Journal (23Jun11)by Tourguide on Thu 23 Jun 2011, 09 PM CEST, Views: 1319
Welcome to Ron & Rachel’s European Blog!
It’s odd to be saying that because for me this feels like a weekly occurrence, but for a majority of you this is a grand opening of sorts. You see, while I’ve been diligently scribing away our trials and tribulations these last few months, it wasn’t until just this last week that I got my updated blog site fully online. I hope that as you look around this site you’ll see how much work went into it. It’s been months of collaborations between myself and my blog-buddies at Boxed Art trying to get the feel and functionality of this site operational. Clearly there is a lot that goes into setting up something like this, which will be a story for another day I’m sure, but suffice to say I’ve been busy.
6 months ago I started with some drawings I had put together and a simple premise to take my old blog site and update it. 5 years had come and gone since our World Tour, and blogs are not as static as they use to be. It used to be OK to update your page weekly, now you have to send it Facebook and Twitter feeds real time or you’ll be obsolete by lunch. Plus folks interact with Blogs differently. Forget PCs, people need to see your format in iPads, iPhones and Blackberry’s. And to learn how to handle all that you need to learn a new blogging platform. Blog programming scripts I used to make my last Blog with are apparently obsolete now. So Goodbye Blogware and Hello WordPress.
A lot can change in 5 years, eh? Check out this article I wrote in January 2006 in which I talk about this “months” old “pop culture fad” of blogging (how funny, and OCD, is this graphic I made, LOL). That’s the speed of technology. I’m a computer guy with a computer degree and I still find it awe inspiring. They say you don’t have 9 years of experience in the computer arena, you have 3 years of experience, 3 times over. It’s a new game every time you turn around. Trying to keep your skills and experience relevant in this arena is like running on a treadmill. You stop moving for a minute and you are out of the picture.
But somewhere in between work, and traveling I’ve found time to climb these obstacles and get my old weekly blog off the ground again. Outside what you see here I have a few dozen older entries I’ll be formatting, hyperlinking and bringing online over the next few months. My goal is to add one to two old entries for every one new one I add. Documenting into the future and past at the same time, …sounds challenging eh? Well, sure, but the hard work is done now. Still, you may ask yourself “…why bother?”
Blogs are like newspapers, nobody wants to ready yesterday’s news. No one wants to know what the weather was last week, they only care about this week. Fair enough, but one of the most rewarding aspects of keeping these journals has always been my own enjoyment. The year Rachel and I spent traveling across the US and Asia was remarkable, and the weekly blog I maintained is like a perfect time capsule of all of that. Reading over it now I remember thousands of amazing details I would have otherwise long forgotten during that frantic tour of 27 cities, and 7 countries. And I hope to accomplish the same here.
For example, here are the Headlines for the first week Rachel and I came here to Germany. Just looking over it again I get goosebumps remembering how bat-shit scared we were when we landed at the airport. This is the stuff I want to hold onto, the details I don’t want to forget. Do I need a world-wide blog for it? No, of course not. But allowing those we feel closest with to share in these experiences with us makes the miles between seem not so long, and the friends we left behind seem not so far away. So for us, for them and sure as Hell for our moms, here is the first new installment of Ron and Rachel’s Blog, – Europe style.
Week 42: Grapes, Spas & Blogvines
So Summer is in full swing here in Germany, and wow was it a gorgeous Spring. With so much of Germany around us, and in just in general, being rural farmlands, it is just rolling vistas of fields everywhere you look. Farms, valleys and sweeping fields of wind turbines, that’s how Germany appears to me. If you had been here this time last month you would have seen nothing but yellow in every direction, truly just a magical site. Honestly, this place often resembles my old XP wallpaper, seriously …check it out. So not being much of a farmhand, I was very curious last month to see that not just some fields, but *every* field I passed was yellow.
Turns out this was “mustard seed” or “rapeseed.” As it is used for everything from animal feed to car fuel to Crisco, mustard seed is a very profitable crop, and as it sprouts so early in the season, farmers can grow it, harvest it and still have time to lay other crops. The term used is “early crop.” I’m told that Stateside, clover is also a early crop, i.e. grown in a similar mass-produced fashion at the very beginning of the season. Next year you guys needs to come through Europe during mustard seed season to see it all for yourself, it truly is breathtaking. Check out my photo gallery of my visit to Bitche (Yes, pronounced like you think), France last month, and you’ll get a small idea. I wouldn’t recommend driving though there, after all the drive is a Bitche (sorry, couldn’t help myself). No, actually, its a nice town. Rachel and I love thoses Bitches (OK, last one, promise).
So as you know mustard seed is not the only thing that grows out in them there fields. Europe also likes its grape juice, …it’s fermented grape juice. Yes, wine. Earlier this year, Rachel and were given the opportunity to make reservations for a private Wine Tasting event in a neighboring region. And as Rachel and my respective educations on wine basically starts with Manischewitz and ends at Bartles and Jaymes (“…and thank you for your support”), we jumped at it. The reservations, made over 5 months ago, were for this past weekend. So, intellectual expressions affixed on our faces and pinkies pointed firmly in the air, Rachel and went on a bit of a wine sabbatical to the town of Bad Munster, Germany. Read about those exploits here in my side-story, appropriately entitled 99 Bottles of Wine on the Wall.
Wine tasting aside, the village of Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg is a gorgeous little corner of the world. Its claim to fame is not actually wine though, it is as a Spa town. The whole place is very secluded and just, well …quiet. I could see folks just sitting around the hot springs, tending to their vineyards. And that’s basically what they’ve done, for a few thousand years. So they’ve gotten pretty good at both.
Now going to the ‘Spa’ means a lot of different things to a lot of people. From an American perspective it often means just going to get a massage, and probably involves some salon-like nail, hair and face treatments. From a European perspective, going to the ‘spa’ is not as much a beautifying experience as purely, a holistic-styled rejuvenating one. You spend hours going from sauna rooms to hot tubs, to wading pools back to saunas. Somewhere in there you might lay under a hot mini-waterfall of some sort, and get an exfoliating scrub down. The European approach is much like that of the original Roman baths of old. Spa’s almost take on a bit of a social purpose as well. Makes sense, what else are you going to do for 6 hours while slowly steaming your body’s pores of toxins.
If you head down along the German/French border about an hour south of here you will find, what I consider, the Mecca of Spa towns, the Walt Disney World of Spas, …the town of Baden-Baden. The name so nice, you say it twice. Here you will find hot water springs overflowing. The size and scale of these spa centers are fairly vast. Their idea of a spa package consists of showering off, and then slowly working your way through 20+ various “stations” of rejuvenation. They have cave-like sauna rooms with high levels of humidity, then very dry-air sauna rooms. Then a series of rooms with what look like lounge chairs under heat lamps. That leads into a large room filled with at least a dozen small pools. Each pool has a slightly different saline level, different mineral ratios and a different temperature. Each with a precise purpose. There are tubs of whirling pools, thermal springs, hot bubbling baths, luke warm salt baths and even pools of chilling cold still water. Again, Europeans have been studying this ‘art’ for several millennia.
In one “station,” there is a cascade of water coming down from what is easily three stories up into a small grotto. Turns out this water is over 105 degrees. One of my favorite “water spa recipes” (and there are thousands) was to sit In a rock salt bath for twenty minutes, and then go stand under this hot waterfall and let it hammer away on my lower neck and shoulders for about ten minutes. After that I stagger over and plunge into one of their ice tanks. Between the salt treatment, deep tissue shoulder massage and the polar bear plunge I felt 10 years younger for at least two days. It was truly remarkable, and quite invigorating.
This idea of holistic healing is officially practiced “medicine” in Europe. Patients healing from a multitude of ailments, diseases and rehabilitative procedures can be, literally, prescribed convalescence packages. Your healthcare will pay for you to reside in one of these spa towns for months at a time undergoing these daily “treatments.” Stateside a doctor may suggest you do water aerobics in your own local recreation center, if available, or high end physical therapy centers may have a hot tub, if your insurance pays for it. But here it is all covered.
Medical Insurance debates aside, how this holistic form of healing has not spread like wildfire in the states is beyond me. You can keep your Eastern Medicine acupuncture and reflexology. Give me a true European Spa any day of the week. The lasting effects I’ve noticed in just the few times I’ve had my own European Spa day go way beyond any overpriced 60 minute massage I got in the States.
One such hindrance is that most Spas in Europe assume you’ll be completely, or at least, mostly naked everywhere you go. And some places are co-ed. And as we know, Americans are prudes about such things. Being in Europe I see naked people all the time. In billboards, on magazine covers, in commercials. Hell, at Legoland, I saw several adults openly changing into or out of swimsuits in the water park. Now, it’s not like they change in the middle of the street, but clearly there is no stigma about. There were kids upwards of 9 years old running around naked as jaybirds. Just craziness. Of course, that’s the American in me talking.
So not on the scale of Baden Baden, but Bad Münster am Stein-Ebernburg is also such a Spa town (with a much harder name to remember). Many people in the area are here on one of those aforementioned “convalescing prescriptions.” The main Spa in town is truly extraordinary. They have odd Dr Who-like healing rooms as well as healing water fountains (i.e. some mixture of natural salts and minerals) pouring right out of the ground. Apparently, though, good healing does not necessarily mean good tasting. They also have several special healing procedures like Radon gas therapy . Seems pretty spooky to me, but Radon is supposed to have proven healing properties.
One of the more unique, and fascinating things I saw here was something called a Saline. Basically, Salines are a version of an aqueduct system. However, instead of just channeling water, it also filters it through several dozen feet of tightly woven branches. The trick is the branches are all filled with the special salt mineral healing goodness that the Spas here have. Taking a look at one of these Saline things, and you can kind of visualize how the water seeps down through the branches while absorbing up the tree pulp. The cool part, literally, is that as you stand, or sit, in front of one of these Salines, a very cool mist sprays off the side and refreshes you. Additionally, these saline vapors are said to be very good for the lungs. It’s not uncommon during the summer to have a better part of the residents of Ebernburg parked out in front of these various Salines all day. Free, healing, air conditioning …can’t beat it.
So, all this talk of Spa’s is making a bit tired, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for another beer and cigar “treatment” on my back patio while I take in some rays. Stay tuned next for when we return with a trip to NATO headquarters in Belgium.