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This post first appeared on a friend’s website : http://www.tahoetruckeehome.com when I wrote it as a guest blogger.

A few years ago,  before I fell in love with ski skating, I was an avid downhill skier. But I was a perpetual blue run skier, in other words – a scaredy cat!

Chair Lift - you can see Castle Peak in the distance.

One day, I was riding the chair lift with two men. The older man said  to the younger man,  “ We’ll have a cup of tea when we get off.” From their accent, I knew they were British and I asked them where they were from inEngland. The older man told me that he was currently living in Wales and that he graduated from the Universityof Liverpool many years ago. He asked me if I knew where Liverpool was and I said, what a coincidence, of course I knew where it was since I also graduated from the same university in 1975! I asked him what he was doing in Wales and he told me that he was the Vice Chancellor of Cardiff University. When we got to the top, I said to him, “Remember me, the girl fromTruckee!” He said, “I will!” and we parted ways – they were off to have a cuppa, while I skied to the bottom.

A week after this conversation, my niece fromMalaysiaemailed me. She had decided to do her Masters degree in Marine Law atCardiffUniversity! She had to wait for the next year to enroll because it was too late to get in that year.

What a coincidence! My mind started to churn – I had just met the Vice Chancellor of THAT university! I went online immediately and typed “Vice Chancellor, University of Cardiff”. Out popped a name – Sir Brian Smith. I had no idea if it was even the same man since I had not asked for his name. I decided to send him an email. Remember, this was early days for electronic mail and I was not expecting a reply.

I began by saying, “Hello Sir Brian Smith, remember me, the Girl fromTruckee?….. I wrote about my niece wanting to do her masters at Cardiff University. I forgot what else I wrote but I certainly was not asking him for any favors. I was not even sure if I got the right person!

Imagine my surprise when not five minutes later, I received a reply from Sir Brian! He said he certainly remembered me and was pleased to know that my niece was interested in furthering her education at his establishment. Then he surprised me even further, by saying that the Director for International Students was heading  to Malaysia and he would ask him to meet with my niece!! They did meet and as a result she was able to enroll for classes that very year and not have to wait til the next year.

A  little conversation on a chairlift, connected people from three continents.

My niece is now a successful marine lawyer inMalaysia. Sir Brian Smith is now retired from the post of Vice Chancellor.

The next winter season, I started a conversation with yet another older gentleman and he said he was the Vice Chancellor of Santa Cruz University … but that was not how my two kids got into UC Santa Cruz!!

Not four months after our last snowfall, Truckee is covered with snow again. Does this mean we are going to have another bumper year? Last winter we had over 15 feet of snow, and folks were skiing at Squaw Valley Resort on July 4th!

I travelled to Indonesia, Malaysia and China last year and over the next few days I shall post stuff I had written while in China. I could not post anything while I was in China because there was no access to wordpress and when I got home laziness crept in.

This year, I travelled to New York to see our daughter receive her PhD from NYU. So proud of her! Then my husband and I travelled to Greece for two weeks.

I have not posted in over two years???? Wow, time flies!

 

 

Me by a artwork on the Berlin Wall

The drive from Dresden to Berlin was about 2.5 hours. It snowed the day before so the road was a little wet and slippery. The thermometer in the car registered -13.5 deg C at its lowest.The wind shield sprayer was frozen! I guess the antifreeze in the water was not rated for temperature this low. It was 26 km later before the sprayer would work but the liquid froze and smeared as soon as the fluid hit the windscreen. It was horrible driving with smeared view. The first gas station we stopped at had run out of wind shield fluid.  We filled up at the next gas station and the drive was more comfortable with better views! Every time a vehicle flew by us, spraying and dirtying our wind screen, I worried in case the fluid might freeze on us as it was so cold outside.

We passed densely clustered conifer trees with straight trunks. It looks very dark amongst those trees, makes me think of Red Riding Hood meeting the big bad wolf. The whole landscape was white but the amount of snow was minimal compared to Tahoe. Not many four wheel drive vehicles at all but Dave said the majority of newer cars have terrific traction control. Dave was driving a C class mercedes and he kept assuring me that we did not need a 4×4 vehicle. I said “Do you have chains?” Apparently, no one carries those either.

Our first stop was the East gallery of  the Berlin Wall. This year is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. We walked quite a long way, snapping pictures of the art work that various artists had done. On the other side of the wall, was West Berlin and freedom. There was a little shack on the river side, selling souvenirs and would stamp your passport if you wished. Today, even though the wall is full of colors and interesting art works, I feel saddened by what it represented 20 years before.  After a while, we had to run back to the car as our fingers were numbed and my feet felt like two blocks of ice!

Kissy wissy - Berlin Wall

Me and trabantMany hands - Berlin Wall

How did one manage without a car Navi system? After the wall, it guided us to a  parking garage at Alexander Platz in Berlin. By then I was desperate for the loo and I expected Dave to take me to one within the mall but oh no, instead he took me to one that he had used before when he was in Berlin. It was a dang long walk, out of the mall, through a couple of christmas markets, crossed several roads before we arrived at a City WC! It was cold to boot – minus 12 deg C.

Dave, the tour guide took me through a park where Karl Marx sat in the cold with two of his buddies. Walking and jumping to thaw my toes,we arrived at Opera Square, or Bebel Platz, where Hitler ordered the burning of books. In the middle of the square is a glass floor about 5 feet square. Through the glass I saw empty book cases, to symbolise the burning of 20 thousand books. Across the road is Humboldt university and books were all over the front yard, a symbolic book stand where one can buy books everyday.

We back tracked a bit to the Christmas market, where we had sausages and bread for lunch and where I was literally hugging the fire box while we ate. Next stall was a gluhwein stand and we each had a cup. I nearly cried when I saw that under the awnings were heater stands! My fingers felt a little warmer from the cup of gluhwein but my toes remained frozen. Spoke to a Japanese tourist in japanese, just to keep up with the lingo, you know…

Energised and bundled up again, we walked towards Check Point Charlie. On the way there, we nipped into a car show room to spend a penny – only it was 50 cents today – and to see some fancy cars like the Bugati Veyron and some Bentleys. At the check point, I can almost see folks trying to make a run towards the American side and being tackled back to East Berlin. After Check Point Charley, I saw remnants of the Berlin wall on the roads, two by two brick remains that stretched for miles.

At check point Charlie.

As we left Check Point Charley, walking along Bethlehem Kirch Pl., Dave told me about a legend of a woman who used to pick up things, wrapped it in cloth  and carrying it on her back and he said there is a sculpture of her belongings, and there it was right infront of us, a huge round sculpture of the woman’s belongings! We don’t know why she was a legend ..that’s all Dave knew about her.

The legend of the old woman's possesion.

Next stop was Potsdam Platz, where several buildings were built to represent the financial center of Berlin but nothing happened there and whoever built those buildings lost alot of money and the buildings remain empty, except for a few shops and coffee houses. We stopped to have coffee and cake at a place called Alex, and there were menus and newsprints congratulting Alex on his 20th birthday – we were guessing that the owner must have opened a restaurant somewhere on the day the wall fell. I took a picture of the menu and news just because our Alex was 20 years old earlier this year!

I also decided to check on my foot – why was i suffering so much from frozen feet?  I decided that maybe the two pairs of socks was too much and there was not much wriggle room, so I decided to remove a pair … yes, right there in the restaurant …hope no one saw me fondle me toes…

Next stop was the Jewish Memorial – hundreds of rectangle blocks of concrete were erected in this one area. I stood and took a picture – it was a low concrete block, then as I looked, the floor was undulating every which way and the blocks were of varying heights too, some were twice as tall as David. I felt sad as we wandered in between the blocks.  I want to read more about who designed this memorial and how the concept was put together.

Jewish Memorial with short heights of concrete blocks.

The blocks are places in straight rows.The floor dips - see how tall the blocks are.

The US embassy was next to this jewish memorial. Remains of the Berlin Wall could be seen on the road infront of the embassy. At this point I really wished I had some hot hand warmers – the kind the kids used to put in their gloves to keep warm when they went skiing.  Dave took a picture of me infront of the Brandeburg Gate – a symbol of Germany. After that, all I was interested in was finding where we had parked the car so we can get out of the cold.

When we eventually found Alexander Platz, I decided that I could do some shopping and then find a loo before we head back to Dresden. However, there were thousands of folks with the same idea – last saturday before christmas and all that and the loo had a line of several  hundred or so it seemed. So, I crossed my leg and decided to stop at a motorway rest area to spend a penny.

Despite the cold, we had a grand time. Growing up in sunny malaysia, I never thought that I would one day visit the Berlin Wall in the depths of one of the coldest winters .

Old Bridge has statues on both sides and vendors selling their wares.

If you are reading this and feeling abit apprehensive about driving to Prague, please don’t be. Read on.

When I was here in March 2009, Dave was working everyday including weekends, so we had no opportunity to visit Prague. This time round, it is the weather i was nervous about – Europe is experiencing one of the coldest winters on record. Besides the weather, I was abit apprehensive about the drive because i read a blog from 1998 and it made me very concern about driving to Prague.

The blogger mentioned that once the autobahn ended, the drive would be on rural roads, along farms, about seeing hookers lining up the roads on both sides of the borders and in coffee shops.

In my mind’s eye, I imagined the rural roads to be pot holed and rutted and if it snowed hard these roads would be unplowed and I imagined farmers coming out with their pitch forks and donkeys to pull us out of snow drifts. I was so worried that I thought it would be best to go by train. However, Dave was not worried at all – he said we would turn back if the weather got really bad.

I also read somewhere that if one is driving a nice car to be extra careful of parking because it could get stolen. My anxiety level went up a few notches. One is also advised to find paid parking areas and not to park in free parking areas. A few days earlier, Dave had gone to Avis, to get a permission letter so we could drive our Class C  Mercedes into the Czech Republic. Again, the Avis guy warned us to “be careful since this is a nice car.”

The night before we left, I went on the internet and came across a very useful website: http://www.pragueexperience.com. It had maps, and info on different parking garages, interesting places to see in Prague and places to stay. I was only interested in the locations of the parking garages and not the hotels because Dresden is only about 160 km away from Prague and this is just a day trip.

We set off early morning after telling our car Navigator where we wanted to park our car. We chose a paid parking garage close to the Historic old bridge. We would be avoiding the city centre. It was not snowing when we left but the thermometer in the car registered -18 deg C at one point. I took a picture of it at -16 deg C. I knew this would not be a comfy sight seeing day yet again. (The day before we were in Berlin and it was -12 deg C!!)

Temperature on the way to Prague.

The autobahn, A17  towards the border was clear of snow and it was easy driving with not much traffic at all. We did go through a bit of a mountain pass but the weather was ok. In fact abit of sun was trying to come out too.

At the border crossing, I spotted a German police car but no Czech police and we just drove through. No one checked our passports or the permit to drive our rental car.  Actually, it was only about 50 km to the border from Dresden.

The rest of the driving was uneventful, except when Dave missed the last toilets on the German side and I was very worried in case there was not another rest area for miles and miles. Dave said the Czech people need bathrooms too you know.  Our Navi lady told us that we would have to turn off the autobahn pretty soon towards Losovice, and we spotted a gas station. We stopped to spend a penny (it was free) and to buy a map. The cashier accepted euro currency, the map was 59 czech dolars(whatever the currency was) and we gave him about 2.50 euros. It was disgustingly cold when we got out of our car!

We think one of these days the autobahn would connect to the one in the Czech Republic but for now, the Navi took us on a two lane road passing through small towns to connect to the freeway in the czech Republic. I did find a few pot holes but not to the extend of my imagination!

I think since 1998 when that blogger wrote about his travels, alot had changed. The autobahn was great and the road leading us to the Czech hiway was ok. We did not meet any farmers nor hookers along the roadside!

My fear and anxieties about driving to Prague were baseless. It was a nice easy and uncomplicated drive. The roads in between the two freeways was clearly marked for Prague. One has to obey the Czech Republic speed limits, though, and they have zero tolerance for alcohol. It would be very difficult to get out of a situation when it involves the Czech police as they do not speak English.

What would we do without our car navigation system?!! It took us direct to our parking area. It was an open air one, by the River Vtlana, and a guy gave us a slip to display and off we went, making sure we bundled up as much as we could. For future winter travel, I would bring alot of hot hand warmers, the kind that people take to go skiing. I brought only two but one was a dud. so for about five hours of walking around checking out castles and cathedrals, we were absolutely frozen. I have never experienced cold like this before and the locals said that this was unusually cold for Prague.

So to recap: From Dresden take the A17, E55 …oh well, I forgot. I will update this later.

Behind Dave is the old historic bridge to the castle and cathedral.

The old cathedral is above the Kafka Museum.

Old Bridge has statues on both sides and vendors selling their wares.

Entrance to the castle.

Castle

Changing of the guards.

Sweet Pastry

Cooking the pastry

Eating the Sweet pastry.

Church in the old town

Astronomer's clock in the old town square.

In the old town

Newschwanstein Castle

On sunday, Dec 13th 2009, we drove an hour south of Munich to see the Neuschwanstein castle, supposedly duplicated by Disneyland. It snowed lightly and was about -3 deg C.

When we got there, we saw the castle perched on top of a ridge. It looked beautiful and forlorn in the cold wintry day. The buses were not running due to snow and ice. So we had to walk up the hill – took us 40 minutes. I think the buses would be able to run but they wanted to put the horse carriages to work and earn their keep. We had to keep our eyes on the road due to horse droppings mixed with snow – ugh!

Dave at the other end of the castle

His parents' castle

The castle was build in 1860s by a young King Ludwig 2nd. On the opposite ridge  was another castle built by his parents. Ludwig 2nd only managed to completely finish 16 of the 64 rooms. What was completed was beautiful, lots of paintings on the wall and some ceilings. The paintings mostly depicted operatic themes.

The King only stayed there for 179 days. He died of a mysterious cause. His uncle succeeded hm as his only brother was mentally ill.

P90X – Aug 3rd 2009

We saw the P90X informercial several weeks ago and I decided to get it. I love the fact that you get to do a different set of exercises everyday. There are 12 dvd’s with all sorts of exciting workouts. There is even a Yoga dvd – I used to do a similar power yoga for two years and was never able to find a dvd for it until now! The guys and gals doing the workouts are all “muscley” and I admire the fact that the men with muscles could do yoga! I know a few kids who are buff but could not even touch their toes!!

P90X is a program for 90 days and if followed diligently, I will have a tone body. I have worked out most of my adult life to stay healthy but I have never had a “buff” body so we will see. This program is based on the fact that one has to confuse the muscles with different workout routines in order to achive a tone and buff look.

SO, I hijacked the tv and dvd player from the guest room to my master bedroom – more space to move around. I have the bands, the heart monitor, the yoga mat, my indoor shoes, the chin up bar needs to go up in the closet doorway and I really need to get more weights but the ones I have 2, 4 & 5 will suffice right now.

Yesterday was DAY1 with loads of push ups and chin ups. I have not set up the chin up bar yet so I followed one of the guys who was using a rubber band. The push ups are tough and I can only do a few reps on my knees. The killer was the decline push up where your feet are on the seat of a chair and your palms are on the carpet. I cannot wait to get stronger in my arms because I want to do the proper chaturanga in the yoga moves. Even though I did power yoga for a long time chaturanga eludes me and I have do it with my knees on the floor. can’t wait…..to get stronger in my arms…

DAY 2 today: I did Plyometrics – lots of jumps and squats. I did great – I did not jump as high nor squat as low but I did the whole hour – no problem! My heart rate was in my target range 130 to 140. bring it!!! YAY Tony Horton! I look forward to the next exercise.

My first blog since returning to the USA from Japan/Germany!

Dave was home for five weeks but we were not resting on our behinds – instead we were replacing our roof! We complted 65% of it before he had to return to Germany. That will be another blog…

However, for the last four or five weeks, I have been digging and shovelling and weeding our garden. In one area of the yard, I dug and removed four wheelbarrow loads of grass that has been there ever since we bought the property in 1997! They grew in patches and never really spread but I wanted it to be grass free to start adding more plants that hopefully will get a chance to grow and flower before the critters take a bit out of them.

So, my daily routine would be to walk the dogs along the beautiful Alder Creek with wild flowers growing along the trails and the bubbling creek, or in the back forests, garden til lunch, more gardening til dinner time. There’s so much to do and I must admit that I had neglected the yard for the last so many years.

My friend Ann inspires me to work on my garden. Despite the threat from squirrels, rabbits and deer, her garden thrives with gorgeous plants and flowers. I help thin her yard of black eyed susan, lady’s mantle, some kind of yellow daisy,  evening primrose, geum and sedums, take them home and transplant them into my garden. I cannot wait to see the fruits of my labor.

The lupine seeds that I sowed in the garden a couple of years ago are flowering in abundance. A few succumbed to the wild critters but I do love looking at them. On one of my walks two years ago, I picked some seeds and threw them in one of my flower beds. This year there are masses of leaves that I thought was Jacob’s Ladder but the local nursery identified it as a locoweed called Astragalus. Apparently, farmers spend thousands of dollars to get rid of them as this weed causes insanity to their cattle and horses after they ingest t hem!!! The nursery man told me to enjoy the flowers but snip them off before they turn to seeds. I cannot wait to see the beautiful purplish blue flowers.

Besides store bought plants and “shopping” at my friend Ann’s house, I also grew from seeds – hollyhocks, nasturtiums, chinese lanterns, morning glory, poppies  and Bells of Ireland. I am waiting for the hollyhocks to grow taller before I transplant them into the garden. They are about an inch tall with about four leaves now. The nasturtiums have been put in some hanging baskets, pots and in the ground. The poppies are also int he ground – although some did not survive!

My mother in law was an avid gardener. She lived in England and used to have the most gorgeous front and back yards. I would love to have her give me some advise right now but unfortunately she passed on about 18 years ago. She grew every plant from seeds, she was always in the green house or in the garden and dinner suffers. The veggies were overboiled or burnt…and her bum was always in the air planting or weeding!

Despite sunscreen I have caught the sun and is darker than ever. I have dropped several pounds digging and moving dirt and let me tell you that without my very favourite tool, the PICK AXE, I would never be able to do what I did in my garden. I have also recently purchased the Hori Hori knife to help with my weeding. I should have looked for more Japanese garden tools when I lived in Japan!

There’s a saying in one of the gardening websites: only the rain will make you do your housework!

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