Quelle Surprise!

Who doesn’t love a good surprise when traveling?

Most of our visit to the Auvergne region of France was fairly surprising, mostly down to the fact that I’m not a huge pre-trip planner in general, plus my crazy new work schedule last spring that left little to no spare brain space to plan for our trip anyways. I’m sure at some point this laissez-faire approach will bite me in the butt, but so far, I’ve done okay. Auvergne worked out fairly well for us, with a fantastic variety of activities, and an extremely helpful host at the holiday apartment that we chose for our five days in the region.

On our first full day, he advised us to head towards a few villages that were about an hour away from our location, and so off we went. However, on the way there, we saw something that made us say “WHAT IS THAT?” and a few minutes later we pulled the car over into a helpfully placed viewpoint parking lot.

So what did we see? Click on for details…

Continue reading

31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 30

The last thing I said aloud was…

I don’t know exactly, but it was definitely something snake-related. Why snakes? Well, this evening BV got a few nice pictures via WhatsApp from his friend who lives in Tuscany. Long time readers may remember our visit there… sadly it’s been more than five years since we admired the view from their hill and now it may be longer.

Among the nice pictures of the flora and sun-soaked seating areas around their house, was a picture of one of their trees. Hanging out of that tree was a goddamned giant snake. Nooooooo! Nope, nope, nope.

BV then assured me that it’s a GOOD snake. If they have this kind of snake, it means that they don’t have vipers.


Nope, nope, nope, nope.

We’ve discussed going back down there nearly every year since our first visit. We haven’t managed it yet, life getting in the way and all, and now the place is crawling (slithering?) with snakes. I want to go back there, but AT WHAT COST? There are so many crooks and crannies in the old farm buildings that house their holiday apartments… my snake protocol before going to bed could be a very time-consuming search.

And please don’t tell me that the snakes are more scared of you than you are of them. I KNOW THAT, THANK YOU. I just don’t need to think about the possibility of getting out of bed in the morning and stepping on a bloody viper.

I’m currently a little more sensitive to this topic than usual though, because I had a VERY CLOSE snake sighting when we were hiking in South Tyrol a few weeks ago. I knew that there were small snakes lurking about, as last year the tripod cat that lived in the house behind ours brought one into our garden after we had befriended her. Coincidentally, that’s when we stopped leaving the bedroom double doors wide open all the time.

The snake I saw hiking though was not small, and no grass snake. Long story short, we were coming down the side of the mountain and the trail was completely buried in snow. It looked like a late-season avalanche, but I’m not sure. Either way, we alternated between trying to get over the snow directly where we could see one set of footprints (maybe that guy knew the way?) or bushwhacking through the fauna alongside the snow.

Note: I do not mean bushwhacking hyperbolically. I mean we were crawling through all kinds of low, scrubby pines, over rocks, working our way down the steep hillside that edged the snow. We went through God-knows-how-many spiderwebs in the pines, I was brushing tiny spiders off of my clothes constantly and just hoping that none took up permanent residence in my hair.

Eventually though we got to the end of the snowy area and found the trail again. Huzzah! Not five minutes later I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and saw a decent-sized tan snake with black markings curling around the trunk and branches of one of those exact same pine trees that we’d been climbing through. OH HELL NO.

Presumably we made enough noise clambering around that any of his compadres would’ve gotten out of our way. Nevertheless, I made eye contact with this snake and his little hissing tongue and he legit haunts my dreams. Not cool, sir.

I relayed part of this story to one of my groups when we were talking hiking in South Tyrol after my trip, and one of my students then told us a story about how he accidentally imported a snake from Tuscany. 

I’m sorry, you did WHAT?

He was staying with his family at a holiday apartment there, and they learned that a bunch of snakes liked to hang out inside this stone wall next to where they parked their cars. Several days after they got back to Germany, he backed his car up in his driveway, looked down, and saw a snake on the ground. He managed to capture it and then went on a wild goose chase of animal shelters that could take the thing. It eventually made its way to one of them, but apparently there was some interest in someone who wanted the snake to breed it. It was a young snake and hard to get (or something), and yes… dangerous. GREAT PLEASE BREED IT, RANDOM GERMAN PERSON.

At this point, I’m 95% sure Italy is covered in snakes. I love Italy. This is a problem. I’m going to have to get knee-high hiking boots and possibly also a shovel to hike with.*


*According to Texans, that’s how to deal with seeing  a snake.


Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, which will possibly now extend into June to compensate for the vacation gap, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 11

Me: What should I write about?

BV *flipping through local magazines and generally procrastinating instead of putting another coat of varnish on the hallway floor*: Write about spring in ‘Schland.

Me: That’s general and I’ve kind of done a lot of that. What else?

BV: Write about *insert several other suggestions here*

Me: You are not helpful right now. Weren’t you going to varnish that hallway again tonight?

BV: … *flips through more pages*

… *several minutes pass* …

BV: Aww!

Me: Ooooh, is it a dog? (There are often dogs up for adoption at the local Tierheim in the magazines.)

BV: Nope… look!

He handed me the magazine and at the bottom of the page was a picture of a woman seated in a chair with an accordion. Next to her, stood a goat.

Me: What’s with the goat?

BV: No idea. Didn’t read the whole thing, but there’s some culture program.

Me: I have questions. Does the goat figure into her act?

BV: *flips through more pages*

… *several more minutes pass* …

BV: Alright, I’m going. Write about goats.

Me: *starts typing furiously*

We need a goat. I think this would be a much better choice than even those robot lawnmower things. I would also accept a duck or goose, as those eat bugs and function as guard dogs, but I think a goat would be the preferable choice. I also have aspirations of one day learning how to make cheese, and this would save us a small fortune because we buy A LOT of goat’s cheese. We’ll also need a cow, and possibly a sheep. All of these animals will fit very well in the small mountain house that we someday acquire for Euro pennies, and we shall grow geraniums and make cheese. It will be excellent.

I already know that we’re both very good with goats, as last summer a goat tried its best to befriend us. BV won’t let me post the pictures where the goat tried to make out with him, but he definitely got licked. A lot. Running back down to the car when he realized that he had forgotten his jacket a few kilometers below, and then back up again, had apparently made him extra salty. But here you can see the goat in question checking out our gear when we stopped for a break.


It was a good thing BV had gone back for his jacket though, as our return trip was decidedly misty. But the goats still emerged from the fog to join our pack. We are natural herders, it seems.

Closer to home, there is a garden patch nearby here that is also home to a goat. Sometimes.

What does that mean? I don’t know exactly, but I have questions.

It’s a little garden plot in the forest, with two small structures on it. One is more garden-house style, but extremely *ahem* rustic. The other looks a bit like a chicken coop.

On my usual walking route, I pass by at least a few times a week this time of year. There is almost always an elderly man there on Sundays, with a small hatchback car. When he is there, there is also a goat.

The chicken coop-looking structure is certainly large enough to fit this goat, which is a decent sized animal. Much bigger than those little guys above. However, it’s nowhere near big enough for him to live in there full-time. Additionally, I’ve never heard a peep of noise when walking past and the man isn’t there. And you bet I have paused, tried to make some noises, just to determine if anything might be in the coop besides chickens (which are sometimes knocking about when the man is present, too).

So where does this goat live? Does he live in the coop? Does he live in the rustic house and just not get out much? Does he travel with the man in the car on Sundays to this garden plot? Does he travel in the car generally speaking?

In which case…

Where does this man live the rest of the time? Does he have a house with enough space to afford a goat to live with him? In which case, why this little garden plot? Does he live in a flat with a goat? What does the goat do all day? Do they travel around and have adventures? Is he some sort of emotional support animal? Does he detect if the man’s blood sugar is too high or low like those diabetes-detecting dogs? Does he do tricks? Do they perhaps go to children’s birthday parties?


I’ve been walking past this… situation for quite awhile now, in case you couldn’t tell. I’ve given this a lot of thought. But the mystery remains.

Well now. Goats, sheep, and yes, CATS. What other animals should I tackle during the May writing challenge which is unintentionally becoming animal-themed?


Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 4

Prompt: What question would you most like answered?

So many possibilities here. Since the beginning of time, humans have questioned every aspect of the known world, and what lies beyond. But today? The only thing I can think about right now is OH MY GOD WHAT IS WITH THIS CAT?

Deep thoughts here. Deep thoughts.

As mentioned the other day, we’re cat-sitting at the moment. In the last two days, Milo has begun venturing out during daylight hours, and today we had a breakthrough. I managed to lure him out of hiding with some treats, and I even got in a few solid pets. As long as I’m not moving too quickly, he’ll now come up to me. But it seems that some sort of bridge has been crossed. He’s gotten chatty.

Earlier this evening, the other two cats were out on the balcony. They were both particularly alert, and I thought I heard some loud rustling down in the garden. We have a fair few neighborhood cats that pass through, so perhaps it was that, or a rambunctious bird. A few minutes later, I heard what sounded like the faint calls of a caterwauling cat a few houses away. And now, Milo chats. Loudly. At length.

The other two seem mostly unfazed by this, though even as I type this, Marry d.K. crept from her bed and stalked into the hallway. He’s been chatting for a good 20 minutes straight now, so I’m not sure how she just noticed but it’s all I can hear.

I mean really, who can possibly think about life’s big questions with anything making this kind of noise?

Maybe we should be flattered… S. said that he can get loud, but it took him a few months in his new home to get that comfortable. So, good for us?

Mia is all tucked up on the couch with me, and Marry has now disappeared. I suspect she’s sought refuge with BV but I’m really not sure how anyone is going to get sleep tonight. I’ve been using an eye mask but I haven’t got any earplugs and those would come in handy right about now.

And with this post, I solemnly swear that I will not mention cats for at least two days. I may be too tired to do anything for those two days either way, if this racket keeps up.


Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.


31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 3


The Day We Met Sheep Cat

Every relationship has their own unique, often completely bewildering inside jokes. This is about one of ours.

Long-time readers may recall that in this challenge last year, some of my posts took place in South Tyrol. We just booked ourselves a week there this month too, and that got me flipping through pictures in eager anticipation.

On a particularly hot day on last year’s trip, we decided to try to reach an Alm partway up a nearby mountain. Our host was unsure whether or not they’d be open yet, since the official summer season hadn’t begun, but we figured it would be worth the hike either way. We packed our backpacks with some extra snacks and set off.

It was rather a long walk to the other side of town just to find the trail head, and with the sun beating down on us, the steep ascent was a bit more than we had bargained for. Not unexpected, when you come back from a particularly lazy winter (and partially why I’ve been extra vigilant about getting steps and yoga in before this trip).

The forest trail to get up here was much steeper than the road. MUCH. But shorter!

By the time we reached a quiet barn perched high on the hill overlooking the local lake, BV had stripped off his shirt and converted his pants to shorts. I’d been shedding layers as well, though we ladies have some limitations on that front. Nearby the barn we found another directional sign that indicated we still had a good two hours to go to our intended destination, and our legs were already aching. Looking at the view in front of us, we figured it couldn’t get that much better, so why not just hike a bit further up to that grassy green hill, gaze out over the lake, and have our snack here?

Legs rested and snacks consumed, it was high time to put our feet into some of that glorious water we’d been gazing at. We were just packing it in when we heard distant sounds from the barn back below us. Though we hadn’t seen any vehicles or indication that there were people there besides ourselves, there must have been a shepherd napping somewhere nearby.

Looking down, we saw a few dozen sheep streaming out from the front of the barn into the pasture. And among them, a small black spot. It ran around, and our first thought was that it was a sheep dog. But it seemed too small to be any kind of sheep dog that I’ve ever seen. So naturally, we came to the conclusion that this barn had something very special indeed. Why that was a sheep cat! Amazing! Cats are basically useless creatures in the average home, but somehow the owner of this barn had trained a cat to use its feline sensibilities to herd sheep!

What can I say? We were far above the barn and it was a very small dot.

As we hiked back down the road and got closer, we searched the field for the magical sheep cat. And what did we see?

Yeah. We be dumb sometimes. It was hot… can I blame sunstroke? Of course it was a lamb.

But still, this was the day that SHEEP CAT! was born.

Watching the Great British Bake Off and see a shot of lambs frolicking in a field, with a black one in the mix? SHEEP CAT.

See a black cat anywhere near livestock (we live in a village, this happens a lot)? SHEEP CAT.

We go hiking on the same route in a week or so and see one black sheep up in this pasture? Damn right, SHEEP CAT. I for one, cannot wait.


Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

Sunday Snapshots: Christmas Cat

Franconia, 2014

Franconia, 2014

For the first four Christmases we were together, BV and I celebrated here with his family. This year we are very happy to get the chance to spend the holidays back in Wisconsin with my family. On the bad side, this year our sweet Marry die Katze won’t get to spend her Christmas day gazing out our front window at the birds feasting on fermented apples in our yard. I have no doubt though that she’s being spoiled by our friend S., and will have plenty of entertainment at his house playing with her friend Mia. We will spoil her with treats upon our return, have no doubt.


Hope everyone is having a lovely Christmas, wherever you may be.

And as always, thank you for reading!

A Slightly Random Story About Slightly Random Things

Once upon a time, BV and I were in South Tyrol and slightly concerned about finding dinner. Though it was raining slightly, we followed the signs out of our village to check out a restaurant and see if it was open yet. The restaurant was called the Enzianhütte, which seemed promising, as both Enzian and Hütte are good things.

Enzian, pre=Schapps

Enzian, pre-Schapps

Slightly more than a kilometer down the road, we found the restaurant… slightly closed. But across the road from the restaurant, we found something slightly more random. Click away to see what….

Continue reading