Archive for November, 2014

Where am I now??

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Back in Alberobello, Italy, I challenged anyone who was reading my blog to guess where I was in the photo.

Well here is another one.

I’m in a very old city in Switzerland.

The photo is the clue.


Let Advent Begin!

Saturday, November 29th, 2014



All the anticipation has been worth it.

The “Christkirdelmarik”, or Christmas/Advent markets are finally open.

The mayor or dignitary plugs in the towering Christmas tree, the oompah bands play, and the little kiosks are open to selling their handicrafts, warm drinks, chestnuts, bratwursts and just about anything you can think of. Add a ton of evergreens, twinkle lights and sweet smells and you have the recipe that inspires one to be a little kid again.

Two years ago I gave to a local thrift shop all my holiday decorations. It was very freeing. And because of my store, and all the decorating it demanded, my family gave me grace, and I haven’t put up a tree for almost 15 years! NO I am not a Grinch.

All my holidays were consumed by the flower shop and all the church music I was responsible for as organist and choir director.

This year I am decorating for Christmas in my heart by filling all my senses with the sparkle and delight of the coming of the Christ child. I have seen two markets and each was different. THE oldest one since 1570 and rated #1 is in Strasbourg. Two more days!!!

This is a once in a life time experience and I’m loving it!!

On Base

Monday, November 24th, 2014

We are in Garmish, Germany this week staying at an Army complex. It is at the base of the Alps and is something out of a fairy tale. The Marshal Center; European Center for Security Studies is a big part of what goes on here. It is very impressive as they bring in security personnel from countries all over the world to put their heads together and come up with ideas to make this a safer planet. Next week’s class will have representatives from 46 different countries.

The U.S. spearheads this and provides the accommodations, teachers, classrooms etc. One of the questions they will be tackling next week is how does a country deal with the issue of a citizen who goes to Syria for ‘training’ and then wants re-admittance to their own country? They haven’t committed a crime…yet. We have met several fine people who work for this outfit and it’s people helping people stay safe.

We enjoy being able to take advantage of the military benefits Steve has earned.  We can live  on base (when room is available), shop, eat. Everything is in English and in dollars no matter what country the base  is in. While here, we both got our hair done, enjoyed fellowship at the base chapel, and used the library. We have a suite with maid service, a nearby cafeteria, and bus service just outside the gate.

Security is very tight with guards and spotlights and dogs, so you better have your I.D. ready.


Taking It On The Chin

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

The Habsburgs were a crazy, out of control dynasty that ruled for over 600 years (a.k.a. Austro-Hungarian Empire) and were the most powerful European entity since Rome! They started out mostly a peaceful group and found that marrying their royals with other countries’ royals enlarged  their holdings without firing a shot. But this eventually resulted in a lot of in-marrying, and a slew of reasons that this was not a good idea for their gene pool (more in a minute on that).

The 19th Century was their time to shine with Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Strauss, Freud, Doppler and a host of others. At the turn of the century, Vienna was the world’s 5th largest city in the world and had managed to avoid all revolutions and revolts. Then came World War I, (which I could make a case for the greedy Habsburgs starting and losing) and their holdings were split asunder. Then Hitler took over in 1938 and that’s enough of a history lesson for now. I read tons about everyplace I visit.

After a few generations of sisters marrying brothers, uncles with nieces, you get the idea, a few quirky things started showing up in the family Christmas photo. We see hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and skeletal deformities such as smaller stature and the easiest to spot; ‘Habsburg chin’. This is a very pronounced chin (think Jay Leno x 10). Phillip II of Spain was so deformed he could not swallow or speak.. In this portion of a prominent statue in the city center, you see Leopold I (and Holy Roman Emperor) kneel in thanksgiving for the plague being over. He was married to his niece who was also a first cousin so they weren’t fast learners either.

Habsburg Chin

Habsburg Chin

Classical Culture

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

There are so many exciting concerts and recitals by amazing talent all over Vienna, but things can get pricey if you let them. With a little research, yesterday we went to a two hour rehearsal in St. Peters; organ, strings, and soloists of the highest caliber.

This morning we heard the Vienna Boys Choir: they sing for mass at a small chapel within the Habsburg grounds. We then dashed a couple hundred steps to the St. Augustinerkirche to hear the Vienna Philharmonic and bombastic organ play for another service!  All of it sounded like heaven and the goosebumps were free!

no photos allowed in the churches, so it's me being 'Fall-ish'!!

no photos allowed in the churches, so it’s me being ‘Fall-ish’!!

Prancing in Vienna

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

DSC03244What’s born black, turns grey, and at 10 years of age turns WHITE?

If you’ve been here you know it’s the Lipizzaner Stallions of the Spanish Riding School; you know that drill team of white horses that can leap in the air and seem to glide through their routines.

We went to a practice session (at 14 euros per person , we couldn’t afford the 100+ fee for a show). It was rather enthralling to see them put through their paces and also to train the up and coming colts.

It takes 10 years for them to be show-ready, but they live over 30 years and are pampered like you can’t believe.

We got a special treat when we were ambling around the Habsburg Palace grounds and they were escorted from their stables to a private training ground right in front of us. NO one gets that close!

Advent Anticipation

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

DSC03226Where the United States starts selling Christmas the middle of October and our special holidays have started running into ‘happythanksmas’, here in Europe (or at least in Austria and Germany) no bulb is lit before it’s time.

Advent is the big build up to Christmas, St. Stephens Day, and 12th Night.

I find it exciting that windows are draped to prevent their seasonal decor from being viewed. Crews are hanging huge light displays across pedestrian malls and city streets but NOT turning them on.

There is a build up that is generating enthusiasm as the stalls for the Christmas markets are being built and decorated. Add to that the crisp air, the fragrances of mulled spices, music everywhere,  and drums of fire roasting chestnuts that are already in place and you have a recipe for a Merry Christmas!

Prague Prattle

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

DSC03136I enjoyed Prague!

It intimidated me at first, especially the report of there being so many pick pockets and it being a ‘dark’ city.’ I think I saw two as they scoped out different crowds…their shifty eyes always moving.

We saw a lot of history, ate some unique food, and appreciated that this is a country that has only been under their own rule since 1989. If it wasn’t the Hapsburgs, it was the Communists. They are exploring and venturing out in this freedom to explore their identity.

And what a musical city! Every night there are a dozen concerts to chose from. Mozart made Prague his home away from home.It has a beautiful castle on a hill overlooking a river that runs through the middle of town and a bridge that spans it for strolling and listening to street musicians.

The Old town is the center of everything including a 600 year old clock that tells you everything from the time, to tides, to phases of the moon. Multitudes gather there every approaching hour to watch it come alive.

The language is missing a lot of vowels but has dots, dashes, and squiggles to make up for it. Sign language is spoken here!

‘Dem Bones

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

DSC03178Well you won’t find this in Martha Stewart, or Better Homes and Gardens! This is Kunta Hora, Czech.

Back in the middle ages everyone wanted to be buried here because someone brought some dirt back from the Holy Land and spread it about. It then was considered a holy place, so much so that multiple levels of people were buried in the cemetery. Whole families were stacked in a single grave site. But what happens when you want to build a church on some of this holy land? Well you throw the skeletons in the basement.

But eventually they just pile up.

So why not do something artistic?

These are the bones of over 40,000 people! (plague and wars).

The chandelier contains every bone in the human body, and the coat of arms on the wall is actually made up of arms.

It’s eerie but it did help to fathom the sheer volume of people who could loose there lives in an epidemic.

And that ‘holy’ dirt that started it all, well it came from Golgotha, the word that means “the place of the skull.”


Monday, November 10th, 2014

What would you do if you found that ordering the beer on the menu was cheaper than ordering the water?

Yep that’s my latest dilemma here in Prague, Cz.

Where as Belgium makes the most types of beer, and Germany makes the most quantity of beer, it’s the Czechs that consume the most beer. Each Czech (of all ages) consumes 1.5 liter of beer per day!

And it all started in the neighborhood of Plzen, where making the yellow fizzy stuff spread worldwide. A popular brand here is Budweiser. The Czechs say they had the name first. Many lawyers later, the Czech brand can be sold in Europe, China, and Africa, but in America it’s sold as “Czechvar”.

Only one brand is sold at any one pub, and it’s not common to bar hope. They relate it to being faithful to one woman.

And I’m too cheap, I drink the beer!