Growing Together: Moldova’s Family-Run Et Cetera Winery

 

For years, we had our sights set on participating in a grape harvest. As the golden months of the summer of 2014 dwindled, and Europe’s grapes grew plumper and riper, we decided to meander to Moldova to meet the newest vintage. It’s said that a whopping 25% of Moldova’s working population is involved in winemaking, and we instantly sensed this upon our arrival in the Eastern European country. Much of the autumnal landscape was dotted with vineyards, grape motifs favored heavily on the village architecture, and winemakers of the amateur and professional sort abounded. One of our first nights in the country, locals spotted us strolling the streets of a quiet village, and asked us if we wanted to try a glass of wine at their home. (Of course we said yes!) This warm extension of hospitality would continue for nearly one month, even as we hopped from locale to locale. Sometimes we were offered golden bunches of grapes, while at other moments we were given a generous glass of homemade wine.

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Germany’s Sommertagszug Tradition: Greeting Spring & Bidding Farewell to Winter

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In parts of Germany three weeks before Easter, it’s customary to celebrate spring’s return with a Sommertagszug or summer procession. Though this year’s round of such fests was held last Sunday, for me, the 14th of March will forever be synonymous with Sommertagszugs since ‘Pi Day‘ 2010 is the date my husband and I first met and then enjoyed the Sommertagszug celebration together in Heidelberg, Germany. The fest has been celebrated in Heidelberg for more than 500 years.

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Believed to have pagan origins, the fest celebrates spring’s return and winter’s banishing. Children take to the streets with sticks adorned with colorful, ruffled ribbons, topped with pretzels and eggs. In Heidelberg, they walk along the city’s long pedestrian street, the Hauptstrasse, until they reach the Market Square (Marktplatz), where dancers (dressed as winter and spring) theatrically battle it out on stage. Finally, a paper effigy of winter is torched. The best part of the celebration is, of course, the pretzels that are handed out to onlookers, and the realization that spring has returned.

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A woman depicting Liselotte (a German princess who promoted traditions such as the Sommertagsfest) watches the procession. Liselotte was the sister-in-law of Louis XIV.

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Fasching Festivities, German Style

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For the ten years I called picturesque Heidelberg, Germany home, I was lucky to have a bird’s eye view when Fasching festivities took the university town by storm, as I’m sure they did today.

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Fasching, Germany’s equivalent to Mardi Gras or Carnaval, includes pre-Lenten activities celebrated between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. My former apartment, housed on the fifth floor of an 18th-century building, offered the perfect spot to glimpse the crazy characters and floats as they passed by during the city’s annual Fasching parade.

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The parades usually took place on days that I had to work. Alas, when I returned to my Altstadt (old town) neighborhood shortly after the parade had plowed through, I found the streets adorned with confetti, streamers, and wrappers that hinted at the goodies that had been tossed from floats. Some years, unable to resist being part of the fun, I took a vacation day and watched as men dressed in medieval garb twirled flags bearing Heidelberg’s crest, and fluffy blue beings powdered the noses of onlookers (yours truly included), and men sported Pippy Longstocking-esque braids. Here’s to more memories…

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Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

A Vietnamese New Year’s Reminiscence

When I unpacked a red and gold Vietnamese ox ornament last week, it reminded me why I love travel: serendipitous events, cultural immersion, and the opportunity to mingle with unassuming citizen diplomats.

With today being the Vietnamese New Year, or Tết, it seems fitting to reminisce on a Hanoi happening from my travel memory bank that epitomizes all three characteristics.

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Dizzied by a Dazzling Array of Dirndls in Bavaria

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Whenever I see Bavarians dressed in traditional German attire, I can’t help but recall a playful prank that my former American colleagues routinely played on friends and family who would come to visit them in Germany. The husband and wife would get laced up in their finest Trachten-wear (German traditional dress consisting of men’s Lederhosen (leather pants) and a St. Pauli Girl-esque Dirndl (dress)) and pick up their guests at the Frankfurt Airport in costume. Before their meeting, they explained to their friends that they would be dressed in such a manner so they could better blend in with the locals, and not perpetuate the ‘ugly American’ stereotype.

 
 

Anyone who’s been to Germany would know their clothing caper to be just that – a prank – but apparently many friends were initially naïve, resulting in a good laugh.

In Oberammergau, where we’ve been living the past two months, it’s not uncommon to see a handful of locals sporting their Bavarian best. Most often, we spot gentlemen in green or grey woolen hats – adorned with pewter pins with hunting motifs, feathers, and brushes made of spiky goat hair.

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A few days ago, my husband and I, battling a case of ‘cabin fever,’ embarked on a brisk walk through the village. The weather has been unseasonably cold lately, and we quickly developed popsicle toes and fingertips. Seeking an escape from the chilly temperatures before we turned back toward home, we stopped in a traditional clothing store and found ourselves wowed by the array of Bavarian garments for sale.

 

The attention to detail was pleasing: engraved buttons, intricate stitching and colorful fabrics. Prices there generally averaged 200 Euro (about $265) for a Dirndl, plus the price of a frilly, white, cropped blouse. Needless to say, I have three simple Dirndls in my wardrobe (two of which I’ve sported and been spilled upon at Oktoberfest), so I didn’t buy another. The shopkeeper was so friendly and enthusiastic about the upcoming collection, that I might be inclined to do so in the future, though.

 

For the record, Shawn didn’t take an interest in, nor buy the Lederhosen-inspired swim trunks. :)

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Twisting Tongues in Bavaria

German words have a reputation for being long, and at times very expressive. Two of my descriptive favorites are Zahnfleisch (literally ‘tooth meat’ or ‘gums’) and Schneebesen (which literally translates to ‘snow broom’ but means ‘whisk.’)

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Of Angels & Alphornists – Out & About in Oberammergau, Germany

We had merely set out on a routine errand to find a hair stylist and pharmacy in  Oberammergau, Germany. Instead, we found ourselves pleasantly distracted by something quite out of the ordinary, at least for us: the soothing, foghorn-like sound of Alphorns, playfully known as ‘Ricola horns’.

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A Stroll Through Balinese Markets

 

Balinese markets are a feast for the eyes. In Ubud’s bazaar and food and produce markets, there are stacks of colorful rattan offering boxes, wooden masks with intimidating gazes, small cases comprised of beads in swirling patterns, delicate batik silk scarves, walls of oil-adorned canvases, and overflowing mounds of tropical fruits. The markets are a shopper’s paradise, a photographer’s dream…

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