Ain't nothin' but an après ski party

Eric Davis Photo stolen from Facebook. Thanks!
Last weekend Jeremy and I hit the slopes at Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Austria, with the Bavarian Ski Club to kick off the ski season. As I began my third official year as a bona fide skier, I’m happy to report only one major fall and a few hidden bruises – although they didn’t come from the slopes exactly.

See – this particular ski range is home to the best après ski known to man. Perched on the mountain above the town of Obergurgl is the Nederhütte. After a hard day of punching through blizzard-like conditions, moguls and thrashing down runs, everyone gathers at the hut for a few celebratory drinks and a massive dance party. Glühwein warms the frostbitten toes of snowboarders, skiers and instructors as they pack in shoulder-to-shoulder around the bar.

The live band plays sing-along songs and encourages party-goes to climb on tables and do the twist. It really revolutionizes dancing in ski boots. Waiters deliver groups of shots carried on 4-foot long wooden ski-shaped slats and (eventually and inevitably) everyone joins in for a screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs version of Country Roads. Somewhere John Denver is smiling.

The party starts to die down around 7 p.m. (although it feels like midnight as you walk outside to pitch black skies and a run lit with soft floodlights). It was this time, the time when I attempted to put on my right ski, that I took a tumble and roll. Hence the bruise.

Eric Davis Photo stolen from Facebook. Thanks!

But it was only a momentary setback.

Once my skies were fully in place and strapped on, we began our caravan down the hill for a quick nighttime ski adventure. The expedition continued with the most frightening taxi ride back to our hotel. Austrian cab drivers in this area have no fear racing up the icy mountain roads – speeding into hairpin turns, egged on by the 10 intoxicated passengers in the van.

Every time I go skiing in Europe – from the lack of fences on the mountains to dancing on tables at the après ski to encouraging off-piste runs – I think, no way this would be allowed in the States.

Europe simply has the unwritten “don’t be stupid” rule. They are far from the culture of suing someone because you made the poor decision to put a hot cup of coffee between your thighs. They encourage freedom – and while stupid decisions are sometimes made, there is a certain amount of accountability held to those making the decisions.

I say this as I nurse my bruised outer thigh. Because that was all me.


Acropolis Now

When Thanksgiving rolls around each year, Jeremy and I reflect deeply on what the world has offered us. And while we haven’t had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner since moving to Europe three years ago, turkey, sweet potatoes and green bean casseroles dance in our minds as we explore the continent.

In 2009, we had pasta in Rome on Thanksgiving Day; 2010 was Türkei for Thanksgiving, complete with dürüm döner; and last year, while in Amsterdam for what we coined bikesgiving, we had Thai food. This year, while in Greece, we dined on Greek salad, feta cheese, tzatzki, souvlaki, grilled octopus, moussaka (think Greek lasagna), homemade yogurt and halva (χαλβάς in Greek - the tastiest dessert to have ever touched wandering lips).

After a train, two planes, a long bus ride and an hour and half ferry, Jeremy and I, along with our travel partners Bianca and Eric, landed on Hydra (pronounced EE-drah). The small island is home to a few thousand residents, two dozen hard-working donkeys and numerous stray cats and dogs. The long, narrow streets wind up the hill from the harbor, and cars, which are not welcome on the island, couldn’t fit anyway. One’s own feet, or a donkey taxi, are the main modes of transportation.

The island offers breathtaking views, mom and pop-style restaurants and hotels, and a chance to slow down, breathe some fresh air and soak it all in. The two-day side trip fully prepared us for the hustle and bustle that is Athens.

Greece, particularly Athens, hasn’t been on the right side of the media lately, but, according to one tour guide, a waiter, and the guy who drove us to the airport, Greece isn’t perishing. The protests are peaceful, the riots nonexistent and the economic crisis is slowing moving … what direction is yet to be determined.

Regardless, winter was a great time to visit as the prices were cheap; the locals were willing to chat, the sun was shining and history stared us right in the face without the normal overcrowded background of other tourists.

Everything that we know – the influences of American and European culture - started centuries ago with toga-clad Greeks as they meddled in mathematics, dabbled in democracy and flirted with philosophy, creating an unprecedented civilization. Getting a glimpse of the Athens civilization that is thousands of years old made me realize how slow the transformation into the technological age was.

Probably the most well-known and ancient site in the Western world is the Parthenon on the Acropolis. It was a masterpiece in its day dedicated to the goddess Athena. Construction started in 447 B.C. and took nine years to complete.

The Parthenon was architecturally sound for centuries as the temple traversed into a Catholic church, then a mosque when Greece was occupied by the Romans and the Turks, respectively.

In 1687, the damage was done when a cannonball hit the Parthenon which was being used to house Ottoman ammunition, reducing it into the structure that stands today - largely in ruins, no roof, dilapidated, but still impressive.

With four days in Athens we perused museums, posed as Zeus, trampled through Greek work-a-day life and ate our way from neighborhood to neighborhood. While we didn’t experience the beach life the coastal country has to offer, city life sure was sweet, sun and all, especially as the snow starts to fall here in Germany.

All of which made for a happy Thanksgiving indeed.


The 25,000-visitor pyramid

Recently we reached a milestone that one friend was more than happy to bring to our attention on F-book.

“Hello Molly and Jeremy. I just wanted to point out that I, Todd "Tadliwinx Tivisonno" Trivisonno, was the 25,000th visitor to the buddymollys blog. Thereby entitling me to all the glory and accolades forthcoming.”

However, this insight only brought to the surface more questions about our visitors. In the right-hand column is a “Visitors” widget that logs locations from which people view our blog.

So in the last 24 hours, there are hits from Bradford, Great Britain; Hillsborough, New Jersey; Dresden, Germany; and San Martino Di Lupari, Italy.

Some of them we get. It’s no surprise most of the hits in the U.S. are from California, Illinois and Florida.

Others still have us scratching our heads. Sure, an inadvertent typo could send someone looking for Buddy Holly’s hits here. (There's even a Facebook  account for Buddy and Molly, "two dogs that think they're celebrities.") 

But how do places like The Phillipines, South Africa and Taiwan have so many hits? Who are you Tezontepec De Aldama, Mexico? Or Odessa, Ukraine?


The rise and fall of a used car lot

After sharing a car for the first two years here in Bavaria, Molly and I decided to add another vehicle to the fleet last year: a Citroen Berlingo we called Steffie. (We named her after the previous owner, who cried as she signed over the title like she was giving up her firstborn.)

Alarms should have gone off when we first entertained the idea of buying a French car.

We live in the land that produces BMW, Mercedes and Porsche, is known for precision and efficiency, and created the Autobahn. It’s like moving to Italy and only drinking beer. You could do it, but why would you want to?

Looking back, even saying the words “French” and “engineering” together sounds awkward. Yet we felt like we had the inside track– like we could beat the odds.

So, against our better judgment, we rolled the dice on a French car. And for a while, Steffie delivered.

A perfect commuting and roadtrip car, she got 33-35 miles to the gallon and rocked a 12-CD changer. Tons of space and headroom, we packed in 5 people and drove 1,700 kilometers for the Women’s World Cup last year without incident – sort of.

However, after a year of driving and several costly trips to the repair shop (in one instance, the clutch went out while we were trying get on base and the gate guards had to help us push her in), we decided it was time for something newer.

Buying a car was easy – in fact, we found two cars that fit the bill within a week of each other. Selling the old ones was a different story.

I thought putting them up for a fair price would move them quickly. I grossly misjudged the used car market.

People emailed and texted me with low-ball offers without even having seen the cars in person.

I listed our 1999 Honda for $1500.

"Would you take $1,000?” asked a guy on the phone. One woman even wrote: “I have a baby and can’t afford much, would you take $800?”

I don’t want to sound heartless, but hell no.

One guy told me to take it off the market – he wanted it and that was that. He test-drove it, loved it and we had an agreement that he’d buy it in two weeks. When I called him the next week, he said “Oh yeah, I forgot to call you – I found something else. I’m usually pretty good about calling people back.”


Three separate people test drove the Honda and loved it. Each tried to cut me down $200 because their budget was magically $1,300.

I was trying to cut to the chase and people still wanted to play the game.

I should have remembered the age-old used-car maxim: Never list your real asking price; regardless of how low or fair it is, people will always want to bring you down to feel like they’re getting a deal.

With Steffie, it was a different game, and the buyer got more than a deal. We had no choice but to put thousands of dollars into her so she could simply drive off the lot. We sold her for that same amount.

Next time though (hopefully it won’t be anytime soon), we’ll be smarter. We gained wisdom that has cost rappers and R&B stars millions of dollars to learn: Mo’ cars, mo’ problems.

And despite all the work and hoops we had to jump through to free ourselves from having 4 cars, every once in a while we’ll see either the Honda or Steffie around town and smile, happy that our old friends are still truckin’.

Now, as we accelerate into the curves with our 2010 mini clubman, we look back and laugh at the days when we couldn't pass a tractor without endangering our lives.


A wee tribute

This year Halloween arrived late and we didn’t get to suit up until a friend hosted a combination Halloween-Day of the Dead party last night.

After tossing around several ideas earlier this month, we decided on something retro but forward leaning: carnival folk. I refashioned a costume I created more than a decade ago (this time it was somewhat more mobile) and Molly added a touch of testosterone to her life. 

I grew up in Gibsonton, Fla., affectionately called Gibtown by locals and whose history is enmeshed with circus lore. 

In the 1940s and '50s, the mayor cast a long shadow, towering over 8-feet, and was married to the Half Woman; the town sheriff was a midget. And although times have changed, the tradition has continued, somewhat. 

I went to high school with the son of Grady Stiles Jr., who was popular in the '50s as the Lobster Boy. Carnivals still spend the off season holed up there, where zoning laws allow for Ferris wheels and exotic animals. 

But tough times have befallen Gibtown in recent years. Old school carnies are fading away and local establishments, like the Giant's Camp, where you could still get a hearty "trucker's special" breakfast at all hours of the night, have gone under. 

Halloween was a celebration and a tribute for us this year -- I hope we made Gibtown proud.


Summer’s last stand

Old man winter is nefariously creeping our way … ever so slowly. After an amazingly sunny and uncharacteristically long summer, he allowed us to dip our toes in the autumn colors only to project snow by the end of the week.

And it’s supposed to be a brutal winter.

So, a few weeks ago to throw the winter blues off course, Jeremy and I decided to stretch out our summer with one final last-minute excursion south that seamlessly turned into a family reunion.

After packing the car with camping gear, beer and one redheaded Jeb we left Germany late afternoon and rolled into the most pristine campground one has ever pitched a tent on in Maribor, Slovenia at about 9 p.m. Jeremy and Jeb started tent/grill duty while I chatted with the Park Ranger. I explained our friends Dave and Lesley were a few hours behind, so the ranger knighted me keeper of the gate key and took off.  (Slovenians are very trusting …)

Dave and Lesley had a weeklong trip to Croatia planned for quite some time. We decided to Shangai the first few days of their vacation after a conversation that went something like this:

“We’ll be in Croatia next week.”
We’ll be in Croatia next week!”
“We should hook up.”
“We should hook up!”

The next day we hit the open road once more, this time with our small caravan and made it to Plitvice, Croatia by amid-afternoon to meet up with our Italian correspondents Tad and Megan Trivisonno, who joined the trip with less than a week’s notice after a conversation that went something like this:

“You off next weekend?”
“I am off next weekend.”
“Wanna meet us in Croatia?”
“I do wanna meet you in Croatia.”

From there, the seven of us rock-climbed, hiked, sauntered through Plitvice Lakes National Park and dined on the finest of Croatian cheese, Italian wine, German beer and brats, and a batch of rich chocolate brownies that would have made yo’ mama blush.

Then we laughed. Oh how we laughed.

In a short four-day trip we earned three new passport stamps: Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, but vow more exploration in the aforementioned countries is needed.

Croatia, especially, has been on our radar for quite sometime, and this trip really only brushed the surface. While the scenery was beautiful, it only acted as a backdrop for some much needed catching up.
Traveling is good for the soul, but so are the friends you drag along with you …


Another notch in the collar

Sky Dog, beloved family friend and faithful companion turned 10 years old today.

After a thorough woodland walk, she dined on the finest of chicken and rice "cereal" and contemplated the high points of her life over a dram of scotch and a fine cigar.

High points included flea-biting her stuffed squirrels, tearing apart a toy ferret, and devouring a treat she noted tasted remarkably similar to bacon.

After all these years, and despite her Houdini-like antics and ankle-biting tendencies, she's still our favorite bitch.


Sewing up the loose ends

Not too long ago I decided to make my friends Big Al and Dan a Hawaiian quilt for their wedding and finished just in time … for their 6th anniversary. It’s not that I procrastinate, in fact, I started well before their wedding, it’s just other projects got in the way.

It began as the perfect plan in 2006. I’d take a Hawaiian quilting class in the spring and since they weren’t getting married until September, I could take my time, maybe even add a few extra frills.

I was the only guy among the 7 little old ladies in the adult continuing education class at Kaimuki High School – I think most of them were friends of the instructor, Mele. As the class ended several weeks later, most of the pupils were pretty much done with their projects; all I had left was to finish quilting the “echoes,” which follow the shape of the pattern in the middle of the quilt out to the edges.

A traditional Hawaiian breadfruit pattern
I’d put in an hour here or an hour there, but made the mistake of setting the quilt down in May. Months flipped off the calendar and pretty soon it was two weeks before the wedding and I was woefully behind. Luckily for me I had a few long flights and two weeks of travel before the wedding. However, I didn’t take into account that as you quilt toward the outer edges it takes increasingly more time to make a full ring.

Needless to say it wasn’t finished in time for the wedding.

Fast forward 6 years to this summer. Despite starting a month in advance and cranking for a solid 8-10 hours a week, I still needed the entire 8-hour flight (minus 30 minutes which were completely wasted on some show called 2 Broke Girls) before I met up with Big Al and Dan.

Over the years I’ve gotten support from several people, specifically my California momma, Kristy Miller, who is a quilting guru (that quilter’s secret necklace still fools TSA and was absolutely clutch for those last 8 hours of quilting on the plane); Marina Reilly, who is magic on a sewing machine (she helped me close the edges of the quilt -- the only stitches not done by hand); Mele, the quilting instructor; and Molly, whose encouragement helped me stick to my deadline.

While I have much respect for the quilters out there (mine wasn't even an eighth of a full quilt), this was definitely my last stitch effort. 


Escape to Whisky Island

A scotch-tasting trip has been perched on my to-do list ever since Joe Hauser introduced me to the sweet, sweet nectar that is a 16-year-old Lagavulin. So last year when my buddy JR mentioned Notre Dame would be playing Navy in Dublin, the wheels were set in motion.

We planned in furious fits over the course of a year, masterfully tweaking logistics. But as the trip began we discovered rather quickly that 1) we didn’t plan as well as we thought and 2) most times it was better off that way.

Walking down the gangway at Islay's Port Askaig, we spotted a van from Bruichladdich, one of our must-see distilleries of the eight on the island. JR casually asked if the four of us could catch a ride with them since we were heading to Port Charlotte, the next town over.

Without skipping a beat the driver obliged and we were on our way (he turned out to be one of the distillers who was picking up his nephew, Martin, the distillery’s rep in Shanghai).

A few minutes into the conversation the driver asked, “So, how were you planning to get to Port Charlotte if we hadn’t given you a ride?”


Then everyone laughed. 

Through this random hitch, we got a glimpse of the island’s culture and an intimate view of a distillery on the verge of a major change (Bruichladdich was recently bought by beverage mega-distributor Remy Martin).

As the van dropped us off at the hostel, we met a Scotsman named Kyle and his Australian girlfriend, Lan, who immediately took us to the local pub.

The rest of the trip followed the same pattern – no real hiccups or even hangovers – with the days flowing by as smoothly as Islay’s whisky rolled down our gullets.

We dined on a fresh seafood feast with the locals; stood up to middle school bus bullies (well, some of us stood up to them); took a tandem bike off-roading on the Ho Chi Minh Trail; and even added a fellow American, Owen, who joined our group for the last two days.

The trip seemed so effortless that after the first day we were already talking about making it an annual event (Highlands 2013, anyone?).

If you’ve never been to Scotland (most of us hadn’t), the people are so friendly that it’s almost suspect. Talkative, helpful to a fault … and that accent – I found myself stopping into the tourist information desks, even when I knew where I was going, just to hear the receptionist speak.

After a short, adventure-packed stint on Islay, we skipped through Glasgow and spent a few days in Edinburgh before dropping our bags in Dublin for the game.

Although the game was a bit anti-climactic (ND won 50-10), we took to the opportunity to connect with some old friends and meet a few new ones over some delicious pints.

I used to think folks from Northern Ireland took the congenial cake, but now I’m not so sure. And if the Scots aren’t the friendliest people on earth, they made one helluva first impression. 


101 years young

On Wednesday our family lost
a matriarch from Hickory town,

With a perma-smile and rapier wit,
the ever lovely Lois Brown.

She stood just a step over four feet tall
but her hearty laughter was felt by all.

Grandpap couldn’t see, and she could barely hear
But I’ve never known such a loving pair

Their house was so warm, that nostalgic, cellar smell
Where Jeff and I slid down stairs ‘til the dinner bell.

She burned through two hips, her arthritic hands were knobbed
But she slew search-a-words like it was her job.

Through her love of life, all odds she defied
And her face bore the lines of a billion smiles.

And though she’s gone, her spirit’s still here
In our laughter, our hearts and that familial cheer

She lives on in our eyes as our numbers grow
And in the precious few who inherited her nose.

Rest in peace, Grandma Brown.
Jan. 3, 1911-Aug. 22, 2012

 (if you hold out until minute two, she really nails her signature part.)


Reunification vacation

After getting accepting into a work-related FEMA class six months ago, I was excited to head back to the U.S. for the first time in more than a year and a half.

But as we started making plans, the four-day class quickly blossomed into a two-week trip, chock full of traveling and family fun.  

Molly spent time at an ashram in Virginia and caught up with her St. Louis peeps, while I reconnected with a few college chums, a former East Bay Indian, and visited Gettysburg.

In addition to reuniting with friends, this trip back was full of several firsts: It was the first time Molly and I had spent more than two days apart in the past two years; I had my first Newt Gingrich sighting a few blocks from the Capitol (yes, his head really is that big); and most notably, it marked the first meeting for members of our immediate families.

As part of the event we started calling the grand rendezvous, 19 members of both families converged on Pigeon Forge, Tenn., (near Gatlinburg), enduring more than 10 cramped hours on the road for the promise of a luxurious vacation cabin in the Smoky Mountains.

Within minutes of arriving, the nephews and nieces (7 in all) quickly monopolized the game room, igniting rivalries too fierce for the tabletop Ms. Pacman and plastic air hockey paddles.

We took a daytrip to Smoky Mountains National Park and spent the remainder of the weekend enjoying each other's company and relaxing. Oh, there was a talent show, too - a knee-slapping, gut-busting embarrassing array of showmanship and bravado. (See for yourself in the video below).


And although we don’t plan to return to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., anytime soon, in light of the overwhelming success of the first Hayden-Buddemeier reunion, I know it won’t be the last.


The people in my neighborhood

One of my favorite parts of traveling is the characters you meet along the way. The characters that you assume will revisit you in the novel you write one day; those moments in time you share with them, however brief or insignificant, that impact your world and carry with you forever.

Not to mention the coincidences. The first real conversation I had on my first day back in the states was with a teenage son and his father visiting from Cologne – and it happened to be in German.

But the most surprising relationship thus far is my meeting with a girl named Caroline. A flute playing, unicorn-wielding 6-year-old from Atlanta, GA who was moving and shaking across the east coast with her mother in what she called their “summer tour.”

We sat at the kitchen table of our hostel in Charlottesville, VA and shared our knowledge of the world. She gave me a peach she had handpicked in Delaware recently and told me about her favorite color and travel destination. (Pink and New England, respectively).

She spoke with eloquence of experience and expressed a bit of knowledge that took my 20 years to learn: the importance of the open road.

In two years, Caroline will enter third grade, at which time she will retire the flute and will be given the choice of either playing the violin or the cello. When asking her which one she would choose, she replied “The violin. It’s easier to travel with.”


Guess who is the who

If there is one game that reminds me of childhood, it’s “Guess Who.” My sister Shannon and I would have tournament after tournament sitting Indian style on our living room floor, boning up our skills by keen observations of the characters projected on the thin plastic game board.

For those not privy to Guess Who, the game is played between two players as they deduce which character card the opposing player has through process of elimination by asking identifying yes or no questions.

Popular questions include “Is your person wearing a hat?” “Do spectacles adorn their face?” “Are you a woman?” “Does your person have a mustache?” All questions that if answered “yes” gave you a clear advantage.

More distinguishing questions include “Does your person look like a child molester who would most likely yield a rebel flag?” (Looking at you Charles). “Is your person the only black woman on the board?” (That’s you Ann, although I’m honestly not convinced you are actually black. Perhaps a mixed race of sorts). “Is your character a reincarnate of Opie all grown-up?” (Frans) or “Does your person look like a sad Paul Benedict?” (Robert).

And woe is you if you accidentally choose Claire – a women no less, with a hat AND glasses. Yep. You are pretty much screwed.

Recently, as Jeremy and I were trolling through a German thrift store, we came across a game titled “Who is Who?” - a title that makes no sense within the German language. The game, of course, is a German version of Guess Who with slightly different characters.

Bernard is replaced by a younger, more hip Andreas. Regular Joe becomes the everyday Gerhardt and the dreaded Claire becomes Karla – with a K.

While the style changes slightly, the strategy for this game, however, remains the same. For profiling is and will forever be, a universal sport. Guess who Shannon!


Twisted Sisters

After our whirlwind trip through Berlin last weekend, Jeremy and I made a pit stop on the way home in Dresden. It was our fourth time in the small former East Germany city and each time I fall a bit more in love.

It’s been a few years since I fell this hard for a city, (don’t worry Vancouver, I still have the hots for you, too), but there is something special about Dresden – it’s the feeling, the vibe, the freshness and openness. I tend to leave a bit of myself with every visit, but it wasn’t until this last trip, as short as it was, that I realized why.

Dresden is a more concentrated Euro-version of my hometown – St. Louis.

I love St Louis, I always will. And even though I left her more than 5 years ago, we remain close. St. Louis continues to impress me with each visit at the amazing amount of raw talent that exists there. The music, the creative vibe, mom and pop businesses, art organizations and collaborations, the music …  St. Louis will always be my home.  

But as we travel Europe, exploring our new continent, we subconsciously search for our next home. We envision ourselves settled into a new world, a world outside of our natural element. Dresden always comes up.

Walking through the streets of the new town in Dresden is similar to cruising South Grand in St. Louis. Hip bars line the strip and eateries keep the late night crowd going. Turn the corner and you are in the Loop. Fire spinners, musicians and artisans busk for the mere entertainment of it all, while hipsters and hippies cruise the vintage clothing stores. The authentic (and amazingly tasty) Mexican restaurants of Cherokee St. are replaced with authentic (and amazingly tasty) Turkish doner kebab joints, both sandwiched between plenty of antique shops. The Friday night Art Walk is not unlike First Fridays downtown, and the Sunday brunch we found rivaled Mokabes. But most of all, it’s the people. Everyone is as unique as they are crazy – that good kind of crazy. That crazy that makes you long to be a part of it. It’s a mixed crowd of age, ethnicity and experience that blend seamlessly. It’s home – or what a home should be.

So the next time I’m feeling nostalgic or longing for the place where I grew up, the place that helped mold me into the woman I am today, I’ll just drive two hours north and soak up some sister love. 

From St. Louis to Dresden, with love.


All along the water tower

The day before a trip begins is one of my favorite parts of the trip.

The list making (yeah, I make lists), last-minute packing, pre-staging, anticipation … man, I love it all.

But something happened last week, on that golden last day before the trip started, which was definitely not on my to-do list: a cancellation from our airbnb host – less than 12 hours before we were supposed to leave.

Apparently she was stuck in Tuscany and wouldn’t be home for a few days … and didn’t have a back-up plan (like spare keys with a friend), so we were pretty much screwed for accommodations.

Besides the ridiculous cost associated with finding accommodations last minute, we discovered Berlin was unusually besieged this past weekend because of the one-two punch of Fashion Week and a massive international trade show called Bread & Butter.

Hotels that were normally 60-70 euros were more like 250. And though they tried to hook us up, airbnb’s staff was little help as most folks have 24 hours to approve you.

Enter Facebook.
I have considered killing my F-book account on several occasions (more on that at a later date) but somehow always come back around; this was one such occasion. 

While she was on the phone with airbnb, Molly asked on F-book if anyone had a rich uncle in Berlin who could put us up.

Within less than an hour, our friends Bianca & Eric hooked us up with their friend Martin, who was so hospitable we had to remind ourselves we had just met him.

Oh yeah, he lives in a refurbished, totally pimped out 19th century water tower.

Martin took us to meet some of his old school friends, got us in the backdoor to a Bjoern Borg Fashion Week party in a cathedral, and helped us nurse our hangovers the next day.

While in Berlin we checked off some spots we’d been meaning to see on our last few jaunts through the city (namely the Reichstag, top photo), got our thrift on at a place that sells clothes by the kilo, and caught a Pearl Jam show, which was the original reason for the trip.

I’ve probably seen Pearl Jam five or six times since I first saw them at the second Lalapalooza in 1992. It’s crazy to think they’re still around and their shows still rock.

Although they played the night before in Berlin as well, our show was definitely different (sorry, Becky, they played an incredible version of “Betterman” the second night), and they always seem to insert subtle, poignant bits into the set list.

Like in Honolulu, Dec. 2006, when Eddie sang “Hawaii ’78,” which was made famous by Bruddah Iz. I still get goose bumps when I hear that version.

This time, they played versions of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” and Edwin Starr’s “War,” which along with other songs had the audience singing so loud it was hard to hear Eddie.

And although the concert was a highlight and even the impetus for our trip, we both agreed our favorite experience was the one we didn’t plan for.

So after five days in Berlin & Dresden, we’d like to say vielen dank to Martin (below, bellying up to the bar with a prehistoric friend he couldn't convince to come home with him), who reminded us that the best part of traveling is staying with friends.


A boy named Dorothy

The buddymollys were recently given the small task of taking care of a fish named Dorothy – an odd choice for a name as Dorothy was quite manly; in fact he was a man. He was the largest and oldest goldfish either of us had ever seen, with gray painted fins and a body that engulfed his over-sized tank.

He was a beautiful fish. Then he died.

Now I don’t think we killed Dorothy, I think Dorothy just happened to die on our time. But just in case, don’t ever let us goldfish sit for you. Just in case.

During this time we were also given the small task of watering plants. All of the plants are currently still alive.

While we managed to come through on one complete task, there was still this business of a dead fish who was too large to flush, according to his owner.

So, to honor Dorothy, we gave him a ceremonial burying in the backyard, complete with military honors.

That fish was one helluva soldier. 


Istanbul: still a Turkish delight

Last weekend we took a monumental trip to Istanbul.

However, this adventure was historic, not because of the centuries-old mosques or that we were mingling in the heart of what was once the center of the world; this trip was remarkable for one reason:

Rick let us down.

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh – we still thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and benefited greatly from Mr. Steves’ vast repository of advice and insights, but his three-triangle rating for the Bosphorus cruise was a little high (more like Bore-phorus cruise).

The northern leg toward the Black Sea was stellar and we did have the opportunity to wander around the Asia side for a bit, but the return leg rocked most of the ferry travelers to sleep, which is not always a bad thing (although it did bring back memories of my days in the Navy ...).

Different from our last trip here, which was a 24-hour whirlwind layover that included randomly scoring tickets to a Dylan concert, this weekend we made time to discover new back alleys, get intimate with Byzantine mosaics and experience more Turkish delights (only some of which are euphemisms).

Chief on my list was the Hagia Sophia, a 1,500 year-old church that later served as a mosque (and now a museum). After Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453, they whitewashed over all the Christian art, which actually helped to preserve it over the years.

Despite wars and the many times control has changed hands, the art and structures around town are indicative of the way Istanbul's people have embraced diversity, with all those layers revealing its intricate beauty.

We ventured north and wandered streets looking for a random flea market (becoming more familiar with the work-a-day public transportation and practicing our Turkish along the way); haggled for scarves outside the Grand Bazaar; caught a show with various forms of folk dance from around the country, and later were scrubbed squeaky clean at the same bath house Süleyman the Magnificent frequented in the 1500s.

In all, this trip was filled with the excitement of getting to know a new friend, better.