Saturday, April 29, 2006

A leisurely roadtrip

Since the “tulip trip” has now been postponed to another weekend due to that little problem of no hotel availability in Amsterdam, the Budman and I have decided that a leisurely road trip along central Germany’s “Fairy Tale Road” may be just the ticket for this upcoming three-day weekend.

For those of you who know me, it may come as a shock to find that the weekend is not totally planned out: no destinations selected, hotels booked, or sights highlighted in yellow in the guidebooks. No, for a myriad of reasons, the Budman and I are heading out of Dusseldorf on Saturday with no ultimate destination or timeframe in mind. Just a couple of changes of clothes, a camera, road tunes, and a general idea of where we’re headed. By general, I mean either “north” or “south”.

I realize that for some of you, this is your normal travel style. For us “type-As”, we are living a bit on the edge on this one and are just going to see where the road (and our interests) take us. Hopefully, it will make for some interesting stories…especially since snow is forecasted….

Friday, April 28, 2006

Ole man rivah…

For of those of you even considering a trip to Germany, a tour through the Mosel River Valley is really a beautiful sight. Castles on literally every hill ({yawn}, “Oh look, another castle...”), gently sloping hills covered in wine vineyards, and the beautiful Mosel River are just some of the sights you can feast your eyes on.

Don’t let these photos fool you…it was a rather cloudy and overcast weekend so it really doesn’t have that “springtime” pop we often associate with Easter. Still, a lovely place, and a wonderful area to putz about in, especially with good friends from home.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

We have a groundhog that sees his shadow...

Before we have too good of a laugh over exploding snowmen, let’s just remember that us Yanks have that age old tradition of the groundhog and his shadow. You know what I’m talking about. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, winter isn't over yet.

So, jump across the Atlantic and pop into Switzerland. I am sure I’ll not recount the legendary story quite accurately, but here’s my best shot.

Apparently, each year, a Swiss carpenter (let’s call him “Heidi’s grandfather”), known for his woodworking skills, constructs a snowman out of wood. About this time each year in Zurich, this snowman has explosives inserted into the inside of his wooden skull and is then placed on top of something akin to a bonfire pile. Only to be set ablaze while Swiss men dressed in ancestral clothing ride around the burning bonfire on horses. OK, pretty dramatic.

But wait, there’s a method to this madness…or the makings of a really good tale. The whole key to this exercise is to determine whether the summer will be a “good one” (pleasant summer, nice weather, etc.) or a “bad one” (unpleasant summer, too cool or cloudy, or generally unattractive). The main question is how long does it take for the snowman’s head to explode because this is what determines the type of summer in store for those fun-loving Swiss.

Sources report that previous snowman blasts, as I will call them, generally take about 16 minutes. Last year, it took 17 minutes for Frosty’s head to explode, and we all remember what a bad summer it was (e.g. lots of gray skies, cool weather, rain, temperatures in the 70s to 80s, etc. – OK, Texans who experience 100+ degree weather are not feeling your pain). This year, Frosty blew up in about 15 minutes, so we’ll see how well the summer weather prediction holds up.

I hope that my telling of this story wasn’t too far off….

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More on the frog issue

It’s been a wacky week for the weird and obscure. First, the German frog crossing sign. Then, I learn about “exploding Swiss snowmen” (more to come on that). Followed by the fact that Budman and I can’t find a hotel room in Amsterdam for the upcoming three-day May Day weekend that is to be celebrated all across Europe. I’d originally thought it was because all those “tulip trekkers” like myself were heading to Amsterdam to catch the Keukenhof tulip gardens in full bloom. Silly me! No, that’s not the case, but rather it’s Queen Beatrix’s birthday this weekend. Ah, well, OK, then.

Sorry for that digression. Back to the all things green and slimy: the frog crossing issue. Check out the earlier blog post (a few posts down) if you need background on the frog crossing sign.

Budman and I have been somewhat intrigued as to “why” the whole preoccupation with the protection of frogs as they cross the German motorways and autobahns. Obviously, there is a serious ecological upside to ensuring these little guys have safe passage, but still….Well, upon further inquiry, we’ve learned a bit more about this.

Apparently, there is a 10-12 inch “curb” on the sides of all major German highways that has been installed as to prevent the Kermit and his frog brethren from being able to jump over onto the highway. Whenever Kermit reaches this curb, he is forced to go left or right. As he proceeds along the side of the curb, there are baskets spaced out every so often that will catch Kermit and hold him until such time a German frog worker (is this the job title?) or a nature volunteer empties the basket and relocates Kermit to safer ground. For those areas without the curbs and baskets, the need for the “Warning –Migrating Frogs” sign. Thumbs up for the Germans and their protection of wildlife, I suppose.

As if this can’t get any wackier.... Budman and I have confirmed through a CNN science and technology article that the Germans have now spent USD 285,200 on “frog tunnels”. Rather than Kermit being held captive in a basket for a passerby to empty, tunnels have now been built to allow Kermit and his frog clan to travel under some Berlin highways and away from the dangers of speeding motorists.

To answer the question that is rolling around in your head….yes, this is absolutely and utterly true. We can all sleep at night because all’s right with the world.

PS – In case you’re even remotely interested.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Another good use for that Easter egg

Before I am accused of being too “Dr. Brennan-ish” by spouting anthropological babble about the Easter decorating rituals of the German people (does anyone watch Bones? Then, you’ll get the reference), I must point out some interesting observations I noticed as I toured Germany over this past Easter holiday.

Observation #1: Christmas is not the only holiday in which trees are decorated.

Apparently, indoor and outdoor plants and trees are festooned with decorated eggs of all sorts – real, plastic, painted…you name it. It’s apparently known as “the egg tree” (clever, huh?). Decorating evergreen or leafless trees with eggs at Easter have long been the tradition in Germany.

The origins of German Easter traditions are usually tied to the pagan worship of the goddess of fertility, “Eastee,” or “Eastre,” “Eostre” or “Ostara” and the coming of spring. The egg and rabbit were symbols of fertility and new birth to the Germanic tribes. Early Germans lit bonfires to welcome spring, and in many towns today, men in towns and cities across Germany collect wood, sometimes old Christmas trees, and create piles for Easter night's (Saturday) celebration. OK…so some of these early German dudes must’ve thought, “two good things...trees and eggs…that are good together”. And voila, the egg tree?

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Extension of Observation #1: Some homes even have eggs hanging from a branch from the ceiling the foyer of a house. I saw this as well in a couple German cafes, but have no photos to share….sorry!

Observation #2: This egg-decorating theme apparently carries over to the decoration of public fountains and monuments.

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Observation #3: Every other store window was decorated with Easter bunnies….I mean every time I turned around I saw these little guys. I knew it was Easter, but I never seemed to notice this in the States…not sure why. OK, first up…the chocolate bunny…a perennial favourite.

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Trivia question: Anyone know why the Easter bunny brings eggs and not the Easter chicken?

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

You take a guess...

Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the way of highway and traffic signage, you come across a driving sign that you can honestly say you’ve never seen before. Point in case:

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I must confess that my travelling companions and I were mystified as to exactly what this sign meant as we toured the lovely Mosel River Valley in SW Germany this past weekend. Wanna take a guess?

Answer: "Warning! The road ahead is used by migrating frogs".

Come again? Now exactly how does one know this is the place for migrating frogs? How do we know these frogs are migrating and not just jumping across the road? Is there such as thing as herds of migrating frogs or is this more of a solo venture.? And finally, it seems to me that a sign might not really do the trick. I mean, if you’re driving a car, you'll run up on these little fellas before you know it. Then, it will be too late…ouch! Not a pretty sight.

This gives the concept of “cattle crossing” a whole new meaning.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Frohe Ostern

Well, we had a wonderful Easter holiday, especially since the Friday and Monday before and after Easter were national holidays in Germany. You gotta love a 4-day weekend.

And in true Hachie Gal fashion, we made the most of that 4-day weekend, from a travel perspective, by touring the Mosel River Valley with friends from Texas. Which is why the blog has been a bit quiet.

For that matter, Germany is entering the months when there is a national holiday (and hence, time off from work) almost every other week. Ah, more travel planning fun on the horizon in the nights and weeks to come. Excellent!

So, given that I was a bit incommunicado over the last few days, please accept this belated Happy Easter greeting….Frohe Ostern!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I am more of a tortoise than a hare

The Paris Marathon is now a memory. A good one at that, even though the race is just a few days past.

And yes, I am more of a “tortoise than a hare” type of runner, metaphorically speaking. That’s OK, because my finisher medal looks like everybody else’s medal. And before you ask, yes…I have my eye on another race in the fall…Berlin anyone?

First, some photos from last week’s race.

Hachie Gal at the start of the marathon...the Arc de Triumphe. What a way to start the race…running down the Champs d’Elysees.

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Pit boss for the Hachie Gal’s road crew…Budman. What a guy!

Buddy & Holly

Hachie Gal is all smiles at mile 7.

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Ana, Hachie Gal, and Cyn at one of the rest stops.

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“Runners to the left of me, runners to the right, here I am…stuck in the middle with you” (song lyric shamelessly stolen for blog purposes).

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Hachie Gal running along the Seine (approximately mile 16) – the Eiffel Tower is in the background! Wow!

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Stefan and Martin cheering runners on to victory.

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The Paris Marathon Finish Line.

Finish Line!

The gang celebrates Hachie Gal's finish!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Chalk it up!

Well, the good news is that I finished the race. Ran the whole way, albeit for food and water breaks. On top of that, I had FABULOUS weather (sunny and cool - just perfect for a marathon), no rain (as predicted) a great race course that was flat for most of the way and took me past all the Paris sights, wonderful marathon organization (the Paris Marathon Organizers did a great job), and wonderful friends and family cheering me along the course. I finished and with no injury. AND I DO NOT HAVE TO RUN THIS WEEK!!!!!!

The bad news is that I was quite disappointed with my time. I finished in 5 hours and 35 minutes…my slowest of all 11 marathons. Will have to reflect this week on why that was the case…diet? Overtraining? Not sure. But I have the medal in hand and wonderful memories.

Still, chalk it up as a finish. The Hachie Gal thanks you all for your support.

PS = pictures forthcoming....

Friday, April 07, 2006

marathon bound

Paris Marathon Training: Week 18 of 18
Today's target run: rest

Catch you on the flip side…I am marathon bound.

Texas Tour of Germany comes to an end

Paris Marathon Training: Week 18 of 18
Today's target run: rest

The final vacation photos for your viewing pleasure….we were sad to see our friends return the Texas, but look forward to many other trips with many of you in the future.

Rothenberg city walls and fortifications

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The streets of Rothenberg.

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And finally, it is never too early to early to start Christmas shopping.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And finally, Rothenburg

Paris Marathon Training: Week 18 of 18
Today's target run: rest

The final stop in the Texas Tour of Germany was Rothenburg ob de Tauber. Buddy and I had been there before which was one of the reasons we strongly suggested the Texans take a visit as well. I don’t think they were disappointed.

If the town and ambiance were not enough, the weather turned a bit warmer (relatively speaking) and the sun was in full splendor on the very last day. All in all, a great way to end the trip.

We arrived at night, which is where I'll start with my pictures. Rothenburg at night…including a tour with that wacky, but fun Night Watchman.

The streets of Rothenburg.

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St. Jacobskirche.

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Rothenburg’s Rathaus

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Tour with the Night Watchman…

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All things marathon

Well, that long awaited week is finally here….yes, the running of the Paris Marathon is Sunday…only 4 days away. As the final preparations are underway, I can report that:

* I only have 2 runs left before the big day…60 minutes left to run in total. Ah…another training season is now history (although that pesky 26.2 mile race is still looming large on Sunday).

* Early weather predictions for race day include temperatures ranging from 40 F degree low / 52 F degree high, a few scattered showers possibly predicted with a 30% chance of precipitation, 73% humidity, and winds N/NE at 7 mph. OK, temps are looking almost picture perfect…let’s hope the rain stays away, but we still have a few days yet for weather to settle.

* The road crew is in place and arriving Friday night…thanks to Buddy and the EDS contingency….. Of course, it is not too hard to tempt people to come to Paris to cheer in a marathon.

* Currently, 36,000 runners are signed up to run. I suspect that the actual number will hover somewhere between 34,000 and 35,000. Predictions are that it will take me about 10 minutes to get over the starting line.

* The starting gun goes off at 8:45 am Paris time.

* The packing of the marathon items has begun. This is not a task taken lightly as the veteran runner knows this can make or back the running experience. Alternate running apparel for all weather conditions, food supplements and water bottles, running belt, rain gear, cap, gloves, cameras, etc….and of course, SHOES! The list is literally about 50 items long….

* And of course, non-marathon events have also been planned….come on, we’ll be in Paris!

I know to many this will be shocking…but marathons are such FUN!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A somber experience

Paris Marathon Training: Week 18 of 18
Today's target run: 48 minutes
Today’s completed run: 36 minutes

Our last stop in Munich was to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site located in the small town of Dachau. Forever, this town will be associated with horrors of the concentration camp that shares its name.

Heinrich Himmler first organized Dachau as a concentration camp for enemies of the Third Reich in 1933. It ultimately grew to include everyone from Communists and Social Democrats, Jews, Gays, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, clergymen, political opponents, trade union members, and many others. During its 12 year history (1933-1945), more than 206,000 prisoners from 30 countries were imprisoned here.

Some prisoners were forced into slave labor, while others died at the hands of the Nazis due to starvation, disease, medical experimentation, or mass murder (beatings, firing squads, and the gas chamber). At least 30,000 people were “registered” as dying while in Dachau, but there are countless thousands that were also murdered here, even if complete records were not kept.

The SS abandoned the camp on April 28, 1945 and the US Army moved in the following day. In all, a total of 67,000 “living” prisoners, most on the verge of death, were discovered at Dachau and its subsidiary camps.

An escaped inmate, Joesph Rovan described this place as “implacable, perverted, an organization that was totally murderous, a marvelous machine for the debasement and dehumanization of man.” Today, this museum serves as a reminder of the atrocities that occurred here and a warning and a reminder to never let it happen again.

I debated as to whether to include many of these photos on the blog. I chose to do so as a memorial to those who perished in this hell on earth.

What it must have looked like to those entering the camp for the first time. The snow and cold weather just further contributed to the bleakness of the setting.

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The watch tower at Dachau.

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Entrance to Dachau; prisoners were registered here as they entered the prison camp.

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A view of the grounds which held the 206,000 people who passed through Dachau as prisoners.

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The barracks at Dachau.

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Another of the prisoner barracks at Dachau.

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Site of the many barrack buildings at Dachau; today, only the foundations of these buildings remain.

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Sleeping and bathroom quarters of one of the remaining barracks at Dachau.

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Russian chapel and memorial to the more than 4500 Russians who lost their lives at Dachau.

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The building that housed the gas chamber and crematorium at Dachau.

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Entrance to the “showers” at Dachau.

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The site of the horrific Dachau gas chamber.

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