Sunday, April 29, 2007

ten things.

1. my body left switzerland, but my cell phone did not. i realized this on the train. hopefully someone´s gonna airmail it back to Los Angeles sometime. hopefully. curses!

2. went on a 40 mile bike ride around the füssen countryside. g o r g e o u s.

3. had jaegerschnitzel at least 4 days in a row. and spätzle. g o r g e o u s.

4. stayed in a hostel one night with 50+ 13-yr-old french kids. woah.

5. went to Neuschwanstein (the real Cinderella castle) and hiked around it some as well. also gorgeous. and people here really wear lederhosen, by the way.

6. visited the top of deutschland´s highest mountain, the Zugspitz. these alps, i tell you. they are nice. wish i had a snowboard with me...

7. held an extended conversation early in the evening with one very drunk german who really liked america. oh, the beer here...

8. held a very not-extended conversation with a pair of older russian men, in russian. turns out my brain doesn´t smoothly handle the switch-between-multiple-languages-that-you´re-not-good-at function. but it was fun to remember some po-russkie anyways.

9. went to innsbruck in the österreich (aka austria) because we couldn´t manage to book a room in munich for friday or saturday. this resulted in much much much extended hiking ´round the alps in that area. this also resulted in hearing some yodeling at the night´s end. yes! check! trip can feel complete now!

10. we´re in münchen today, for the last 48 hours of this deutschland excursion. beer-drinking and dachau-seeing have taken most the day. dachau: sobering. beer-drinking: also sobering, as alcohol-frei is always the beer o´choice. well, mineral water for me, because i don´t like the beer that much anyways.

and so to the US i return tomorrow. pictures to be posted. watch for me to parachute down in a blaze of glory over the pacific ocean at sunset! or, see me at LAX at midnight, weary and smelly and dragging the corpse of my backpack across the arrivals concourse, wishing i could spend one more night in a comfy bed. ah, well.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the hillls are alive....

a fast one.

i have been in 3 countries the last 2 days. no, it's not the obnoxious whirlwind europe tour you're maybe imagining.

yesterday, after a morning in baden-baden and an afternoon hike 'round the Mummelsee, we drove across the border to France. Bummed around Strasbourg, which is in Alsace. Very French. Very un-German in the way things stopped being so clean and orderly and chaste. But also very pleasant. We had dinner near the Rhein in a town with a name I've momentarily forgotten. For dinner, flammenkuchen, a specialty of the region that made my mouth sing with joy (because, come on, what else sings besides a mouth?), and creme brulee for dessert.

and today, we took the most scenic-ly stunning train ride to Zürich, Schweiz.
things to note:
£ Switzerland is expensive! who knew? not I. so our stay will be a little briefer than I'd thought, but it's all working out brilliantly anyways.
£ I went in a big cathedral crypt and impaled myself on a giant charlemagne sword. no harm done.
£ spent 90 minutes on the huge lake here and saw the Matterhorn in the distance. I yelled at the abominable snowman like I did when I was 4 and riding on the ride at Disneyland. It frightened my fellow boat passengers, but I think it did the trick in keeping us safe from Yetti Harm.
£ eating Luxemburgerlis and Toblerone on the grass in the middle of the city is guaranteed to make a person happy. Getting a text from Swiss Miss Jenny recommending said Luxemburgerlis, having no idea what they were but being desperate to try them, then running around the city and asking a number of people until finally being directed to the ONE place that has them and is still open, finding said place, and discovering that Luxemburgerlis = my favoritest French cookies ever ever ever ever (there is one blessed place in LA where I revel in their beauty, their sumptuous flavors, their...oh, i could sing their praises too. i love food too much, methinks)....all this combined to make a happy me.

Tomorrow we're going back to Deutschylandy, to Füssen, where we'll soon see the Glorious Sights and Sounds - No, Just Sights - Of Neuschwanstein.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

bearded lady travels to southern germany this week

1. friday. rented bikes early in the morning and set off to explore the Teutoburger Wald (that is to say, the Teutoburger Forest wherein were had big battles against the Romans back in the day, ala the battle that begins ´gladiator´). In said forest is a big statue of Hermann. That is to say, he is big like the statue of liberty, rising up above the hills and trees with a massive, massive sword raised high above is metallic head.

I climbed this statue. You´re not supposed to. I know why now; it´s slippery. I fell. I would´ve died if David Hasselhoff hadn´t been optimally placed below me to break my fall.

This didn´t actually happen. We did ride our bikes to see Hermann (I had to stop more than I´d have liked on the hills...until I found out the one I was having problems with was 20% grade. naja.) I did climb him a little bit, but not all the way. The weather WAS very deutsch and aprilish all day long (that is to say, cloudy, grey, cold), and i was wearing shorts for better biking, so i was freezing. but the clouds DID part and the sun did shine on German Nationalism Incarnate, so we got some good pictures of klein Hermann anyways. And we ate Aldis french cheese and finnish brotchen under his gaze too. yay.

further bike riding led to stops at this AWESOME falconry place where we watched a little show with eagles flying all around us. so rad. climbed some stone age carved rocks, hiked all, a very happy biking day through some really gorgeous woods.

that night, we had a 14 hour train ride. 14 = 6 hours ON the train and 8 hours divided between 6 different train transfers. backpacking europe for cheap 101: such a train costs less than a fast direct train and also saves you a night´s accommodation. except this meant that we found ourselves in kassel for 5 hours after midnight, and there was no enclosed train waiting room in which to we went to a burger king and sat in a booth there the whole time. dad slept awkwardly, and i wrote delusional late night thoughts while eating a burger. yes, a burger. these are the ONLY circumstances under which eating americna chain food abroad are allowed.

but we made it to baden baden the next morning 'round 10:30 mostly in one piece. there we met gisela, a woman my dad knew on his mission here in southern germany 30 years ago. she is soooooooooooooo funny, speaks german so well (well, of course), so friendly, such a good cook, and has the BEST girlish laugh. And she laughs a lot. this i love.

we´re staying with her in rastatt, 15km or so from the french border and quite close to the black forest. so, yesterday, after we dropped off our bags (and started some blessed laundry in her wasching machine) and ate some of her homemade Cake From Heaven, we drove to see heidelberg and heidelberg´s castle and buy some gummibärchens and generally walk around. happy. happier still when later she made us dinner: homemade spätzle and fleisch and vanille eis mit homemade himbeer sauce. she is a gem. and she likes it when we eat a lot. so i like her a lot more too.

today, gisela took us all through the schwarzwald, which is the black forest. and it is gorgeous. we stopped in a number of towns. castles, trees, villages, trees, trees, trees.... it´s awesome. and we had dinner at this croatian place near the castle near her flat (just because i´d metioned eating my beloved cevapcici a week ago. she hates cevapcici but insisted we go there so i could be re-satisfied.). i have spoken more german today than i have english...and though the german of mine SUCKS, it´s fun to be making an effort. i manage to be understood and have succeeded in amusing gisela greatly with the way i´ve used words she taught me. also, when a catepillar from a big tree above us fell on me while we were eating dinner, i yelped and in my haste accidentally flung it at her.

this is more than you wanted to know.

i plan on running into david hasselhoff this week. it might be difficult, since he´s in vegas right now, but i feel it would complete the happiness of this german adventure.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

ich bin ein jaegerschnitzel

in the smokiest internet cafe/sports betting center right now with some definite mafioso. this is gonna be fast.

where i've been, what i've done:

monday in kiel, went to one of only 2 u-boots left in the world. awesome. big military memorial for germans and others who lost their lives in some of the big wars last century. crazy. talked to this RAD 63yr old artist on the ferry back. i love meeting people. i love that i understand more deutsch now. took a train to luebeck, which is a charming, charming little city with medieval towers and windy streets. the best marzipan in the world comes from luebeck, and we went to the salon and ate loads of it. also bought more books than i feel like carrying around in my busted backpack, as well as more groceries than i should have at aldi's (but i love books, and i love aldi's, so...naja).

tuesday we spent the morning in luebeck, and dad had an important lesson in wendy style backpacking when he decided to ship some stuff back to ca (levis are no fun to wear, wash, or carry around, turns out9. always pack less than you think you should! late morning, train to hamburg. met up with friend of a friend anita, a 24yr old slovakian turned german, had an excellent time running around hamburg with her and my dad. hamburg is the 2nd biggest city in germany, another huge harbor town. ate some fresh fish, saw the best unibrow i've ever seen in my life (unfortunately planted on the face of a young turkish girl), ran back to our 25-bed hostel, then parted company with dad to have a night out with anita (this involved much fun-making at Dom, which is like a county fair on steroids, walking around the city, and getting cocktails - alcohol-frei - at some swanky lounge). yay.

wednesday, more of hamburg...we've seen so many cool churches, i climbed a massive statue of bismarck, and then we went outside the city to this former concentration camp (solemn stuff, but strange to consider the 55k people who died there when the surrounding countryside was soooooo beautiful and...hopeful looking). after this, to the remains of a big cathedral in the middle of the city left as a memorial to the ww2 dead (55k died in hamburg as well), and thennnnnn to the biggest non-nuclear sub in the world, a russian one parked in the harbor. yay for memories on how to speak a little russian too. took dad to the dom, and we had great fun as well...ate some pirate fish, had 2 hamburgers (had to - hamburger eating in hamburg, of course) and way too much else, performed very well with our rifles in the shooting gallery, and then parted ways so i could meet up with anita again. anita and i had dinner, then saw '300' in the theatres (dubbed in german, so i didn't understand 100% of it, but i do know how to say 'spartans' in german with some ferocity). anita is a gem, and we had a really fun time together, especially talking (me with bad german, her with better english...i'm working on it).

today we took a 3 hour train to detmold, which is on the border of the teutoburger wald. we're going biking through the forest tomorrow, and i'm really excited. heard a gospel choir in this martin luther cathedral today (i was just listening through the door, and when i peeked in, i was delighted that they did indeed look like a german lutheran choir of your standard white-haired ladies, etc. any martin luther (king) church in LA with a gospel choir would probably NOT look like that).

i am happy in germany. es freut mich.

hope you are all happy too.

apologies for hasty not terribly interesting narrative. when smoke gets in your eyes, you are either get blinded by love or you lose your ability to construct coherent prose.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

spazieren, spazieren, essen, spazieren

I forgot to mention that this whole adventure began by seeing robert redford at the airport. he looks really, really old. I'm not sure what kind of sign seeing robert redford at the start of your journey could be, but thus ours began.

Yesterday at 11:38, we took a train from Copenhagen to Germany. This involved, at one point, parking the train at the bottom of a ferry and sailing across the sea from one country to the other. Due to being asleep, I had missed the memo that we were suddenly on a boat, and I couldn't figure out why we were parked in this large garage looking thing. I finally got out to investigate (everyone else in my car had left, including my dad), went up some stairs, and....water??? confusion, then clarity. Alles klar...wir fahren mit dem schiff nach Deutschland! Super. After arriving in Germany, we had 3 more train transfers to accomplish before making it to Kiel, where I am hastily writing at present.

I heart Kiel. It is a super city. It's a huge harbor town with the largest system of canal locks in the world, a bajillion boats, and other nice things.

Random Kiel moments:

§ eating white asparagus at the Ratskeller next to the Rathaus. This very expensive asparagus dish was supposed to be fish, according to my usually very reliable father. It turns out this was not.

§ drinking my first beer, the famous Duckstein sort. Also, the nonalcoholic sort (fear not, righteousness monitors!)

§ trying not once, not twice, but four times today to go to the Mormon church. DC had to stop me from climbing in a half open window because no one would answer the door. Running into the missionaries later in the day, learning that the church had in fact moved to a new building. Aaargh. Scoring Das Buch Mormon off them anyways.

§ watching several generations of guys do some remote controlled sailing on a course in this little lake. It was a BEAUTIFUL day, amazing spring weather (we were stopped later in the day by this woman who wanted to do a radio spot with us talking about how gorgeous it was outside).

§ also watching an awesome game of kayak water polo in the canal. This is officially the coolest sport EVER.

§ walking about 12 miles up the canal and back through the woodsy parks, seeing all the other Germans out and about ón their Sunday. Really lovely.

§ ending the day with Balkan food that I've been LONGING for since last I ate it in September 2003. I found this Restaurant Dubrovnik serving Balkan specialties, and I stuffed myself with cevapcici and pljeskavica, my two favoritest things ever from Bosnia and Serbia (Serbia by way of Slovenija, to be exact). Happy happy am I.

Tomorrow, a few more Kiel adventures to be had with a parked U-boot, and then we're off to Lübeck.

Deutschland freut mich!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Farvel hvergdag! this might mean 'hello europe' in danish. æÅø.

I'm writing this SO fast at the train station in Kopenhagen.

Dad CompTron and I have arrived! Well, a while ago. This is the story .... aaargh, i can't find any of the proper punctuation on this !"#/()ÅØÆ keyboard! Flew to Washington, then to Amsterdam where we had a 3 hour layover accompanied by some excellent cheese, and then to Copenhagen. Got here around noon this morning. When DC (as I shall call Dad CompTron for the remainder of this post) and I rendezvoused at LAX Thursday morning, I was delighted to share with him how remarkably light my backpack was. I had possibly done one of my best, most concise packing jobs ever. As I was getting the straps all sorted on the checkin desk scale, I was dismayed when the checkin clerk grabbed it and threw it on the conveyor belt, saying to me as she did so, 'don't worry, it'll be fine'...I had some grave misgivings that things would probably go awry somewhere between my home hemisphere and wherever I was headed. Indeed, things DID go awry. baggage claim, copenhagen: i receive the corpse of my well loved bag in some tupperware container. it had several massive holes ripped through it, clothes were wet and/or destroyed, a few important things had gone awol...yeah. all i could do was laugh? i´m gonna have to find a new backpack somewhere along the way, and in the meantime, i´m just in the market for a good roll of duct tape.

That being said, the rest of our day in Copenhagen has been deLITEful. It´s sunny and beautiful, and the Danes are reveling in the new spring weather. EVERYONE here bikes, which is grand, and DC and I have been marveling nonstop at the ridiculous level of beauty present in the population. These people are tall and b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l....and for once in my life, I feel strangely out of place. Not because I´m not beautiful, no....just because I´m not blonde anymore. And because I´m not sporting a mullet (a good 37% of the population does). It´s funny. Aside from vast modeling potential, the folks here are quite friendly, nice, and wonderfully English speaking. Yay for that.

Other things:
¤ have filled up on some excellent Danish candies, cookies, and meats. of course.
¤ saw the coolest street performer playing the theme to HARRY POTTER on glasses filled with water...i will post a video later. So rad.
¤ took a boat through the canals and saw the little mermaid statue (a photograph of which graced my disney fairytales book when i was a young lass, so this was a childhood dream fulfillment or something)

gotta run, turns out. i´ll write something more interesting next time ´round. We´re headed to Kiel tomorrow afternoon...exciting! I´ve been speaking german like a fiend here, and I´m really excited to actually GET to germany to use it (DC may be tiring of me directing it solely at him). jawohl! or something.

schoenes wochenende to you all!
xoxo Vændy

Monday, April 9, 2007

nothing to scratch

Note to self: this is what poison oak looks like.

I went hiking for several hours in Calabasas on Friday. The path I had chosen turned out to be a slightly more boring fire road than I'd imagined, so about 20 minutes into it, I decided to do a bit of trailblazing, making my own way straight up the scrubby mountain-hill. I've had visions of trailblazing since I was a li'l tyke, but the opportunities I've taken to actually try it out have been few. Onward and upward, I told myself with gusto (and sheepish caution). I did make it up, but I had to use a lot of bush and rock assistance to pull myself along...and I was well beyond the point of turning back when I realized I had no idea WHAT I was grabbing. I had no idea what poison oak looked like, specifically. Oh well, I thought ('na ja', i actually thought, as I'm trying to practice thinking auf Deutsch) - I'd rather get to the top of this alive and deal with a little rash than be overcautious and plummet to my death.

So, to the top I went...only to find that the actual peak I was supposed to be climbing was quite a ways away. I walked/crawled along the ridge for a while until I eventually decided to make my way back down to the fire road and finish the journey like I'd started it. In all, a lovely adventure - and I'm pleased to report that whatever it was I was handling was no match for CompTron's thick skin...3 days later, and I'm still poison-oak-rash-free!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

give it up

I wrote this last August. I think about donating blood unusually often, I realize – I think about it even more around holidays, and most of all around Easter. Parallels between my paltry service and a far more universal atonement, I guess. I do what I can…so, to that end, I re-post:


I am addicted to giving blood.

I remember my dad's first trip to Bakersfield's Houchin Blood Bank when I was a teenager; he had made himself a goal to donate blood a couple times that particular year, partly because the cause was good, partly to get over his uneasiness with needles. Much to his surprise, over the course of the year, he grew to love donating. Houchin Blood Bank offers its donors some great rewards, including seasonal t-shirts and license plate frames for each gallon of blood donated (1 pint per donation; 8 pints = 1 gallon. My dad's presently in the 8 gallon club.). Bakersfield residents wear the shirts proudly, and fellow drivers sporting HBB license frames feel a cool, immediate sense of camaraderie. Due to the relatively clean standard of living required to pass the screening and be eligible for blood donation, my dad is always encouraged to see that such a large number of people in Bakersfield donate proudly; additionally, any time he's out cycling in spandex, he can always be found wearing a Houchin shirt - a subtle way of reinforcing his heterosexuality, should the spandex be misinterpreted. At any rate, his enthusiasm for this form of community service had me looking forward to my 17th birthday with great anticipation.

Veterans' Day 1998 marked my first trip to Houchin. I was both excited and anxious. Dad assured me that if I drank lots of water, the donation would go quickly so I drank at least 2 liters before we headed out. The bank was not busy on this weekday morning, and Dad made sure that Caroline, a kind older nurse, was the one to handle my first experience. I found myself more curious than concerned, and watched with great interest as she inserted the rather large needle into my right arm. When she saw me watching, she immediately expressed great admiration at my "bravery" - most people grow quickly uncomfortable at the sight of a needle beneath their skin. My dad and I began racing - a Crompton family tradition to see who can pump their blood out fastest - and I beat him handily, at a nice 4.5 minutes. Success! The 2 liters of water had done the trick (though the need to pee became very, very urgent the moment I was done). The whole procedure was so, so easy, and the rewards were so great, for me and for whomever received my blood. I decided at that point that I wanted to be a regular donor for the rest of my life. With the exception of 2 different one-year deferrals for getting tattoos and stepping on nails, I've pretty much kept that commitment.

My brother and I both have O negative blood running through our veins. It's not common for two in a family to wind up with this already kinda rare blood type, which makes us feel like superheroes when we go to the blood bank together. O negative blood can be given to a person of any blood type; it's therefore always in high demand, and there's always, always a critical shortage of it. So, Ryan and I tend to circumvent one donation rule in order to donate a little more often than is technically allowed. See, technically, a person is only permitted to donate blood every 56 days - come in a day early, and you'll be turned away. Researching the reason for this rule, I learned that it takes 3 to 4 weeks to replace red blood cells lost, and that it takes up to 8 weeks to restore the iron levels required for donation. We figure, if we can eat well enough to get our iron to donation-acceptable levels before the 8 week (artificial!) deadline, there shouldn't be any harm to us or to those who receive our blood if we donate early. So we do. We're on the 4 to 5 week plan. We accomplish this by rotating blood banks that don't cross-reference their, one month Red Cross in LA for me, next month Houchin in Bakersfield. hush hush. Greater good. [editor’s note: as of 4.2007, turns out too frequent donation IS in fact a bad idea…I have managed to donate myself into anemia. Stick to the prescribed 8 weeks! I can’t give until I meat-eat myself back into iron health, so if you can’t give blood, give me steak. Thanks.]

I'm an addict. Ryan and my dad are addicts too. Maybe it's a Crompton thing. But I'd be a happier person if more people were doing it with us. So, 1-800-GIVE-LIFE - call and make an appointment. It's pretty easy to be a superhero.

Facts to mull over:
Every three seconds someone needs blood
Just one pint of donated blood can help save as many as three people's lives.
The average adult has 10 pints of blood in his or her body.
4.5 million Americans would die each year without life saving blood transfusions.
Approximately 32,000 pints of blood are used each day in the United States.
Giving blood will not decrease your strength.
60% of the US population is eligible to donate - only 5 do on a yearly basis.
There is no substitute for human blood.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

cake or death? I'll have the cake, please.

I am a rabid carnivore (albeit an anemic one) with a sweet-tooth.

(I think salad is a waste of time. This is probably because the ONE thing my palate will not tolerate is vinegar, and all the stuff you’d choose to wet an otherwise rather boring combination of leafy greens with is vinegar-based. Bleh. So I always order the soup. And I’d rather spend my money on a bigger hamburger than on the combo option – who cares about fries when you can get more meat for your buck?)

Anyways, I was delighted when a friend pointed me to this website the other day:

Meat cake! a dream come true. No, really. This is in fact a dream come true. Layers of meatloaf, worcestershire glaze, a creamy mashed potato icing…CompTron is in raptures at the very thought of it. Here’s another view:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Another cake that makes my heart sing with joy: the raw kind. Most people find this a little odd. I’ll buy a bag of cake mix, pour a single serving into a little bowl, add cold water, and eat with a spoon. I discovered this for myself several years ago and was going through a couple boxes of cake mix a week for a while until I’d decide to quit cold turkey (roommate and parental chastisement was unrelenting). Any $0.99 Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines sale would, however, lure me back in with ease (though I can say with confidence and pride that the last time I had any raw cake was over 4 months ago).

And 98% of THAT raw batter went to making a 4-layer german chocolate cake with homemade coconut pecan icing. The cooked version of the cake was infinitely tastier than its raw materials would’ve been.

I don’t really have a point, other than to state firmly, decidedly, energetically, and grammatically: I like cake.