Monthly Archives: December 2012

a wine trance

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When we were young, the kids in my family would wait impatiently for the Sears Catalog to arrive in the mail around the holiday season.  As soon as the catalog arrived, my mother would sit us down with pens and pads of paper to make our lists of all the things we would like for Christmas.

Isn’t that nice?

I know what you’re thinking right now…………you’re thinking, “Wow.  You must have had an incredibly generous Santa in your life.  You were SO lucky!”

Don’t be fooled by the first part of that story.  In fact, we spent hours, if not days (and maybe even weeks), writing down detailed descriptions of every toy we wanted.  We made columns.  We wrote prices.  We wrote code numbers.  And year after year, we were very optimistic.

And each Christmas morning, we would run downstairs with visions of mountains of toys from Santa/Sears piled underneath our tree.  And every year the big man let us down.  It wasn’t that we didn’t get fabulous things for Christmas, but we NEVER got a single thing that we had chosen from our hours of work with the Sears Catalogue.  Not once.

Now you know where I inherited the ability to subtly torture my children.

This fall in France, when I received a giant wine catalog in the mail, I was immediately transported back in time to my days with the Sears Catalog.  I quickly found myself circling things in the catalog and feeling hopeful.  Then I realized that at this point in life, I am my own Santa Claus.  So rather than sitting around hoping, I got in the car to attend the annual wine sale at our massive supermarket.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I have very simple wine selection criteria.  I have only two requirements:  1) it must be under 5€,  and 2) it should have some sort of award seal on the bottle.  I know there are people who are much smarter than I am, and clearly there are those who know much more about wine than I do, so I choose to leave the big decisions to them.  If the smart wine judges give a decently priced bottle of wine an award, I buy the wine.

When I arrived at the wine sale, it was like a wonderland with crates of wine all over the massive center of the store.  I was wandering around in a daze as wine buyers in fancy suits and pointed shoes walked purposefully with their cellphones pressed to their ears.  Who were they buying wine for?  I have absolutely no idea, but I did my best to represent the low standard crowd with my wrinkled skirt and rounded shoes.

When it comes to buying things in France that I don’t know much about, I have developed one main strategy.  I find someone who looks like she (or he) knows what she is doing and I follow her around (at a safe distance) to see what she buys.  I am almost like an ape in that way, except I apply this tactic to decidedly un-apelike things like buying skin care products.  If there is a woman with really nice skin in the moisturizer aisle, you can bet that I’m trailing her.

I pulled out the dog-eared catalogue I had stuffed in my bag and I browsed nonchalantly while I waited to find someone to follow who was not wearing a suit.  Once I had identified my secret buying mentor, I walked slowly behind him watching what he was choosing.  In a few short minutes my cart seemed to be sufficiently full, and I deflected my buying mentor’s suspicious glances at me, by looking at my catalog whenever he turned around to give me the hairy eyeball.

After I finished loading up on wine, I walked by the bra section and I saw a familiar sight – French women grabbing handfuls of lacy bra and undies sets and tossing them into their carts like they were buying croissants.  Do they try them on?  No.  Do they fret about fit or comfort?  Apparently not, since this is a scene I have witnessed nearly every time I walk by the bra section.  And since I was living the spirit of France that day with a cart full of wine, I decided to toss in a few bras to top it off.

As I wandered back across the store, I go sidetracked by the home goods section (happens every time) and left my cart sitting in the middle of the dishware aisle.  After I was finished looking there, I went back to my cart and started pushing it to the other end of the store toward the checkout.

It wasn’t until I was nearly at the checkout that I heard a woman yelling behind me and I turned to look.  An elderly woman was hobbling quickly toward me.  She was saying something that I couldn’t exactly understand and I figured that she was speaking to the wrong person and began to turn around again.  That’s when I happened to glance down and I noticed that my cart was not filled with wine and bras, but rather with vacuum bags and yogurt.

I had accidentally taken the other woman’s cart and left the poor woman with a cart full of loot that appeared to be the weekly shopping trip for the brothel.

“Je suis très, très désolé, Madame.”

Sometimes I don’t get the language right, but I always know how to say “I’m sorry” correctly in French.  In fact, those are the words I speak the most on a daily basis.

As you now know, Santa really delivered this year – from a catalogue even!

For your added entertainment value, I thought I’d throw this in.  When we’re not buying wine, this is what we do in France for fun:

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Following this blog must be a very frustrating experience.  I taunt you with sporadic posts about the many stories I have to tell you…………….and then I wait months to tell them to you. How annoying. Luckily the readership of this blog is so small that I am only annoying a small percentage of the world.  I’m truly sorry that you happen to be in that small percentage.

You may be happy to know that just because the blog has been silent, doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Au contraire! In fact, there are lots of things going on – so many in fact, that it’s hard to make the time to write it all down. You can sleep well tonight knowing that the story engine of my mind is chugging along. Or you can punch your computer knowing that the story engine is chugging and yet I give you nothing. It’s your choice completely.

Now back to the regularly scheduled programming.

Here is a story that I started writing months ago for you:

As we were travelling around Germany in the camping car this past summer, we had very little idea of where we would end up each night. However, after our stop at the nudie camp, we knew that there was nearly nothing we couldn’t handle.

One place that received glowing recommendations from a few friends was Neuschwanstein Castle, so we decided to point the bus in that direction. However, after a few nights on the road, we came to a couple of realizations:

Realization #1: The camping car is actually more like a clown car, since once you stop and unpack it, the stuff seems to literally explode out of the car. While we were driving, things seemed to fit neatly in their places, but once we stopped, the campsite became littered with tables, chairs, shoes, dirty laundry and wet towels, just so we could uncover our sleeping spaces for the night.

Realization #2: Once you have unpacked your clown car, you spend the rest of the time avoiding repacking it until you are ready to drive it away for good. That meant that we quickly started to adjust our camping car strategy from just driving around looking for random campsites, to driving around looking for random campsites that were within walking distance of something that we wanted to see. And that is how we ended up hiking to Neuschwanstein Castle rather than driving up to it.

When we arrived in the small town named Schwangau closest to the castle, we found a campsite within walking distance of the castle and managed to secure the last available spot. I’m pretty sure I even did a fist pump for joy when I emerged from the office with the site map aiming us toward the spot. And I may have even smirked a little bit as I walked past the line of camping cars also trying to get a space in this camping area.  I’m just glad those people in line didn’t witness the smirk getting wiped off my face by the realization that our campsite was located directly above the dumpster, which made things……um………….ripe when the wind was blowing in a certain direction.  Still, the stink was a small price to pay for the fact that everyone was wearing clothing at this campsite.

We figured out that a hike to the castle from our campsite would be about 12k (roughly 7.5 miles) one way and since we had completely the Rando with minimal drama, we imagined that the walk to Neuschwanstein Castle wouldn’t be so bad. Additionally, Map Man (aka Tim), found us a route up the back side of the giant mountain to the castle, so we wouldn’t have to go on the average road where all the normal people walk. It’s clear that being normal is something we try to avoid.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dumpster stink, to start our journey. We packed a lunch, filled up our water bottles and started off. The first 5 miles went fine as we hiked through farm land with cute German cows all over the landscape. We thought we were home free when we finally arrived at the base of the mountain, since we could see the castle perched on top and we knew in less than a couple of miles we’d be there.

That’s when Owen noticed a sign at the base of the mountain, which read, “Ticket Office” with an arrow pointing the other way. He pointed it out to me saying, “Don’t you think we should go that way? It says that the Ticket Office is over there.”

The logic of following clear signage always seems so mundane, doesn’t it?  Where is the adventure in that?  Instead, I said, “We don’t need to go to the Ticket Office. We’ll just buy our tickets at the top.”

What happened next is best described in pictures:

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We climbed up and up on a thin metal bridge bolted to the side of a giant wall of boulders.  It was high.  There was a rushing river below.  It seemed to take forever.  Owen realized he had a slight fear of heights.  This was not a great moment.  Eamon, however, loved every minute of being very close to death.

When we got to the top, we were treated with amazing views like this:

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And we got to see the castle looming above us as we sat down to eat our picnic lunch, feeling smug that we had walked 12k with nary a whine, we overcame a death-defying metal bridge trek, and we finally made it to the top.

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Except then Tim noticed a sign that said “No Admittance to the Castle Without Tickets.”  No problem.  There was surely a ticket booth at the top, no?  I mean, what kind of country would be so organized that all the tickets would be sold in only one place?

Did I mention, we were traveling in GERMANY?  Did I also mention that GERMANY is bailing out multiple European countries from debt because of its extremely ORGANIZED and well run government?

Here’s a story shocker:  THE TICKET BOOTH WAS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE MOUNTAIN!  AND I KNOW THAT WHEN I TYPE IN ALL CAPS LIKE THIS, IT SEEMS LIKE I’M YELLING!  BECAUSE I AM!

In fact, the ticket booth is right at the bottom of the hill on the front side where all the “normal” people walk up.

Dear reader, could you have anticipated that ending?  I sincerely hope not because that would mean that my common sense is virtually non-exsistant.  And a parent with no common sense is………….well, actually, I’m pretty sure that’s called “reality TV.”

In case you were wondering, a giant pack of gummy bears makes a walk down a giant mountain much easier.

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And when you get to the bottom and find out that the tickets are sold out for that day, there is nothing like a game of German mini-golf to appease your utterly frustrated children.  The cigarette butts under the score card just add some additional spice to the flavor of the day.

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ps- You’ll be happy to know we made it in to the castle the next day.  That time, we left the clown car at the campsite and took the town bus.

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