Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yeah, I said it, Merry Christmas!

I have many complaints about Germany . . . but that is a subject of other posts. I have one thing that I love about Deutschland -- Christmas!!!

  Wednesday night at the main Christmas market in Kiel.

When I grew up, my neighbors and my family friends all celebrated Christmas. I went to Christian school for years and was an every-Sunday-sing-in-the choir churchgoer. So some time around the middle of December, as a child, my farewell became, Have a Merry Christmas!. In return, I got, "You, too."

In high school my world got bigger. I was never sure who celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan or nothing. So I started saying Merry Christmas only to the people I knew for sure celebrated that holiday. When I moved to New York, I adopted, "Happy Holidays" and sent it out to everyone. It was just easier. Oh, it was the ugly stepsister to "Merry Christmas" but it had to be used, instead. I even sent out Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings cards. Oh, they were elegant, with a sophisticated snowflake design or winter landscape. But they were not beautiful or heartwarming. No family gathered around a tree. No tree. No baby Jesus. No manager. No star. No chubby-faced toddlers running down stairs to see what Santa Claus brought them. No Santa Claus. No reindeer. No nothing.

Germany has all the Christmas accessories and it is the only holiday that people care about.

Very unfortunately, activities during the 1940s got rid of most of its Jewish population. There is little talk of Hanukkah. Plus, Hanukkah's prominence on the American calendar is a relative recent event and the result of its chronological closeness to the present-heavy Christmas holiday.

Also, unfortunately, the Islamic community here is not as vocal as it is in the U.S. The Turkish population has not melded in to mainstream society, so there is almost two communities here. I have not gained entrance to that sphere, so I am not sure what happens during December. I have not heard anyone mention Ramadan here nor have I seen mention of it in print.

So, all I can do is wish everyone, Frohe Weihnachten. Merry Christmas.

Actually, it is Merry Christmases. Christmas celebration starts Christmas Eve and continues covers the evening of December 26.

Of course, this is all very closed-minded of me. I make no excuses. I love Christmas. I am lazy. I like discussing Christmas and all its trappings. I love the music. I love the sentiment. I love the good times that sprout from the holiday. I love it all. I think if I were not raised Baptist, I would still love Christmas. It is just so happy and fun.

For a few weeks a year, that is Germany -- happy and fun. There are Christmas trees, Weihnachtmann (a German variant on Santa Claus), lights and Christmas markets everywhere.

Every German city has several Christmas markets. They are all a little different but share a few common traits -- spiced wine called glühwein, no chairs, würstchen (sausages), kartoffel puffer (kind of like potato fritter), sauteed mushrooms, and people in good spirits. I have been to Christmas markets in Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Kiel. Each city offered a complex of tents selling candles, scarves, sweaters, Christmas decorations, gloves, candy, puppets and jewelry, but there is some variety. I had some awesome tapas a few weeks ago at Cologne's Christmarket near the Dom. Some markets are better than others. I preferred the market at the Alster Lake to the bigger one at the Hamburg Rathaus (City Hall) and the market at Neumarkt to the one at Cologne's glorious church.

Didgeridoo players at a tent selling food at the main Christmas market in Kiel.

Asmus and I exchanged presents today. The Germans prefer to give gifts on Heiligabend (the Holy Evening, Christmas Eve). Asmus handed me a certificate that said I had received a subscription to America's version of Vanity Fair magazine. I already gave Asmus his gift of an ice cream maker a week ago. We had company and I thought we would make them some homemade ice cream. I got him a secondary gift, so that he would hav something to open on Christmas. Well, I have lost my husband to Civilization IV video game. He has said about three sentences to me since he tore the paper off the box two hours ago. I am proud and a little sad at the same time.

Season's Greetings!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Up-close view of my anniversary flowers

Yesterday, I marked the day my life changed.

You can bisect your life on a variety of landmarks.

My life changed December 15, 2007. That was the night that I met Asmus.

We do not celebrate Valentine's Day or other artificial but we did mark this occasion.

When I saw that "we" marked occasion, I mean that Asmus marked it. I am pretty sick and I did nothing but come close to tears when he presented me with flowers when he got home from work.

Sometimes I get weary when I think of how close we got close to not meeting and how many times that we could have met. Asmus and I met at the wedding of Isabel and Matthias. I have known them for 11 years but I never heard of Asmus until 2007. I did not plan to go to their wedding. About two weeks before the ceremony, I changed my mind and booked a ticket.

It makes you wonder how many other opportunities you have missed on your life or how close you came to not getting something positive.

The last two years have been an adventure. I love adventure.

France is supposed to be the home of romance. However, my German boy is always surprising me. He got me this beautiful coffee table book on Germany when I finished Integrations Course and the bouquet came yesterday for the two-year anniversary of our meeting as a couple. He thought he had done red roses too often. He thought the orange roses looked too ugly. The purple daisies beat out white roses, which Asmus thought were too boring.

Pie Sucess!

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

Germany does not have a pie culture. There is no pie pan, no recipes for crust and no pie filling in a can. So I had to make my own pie from SCRATCH. I have made pies but I did not create the entire thing with my two hands. I did two weeks ago.

I got a copy of Patti Labelle's sweet potato pie recipe and matched it with the Food Network's recipe for a sweet crust.

The pie got a little roughed up because Asmus wrestled it out of the pie plate.
He didn't know it is supposed to sit in the vessel.

It was a bit ugly but the pie tasted delicious. I introduced Asmus to the pie on Thanksgiving. You cannot have Thanksgiving without sweet potato pie.

The only thing I change is its firmness. I only had medium eggs and the recipe called for large eggs. Perhaps that correction will make things better.

Despite that, I am damn proud.

I told the in-laws about the pie and they said they were interested. I have a sweet potato pie recipe from the North Carolina Sweet Potato Pie Commission that uses fructose instead of table sugar.

In my search for recipes, I learned that North Carolina produces the majority of sweet potatoes eaten in the United States. Louisiana also grows a large percentage. Louisiana is crazy proud of their spud.

I am attempting another pie Friday. I have two German friends coming to visit. I am going to blow their minds!

I found pecans the other day. Do not under-estimate the work that went into that search. I looked in stores in Hamburg and Kiel. I found them in one store. I feel a pecan pie coming on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My First Crust

Isn't it beautiful?

The beauty does not lie in its exterior but in the optimism, pride, energy and research that went into it. Plus, it tastes good and has a moist and delicate texture. From the missing corner, you can see that I tasted it. I am telling the truth.

I began my journey into baking with a drive for pecan pie. Those damn things only show up in the fall. I need them year round. I hit Food Network's website and found a suitable recipe. I do not come from a baking from scratch background, so I automatically went for the frozen pie crust. They come in an aluminum pan that you throw away when the sad time comes, when there is no pie. What could be better? Nothing.

I have lived with McDonad's pies for too long. (They are still fried in Germany. That is the one food that tastes better here than in the U.S.) Germany does not have a tradition of American-style baking. Cakes are thin layers of cake with an inch of light cream between the layers. There is no pie. That meant: there is no frozen pie crusts.

I was scared but I knew I could handle it.

I hit up my old friend, and looked for a suitable crust. I chose the sweet pie crust (If you are going to go, go hard.). Then the research started.

What is the correct flour?

What is the German word for vegetable shortening?

A long time ago, Asmus said everything is complicated in Germany. I have learned that he is correct. There is no all-purposed flour or pastry flour. Flour have no words. It has numbers. Did I need a 405, a 550 or 1050? I hit up my favorite German-English-speakers website and searched the forum. Either I needed a 405 or a 550. I widened my search and settled on a 550.

I begged Asmus to ask his mother what the German word for that is (There is no big old tub of Crisco here.). He hates asking anyone questions but he also hates my nagging, so I nagged hard. Margot kept recommending butter. So I hit the market in the hope that all would become clear. It didn't. Plus, I forgot whether I needed lard or vegetable fat. So Asmus translated some tub of fat in the refrigerator aisle and I both fat from plants and fat from pigs.

I smuggled one American measuring cup to Germany. I needed it to measure the fat and the flour and the water. I decided to measure out 16 tablespoons for the shortening to save the cup for the water. That was a mistake. I forgot twice how to many spoonfuls were in the mix. Before I added the water, the mixture was supposed to look like coarse crumbs. I had a sticky mess. It looked wrong but I continued. I never made a crust, maybe it is supposed be disgusting before it all comes together.

I was right -- I made it wrong.

I measured out the shortening and set aside in another dish and started all over again after a beer.


Tomorrow, I going to make my first ALL homemade sweet potato pie.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not so fast

That is me cowering before a representative of
Germany's Federal Bureau for Migrants and Refugees

It seems that I was to hasty and announcing myself done with the Integration Course. I made that announcement after completing my last class and last test.
I got my results two days ago.
I must achieve a B1 level on the test in order to have successfully completed it (Tip: the lower the number and lower the letter, the worse you did. C2 is the highest and A1 is the lowest.). I earned an A2 on speaking; B1 on the hearing and reading section; B1 on the writing section; and 20 out of 25 correct on the cultural portion (I needed to get 13 correct to pass.). With those results, I thought I passed. Nope, I earned A2 on the entire test. The government is kind enough to give you your specific results on the test. I got 68 points on the speaking; 75 is needed to get B1.
One can get A2 in either listening/reading or writing and B1 in the other sections and earn B1 for the entire test. If you get A2 in speaking, you do not pass, regardless of the grades in other sections.
I have not complained about much with this damn course. However, this is ridiculous. They should give the speaking portion and its results before give the rest of the test. This way, one does not waste your time and energy studying for a test that you have already failed.
I spent a day dealing with rude government officials. I understand bogged-down workers but these people were mean and deflating. I was speaking in English because it is efficient and I was chastised. I wanted to simply take the examination and skip the option of taking the last 300 hours of the course again (That is three months of sitting through the same material that I just sat through! For seven points!) and then take the test. I was pointedly told this was a dumb idea because I "obviously" needed help.

I am done listening to them. I have been practicing speaking since I got the results of my test. I will pass this damn test.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


My weapons for the last year. I forgot to include my Life Saver -- my Oxford English-German Dictionary.

Today, everything has changed.

I am done.

I am done with Germany's Integration Course.

This six-month course has taken over a year of my life.

I started at the beginning of October 2008 and finished today.

At the end of December 2008, my first language school took a holiday break and I went to London for a bit. I returned to Hamburg in February. I tried to get in to a class at the same class and that was not possible until March 2. The Friday night before Asmus got a contract to work at a bank in Kiel, Germany. I nagged about 10 language schools in Kiel in search for a place in the three module of the course. There was just about no room at the inn. InLingua had a spot in its third module that began in mid-June 2009.

It was tough going for a long time. I bought a Berlitz book to help me with my German while I was living in London. I didn't use it much but then it saved my life this summer. My school in Hamburg, Colon, was full of new immigrants. We all suffered through German pronunciation and grammar together. We complained and whined as one. And when we were done, we had a beer. I complained about them but I missed them this summer.

My class in Kiel was full of German residents. They spoke the language at the speed of sound. In response, the teachers did the same. I came home angry and frustrated. I sat there from 8 am until 12:15 and had no idea what was going on. A few times that I tried to speak, a few people in class laughed at me. The teacher said nothing. Once I was too excited construct a true sentence in German and simply said, "Kein respekt! Kein respekt!" There was silence for a few seconds but no apology. After that, the laughter stopped.

I hoped my learning experience would look like this. It didn't.

Soon, I took a peek at my Berlitz book to see if it could help me. I was happy to notice that it was the same as the book we were using. The big difference was that the directions and instructions were in English. I started to work before hand. I gathered a vocabulary list and created flash cards. My German got much better. By August, I had the respect of the class. Some turned to me when they were not certain about something. Olga, the silent Russian emigrant who sat next to me, would simply copy my work. For a while, I was forced to sit across the room from her and she would come over to steal answers from me. I had several philosophical discussions about this with Asmus. I think Olga should learn on her own and I did not want to contribute to her cheating herself. Asmus didn't think there was no harm to me, so I didn't need to care. I was too cowardly to shoo her away.

I did become racist. I now hate Turkish people. (OK, not really.) About half of the class hailed from Turkey. They were the ones laughing at me. I was impressed by their unity and disgusted by it, too. They would only talk to each other. If the teacher would ask a Turkish classmate a question and he did not know the question, a few of his countrymen would give him the answer in Turkish. There was this crazy clique. And they were annoying. When we got our practice tests back, they asked everyone in the classroom their scores. Didn't tell theirs but asked for others. I almost peed on myself when Selma told the teacher that she got an answer wrong that Ebru got correct. The result: Ebru lost a point.

Now, I have nothing to complain about; no chapters to read; no place to go at the crack of dawn. (Because of Hamburg' s latitude, the sun rises about 7:15 now.)

I wanted to feel sad about the end of my time in class. I feel nothing. I will miss Thomas, the one teacher who slowed his speech down and explained things when I was obviously confused. I will miss the interesting and capable office manager Anja. Because of the nature of our relationships, Anja and I and Thomas and I could not have been friends. I hoped to gather some friends in the integration course. But now I just have happiness that the course is over.

Here is a view of a room at the school, where I learned about German language and culture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the Road

Behind the tree, sits the Kalk Mountain.

Another nice thing Germany does for its people -- cheap travel.

German rail offers lots of cheap ticket options. There is a ticket option that allows unlimited travel in one of Germany's 16 states for a group of 5 people for about 30 euros. It is a surreal experience buying a train ticket. It is like a trip to New York in the early '90s. I remember that I used to visit my friend Kara who was living in the West Village. I was walking down the street and some guy started walking to close to me. He was not going to bump into me but glide by. As he did this, I heard a faint voice murmur, "Smoker. Smoker. Smoker" He was letting me know that he would sell me some pot. When you walk up to a kiosk in Kiel, some 20-something inches up to you and asks if you are going to Hamburg. They want to split the cost of the ticket with you. You don't even have to sit with them; just be in the same car. But, I don't like getting hooked up with strangers, so I used to say, "I'm sorry but I only speak English." That never worked. People taking the train from Kiel to Hamburg seem to all speak German and English. I was forced to reject them.

Asmus and I used the Schleswig-Holstein ticket to go from Kiel and Hamburg and vice versa. A few months ago, we decided to use the ticket for one-day getaways.

First stop, Bad Segeberg.

Segeberg required a run from a late train to Luebeck but we made it. The town sits on a see but it is home to a mountain, Kalk Mountain. (Kalk means Chalk but the mountain actually contains gypsum. Wacky Germans!) We came for the cave on a Sunday. We took an almost horizontal trek from the train station to the mountain. We got there just in time for a tour. I love a tour!

We walked down some steps and into a refrigerator. The cave was cold and dark. Unfortunately, the cold was the most interesting thing about it. There were no stalagtictes, no stalagmites, no ancient artifacts, no bats. The tour guide pointed out a few rock formations that look like characters from Snow White and other gruesome German fairy tales.

It was a bit scary. Right next to the cave, there is a amphitheater, which has been doing old-fashioned cowboy and Indian shows. As we are walking down the steps to the cave, the ground shook from the cap guns. Plus, once the door to the cave shut, it was a frightening.

The cool part of the visit was a snack stop after the cave. We got ice cream at a restaurant outside the theater. We ate sundaes as rain poured onto awnings that shielded us. It was a good day.

I Heart Deutschland

What a time it has been!

Germany is really good to its people. Last week, I started the orientation course, which is a two-week section of the Integration Course for German visa holders. I have learned lots about the new nation [For the uninitiated, there was an area in central Europe that was occupied by a variety of dukedoms and many spoke the same Teutonic language. The area officially became a nation in 1871. That fell apart a few times. A democratic nation was formed May 1949; West and East Germany came together as one nation in 1990.].

In exchange for high taxes:

Families with children get money until the child turn 18, if they start work after high school, or 25, if they go to college

Parents of newborns get money from the government for two years

Money to help pay for child care

Money for unemployed people

Money for older people

I am starting to wonder about the wisdom of the American way of life. I would like to have money from the government for being married or having children.

Plus, I was shocked to learn that for most nonviolent offenses, the punishment is monetary, not jail. And you pay. None of these repeated calls from collectors. People (accompanied by police, if necessary) come to your house and take things that equate the cost of the debt. I like that more than the chaos of the criminal justice system in the United States. If American jails and prisons rehabilitated people, I would support them. At least in the German way, criminals aren't simply stored together.

Plus, pregnant women are forced from work six weeks before their due date. They get to sit home and get paid. Then they can stay home for a year and get paid. When they return to work, they can NOT get fired for two years.

I would like some stuff from the government. As a working adult, the only thing I have ever gotten from the government was a student loan forbearance.

I learned a lot in the course but it is mess. We are not assigned homework. We go over the information in class and learn as we read along. I am having trouble translating the words, so I cannot really learn. So then I started reading texts the night before. We have the orientation course test tomorrow. But wait. Get this. We have the test at 11 am, right after we have three hours of lesson. So there is some teaching and there is a test. That is why I read the night before. We did a practice test today and about one eighth of the information in the book was on the test. Oh well, in 24 hours, it will all be over.

Then what do I do?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today is my anniversary.

One year ago today, I got on a plane and I left my life.

I met a boy. I met a wonderful boy. In his own words, “an exotic Teutonic boy toy.”

As an American, all expectations are that he would come to me. Who doesn’t want to come to America? People fight sharks; pay thousands of dollars that they don’t have to shady figures and work for years to pay the debt; or stowaway in the well of airplane tires to get here.

Asmus helped run a company and looks in his parents. I was a happy employee of a major publishing house. His folks are about 20 years older than mine. Mine go to work every day and his haven’t worked since the ‘80s. So I decided to make the move.

It was easy but not. I am a logical being. It made sense for me to go. However, I wondered if I was acting like one of those women who sacrifice everything for their husbands and then 10 years later, they hate themselves. I told Asmus this and he thought the same thing. He pushed moving to the U.S. I was the one who pushed for me to immigrate. I had quiet moments and thought about it and thought about it. It just made sense to me and I felt good with the decisions. I asked my best friends and they said it made sense, too. So there.

The point was driven home a week or two after this decision. I was evicted from my apartment. My degenerate roommate allegedly was in California [her subletter and I wonder if she was really in California because she visit New York several times] and left without paying back rent and upcoming rent. She made payment plans with the city of New York that she didn’t tell me about and then renegged on it. So, we were evicted.

I got the notice early August.

I planned to come to Germany in October. Here I am two months before that -- homeless.

The first thing I did after I found out that I was officially homeless was call Asmus. The first thing he said was, “Come to me.”

Problem solved.

All my belongings sitting in Asmus' living room

I skipped trying to find a place to live for two months and asked a friend Jennie if I could crash at her place for two weeks. She said yes and I started giving my belongings.

My year in Germany has been an adventure. I have experienced life as an immigrant. It sucks. I got to live my best friend. It is wonderful. I discovered who my Americans real friends are. Thank you Mori, Marie, Jennie, Thomas, Tim, Ginger. They are the ones who send me news-filled emails and overcome several time zones to call me with chit chat. I made new friends. Thank you Anne, Konrad, Lunghei, Tanje, Toby. At 37, it is just about impossible to find people who will spend time with you. These people [except for South African Lunghei] hang out with me in a foreign language.

More importantly, across the distance I have become closer to my family. My older sister, Lorie, and I are on polar opposite side of the political spectrum [I am on the correct side. (Hah! Just joking, Lorie.)]. But we speak constantly. I “talk” to her more now than I ever did when we were 200 miles apart. Throughout the day, emails bounce between Kiel and Baltimore. She is preparing for her airplane flight to visit me. My mother and I joke via email. That is pretty impossible in person for us. Don’t know why. Plus, in print, she is a bit mushy. She misses me. I know this because she writes this to me. She also thinks I drink too much alcohol. I know this because she writes this to me.

Plus, I have doubled my family. I love Asmus’ family. His mother is so sweet. You feel better when you are in her presence. His father is an interesting person. Asmus’ older brother, Christian, officiated at our wedding. Asmus and I helped his wife and two sons cheer him on when he ran a marathon in Mainz.

Life is intense in Germany but it is always interesting. My new life is different than the one I left behind in New York and that is fine with me.

Home sweet home.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Viva Kiel Week!

Because of its seaside location, Kiel is a popular tourist spot.

Tourists flood this town every summer.

I know why.

Of course, there are the beaches [I guess that is why. I have never been to them. I cannot find the fun in sitting in dirt for hours at a time.] but the city programs events all the time.

There were outdoor concerts every weekend.

A few hours ago, I grabbed lunch at a flea market that had taken over all of downtown. I am not one for picking over other people's garbage but I have a weakness for cool drinking glasses, interesting dishes and fun purses. I looked around and saw all these things that I wanted and decided that I had to leave.

A family of jugglers came to town.

"The Little Prince" was staged.

Yesterday was the open house for the Kiel Opera. There were performances inside and outside the opera house.

The biggest event of them all is Kieler Woche ["Kiel Week"']. For seven days at the end of August, there were major and minor musical acts on stages scattered throughout the city. Some are on their way up. Stefanie Heinzmann won one of Germany's televised talent contests and played. Madcon, a Swedish hiphop group that made a hit with Frankie Valli's "Beggin'", played the night after Stefanie. There are some acts on their way down. Paul Carrack was playing one night as I walked alone. The voice was familiar but the name was not. He had some moderate success alone in the 80s and he was one of the lead singers of Mike + the Mechanics and Squeeze.

There was also a lot of stuff with boats. I saw none of it. Because of its location on the water, regattas are a big deal. We had four friends come visit from Hamburg. They were going to sail on the ship of the father of one of our guests. I get incredibly seasick, so I dropped out at the last second.

The best part for me was the International Food Show. A block away from our house was food from around the world. Germans are not the most adventurous people but for some reason, they open their culinary minds up for one week and taste everything. I had food from Czech Republic, Rwanda, Argentina, Nepal, Poland and India. I never had Rwandan food but it had similar ingredients to cuisines found in the Caribbean. Like, I definitely tasted yucca and I know there were plaintains.

A meal from "Nepal"

I even had some Norwegian wine. I am sorry to say that sucked. But the Guinness at the Irish tent was as good as it was in Dublin. The Malbec from the Argentinean kiosk was wondrous.

The crowd outside the ersatz Ireland. Throughout the day, musicians played, like the tent was a pub along the Liffy and not thrust against a German opera house.

According to Kiel tourism officials, more than 3 million people came for Kiel Week. Perhaps they are counting some of us a few times. I was "there" every day a few times a day. But I ain't hating on them.

Downtown Girl

I have finally become a Downtown Girl. I live in the midst of all that is happening . . . in Kiel, Germany.

Asmus got some IT work for a bank in the town of Kiel, so we moved last March. Sorta. We still have the Hamburg apartment but we also rent an apartment in Kiel.

Before I arrived, I was a bit frightened. Everyone. By "everyone," I mean every person to whom I said the word "Kiel." Everyone said Kiel was ugly and boring. Asmus lived here for months before and he said it was boring and ugly.

I wasn't sure if something was wrong with me but when I came to scope out an apartment in March, I found Kiel to be your average-looking town. It was not Paris but it was not Gary, Indiana. I suspect people are remembering an old incarnation of the town or repeating what their parents' said.

I scooped up an apartment in the heart of Kiel. We walk everywhere. To restaurants, to the sea, to the train station, to the gym, to the grocery store, to bars. I love living in the middle of everything. I grew up on the edge of Philadelphia. My first apartment was in Northern Liberties. That rocked. I was next to the fun but in the middle of the noise. But Germany is not as fun or as loud as Philadelphia, so it is great to be in the middle of everything.

I am a block away from two ponds -- the Kleiner Kiel and the Grosser Kiel. The Kleiner [smaller] is closest to me. In the middle of the summer, landscapers mowed the lawn and let the clippings flow into the water. The two Kiels have not looked good since then.

Since May, a fountain spray water from the Kleiner Kiel back into the Kleiner Kiel. The clumps of algae or whatever float on top. The spire of the old Rathaus [German for "City Hall" pokes up behind the Kiel Opernhaus [Opera house].

That is the ugliest thing about this city of 280,000 that sits on the Baltic Sea [that's the East Sea to Germans].

A lazy summer day in the park next to the Kleiner Kiel

Honeymoon Part VI - Villa Borghese & the Departure

Fortunately, we had a late return flight to Germany. That meant that we had a day to kill.

Of course, there was the breakfast buffet to conquer but then what.

After racking our brain for something interesting but not too strenuous, we decided to see Villa Borghese. Don"t let the name fool you. It is not a building. Villa Borghese is a large area that includes museums, several gardens, a few ponds and some other attractions.

A manicured garden at Villa Borghese

We would see what we could see and then come back to the hotel and sit in the spa one last time.

Because we made the decision to come to Rome at the last moment, we didn't have many requirements for the hotel. One that immediately came to mind and stayed at the top of our list was a spa. I introduced Asmus to massage last November and he has not been the same since. The man loves his rubdowns. Plus, he is great at giving them. After days walking through tombs, sculpture halls and shopping malls, collectively we have had full-body massage, food massage and head massage. Either before or after, we have been in water. I spent too much time in a hot tub, which actually wasn't all that hot, and Asmus swam many, many laps in the pool.

Neither Asmus nor I can start the day early. There is no get a jump on the day for us. The day will be there for a long time, why kill yourself to reach it. We reached the top of the steps at the Spagna stop on the Metro at lunch time. We bumped into a trattoria and stayed.

I am the queen of planning. This trip to Rome was such a departure for me. But without much time, I had to be spontaneous. Because Rome is so rich with treasures, everything worked out. We only had one bad meal. That restaurant was right across from the Pantheon; food near tourist traps are rarely good.

We didn't get to the restaurant at lunch. We got there at the tail end of lunch. Our choices were limited but they were all good. Ready for action. We turned the corner and was greeted by a crowd of people milling outside a great stone arch. We were not the only ones with this idea.

A view of the arch from inside Villa Borghese

Because the grounds were so large, we did not feel crowded. We just walked around and watched people and the surroundings. You could rent a "pedalo," a pedal-powered carriage but we just ambled about for a few hours.

Our time in the park was a bit sad for me. The honeymoon was almost over. The trip to paradise was about to end. In a few hours, we would be living our normal lives, not eating, drinking and being care free.

Rome was special for some pretty selfish reasons, too. It was so cool hearing English (Because Rome is such a tourist city, English is spoken everywhere.) I was also going to miss the Fox Italy channel. I watched American reruns in English in the afternoon. In addition to missing communication, I will miss the beauty and the history of Rome. Italians have passion. Things are fast and loud. Germany does not have that.

I miss Rome.

My and Asmus' shadows on a pond at Villa Borghese. That is me on the left.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Honeymoon Part V - The Vatican!

My life has gotten away from me. But I got out my big lasso and I got it back under control. So on with the show.

The Saturday during our honeymoon week was a busy one. We woke up ridiculously early. If you knew Asmus, you would really appreciate the gravity of the situation. He sleeps in half-day increments. So our 9 o'clock appointment at the Vatican Museums was difficult. Luckily our hotel was relatively close to the Vatican. Because of the early hour, we opted for the 5-minute cab ride, instead of the bus.

As you probably have forgotten, we decided to go to Rome about two weeks before the trip and while we were planning the wedding, so there was not much time for research. We were in a rush to get things going, so we did not ask many questions at the airport tourism office. In the craze of planning the trip, I decided to visit the Vatican. I am not Catholic or a fan of old churches but I love history. The Vatican is chock full of it.

I want to the Vatican’s website and signed us up for an English-language tour. Asmus and I talked about good dates and times. During our conversations, our preferences were eaten up. We were happy to get a tour Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Going to the Vatican to look is free but a tour is 13 euros. I loves me some tours, so I paid. That’s all I know. There were no explanations for how long the tour was, what you look at, where to meet the tour guide. It was a mystery. But I assumed that the Roman Catholic Church would not lead us astray.

OK, I was a bit wrong. The church is not that organized. The cab pulls up to the Vatican Museums at 8:40 a.m. and it looks like there is a protest going on. There was no protest, just a lot of people trying to get in. After standing for about 90 seconds trying to figure things out, I found a guy in a uniform. I asked him where to go and he pointed to a line. It was a long line but it was shorter than the line for people without reservations. As we inched ahead, I struck up a conversation with the people in front of us. They were Americans! Since moving to Germany, I am become this bloodhound in search of Americans. Mom, Dad and college-age daughter hailed from northern New Jersey. I moved from Brooklyn, so we were like neighbors. The daughter was studying abroad in Florence and her parents were visiting her. We talked about Italy and I explained what I was doing in Germany. Asmus was mostly silent. That is normal.

Time is ticking away. It is stressful but the line is moving steadily. We get past security and then we don’t know what to do. We lost the Jersey family. We stand around and I peek a sign that says, “Tick”. I assume that it says “Tickets” and rush toward it. Soon Asmus follows. I was right. We had an online reservations but needed to get tickets. The man rushes and we join the tour 40 seconds before it is set to move.

The Vatican is pretty hip. In addition to the website, the Vatican has the latest in tour technology. We got the kind of earphones that television anchors use. The tour guide had a microphone clipped to her jacket and we could hear what she said. It was kind of cool. It was like a ghost was whispering in my ears. We take off. Yes! We go up a flight of stairs and then sit in a hallway. We are waiting for some more English-speakers to get to the tour. I don’t mind because I just finished wading through the same confusion.

We go up an escalator and through a few hallways and then we go outside. We stand in a courtyard that is surrounded by large sculptures. There is even a cool globe sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro in the center of the Cortile del Belvedere, or Courtyard of Belvedere. The area is punctuated with these small billboards representing the Sistine Chapel. There are several boards because a few tour groups use them at the same time.

Because the Sistine Chapel is so popular and small, we get a 15-minute lesson about the art in the chapel and information about the history of the chapel outside. There are about 25 people in our group, so I cannot see the board. I am so clever that I move to an identical poster a few feet away and listen to the explanation from there.

Here is a view of the Belvedere Courtyard. The set of three small billboards depict the art in the Sistine Chapel. The trio is repeated throughout the courtyard. A different tour group stands in front of the scenes.

There is so much art everywhere. There are two or three very long hallways that contain tapestries detailing historic events, the map of the known world and every day life. There are rooms for large sculptures, some of which have complex mosaic tiles on the floor.

Even the ceilings are decorated and gilt.

Where there are no sculptures, there are paintings. Near the end of our tour, we passed through rooms devoted to modern and contemporary art. Most of the works have some kind of religious connotation, but not all of them. I noticed a familiar style in a piece across a room. I sped over to the work and I was rewarded. The Vatican Museums includes work by Jacob Lawrence. Now I am impressed.

Touring the Vatican City was amazing but very stressful. There were thousands of people moving through the halls at the same time. I was pushed and had people jump in front of me. A person in a wheelchair struggled to get out of the door. People on vacation are dangerous.

But the history and the art made up for the hassle. The Sistine Chapel is the most popular room but I preferred the work in the Raphael Rooms. Of course, much of the areas are covered in religious images but in the Room of the Segnatura, walls are devoted to a theme of life’s great truths. My favorite fresco feature the great thinkers of the first millennium and great medieval artists. The tour guide pointed out that in School of Athens, Raphael used the faces of some of his friends to represent some of the great thinkers. Art scholars have no agreed on what all the images, symbolism and actions mean in the paintings but the guide explained the less controversial aspects. The light was not good for me to photograph well.

However, I did get a few nice photographs of the paintings dedicated to Constantine. Constantine's conversion to Christianity made it possible for the religion to flourish. Before he converted, Christianity was an underground religion. Christians were killed for their faith. According to one theory, Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky while battling in a civil war with Maxentius and took it as a sign of God. The emperor put his troops in the form of the cross and beat the opposing army, which was twice as big as his. Those pieces were pulsating.

Here is a part of a fresco depicting Constantine's
victory, in which God spoke to him.

The Raphael Rooms are dark and quiet. There are several benches that you can sit on and think about what you see. It was an awe-inspiring room.

The tour ended with the modern art galleries. Suddenly we were on our own. After a visit to the bathroom, we entered this huge room with high ceilings and a crush of people. It was the Sistine Chapel. Like every other time in my life when I am excited about something, the actual event is not as good as the hope. The paintings are beautiful. Unfortunately, they are on high ceilings, so you are pretty far away from them. You are surrounded the buzzing of hundreds of people. It seemed like every 30 seconds a guard was Shhhhing people or telling them not to take any pictures. It was a mildly chaotic scene that I was happy to leave after a few minutes.

But wait there is more -- the Vatican City Gift Shop! I love gift shops. I love perusing shelves of crap to find the highlights and the lowlights. I was still on the hunt for a statue of the Pope (a German man who was once known as Joseph Ratzinger; when he was declared the new pope Germans ran around saying, "Wir sind Papst." We are the Pope. Mr. Michelsen is more of a man of letters, than a man of God. The statue was a joke.) for Asmus’ father. I asked a nun who worked as a cashier there and she disappeared up some steps with Asmus. All the cashiers in the gift shop were wearing habits. I think this is the place where the best nuns in the world come to end their service. All these old nuns selling postcards. It was odd.

I got an 8-inch statute of “Pope Benedetto XVI” [the pope’s official name is Italian. To us, he is Pope Benedict to the church, he is Papa Benedetto”. John Paul II was actually Papa Giovanni Paolo. I don’t want to sound crude but that is a sexy name. “Giovanni Paolo” belongs to a hot guy.] and some postcards of the Sistine Chapel, because you cannot take a photograph of the chapel. The best -- we sent some postcards from the souvenir shop to family. Because the Vatican City is its own country, it has its own postal system, so it has its own stamp. [Vatican City also has its own police force.]. [It seems the Italian tendency to be a bit disorganized extended to entering the Vatican Museum and the postal system. It took two weeks for the postcard to reach Asmus’ family in Germany. I was a bit nervous but my faith that the Roman Catholic Church would honor its duty was rewarded.]

After the gift shop, you must exit via St. Peter’s Square. That is the familiar circle with the column in the middle. For the more adventurous, you can tour St. Peter’s Basilica. It was about noon. Add my fatigue and hunger and my chronic boredom of old church’s, we left.

The trip to Rome helped my openness to spontaneity. We wandered around of food. There was this hole in the wall restaurant on a small street near the square. We stopped in and had delicious lunch and tasty wine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mainz: The Marathon

Last weekend, I went to my first marathon. It was a combination family visit-marathon weekend. It was a success on both fronts.

Asmus' older brother, Christian, decided to use his obsession into running to cover 26.2 miles in Mainz. As a teen, I sang in many choral groups and never had anyone from my family turn out. Now I am all about supporting friends and family. I had to witness my brother-in-law triumph over physical and mental exhaustion. So Asmus had to go, too. Actually, he is a big fan of Christian, so he was excited to go.

We lucked into first class train tickets from Hamburg to Frankfurt, which is close to Christian's home. The lucky part was that the tickets cost less than second-class tickets. I don't why. Perhaps the Good Lord really does work in mysterious ways. I am a fan of luxury; Asmus doesn't mind a bit of suffering. I am working on him. I dragged him the first-class lounge in Hamburg [after my McDonald's breakfast. I am not a big fan of fast food but I do love Sausage Egg McMuffin, which is called a Egg McMuffin and Sausage in Germany.]. He had some coffee and I went to the bathroom and then we left. We had about seven minutes of luxury. I take it anyway that I can.

At Christian's house, we met Andrea, the Wife; sons, Tim and Jan. I feel so bad. I am this woman staying at their house for the weekend and I barely spoke to the boys. They know that I speak English, so they didn't seem to mind the silence. I hope to be able to be speak to them at Christmas. I said some things but I did not close to having anything close to a conversation.

They are very energetic. I like that. There was a lot of running and hitting and jumping and screaming. Germany is so quiet. I welcomed the noise and activity. At the marathon, I grabbed these plastic-covered signs for the boys. They are folded like a fan and used as noisemakers. When the runners come around, you hit them on your leg or a tree and they make this loud booming sound. Tim and Jan didn't need runners. With the fans, they hit themselves on the head, slammed the grass, bopped a tree, banged their legs. At one point, they were next to each other going nuts with the fans.

Jan whacking a pole with the fan. Three balloons are tied into his belt loops in the back. Andrea awaits Christian's passage. Tim had just taken a break from beatng a tree.

Andrea and Tim had strategized. I adore plans. I was so impressed by the maps and schedules. They knew where to park the car. They had pinpointed where and at around what time they would meet to cheer on Tim and had a location for rendesvous when the race was over.

Andrea running with Christian for a bit at Kilometer 28 (There are about 42 kilometers in a marathon.). That's your noble host pointing.

We spent the day moving through Mainz sitting, talking, playing ball, hitting things with fans and at the appointed time we cheered and took pictures. We spent a while near the 38th kilometer mark. Tim and Asmus played soccer with a tennis ball. I was amazed by Asmus' skill. I have never seen him WATCH soccer but here he was playing soccer for about 30 minutes. When I questioned the source of his skills, he simply said, "It's in the genes. I am German." Hmm. What happened to my lazy husband who thought national identity was stupid? Despite the shock at my husband's sudden patriotism, I had a great day.

Christian finished with a time of 4 hours and 39 seconds. He then walked Jan to get his chance to race in a faux Olympic race.

Andrea and Jan in their fake Olympic dash. Christian is taking a photo of the race from a perch on the right.

After that, he walked about 2 miles to the car. I don't know how he did it. I was about to die and I hadn't run anywhere.

I think he is still a bit crazy from the race because he just signed up to run another marathon in the fall.

The entire family [plus an anymous marathoner] run for a bit near kilometer 38.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Honeymoon IV - Appian Way

The next day we hit the Appian Way.

It took forever to figure out the best way to get there from the hotel.

There were a sign or two underground. Above ground, nothing.

We were supposed to catch a bus next to a church. We are walking and walking. Asmus prefers to just go. I want to check everything first. Getting to new places is always an argument waiting to happen with us.

"Let's go this way."


"Why not?"

"I don't think that's a good reason."

We have had that conversation several times.

We set off for the Appian Way near the end of the day, because the one thing we do agree with is that there is no need to kill yourself to get anywhere in the morning. We walked around and around and around. It was getting late and I was worried that we would miss the sights. Finally I said we should look for a bus stop near this massive church a block or two in front of us. Near the church, we see the bus but we are not sure where the stop is. We ask a police officer and finally find the stop. And we were on our way to the Catacombs of Calixtus.

The catacombs closed at 5 and we got off the bus at 3:30. Our system was to eat a huge breakfast and grab something on the go for lunch. We are running late but starving. Thankfully, there was a big lunch truck on the side of the road. I was also grateful that there was no seating there. I like to walk and eat; Asmus likes to take his time to eat. That is another argument we often have. But there was no seats, so there was no debate on this day. I had the best soppressetta sandwich.

We slowly make our way to the catacombs while we chomp. Fields and trees for acres. We buy tickets to see the catacombs and discover that we must be a part of a tour. The next tour is not until 4; this is also the last tour of the day. We have 20 minutes, so we kill time at the gift shop.

I learned that the Catholic Church owns the approximately 60 catacombs along the Appian Way. The gift shop sells all these religious items. Asmus' father, Friedrich, asked for a statue of the Pope as a joke gift. I went on the prowl. There was no statue but there were several photographs of the Pope. I settled on a 1" x 1" color photograph in a gold colored "frame". I don't think the frame is a separate piece. We also got a calendar with photographs of Roman sites. I was excited to start filling it up with events. But I was struck to find out that it was from 2010. Doh!

So we amble to the opening of the catacomb at 4 unsure of what happens next. They start calling for people to go on a tour in different languages. Apparently guests get tours in various languages. So we wait and wait and wait. The French group come running out of the gift shop and I hate them. The Spanish group excitedly starts. Then the German group is called. Asmus and I -- the English-speaking group -- are the last called. Plus, we are not allowed underground. I was little upset. I wanted to get to the graves!

I was soon happy about the delay. Our tour guide, a nice lady that I will call Lola (I don't believe that was her name but that is what I am going to call her.) directed us to this grassy area with some photographs on it. She explained the history and the functions of the catacombs. The Catacombs of San Calixtus was the largest of all the catacombs that are under the Appian Way. It covered 20 kilometers (or a million miles. I still am not good translating metric stuff. Although if I have 2 minutes, I can figure out length. I cannot fathom temperature or weight. Is a kilogram heavier or lighter than a pound? Is 30 degrees C cold or hot?).

The catacombs were the church and graveyard for early Christians. Oddly enough, Rome is the home of the catholic church now. Back in the first century AD, Christianity was outlawed in the empire, so Christians worshipped secretly. One of the main sites for worship were the catacombs. The catacombs were rooms dug out by Christians. Burial was against the law in Rome. Eventually, the catacombs became graveyards. Interesting note: in its early days Jews were also buried in the catacomb.
When Rome made Christianity legal, the catacombs were no longer used to bury the dead. However, pilgrims would come visit the dead. Eventually, the sites were abandonded. The catacombs were re-discovered in the 1500s.

The early Popes were buried in the four-level San Calixtus catacombs. The catacombs were active until about the fourth century. The remains of the Popes are now in Vatican City.

A view of the Popes' burial area

After our 10-minute lesson, we got to descend into the catacombs, which are 20 meters deep. It was wet and cold. The rows were lined with this holes that were about 18 inches high and 5 feet long. These were graves. People were shoved in these holes and covered with stone. There symbols of fish and an amalgamation of Greek letters near most of the graves. It was a bit creepy but exciting. People were willing to risk their lives to worship. They scurried below ground in order to worship. When family members died, they would work their ways through the dark tunnels to bury them and visit the graves. Now there are fluroescent lights in the tunnels but then there were small torches.

During the tour, Lola pointed out the symbols she described during our lesson. There was extended talks at the original graves of the Popes and the grave of St. Cecilia. Her remains were removed a millenium or so ago. There is a statue there now. She has a line across her neck, to signify the place where the sword cut off her head (the traditional way to kill Christians) and three open fingers on her right hand and one on her left. The right hand symbolized her faith in the Trinity and the left showed her faith in one powerful God.

The former grave of St. Cecilia. A statue sits here because her remains were removed.

Of course, there was a difference between the rich and the poor. The graves of the poor lined the tunnels; wealtheir families were buried in their own little rooms. These rooms were decorated with murals depicting scenes from the Bible. For reasons that I do not know, Jonah was important to early Christians. The rooms we saw were decorated with paintings with the unfortunate fisherman. But poor and slaves did get to be buried.

A family room

I don't know how but Lola casually walked through two levels of the catacombs. I was amazed because every tunnel looked exactly the same to me. I totally understand why one must have a tour guide to explore the catacombs.

In addition to the graves and murals, there was some statutues and frescoes. The area around the Pope burial was turned into a decorative area with columns. The catacombs also has a few artifacts, like oil lamps and cups.

At the end of the tour, Lola gave us a calendar card.

Both Asmus and I find the catacombs are the best part of the trip. When we arrived in Rome, we stopped at the tourism office in the airport to get some information about the area. I asked about the catacombs and the representative said the catacombs were interesting but not the most interesting thing to do. She said you should go but put it it last on your list. I think the catacombs should be the first thing on the list. Skip the Spanish Steps and, even, the Trevi Steps, and run to these graves.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Honeymoon III - Steps, Purses and Fountains

We spent Thursday relaxing. The hotel had this beautiful American breakfast buffet with Italian touches [several sweet cakes; muesli; roasted tomatoes, etc.]. Asmus and I gorged and then went back to room to let the food move down and plan the day.

I got Asmus hooked on massages, so we made sure we chose a hotel with a spa. On our second day in Italy, we were going to take advantage of that. After perusing the spa menu over and over again while keeping in mind our 7 pm dinner reservation, Asmus had a reservation at 12:30 for a full body massage and I had a 25-minute face massage at the same time. We met up in the hot tub that was actually warm.

The hotel had a "system". There was a hot tub, a steam room, a sauna, a cold area, a heated pool and a relaxing outside area. Combined this is known as a Roman bath. People were always moving about the spa. I did a few minutes in the steam room and a long time in the hot tub. The hot tub was rarely hot, so I usually stopped in the heated pool, which was hot.

At the end of my face massage, my technician said she could get me the foot massage that I wanted. There was some confusion that morning making appointments. I blame pathetic staff, not language issues. The woman on the phone told me I could not get a foot massage until 3:30. That was too late, so I got the face massage. The woman who performed my face massage said a few words in Italian and suddenly I had a foot massage in 20 minutes.

Oh My God! That was heavenly.

Back at the room, Asmus and I compared notes. I enjoyed my face massage and loved my foot massage. Asmus loved his full-body massage. We got ourselves together. It was not that easy. Italy has two channels that broadcast shows in English. I had not had so much fun since London. I watched Will & Grace, Hope & Faith, and other luscious recently-canceled American sitcoms. It was difficult for me to leave the room [and to leave Italy].

We hit the streets with the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain in our sites.

OK, I don't want to sound too angry but the Spanish Steps ain't shit. They are a bunch of steps. They lead to a nice old church but they are just steps with lots of people sitting on them. On our way to the steps, we bumped into this family from the hotel. They had just come from the Trevi Fountain. They loved it, so we were hopeful. We warned them that the steps were pretty underwhelming. I had to stop this circle of hopefulness surrounding those damn steps.

On the way to the fountain, we passed a store with some cool purses in the window. It is Rome. When you see leather, you are supposed to buy them. I like handbags with distinctive shapes. The one that I fell in love with a black bag with a hard shell and a Grace Kelly flair. It was a little small. I asked the saleswoman if she had a similar bag. I think she was desperate for a sale. She kept showing me black bags in various shapes. I picked out a square, medium-sized purse. She showed me a huge hobo bag and a large square bag and small bag my grandmother would use. I decided to go with my original choice but then I worried about buying a bag at the first store I stopped at. I made the mistake of asking Asmus for advice. Within the same monologue, he recommended buying the bag that I liked and then he promoted going to a few more stores first. I just bought the bag. We stopped a few stores on the way to the fountain. No store had a bag that I preferred to mine!

That fountain is awesome. It is awesome in the strict dictionary sense. It is inspires awe.

The Trevi Fountain is about as tall as a three-story house. The dramatic scenes are wonderful. The statute Arch of Triumph, depicts the palace of Neptune, dominates the scene above the water. Abundance stands on the left of the fountain and displays Agrippa approving the plans for the Aqueduct. The figure, Salubrity, stands on the right. A relief above that shows the Virgin hsowing soldiers the Way. In the middle of the entire scene is the figure of Nepute firlmly guiding a chariot drawn by seahorses. The scene progresses and horses are guided in their course by tritons. Water trickles from this powerful scene.

Crowds surround the fountain. Some taking pictures. Some kissing. Kids playing in the water. People throwing coins over their shoulder. The only problem were these very aggressive men who wanted you to pay for photographs at the fountain. Oddly, mainly of the vendors at the historical site are Indian. I wonder about the moves that brought Indians into these positions outside the Colosseum, at fountains, and along the Appian Way. Regardless, the fountain rocked.

Here I am throwing money over my shoulder into the fountain, as the legend prescribes. See the purple bag. That holds The Purse. The blue plastic shopping bag held the two umbrellas that we had just bought. The sky threatened rain but did not deliver.

I did light research before we left Germany. Many guides and newpapers recommended Casa Bleve. Now I love it, too. Asmus discovered an affinity for white wine there. I learned that not all balsamic vinegars are the same. Asmus and I both had our first taste of raw meat. We tasted the damn good beef carpacio that the enoteca [a wine shop that also has a small restaurant attached that sells pastas, antipasta and salads] is famous for. Its raw beef was delcious but it is raw meat. I could not get that thought of my head. I walked out of there with a bottle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I wanted the white wine we had with dinner. Asmus didn't want it. I didn't understand why. This morning I discovered why: he doesn't want to carry the bottle. He doesn't like carrying liquids because they are heavy. The vinegar and oil can only be found in Italy, so he supported that purchase.

It was a great day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Honeymoon II - The Forum!

The Arch of Titus at the Forum. It was built to honor emperor Titus.

After eating Italian-style hot dogs [grilled hot dogs, split down the middle and stuffed into flatbread], we came to the Forum.

We didn't do much research for this vacation. The first thought was a trip to Greece. Land at Athens and then visit an island or two. That idea died when I learned that most of Greece is closed until late April. Then we settled on Istanbul. We hit the mall for some light shopping and then decided to go to the travel agent. On our way down the escalator, Asmus said he was nervous about me going to Turkey. As an American, he thought there could be a target on me. I thought that was unnecessary but if we would have a care-free honeymoon, then we should pick a place that we would both feel safe. So by the time we reached the bottom, we decided to go to Florence. Five minutes later, the agent said there was more to do in Rome. So, we left the office with hotel reservations to Rome.

It is early March and we confirming and making plans for the wedding and out-of-town guests, so vacation research falls to the bottom.

If I had, I would have skipped the Roman Forum. It is acre and acre of ruins. It once a great public area with temples, public squares, shops and streets. Now it is a complex of rocks and half walls.

We walked through aimlessly for about 20 minutes. Then Asmus and I left and got a drink at an outdoor bar across the street from the Forum. The good German had a beer and I had a refreshing glass of Frascati.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Honeymoon!

The plane touched down at the crappiest airport that I have ever been in -- Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino -- at 10:30. Everyone on my flight stood at the indicated baggage claim carousel for about 20 minutes. There was a mystery. The same luggage went around and around and around but no one was taking any bags off. The police and the drug-sniffing dog were the only people who were not just off a plane. Asmus took a look at other carousels and came off empty handed. With no one to ask for help, we all stood there. After then more minutes, a big group of people just jogged away. I am in no need of a run co-ordinator, so I followed them. Three carousels away, our baggage was circling. I was braced for some Italian inefficiency but I didn't think it would come so soon. From my years of dealing with Italian businesses at Town & Country, I knew the Italian idea of quick is different than the American idea of quick.

It was about 11:30. We had our bags. I was starving. I am in Rome, so I grabbed chicken nuggets at an airport restaurant. Satisfied. We got some museum information and a tourist card from Rome tourism. Then we waded through men pushing shuttles to Rome to Taxis. Thirty minutes later, we were in out gorgeous home away from home, the Crowne Plaze Rome-St. Peter's.

Our room overlooking the empty outdoor pool was ready. We dropped our bags and headed out the door. We caught the bus right outside the hotel. I am the big solo traveler, so I was able to make it to the Colosseum. Asmus wasn't sure of the vague instructions, so he thought I found our way by luck. A calm discussion followed. I made it clear that luck didn't get me to the correct bus connection for the Colosseum, but paying attention to the instructions and the signs. I demand credit where credit is due.

I studied Latin in the fifth, sixth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. After reading about the history of ancient Rome and Roman mythology, it was so exciting to be standing in front of it. The bus ride was exciting. The bus drive travels past ruins, statutes and monuments. All dot the landscape. They are not relegated to some special area. One block holds ruins, statutues, convenience stores and restaurants.

A panoramic view of the Colosseum with an overhead
view of the subterranean level, which was uncovered over time.
Directly in the foreground [the tan area in the bottom
of the photograph] is the space where the action took place.

The Colosseum is massive. It is daunting. My mind cannot understand how people could create such a structure without mechanized cranes, forklifts, elevators and electric tools in 80 A.D. The Colosseum could hold 50,000 people. Asmus and I did the audio tour. It was a pretty mysterious, too. You were supposed to start at certain points in the Colosseum. There was a basic map in the brochure but no signs on the Colosseum. At a few stops, we were not at the correct location but we just kept moving until the view matched the words.

Interesting trivia: There is no evidence that there were any fights with lions in the Colosseum.

The subterranean level of the Colosseum where slaves,
gladiators and animals were held and prayed.

In the Colosseum, like today's stadium, the wealthier citizens sat closer to the action; the Senators sat right next to the action. Like boxes at opera houses, the best seats had some disadvantages. Boxes have poor sightlines to the stage. The seat close to the action in the Colosseum were open to the sun; the seats in higher levels were protected by an awning.

The seats where Senators sat, which directly overlook the
platform where the games and fighting took place.

Being in the Colosseum in the awesome in the truest sense of the word. It inspired awe. I could feel the energies of the millions of people who visited the Colosseum for entertainment or enrichment. The Colosseum rocks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Wedding!

Well, the big day came and went.

I am married.

I would recommend getting married in Germany to every American. There are no small details here. We rented a room at the Ahrensburg Castle. It is decorated nicely and the price of the room rental covers everything. There was no chair setup fee or anything annoying. I had no concerns about the venue.

Tio Pepe was already decorated nicely.
They asked us how we wanted the tables to look for the reception. When we arrived, the tables looked like our vision.

Germans do not have party favors at weddings and I did not want to choose party favors, so there were no party favors.

The wedding day was pretty much stress-free. Asmus, who is always looking for the gray cloud behind the silver lining, predicted stress and found it. He was nervous about saying vows that he had written. While I wa
s getting dressed, he sat on the couch and chugged cava. I got a little anxious when the cab came to take us the castle while I was writing my vows on notecards and putting on stockings. But that was the beginning and the end of the stress for me.

I met Asmus December 14, 2007 at the wedding of my friend Isabel in Cologne, Germany. She was marrying Asmus's oldest friend, Matthias. Asmus and I barely spoke that day. During the evening of the 15th, we were left alone because Matthias started talking some people who were sh
aring a table with us at a brewhouse [Curiosity about the American inspired many questions directed to him about me.]. Asmus and I talked about the difference between American potato salad and German potato salad [None. They are the same thing.] and discussed the look of American currency. That led to my obsession with 30 Rock. Somehow that led to a kiss. That kiss led me to believe that Asmus was going to be in my life for a while. I knew. Despite his living in Germany and my living in New York. I knew. So getting married was no stress at all.

The stress came five days before the wedding. My older sister Lorie's passport had not arrived. I believe the government is always going to fail you. So I knew that she was not going to make it. Lorie and I have had decades of trouble but lately we have been getting along pretty well. I was pretty bummed that she was not going to be here. She waited and then she acted. She drove from northern Delaware to Washington D.C. to see about getting it. No luck. No sister at the wedding.

Fortunately, I did have my mother there. I haven't seen here si
nce September. Unfortunately she was sick. She had never been to Europe before, so I was nervous that she would hate it. She said her time was OK but you never know. She brought me a suitcase full of American treats that I requested -- several boxes of cake mixes, tubs of frosting, salad dressing, grits and Lawry's seasoned salt.

My mother and Asmus's family met officially at Asmus's parents house the day before the occasion. There was lively discussions and everyone ate all the fatty food that Asmus and I cooked. It was a success. Asmus's family
eat pretty healthy. Very little salt and fat but lots of organic food from local farmers. We served packaged pasta covered in a packaged spinach-and-gorgonzola sauce to which we added bacon. Oh yeah, there was a salad for the first course. The pasta was so bad for you but it tasted so good. Asmus older brother, Jakob; his mother and his father ate it and said it was delicious and did not mention the sheer danger of the meal. Mom liked it, too.

The wedding was at 5. Almost all of the guests were supposed to take a tour of the castle at 4:15. Asmus wanted to make things were setup correctly, so we got there at 4. We were the last people to arrive. Everyone was standing outside the castle when we pulled up. They were congratulating us and taking pictures. It was a bit overwhelming. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I will admit that I planned to run the curling iron through my hair and freshen my makeup. That did not happen. I was getting hugged and helloed and then we had to take pictures. I am pretty anxious about what I look like in the photos. Pretty damn anxious.

Because my friends either didn't have the money or could not fly with young children, the only American in attendance was my mother. The Germans had never experienced someone saying their own vows. Asmus was worried about how his friends and family would react. I vowed to let him sleep late on the weekends and he vowed not to interrupt me when I talked. Asmus's older brother Christian served as officiant. During the service, he spoke of all the hurdles we had to overcome in order to be together.
Christian was nervous speaking in public but he soldiered through it all and was amazing. After the ceremony, three or four people said they cried, so my "strange" plans were not too outlandish.

At the end of the day, Asmus said, "I am so happy."

It was a good day. I am not a fan of ceremonies. However, I felt pure joy in publicly declaring my love and respect for Asmus in front of friends and family.

Isabel served as photographer. Asmus and I must sift through the 300 or so images she created for us. When we do that, the blog will have photographs from the wedding.

Here is the plate immediately after Asmus and I ate the last of
our wedding cake the day after the ceremony.