Not Your Typical Travel Journal – It’s my NEW BOOK – Buy one!

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  A Travel for Taste – Collected Czech Family Recipes

I’m thrilled to announce that today is the official release of my latest book:

A Travel for Taste – Collected Czech Family Recipes!
It is a revision of the first edition which included some non-Czech recipes. I rewrote it to include only Czech recipes. This new one has additional recipes as well.

The best part of the book to me is the fact that the recipes are introduced by stories and photos from my travels. Each recipe has a narrative about how I came to have the recipe. And each dish is an authentic family recipe from Czech friends. read more

Gearing up for Spring

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It’s been almost two months since my last post. Things have been pretty quiet but that’s not to say I haven’t been busy. One thing I didn’t mention in my last post was the flooding that took place here in Germany in December. They had record snows and then it all melted, causing major high-water problems. I could see the water standing in the fields when I returned after my Christmas vacation, and I noticed that the train schedules are still being disrupted because the water undermined a lot of the bridges. It took me three hours by train from Munich to get home instead of the usual two. The relatively new levee between me and the Regnitz River that’s only two blocks away held and there was no local flooding. I saw great, deep ruts from heavy equipment tires by the levee, though. I still see them working on the levee and train trestles, too. My thanks to everyone who wrote to me at that time to wish me and all my German friends the best. You know who you are! At the risk of sounding like an annoying Christmas card letter, here’s what I’ve been up to. It was a slow and fairly uneventful February, but as spring approaches, things are gearing up. The weather since the first of the year has been warmer than normal. No snow to speak of and wonderful sunny days. People are taking to the nature paths and parks as the grass greens. The trees still don’t have buds yet because it still gets down below freezing at night, but the days reach into the 60’s sometimes. Everyone is eager for Easter. Crocuses are pushing up through the earth and flower stalls are reappearing on the market squares with tulips and pussy willow branches. Germans take spring branches and make Easter trees. They stick them in a vase and tie eggs and various Easter decorations to the twigs. It’s like an indoor version of their Osterbrunnen (see my article about same). I have one, too! Of course mine has my quilling on it. Spring branches at market flower stall: I managed to get some fairly good photos of the Concert Hall in Bamberg in February. It must have been the coldest day of the year, but the sun was high and bright. I used the photos to update my freelance article on the Bamberg Symphony because the concert hall is their home. Check out the photos with my article here. I’m still teaching English online and writing lots of freelance articles. I lucked into an editing project through one of my freelance sites and netted some extra dough. It got me some new cookware, new curtains and rugs, and a flat-screen monitor for my Macbook. Many of you know that I was chosen by one of my freelance sites, WriterAccess.com, to contribute a post to their writers’ blog. I posted A How-To Guide to Creating Travel Journals. What you don’t know is that they contacted me last week and said they liked the post so much that they wanted to make me the Featured Writer in the first issue of their newsletter that will publish some time in April. On top of that, I noticed that I had been bumped up to the highest level of writer on their site (read, “gets more money per word”). Guess they don’t want any slackers being featured! You also may have seen my email about my freelance article on Riesling wine that received the Editor’s Choice award on Suite101.com. They say it’s a “coveted award” but I don’t remember coveting it beforehand! Seriously, though, my sincere thanks for all of you who so diligently click on my freelance articles. You know it makes me some cash and the revenue is building every month because of you. Thanks from the bottom of my heart! Another big dealio on the writing front: I applied to and got accepted as a writer on BrightHub.com. I will now be contributing articles about the Mac OS and maybe some other subjects down the road. My first article is under review, but I’ll notify you of the link when it’s published. All that previous sentence means is that they keep sending it back because I haven’t learned all their formatting rules yet! My landlady celebrated her 85th birthday last month with a party at the guesthouse next door. The tradition here is that on major birthdays like 30, 40, 50 and 60, then every five years after that – more or less – the birthday girl or boy hosts a huge group of friends and family at a local pub, restaurant or tavern. I was excited to be included, not least of all because the guesthouse next door makes the absolute best schnitzel I’ve ever had. And I have had it everywhere! For her party, I made quilled daffodils and put them on placecards – enough for each of the 15 guests to have one. Then she gave me a list of the attendees and I put their names on the cards. She was so pleased she gave me a big hug when she saw them. They went over well at the party, too. Here’s a pic: Speaking of quilling, my good friend Lauren continues to dip my quilled goodies in acrylic and make jewelry out of them. So, I’ve spent many an hour making shamrocks, fish, bunnies, snails and snowflakes then shipping them to her. Here’s a photo of the latest shipment. Last weekend a friend of mine named Edda called, thanks to the accurate information supplied to her by my other wonderful friend Sherry. I met Edda in Florida but she was actually born in Bamberg. She was here visiting friends and family and called me during her visit. She picked me up last Saturday for a really fun day! First Edda, her friend Gudrun (I think) and I visited the local flea market where I picked up a small pitcher made with the salt-glazed ceramic method. It was “one of the old ones” pronounced Gudrun, which is a very good thing indeed. The style is native to the Rhine region and dates from around 1500. Salt is actually added in the kiln so the gray stoneware ends up with a glossy, hard, orange-peel surface. Then we stopped at a thrift store where I found two salt ceramic glasses to go with my pitcher. They were not the “old ones” but they match ok. Also, they were free! The idea is that you pour your wine into the small pitcher and pour it from there into the glasses. The stoneware keeps the wine cool on warm days. I’m planning to try that out very soon. Got my bottles of Dornfelder and Spatburgunder already! My second find at the thrift store was a set of four Roemer wine glasses, a very German wine glass style. I paid only two Euro for a set of four, which is next to free in the grand scheme of things. They are on display next to my salt ceramic set on a ledge in my kitchen. After the thrift shop Gudrun dropped us off at Edda’s hotel where we picked up her grandson Robert who was accompanying her on her trip from Florida and who had slept in that morning. We also met her cousin Robert and his wife Anita there. They had brought along their grandson Phillip (I think – sorry if that’s wrong!). The boys were about 13 years old, and I must say they were two of the smartest, nicest kids I’d ever met. We had a great time together. Robert and Anita live in what was East Germany and drove a couple of hours to see Edda. They told us stories about living under the Soviets, which always intrigues me. Robert is now taking English lessons at the local continuing education center (Volkshochschule) and was practicing on me. Anita had such a childlike wonder for everything that I couldn’t help but like her. Everyone was so very nice and treated me like one of the family. The day couldn’t have been more perfect! It was suggested that we visit Altenburg, the old Medieval castle on the highest of Bamberg’s seven hills. “It’s not far,” says Edda. But even considering a German person said that, it WAS far! And all uphill! OMG, what a walk! The weather was great, but it was windy and a bit cold going up. But the view was spectacular. And we all had lunch at the restaurant in the castle when we got there. The beer eased any tired feet I may have been experiencing! Here are some photos from our outing. This first one is the Altenburg Gang: Edda’s grandson Robert, Phillip, Edda’s cousin Robert, Edda, Robert’s wife Anita. The boys in front of a very dirty wall in a church: Halfway to the castle (fortunately I can use taking photos as an excuse to rest!): You can see the castle through the trees off in the distance to the left. That’s the boys on the path: Our young men at the castle:    On the way back down, we could see all of Bamberg spread out before us. There is the cathedral with the four spires: And there is Michaelsberg with the two towers: Here’s the Cafe am Dom where we had coffee and dessert later. The boys posed with a giant Botero sculpture near the University: Frankly, there is much more to tell, but this post has gotten long. Congratulations if you are still reading! I’ll fill you in on all the good stuff in the next post, ok? Thanks for taking the time to see what I write. You’re the best! Have a great week! Photo for No Apparent Reason:

Christmas Holiday Recap

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It’s Sunday morning and as I write this the church bells are ringing here in my little German village. It’s one of my favorite things about Europe – the bells. For this journal I don’t have any particular European experiences to relate, despite the previous journals about the build-up of the Christmas season. This year I spent the Christmas holidays in Florida, so I’ll tell you about that. I flew on the 15th of December and had just enough time to catch my breath before my husband and I boarded the worthy, seagoing vessel of our friends Audrey and Dick for the annual boat parade. Boat parades are particular to coastal areas, and I never heard of them until I moved to Florida. Since I grew up in landlocked Indiana, they are a treat for me. I’ve seen several, but I’d never been in one before. We boarded the handsomely decorated boat just at sunset: The crew donned the proper uniforms: Under a full moon, we collected with other decorated boats and formed a line. We weaved in and out of the canals along the coast in Audrey and Dick’s neighborhood. It was very chilly, but the festive spirits were high. People had gathered along the backyards along the canals and we shouted, “Merry Christmas!” back and forth across the water to each other during the entire parade. It was interesting that we couldn’t really see the audience! Suddenly a thick fog creeped in, making it hard for Captain Dick to see. He deftly steered us out of harm’s way, though, and we completed our journey. The fog lifted just as suddenly near the end of the parade. We sat in the docked boat for a few hours after the parade chatting and catching up. We SO enjoy spending time with this group! You’ll see them again later for a New Year’s party! I have written here and on my freelance site about my hand-carved wood nativity set from northern Italy. It’s LEPI from Val Gardena. One of the treats of my trip was setting it up for the holiday season and adding the three soldiers I had bought this year. Here’s the collection so far: During my trip I made several trips to my friend Lauren’s house. She is the one who dips my quilled creations in clear acrylic and makes jewelry and window hangings out of them to sell. Lauren is from Maine and has retained a lot of her New England flare. She decorates her house like no one else for the holidays. Here is but one of her Christmas trees. The luscious buffet beneath it was for a small get-together she hosted in my honor! The food was even more delicious than the decorations! Check out her Parsimonious Cookery Book blog. She is one of the best cooks I know! There are so many things I did during my trip. I visited my friend Ralph’s Old Time Radio group’s rehearsals a few times. They read radio scripts and perform the readings for senior groups and other events in the area. I was part of the group when I was gallery director before taking off for Europe. Ralph is one of those people who I want to be when I grow up!

I was introduced to Sugar Darlings cupcakes by my good friend Spellbinding Sherry. They were so good I got them for my birthday instead of a cake.

Our good friends Bob and Sharon took me and my husband out for my birthday dinner at a lovely little restaurant called Oscar’s in St. Pete Beach. There was delicious food and live jazz piano music. The next weekend the four of us spent Sunday at Safety Harbor Spa where we dived into the Sunday brunch and enjoyed the relaxing services. What a day! I’d highly recommend their brunch for Mother’s Day. read more

Fifth Bamberg Christmas Market – and SNOW!

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This week has been very eventful. I have had so much to do to prepare for my trip to the US for Christmas. But I also found time to decorate my apartment here a little for the holidays. Here’s my “tree” – its decorated with my quilling.  Hilde gave me the Advent wreath on the window ledge next to it. I also took a picture of the Nativity scene here in Bischberg where I live. In my last journal I reported on its dedication ceremony a couple of weeks ago. You may remember that many Nativity scenes change as the Advent season progresses to reflect events in the story of Jesus’ birth. Here are Mary and Joseph apparently being told there is no room at the inn. We’ve had a couple of small snowfalls, although it’s very early in the year for them. However, last Thursday night we got about 6 inches of beautiful, fluffy white snow! Hilde called me excitedly Friday morning saying it was so wonderful that I had to come to her house to photograph it. She was right! Here are some photos of my two-kilometer walk to their place in the next village: This particular line of trees with snow is what always comes to mind when I think of winter in Germany: My favorite apple tree on the ridgeline: Hilde lives in a village called Weipelsdorf. It’s really small and off the beaten path. I think I mentioned before that I learned it used to be a “Frische Luft Bad,” literally, Fresh Air Spa. It was where people came to the country to enjoy the fresh air. I would love to know more about this spa, but there isn’t anything online at all. Maybe the library. This house was the hunting lodge of the spa. Here is the view from Hilde’s window. At least one of you in my audience has seen this view before! Here is an example how much Germany is tied up in meat AND Christmas. This is actual salami in the shape of a Christmas tree! I saw it in the butcher shop and had to get a few slices. They also had something that looked like bologna with a Christmas tree and ornament design in the middle. I passed on that one! Here Hilde is practicing Silent Night. She always plays it on Christmas Eve when the family is gathered around for gift-exchanging. This sheet music was copied by her when she was a child. It is a well-known German Christmas song, but I had never heard the melody before. The title, “Ihr Kinderlein Kommet, “ translates as, “Little Children, Come.” Hilde baked a cherry torte after lunch. Then she brought out her best china, Rosenthal porcelain, and we had a proper “Adventskaffee.” I have loved this china for many years! In fact, she told me once that it’s mine when she dies. I call it Schloss Geschirr, or Palace Dishes. It is so unbelievably beautiful! I can imagine royalty using it. What a wonderful day! And it’s a good thing she called me when she did. The next day it warmed up and rained and now most of the snow is gone. The next day, Saturday December 11, I hopped a bus to Bamberg to visit the fifth and final Christmas market for the year, the Artisan Market. This market was only for this weekend, so I had to go even though it was lightly raining. I was grateful when I saw that it was inside! It benefits the Don Bosco society that works with underprivileged kids. Part of the market was upstairs in a beautiful Renaissance-type room. Here’s the ceiling: The market was very kid-centric. Here’s the entrance to the Kid’s Café: At the exit was a guy selling those bird-whistle ceramic thingies that were at the Medieval Market  – see my previous blog post for details. Different guy but same product. Here’s a closer look. I dig the chest most of all! After this market I wanted to visit a couple more locations on the Nativity Trail. On my way to the place I definitely wanted to see, I passed by the Carmelite nun’s cloisters. What a huge church! You can get a sense of how immense this place is from the aerial photo here. After the rather lame Nativity scenes I’d encountered so far, this one finally impressed me. It was really big with figurines about the size of toy action figures. It was Franconian style with a little booth of just about every kind of activity you can think of, such as a baker, a weaver, a tailor, a butcher, etc. There were beggars and people doing chores. There was a guy with his arm in a sling. In the center was Joseph with Mary on a donkey, registering with the authorities. I spent a long time looking at all the different little scenes. And then I HAD to risk taking the prohibited flash photo because I knew I had to post this for you: Why in the world there would be a martial arts fight in a Nativity scene, I’ll never know! I think the figurines have kung-fu grips. Next stop was Obere Pfarre church. It translates as Upper Parish. It, too, is HUGE. They have the largest figurines on the Trail, also in Franconian style. The figures are about a foot high. Here’s a pan view of it from across the church: And Mary on the donkey (LOVE the guy on the right!): And Joseph registering. Doesn’t that woman walking up on the left look like she’s going to tell the Roman centurions on somebody? I don’t like the look of her! Here’s another scene from this Nativity. I love the washing hanging on the line. Here’s the alter in that church. I had never seen it before. It’s so gorgeous – I must do a whole article on it some day. Turns out my landlady attended the school run by this church. After doing these photos I headed downtown to the big Christmas market on the square. The place was slammed! There were carolers on the square, a band playing Christmas songs on a side street, and thousands of people. They were shopping their a**es off! It was so crowded and I was glad to see the economy jumping. Plus it was NOT a mall! I picked up a couple of items for friends and headed home to warm up. Tonight I’m going to the local church for a Christmas choir concert. My landlady sings in the choir and she invited me to see it. It’s to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society. After that, I start packing for my trip to Florida on Wednesday! I hope you are all having a great holiday season! Photo for No Apparent Reason (I call it, “Thank your local English Teacher”):

Two More German Christmas Markets

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Remember last journal I told you about my trip to the main Christmas market in Bamberg and the Advent market. Well, yesterday I made a trip to Bamberg to check out the Medieval Christmas market. Through my research for the freelance article on this market, I discovered that Bamberg’s tourist info office hires a company that puts on the Medieval markets for townships and other groups. This year it was a company called Kramer Zunft und Kurtzweyl. I have to say that they did a fantastic job! I SO enjoyed this market! Their tents were Middle-Age-ish as well as their costumes. I think I even detected a German version of “thee” and “thou” and “m’lady” if I know how to detect that at all. Here’s the blacksmith, who, out of all of them, looked like he’d rather be ANYWHERE rather than here. But he had a good bellows! You had to get by this guy (i.e., buy a ticket for 3.50 Euros) to get through the gate: The market was held at Schloss Geyersworth, which is an old castle adjacent to the Tourist Information Office. It’s such a great setting for this scene. The stone walls are high and covered in vines, which are, of course, bare this time of year. It has two courtyards which made the market appear generously large for the price. The first courtyard had mostly stalls of things for sale. Here’s the honey wine/mead booth. You can see the women on the stage in the distant background. They were dancing and singing songs that sounded like they came from India. Unfortunately by the time I made it back that far they had finished their performance. One of my favorite stalls was the bookbinder. There were all manner of hand-tooled leather journals for sale, as well as quill pens and ink. I bought a bar of handmade soap from this nice gentleman for a friend’s Christmas present. Don’t tell my girlfriend Cheryl – this is a test to see if she reads my articles or only looks at the pictures. This guy was selling ceramics. He was great! He would call children over and demonstrate the ceramic whistles. You can see them at the front of his booth – they have blue tops. They looked like little teapots. He would fill one with water and blow into the mouthpiece on top. The water would warble the whistle sound so that it truly sounded like a real bird! The kids were so enthralled with this and I stood by to enjoy his spiel more than once. You could tell he really liked what he was doing. And he sold more than one of those whistles while I was listening in. A stall with one of the biggest crowds was the one selling roasted meat of some kind on a hard roll. It smelled wonderful! And there was the added attraction of the fire that people were happy to stand near. Me included! There were stalls for sausage (Bratery) and garlic bread (Knobi-Brot), plus desserts and hot drinks. In the other courtyard were demonstrations of Medieval trades. Here is a stonecutter demonstrating how he transfers the drawing onto stone then chips out the shape: This booth didn’t really demonstrate bows and arrows, they just sold them. This guy was my favorite! I’m still not sure what exactly he was doing but I think he was grinding grain into flour. However, the sign looks like it says ‘Brewery.’ Regardless, the look on the guy’s face sums up the entire performance. I was laughing so hard I could barely take his picture. He was NOT into this demo! However, I think I made him smile a little by laughing about the whole thing. As I said, I truly enjoyed this market. They really seemed to have put together a great show. However, all good things must come to an end, and pretty soon I found myself back outside the castle walls. But there was plenty more to see that day. I had assigned myself the task of visiting some of the Nativity scenes on Bamberg’s famous Nativity Trail. There are over 40 Nativity scenes on this route, and I didn’t intend on seeing all of them, but I visited a few. Overall they were not as impressive as the ones I’d seen in the past. But I will try to visit those locations this season and post those pics when I do. For now, here is the Nativity scene at St. Elisabeth’s. You might remember this church as the location of the Advent Market I posted photos of last week. This crib scene was behind Plexiglas right inside the big, heavy wooden church door. There was a huge, wrought-iron gate barring entrance to the church nave. I had to grope in the darkness to find the light switch. When the light finally came on, this is what I saw: The figures are only about six inches tall. And you tell ME what was going on there related to Jesus’ birth! Nuthin. So I made my way to the “official” first stop on the Nativity Trail, Bamberg’s Cathedral, or Dom. I wasn’t too impressed by this, either, though I admit that the normally chilly church was a welcome warmup from the wind on top the hill it sits on. Here’s their crib: While I was in the cathedral, I shot my favorite church scene – people at the candle-lighting table. I managed to catch this group gathered around it. It was available light – no flash! After the cathedral I made my way to St. Michaels. On the way I happened upon St. Jacob’s Church, which is so beautiful inside! I wish there had been enough light to shoot some interior shots, but it had gotten too dark. As it was, I had to “illegally” use flash to record their Nativity scene, also with figurines that are about six inches high imprisoned behind Plexiglas. I just dig the little plastic chickens! And that’s not the Holy Spirit glowing near Mary’s feet – it’s glare from my flash! I finally made it to St. Michaels, or Michelsberg as it’s known locally. But I’ll be darned if I could find a Nativity scene! The café and other stuff was closed up, so maybe it was behind one of those locked doors. Oh well. Anyway, I got this nice shot of the car park near a wine café next to it. It’s the outdoor wine cafe in summer. Because at that point I could no longer feel my feet, I decided to get back downtown and have dinner at my favorite café. On the streets near the café, I discovered what the shop owners had done for Christmas decorations: positioned a Christmas tree on either side of each door. Though this photo is a little blurry, I thought you’d like to see the effect of this decorating scheme: Cool, huh? After I finished dinner, I stepped back outside, intending to catch my bus back home. However, it was snowing! It was so beautiful that I ended up staying another hour or two to photograph the streets and big Christmas market on Maxplatz that I reported on last week. The snow really dressed it up! Bamberg’s Langestrasse in the snow: A florist’s tent in the Christmas market district: A stall with honey-related items: beeswax candles, honey soap, honey for tea, etc. I love this! After becoming numb in my lower extremities, I caught the last bus home to thaw out. A hot bath and a cup of tea or two fixed me right up!   Next weekend I’m visiting the fifth and final Christmas market in Bamberg – the Artisan market, so stay tuned! Photo for No Apparent Reason:
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