The Maldives

Probably the most fascinating trip we ever did was to the island Coco near Malé of the atoll Maldives. Not only was the weather near perfect, we also had heard that there are practically no natural catastrophes like tropical storms or tsunamis, the beaches are beautiful, sandy and the water so clear, blue and green.

Added to that are all the wonderful animals and the gorgeous flora of the island, helped on by the fantastic head gardener.

IMG-20170410-WA0008.jpg

If you are a fan of snorkeling and diving like us, do try and go there. The resident marine biologist is glad to have any photos of turtles, as there is an active program to save turtles from being snagged in nets and each and every one is being tracked where possible. There is an abundance of turtles, small sharks, fanciful and colorful fish, manrays, etc. When resting from swimming in the wonderfully warm water, we would walk through the island’s gardens, often laid out in coconut groves.

2017_0417_082545_019.JPG

Or we would enjoy the sunset and the breeze with a tasty fish menu. Or look at the creative Easter decorations of some of the young designers, made of styrofoam and paint on the backside of the large main restaurant.

The massages and treatments were nothing if not luxurious, only the tinny music wasn’t quite to my liking. Very much to our liking was the encyclopedic knowledge of the sommelier who had learned his craft in the middle of Europe’s finest wineries, do try the 6 course menu accompanied by varied glasses of pure bliss.

Total ticketing tourist tricksters

Okay, my Austrian girlfriend had put this tick into my ear: you ought to go to Bregenz and see the See. No, sorry, see the lake-theater (German: Seebühne) built right into the water. How cool can you get! Very!!

Yes, I can very much recommend it if you like Austria (CHECK, our backyard, unless our politicians come up with stupid ideas),

 

if you like operas (CHECK, especially if hubby is more into the mainstream operatic ones featuring real songs he can sing) (can he sing?),

if you don’t mind being cramped up for about 2 1/2 hours on the hard plastic seat (CHECK, don’t forget fat cushions and yoga class beforehand) (forget about breaks or walking or standing up in between),

if you had a yummy dinner (CHECK CHECK at La Scarpetta in Dornbirn and the Kleines Gasthaus am See, bliss, except fot the three screechers & wailers whose parents couldn’t care less about their offspring’s wails),

So, if you don’t mind all the above- mentioned things, then a weekend trip from Munich to Bregenz (about 2 1/2 hours cramped in a car) and lots of extra cash is just the thing!

Our Travel Agency took out a chuck by charging our credit card the minute we booked with them.- that is a NO-NO. Normally, your card gets charged for 20%  immediately as a kind of promise and the rest about a week or two ahead of the event. Our agency  pretended now to know about this etiquette, but I had a long talk with them. After all, there such things as a Terminüberweisung and the bank will make sure the money is transferred right on time.

The hotel chosen in Dornbirn was the right size and category and not too far off from the Seebühne, about 20 km along the B 190, but had definitely seen better days and did NOT have AC. Nor did it have appeal. However, it boasts a very good breakfast, albeit missing the more expensive choices, but I don’t breakfast that much anyway, and the employees are nice and offer cushions and shuttle bus and those things you didn’t know you’d need.

Our escapism took us first to the interesting Rolls-Royce museum in Gütle (8,-€ adult), then the Seilbahn/ incline up the Karren of Gütle (Oh yes, the view iS WORTH it! free overlook in plastic over the precipice) and a great lunch of Lumpensalat (a sausage – cheese – red-onion- vinegar – oil dressing kind) with good beer and even better Almdudler (what? you don’t know the famous lemonade with herbs?).

The hot afternoon was spent in the Waldbad / Gütleright next to the river or creek without much water in this drought, but interestingly full of big and small smooth rocks and pebbles. The Waldbad offers many treats for families, well run.

 

 

“Carmen” by Bizet is most certainly in all the operatic books and Wiki. The scoop was the fantastic Bühnenbild/ backdrop done by a lady from London with two gigantic hands tossing the cards of fate. At times, the cards will be lowered at ground level to go partially underwater, so the crowd gets emphatic with skirt tossing and head banging and running and splashing each other, which is just the build-up of suspense to Carmen’s tragic end (how did the singer manage that death scene???) – no, I’m not cheating, you go there yourself, please!

 

 

 

 

Beat you to it fellas, it’s BBQ season!

Hot fellas, HOT! That’s the way to do it, uh-huh. “Mütter können  nicht ständig die Welt retten, sie müssen auch noch kochen.” – “Mothers cannot constantly save the world, they have to cook as well”. Or, as I once read in a diner’s in the Mojave desert: “What took me two hours to cook, should take you at least ten minutes to eat”.

Which is why it is sooo much fun getting the guys to do the cooking instead! What male can resist the glow of hot coals and firewood? The pleasure of popping sounds when the ignition fluids start burning? The joy of wearing a long apron round that pot belly proclaiming Himself  the King of Kooks? ah, cooks, ahem.

20170616_resto3.jpg

Meanwhile the helping housewife will have marinated the steaks in pineapple juice, pepper corns and sunflower oil over night.

She will also have fixed up some tasty SIDE dishes (and not overwhelming Himself’s sense of Heroism, such as

noodle salad (4 p.)

300 g pasta (I like Pfiffli the best) cooked al dente, about 10″, cooled

1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced

1/2 each yellow and red bell peppers, sliced and diced

1 onion or spring onions, chopped

4 pickles with curcuma, chopped

some spoonfuls of fresh/ frozen corn

(1/2 a round of Lyoner (or mortadella) chopped; only if not so much meat available)

some spoonfuls of mayonnaise  ( > Mahón, capital of Menorca)

1 cup of yoghurt, plain

salt, pepper, curcuma, pickle marinade to taste

Blend all ingredients and toss well, cool before serving. You can leave out the Lyoner if you’re having steaks and other meats.

Another delight is the salad Caprese: Tomatoes and Mozzarella with olive oil and lemon and fresh basilic leaves.

Do not forget the 5 l Barrel of beer, the crusty breads and Brezel, the ketchups and sauces and mustards (ah, that mustard joke!), the Smores for the kids and Big Kids after the BBQ is over, the fresh fruit salad and of course some homemade cake.

20170615_resto2.jpg

Mustard in French:  moutarde de Dijon:

Two men happen to meet after having been in Africa for many years and agree to go to a restaurant together. As neither has been in France for a very long time, they begin to notice other people asking for a yellow paste which is spread thinly on the steak-frites. Since he is now well-off, the man on the left asks for a pot of this “moutarde”, dips in his spoon and puts a spoonful into his mouth.

His eyes begin to water, but he swallows the whole spoonful heroically. The second man asks, “Why are you crying all of a sudden?” The first replies, “Oh, it is nothing. I just happened to think of my poor father who was almost eaten by African cannibals.”

The other, encouraged, also dips his spoon into the moutarde pot and attempts to swallow. He, too, suddenly has teary eyes. Asks the first man, “Why are you crying now? Is the moutarde too spicy?”

Says the second, “Ah no, I was thinking of your father, you know, and wishing he had been eaten by those African cannibals!”

 

 

Wrap a Wreath of W(hite)Roses

This is for fun when you have nothing else to do for 10 – 15 minutes and feel like a quick-fix for your home and / or garden. The only prerequisite is abundant creativity and a few cheap items which can be found in any sizeable garden.

Start out with a ring. Mine is metal with holders (cf. infra) which I found at a crafts fair, but you can just as well use a sturdy styrofoam ring, a ring of straw bound with raffia, willow branches bound with string, anything you can use as a base. I like the metal ring for the sake of its being stainless steel (rostfrei und unkaputtbar, ca. €16) and endlessly re-usable. I redo my wreath every couple of weeks.

The first layer is long supple green branches. Here I have used cherry laurel or Kirschlorbeer (prunus laurocerasus). Lay one branch end to end with the next, slightly overlapping the ends. Start at one point (12 o’clock) and work your way around clockwise. If you don’t have holders like my ring, simply wrap some raffia or string around your base.

The second layer can be from the same plant or a different one. Since I was clipping overhanging branches, I had yew or Eibe (taxus). Start at 12 o’clock again and overlap the branches. Take the younger, supple ones and cut away anything that is in your way. Now your base should be green.

In the photo on the left you can see the green leafy base. In the photo on the right is an example of what the wreath can look like when placing an artificial rose wreath on top. Personally I prefer fresh flowers, which I have in abundance, but they dry up so quickly. That would entail replacing them every day (alas, no time!). I have also tried the florists’ trick with the little tube vases of water tucked inside the branches. It goes without saying that this variant also takes time and patience and flowers that will last.

My quick-fix is mixing fresh green leaves and single artificial flowers (cf. photo in the middle). I have different color schemes according to the season or holidays, for Easter I am more into yellow and orange with ‘forsythia’ and ‘daffodils’. Now in June with the high temperatures, I opted for white ‘freesias’ and blue ‘hyacinths’.

As before, start with the longer stems, always tucking them in clockwise fashion, then the shorter stems and finally the short stems with the largest blooms,  in this case large white ‘roses’.

I like adding little ribbons in matching colors pinched in the middle with wire. The wires wrap around the branches, helping to hold down any stray ends and slipping stems.

The final touch is wrapping longer lengths of ribbons in different widths and colors and tying a big bow,  a little off-center for the best effect.

The raffia to hang the wreath on the wall with has an extra knot every ten cm / four inches. If the wreath has to switch spots, then I can hang it at different heights depending on the wall –  or simply hang it out of the way. Laying it on a large platter and putting candles all around or in the middle is another way to use your wreath.

Wishing you fun with your wreath!

20180617_124201

Cuba – son, ron and cajón

“Havanna na-na-na”…. my new favorite. If you have just read my previous blog about my cajón, a large wooden percussion instrument you sit on and beat grooves with, then you will know that I fell in love with just about everything Spanish, Hispanic, mozárabe and Cuba in 2004.

Fidel Castro was still alive and featured on every wall that didn’t already have Che on it, Raúl was in the sidelines, US citizens were not allowed in, the embargo was still on, most Cubans worked for next to nothing in Cuban pesos and got a bit more in US dollars if they could work for tourism. Basic food stuffs, such as rice, black beans, milk and sugar were still rationed out on miniature cards, all our tourist guides were academics, engineers, teachers and the like. Those who had studied mathematics in Chemnitz or medicine in Leipzig or Russian in Moscow all needed a sponsor to enable their studies in East Germany or Russia. The Fifties still reign supreme in La Habana : those cool cruisers, the famous Tropicana, the cigar factories you may not carry bags into, the rum shops, “Granma” and other Castro vehicles from the Bahía de los Cochinos, the decaying houses with crazy electric wiring owned by colorfully clothed Cubans who cannot even pay for a bag of cement – which, historically, was a donation by Honecker in exchange for oranges too bitter for the Eastern Germans’ taste. The guagua (public bus) still comes around at odd hours – provided there is enough gasoline from Venezuela and spare parts from former Soviet trucks.

Notwithstanding, there is nothing more beautiful than watching Cubans dance to the son rhythm, hearing musicians play Buena Vista songs, observing affluent tourists smoke a fat cigar, breathing the salty, heavily scented, hot, humid air, standing in a cloudburst in Cienfuegos, miraculously evaporating in less than 20 minutes, watching laughing children jump into the saltos (waterfalls) and slide into the cool water below, sipping a pina colada or mojito and savoring the sunset in a tropical garden. Qué hermosa es.

Boom chak ! Cajón-mania

If you are wondering what the title is about, then you haven’t tried this fantastic method of reducing stress by rapping the rhythm, having heaps of fun hammering, strengthening your finger muscles when standing in traffic, learning to listen to the beat and simply losing yourself in a song. Too fun to be true?

My first encounter with this handcrafted wooden percussion “big box”, translation of the Spanish cajón (kah- HON) was at a Spanish guitar concert with this accompaniment. I was intrigued by the soft sonorous sound, the practical aspect of sitting atop one’s instrument and the convenient size and the astonishing array of rhythmic patterns or grooves a player can coax out of such a small box.

After the concert I started hunting around for lessons and found a great guy offering workshops, lessons and exquisitely crafted cajones made in Hungary. I soon became the proud owner of a lovely, deep sounding cajón that does not irk, but delights my neighbors, unlike any drum set or piano (no, I won’t settle for electronic devices, the sound is simply not the same).

Meanwhile I can tap out all sorts of basic grooves to the radio music that’s playing, I’ve become more coordinated and calmer, even a traffic jam is a welcome occasion to drum on the steering wheel and practise a new song. Boom! is for the bass, chak! is for the open in this hand-to-hand drumming. Ts! designates the in-between taps with your fingers. Not to forget tapping the basic beat with your foot. No worry, no knots. It’s a great way to relax. Just beat it!  For Munich I can recommend cajonworkshops.com and instruments from Cajón Studio.

My favorite Cuban drinks are, naturally, mojito, daiquiri and pina colada with fresh juices and Cuban rum. And of course, anything salsa or son. As to sun hats, I love those Chillouts made of paper, they are so lightweight and can be squashed into any bag. Enjoy the sun, people!