Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Magical Mystery tour takes to the road in a Toyota Sienna van

The weather since I have arrived in Asheville has been variable to say the very least.  This morning as we set out on our magical tour in our natty Sienna van, the weather was gorgeous. The air was crisp but not too chill and the sunlight made everything it touched glow and shimmer. 
Charlene and I rode tail gun from the back seat.

We headed straight to the Southern Highland Craft Show where Dawn had some friends participating in the show.  I was interested in seeing if the show was different or similar to the Best of the Northwest show in which I have participated back home.  One major difference was that there is more glass and photography in the NW and more wood, pottery and weaving here in the SE.  The booths were also pretty tight up on the concourse, but very nicely set up.
I bought a few Christmas gifts and met some very nice people.  One vendor, Russ's Rural Rockers, had the most incredible hand carved rocking "horses".
The detail in his work was gorgeous as was the finishing.  The layering of the woods and his use of burls was also beautiful.

After the craft show we went for lunch at Salsa's .  What a wonderful menu.  I wish this restaurant was in my home town so that I could taste my way through it.  I had a Mocaljete, which came in a hot lava cauldron with three legs.  In this video, my meal is happily sizzling away in the pot.  It had chicken with a curry-coconut sauce alongside mushrooms that had a carmelized-chipotle flavor.  There were vegetables underneath and a little side plate containing rice, beans, salsa and a freshly made guacamole.  Yum.

Afterwards we went to the University of North Carolina Botanical Gardens where we walked around for hours enjoying the serenity of the forest within the bustling city.  The creek that ran through it made just enough noise that it blocked out the traffic on the edge of the park.

Some "groovy" rock formations.
This isIthe bark of a tree called The Devil's walking stick.  One can just imagine why.
Afterward a couple of hours of plant therapy we head back to the house for dinner and an evening of working on uploading photos and laughter.  The highlight of the evening was having Ken Thomas show me how to use the various tools in iPhoto to improve my photos which I really appreciated.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Going walkabout in Asheville

Yesterday was a busy day as we began our workshop experience.  After covering the structure of the workshop, we convoyed off to The Screen Door in downtown Asheville first thing.  This place was phenomenal.  I had a hard time actually getting inside as there was so much cool stuff outside.

Inside the world exploded.  

This is detail from one of three velveteen pumpkins crafted with real stems just inside the door.

And this is a photo of "retired" yarn or thread spools from some of the old closed mills that used to populate the area.  All of this work is now done overseas.

As I've noticed in the past, some of the items are odd if not down right disturbing in some instances.

We had a wonderful late lunch at a restaurant named Tupelo Honey Cafe.   The menu was really loaded with wonderful sounding options and they even had gluten free items.  Here are Chris and Andrew waiting at the restaurant.  We had an hour wait, this place is that popular...and we got there at 1 o'clock.

While we waited I took pictures in the little triangular park, tucked in between three intersecting streets as the buses, trolleys and ambulances whizzed by.

During lunch it seems like the temperature had dropped even further and with the wind chill factored in, it was bordering on uncomfortably cold.  We walked through town and dropped into a wonderful little bookstore called Malaprops and also a little cafe, The Chocolate Lounge, where we drank coffee, hot cocoa or wine depending on our individual whim.  They also had some very nice looking chocolates from which I abstained - although I’m not sure why I did.  They looked and sounded really tasty as I listened to the exclamations all around the table.  

We also visited the Chevron Trading Post & Bead Co. where I spent my time trying to get the fish to pose nicely in front of the interesting corals in the salt water aquarium.

Before leaving the downtown area, we stopped into a lovely little store called the Funky Mutt with the express purpose to meet this cute little kitty in the window.   Her name was Fancy and our timing couldn't have been better.  Susan, the owner, provides a foster home in the store to pets like Fancy until they are adopted.  This photo was taken just moments before Fancy left the Funky Mutt for her "forever home" with her new owner.  What a neat concept.  (It kind of looks like she's watching the fish...)

Back at the house, Andrew’s sister Cynthia and her husband Greg came by and brought us dinner which was a very tasty vegetarian chili.  One of Kate’s old friends Ken Thomas, a photographer, also dropped in.  It was another evening of convivial conversation and laughter and a late bedtime for most of us as it took a while to wind down afterwards.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unakite Mountains

I flew to Knoxville yesterday arriving about 3:30 on a sunny, warm and slightly humid afternoon.  I picked up my rental car - a Nissan Versa.  What a disappointment.  No electric locks or windows.   The car has one lock on the driver door so you have to reach over to unlock the passenger side and then contort yourself around to unlock the doors in the back seat.  Drives like a tank and the engine is sluggish going up an incline.  I kept wanting to shift into a lower gear, but alas, it was an automatic.

The drive ahead of me was about 2 - 2.5 hours which I didn't mind.  I like to drive "cross-country", watching how the landscape changes and noticing the regional differences.  Once I got onto I-40 (two lanes) through Knoxville and for a ways beyond, the driving was a bit difficult.  A lot of people drive at least 15 miles over the speed limit, a smaller portion drive the speed limit and then there are the trucks cruising along at whatever speed.  Great fun; keeps you on your toes.

After turning south on I-40 where it divides from I-81 you enter the Cherokee National Forest.  This part of the drive was beautiful as the road winds through the mountains.  As a storm front moved up from the south, the sky lowered and the light became flat.  The autumn foliage on the mountainsides had a pointillistic style in the same colors as Unakite.  It was gorgeous, but I had to keep my eyes on the windy road with all the trucks.  I arrived at the house about 6:45 and was greeted by a group of women gathered around the island in the kitchen, drinking wine, eating chicken and pulled pork and chocolate while we caught up and introduced ourselves.

Big day tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's in a name?

Last spring I signed up for another blogging/photo workshop.  This time in Asheville, NC.   I thought it would be a wonderful place to go in October with the changing leaves.

Then a month and a half ago, I found out that I was going to Las Vegas for a conference for work the week after my trip to Asheville.  In fact, I will fly home this coming Sunday, be picked up by my husband, go home and swap out the contents of my suitcase and then he'll drive me back to the airport for a mid afternoon flight.

So, I thought I'd call American airlines to see how much it would cost to change my ticket.  Here's how it went...

    Thank you for calling American Airlines....bla, bla, bla.  Several selections later, we get down to business.

  "the Voice" asks me 'What is the name of the airport from which you will be departing?'  
     I say 'Knoxville'.

 "the Voice" asks me 'What is the name of the airport at your final destination?'  
     I say 'Seattle'.

 "the Voice" asks me 'What is the date of your travel?'  
     I say 'October 23rd'.

  "the Voice" asks me 'What is the passenger's last name?'  
     I say 'Kay'.

 "the Voice" says 'I'm sorry, I didn't catch that. What is the passenger's last name?'  
     I say 'KAY'.

 "the Voice" says 'I'm sorry, I still didn't undertand.  Please repeat the passenger's last name?'
     I say 'Kaaaayyyyyy'.  

 "the Voice" says 'I'm sorry, let me transfer you to the first available agent.
    I think to myself that it's about time.

I couldn't believe that the voice recognition software could pick up individual city names and dates but couldn't figure out a simple last name like mine.  Since I married into the name, I've been amazed how a name so simple can stump so many people.  I get varied reactions from people when they ask me for my last name.
         No, your last name...
         What does the 'k' stand for?
         Does that have an 'e' on the end of it?

What IS in a name?  Obviously, not enough...

And to finish the other thread in this: to change the ticket was going to cost about $500.
Ouch.  There is the reason for my rapid turn around next Sunday.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Countdown to blast off

Wednesday morning arrives with leaden skies that develop into rain as we set out on our drive to Aschaffenburg where we will spend our last night of vacation.  Since the actual driving part of the drive will only take about 3 hours, we make the decision to stop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  This city had its heyday in the Middle Ages as it was on the road to the Crusades as well as the trade route with Asia.   The quartering of troops in the town in 1634, followed by an outbreak of plague left it poor and empty; effectively turning it into a backwater village with little change.  In the 1880s, the artists from the Romantic movement "discovered" it once more and put it back on the map for tourism.  At that point laws were created to prevent major changes and to preserve its 17th century state.  This means that the old fortress walls and towers are intact.

We make our way towards the old medieval town in the center, park the car and head in through one of the gates in the wall and wend our way to the center.  A few blocks in, I recognize a coworker whom I knew was going to be in Germany at the same time, but never dreamed that we would both be anywhere on the same date at the same time.  

We ate our lunch in the main square after catching the clock's noon time display.  This consists of a window opening on each side of the clock face and a figure in each window hefting a large tankard (of beer) and drinking heartily.  Of course, you have to be told that is what is happening before you "get it".  We walked around a few streets for a while enjoying the ambience of the old wall, towers and houses.
We even found a 1 Euro Store, but we didn't go in. I'm sure that would have been a highlight of the entire trip.
We then headed for the Criminal Museum along the south wall.  This museum consists of 4 floors of torture devices as well as displays that covered how all manner of bad behavior has handled in past times.  An Iron Maiden, a water torture device and a rack are some of the larger items.  Manacles and shame masks were also present.  These shame masks are iron masks that are clamped on your head for a mandated period of time.  One was a wolf head for a person that told baudy jokes.  There were masks for gossips too.  Women who fought were placed in a double yoke.  Outside they have a pillory that people can pose in for a picture.  (First three photos courtesy of Hayley)

The rain had stopped before we arrived in Rothenburg, but started again as we arrived in Aschaffenburg.  I had saved the map in Google the night before, but made the mistake of not getting a good enough reference of where the hotel was in the town so we had only the directions provided on the hotel confirmation email.  We eventually found our way to the hotel, but I think the big lesson here is that taking the GPS would have been a good idea.

We went out for a nice dinner at a Restaurant called "The Potato" (in German of course) where it  was "schnitzel day".  Everyone had a nice meal that was even reasonably priced.
Then it was back to the hotel to begin the preliminary weeding out of items from our luggage in preparation for our flight home and an early bedtime for all. 

The next morning we drag ourselves out of bed. Justin and I were kept awake last night by live music being performed loudly and close by.  Bob and Hayley have slept through it all.  Justin correctly points out that it would have been easier to tune out if the band was lousy, but it wasn't.  The female vocalist had a nice sound. 

At this point, we have packed our bags in preparation for the heavy-handed treatment from the Condor agents at Frankfurt airport, eaten breakfast and head to the car.  Lucky me, there is a yarn shop on the street that we stop at on the way to the car park and the kids each pick out a ball of sock yarn to be knit up for them.   This is probably the most shopping I have done on the whole trip.  6 balls of sock yarn.  Harumph.

Onto the Autobahn for the last time with a stop to fill the gas tank of the rental car before dropping it off.  We get to the Condor counter where there must be about 15-20 stations in a row.  There is one agent on duty, with someone watching over her shoulder.  The same family has been standing there for over 10 minutes as the line begins to grow and some official person begins to run the line back and forth like a ride at Disneyland.  Eventually 3 more people show up and begin to check people in.  Entire process took maybe 20 minutes which wasn't too bad.  Unlike in Seattle on our outbound flight, no one has any interest in weighing our carry on to ensure that they weigh less than 6 kilo.  Mystified, we check our luggage and head for the gate.  
Oddly, we don't go through a central Security Checkpoint, but instead they have all the scanning equipment at the gate.  We are informed by a fellow passenger that they cannot let us into the gate because the plane has not yet arrived.  The flight was scheduled to leave at 2:30p, and they didn't begin scanning us until 1:30.   This is the first time in all the flights I have taken with Bob and the kids that they get additional attention and I sail through.  Works for me.   We're now sitting in the gate area where they have a little shop where you can buy snack type foods, magazines and beer.  As we sit there we have some fellow Seattleites surprisedly and loudly greeting acquaintances from back home while drinking beer standing in the boarding lounge.  
Having a seat at the back of the plane, we are boarded first.  As we sit there with our 6 kilo of carry-on, on come passengers with luggage bigger than the bags we checked and proceed to shove them into the overhead.  We are baffled as to why the flight out of Seattle was so horrendously handled by making everyone check in their carry-on AND make everyone adjust their luggage to ensure nothing over 6 kilo was carried on.  Go figure.  The experience with this airline on the way home was almost as if we had flown a different airline on the outward bound portion.  I think we'll avoid this airline in the future.
We arrived on time in Seattle.  The kid's mother had offered to pick us up so I called from my phone to let her know we were at the curb and ready to be picked up.  The calls kept going to "this subscriber is not available".  After a worried hour wait, we decide to catch the bus home which took another hour.  Once home, Bob gets his cell phone and calls the correct number (she had a new cell phone and I didn't have the new number).  Turns out that she'd been circling the airport, calling the airline and worrying about us for the last few hours.   She quit circling the airport and came by and got the kids on her way home.  Bob started a load of laundry and we crashed early.  
We're now all back in our old routines, none the worse for wear.  We have a lot of outstanding memories to reflect upon or as Marcel says "we can eat from our memories for a long time".  It was a fun trip, we saw a lot of cool things, took some great pictures, ate some very nice food and shared a lot of laughs.  Can't say anything against all that!   I wonder where we'll go next?

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles or Two Tales to Tell

This post will be made in two parts since I had a totally different day than Bob, Justin and Hayley.  
In the middle of the night, even with my homemade "Nyquil" I managed to have a coughing fit that kicked the stuffing out of me.  It closed up my throat like asthma and I proceeded to cough and wheeze painfully trying to get some air into my lungs.  It hurt and it scared both Bob and I.  Needless to say, the next morning I woke up exhausted and in no mood to go hiking about the castles and the hills on which they both sit.  I elected to stay home and do laundry as there was a washing machine in our apartment at Casa Patrizia. 
Bob and I then drove up to the market we'd seen the night before and got the makings for a couple of breakfasts, lunches and dinner. 
After breakfast and assuring Bob that things would be written in English, they took off for the day.  I proceeded to try to figure out how to make the washing machine work.  Unlike other places we'd stayed on this trip, there was no notebook with instructions for appliances, good restaurants, etc.  I began pushing buttons in random sequence to elicit some type of reaction other than to simply reset the length of time for the wash cycle.  I had to go down to fetch our landlady for assistance.  She indicated that they had lost the paperwork for the machine.  She proceeded to punch away at the panel, indicating that two buttons needed to be held down simultaneously to get it to start.  Eventually, she found the correct two and it started.  I then tried to sleep but there were was a little girl outside next door playing in her inflatable swimming pool which involved a bit of squealing.  
The first load finished and I hauled everything out and draped it over the drying rack that Hayley had noticed on the backporch.  I then started a second load of laundry successfully guessing the correct two buttons (or maybe two other buttons that also worked).  I have no idea what cycle it actually ran since it was in German. 
Again, I tried napping and reading.  This is the period of time where I learn why the apartments are called Casa Patrizia.  The owner's daughter's name is Patrizia.  I heard her calling her daughter in the back yard.  I also know that it was Patrizia's birthday because over the next few hours, about a half dozen little girls were dropped off and they all began to play in the pool in "our" backyard.  The tip off came when they sang "Happy Birthday" in German.  More squealing, some crying, a game involving a metal mixing bowl clanging on the cement and no nap.  :(
Eventually Bob and the kids returned from a busy day and we had salad with sliced chicken breast for dinner.  As we ate, we all shared our day with each other.  
Their version of the same day:  (Photos courtesy of Hayley and Bob)
First they went to Hohenschwangau, the older of the two castles.  This castle is finished in comparison to Neuschwanstein.  It was the childhood residence of Ludwig II and the walls were decorated with romanticized paintings of medieval times.  This artwork had a profound influence on young Ludwig and predisposed his later interest in Wagner's operas.
After they toured the first castle they headed over towards Neuschwanstein stopping to eat their lunch on a convenient bench along the way.  During lunch they watched the many horse-drawn carriages hauling the lazy tourists back and forth between the parking and the castles on the hill top.   They also saw a man whose job seemed to be cleaning up after the horse.  The description indicates that he wasn't very effective at his job.  
After waiting for their appointed tour time at Neuschwanstein our intrepid trio was rewarded with a fine tour of this castle.  This castle was Ludwig's biggest project but was never finished as he drowned mysteriously in a nearby lake before it's completion.  The fact that Ludwig was draining Bavaria's fiscal resources to build this castle and several others is suggested as one of the reasons for his untimely death.  Hayley says it was totally awesome.  Bob says it was "the bomb".   Do you see the level of cooperation I am getting here?
Apparently the tour guide made a bigger impression than the castle itself. Also of note was that they were not allowed to take pictures although many on the tour thought they were being clever by taking pictures surreptitiously.  Neuschwanstein's other claim to fame is that unlike other tourist attractions that run you through the gift shop on the way out, it had TWO gift shops that you went through on the way out.  
Then they walked up to the Marienbrucke up behind the castle.  The construction of the bridge gave Hayley second thoughts about walking on it.  They walked out on it to take pictures of the waterfall.  It is a great place for a perfect shot back at the castles.  
Afterwards they walked back down to the river, took off their shoes and cooled off in the ice cold, rushing waters.  This is where Bob decided to temporarily misplace his glasses in the water; luckily they didn't wash away in the current.  Further exploration found the flume that channeled water to power an old sawmill.  
They also spent a considerable amount of time making rock art along the river.  The landscape will never be quite the same again.
They then followed the bread crumb trail back to the car and rushed home to check to see how I was doing and coincidentally to eat dinner.  We then watched The Brothers Grimm on DVD and crashed for the night. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Deutschland, here we come.

The final country on our tour...Germany.  We load our things into the car and drive out of Lucerne which was amazingly easy all things considered.  Google says that the drive time is a little over 3 hours, however, Google always knows where it is going.  WHEN we have Internet access, I've been saving off the Google map of the destination on my desktop to be able to guide us when we each our final destination.  Unfortunately, the map doesn't always translate to what you're looking at...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
On our way to Fuessen, we wind up driving through the western tip of Austria.  We stopped in the town of Bregenz to find some lunch and pull over to this little market we find.  We're walking around trying to collect sandwich makings.  I'm at the back counter where they have the meats and breads.  Bob comes up and says that he thinks we are in an ethnic market as he holds up some item in his hand and the writing on the package is not in a language that I recognize, why heck, it's not even the same alphabet!  As I'm waiting for someone to come out of the back room to get service in the bakery section, I here this ZAP noise.  I look up and there, mounted on the wall, is one of those bug zapper units.  Some fly has met it's maker, which is probably a good thing given the open meat counter.  I'm thinking it's a creative solution when a woman comes out and grudgingly offers to serve me.  I ask for some of the rolls in the bin over there and she tells me that they are old and then walks off. 
At this point, we decide to buy only the fruit that we have collected and get out of Dodge.  We finally found another market further along and lunch was purchased and consumed.  The fruit purchased at the earlier stop turns out to be beautiful to look at, but tastes borderline nasty.  
Through Austria and onto the German Autobahn where the other cars begin to pass us at speeds that cause our car to be sucked over into their lane as they whiz past.  At this point, it's fairly easy going until we get off of the Autobahn and start to find our way around Fuessen.  Since we are early for check in, we decide to go to visit Linderhof, one of Ludwig II's castles.  Now we run into the problem of having a map that doesn't show all the little roads, the scale is too large.  I try to navigate by dead reckoning and a large percentage of luck, but the stars are not aligning themselves on our side.  After several abortive attempts (and driving back into Austria a couple of times), we wind up heading north on one of the roads that actually shows up on the map.  By now, I'm thinking "screw it", we'll go visit Wieskirche and then go all the way around and get to Linderhof.  It's not what I had in mind, but it worked.  Unfortunately, it did lengthen the time in the car...
Wieskirche is a church that is situated on a little knoll and is now surrounded with buildings given over to the tourist industry which dampens the effect of the church.  When I first saw it in 1973, it was this simple looking little pale yellow and white church standing on a rise in the middle of a field.  It has since been repainted to a pale peach and white and a new "wing" built on the backend in addition to the restaurant and gift shops built out front.  

At any rate, you walk up to the church, walk inside and get hit right between the eyes.  Built in the mid 18th century, the interior is decorated in the high Baroque style called rococo.  The style of the exterior is diametrically opposed to the interior.  
Side altar.
 Front altar.
 The organ loft at the back of the church.
 The clerestory windows that run along the sides of the church letting in the light.

While we were inside, a visiting group of tourists gathered at the front and began to sing "Amazing Grace".  It was very pretty to hear their voices as we admired the magnificence of the ceiling and different altars.  It's a bit choppy as I tried to shorten it using iMovie on my laptop.

We left Wieskirche and continued on the large loop based on the map.  We finally arrived at Linderhof (the long way around) about 5p.  The man at the gate waved us in without paying the parking since we were so close to closing time.  We were able to get in to last tour of the day.  
The tour no longer allows photography - even without flash which is a disappointment to Hayley and I.  It is also conducted primarily in German with notebooks containing laminated sheets that say roughly the same thing in "your" language as the tour guide is saying German.    The binders are labeled on the spine in German with the various languages.  Mainly Eastern European, English, and Korean.  If you are from a neighboring EU country apparently you are expected to speak German.  The Swedes on the tour went with English. 
Linderhof is one of the few completed castles that Ludwig II built.  
It was patterned after Versailles and Louis XIV was a big influence.  One of the little rooms was was patterned after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.  A lot of the art on the walls were portraits were of French nobility from the courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV.  Ludwig was apparently not playing on a level field as he had a tendency to sleep all day and cage around in the middle of the night.  He had a dining room with a table that stood on a trap door.  At meal time, the table was lowered to the floor below, set by the servants and then winched back up into place.  He didn't like to interact with people.  There was a lot of carved and gilded woodwork all over.  I remember reading that over 22 lbs of gold leaf was used throughout the chateau.  Given the weight of gold leaf, that's a heck of a lot of gold leaf.  
After the tour of the castle, we walked around on the grounds and took pictures.   
This urn had the signs of the zodiac running around it.  Oddly though the faces covered up Scorpio and  Taurus.
Hayley getting a shot looking down at the fuchsia.
After we finished we got back in the car, drove back through Austria again and found the apartment where we would spend the next two nights.  Again, not an easy task.  As I mentioned earlier, the Google map lacked any distinguishing landmarks.  I finally used my cell phone and Google maps to find out where we actually were and used it to retrace our route and find the address.  As we rounded the sharp right hand turn to roughly the 5 o'clock position, I noticed that the street sign was jammed up into a bush and leaves covered it up.  Small wonder we missed it, but the mishap was a blessing in disguise as we found a market up the road a ways.
We unloaded everything and Bob and I managed to put a pasta dinner on the table with food that we had brought with us.  We turned in fairly early.  I had been coughing quite a bit so I dosed myself with some "homemade" Nyquil.  Cough syrup and a stiff snort of Calvados, an apple brandy we had picked up in Normandy.   The lengths one goes to for a good night's sleep...Nyquil tastes better than this stuff did.
Tomorrow the castles.