Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Always Room for Cake (Mosel River, Part 1)

I noted last post that London was something of a way point, a convenient entry to Europe thanks to mileage ticket availability. It was also something of a soft-landing, offering an easy transition to other cultures. I do not say that because of the language, although a (mostly) shared set of vocabulary and shared grammatical structure do ease the stress of travel. Rather, I say it because of the bedding.

A sure indication that you have arrived in “real” Europe is the prevalence in bed rooms of triple-folded feather comforters in lieu of sheets. I'm not sure what Germans have against the simple bed sheet, but I have yet to find one in use. I was first introduced to the comforter as an exchange student in 1987, when I was shown my room and left to stare and wonder whether I was supposed to sleep on, under, or in the damn thing. I climbed underneath, afraid to unfold it to cover the full length of bed or body, and as a result slept cold and fretful. I've since grown bolder and decided that the blanket should be unfolded for use. I now sleep with more than 2/3 body coverage, but such a heavy blanket is of no use on warm nights when I would, nevertheless, appreciate a thin sheet. I'm sure there is a reason to shun the sheet—Germans are, after all, a practical people—but I have no idea what it might be.

A second indication that we have left the United Kingdom and landed on the Continent is the reintroduction of the cigarette, something I've managed to all but forget about in the normal course of my life. I cannot speak for the U.K. as a whole, but tolerance for smoking in London seems to be on par with that of the States. Public buildings, including pubs, are smoke free, which is why, I suppose, there were always groups of bankers huddled out front of the bars rather than inside. Germany, in contrast, appears to abide smoking to a much greater degree. Our hotel here in Cochem, for instance, bans smoking in the guest rooms, but allows it in the lobby, permitting smoke to drift in thick clouds up and into our room. This was not a problem until a group of prolific smokers checked in. Their actual number is something close to six, but the passion with which they practice their habit gives the impression of a great host numbering in the thousands. We have also been struck by the number of cigarette vending machines lining the streets, date or production circa 1950. Somewhere Phillip Morris is sitting back and smiling.

Cochem is a small town on the Mosel River, a tributary to the Rhein and a region renowned for an altogether different vice than smoking. The Mosel has been a wine producing region since the Romans introduced grapes in... Roman times. Every little town seems to take a turn hosting a wine festival throughout the pre-, mid-, and post-harvest season, and Poltersdorf, a town 10 km upriver from Cochem, came up in the cue during our visit. We rented bikes to go take in the scene.

Wine at a wine festival is a no-brainer, but cake? Poltersdorf offered cake in spades. The Brits can keep their tea time, what with the funny sandwiches and fine china. I'll take the German kaffee and kuchen any time. Poltersdorf approached the German coffee and cake ritual like the Queen herself was about to forego tea for hardier German fare, with cake after cake, all made in neighborhood homes, presented in a buffet of staggering depth and beauty. How do you choose? I found it best to just guess, point, and to try and flirt with the Grandmothers of Poltersdorf to the best of my limited German in order to try and eek out an extra large slice.

“I have no idea what that is, but I would like a slice.”

“The raspberry torte?”

“Yes, it looks delicious.”

“I made it myself.”

“Well, then, I have no doubt but that it is delicious.”

“Oh, I hope, I hope!”

Like an addict forced to chase uppers with downers to maintain some kind of even-keel, we countered the sugar and caffeine with wine. The wine choices, like the cake before, were staggering too, and all sourced from the hills above town, cheap, and delicious. But all things come at a price, and here the toll was extracted by way of long-winded speeches from the festival dignitaries—the mayor, the wine queen, Bacchus God of Wine, visitors to the region being honored for 35- and 40-years of continuous vacationing, people who may have just randomly picked up the microphone. The Germans make a good cake, for sure, but also make a drawn out speech.

C's sister, M, who is traveling with us during this part of our trip, recently had the misfortune of banging her head to the point of drawing blood against Reno's bureaucracy in her attempt to permit a series of local food events in her home town. Among other things, she was required to submit a waste management plan with details for size and number of trash containers. She was therefore surprised to look around and find only a single trash can at the Poltersdorf festival to handle all of the waste for the entire festival crowd. But then a quick look at our table showed minimal waste despite the gluttony we were demonstrating. Cake and coffee were all served on tableware from people's homes, collected to be washed and reused. All drinks came in returnable glass. All wine was similarly served in glassware. In the U.S., the fest would have been billed as a green triumph, with marketing proclaiming as much on anything that would accept print. Here, it is simply the way things are done. The Germans take sustainability seriously. At the end of the day, we threw away a couple of napkins and screw tops, biked back to Cochem in the rain, and settled under confusing comforters to sleep, bringing to an end a successful day on the river.

(Looking down river at Cochem with its castle.)

(First stop at the Poltersdorf Weinfest: coffee and cake.)

(Five short minutes later, we had devoured the cake, downed the coffee, and replaced the lot with sausages and wine.)

(Bacchus, on arrival and moments before he started his speech.) 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Soft Landing in London

After spending time lost in the warren of tunnels that underlie Reno, Nevada, eating cave crickets and subsisting on what ever water we could collect dripping from the ceiling, we finally found an exit and emerged back into daylight. C's family, delighted to once again breathe deep of fresh air and satisfied that we would, in fact, all survive, insisted on joining hands. Afraid that we would once again take a wrong turn and return to the underground maze, C and I headed immediately to the airport to seek safer ground in London. We brought C's sister with us for good measure, and wished C's parents good luck.

London was for us just a way point, not a destination. It was a place with mileage ticket availability. But you could do worse for arrival cities, and we took advantage by staying three nights. Last time we were in London, I was on a work trip with lodging provided. We stayed in Mayfair, in the heart of some of the most expensive real estate in the world. This time, on our own dime, we found lodging in the suburbs. It was less convenient to the city, but much gentler on the budget. We stayed in West Ealing, former home to a thriving film industry and current home to a clutch of quality Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants.

Our hotel is owned and operated by the Fuller brewery, and accordingly came with ready access to a pub, meaning we had available the finest view in all of London: a row of tap handles.

Somehow, though, C managed to pull me away from the bar and we immersed ourselves in the tides of history. No better place to do so than the British Museum, where the plunders of colonial rule are on display. It turns out, we were not the only people to visit the British Museum that day. The Egyptian galleries were particularly popular.

I lost track of many of the details, but I'm pretty sure we also saw statues of British royalty, including these nude depictions of King Henry VIII and Hamlet.

What's that you say? Henry VIII was not renowned for his athletic physique or prowess with the discuss ? And Hamlet was Danish? And fictional? Well, as noted, the details escape me. Suffice to say, we saw many a fine butt cheek preserved in marble.

I won't say that we had had our fill of bare butts. In fact, I'm not sure that such a limit exists. But our time in London had nevertheless come to an end.  Much like Reno hides danger in its many and varied subterranean tunnels, London threatens all with unpredictable giant marbles that tend to flatten anyone unlucky enough to be in their path.  Having seen one too many small child lost, we decided it was time to leave, lest we fall victim too.  Next stop: Cochem, Germany, by way of four trains.

A few additional photos:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

They Promised Me Cheese!

In what appears to be becoming an annual tradition, I once again signed up for and attended the Trail Runner Magazine photo camp. Really, the decision to return as a repeat offender was easy once I heard the camp this year was in Ouray, Colorado. After all, Ouray is the self-proclaimed “Switzerland of America.” Clearly the camp would include cheese. And chocolate. And cow bells. I'll travel any distance for cheese. I won't travel any distance for chocolate or cow bells, but still considered both a bonus.

I should not have been surprised to roll into Ouray and find neither cheese nor chocolate waiting, and nary a cow to be seen. After all, a quick internet search shows that both southeast Tennessee and the Black Hills of South Dakota have, at various times, also been proclaimed the “Switzerland of America.” Maybe the title doesn't carry as much weight as I thought.

So while the camp did not offer Alpenkase, the good people at Trail Runner did, once again, offer the opportunity to shoot some world class athletes in a world class setting. This year Adidas sent its sponsored athletes and shirts, shoes, and other assorted schwag. As a result, I have become a walking billboard for Adidas, which was, I suppose, the intent. Who knew Adidas even had an ultra team or outdoors division? Maybe no one, which again, may be why Adidas sponsored the camp.

One of the campers, Jenn, was herself a sponsored athlete, albeit sponsored by Patagonia. Hiking into Yankee Boy Basin on the second morning to get shots in the alpine at 12,000', she remarked on the Adidas team camaraderie.

“Holy shit, these guys look like they actually like each other. They're nice to one another.”

“What do you mean.”

“Like I was on a trip with a bunch of the Patagonia climbers and they spent the whole trip trying to pee on each other's tents."

Well, then. Indeed, I did not see the athletes pee at all, much less on anyone else's bedding. Which is probably for the best as I'm not sure the magazine is looking for pictures of athletes urinating.

I assume instead that the magazine is looking for pictures of people running on trails, hence the title banner that runs across the top of each issue. And we got trail running pictures in spades. Twelve students attended this year, a number of whom had and/or were developing careers as professionals. I saw some incredible shots on people's laptops and projected during after dinner critique sessions. To the extent you appreciate pretty pictures, it will behoove you to seek out the photo camp issue, scheduled, I think, for October. [And by “you”, I mean, of course, “my Mom,” the sole continuing reader of this blog.]

But three days came to an end, much too fast in my opinion. I borrowed (and now covet) more high end glass. I had the opportunity to experiment with off camera lighting. I got to further practice and try to refine the art and science of capturing motion. And once the scheduled shoots were wrapped and the athletes gone, I packed my bags and prepared to leave as well. But not before peeing on Jenn's van, just to make her feel at home.

[As with last year, you may note the absence of photos, which is odd for a blog post about a photo camp.  But you'll just have to wait until the magazine comes out to get the goods. In the meantime, a teaser photo of Yankee Boy Basin follows.  Just try to picture it with a runner in the foreground.]

Monday, July 6, 2015

We recently came across a a cheap beer made from adjuncts masquerading as a craft beer. Tired, hot, and hungry, we had burritos in the car, a motel room where we planned to eat them, and a drug store open across the parking lot. In the coolers, a $3 six-pack of Big Flats beckoned. At that price, who did Big Flats think it was fooling? But I still bought it. And the taste? Think Schaefer, Black Label, Rainier. It was cold, though, and went fine with take out Mexican following a hike with the cactus. Everything has its place, even cheap beer.

C and I are starting our own masquerade. We're pretending to be a man and woman of leisure. It started last week, when we walked out of work, vowing never to return, or, rather, not to return until three months had passed. We went home and drank champagne. And then I went back to the office the next day and put in another full day of work trying to tie up loose ends.

So, it was a slow start. But we filled the day after that with chores at home, bread and wine at Crush, and a flight out of state. Now we're decompressing in Reno, Nevada, because any leave of absence should start in the Biggest Little City. Later we leave for Europe. Sometime after that we come back from Europe. Eventually, we return to the lives we left last week.

A Yosemite climber once recognized that “at either end of the social spectrum there lies a leisure class.”  I'm not sure which end we are aiming for, but definitely hoping for leisure. We should have periodic updates here.  In the meantime, I'll keep my eyes out for some Big Flats here in Reno.  It should balance the champagne out, averaging us out somewhere in the middle of the social spectrum.