Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kössen, revisited

For the past three days (if we count Tuesday, when we drove the 140 kilometers from Freising south across the border into Tirol), Sabine, Martha, Alan, and I have been vacationing in Kössen. We had hatched this trip after Sabine and I had cross-country skied here last year and thought that our good friends would enjoy this place just as we did. Sabine had made our B&B reservations, and together we piled into her Skoda for the two-hour trip. We were greeted by fabulous snow, brilliant sunshine, and accommodations that are simply perfect.

Ferienhaus Landegger in Kössen, Austria

The picture shows our domicile for our stay here. We have two apartments, each consisting of a living room (the three windows right and left behind the balcony), a fully equipped kitchen, a bedroom , and a bathroom. We went for this spacious arrangement to be able to prepare our evening meals at home and be able to sit together over a bottle of wine or three. Each apartment costs 68 euros a night (for two people), which we think is dirt-cheap. The landlady is very nice, and we have a place for our XC skis.

You can tell how much snow there is. It was last week that Kössen received something like three feet of snow, and that was on top of a healthy base layer. The snow conditions are really, really good, even though a thawing trend today (with even a few sprinkles of rain) put a slight damper on things. But tomorrow it's supposed to be sunny again. The trails are amazing: Kössen alone has something like 140 kilometers of groomed trails, and there is no cost to use them. Our ski rentals (skis and boots) run 25 euros a person for three full days. It doesn't get much cheaper or more spectacular.
Why pay for Alpine skiing when Nordic is free?
Martha is starting to get the hang of the XC thing, and today we completed a 10-mile loop that ended up in a restaurant that served, among other things, smoked trout. Yesterday, Sabine and I shared a big helping of Spätzle that were topped with cheese and herbs. Weizenbier is our usual choice of drink, although the local swill, Stigl, seems to be preferred by most, judging by the number of urine-like beverages on the tables.

Our B&B has a sauna, and after today's heavy exercise we're about to use it. Seems as if Martha is going to hold out and nurse her sore limbs by means of a power nap. After the sauna we'll once again feast on local cheeses, cold cuts, and the fabulous bread that comes in a never-ending variety of flavors and consistencies. It's awfully cool that M&A's travel style is so compatible with ours as there are never any big discussions about our plans for dinner or what to do. Ah, I love my friends!


Monday, February 20, 2012

It's time for Fasching

Just a very brief update, after another full day of sightseeing: It's mardi gras in the land of Catholics, and here in Munich they call it Fasching. Bavarians do not celebrate with as much zest and craziness as the folks in Rio, Cologne, or New Orleans, but they still dress up and go out for a good time. This photo shows the dressed-up teller at the bank today:
Sabine chats with a bank angel
After I had arrived here in Freising on Friday, Martha and Alan followed suit yesterday, on Sunday. Instead of allowing them to properly decompress and get over their jet-lag, Sabine and I dragged them up to Weihenstephan for their first encounter with Bavarian beer culture last night. Today, we followed this up with a trip to the Hofbrauhaus and their first close look at Lederhosen culture. We spent the entire day in the city of Munich, strolling around and even getting a rare treat in the form of the Scheffler-Tanz, which is performed every 7 years by a group of coopers (or at least they all used to be coopers; now only a few of them are still working in this profession). 
The Scheffler-Tanz, an old Bavarian tradition
We window-shopped, climbed the bell tower of Old Peter (all 260 steps of it), and enjoyed a truffle and espresso in a small chocolate shop. It was a nice and relaxed day, and now it's too late for me to write much more—dang, already midnight again.
Frauenkirche and  Munich City Hall
Tomorrow, the four of us will head to Austria to the small town of Koessen where we hope to find perfect snow to cross-country ski. Internet connections permitting, I will try to upload a few more pics and update this post in the next few days.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Post # 100: A nugget of sugar, and The Death Orange

Just as Father Frost made another frigid entry into Lubbock last night, seven close friends and I huddled around the dining room table for another edition of Feuerzangenbowle. With three "virgins" among the crowd, expectations were high what this strange "flaming cauldron of wine" would actually be all about. The spread of cheeses, salami, dips, and bread was exquisite, as always. Two bottles of CH wine and a few beers whet our whistles before the main attraction of the evening.
Alan works on the tit cheese while Martha's baked-over Camembert awaits slaughter
While Terri and Carl and Martha and Alan were veterans of Feuerzangenbowle, Tom, Trish, and Liz were the newbies. Liz had earlier saved the evening when she provided the cloves and cinnamon sticks to spike the orange that, similar to a sea mine, later floated in the pot with the hot wine. Alan's characterization of the small orb as The Death Orange from some sci-fi flick was spot-on—Liz in her OCD glory had placed the cloves in a perfect geometric pattern, creating the little brother of the Death Star.
Carl, oddly flushed, shows off The Death Orange
Five liters of cheap red, secret spices, said orange, and a cone of sugar that soon was reduced to a mere nugget (according to Tom) after being doused with 116 proof rum and being set afire—simple ingredients that produced great cheer and warmth of the heart and body. Trish swore that this was "the best thing" she had ever done in her entire life (exclaimed after her umpteenth refill). Oh my, did we have a great time. I hope you can watch this short video clip, showing the procedure:

Thanks to my pre-party admonitions, no brownies or other silly desserts showed up. Instead, Trish had heeded my call for class and had prepared a heapin' platter of chocolate-covered strawberries. I already know who is going to be re-invited next year!
Trish outdid herself!
It was a wonderful evening with some of my very best friends, full of laughter and good companionship. Judy always loved Feuerzangenbowle, and I am sure she would have approved of last night's pre-Valentine extravaganza.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

February 5, 2012—Sunday impressions

Usually, I do not update the blog two days in a row. But after Sabine sent me some pics from Munich and I took various snaps today, I thought they'd make a nice vignette. Take it or leave it. I hope you take it.

Frozen sculpture, painted by Sabine
Montreux train station
The pillars of the program—Magali, Angeline, et Louise
A scene from Brueghel, captured by Sabine near Freising

Un vignoble en route d'Aigle a Génève, prêt du Lac Leman
The charme of the old world, passing by ...
Curling is not just an Olympic discipline, sayeth our correspondent from Freising
Hope you enjoyed this little excursion.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Europe continued: München and Switzerland

A week has gone by since my last update from Paris, and now I am sitting in the tiny hamlet of Bex, a few kilometers from the UCI's headquarters in Aigle, close to Montreux and Lake Geneva. Some of us have been put up in Bex since Aigle's tiny hotel capacity apparently couldn't handle the 29 participants of the current DCO seminar. I arrived here yesterday afternoon—no, early evening—after a train trip of almost 12 hours from Munich that was peppered with way too many train delays and changes. Whatever happened to the fabled German and Swiss rail systems?
France, as seen from the World Cycling Center in Aigle (CH)
Not only was it cold in Freising (just a tad NE of München), but it's damn cold here, too. Yesterday morning the temperature outside of Sabine's window indicated around -18 Celsius—in Fahrenheit that's colder than the dickens. After coming back from Paris we had taken a few cold walks, all of them right between Frigidaire and serious frostbite. Some stupidly named Siberian cold front (they name any weather  phenomenon in some anthropomorphic terms around here) has hit central Europe, leaving a few dozen dead in its wake. Versailles had been nipply, but this is seriously froid, enough for Sabine to bring out her totally sexy long underwear. Not!!! (Sexy part, that is.)
Like Belgians, the Germans know how to handle the cold
There is a different beauty to this type of weather, aside from it's being way too damn cold. Behold the stern admonition of an outdoor religious statue (a), experience loneliness becoming even lonelier (b), and  hear the crisp invitation of a pub clear as a bell (c). So, how could I not succumb to the carnal pleasures of the Braustüberl at Weihenstephan? (d, oh yes, d)

(d, oh yes, d)
We have finished our first day of the Doping Control Seminar, and I've just returned from a very nice evening with about 10 of us in a local pizza restaurant. I love these days when one meets with almost as many nationalities and cultures as people. These are all class acts, several of whom I've now had the privilege to meet various times. One sits together, talks about politics, the UCI, how the kids are. Wonderful. I'm a lucky dog to have had the good fortune to have entered this group of people. My roommate for two nights, Pierre from Quebec, I met a few years back in Canada; others (like Bruno from Croatia) I seem to have known forever. Magali has been doing a great job of leading the seminar today, and tomorrow we'll learn more and take the obligatory test. Cycling has done an amazing job at combating the scourge of doping, and it is true that we're an important part of this fight. It sure feels good to be here, even if recent changes decided on by the UCI's Management Committee will mean that very soon we'll have to decide between continuing as a Doping Control Officer or as an International Commissaire. Bad news, but I still feel privileged. But haven't I seen the cup half full rather than half empty for a while now?
The World Cycling Center, outside ...

... and in
A bientôt,