Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

New Orleans 2015, Part 3.

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Pre-alligator pics:

1. We went to a fantastic café called Mister Gregory’s near the entrance of Armstrong Park. Cricket wanted to try the brie mac and cheese and I wanted to try the pain perdu which is stale bread dipped in cream and sugar and then baked so it becomes crispy on the edges. Very similar to french toast. I also had the cold brewed coffee with homemade pecan milk because when in Rome blabbity blah blah etc.

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I loved it. The food was delicious, the staff was super-nice, the interior is decorated with reclaimed trash like oil drums for seats and they played French 60s music. I could have stayed there all day. Highly recommended.

2. I could only find one store selling things made with nutria fur. They were selling nutria bras but they were very small so I didn’t get one.

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Fear not, they also sold nutria slap bracelets. I picked one made out of the left side of a nutria’s face with clearly discernible eyeball hole and a nose. I own that now. The fighting over who gets it in the will may commence now.

3. A tricycle on Bourbon Street decked in blinky lights and religious sayings. I called it the Bible-Bike because I like alliteration.

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4. A sunset over the Mississippi. I don’t know if it’s because I was on vacation but I thought the sunsets in Louisiana were better than they are at home.

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Okay, alligators. They live in the swamps of Louisiana and they are very similar to crocodiles in that they just sort of lay there and resemble logs. And they are spiky. And I wish to pet them. Nessa organized an outing for all of us to go see the alligators doing their best feigning of logs. We learned that alligator farmers come in and collect all the eggs they can find on the condition that of every 100 eggs that hatch 17 teenage alligators are returned to the swamp. Science has figured out that about 17 out of every 100 alligators make it to adulthood so that’s how many are returned to the wild. Good on you, sustainable farming.

First thing I saw at the farm was in the gift shop. It seems to me very rude to take the remains of one animal and wrap it in the remains of another. A little “rubbing it in the faces of the losers” kind of thing. But whatever, I wasn’t going to start a coup or anything.

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There was a big display in the corner of the gift shop talking about the cats that live on the property. I wondered if that famous video I had seen ages ago of the cat scaring the alligator back into the water happened at this particular swamp and it turns out, yes it did. I asked. Here’s the video in case you’re unacquainted:

https://youtu.be/p_29k6dJ6DA

We saw a bunch of gators of varying ages and sizes both basking and swimming.

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One even came up to the boat for a snack of chicken necks.

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Intensely amusing was when we saw some raccoons. Everyone ran over to the side of the boat to take pictures. You would think none of these people had ever seen a raccoon. OMG, raccoons! But these are different, these are swamp raccoons! Not the fat bastards that rummage through your trash and are a general nuisance, no no! These are fancy exotic raccoons! They were very cute and kind of shy.

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The best thing is when a little bebbeh alligator was passed around for us to hold. I have rarely been so delighted. He was so soft and smooth and plastic-y. I loved him. I could have held him forever, peppered with occasional breaks for us both to bathe and eat.

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In the next installation: the French Quarter.

New Orleans 2015, Part 2.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Before we delve into cemetery-chat, some random photos I took.

You can walk around with an open container so alcohol can be procured just about anywhere. I went into PJ’s (a local coffee chain) and they had a beer tap situation next to the blenders. Because they can.

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I really liked these alligator lights on the side of this building.

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The day before the day before the wedding the Warriors were playing. They are some sort of basketball team and Candy, Nessa’s aunt, is OBSESSED with them. She has a tattoo of their logo on her butt. She brought down all her Warrior gear and we all met up at a sports bar to watch the game. (I went to eat appetizers but let’s pretend it was for sports.) Nessa knows of my complete disinterest in all things athletic so she insisted on decking me out in some of the accessories and taking my picture. I hope you can appreciate how excited I am from this photo. Hooooooray sports. Cricket is equally excited.

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Cemeteries! Cemeteries are a big part of New Orleans. I cannot name the last time I was in New York City and said, “Hey everyone, let’s go spend an afternoon hanging with really quiet people and their identifying rocks!” But in New Orleans it’s a major tourist destination, so much so that only tour groups are allowed in the primary cemetery (lone people were desecrating the graves and generally being a nuisance). We visited two cemeteries but the important one, St Louis No. 1, is the one I’m going to focus on.

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Because the earth is so saturated with water (New Orleans gets between 70 to 100 inches of rain a year) you cannot bury bodies, therefore the graves are above ground and usually contain the remains of an entire family. Every time someone new is added they carve new info on the door plaque.

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The body must lay untouched for a year and a day. The reason for that is very smart: the tomb are built of brick, stone or stucco and therefore get very hot, especially in the summer when it can be 90 degrees or above. The bodies dry out and bake until they crumble. After a year and a day all that’s left is bone and dust. The door is pulled off, the remains collected into a satin bag and then placed under the tomb in a substantially smaller area with the other powdery relatives and the tomb is then freed up for new deceased people. It’s a good way to save space.

There are a bunch of famous people buried in St. Louis. First one we encountered is Paul Morphy. Paul Morphy was a brilliant chess player.

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Supposedly he was blindfolded and had twelve chessboards set up in front of him with master players on the other side. So phenomenal was his ability to visualize the board, Morphy would walk past each board blindfolded, have someone describe the layout of the pieces and then make the next move. He won all twelve games. Like a BAWSS.

The most famous person entombed there is Marie Laveau. She is considered the Queen of Voodoo, a religion or belief-system brought from West Africa by both slaves and free people of color. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about her:

Among the fifteen “voodoo queens” in neighborhoods scattered around 19th-century New Orleans, Marie Laveau was known as “the” Voodoo Queen, the most eminent and powerful of them all. Her religious rite on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain on St. John’s Eve in 1874 attracted some 12,000 black and white New Orleanians.It was said that politicians, lawyers, businessman, wealthy planters – all came to her to consult before making an important financial or business-related decision. She also saw the poor and enslaved. Although her help seemed non-discriminatory, she may have favored the enslaved servants of her “influential, affluent customers”, as many “runaway slaves…credited their successful escapes to Laveaux’s powerful charms.”Once the news of her powers spread, she dominated the other Voodoo leaders of New Orleans. Also a Catholic, Laveau encouraged her followers to attend Catholic Mass as a strategic way to protect their true beliefs. Her influence contributed to the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system.Marie Laveau is remembered for her skill and compassion for the less fortunate.

Laveau also gained influence over her clientele by her work as a hairdresser, which gave her intimate knowledge of the gossip in town. Her customers also came to her to buy voodoo dolls, potions, gris-gris bags, and the like.Her influence continues in the city. In the 21st century, her gravesite in the oldest cemetery is a major tourist attraction; believers of Voodoo offer gifts here and pray to her spirit. Across the street from the cemetery where Laveau is buried, offerings of pound cake are left to the statue of Saint Expedite; these offerings are believed to expedite the favors asked of the Voodoo queen. Saint Expedite represents the spirit standing between life and death. The chapel where the statue stands was once used only for holding funerals.Marie Laveau continues to be a central figure of Louisiana Voodoo and of New Orleans culture. Gamblers shout her name when throwing dice, and multiple tales of sightings of the Voodoo queen have been told.

Here is the outside of her family tomb.

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You will notice it is clean and white and that is because there is a not-for-proft group in New Orleans called Save Our Cemeteries that takes care of as many tombs as they can. When this cemetery was open to whomever wanted to wander in people would write XXX all over Marie Laveau’s tomb and chip bits off as souvenirs, it was a mess. That’s one of the reasons only tours are allowed in. This one of the nearby tombs still covered with graffiti and chipped to all hell.

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I asked what the significance of the XXX was, and the thing is to draw the Xs. knock three times on the tomb and then ask Marie Laveau to grant you a wish, often pertaining to love.

Right behind Miss Laveau’s tomb is a pyramid. No one is in it. Yet. Because it is Nicholas Cage’s forever home. It’s sitting there uninhabited until Cage bites it. Good idea, always plan ahead. Nicholas Cage is a character, I wouldn’t be surprised if he insisted on being embalmed and having his cats join him in the afterlife. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

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There are also group tombs (called “condominios” in Spain, that never stops being funny to me) for various groups. For example there was a massive nunnery and the nuns are laid to rest in one of those. In this picture the one on the left is for Portuguese people and the one on the right is for the Italians.

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The round mass tomb on the right is famous because of the movie Easy Rider. There’s a scene where Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and two lovely young ladies come to this cemetery, take LSD and go on a mental journey. Fun Fact: the actors really did take LSD. It’s (not surprisingly) a very trippy scene in the film. They’re climbing all over the sculptures, the lovely young ladies are naked and frolicking, copious amounts of alcohol are being consumed. Apparently after the mayor of New Orleans saw the movie he decided no one could film movies any more in the cemetery, booooo. But the damage was already done. The main sculpture (I think it’s Athena) nestled in an alcove on the tomb has no head and no hands because bikers came for years to sit in her lap and have their picture taken a là Peter Fonda’s character. So her head fell off. Here’s the shot from the film:

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Here’s some jackhole doing the pose:

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This condominio is for war heroes. Note the bombs as corner pieces for the decorative chain. That’s baller, having explosive devices flanking your tomb.

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Another famous person who is laid to rest there is Bernard deMarigny. He’s got a hell of a tale. He was born with not a silver spoon in his mouth, but a gold one. Legend has it that when the King of France and his two brothers came to visit, the deMarignys served them on specially-made gold plates. After the meal all the plates were thrown in the river because no one would be worthy of using them again. Yeah. Gold plates. Here’s what Wikipedia says about him:

The visit of the French royals apparently had a big impact on Marigny, as it is reported as an example of the spoiled life in which he was reared. When he was 15 years old, his father died and Bernard inherited his father’s plantation just outside the city gates, east of New Orleans’ Vieux Carré. According to historians, “His every whim [was] indulged while his father was alive, he became as wild and headstrong after his death as an unbacked [wild] mustang, and his guardian, abandoning all idea of control, finally shipped him to England, hoping that life abroad might mend his manners; but in London Bernard’s dissipations became only more pyrotechnic, and he spent most of his time at Almack’s and other famous gambling places.” One of the things Marigny brought back to New Orleans from England was the dice game Hazardwhich became popular in a simplified form, known in local dialect as “Crapaud”.

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This guy and his family owned so much land that when it was developed and turned into city streets, he got to name them. There was Love Street, Poets Street, Music Street, Abundance Street, Treasure Street and even Craps Street until the three churches that sprouted up on that street petitioned to have the name changed. Marigny eventually gambled his fortune away and died relatively penniless but he left an impression on the city.

The entire cemetery is Catholic but there’s a small section off in the back where Protestants can be buried. Note I used the word “buried.” Big mistake, Protestants. In this photo you’ll see several level-with-the-ground graves. They have recently been surrounded with cement. What you can’t see under all that grass are all the other graves that sunk into the earth because no cement. This area was wall-to-wall graves. You can really stub your toe on a corner of tombstone pokin’ out of the loam.

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That’s it for cemeteries. Coming up: alligators.

New Orleans 2015, Part 1.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

N’Awlins! As a person who really is not into drinking, one might think I would haaaaaaate New Orleans but much to my delight I had a terrific time. If I could no longer live in New York for whatever reason I would seriously consider moving to New Orleans. A few reasons:

1. No snow. Yeah, rain all the damn time but no snow. I hate the snow. The ice, specifically. Ain’t no one slippin’ and fallin’ in the rain, and it washes away the sins of the previous night on Bourbon Street.

2. The cuisine is super-yummy. I like spicy food and rice is my favorite carb, so I was totally on board. I went through beignet-withdrawal when I came back.

3. A thriving creative community. A ton of artists, good one too, and musicians. Since the tourist industry is their biggest source of income tons of people visit the galleries so the art actually sells which is great.

4. People are ugly and weird and it’s okay. Let me clarify. In New York, being a major fashion capital people are extremely concerned with physical appearances. In New Orleans they seem to get a kick out of people who are odd and off-center far more. While I saw plenty of pretty people it seems it’s okay if you’re missing a tooth, or have odd fashion choices, or are shaped like a cube. There are people who dig that as long as you’re interesting or smart. I’m a good fit in those circles.

I went on a three-hour tour (sing the Gilligan’s Island theme if you must) around the town and got a great overview of the city. Our tour guide was amazing / a nightmare. He was 75 and had the exact same speaking style as Cleveland from Family Guy. Here is a sample of Cleveland:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4hSf50Ye0o

Imagine an older gentleman talking nonstop like that for three hours. And repeating himself several times. I loved it (“No, Grandpa, tell the story again!”) but Cricket was ready to shoot himself in the face. Here are some cool things I learned on my tour.

  •  Acadians were the first European settlers. Acadians are French Canadians. And the Native Americans already living there could not say “Acadian,” they called them “Cajun.”
  • Only five buildings from the original French rule remain (the area was French, then Spanish, then French again) due to two massive fires during the Spanish rule.
  • 64 different nationalities came to New Orleans to make their fortune with sugar cane or oil or cotton nearby. For example the Croatians are predominantly in charge of the oyster business. Who knew, Croatians? And oysters?
  • When buildings were built there were weird rules in place. You were charged a tax for each closet, so very few houses have closets. Everyone uses bureaus and armoires. And you were charged a tax for each window which is why the windows look like doors.

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First, we’ll cover the wedding since that was the point of the trip. Nessa, my former co-worker who left the East Coast to fulfill herself (whatevs) by becoming a police officer in San Francisco decided to have a destination wedding in her favorite party city. I hadn’t seen her family since Nessa’s graduation from police academy so it was delightful to catch up with them again. The guests were instructed to meet in front of one of the hotels at 4:00 and we would be bussed to a plantation about a half-hour outside of town, the Tchoupitoulas Plantation. Nessa had decided on a purple and burgundy-themed wedding (I chose those colors, you’re welcome). That’s how I knew what color to make my nutria hat, more on that in a moment. First we were seated in a very elegant room. What you can’t see off to the side are fish bowls filled with treats for later – single packs of Advil, Tums, Pepto, earplugs, etc. Smart girl, Nessa is.

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Then the ceremony started and I couldn’t believe how good Nessa looked. The girl sitting next to me said, “Holy crap, she looks just like Beyoncé.” These pictures taken with my iPhone do not do her justice. She glowed.

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I think they hired a justice of the peace because at no point did he mention God or any specific religion, just love and family and togetherness. It took ten minutes. “You take her? And she takes you? Great, we’re done here.” Then we moved out of this room into the actual main building and I sat myself where I always seat myself at weddings – as close to the kitchen door as possible. That way you get first crack at the hors d’oeuvres. My other former co-worker Esteban and his girlfriend were there as well so we had a great time chattin’ it up and snorfing down treats on sticks. Yes, I would love a fried oyster and a crab cake and a jalapeño popper, thank you. They had a buffet set up in the other room with gumbo (which I now need at every meal seriously omg where has gumbo been all my life) and Nessa hooked up her iPod to the speakers and that was it. We danced and ate and there was open bar for hours, it was a blast. On the invitation you could put a song request. I put a favorite of mine, “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe, a masterpiece. The second it came on I was out there and this other guest took an opportunity to dance WAY TOO CLOSE to me but I let it slide because ain’t no one harshing my vibe during “Poison.” One of the best dances ever to that song is Turk from Scrubs in case you need a reminder of the dopeness both of Turk and the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crITXzMW0do

And here is a picture Esteban took of me gettin’ humped on the dance floor.

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The men at the wedding took the dancing incredibly seriously. There were numerous moments when men were booty-popping on the dance floor. Booty-popping, in case you don’t know, is very similar to twerking but you make each gluteus maximus move individually. If done correctly it looks like your butt is possessed. The gentlemen-folk were throwing hinder-cheek action down with total disregard to accepted social rules and it was delightful. Here is the groom and the best man giving it their best shot.

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I was the only one wearing a hat / fascinator and I think that was an egregious error on the part of everyone else. Dude, we’re in the South. At a wedding. With fun people. Let loose a little bit. Maybe not to the point where you’re wearing a hat with a felted rodent on it, you don’t have to go that far, but a bit. I looked awesome in my hat I must say.

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Cricket wanted to explore the grounds around the main house so before the sun set we went for a walk. The trees were beautiful, very old and very large.

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And we realized we were right up against the Mississippi River.

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Check this picture out: I’m standing on a levee next to the Mississippi River adjacent to a plantation wearing a church hat with a nutria on it. It’s the ultimate Lousiana selfie.

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Remember the parasol I made for Nessa to carry during her street parade? This one? She used it as a display item behind her cake along with the parasol she made for her fiance. It framed the space beautifully.

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After much delicious food and drink was consumed (I love you jambalaya and bread pudding, never leave my side) we all boarded the buses again and headed to the center of town for the Second Line (what the New Orleaners call a spontaneous-style parade with a band). I had heard the comedian Hannibal Buress talk about being part of a Second Line and he was spot-on. It starts about two minutes in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXvJqiyiMqQ

We got off the buses and there was the band waiting. And two cops on motorcycles. And a cop in a car. It was nuts. We destroyed traffic going in both directions on a major thoroughfare for a solid ten minutes. We all sang and yelled and cheered, strangers joined in, it was fantastic.

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After that everyone went to Bourbon Street to drink and dance some more. Cricket and I decided that eight hours of revelry was all we could manage at our ripe old age of almost forty so we went back to the room and retired for the evening. The next day we met up with other members of the bridal party and learned they had stayed out until about 4:00am so I think we made the right choice.

It was one of the funnest weddings I’ve ever been to. Nessa said we’re going to have a reunion next year back in NOLA and I’m all for it.

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Next post: cemeteries.

Addendum: I forgot two pictures I wanted to include:

I loved that because Nessa and her man were walking around the room talking to everyone they didn’t get a chance to sample all the deliciousness being passed around so someone very kindly gave them one of everything. This was their table.

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And I thought it was cute that the bouquets were repurposed as decorations in the bar area. Waste not want not.

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Germany Part Done (technically Prague).

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Our first night in Prague after we returned from visiting Prague Castle we were freezing and keen to eat something warm. We found a traditional Czech restaurant where I saw an interesting delicacy on the menu – “Moravian Sparrow.” Oooh, that sounds intriguing, some little forest bird. Nope. It’s pork. Pork with onions and two kinds of dumplings. I feel like that is false advertising. Do not sell your meat by the name of another meat. It’s deceiving. That being said, it was also delicious, so my intentions to write angry letters to the Czech president were sated with tasty tasty pork ‘n’ dumplings.

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After getting our fill of this scrumptiousness, we walked back to our hotel for some much-deserved sleep (remember our truly atrocious travel experience the day before). I realized our hotel butted up against one of the finest examples of art nouveau architecture, the metropolitan pavilion. Even though the chill pierced your clothes and got down to your bones I made Neenernator stand there for a minute while I gawked and sighed and generally had emotions over this building. So good.

metropolitan-pavilion

Then we went back to the room and passed out. The next morning I was in no shape to get out of bed at 9:00 so Neenernator went to the Jewish Quarter to see the cemetery by herself which is fine, I’ve been before. The tombstones are still wibbly-wobbly. We met in the central square to join a tour I had booked at 11:00 to go to Kutna Hora. I’m glad I left the hotel early because I got an opportunity to see the tiny petting zoo right next to the tree.

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Now, both Neenernator and I were looking forward to sitting quietly on a tour bus and having a relaxing time, but I had not read the small print on the tour site so I blew it. We were on a eco-friendly tour that only took mass transit. Lotta trains. Lotta walking in the icy air. I felt terrible. Neenernator was a trooper, but I could tell she was super-bummed. I gave a her a foot massage when we got back to the hotel that night to make up for it. We went to the train station and caught the one that takes one to the bone church. It was about an hour ride which gave me the opportunity to enjoy the communist buildings scattered around the countryside and stare intently at the pattern on the train seats. At first I thought they were abstract elbow macaroni, and then I thought they were peppy modern swastikas. I settled on pasta-inspired third-Reich symbols filtered through the 1960s aesthetic. That seems about right.

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After then taking a little tram we finally made it. Now I felt like the last tour guide I went with gave me a nice overview of the interior of the church but this guide elaborated and I discovered some neat new things. Here is the blog entry of my previous visit. Once you’ve read that I will add additional information. So, same place. Walk in, go down steps, be visually assaulted by a colossal amount of bones. Awesome every time. BUT, here’s some things you did not know. For example. the chandelier, contrary to popular thought, does not contain at least one of every bone in the human body because there’s a rinky-dink bone in your ear and it is not represented on the chandelier so to say there is all 206 bones is false. The Schwarzenburg family crest off to the side, I now know what the four quadrants represent. The top two and the lower left-hand one represent land ownership and growing assets through various marriages, but the bottom right one, that one is an event. Right before 1600, the Turks and the Hungarians were fighting over a fortress. The Turks lost and the rule in war is after the fighting is over you go and retrieve your dead for proper burial. But the Schwarzenburgs who were in charge said No, Turks, you leave your dead there and watch crows peck their eyes out. And now that’s what that lower quadrant is – a skull with bones shards coming out the top representing the high ponytail the Turks rocked at that point in time, and a bird off to the side of the eye. Interestingly, the wing of the bird is made using a hand that had such crippling arthritis that all the bones are fused. Altogether a lovely addition to any home.

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The other piece of knowledge I acquired was a small display case off in the corner. Several special examples of skull damage are there. The one on the left was whacked with an pickaxe, the one in the middle got a solid wallop from a mace and the one on the right had signs of healing so it appears that that skull had rudimentary surgery performed on it, possibly due to brain swelling. You go Europe, doing brain surgery back in the 1200s.

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After we had stayed our allotted time we went to the Church of St. Barbara. I realized that I called it a cathedral in the post from 2010 and I was corrected. Do you know what makes a church a cathedral? I did not. I thought it was about size or how the floorplan was laid out, with transepts and naves and whatnot. Nope. In order to be a cathedral it has to have a bishop. And even though the Church of St. Barbara is huge and was supposed to have a bishop, it never did so it’s still just a gigantic church.

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The inside is gorgeous and lofty with remnants of polychrome on many of the surfaces.

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Another janky tree on display.

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The windows are almost all art nouveau and they’re great.

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One window is very clearly late 20th / early 21st century work and even though I don’t love the style I was delighted to see hedgehogs represented. A whole family of hedgehogs.

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Most of the chapels have an enormous black and gold baroque altar as the centerpiece.

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One had a considerably older Madonna and Child with it. I started chortling because for a long time sculptors didn’t understand how to distribute weight and balance in their figures, and in this Madonna, combined with her bored-looking expression, made me think she was mid-neck swirl. “Oh no you dint!”

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Another altar had a suit of armor with a bit of muffin-top and a bellybutton.

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The pulpit was also clearly baroque.

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The tour guide took us to several different important things in the church. One was a sculptor of a miner holding a lamp. Kutna Hora used to be a major source of silver and was the mint of the area so most of the people working there were miners. Our guide explained to us that the reason the miner is wearing an leather apron backwards is because it took them two days to climb down into the mine. Eventually they built a wooden slide to get them down faster but it still took forty minutes and HOLY CRAP BUTT SPLINTERS ergo the leather apron to cover your hind-bits.

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The miners are represented in various places throughout the church. There are these smarmy rich guys who owned the mines. “I’m Duke de Wealthy Off The Backs Of Others!” “Oh, are you? I’m Lord Haven’t Done A Day Of Hard Labor In My Life! Pleased to meet you.”

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In one area they show how the money was actually minted. There were two people. One had a decent job, the man who swung the mallet. The other guy, wow. Rough. He had to hold the slug of metal and pray that hammer-dude didn’t miss his mark and smash his fingers. This job was so disliked it was offered to prisoners who had committed robbery in exchange for a substantially reduced sentence. The theory was after six months of holding this position their hands would be so permanently destroyed they would never be able to steal again.

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After four hundred years of rockin’ this terrible technique they finally figured out a system that maimed no one and that was implemented.

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There were many medieval paintings throughout the church. Sadly, we as a people did not know how to “make art good” at that time. Perfect example ? an enormous painting of St. Christopher. St. Christopher was a giant, so large that he used a tree trunk as a walking stick. There was a river that would flood and he would carry people across it, giving him the name “Opher” or “One Who Carries.” At one point a small child came to him late at night and begged St. Christopher to carry him over. Even though it was late St. Christopher obliges, and strangely the child gets heavier and heavier as they are crossing, almost drowning them both. But they make it and when they reach the other side it is revealed that the child was Jesus Christ, which is how the “Christ” got added to the “Opher” making his name “One Who Carries Christ.” The act of St. Christopher crossing the river is supposed to be depicted in this mural but no one knew how to paint water so they put fishes near his legs in the hopes that you, the viewer, would understand that St. Christopher is crossing water. But mere fish wasn’t enough, the artist thought. Let’s throw a lobster in there. And hey, why not add the ugliest mermaid in the world? Put her in there too. Every little bit helps.

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While the paintings got better in the Renaissance, there was still some struggling. Another example – This huge mural of St. Ignatius sick and in Africa. Considering that this was probably painting in the mid-1600s, the artist had not been to Africa and had to resort to heresay about how to represent the continent. So, starting from the lower right-hand corner, there’s a blue genie (à la Aladdin), a horny camel making sexy-face at the viewer while licking his lips, a bunch of guys in turbans, a valiant attempt to render a lion, an equally valiant attempt to render an elephant, and one black guy who might be Indian. Africa!

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After the church we went to an authentic restaurant for lunch where I had, what else? Meat and dumplings. This time it was wild boar goulash. And it was lovely.

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The restaurant itself was amazing. First of all, they had a great menu translated in English. Both Neenernator and I had a giggle over 3A.

freaking-sword

A freaking sword, people!

Whoever decorated the restaurant really embraced the weirder side of old European painting. I was totally loving it.

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Post-lunch we headed over to the mint as the sun was setting. We only had a short time there, but we got a chance to see the now-cemented-over doors of the individual money-makers.

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And the fountain that they really should have turned off before it got so cold out.

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As we headed away from the church down the hill to the train I turned around and got this neat shot.

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The next day we flew back home. That was my trip and it was great. Once again, much thanks to Neenernator and her family for making me feel so welcome. Here are a few pictures that were left over.

The train station in Neenernator’s home town. That particular area of Germany uses bricks predominantly in their buildings but they’re all these grim brown ones. The train station used these delightful orange ones. C’mon, rest of Ottersberg! Orange bricks! Get on board!

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This bakery is called Le Crobag. It seems like an insult. I have taken to calling people “crobags” under my breath.

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The perpetual rain in Germany isn’t all bad. Some beautiful moss grows because of it. This was a rock right outside Neenernator’s front door.

germany-moss

A sign on the side of a German elevator. It appears from the picture that you should not elevator. I wish it was more specific.

elevator-sign

The most terrifying stairwell I have ever seen. It was in the Bremen town hall. The fact that the Amnesty International booth was directly under a railing that looks like a torture device was not lost on me.

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Some beer tankards in Prague that look like startled fish.

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And a stone carving.

gargoyle

That’s it. My trip to Germany.

Germany Part 6 (technically Prague).

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Prague! God, I love Prague. The architecture never stops being the best. So stabby and pointy and riddled with Art Nouveau. It’s got to be one of my favorite cities.

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After we checked into our hotel (The Grand Hotel Bohemia, fantastic hotel, I highly recommend it) we trekked up to the top of the mountain to see St. Vitus’ Cathedral. Neenernator loves Mucha and so do I, so I wanted her to see the stained glass window in the cathedral. I actually prefer St. Barbara’s Church (the church in Kutna Hora that we went to the next day) but St. Vitus is nothing to sneeze at.

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One of the things I enjoy the most in St. Vitus is how they just smashed all the different styles all together with zero concern for flow. The baroque is smacking right up to the medieval which is snuggling with some modern what-not, it’s like a attic of design. A big pile o’ art.

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Plus there’s tall vaulted ceilings and regular, non-Mucha stained glass windows.

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AND there’s a lot of dead people tastefully displayed. I’ve talked in the past about my love of reliquaries, so seeing bits of saints in glass cases just brightens my day.

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I have seen the Mucha window before, but it doesn’t matter how many times you see it, it flattens you every time. Just blows you away with its beauty. Ugh, right in the heart.

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There’s a tomb area where a bishop is laid to rest, but both Neenernator and I showed our complete lack of reverence in our own special ways. I was delighted by the dragons above the grave.

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And Neenernator was convinced the bishop was a giant fish.

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Behind St. Vitus’ Cathedral is an additional, considerably older church called St. George’s Basilica. It’s from, like, 1000 A.D. but at some point the powers that be decided that there desperately needed to be a garish Baroque facade on the front. And so it came to pass.

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The inside continues to be regular old. No baroque.

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In the basement was a crypt with one of the creepiest sculptures I’ve seen in a while.

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St. George is big in Prague. I cannot figure out why, since there are no ties between him and Prague in any way, but periodically as you walk through the city you will find a sculpture or tableau or painting of him on a horse slaying a dragon.

st-george-dragon

St. Vitus’ Cathedral and St. George’s Basilica are part of a large complex called Prague Castle. There’s all kinds of buildings in there, it’s pretty much an entire village. There are streets that show where the cobblers and metalworkers and ceramicists lived. In front of the former ceramicist’s house (all the tiny homes have been converted into wee museums or shops) there was a delightful wreath covered with small ceramic wares.

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Many of the storehouses were turned into museums as well. Neenernator’s favorite was the armory.

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I posed with the rack of angry-villagers-attacking-Frankenstein’s-monster weapons.

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There were a great many combo-weapons. This one is a gun-sword.

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And this is a neato device. Fire off your shot, then flip it over – poof! It’s a crossbow. It made me think of The Janitor from Scrubs.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x22yNaLdiGA

Off to one side of the armory was a shooting gallery where, if one desired, one could fire a crossbow of their very own. Neenernator was super-excited to do that. She didn’t do too bad either. When the apocalypse comes and the zombies arise, hang out with her. She can handle her zombie-killing tools.

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After we had checked out all the things in the castle that we wanted to see we walked back down the mountain to our hotel which meant we walked right through the middle of the central square. Still awesome but, as opposed to the last time I was there (around Easter), there is a giant glittering dripping Christmas tree.

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prague-christmas-tree

It’s a standard European Christmas market but with a few local twists. For example, you can get a thing that I call a turtleneck. It’s spelled trdelnik and it’s a piece of dough wound around a large wooden dowel and then baked over a fire. Then sugar is quickly poured around the outside and it is slid off the dowel and handed to you. The particular booth we went to gave it to us with plum jam on the inside. As you can imagine, it is delicious.

trdlnk

A few things before I head into Kutna Hora and the surrounding area:

The Christmas tree at Prag Castle. I’m telling you, Europeans have no problem with jacked-up looking trees. They’re much more tolerant than we (Americans) are.

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Neenernator standing next to a door at St. Vitus. She is five-foot-one, maybe five-foot-two. That gives you an idea of the door’s height.

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An awesome weathervane.

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A chess set that is gnomes versus dragons. I was tempted. I don’t play and have nowhere to put it which is why I ultimately didn’t purchase it, but I thought about it.

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And the sweet (no pun intended) gingerbread house in our hotel.

gingerbread-house

Next, the final installment of the trip: Kutna Hora.

Germany, Part 5.

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Before I get to the Saga of Sadness known as Our Trip to Prague, let me tell you about a neat thing in Europe. Here it is: pretty much anywhere you can go, a dog can go. That includes food procurement facilities, like restaurants and cafes. One evening we went to an authentic German restaurant. It was a big farmhouse once but is now converted and because we got there so early we ended having our own room. I ate elk on a bed of local mushrooms with red cabbage and almond-crusted potato croquettes. So effing delicious.

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And, because this is Germany and it was around Christmastime, there were chocolates decorating the table. Germans must never be more than ten feet from chocolate at any given time. It’s in their constitution.

hausamsee-table

Anyway, we were in our own private room all by our lonesomes when Neenernator’s mother wanted to go to the bathroom. She opened the door to walk down the hall and – WOOOOMPH!! – loudest bark ever greets her. She slammed the door shut and was like, “I’ll pee when I get home.” Turns out under the table of another family having dinner there was a half-Malamute, half-German Shepherd monster-dog chillin’. I made a point to say howdy as I was leaving. The direwolf growled at me. It’s quite a culture shock going to a restaurant and seeing a giant horse-beast hanging out under the table. But if they’re okay with it, I’m okay with it.

Also, so important! A day before we left, the sun came out! The sun. I had not seen the sun in a week. I walked outside and greeted like someone who had spent the last five years in a bunker preparing for the apocalypse. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuun. I took my camera out and got some decent pics of Neenernator’s backyard.

First, here’s the window seat looking out onto the small lake in the back. Every single other day the view was this (boo):

germany-rain

But this one day it was this (yay!):

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And outside was this (whee!)

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I was so delighted by the faint warm fiery ball in the sky I took pictures of everything. Here is a bucket of moles ornaments.

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Here is the neighbor’s tree through their window.

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Here’s Neenernator’s awesome grandma waving at the dumb tourist (me).

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Here’s the fake egret the jerkface neighbors across the way have stuck in their lawn. It’s there because if an egret sees it, it will not come to this lake. One egret per water body. I said I would happily go over there and steal it but Neenernator’s mother said, “Don’t do that, they’ll know it was me.”

house-fake-egret

Okay, onto the trip to Prague. Neenernator and I decided to go to Prague for two days at the end of the Germany trip because, like me, Neenernator loves bones. Lots and lots of bones. The Ossuary of Sedlec is in Prague and it’s got 40,000 dead people decorating the space so that was a no-brainer. We thought it would be super-funsies to take the overnight train. When I was in Africa as a child I used to adore sleeping on the train. That would be great! Here’s what happened: you know how everybody says that no matter Germany’s flaws, at least the trains always run on time? That is a LIE. Neenernator booked us a train from Bremen to Dortmund. We then had 35 minutes to catch an all-night train from Dortmund to Prague. Easy, right? Except our train from Bremen to Dortmund was an hour late, meaning we missed our connection. We intended to be in Prague by 10:00 a.m. and the next all-nighter train got us into Prague at 3:00 in the afternoon, basically killing a whole day. By the way, I’m compressing hours and hours of drama here. Neenernator arguing with the attendant in the various train stations, us hopping into a cab in an attempt to drive down the Autobahn at 200 kilometers an hour to make the train (that did not work), us sitting forlornly on the freezing outdoor train platform for a million years at 11:30 at night, etc. It was the opposite of a good time. Here is Neenernator posing with all our luggage.

train-station-sadness

One thing on the platform I did like: they have a map of the train and there’s a string down the map so you know what car will be directly in front of you when the train pulls in. So if you have seats in car 3, you can figure out where car 3 will be. Anticipating. It’s a plus. Metro-North, take note.

train-station-car-alignment

Eventually we made it to Dortmund at about 1:00 in the morning. I fell asleep mournfully. At 4:30 a.m. (for those of you bad at math, that would be a lovely 3.5 hours night’s sleep) Neenernator woke me up. “Hey,” she said, her laptop illuminating her face. “Why don’t we fly to Prague? There’s a flight out of Frankfurt that gets us there at 11:00 a.m. You okay with that?” “Hell yeah I’m okay with that,” I said. “Great,” Neenernator said. “Get up. We need to catch the 5:00 a.m. train to the Frankfurt Airport. Let’s go.” We grabbed our luggage and dragged it down the streets to the main train station where we went to the Frankfurt Airport. While we were on the train Neenernator bought the plane tickets using her phone and that is why she is my hero. My adult approach to this travel debacle would be to slump to the ground and cry, but not Neenernator. She keeps cool in all situations. Hero forever. We got to the airport with about a half-hour to spare. They had already started boarding. It’s important for you to know that the Frankfurt Airport is HUGE. It’s a major European hub. We arrived at the bottom of this weird plant-shaped map where the train tracks are.

Frankfurt-Airport-Map

And where was our flight leaving from? That is correct, B20. At the exact opposite end of this building the size of a village. And it’s a ziggy-zaggy building meaning we went on, no joke, over ten escalators with all that luggage. And Neenernator was pregnant. The whole thing was a nightmare.

We finally arrived at Security, sweaty and exhausted and punchy where it is made abundantly clear that we packed anticipating train travel, not plane travel. Meaning all manner of beverages were in our backpacks and random nail clipper-like items were shoved into pockets, etc. It didn’t help that our security guy was a total douche. I had purchased a large ocean jasper stone that I had hastily put into my handbag and this security guard decided this was an ideal time to hassle me about this rock. “Are you intending to use this as a weapon?” he asked (douchily). I said, “Yes. On you. Right now. Enough already. I’m going to miss my flight*.” Thankfully he realized I was not a threat and we made it to our plane just in time where we had the delightful opportunity to stand on the tarmac in the rain during boarding. How this looks was how I felt.

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But we made it. We made it, guys! And I got the opportunity to take a two-hour nap on the plane. Such a glorious glorious nap. Before I fell asleep I caught a glimpse of the seat in front of me and realized this dope pun.

airplane-budweiser

All you beer aficionados, please note: This is not regular Budweiser. That would not fly in the capital of beers, Prague. This is a special Budweiser that is brewed in the outskirts of Prague because we are talking about a people who drink absinthe with hemp seeds in it. They will not tolerate the yellowish seltzer we call beer in this country. You don’t even hallucinate with our stuff!

Next post: Prague Prague Prague.

 

*That is 100% true, what I said to him. I said it loudly and aggressively. It is a miracle I didn’t get detained.

Germany, Part 4.

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Before we continue on with my German Christmas, let’s look at some things I came across while driving in the countryside with Neenernator.

Trees! They line all the roads. They’re big. And old. It’s pretty awesome.

trees-on-the-side-of-the-road

Look children, look at this remnant from the past. This is a movie rental store. See, you go here where a monk is standing behind the counter. Then you rent a DVD and he scribes on a piece of parchment with his quill which movie has been tooken out. At some point Gutenberg will show up and show the monk how to use a printing press but it hasn’t happened yet, so he still quillin’. You watch it at home and then when you’re done watching it you bring it back. This particular video store doesn’t even an after-hours slot, you actually have to come back when the store is open to give the movies back. The monk needs to be in attendance! A slot is too advanced!* Neenernator told me that TV is Germany is lame-o, therefore people rent movies. Not gonna lie, it was really fun. It made me feel like I was back in college.

video-store

Various barns around the area. Many of them have biblical sayings over the door. Neenernator has a barn on her property and she’s an atheist, so we decided that we should paint a saying over her big barn doors in that blackletter calligraphy but instead of being from the Bible it would say, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.”

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It’s very windy in this area so there are those industrial windmills all over the place. However, in addition, there are old cutey-patootie windmills! I saw one from a distance in Bremen.

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But Neenernator, being the consummate host, found me a windmill I could walk right up to. And hug, which is precisely what I did. They had taken the fins off the mill for the season but I was still delighted. I hugged a windmill, y’all!

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So, the day before Christmas after we had explored most of the villages in the area of Ottersberg we went to the gigantic shopping mall called Dodenhof to wander around and allow me to see what a gigantic German shopping mall looks like. It’s pretty great. It’s like the best qualities of Ikea combined with Restoration Hardware and Trader Joe’s and a million other stores. You know how you occasionally hear about people living in a Wal-Mart for a month or whatever? I don’t know if I would do that, but I sure as hell would live in Dodenhof for an extended period of time.

dodenhof

The entrance we went in (there are a ton of entrances because this place is the size of Lichtenstein) was the furniture department where Neenernator and I were greeted by some of the most awesomely garish living room set-ups I have ever seen in my life. I have a very limited knowledge of Germans and their interior designing tastes, but based on the living rooms I’ve seen they tend to go sensible, well-made and in neutral colors. I didn’t want to make assumptions based on the three German houses I’ve been in so I turned to Neenernator and said, “Who… buys these?” She was flummoxed. She said, “No Germans I know.”

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On top of being wildly vibrant, these couches were huge, like room-sized beds. Neenernator insisted I sit on a side chair. You’ll note that I look uncomfortable like a perched bird and that is because the chair was six inches wide so only about one half of one butt cheek fits on the seat part. Seriously, though, never mind the Germans – who on this planet buys these things? It’s uncomfortable, expensive, hard to clean, etc.

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We eventually ambled out of the furniture section into the light fixture section (I wanted many, many things but thankfully our plugs are different here in the U.S. so I could buy nothing). Then next part we entered was the grocery section. It was enormous, the size of a supermarket here. They sold all of the items you can imagine, but this being Europe they also sold alcohol. Remember the feurzengenbowles from the first German vacation post? Dodenhof had a kit so you can make them at home. Neenernator got one. There’s a little metal clamp you attach to the side of the mug to hold the cone of brown sugar that you set on fire and pour the wine and rum over. It’s hardcore.

dodenhof-feuerzangelbowle

Outside the grocery store there was a full-size Lego Santa with reindeer that some kids were posing on.

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And a forest tableau populated by Steiff animals, one of which was a large huggable cuddly wild boar, about three feet long and two feet tall. I wanted him, but Neenernator pointed out that it was probably $1,000 so maybe not. I took pictures of him, though.

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On the top floor, that was the piece de resistance – the food court. It was glorious. As you enter all you see is the gelato counter. They ain’t playin’ at the gelato counter.

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Then, off to the side was the actual food area and that’s all well and good, but beyond that was the dessert bar. The magical, magical dessert bar.

dodenhof-desserts

You see that? That there’s Jello. And in the middle, that’s the most wondrous substance in existence. Custard. You may think that’s the light from the ceiling illuminating the custard, but I prefer to think it is a halo bequeathed by the Lord on a dessert item plucked directly from the Garden of Eden.

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I got myself a dinner, a basic, no-frills dinner. A basic, no-frills dinner was THE BIGGEST HOT DOG EVER, some curry sauce, french fries and a salad. Neenernator got a salad and a kiwi juice. It was meat-licious meal.

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The next day was Christmas Eve which is the day that Germans open their presents. Neenernator’s family is not even the slightest bit religious so we had a lovely secular day. We went to see Frozen in German, the sing-a-long edition. I warned everyone repeatedly beforehand that I would be singing along in English. I did, doing complete hand gestures to accompany the emotions. I can now say I know what “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” in German sounds like (it sounds like this).

When Frozen was over, we returned to the homestead to wait for lasagna. I watched German television. It was a game show where Irish musicians played bagpipes, fifes and drums and then contestants guessed if they were wearing underpants beneath their kilts. After filling up on lasagna (bechamel sauce instead of ricotta, OMG) we made our way over to the tree to open presents. We had to roll two die and whoever rolled the highest number got to open their present. It’s a good technique, keeps things moving. We needed to keep things moving because there were a ton of presents.

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Post-present-opening we had more food because why not? I don’t have gout quite yet, let’s go out with inflamed toes. It was dessert – baked apples, cored, with melted gingerbread cookies in the middle. I haven’t been to many Christmas dinners but I think I can say this was a great one. Mellow, pleasant, lots of deliciousness and chatting and general friendliness. Good stuff.

The next day, Christmas Day, we went to the spa. If this sounds like no big deal, you don’t understand the magnitude of this. We went, as a family, to the spa for five hours. We brought towels and books and slippers and drinks, it was a massive undertaking. The spa we went to, Oase Spa, was in a built originally as a waterpark under a giant glass dome but all the screaming children’s voices reverberated off the hard surfaces and the dome and it was achingly loud. So, because it had all the pipes and whatnot, they changed it to a quiet peaceful spa. Where everyone is naked all the time. I’ll repeat that: where both men and women wander around with no garments covering their components. I can now say, between Burning Man and this, I have seen all the penii and scrotaa and boobery that I ever need see. I have a wonderful range of knowledge about them now, I’m good for the rest of my existence.

oase

When we arrived we picked out lawn chairs on the second level and Neenernator showed me around. There’s indoor sections, there’s outdoor sections, it covers a lot of terrain. Because Neenernator is “with child” she could only go in the most temperate of saunas and steamrooms and thank God for that because I did not want to experience the extreme rooms. The cooler ones were pretty hot, thanks ever so much. Here’s where germaphobes and people with social anxiety will need to close their eyes for a while: there are signs with the pour schedules and they say things like, “11:00 a.m. in Himalayan Salt Room. Cedarwood pour and gong. 12:30 in Nordic Sauna. Wildberry scrub.” We went to the Himalayan Salt Room for the Cedarwood pour and gong (whatever the hell that was) and slowly I realized that everyone was showing up for this. Meaning small portions of my naked sweating self was up against other people’s naked sweating selfs. It could not be avoided. Luckily I totally do not care, but a typical American would have burst into flames. BTW, the Cedarwood Pour involved pouring cedarwood-scented water over the coals and then fanning the yummy steam over our faces and bodies with a giant fan, and the Gong was… a gong. That was rung several times, I imagine to increase the soothing nature of the activity.

Post-sauna you are encouraged to sit quietly in a normal temperature and recover for about forty-five minutes while drinking a ton of water. I brought a book and Neernernator snuck a photo of me with her phone. Don’t worry, I’m wearing a robe.

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Neenernator had booked me a massage, something with hot foam and I’m down for whatever so off I went with her mother for our tandem hot foam massages. First we got all nekkid and laid down on our personal marble tables, like Cold Stone Creamery but warm. Then the nice masseuse lady assigned to me scrubbed my entire body with a mitten made of cat hair. (It felt like cat hair. It looked like cat hair. Tell me different.) Following the scrubbing the masseuse did something interesting: she filled a nylon bag the size of a pillowcase, similar to the kind rice is sold in, with hot water and soap. Then she waved it in the air several times and squoze the hot foam created all over me. She did this over and over until I was completely covered. Lemme tell you something. Here, lean in, this is important. It feels amazing to be covered in hot foam. Seriously. So so good. You know what doesn’t feel so good? When the nice masseuse lady reaches through the foam and attempts to rip your body apart like bread to feed the ducks. At one point she put all her weight on her elbow which she dug into my spine and dragged down the length of my back. I thought she was trying to fracture a rib. The whole next day I felt like I had been hit across the back with a stool in a bar fight. It was brutal. I think my hands were shaking because at one point she asked if I was alright. I was honest with her, “I’m… fine, I’m no hero, I can handle this, I can’t hide that it hurts so much.” “Well,” she responded matter-of-factly, “At least you know you have muscles now.” When she had massaged me completely from head to toe (she washed my hair so she could massage my scalp), the masseuse told me to sit up, put one hand on my heart and the other on my stomach and then she threw a bucket of cold water on me. I would have imagined I would have screamed or something but… nope. It felt jarring but okay. I think my body was so grateful she was no longer acting like there was a dinosaur buried in my flesh and she was a paleontologist with a shovel that it didn’t care cold water was being chucked at me. After that she gave me a glass of apple tea and sent me back to my lawn chair to chill out for another hour or so. Now the sun was setting so they turned on these lovely interior lights. Neenernator snuck a shot of that too. She’s a good friend.

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We went to one final sauna (it was packed, they gave us honey to smear on ourselves and then blasted us in the face with steam), we returned home looking like shiny pink piggies. The Oase really took it out of us so hey, let’s have another feast! This time it was fondue. I made myself useful peeling vegetables and setting the table and all that, and then we all settled in to eat three different kinds of meat that had been boiled in oil.

christmas-fondue

After filling up on delicious meats (and three different dipping sauces!) Neenernator and I packed because we were going to catch an overnight train to Prague. I say “was going to” because we did not, and I will delve into that joyous bullhorse in the next entry.

 

* It wasn’t really a monk, it was a middle-aged lady with an unfortunate bleach job, but it’s such a blast from the past I felt the need to go all 1100 A.D. on it.

Germany, Part 3.

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Verden! It’s pronounced “Fairden” and it is where Neenernator went to high school. She went there to meet up and chat with her old high school English teacher, so Neenernator’s mom took me around to see the sights of this small country town while Neenernator was meetin’ and chattin’.

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We walked around in the center of town where this photo was taken as well as some of the side streets that had old buildings with no right angles. Saggy, charming buildings.

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There was a sculpture in town of some horses and I guess there’s a guerilla knitting group in town because there was socks for the hoofies!

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They had a big ole church and anyone who knows me knows I love me some big ole church, so we went there.

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It was really interesting on the inside. The whole interior was painted but instead of being polychrome and covered with patterns it was all white with a rich burnt orange ceiling. Nothing else. It gave a strong sense of height and freshness to the place. I think they had performed a nativity play the night before because when we came in they were breaking it down.

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Please note that the Christmas tree is sparse, branchwise. This was a big trend I noticed. In America the Christmas trees need to be full and bushy so they can hold up ornaments made of iron and bronze or whatever dense weighty material they’re constructed out of. In Europe the most common decoration is ribbon tied into bows or creatively folded straw, so the trees can look like Christian Bale in The Machinist and still work just fine.

In a hallway off to the side were some super-ancient ladies. I hope the sculptors were not being true to life back in 900 A.D. because these women are… strong-looking. And mad. One’s boobs were all over the place. They are not pretty ladies. But they were in excellent condition and it was cool to see them.

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After checking out the church Neenernator’s mom and I sauntered over (in the rain, always rain) to the high school Neenernator went to. I was unaware that she went to Hogwarts.

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Seriously, Hogwarts. Here’s the entrance hall and the stairwell.

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Here’s their auditorium.

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Here’s the hallway filled with local taxidermied beasties.

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Here’s the courtyard where the peacocks live in the non-winter season (not making that up).

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We ran into the janitor and he was straight out of a book about gnomes or goblins. He complemented the oldey-timey magical quality of the school perfectly.

After Verden we went to a town Neenernator called Fischerhuder (Fisherman’s Hood). Neenernator warned me the town would be picturesque but I was not prepared. It was adorable. I wanted to snuggle with the buildings and the trees.

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Many of the houses were topped with these crossed horse-head carvings. I loved them. Very Norse.

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I also liked whoever planted this hedge, alternating the yellow-green and blue-green.

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The first building we came across was the local church. It’s a very old, very small church and I guess in the 1600s and 1700s there was a graveyard that got knocked down due to weather or war, so the wall around the church was partially made of the headstones.

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Some particularly weird-looking angels.

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Some particularly Mozart-looking angels.

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Any ones that were different heights were scattered around on the church property.

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After went into a antiques store where I bought a porcelain dish featuring a small child taking his friend the insect for a walk (I tried to find a picture of it online, I could not so I will take a photo and post it at some point in the near future) we checked out the Watermill. There was a little stream that went through town and it powered the local mill which had been turned into a restaurant since milling is not the thing it once was.

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Oh boy! Tradition AND charm! Can’t wait.

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Here we go!

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Aaaaaand there it is.

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See that stain on the side of the building? That’s where the water wheel WOULD HAVE attached if there had been a DAMN WATER WHEEL there (*cough* false advertising *cough*). Shame on you, Watermill. You may be traditional, but you are not charming. There. I said it. I say harsh things when you rob me of the joy of a water wheel. Also they were closed for the season which compounded my sadness.

However, not all was lost! Another facility was open! It was post-lunch so all they were serving was tea and cake, but tea and cake is awesome so we went with that. This is one of the many times in my life where I wished I spoke another language well enough to read the signs and understand them. See that sign?

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If you know German, you would know that it says “Doll Cafe and Restaurant.” Doll Cafe, otherwise known as Nightmare Fuel Establishment. Neenernator isn’t scared of anything so she had no problem, but as soon as we walked in I knew that I would spend most of my time in there staring intently at the tablecloth.

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Oh, this doesn’t look so bad. It’s quaint and inviting.

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Those cakes look amazing OH NO DON’T TURN AROUND

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THEY’RE ALL FACING ME WITH THEIR DEAD DOLL EYES

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PLEASE DON’T SIT US NEXT TO THE SCARECROW great we’re sitting next to the scarecrow.

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They brought us menus and proceeded to read every damn word on that menu so I wouldn’t have to look up and be in my own personal version of a 1980s horror flick. The slices of cake were enormous so they recommended that we get half of one kind and half of another kind. Then they brought us our tea and cake and it was presented so beautifully I almost forgot to freak out.

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Neenernator got a blackberry cake and a yogurt and fruit cake. I got a citrus cake and a gooseberry cake. Oh my God. The citrus cake was wonderful, but the gooseberry cake… it was exquisite. I’m not exaggerating. It was so light I thought it would defy gravity and float away. I’m get a wee bit drooly right now thinking of it. So yummers.

I also noticed the art nouveau light fixtures. I thought they were abstract swirlies and nothing more, but Neenernator pointed out that little gnomes are struggling with inside-out umbrellas on the side. That made me like the lights even more.

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After we had our afternoon tea like civilized ladies Neenernator went to the bathroom while I waited outside. When she came outside she was grinning. “I’m so glad you didn’t go to the bathroom in there,” she said. Apparently there’s a guy who greets you as you approach the lavatory:

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And this lovely lady keeps you company in the stall.

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HELL TO THE NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Germany, Part 2.

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

More Bremen! Finishing up with the Christmas market, there was a booth where a woman dipped your hand in wax, pulled it off, filled it with shredded wax, put a wick through it and – yay! – your hand is a candle. I cannot for the life of me imagine why someone would want this, a waxen version of one of their limbs that they could watch melt, but there’s something for everyone out there I suppose.

wax-hand

In front of one of the rides I mentioned yesterday was the creepiest Santa statue I have seen in a good long time. The combination of the jacked-up beard, the slender hands, the weirdly poochy pants… not a good scene.

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There was a booth selling Christmas decorations and I appreciated the fact that they separated the cool LED lights from the warmer-style lights.

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There was another Christmas decoration booth with a cute version of the Bremen animals in front.

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I saw the real statue at some point in my travels around the town. It’s very sweet.

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Because the weather is so sucky (have I mentioned the suckiness? I feel like I should mention it again) there are wonderful fire stations for you to warm your toesies.

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Many of the booths have tableaus on the top part, often of farm scenes or Christmas stuff. Sometimes random gnomes or snowmen make an appearance.

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There was one that caught my eye and it was certainly distinctive. What precisely is going on with those reindeer and their antlers?

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There’s a big old (seriously, old, like 1400s) sculpture of a fellow named Roland in the center of town. I liked him.

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Moving around the city: To get from the main train station to the market, Neenernator and walked through the former butcher’s district. See this here sign? It says “Bone Breaker Street.” I am not making that up.

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And nearby is a sculpture of a man blowing a horn with his dog and his pigs. Very cheerful and friendly looking pigs, they are. It’s a famous statue so the lighting above mirrors it.

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There was also a beautiful chandelier hung between some buildings. It was a lovely visual touch and added some life to an otherwise pretty dark corner.

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A parked ship. Bremen is a major port town so ships be comin’ and goin’ all the time. All the other ships were modern, but this one was old-timey and charming.

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Speaking of ships, Neenernator took me to her favorite part of the city, the area where the sea captains lived. It’s called The Schnoor and it is so adorable it hurts a little.

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Look, a little walrus above the door to keep the sea captains company!

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Some of the walkways to get from one building to another were tight.

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Super-tight. Shoulder-width. Neenernator is demonstrating for you.

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Gravity has taken its toll on many of the buildings in the cutest way possible. Look at the door and window frames of this tiny shop selling nick-knacks.

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The Schnoor was such a wonderful area to walk around I wanted to get a cup of tea and experience it further. We stopped in a local tea shop and had some fresh hot tea with German rock sugar and listened to the street musicians outside. The tea shop had a great antique cash register.

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There are stairs all over the city and since the landscape is extremely flat, people bicycle places. Neenernator pointed out that on the sides of many stairs is a railing meant for you to slide your bike down. Thoughtful, no?

bicycle-track

The upcoming post will be about a very nice village called Verden that I got to experience in the dripping rain. Get excited.

Germany, Part 1.

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Christmas in Germany! I was very excited to go with Neenernator to her land of origin and spend a major holiday in a country that basically invented the Christmas we know and love. (Bringing trees inside and putting candles on them? All Germany all the time.) As I said earlier, no Krampus (boo) but also no Zwartepiet (thank Moses and all the Israelites). I noticed pretty soon after arriving that alcohol is everywhere and liberally used. I didn’t understand why until about my third day there. You know how we here in New York have winter and it’s awful but sometimes the snow looks beautiful and then the sun comes out and it’s okay for a bit? They don’t have that in Northern Europe. Freezing rain. Every day. Dark. No sun. No light. Icy rain. Sometimes hail. For months at a time. There were days, and I’m not exaggerating here, when I went sightseeing in nearby villages and I never took my camera of “night” setting for the entirety of the day trip. And when I got home I had to adjust a ton of pics in Photoshop because they all looked like this:

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That is at about 12:30 in the afternoon, people. It’s a grim scene. I too would drink and invade other countries if it was that crappy for half the year. Which then leads to stands on every corner selling this:

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I also was amused by how many different places were selling hot water bottles. I shut up right quick after I realized what a vital and exquisite item they are in this craptastic climate.

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Despite this being The Trip of My Butt Being Perpetually Kind of Damp and Cold I had a wonderful time. Neenernator and her family were so gracious. They took me around and showed me all the things in and around the port city of Bremen. I ate more cake and chocolate then should be legally allowed, I’m surprised my pancreas didn’t tap out halfway through. I cannot thank her family enough for their hospitality.

The first two days I was there we went to Bremen, mainly to check out the Christmas market in the main square. Bremen is an old European city and you know what that means – old European architecture!

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Here is one of the guild houses.

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And here’s the town hall. Note the alternating red and black brick. Nice touch.

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And, of course, there’s a cathedral called a Dom (pronounced “dome”).

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Outside guarding the doors are some fun little critters. I think this one is a griffin killing a snake. And on the other side is a lion biting a something in the neck on top of a shattered man. Not really sure what’s going on there, but I like it.

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The doors were pretty bangin’ as well, especially the door knockers. (See? See what I did there? I will not apologize.) I think the designer was going for lions but it being 1100 A.D. he may have never seen a lion, so the final result is a sheep who ran into the back of a truck and hasn’t been the same since. Good try, though.

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The church inside is polychrome, meaning that it was painted with intricate patterns over the stone.

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There was some neat ironwork that was partial to because, you know, monsters, griffins, dragons, etc. are a soft spot for me.

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And some old stone carvings. I love the dog-faced snake.

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Neenernator took me around the dom to a side door. She informed me that the air under the cathedral was very dry and cool so when they buried people there they didn’t decompose, they just dried out. Which, as you well know, is the magical way mummies are made. At some point they dug these people up and then there they were, looking very dry and dessicated.

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This one was my favorite. Clearly he was a fat man when he was buried, but as he contracted his hands, which had been sitting on his corpulent belly, stayed frozen up in the air.

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And this is a close-up of someone’s fingernails. Seriously, these mummies had no preparation of any kind and they were in pretty great condition.

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Outside the cathedral was some serious Christmas marketry.

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It is so massive that it spills all over the city. Right outside the train station was a blob of market, all blinky and cheerful in the gloomy rain.

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On top of one of the bars there was an animatronic moose. I caught some footage of it singing along with “Jingle Bells.”

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Primarily, like most fairs and markets, there was tons to drink and eat. There was all the beverages I mentioned before (we’ll go into further detail about them shortly) and then there was currywurst (I circled the no-kidding-around mustard dispensers):

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Wild boar wurst:

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Horse wurst:

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Rotating steak:

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Salmon being cooked on wooden planks:

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Pancakes caramelized in butter and sugar, then topped with plum jam:

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Gingerbread hearts:

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Schmaltzkuchen (literally translated to “fat cookies”):

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Smoked eels:

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And chocolates that looked like tools. I bought Cricket a wrench. He said it was delicious.

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Now, drinks. My goodness. One that Neenernator insisted I try was feuerzangenbowle. It’s wine poured over a stick of sugar rotating over a fire. I think rum is involved as well. It was very dark, but I circled the area where the fire/sugar stick was.

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And there was a man who I was convinced was a weird librarian monk in a previous life and he was selling his own interesting liquors and wines. These two (and there were about twenty-five) are mango-ginger liquor and walnut-cognac.

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What’s kind of great about Germany and most of the world that isn’t America is that people take personal responsibility for things. For example, everyone is drinking, right? And since this is a fair of sorts, there are rides where things move quickly. But there are no guard rails. There is nothing stopping you from walking right up to the moving parts of the ride at any time. And surprisingly, no one gets their arm ripped out of the socket because maybe they’re just not as stupid. Or litigious. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see.

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I took video footage of two rides, actually standing on the side where one could just place one’s hand on the rapidly spinning cars if one wanted. In the first one you can hear Neenernator gleefully say exactly the same thing I wrote above.

http://youtu.be/YpeprI7rOF0

http://youtu.be/De2nsZ4t68s

Next post: further forays in the German countryside.