this is a weird thing that we all do, a challenge: next time you meet a person, try not to ask what they do. See where else the conversation takes you. And if all else fails, an Irish exit is completely acceptable in my book.

 

4/52

 

*ouch, my brain.

Put Some Mustard On It…

It’s been awhile since I’ve discussed an oddity of the German language, but I learned a new phrase the other day that tickled me and thought it would make a good post.

Usually my favorite German phrases have to do with animals (notably pigs, as there are at least 48309234 idioms involving pigs in German #WurstJokes), but this one is more food-based.

BV had just sent a text to our Südtirol group chat, and I was trying to decipher it. The last paragraph started with “Mein Senf zu dem Thema,” which would translate to ‘My mustard to the topic,’ and I had to laugh. I was pretty sure I got the gist, but I still asked him to clarify, just in case. 😉

What BV said was a variation on ‘seinen Senf dazugeben,’ or to put in one’s two cents. My initial thought was along the lines of ‘in my humble opinion,’ which IMHO, means I’ve been spending too much time on ze internet. Should do something about that (…as I’m sitting here writing a blog and trying to do that more often instead of like, solving world hunger or whatever people do when they’re not lurking on reddit).

So why mustard in this expression? Because people friggin’ love their mustard in these parts. I already showed you a fairly bizarre mustard ad a few years ago, and I assure you, there have been more. The mustard shelf in the supermarket is loaded with choice, and lest you doubt me on that, please enjoy this selection of all the mustards currently open in our fridge…

Full disclosure, the sweet Bavarian mustard isn’t open yet. Guess that just means it’s time for Weißwurstfrühstück…

This is perfectly normal, right? Guess I’m going to have to start serving more of my opinions with a dash of mustard…

 

3/52

Overnight Trains: 17 vs 36

Living the last year car free has given us the chance to explore some travel options that we had previously only thought about in terms of vague “somedays.” In the past, it would’ve been only too easy for us to say, “oh no, it’s so much easier to drive for 10 hours,” when we were starting to plan our Tuscany trip.

Truth is, it probably wouldn’t have been easier. When we drove there last time, we traveled with friends, so the two gents traded off driving duties. Since I still can’t/don’t drive here, BV would’ve been the only one behind the wheel. That would have meant instead of a 10-hour trip (assuming the best conditions), we more than likely would’ve needed to schedule in an overnight stay somewhere (losing valuable Tuscan time), or sleep in the car (in December), and it would’ve been more like two lost days coming and going. But as we have no car, we had no choice… to the train!

I’d been curious about doing an overnight train for quite some time. I had taken one before on our high school France trip, but BV never had. Strangely, in the 11 years I’ve lived in Europe, I have never managed to repeat the experience. The Js and I did try, once, on our ill-fated roommate Krakow trip, but were brutally rebuffed.*

So how was it? Pretty good, as far as I’m concerned. But I have to say, the experience was sliiiiightly different nearly 20 years (oh God) on.

It was the summer of 2001, I was 17. We’d been tooling around France for about a week and a half, shepherded on and off of our coach bus by my delightfully loopy French teacher, Madame Coe, and our tour guide. Madame was a school tour veteran, and had the whole thing down to a science. When she learned that we’d be taking an overnight train from Paris to Nice, she had her whole strategy in place. She didn’t count on us though.

The girls on our trip outnumbered the boys, but she distributed us throughout our sleeper cars so we’d have at least one male in each of the 6-person compartments “for protection.” Our compartment was to have four girls and two boys, but we immediately folded up the upper bunks and packed about twelve people in there for a night full of playing cards and drinking the provisions that the guys had picked up in the train station. Madame stopped by our bunk a few times before she retired, wine glass in hand, advising us not to stay up too late.

Needless to say, she was right and we probably should have listened. All these years on, I have no idea how late we stayed up, being 17 and 18, probably unforgivably loud**, but having an excellent time.

What I do remember, is the next morning. The train had metal shutters for the windows, which we had wisely pulled down when we went to sleep. When one of the guys slid out of his bunk in the morning and cracked open the door, OH GOD THE LIGHT.

We were in the South of France. The sun was BLINDING. We were all awake now, and he stumbled into the hallway and slammed the door shut. I assume he felt his way to the restroom, because it had to have taken a few minutes for his eyes to adjust.

When we rolled up the shutters a bit later, the train was rolling along the coast. The endless blue of the Mediterranean and that blinding sun was gorgeous… once we had chugged some water and located our sunglasses. I almost wish I had my France photo albums here so I could see if the evidence of the night before was visible on any of our faces.

At 36, the experience was a little bit different.

Our train was scheduled to depart Munich at 8:10pm, which allowed for a very relaxed day. We finished up packing, and were ready to go in plenty of time. Though I did once again bring too much stuff, I thought this was decent for both of us for ten days:

Not bad.

The biggest hassle was the ‘carry-on’ bag under my purse. It contained an extra coat, my camera bag, and a pile of books. It was manageable, but awkward to carry.

BV and I met with our cat-sitting friend in Nürnberg to pass off our keys, and then boarded our train to Munich. We opted for a few trains ahead, just in case, and had more than enough time to spare. Since the Augustiner Keller is just up the street from the Munich Hauptbahnhof, we went there and had a relaxed, early dinner.

Back at the train station, we picked up some completely unnecessary train snacks, a mini bottle of ‘we are on holiday!’ prosecco, and found our platform. Bang on time, there she is!

Pardon the blurriness of a moving train, and a moving Heather as BV says, “you’re going to miss it! It’s coming… awwww, I thought it would be an ÖBB train!”

Yep, despite the fact that this train was operated by the ÖBB, (Österreichische Bundesbahnen= Austrian Federal Railway), it had a DB engine. Tragic.

Still moving, sorry.

We spotted our car easily, and climbed aboard. The price difference between sleeper cars and seated compartments had been WILD when we bought our tickets, so we went with the seats. I doubted I’d sleep either way, so why pay twice as much?

About thirty minutes later, again, bang on time, the train pulled out and we were on our way. By some miracle, we had the 6-seater compartment to ourselves for nearly the entire 11 hour trip. Look how comfy I am!

Spacious! With outlets!

In Salzburg, we were joined by a family for an hour or so until the next stop. That was mostly fine, even if the woman did de-shell peanuts and crinkle plastic for the entire hour. But they got off, and we were alone again.

BV managed to doze off and on, but I hardly slept. We wound our way through the Austrian Alps, and all I could see was a bit of white snow, pine trees, and then blackness again. Occasionally, there were the lights of a town spread out in the valley far, far below us, making me really want to take this trip during the day sometime as I suspect it’s spectacularly beautiful.

Crossing into Italy, we sped downhill through tunnels at a slightly alarming rate. We were briefly joined in our compartment between Bologna and Florence, but after that, we were alone again until we got off in Arezzo.

As we rolled through Tuscany towards our final destination, the sun was just starting to come up. Light bits of fog and cloud hovered over the hills around town as the sky brightened. It was lovely.

We reached Arezzo ten minutes behind schedule at 7:20am, which let’s be honest, is nothing. Apparently those trains are regularly fairly late, so much so that G, our host, wasn’t picking us up until 9:30. We grabbed some espresso, and wandered around town until she collected us. Was I loopy at that point? Absolutely. Would I do it again? also yes.

Was the experience a hair bit different almost 20 years older? You bet. But I can’t argue with this trip. We will most definitely be taking an overnight train again. I just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years, and also, I hope I can sleep a bit the next time!***

Have you taken an overnight train? Any trips to recommend?

 

2/52

 

*TM Cher Horowitz

**Thank goodness our large group took up the majority of the car, if not the whole thing.

***I did manage to sleep a bit on the return trip, even though we had to share our compartment and had less space to sprawl. Go figure.

2019 in Review

Whew. 2020.

I’m a bit late with last year’s recap post, but I have a good excuse. After saying that we wanted to go to Tuscany for New Year’s since the last time we went in 2012, we actually finally made it there this year. It was full of beautiful, sunny days, lots of reading, lots of relaxing, and veritable mountains of pasta. It was much needed, but we didn’t get back until the 7th and it was pretty much right back into normal life from there.

Anyone who is still regularly checking in here may have noticed that I missed my Sunday photo post last week, and while that was down to me not getting it scheduled before we left, I’ve made a decision. While I’ve enjoyed having a regular excuse to comb through my photo archives, I think I’m going to take a hiatus from them this year. Some months are just… nada. Maybe I’ll come back to them in the future, but not in 2020.

Instead, inspired by the vow of Steven over at Sunshine. Whimsy. Tacos., I’m going to attempt to write here weekly. Or at least often enough that there will be 52 entries when I look at my stats on December 31st. Let’s see how this goes!

Now, onto the recap!

January

Munich in some much-needed sun.

Part of the reason for the general quiet here, which I may have mentioned in my one or two non-photo posts last year, was that I started a new job in December 2018. I was full-time as of January. I’m still doing English training, but it’s a whole new ball game. That meant all new groups starting at once, innumerable names to try to remember, new buildings to find my way around, new everything. It was… a lot. In retrospect, I think I did alright adjusting, but going from a freelance schedule to full time was a shock. I left early, I came home late, I slept like the dead. That was about it.

About the only non-work thing I can remember about January is that we celebrated my 10 years in Europe, and one Saturday we went down to Munich for the day to replace my dying iPhone 6 battery. If anything else of note happened, please tell me.

February

A snow hike around the Eibsee.

In February I ate a lot of Krapfen* (filled doughnuts that are basically thrown at you as you walk past bakeries in the lead-up to Carnival), and at the end of the month we took a fairly spontaneous trip down near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We didn’t think there would be quite enough snow for snowshoeing, so we just went with snow hiking. It was a good choice.

March

We stuck close to home in March. Just a few walks around town and over the slowly greening fields, and an afternoon with some friends at a craft beer festival in Nürnberg. I’m hoping it takes place again this year as it was pretty quiet, and much closer to home than the BrauKunst! in Munich, which we skipped last year.

April

Spring was upon us, and it was time for some BahnVentures. We opted to go car-free this year, and it was a lot of fun (though a bit more organizing that I usually like to do), to figure out just where we could and couldn’t get to via public transportation. One weekend we met BV’s parents in the Franconian Switzerland for his mom’s birthday lunch and a walk around Weißenohe, and on another weekend we took the train down to the Altmühltal and hiked over to Kipfenburg. I’d seen some cool pictures of the little castle hanging over the town, and it was a perfect day trip.

Kipfenburg

May

The Villager’s had very kindly invited us down to hang out for the weekend with them and celebrate Cinco de Mayo. VillageGuy’s mom comes there every year and makes tamales, and there’s no way I’m saying no to that. We all pitched in to make a tamale assembly line, and before long we had an absolute feast of Mexican goodness.

They had also gotten a huge delivery of their new bee-keeping equipment, and after everyone put some flowers in their hair, BV helped the girls out in assembling the frames.

As per usual, the day before Mother’s Day was the Open House over at the Gardener’s. We baked a few cakes to contribute to the extremely laden table, and inspected the goods for sale.

Also as per usual, we used BV’s May birthday as a good excuse for a getaway. He’s been wanting to go to the Auvergne region of France for years, despite remembering nearly nothing besides “hills and kind of volcanoes” from his childhood trips there. But hey, why not? We flew to Lyon, spent two (aka, not nearly enough) nights there, and then rented a car to tour around for the rest of the week. We will go back.

Lavaudieu, France

June

Hochlandhütte, Bayern

Itchy feet a few weeks after our vacation meant an impromptu hiking trip. We took the train down to Mittenwald, and hiked to the Hochlandhütte. It was a hair more challenging than we had anticipated for our first tour of the year, and definitely hadn’t thought we’d still find snow after the early summer weather, but we made it in the end. We even got to see some mountain goats! Again, we will be back.

Pictures of pictures of the view from Neuschwanstein.

One of my oldest friends came to visit us during the Pentecost holidays. Wanting to see as much as possible in a short time, and show her some of the Alps, we spent a few days in Franconia and then headed south. We stayed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen again, as there’s a ton to do do there, and drove over to Neuschwanstein as well. Then it was back to Munich for a day before she flew out. The American whirlwind tour, as it were.

July

The view from the Lenggrieser Hütte.

Out of public holidays, July was back to normal. Even after all these years, that feels wrong in mid-summer. Oh well. We did manage to escape one weekend, taking BV’s little brother on a promised hiking trip to the Lenggrieser Hütte.

August

What to do if you don’t have kids and thus aren’t forced to take vacation in August? Eat ice cream and drink beer.

Allgäu, Bayern

What to do if you have an August birthday and still want to escape? Learn that there’s a single train going directly from Nürnberg to the Allgäu region on Friday afternoons! I booked a last-minute decent hotel deal, and off we went. 36 was celebrated amongst the cows.

September

Südtirol, I love you so.

After last year’s entirely too short trip, we decided to join the Gardener’s and the Tuscan’s for an entire glorious week in South Tyrol. The trip was wonderful, but it was more than a little exhausting… we were going from morning til night and pretty much operating entirely in German. Though I do have to say, after a bit of a crash on Wednesday, I got on an upswing and was feeling a lot better about my Deutsch skillz by the end of the trip! And with some solo hikes with BV (aka, English time), and views like these, who am I to complain, really?

I speak very good Deutsch hier, ja?

October

Back to reality, sigh. Lots of walks around town, enjoying the last days of autumn. Also, did I mention we got bees? The Gardener gifted BV a colony for his birthday, and they’ve been residing in our garden since June or July. No honey this year, but hopefully next year. Anyway, in October we suited up in our sweet sweet bee suits, and winterized the hive. Fingers pressed that they’re still there in spring!

November

The Dorf Thanksgiving tradition continued again, with us hosting the party for ten. Another evening full of entirely too much food, a lot of laughs, and hopefully comfortable enough chairs for everyone. If not, Marry needs to step up her quality checks.

December

Pre-Christmas madness. Markets, cookies around every turn, the usual. Unfortunately we couldn’t sort out a decent day to do our usual cookie baking party with the Villagers. But they’ve relocated to Amberg where I was working on Thursdays, which meant we could meet on my last day out there and do a cookie exchange instead.

The family celebration this year was low-key as usual, just BV’s parents and brother, who all came over on the 24th for duck. BV and I had a relaxed day at home on the 25th, and on the 26th we left for ten sun-soaked days in Tuscany. Hopefully more on that to come.

Poppi, Tuscany

The view from Santa Lucia

Whew. And that’s it! I think… at least.

To summarize, here’s what IG gave me as my top nine for the year.

If you don’t follow me there, by all means, go for it! @heatherinde, and hopefully next year looks as colorful and varied as this one.

Thanks as always to those of you who read, and have continued to do so even through the quieter times here. Hope 2020 treats us all well!

 

 

 

*These are often called Berliner, but have many many many names, depending where in Germany you are. But here in Franken, they’re Krapfen.