Saturday, June 30, 2012


You'll be pleased to know that Kirk and I are not taking any more of Wanda's shit, and simply ignore her when she demands we U-Turn when it makes no sense what-so-ever. We talk back to her, even. We flip her the bird, and continue following our old-fashioned paper map. She's such an insistent bitch, that Wanda: "Make-a-u-turn-if-possible-make-a-u-turn-if-possible," she echoes in her robot German accent.

Shut the fuck up, Wanda.

Somehow, though, we can't bring ourselves to turn her off. It's like my son--he seems to need me to nag about not eating cereal in his room, so he can continue to ignore me and bring bowl after bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios in there (and probably, in his head, he's saying shut-the-fuck-up-mom, too).

Speaking of my son, I got like two-and-a-half hours of sleep last night worrying about whether he'd been dropped off at the right place, if he had all his equipment. I wondered if his leg had healed after the quad pull he got during his last tournament. Maybe he was sick. Maybe his dad decided he should go back to the hot springs with him instead of ODP camp. I haven't connected with him because we've put our phones in airplane mode for the trip (I just can't justify the expense, given my addictive phone use--even with the international package, it's truly ridiculously costly) - but, lo and behold, at 6:00 a.m., I got the a text from him on my WhatsApp app (which, is a must for wi-fi texting over seas).

It's us in our salt mine garb.
I was thrilled to find out that, indeed, all is well and he's having a great time. His roommate is cool and, best, he and a bunch of fellow-campers chipped in to have four pizzas delivered to their dorms at Linfield, where the camp is. For a 13-year-old, that's a pretty awesome thing, ordering a pizza and having it delivered to a college dorm. Carson is in heaven. So, for the moment, I can stop freaking out.

Sleep-dep and Wanda's attempts to derail us aside, the trip from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt took only a half-hour or so, and wended along a river through the usual adorable towns to arrive at a storybook village on a lake so clear and ancient and Euro-lovely we thought we were still asleep, having a dual dream or something. We thought Partenkirchen and Bad Ischl were picturesque ... this town (which dates back to 900 BC civilization-wise) outshines them. By far.

We'd decided to come here rather late in our planning -- it's the only place on our itinerary we hadn't pre-booked a zimmer, so, chunky library version of Rick Steves Germany and Austria in hand, we bumbled our way through the village in search of one-night accommodations (on a Saturday in summer, no less. Nervy us of, I know).

Cute??? Yes?
The lady at the TI made a call, and then scribbled something on our map, and I navigated Kirk there with only one (okay, two) wrong turns. A charming Austrian man flagged us down, directed us to park, and then took us to this 900 square foot immaculate knotty pine cottage. With breakfast, it'll cost us 60 Euro. The place is total Hansel and Gretel, without the witch (we left Wanda in the car, still pissed off that we didn't take the U-turn).

After a hard day at the salt mines ...
After unpacking our overnight bags and plotting the rest of our day, we trotted down the little lane to a funicular that cranked us up a mountain to tour the Hallstatt salt mines--which was a blast. The german tour was led by a woman who supplemented her spiel with bits of broken English--telling us, at one point, that the wild enemas led the villagers to the salt. (Since I haven't taken a crap in three days, that sounded pretty good to me.) Really though, the main takeaway at the salt mines (which included a dark walk through uneven ground, sliding down a couple rails, and straddling a wooden beam that chugged us to the exit of the mine) was confirmation that in the U S of A,  our fear of impending litigation has turned us into fear-driven, over-cautious cretins, who are being systematically fleeced of our innate survival skills. There are no caution signs and warnings and diatribes and wavers in Europe as prelude to every conceivable experience. You simply hand over the dough and do the thing, using your wits, experience and common sense to keep you from stepping off cliffs and so forth.

heading back to our zimmer.
Note the unlegislated need to move out of the way of traffic.
After the salt mines, we meandered through the breathtakingly charming village, fed the swans, and plopped our butts down at a lakeside table for our Radler and Würstel. 

A perfect day. Well, almost perfect. I need to sign off now and power down a third packet of Metamucil.

Tomorrow, Vienna. Where we'll be for a while.

What's app with y'all? Staying regular?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

wicked wanda and bad ischl

Wanda didn't know about this, apparently

Lesson of the day: just because you punch the name of a town into your high-tech, German-engineered GPS system, doesn’t mean you can relax and follow directions and expect to get there.

Our plan was to leave Partenkirchen first thing after our morning muesli, and head to the fairy-tale castles by 8:50 to get our reserved tickets. The hostess of the Fraundorfer assured us that no matter which way we went, we’d end up at Neuschwanstein in an hour and five minutes.

Two hours later, we were hopelessly lost somewhere Southeast of Munich, three maps and a Rick Steves book all unfolded and bookmarked and crumpled on my lap, while Kirk, whose scratchy throat has turned into a full-blown cold, was nervously negotiating the single lanes through black forest and green glen.

At one point, after our GPS Lady (Wicked Wanda, we’ve decided to call her) commanded us to make a U-Turn, leading us the wrong way down a one-way street the width of dental floss, we frantically punched in some alternate towns—getting us even more lost. Here’s something we learned: “fastest” and “shortest” are very different options. Here's what we also learned: do your homework the night before. Foreign travel by the seat of the pants is stupid, risky, and likely to bring out Mrs. Crabby Seat-of-the-Pants.

Of course we missed our ticket time, and with a three-hour drive ahead of us into Austria, southeast of Salzburg, we scrapped our castle plans in favor of the Autobahn. Wicked Wanda recalculating our route periodically so we could avoid “traffic hazards” that magically cropped up every twenty kilometers or so, sending us off the A-route and onto various B-routes. Her circuitous plans for us took us through some incredible scenery as well as a few less stellar burgs whose prominent features included abandoned overhead electric lines.

Our trip continued to Bad Ischl, the Imperial mountain burg where the fated Franz Joseph-Sisi engagement took place. I'd booked us a cheap room in a pension on the far end of town, and Googled up some directions before leaving the States. Stupidly, though, instead of following my printed directions, I convinced Kirk to give Wanda one more shot, and when she ordered us off the main road, and onto an assortment of charming goat paths, there I was, like the girlfriend of a notorious womanizer, believing the curt, no-nonsense voice as she weaved us along precarious roads, around haystacks, and down more skinny lanes. She promised that our "destination will be on the right," but all that was on the right, before the road block, was a rusty fence, where we parked, got out, and wandered around heavy machinery for the next hour, hoping that our Pimsleur German and frantically waving map-wielding hands would lead us to a person who'd point to our destination.

Meanwhile, Wanda was back in the car, telling all her GPS robot buddies what a pair of idiots we were.

Eventually, we found our digs, retraced our steps and negotiated the rental Ford "Kuga" around several detours, narrowly missing a tour bus and a Mercedes cement truck going about 60.

I’m also happy to report that Kirk and I have not quite killed each other yet, though testier words between us have never been sprechen

I promise to post some pretty pictures soon--and report on the more lush, lavish and lovely aspects of this spa town that has haunted me since I started my Empress Elisabeth obsession. First, though, I have to convince my travel partner to get back on that horse. So to speak.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

how not to get killed by a bicycle in Munich

One of the mighty demon-fighting cherubs in Marienplatz  
We're on day two of our European Adventure, and I'm pleased to report that we're still alive, in spite of several stupid mistakes.

For instance, who knew that the smooth sidewalk-looking ribbons of asphalt that skirt the streets of Munich are bike lanes? Not us! The first rule of walking in Munich, it turns out, is sticking to the cobblestone sections of thoroughfare. The second rule is: when crossing at intersections, stay in the fatter of two crosswalks or you'll get mowed down by a cruiser. The third rule is, this is Germany--so you'd better pay attention!

But seriously, we're having a blast. Last night, whilst negotiating the traffic and trying to get our bearings (both Kirk and I are maptards with crappy senses of direction, so it took three times as long to figure out where we were and which way to turn next as it would have taken if we weren't so stoopid), we stumbled into the infamous Hofbrauhaus for a meal (though I think it was breakfast time by our jet-lagged internal clocks). Amid the oompah and dirndls and the lederhosen and the huge liter pitcher-steins of beer, we hungrily slurped onion soup and inhaled dumplings. Not to mention a dunkle and a Radler--which led to a hunt for WC on the circuitous route back to the hotel.

Today's journeys included a walking tour of Marienplatz and the Residenz, the latter taking most of the morning since the Wittelsbach's Bavarian family palace is featured prominently in the Empress Chronicles.  Those Bavarian royals liked their rococo!

After the Residenz, we hopped on the U briefly, popping up after a couple of stops to stroll through the English Garden (another stop on the Sisi trail for me). I am pleased to report that the Garden in my mind (and on the page) is eerily close in landscape to actual "Central Park" of Munich. Here, Kirk and I had a "when in Munich" afternoon and gulped down an ein Mass in the centrally located Chinese Tower Beer Garden (while watching a 10-year-old girl at the picnic table next to us do the same) before stumbling out of the way of more zooming bikes.

Tomorrow we'll tour the Nymphenburg with its Gallery of Beauties, before heading off to Garmiche mountains and points South.

Heaven help us, the Autobahn awaits!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

take off

kirk. after 2.5 hours of sleep.
We're leaving. On a jet plane. And we're missing SO MUCH SOCCER! Can goals be scored if we're not there in the cheering squad? I guess we'll soon find out.

It's a little surreal, all the things we had to do in the last week. I'm frankly shocked that we've kept track of passports and documents and phones and what not. Last night, after two FC tourney matches and nursing Carson's sore quad, we had to move all our living/dining room furniture to the various outposts in preparation for the remodel. It was a Grinch night--getting every last fucking plastic cup out of the soon-to-be-demolished cupboards and unearthing relics for the Goodwill pile (who knew we had 3 hideous candy dishes. Who actually uses candy dishes?)

It took hours.

After the last crumbs even too small for a Who-Mouse were scraped up, last thing we did before turning in was to sit in our shell of a dining room, butts against the wall, legs splayed out. We stared at the drab green walls and swigged from a Gatorade bottle of Scotch. (Whisky doesn't taste so great when it sits in a plastic sports bottle for a few weeks.) Fist bumps were executed. We crawled to bed. Tried to sleep. Got up, got Carson ready for his match, picked up Kirk's son, dropped Carson off at the field, and here we are. At PDX. Hub of all fun adventures.

First stop: Chicago--where we'll be dashing madly for our connecting flight to Munich, Ambien in hand.

See you in Deutschland!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

once. again.

June. Memory Lane month. The month of my birth. The month I'm most likely to move. And I mean "move" in the metaphoric sense--capital M.

I'm here at the hot springs on my birthday weekend sucking up the sun, the music, the mineral water (and yes, the wi-fi), and all around me is the three-d version of the ghost of birthdays past. Once upon a time I owned this place with my then-husband. We were mostly living in Portland, operating "the springs" from afar, and trying to navigate a tense marriage. Raise a few kids. You know the story.

One of the stressors in our marriage involved a disparate relationship with stuff. My ex is a man whose affinity for space and form boarders on the sacred. Well, no, not boarders, actually. Is. Me? Stuff is stuff. The objects in my life I consider sacred can be counted on one hand. My relationships to things are aesthetic nods. I love beauty and form, but after I've registered this allegiance, I happily move on to what I really love. Psychological puzzles. The stories behind the stuff.

The marriage though. Alas, his vision and his ability to concretize vision within the financial, temporal and cultural constraints of reality were at odds. Abjectly, at odds. And me? I grew bitter and impatient. I was on a hag trajectory. Another few years riding shotgun to the effluence and detritus that tailed out of his love for possibility never-quite manifest, and the ridges in my downturned mouth and the slump in my shoulders and the martyry resignation in my brow would have brewed a fullon Queen Hag.

And being here this weekend, walking into and around the objects that were once an everyday part of my life, invites a new understanding of the hows and whys of the way people connect and disconnect from one another.

A little horse abstracted from its carousel. A plywood cutout of a genderless deity once lifted from the maw of a dumpster. The propeller that once sat sentinel in my driveway. A taxidermied nun. A rusty red wagon decorated with a South of the Border bumpersticker procured on a drive from Virginia to Florida. A weary appliance dolly once employed for moving the Wedgewood stove I cooked our wedding soup upon. All these objects. All this time.

Seeing all of this, you'd think I'd be sad. Wistful. Why didn't I just buck up and choose to grow old with that rusty red wagon (in which my daughter once tipped, splitting her head open on another relic--some bisected metal boiler which, one day, could have made an excellent planter)?

Enough time (six years) has elapsed. Whereas earlier I may have been melancholy and regretful visiting the springs, seeing all the new iterations of my former life, now its a somewhat elegiac experience. I'm separate but equal, let's say. Live and let live. Appreciative and grateful.

It's been a fun weekend. The playa is kicking up now, though, which happens, out here. Thirty-mile-an-hour winds are gusting, and it's time, once again, to move on. With love.

And you? Any peace with the past moments you'd like to share?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

writers and relocation

When I was thirteen, my parents moved us from San Diego to a small town in New York State. Gone were the canyons, sea water, static sun and lemon trees. Instead, rumbling thunderstorms, leafy elms and hungry mosquitoes set up shop in my psyche. Dusty lanes and horse farms. Air so humid wood floors buckled. Sure, there were cultural shifts. Different kids. Accents. But my particular brand of shock was more rooted in the aesthetic whiplash of the move than social displacement. I'm an outlier that way. (Or, it seems so, when I observe my own kids and their hyper-social orientation.)

I'm really curious about the chicken-egg relationship here. Are writers wired for environmental sensitivity, or does the act of writing (which I engaged in constantly as a kid), nurture a tendency toward place-alignment over people?

What's your experience?