To the Wachau

 

At lunch yesterday, Birgit suggested we make ein Ausflug – an outing – for Sunday, bringing up the idea of driving along the Donau in the Wachau region, the wine region, which starts at the village of Krems, an hour or so west of Vienna, and continues until Melk. After a full day of corn fields, the idea sounded great to me, and as the weather and the crop decide when free days can be granted, my two-day weekend plans, at least for this weekend, have been postponed. Birgit commandeers  the itinerary, while Charlie drives, the two older children quiet in the back seats, (the younger two are at their grandmother’s for the weekend, until this evening) I enjoy my free day. 

Our first stop is the Woelkenburg Kloster, a monestary dating back to the 1100s and still in use for monks as well as for leasing to the public for seminars, workshops, youth camps, etc. It sits atop a large hill, overlooking Krems and the beginning of the Wachau.

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Kelms, middle, lies at the foot of the kloster. Senning is about a cm above Stokerau, at the far right side of the map, center, north of the Donau. 

First things first! A picture, naturally.

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With Birgit, Dorian, Anika, Charlie and dog Greta.

 

We walk through the grounds and visit the church, which coincidently just opens a service with a chant. The voices echo the lavish ornamentation and gilded space, painted in soft egg shell blue.

Continuing on, we drive down the hill and along the Donau. Now we’re entering the small towns that announce the Heurige – a small wine tavern that highlights the vineyard’s wines that year. Every weekend a different vineyard will host, and we found one in Weißenkirchen, which not only had wine, but beer, frites, grilled chicken and wurst, and an item that Birgit introduced me to that comes from the Middle Ages: Feuerfleck. This is a simple wrap made from four and water and rolled into a crepe form and grilled. Once grilled, it is smeared with sour cream and chives.

Next to my Feuerfleck, you can see a special brötchen that is made exclusively in the region, but I really can’t tell the difference between it and any other brötchen. I can tell the difference between the cakes on the right, though, which are a very light cream type of cheese and apricot glaze, and a chocolate whip.

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This is the menu from the Heurigan Weißenkirchen; as you can see, meat and carbs galore!

After the snack and wine, we attempt to head down the the river to let the dog quench his thirst when we are waylayed by another wine bar just around the corner, and as the children need to find and use the bathroom, we use the time to order three different types of rieslings.

In the picture on the left, notice a sign on the heurige‘s doorway that resembles a ship’s helm. When the lantern in the middle of the helm is lit, the establishment is open for business.

We walk some more, drive to Dürnstein, where Birgit and Charlie were married, and apparently, due to a succession of quick Instagram messaging with Edgar, I learn that he and Jan visited this very place on their Danube River cruise last year!

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The ruins of Dürnstein, whose claim to fame is that King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here in in the 1100s and his brother refused to pay the ransom in hopes of becoming king himself.

 

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We stay up at the ruins for a while, enjoying the view and succumbing to what views do best: letting thoughts drift and stop, change and flow, consume and broaden.

The Wachau region is very similar to the Mosel and parts of the Rhine River in Germany, with terraced vineyards right down to the river, restaurants, guest houses, and bars along the water’s edge covered and surrounded by grape vines, a high water mark cemented in a town wall, a church whose bells ring, narrow one car streets, and of course, the tourist shops, which can be overrun on the weekends and especially in the summer months.

Above, we toast with three samples of apricot liqueur with a dunked apricot; location? simply down the road.

Soon, there is a request to stop for ice cream and we walk through Krems – a university town whose schools specialize in medicine and dentistry – and where Birgit’s grandparents lived and worked; her grandfather as a frisur whose shop she stands before (pictured right, below) which still has his name on the door.

We drive to Kirchstein, to pick up the two youngest children at Birgit’s mother’s house, and then with a van full of kids, a dog, and three adults in the front seat, we drive to another Heurigan for dinner.

Somewhere along the road, we pass an apricot stand, and Birgit suddenly feels like apricots, so we pull over and she gets a case and we continue down the road with grandmother and her friend following. This heurige‘s menu is a little different: they offer meat-filled knoedels with sauerkraut on the side, and several different types of bread with various meat and fat toppings. Our table spilt two types of knoedels and the bread. Let me describe this. On a thick, fresh slice of homemade rye bread, a layer of schmalz (fat that is not quite liquid and not quite solid) is smeared, and upon this is sprinkled little fat crisps, and then to top it off, garlic slices. These wineries really know how to handle a hangover. Today’s nutrition: (not including breakfast, which was something sensible like yogurt and muesli) wine,  flour and sour cream, cake, wine, liqueur, ice cream, an apricot, wine, sauerkraut, bread, fat and garlic.

But then it’s Monday, and some of us have to go back into the corn. 

July 9

After another walk through cornfield #1 this morning, to make sure that all the flower stalky things that hid behind the leaves on Saturday had a chance to grow on Sunday and become more visible for a plucking. (It makes for quite a satisfying snap sound as you gently pull it out. The less leaves you take with it, the better for the whole plant. It will then continue to grow upward instead of outward, producing larger, rather than smaller, cobs.) You might be able to notice a stalkgrowing around a leaf in the picture on the right. If you can’t recognize it, don’t worry. With practice, you too will soon be able to detect it.

July 10

Today I finish cutting back the vine leaves from the front yard and make a quinoa and sautéed vegetable dish. I found every root and garden vegetable that was ready to eat. I happened to spy dandelion leaves spotting the yard, so I picked them too, boiled and them added them to the pan. I was so starved for vegetables, especially after the Sunday flour and fat day, that I drank the juice from the boiling of the leaves, and it was so good!

Birgit and the children picked a bucket full of apples this morning, and in the interim of the morning, she and I also peeled and cored enough for several jars of apple sauce; her daughter Anika shredded a bunch for a hankering for Appel strudel that Birgit and she started after lunch. Interesting tip: she rolls the dough on a floured tablecloth for easier manipulation and rolling without sticking. Once rolled to the size of a baking sheet, she brushes it with melted butter, and then layers it with strudel mixture: a melted stick of butter, bread crumbs, a T of vanilla sugar, 3 T of regular sugar, and the apple shredding. I’m not sure how many apples were used for shredding. I guess make it all to taste. The mixture should be clumpy. Then she rolls the dough lengthwise around itself, then places it on wax paper on the baking sheet.

It came out of the oven just shortly before 6; we each had a piece before we left for Vienna: she and her dog Greta for search and rescue training, I to a concert. I finally found a time conducive to our schedules, and she would be able to drop me off at a train station outside of Vienna and pick me up from the concert hall at its conclusion. I choose a Strauss and Mozart combination at das Konzerthaus, whose reviews on TripAdvisor are worthy of a visit. I want to hear Strauss’ waltzes being played in Vienna, and Mozart’s operettas being sung where he composed them, and this offers a sampling of both.

I figure out how to get from the train station to an approximate nearby station to the venue, and by the time I ascended the stairs onto Herrengasse I had to put on my blue ski jacket, as the weather had suddenly become very cold, and I needed to walk about 20 minutes. But it was warm when I got into the hall, and my general admission seat had a good view of the stage.

Most of the audience are tour groups who came in on big buses and are heralded from the hall by ladies holding signs on a stick, and realize this performance is geared for tourists, so wonder what’s in store.  The light-hearted 100 minute concert played the well known and most often heard pieces, charming and entertaining its audience by incorporating humor (one of the musicians giving the conductor a hard time by playing a note off key) and interaction (the audience was lead and instructed by the conductor during one of the Strauss pieces to clap softly and then loudly during certain parts). I don’t think all of that was necessary, as anyone who needs slapstick during a string and brass concert playing pieces that put Vienna on the map shouldn’t be there anyway. However, this adulteration was conspired in only three pieces, and the most beautiful and memorable pieces were played magnificently.

 

 

An afternoon in Vienna and a day in the cornfield.

As I sit down to write, I notice a cricket is on the side of my desk, its antennas poking up and alerting me to its existence. It thinks it is camoflaged, as it has sought out the darkest surface in this otherwise light colored room. I may have brought it in with me from the day in the cornfield, where I ran into a number of flying, hopping and buzzing insects; and as it may be taking care of any possible lingering mosquitos that the frogs in the pond have let slip by, or for sure relishing some of the other harmless yet annoying flying creatures I’ve been swatting away at for a week, he will become my new pet. 

July 6

After breakfast and the horse and chicken care, I trim the grape vines leaves and branches from the front yard fence, so the sun can reach the burgeoning grapes growing hidden from view, that are now turning from green to purple. These will be picked – along with the ones hanging from the canopy of their back patio – when ripe, and go through the same process as with the cherries for juice. Birgit and her sister are in the kitchen, whose windows are open and which overlook the front yard, falling into a colloquial Austrian conversation that when I attempt to understand, as at the dinner table, I can decipher, but here outside when it’s not meant for me I let their their dialogue create a quaint background music to my snipping and landscaping, the dialogue of sisters, sharing information and goings on about their lives with their young children running around and through them. When I am finished with the outside trimming, I know what has kept them busy: homemade mohnnudeln, a potato, egg, flour “dumpling,” rolled into short long pieces, boiled, and then coated in a poppy seed, cinnamon, sugar and butter coating. 

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Mohnnudeln, a traditional Austrian lunch time favorite.

Because the zucchinies are ripening daily, and in her pantry sits a full bucket of them, Birgit makes zucchini soup almost every day, and so we have that as well before hand.

Rain is forecast for the rest of the afternoon, limiting any more vine work or garden work. Birgit looks up the bus schedule to the nearest train station town – Stokerau – and announces there is a bus in seven minutes, which is very lucky as the busses rarely run in the summer. Otherwise, I would have to take one of the bikes and ride to the train station, about ten km away, lock it up there, and hop on the train to Wien. I opt for the bus idea, as the sky threatens rain now, and grab a day bag, money and walking shoes and head out to my first adventure outside the farm. 

The S Bahn takes about 40 minutes, depending on how many stops it makes along the way, to reach Wien Mittte, one of may stops in Vienna, but the one closest to the old town, and there disembark into the bustle of city life once again. And what a life! I obtain a tourist, land marked street map from the train station and get my bearings in order, and meander west on Stephansstrasse  which will eventually take me to St. Stephans Cathedral. Right away I am side tracked by delights of all kinds, especially this bakery/candy store that enticed me in with the sheet of almond brittle.  

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Walter Reimer Ges.m.b.h – according to the website, has been in operation for 70 years.

A few customers behind in line, I wait patiently, until I come to my correct senses: I need this almond brittle like I need another dumpling, and reluctantly headed over to the fresh fruit and vegetable juice man across the street who pressed a few large beets into a cup for me. Feeling more spiritely with my decision, I continue on my way, until just down the road I meet up with a Konditorei, which entices me for a far different reason. One of my wishes for several years now is to sit in a Viennese coffee house at a round, marble table over a rich burgundy carpet and long windows hung with heavy drapes that mute the clang of silver wear, cups and saucers in the kitchen. I would sit there, so the story goes, drinking the perfect cup of dark, heady coffee with the most creamy milk, and slice into a linzertorte with a silver fork. That’s as far as my story went, but I may be able to finish my story today. As I face the Konditorei’s window, inspecting the sachertorte, the apfel strudel, the topfkuchen, the erdbeer torte, I remind myself: I’m still drinking my beet juice. There are bound to be more I will encounter in my Viennese afternoon. I walk on, and am fascinated by the colors, the voices, the languages, the people, the shops. I walk straight onto Stephans Platz, from Schulerstrasse and come face to face with the cathedral, its mosaic tiled roof reflecting brilliant blue and gold, its one spiral reaching for the sun.

 

 

I walk around to find its entrance where horse carriages wait to trot their way around the old town area, and am approached by a fellow in Mozart garb offering me a discounted ticket to tonight’s concert: a tourist’s smorgasbord of Mozart, Strauss, Haydn and Vivaldi at the Haus der Musik, at the Palais Erzherzog Karl – 1567. He would have had me had the concert been for the afternoon, but I did not make any plans for a pick up from the train station as late as 11 pm, so I take the information anyway and keep it for another afternoon, quickly learning that besides the food and treats I’ll need to return for, there are also the concerts and the museums that begin to vie for attention on the way to Hofburg Hof, the imperial residences of the Hapsburg families. So today, I tell myself, is for getting my bearings and doing a survey course in the layout of Vienna.

Onward in a westerly direction, I walk onto the Hofburg grounds, where one can find the Spanish riding school building, where all those beautiful, white horses, called Lipizzaner Stallions, are trained to lift their legs high and dance sideways, and the riders wear the helmets with tassles that remind me of a certain Rembrandt painting. Tickets for a morning exercise show as well as for a guided tour are available, but again, with time limited, I must scope out my must sees, and move forward. Also to be found here, are the National Bibliothek, the largest Austrian scientific library with architecture that reveals said largess, and the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer – a museum that houses the jewels, probably dinnerware and other imperial finery of the Hapsburg era.

 

 

I sit here for a while, contemplating life during that era, and earlier, when the medieval wall around Vienna was taken down in the mid 1800s and replaced with the ring road. What once housed cobblers and dairies have become Salamander and Das Beste Eis der Welt. (True, by the way. I once thought Haagen Dasz was the best ice cream in the world. But it pales by comparison. I taste this ice cream – actually the cream, as I find out later at the Konditorei – and I am transported to cream heaven. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a match to the cream that is made here and used for desserts and in food recipes.)

By now the beet juice is long gone, and I’m ready for my afternoon treat. I find Aida Konditorei, back at Stephans Platz, and although I cannot find a linzer torte, (not for lack of asking at several along my way), I do find a linzerschnitt, but upon inspection through the glass case, can see very little if any of the necessary red currant jam. Disappointing, but no complaints, as the apple strudel looks enticing enough as it is. Knowing this choice will not complete my coffee house story, I forego sitting inside (as there is no carpet or drapery although I was pleased to see the marble tables) and select an outside table, order a kaffee mit Sahne and an Apfel strudel mit Sahne. I don’t see why not. Here I am, after all. And what a piece. It must weigh a kilo.  Around the pastry dough thinly sliced apples mingle with raisins and some kind of thickening agent – either farina or flour and butter – and overall, I thought a bit too dry. I know, right? Here I am, all psyched about my coffee house story and eat something that is not perfect. The cream, though, creates a beautiful symphony all together, and the coffee and cream was splendid as well. I decide I must finish my coffee house story at a different establishment on a different day, and maybe even in a different place, like Wiener Neustadt or Linz itself.

I am too full with butter, sugar, flour and cream to contemplate what I had in mind for dinner: Wurstchen mit senf und ein Bier. Alas, another day. I decide to walk back down to the Banhof to walk along the Donau; I admire the archtecture and the gardens where I meander through and watch children play fussball. On my way down the road, I run into the Manner wafer shop, the original chocolate and other assorted flavored wafers that began my love story with Austria years ago. Well that, and the wine at the local Heuriger, but that’s for a later story. 5AD3A08C-BD6B-4E9D-815E-D4D13222C2CE

July 7

My knowledge of corn has grown as large as the stalks this summer. Briefly, here is the gist of what an organic farmer must do when growing corn: Seed it and wait for rain. That’s it, although he’ll be doing a lot of worrying and speculation along the way. Once the corn flowers, it must be removed, and this is when the hard work begins. Non organic corn is fed a fertilizer that ensures even growth, so that a harvester can run through the whole field and pull the flower off the stalk. An organic cornfield will experience different growth periods of its corn, and the removal of the flower must be done by hand. The first harvest is done by a bunch of guys from the Check Republic, who remove the flowers from the top of the stalks, but because there are so many, and the green leaves of the corn stalk tall and broad, it often can hide the flower quite well. This means that several more times of walking through the rows of corn become necessary. The flower must be plucked from the female stalk so that the male flowering seeds, blowing around in the wind, can pollinate the female corn, and with flower removed, its easier to do. In every cornfield, there are three rows of male corn stalks for every five rows of female plants. The female is the larger plant, and its leaves are darker and less transluscent than the male plant.

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An example of the flower that needs to be pulled from the stalk for pollination to occur.

Once a farmer sees his corn flowering, a great panic ensues, as if left on too long, it will pollinate itself and produce a product that cannot be sold. A corn controller apparently roams the area and randomly will walk through a field to see how many of these flowers have been left or overseen. If he thinks there are too many, he will tell the landowner to walk through it again, or he will tell the buyer of the seed to not buy it as it will have been contaminated. If plucked too soon, the plant is too immature to pollinate successfully.

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A removed flower ready for pollination.

So my job is to walk the fields today, and I am trained on spotting these little buggers who like to hide behind the leaves. It can be mind numbing, but sometimes numbing a mind isn’t all that bad. It offers a whole lot of quiet time to think one’s thoughts. Just to give you an idea of the time this took, in four hours I walked 6 miles up and down the rows, at a very slow pace.

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At times, the corn reached above my head, creating a sea of green. See if you can spot the flower in the middle picture. And see if you can find the grasshopper in the bottom picture.

We stop and drive home for lunch: fried potatoes, onions and ham, and a tomato salad with mozzarella cheese. (Farmers in this region have fields in different areas, to ensure that he doesn’t lose all of his crops to a single disaster, should it happen in one area; or, to ensure that if the quality of soil isn’t great in that area, then it will only efffect one of his crops, and not all ten, for example.) After lunch, we drive back to finish the hectar(s) and stay until 8. In total, we are there about 9 hours, walking up and down rows of corn and paying attention to where these flowers are hiding.8A35B359-D300-4BFD-B84A-1CB6FCE60F78 Spending that much time to there is not the norm, and I only volunteer to help him get it done. I usually only work between four to five hours a day. The picture at the right shows the ends of the pulled flower, and they offfer a tasty snack if you get hungry out there, tasting like the sweet, white kernels found on the ends of corn on the cob, and an August summer’s day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senning, Austria

July 1

I arrive in Vienna from Lausanne via Zurich at 18:30, a little apprehensive about meeting the family I’ll be spending a month with as a workawayer, but a little voice inside of me tells me it will be all right, and with confidence that comes from former travel experience, I find the right “S” Bahn that gets me to Stokerau, a commuting town 35 minutes northwest, where Birgit, mother of four and wife of an organic grain farmer, picks me up.

She is young and energetic, blond and happy, and we hop in her beat up old mini van that is strewn with the detritus of four children, ages 12 and under every two to three years. We start speaking in English, but somewhere along the short 8 km ride we switch to German, maybe for no apparent reason other than my sliding into a phrase or two. Although this region is not in the mountains or even generous hills of the western part of Austria, rolling fields welcome me, and I find an ease with her right away.

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Senning, about 35 miles northwest of Vienna.

At home, I meet her husband, Charlie, and two youngest children, Emmanuel (7) and Franziska (5), two toe heads rolling around the big black and white dog, who has the personality of a black lab and the faded speckled white and black of a hunting dog. She shows me downstairs to my private room, which looks like a four star hotel room. 11432939-EBEF-426C-8CF6-11D2E79F89ED

The supper table is laid with bread, cheese, ham and homemade jams, and we talk briefly about my trip so far, but the children provide most of the entertainment as the dog lays at my feet under the table.3632626F-7122-4F36-A876-1DC4A2877009

July 2

Today is Jam making day, and in come four buckets of Aprictos from the fields. Birgit and I get to work quartering and pitting them, removing the rotten spots for the compost and the ones just shy of ripe into a different bowl for ripening by the window. Again the conversation is light and easy, and sometimes we just sit in quiet, sharing the task as quiet conversation. Once 2 kilos have been pitted, she weighs them in a bowl, and then dumps them into a pot to which she adds an organic sugar and pectin mix, which is what I realize is used for fruit pies, as Shea’s and mine came out too loose and spilled out from a cut slice. This mixture is brought to a boil while stirring, and then puréed with a hand mixer. I stir 4 minutes longer, until a small amount dropped onto a testing saucer stays firm, and then pour in some rum – Thcounting to two or three seconds. I lower the heat and then ladle the mixture to the brim of the waiting glass jars, closing immediately. What results from this easy, quick process is a smooth, gentle and soft spread – which of course we’ve all tasted before but something akin to “better” follows each bite with homemade bread.

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The Austrian word word aparicot is Marilla- and this basket will see them through the year.

Following the apricot marmalade workshop comes lunch preparations, and today Birgit’s decided on zucchini soup and sweet cheese knoedels wrapped around whole apricots, rolled in a cinnamon sugar bread crumb coating. The zucchini soup is basic, but delicious: sautéed onions, garlic and zucchini chunks for a few minutes and then added water to fill; some salt and pepper; once soft, puréed with some milk to taste. Again, the type of ingredients will impact its flavor, and this came out like I’ve never tasted soup before. The knoedels’ ingredients were these:

500 gram soft cheese like quark – or cheese curds (I’ve never used them); 3 egg yolks; one whole egg, one tablespoon of semolina and two tablespoons of bread crumbs. Beat together. Create a flat, small saucer size quantity on your palm and place the apricot (or plum, some cherries, chocolate…your choice) in the middle; wrap it up. Place in simmering water “‘til they swim” – float to the surface – and then roll in toasted butter, bread crumb, cinnamon and vanilla sugar mixture in a pan on low heat just until you can no longer wait.

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Franzeska and Emmanuel help set the table for lunch.

Following lunch, I have free time, but I choose to go upstairs to the children’a playroom with them and play to get better acquainted, and also because they are so willing to get to know me. I am directed to a mini fussball table and billiard table set, and there we play several rounds of both games in a mutually competitive spirit; built towers and castles with blocks and legos. I haven’t been on the floor with a five year old for quite a while!

July 3

Meal times seem to just happen – there is no set time for any of them – and although I am welcome to eat whenever I want and whatever I choose, I’m in no hurry, and wait until the rest get out of bed. Besides Charlie, the father, who gets up early to start his field work, the children sleep an amazing 12 hours a night, and around 8 or after, come down the stairs with Birgit in tow. Usually by then I have had two cups of coffee, and because of the early riser that I am, was assigned the task of opening the chicken coup. I’ve learned some interesting habits of hens and roosters. In a large, fenced in enclosure are housed a hen house and a smaller fenced in enclosure. In the smaller enclosure, the baby chicks are allowed to mature with their two mothers. In the larger enclosure, a rooster and eight egg laying hens roam around. Every evening, towards sun down, the hens follow the rooster up a ramp into their hen house, where they will spend the night perched on a branch or pole that extends to both sides lengthwise and off the floor at least three feet. A couple of cubby holes in the coup allow the hens to lay eggs. Their biological clock follows the sun, and once it has risen, they are eager to get out of their coup. Just after sunrise, I open the henhouse door, where one by one, they tip toe down the ramp to start pecking for seeds. These are both a meat producing and egg laying species, and every autumn the mature hens, (any which is two years old) are slaughtered by both Birgit and Charlie.

Today, though, I help Birgit make a new enclosure for her horses so they have new grass to eat – I insert temporary, tall stakes into the ground and then wheel a wheelbarrow equipped with a large spool of rope in front of Birgit as she follows, tieing it onto the stakes. Afterwards, I straighten the red pepper plants between two lengths of synthetic twine and tie both ends to stakes every three meters apart. Sounds simple, but its quite a task.

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Staked and straightened, and beyond, the new pasture for the horses.
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My morning and evening job: feed the horses a grain mixture, a bail of hay, and fresh water.

July 4:

After breakfast – a choice of rye bread and jams, cereals and yogurt – I weed the backyard blue and blackberry garden from pesty and aggressive climbing vines that climb up the firm stalks of blackberry bushes or any kind of flowers with such a stem, strangling the life out of them. I cart a wheelbarrow full of extracted weeds onto the compost heap, in a barn down the road. My hands and arms are quickly becoming scraped, welted, blistered, and colored with all sorts of earth and fruit colors – the black from the soil, the green from the weeding, the red from the cherry picking.

Birgit’s niece comes to visit, so I am asked to make lunch, and settle on the chicken soup I make often at home, finding most ingredients already in her pantry from her or some neighboring farmer’s field.

Listening to the frogs’ soliloquies from the pond where the children swim, we have a glass of wine on her back patio as the stars come out. The wine may be because of the 4th of July, as she has asked about how the story goes during lunch with the children, and as I recount the Declaration of Independence from years of teaching English 11, the recent trip to Boston which brought more facts to life, Birgit translates my simplification of the grievances, the men who stood out, Washington’s cold winter on the Delaware, until Emmanuel, very patient, insisted we get to the point “Ja, ja, das Mittlepunkt, bitte!”  and so Birgit said, “…and then they went to war and voila! A new country was born!” as many of my former students could attest to.

July 5

Today is cherry picking and juice making day. Charlie shows what the perfect cherry looks like and feels like. I need to half fill two buckets with the perfect cherry. Or so I think. I begin by picking only one cherry at a time, examine it crucially, decide if it is perfect before I either let it fall to the ground or place it gently in the bucket so it doesn’t bruise. But then I get smarter and quicker. I grab a few this time, acquainted now by the sight and touch, and begin to drop them in with more confidence. Finally, after four hours, I discriminate easily by sight only, and my fingers nimbly reach through the branches and I pull the perfect cherries away form their stems.

 

After lunch, today a bread crumb knoedel with peas and potatoes and yesterday’s chicken soup, Birgit shows me how to make concentrated juice from the cherries. We take the two buckets, some clean bottles and the dog, Greta, next door to her father-in-law’s work kitchen (where when her husband was young they used to make pork sausage and a whole deli case of meats from the pigs) and get to work.

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The family horses and vegetable gardens to the right, on the left a short walk down are the chickens and the father-in-law’s house.

We dump the two buckets of cherries into a large colander which sits into the large metal pot you see in the picture below, pour two bags of organic sugar on top, and with water waiting in the bottom portion, let the mixture cook for 35 minutes. It is them siphoned out through the hose you see. Similar to the jam making process, the bottles are filled to the brim and capped right away.

 

Lausanne, Switzerland

June 30

After a double espresso from my own supply of instant coffee – and landlady Irene’s special brioche bread called cuchaule with jam and honey –  Yannis, Rudy and I take the metro down the hills of Lausanne to a connecting bus, and then from the bus walk to Lake Geneva and along it for about half an hour west towards Yannis’ university campus that specializes in math, science and engineering called EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) The lake is still and its surface smooth, sliced through only by the swans and the competitive canoe racers.

We arrive at the campus from the south end, and its curved, cement sloping architecture offers a modern perspective on building design and space; inside, it’s no less impressive with glass walls, graded walkways in favor of steps… it’s like something you’d see on Star Trek – doors that open automatically once they sense a presence. This building is the new student center – with snack and juice bar, study rooms, bean bags on the floor for the sudden urge to sleep and the impression that one has entered the World of Genius. The rest of the campus is terraced and resplendent with greenery in flowerbeds, cafeterias, an essential post-exam bar called The Satellite, and a note worthy Innovation Park, whose buildings offer space for companies like Logitech, Intel, and Siemens, for example, to collaborate on new inventions.

We take the metro to the city center, and then part ways – I follow a map to the Old Town, where I meander along the narrow, hilly walk ways and into a Saturday morning market, vendors offering an array of sensual cheeses, eats, vegetables, fruits and breads and sweets…too tempting to pass up. I decide on a quick bite of something delicious with fruit, and walk through a flea market type of arrangement, where clothes to antique swords are up for barter.

I walk up a grand stone staircase into a museum on the same market square, enticed by its architecture, and find that once I’m in there an exhibit of artifacts through the ages is underway and open to the public. I see some interesting things that have been dug up, donated, discovered through the ages, but essentially it is a natural history exhibit and I haven’t stumbled across any special can’t-miss-this experience.

Back down the steps and into the sun, I walk further around and get acquainted with the old town streets, find the cathedral of Lausanne at one o’clock – just in time to hear the bells up close and full of vibration! – step onto the worn stones, weathered by centuries of believers, and feel the immediate peace, quiet and solitude away from the rest of the world outside.

Onward, then, to find some water and chocolate; use my google maps on the phone for nearby markets, find an Aldi, make a quick purchase and head over to a park, where I sit for a while in the cool shade of a grassy hill near fountains and flowers and an aviary of parrots. While there, another search yields a bar from where I can watch the French World Cup match and get a feel for local color and a cold drink. I am referred to The Great Escape, on Rue Madeleine 18, and towards 16:00 head over to claim spots at a table where a father and young son are playing chess. Here Rudy and Yannis join me, and young and old alike, from 5 on up, bring chairs and beer closer to the screen to enjoy 90 minutes of what will turn out to be an exciting and victorious win for the French. The bar refers to itself as “the ex pat bar of Lausanne” and indeed, a multitude of languages sound their way around the comfortable feel of an old neighborhood pub without any airs of pretension.

Following the match, we eat at a Chinese restaurant near the train station, where I eat soup comprised of broth, an egg,  two slices of tomatoes, a few leaves of something green, and disproportionalty supplied with an abundance of noodles. Prepare to spend 15$ (The Swiss franc is approximately of equal value to the dollar) for something like this. Most things are triple what they would cost in Europe or the US.

Overall, Lausanne is hilly, streets under streets, clean, smells fresh, equips its busses with electricity exclusively and its metro with a self driving technology, has lots of flowers and happy people.

Angles sur L’Anglin

June 27

An hour’s drive south of Genille, depending on the speed the driver wishes to use to navigate the soft, undulating backroads, lies Angles sur L’Anglin, one of the few remaining functioning villages which has its roots in the rock that housed prehistoric people in caves, and whose replicated drawings on the caves, now closed to the public, can be seen at the local museum. Sometime in the 1100s, a fortress was built on the rocks, to do what fortresses all do, and then some centuries later became used for the regional nobility, and as a result of Angles sur L’Anglin situated between an ancient border of English and French territories, exchanged ownership and allegiances throughout the centuries. For those interested in a more detailed origin of the village can certainly find one elsewhere; otherwise, what follows is an encounter of a delightful day in town.

My sister and I left Genille in the beginning heat of an early summer’s day in her Mercedes compressor convertible coupe. To stay our hair, we used scarves; to protect our eyes, sunglasses; to preserve our skin, sun cream; but to project a joi de vie, a lipstick of our choice.

 

Choosing the scenic tour, we drove from Genille to Loches, then took a meandering road next to a river that ran the length and parallel to the D942 heading south. from there, we passed small villages shuttered against the midday heat, some with an a vendre sign; shops left vacant and abandoned due to a supermarket somewhere else, and always the church, standing tall, of ancient stone and mortar – its bell still ringing in the hour like a heartbeat in an other wise dying body – but more often than not, its wooden doors locked, as if it too had been discarded in favor of cathedral visits in the larger city.

We arrive hungry and enter a small oasis adorned with umbrellaed tables and shade trees, decelerate to an idle in front of the few customers to look for the one parking sign, and then finding it, accelerate into first then second gears all in a moment it takes the lunch guests to pause in their conversation, turn their heads, wonder who these two Rita Hayworth types are in this white convertible before they return to their conversations as if what they have just seen must only have been an apparition in the noonday haze or anachronistic time space experience.

We haul our picnic delights – a cold quinoa, raisin, pea and carrot salad, cucumbers in creme fraiche, shredded carrots with a touch of mustard, vinegar and sugar (mmm, must remember), smoothie juices – from the trunk and walk a short distance to the picnic bench I spied on the way through which gives us a perfect view of the fortress.

850CB8BD-EAE5-4E4F-95BF-BF4EAF2C91C4There, we listen to the silence of a midday town, tasting the delights of what a French supermarket can put together (sorry, no story yet of finding the quaint little village epicery – although they must exist somewhere) and contemplate the history of the town before us and what appears to be part of the old town wall off to our left. With the windswept affect of an hour in a convertible, the shade and quiet of our afternoon meal becomes a meditative respite from the energy and engine that got us here, and we settle into a relaxed and spontaneous mood.

We walk through town, pass the oasis with the umbrella tables, and find a seat for a post lunch espresso and a Perrier. 88202065-FC10-45F8-902A-B01B81553C4FThe proprietor flits her way from customer to customer, reserving comments and conversation to those whom she knows well enough to pass indispensable information, in a crescendo she feels entitled to, and which reverberates through the one car streets branching out in four different directions. The entire town holds its breath behind lace curtains and heat to listen for what she imparts or discloses next.

We left after I took a picture of the town’s memorial inscribed with the names of the WWI fallen. I read each name to myself silently, the men who never returned, who sacrificed their lives to this home town, this small dot of a town on a map, where now tourists rev through with their engines and their cameras and their stories they bring home of a vacation in France; C7198055-8ACB-4EF1-8D6E-20985FB35597and I wonder if anyone still remembers a family who was victimized by their deaths, or their descendent kin who might still live here, or if they have left long ago, whether they drive by on a Sunday afternoon, to come gaze upon the name that fought for their liberty. Every church in each small town, economically viable or shuttered, has a church or a town square with a plaque or memorial memorializing its fallen, and the simple issuance of a name calls forth the worth and substance and impact that name has had.

Walking down to the Anglin River, we notice on a placard that walking trails of up to 40 km exist between towns up and around this and conjoining rivers, with camping and gites along the way. For hiking enthusiasts and naturalists, rough riders and philosophers, all become historians when walking on the paths of ancient access ways from town to town. We spot canoes tied up on a bank under a bridge, and so for me this idea becomes paramount and takes precedence over the museum and cave drawing replicas. No one nearby was available to ask about the canoes, so we hike it to the fortress to enquire about prices for the fortress, museum, and canoes, which would settle our intentions for the day. We settle for a ticket each to the fortress, one ticket for the museum which my sister would use on a later visit, and receive indirect information about the canoes.

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After walking through the ruins of the fortress, a quick look into the dark and dank dungeon, the views which influenced and helped arbitrate political and economical decisions, we walk to the canoes, call a number, leave a voice mail, and head to a cool bar for a cold drink, happening upon a World Cup match between France and Denmark. 5FF55248-9E29-4F87-80B3-E8E15B38F04CWe order cidres from Bretagne, and the bar owner gives us and other people wandering in each a coaster on which to write predictions of the match which would win us a free drink. We are all optimists that day, as alas, no one in the bar has won. The French could not pull themselves away from a 0-0 result. We are. though, refreshed and reawakened by the cool of an indoor respite from the heat, and meander a little more through the town before returning to the car.

 

On My Way

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The inspiring view at Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

The following blogs, or pages, or sites – I’m not quite sure which I’ve created – are my attempt at providing an account of my workaway year. I hope to update regularly; for those of you who just want instant, real time doings through pictures only, I have created – don’t fall over – an Instagram account. As this wordpress website took me several week to figure out, I cannot guarantee anything successful with Instagram, but if you would like your life interrupted with random pictures of my present goings on, you’re more than welcome to follow me. I think you’ll be able to find me by either searching for my name or my trendy username, writedowntheroad.  So either way or neither, thanks for checking in to see where I am or what I’m doing. On the other hand, announcing my online presence with trumpet sounding notifications using this site or Instagram steals my moments from me, and this journey is meant for self discovery, not self importance. So if I’ve decided to shut down all operations, you will have known why.