Oktoberfest in Mt. Angel, Oregon USA – World’s Largest Hairball Spit Up By a …..

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The nation’s largest Glockenspiel, it is a four-story clock tower that tells the story of the town’s history through hand-carved figures.  They spin and the music plays four times a day.

It always strikes me as odd that we seldom take advantage of the wonders of the world right in our neighborhood.  Okay, in my case, the state of Oregon, but unless we have company coming, there always seems to be reasons not to get out and check out some pretty awesome stuff nearby.

Mt. Angel, an hour south of Portland, is home to the World Famous Oktoberfest.  They might not have invented it, but it is easily one of the largest in the United States.  The town has 3,500 permanent residents, and most own lederhosen or dirndls..  Every September, the city roars to life and 350,000 people descend on the tiny town.  The town may be small, but it boasts more giant beer halls than you can imagine.  Huge, permanent structures, they each have bands, dance floors, and rows and rows of tables.  All of which, of course, can hold gallons of beer.

We attended years ago, when we had six small kids.  My memories are of corn on the cob, dipped in butter, and trying not to lose the children.  People packed shoulder to shoulder is a great place to misplace short family members, and that’s all I can recall.  This time, we came as two old farts, looking for a good time.  And found it!

My Bucket List of Life is eclectic.  I know most people want to visit Machu Picchu, but ever since I found out that the Mt. Angel Abbey houses the World’s Largest Hairball Ever Spit Up by a Pig, I knew I had to make a pilgrimage to see this baby.  And now…….here we were!img_4324

There was a Volkswalking event at Mt Angel, so off we went.  Me?  Excited!  George?  Not so much, but he is definitely the faithful husband.  Despite the fact it was raining.

George is a giant sucker for a fund-raiser breakfast, because they always have pancakes.  This was no exception.  I had to run to use the Porta-Potty and when I came back, he was waving breakfast tickets at me.  No self-respecting German breakfast can’t have sausage.  George was in heaven.  When I mentioned to the lady tossing meat on our plates that I was vegetarian, she stopped cold.  In a low, compassionate voice, she said “I’m so sorry.  Are you able to eat eggs?”  Her voice held the same sympathetic note as if I told her I had terminal cancer.  img_4320I assured her that eggs were fine and she visibly brightened.  This really is a German town, I received much the same response in Berlin.

They bagged my meat for George to take home (wouldn’t want to waste good sausage) and everyone was happy.

Our volkswalking map in hand, we headed on our route through town and then up the hill to the Mt. Angel Abbey.  A Benedictine monastery, it was founded by a group of monks from Switzerland in 1882.  The town had just named itself Roy, but within two years it was changed to Mt. Angel, which was the English translation of the Swiss monastery.  The abbey sits on the hill above town, and with the views from the top – you really think it is closer to Heaven.

It is a pleasant hike (on a sunny day) up the hill to the abbey, and kudos to George for doing it.  There was a tempting festival shuttle bus running groups up the hill, but he refused and said he would walk.  By the we reached the top, he was ready to ditch viewing the abbey and take the bus back.  I finally convinced him that he would regret not seeing the largest hairball ever, and it would be a defining bonding moment for the two of us.  Resignedly, he plodded onward with me.

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A view from a bench at the Abbey. It was gorgeous on a rainy day; just imagine this scene with blue skies and the green fields of spring.

There are several beautiful buildings, including a chapel with a giant pipe organ.  Their library houses gorgeous handcrafted bibles from the Middle Ages.  Sadly, the library was closed while we were there, so no pictures.  But the museum was open – and the hairball awaited!

There were young, helpful monks running around, and we stopped to ask for directions to the hairball.  One young man expressed surprise that I knew about it, and not the fact that they are now brewing their own beer.  Geesh, is that boy out of touch!  Must be the monastic life, of course I was there to see the hairball!

This is one of the best curio type museums I have ever seen.  You just have to check this place out!  It is all of the gifts given to the abbey since 1882.   There isn’t any order to the exhibits, except perhaps for most of the taxidermy.  Somebody had a serious collection of dead, stuffed stuff.  img_4412Not only do they have a room filled with stuff like a full-sized buffalo (with a distinct smile on his face), deer, cougars, birds, etc., but there is enough left over to have a stuffed racoon hanging near the 1840’s porcelain commode set.

In one memorable case there is a 19th century French naval hat, like the one worn by Napoleon, alongside an elderly stuffed great blue heron – who could really use a few new feathers.

The best case, of course, held the my object d’art – the World’s Largest Hairball Ever Spit Up By a Pig.  No idea if this is in the Guinness Book of Records, but are you going to call a bunch of monks liars?  Here it is:

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Apparently, a pig can digest just about anything (even bones); but they can’t digest hair.  It turns into a ball, eventually being coated with a waxy-type surface.  Periodically, just like their barnyard feline friends, they cough it up.  I don’t want to know what this pig ate to get this much hair.  Some things are better left to the imagination.

They also had a couple of stuffed calves that had been conjoined twins, where the second twin didn’t develop.  If you want to see a calf with two hind ends and the front legs coming out of the back, this is the place for you.

George took one look at the hairball and decided he wanted to take the shuttle back to town right away.  I had to chase him down to find out he was on his way to the shuttle.  Guess it was a bit too much for him.  I waved goodbye and finished the museum.  The monks have a gift/coffee shop called The Press, where they formerly did printing.  I had a great cup of coffee and admired all the different rosaries for sale.  I bought a great souvenir coffee mug and bought an incredible looking pretzel roll to be savored later.  Packing them carefully, I walked back down the hill.

Fall is definitely in the air and the flora and fauna are waning.  There were still a few beauties to be found:

 

Back in town, I found George enjoying a snack.  We watched the Glockenspiel showing, enjoyed a roasted ear of corn (sans butter) along with a dog who loved even more than me.

We walked the town, enjoying the sights and sounds.  An Oompah Band played in the city gazebo, while a man led a group of kids dancing to the music.  Adults and kids of all ages wore their Bavarian costumes like they were daily wear.  It was absolutely terrific.  I had a veggie burrito that ended up being a tortilla stuffed with shredded lettuce.  Oh well, it was all veggie.

A special day deserves a special treat and I wanted a big old fresh made pretzel.  As we were leaving, I spied a fresh made pretzel sign at Mt. Angel Sausage Company.  I jumped in line and waited for my pretzel.  To my horror, they took this beautifully baked pretzel and dumped it in the deep fat fryer.  Don’t add any calories to this treat…..!  Yes, I should have tossed it, but I didn’t.  One bite won’t hurt…..oh….my…..god……this was the best pretzel I have ever eaten.  Deep fried bread with salt.  What’s not to love.  No matter that it had to be 7,000 WW points.

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At one point, I handed George my pretzel to hold for a couple of seconds.  I glanced away and then back.  He was guiltily chewing a bite of my pretzel.  I snatched it back and yelled “If I am going to eat a 7,000 point treat, I am going to enjoy every flipping bite – go buy your own!”  There are just some things a person doesn’t share.

It was an incredible day.  Except for George eating my pretzel, it was perfect.  Okay, some sunshine would have also been nice.  We drove back home, wondering how it would be to live in a little bit of pretend Bavarian heaven in Oregon.

The next day, I needed my wallet – and discovered it was missing.  I had lost it during the Oktoberfest day.  After a fruitless day of calling the Mt. Angel police, city hall, Chamber of Commerce, Mt. Angel Sausage Company and every vendor whose name I could recall – no wallet.  It takes two seconds to lose a wallet and all day to unsuccessfully find it.  At 4:45 pm, I got a call from my bank – somebody had turned it into a branch of my bank!  It was too late to pick it up, and I worried all night that parts of it would be gone.  I drove to the bank the next morning, and there it was – all intact.  Nothing missing.  Am I lucky, or what?

Truly, it was a special day.  Air Canada had found a bag that we left on the plane from our last trip, and mailed it to me.  How many people get their wallet back, their airline bag returned AND see the World’s Largest Hairball Ever Spit Up By a Pig?  I am one lucky grandma!

 

Day 10 St. Petersburg – Weirdest Bathroom Trip Ever

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Raining hard when we woke up, so no sunrise. This is the sunset as we sailed out of the harbor leaving St. Petersburg.

We have a gorgeous view from our room; we overlook the flat roof of the immigration building.  As the wind blew and the rain poured, I admired the way the waves of water seemed to dance on the tar paper roofline.  Ahhhhhh, the day looks like an adventure.

Our call time for the excursion was even earlier this morning.  We had to report at 7:00 a.m. for another ten hour guided mass sojourn to the summer palace of Catherine the Great.  Ellie is feeling a bit better, but definitely moody.   More than a bit of teen attitude.  Grumpy, I mean Grampy, would rather have a case of jock itch than get up to stand outside a palace in the rain, but he gamely agrees to go.

I have to give it to George.  Yesterday was a long day, and this day won’t be any better.  A guy with a fainter heart would have refused to get up, but here he was.  Grouchy as hell, but there.  Alternately cajoling and/or threatening my loved ones, they got up, dressed and agreed to do it one more time.

This was the day that I could check one more item off my bucket list.  Years ago I read about the Amber Room in Catherine the Great’s palace.  She is one of the more remarkable women in history, and when not sending people to their death (like her husband, the Czar) she made some remarkable achievements.  I mean, she was Great, right?

Did you know she wasn’t Russian?  She was a 14 year old girl of great aristocratic lineage from Germany, but her family had lost all their money.  The future czar was a bit odd, but crazy about Prussian (German) soldiers.  She sucked it up for the family and married the royal prince.  At 14, the same age as my granddaughter, Ellie.

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A small piece of the palace facade. I couldn’t get the entire U-shaped building in one picture. This sucker is HUGE.

Catherine was smart as a whip and fell in love with Russia. When her husband became czar, she started taking an active role in ruling while her husband spent his time marching soldiers around the parade ground.  He loved the Prussian army model so much that he started dressing his human toy soldiers in Prussian uniforms and hanging out with his mistress all the time.  This totally alarmed the Russian military leaders.  Catherine had given birth to an heir, so if they got rid of the czar, she could rule as regent.

The czar had a bizarre fatal “accident” one night when he just happened to fall on a knife.  It was never proven Catherine ordered his death, but she didn’t hesitate to step into the role as regent.  Apparently her son was a slow grower, because she ruled for over 30 years.  She was incredibly smart and started schools, founded over 200 towns in the first urban planning seen in Russia (possibly Europe), fought wars and built one heck of a palace.

The Amber Room story is pretty cool.  The King of Prussia was the original owner of an amazing room made of amber panels.  Because amber is petrified pine resin, it has a very low melting temperature.  The room took a ton of maintenance because it kept falling apart.  It was driving the king nuts, and costing a fortune, so he didn’t want it any longer.  What to do with a priceless room made of amber that is a total pain in the royal butt and bank account?  Peter the Great came for a visit and admired it.  Why not give it to  Russia as a totally unique gift – a diplomatic coup, impress the crap out of the unsuspecting czar, and get rid of a never-ending home maintenance money pit.

Long story short, it was a wonder and no complaints on the maintenance problems.  Maybe Russia is cold enough that the amber never overheated.  Catherine moved it from Pete’s place to her own.  For 200 years it was the pride of the palace – until WWII.  At some point in the 900 day siege of St. Petersburg (by then re-named Leningrad), poor Catherine’s palace was bombed and looted.  Among the stolen treasures was the entire Amber Room, often billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World.  And it is still missing to this day.

Modern day Germany felt pretty bad about this, and in 2003 replaced the missing panels as a gift to Russia.  How could you not want to see a room with such an exciting history?  You won’t be seeing any pictures of the room here, cameras are forbidden.  I am also sorry to say that I had built up a vision in my head of what it would look like – and it fell quite short.  I had regaled Ellie with the tale of the room and when we were there, she looked at me and said “I thought it would be more spectacular.”  Sadly, I felt the same way.  Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful and interesting in a rock collecting type of way.  But Eighth Wonder of the Worldish?  Not quite.  Obviously better than the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas (also on my bucket list), but a little bit disappointing.  That’s what can happen when you let your imagination get carried away. Continue reading “Day 10 St. Petersburg – Weirdest Bathroom Trip Ever”

Day 8 Scandinavia – Tallinn, Estonia is Terrific!

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The sunrise picture wasn’t great, but the sunset as we left Tallinn for St Petersburg was peaceful and beautiful

Our best day yet!  We didn’t know what to expect in Tallinn, Estonia.  I’m sorry to say that Estonia doesn’t come up in my everyday conversations – but it earned a warm spot in all of our hearts today.  What a fun place!  If medieval cities get your blood pumping, this is the town for you.

We all liked Stockholm, but it didn’t hit a spot in our Top 10 Places to Relocate for Six Months list.  But Tallinn is right up there.

The weather finally cooled a bit and there was a brisk breeze in the harbor.  Ellie, still a bit under the weather, slept in and George and I dined on the buffet balcony.  I love sitting there in the morning.  Tallinn is a apparently a popular cruise ship port, the ships just kept arriving.  It is fascinating watching the pilots parallel park a 900 foot ship between two giant behemoths.    A Disney ship pulled in and blew its huge horn – and the opening bar to the Disney theme played.  Everyone on our ship started laughing and smiling.  Even on a competitor’s vessel, we all love Disneyland and everything it represents. Continue reading “Day 8 Scandinavia – Tallinn, Estonia is Terrific!”

Day 7 Scandinavia – Say Sayonara Sweden!

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I didn’t get up in time to take a sunrise photo today. This is in the early evening as we sailed away from Sweden. We passed thousands of islands. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the breathtaking views. Of course, as soon as my stomach growled, I bailed for dinner….

Ellie’s throat was sore and her ears plugged when she went to bed last night.  We let her sleep in to get some rest.  We don’t have any rest days until after we leave St. Petersburg.  George and I slipped away while she slept and had a sunny breakfast on the buffet veranda.  It felt so nice to wake up with coffee in the warm sun.

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I was tired, so I had a veggie omelet with feta cheese for protein and added some pumpkin seeds to a fruit salad I put together. They have a cooking station and will make whatever egg concoction desired.

Ellie roused and we decided to forego another taxi adventure, and took the Hop On and Never Get To Your Destination Bus.  The Stockholm Hop On bus really is a waste of money.  It would be far quicker to walk.  Traffic is heavy and it took us 90 minutes to reach Old Town.  Mohammed the taxi driver had got us there in ten minutes.  I can’t count Mr. Eeyore, taxi driver number two, because that poor man has some issues that will take more than a GPS to fix.  Have to admit that every taxi we saw, we spontaneously called out “Good Taxi” or “Bad Taxi!” Continue reading “Day 7 Scandinavia – Say Sayonara Sweden!”

Day 4 Scandinavia – Copenhagen By Bus, Barge and Bike

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Sunrise at sea at we are sailing into Copenhagen, Denmark.

Copenhagen!  I grew up in a small town, and in my senior year of high school we had an exchange student from Copenhagen.  She was a generous and friendly girl who described in detail her “little country.”  Her name was Yetta, and we corresponded for a few years and then lost track of one another.  She has been on my mind the last few days, and now I wish I could have been able to find her.  George pointed out I probably could have used Facebook.

I’m not a Facebooker, and seldom think of using it.  George lives on Facebook, so I have no need.  He’s always showing me things and reading it out loud.  Between Facebook and his girlfriend, Siri, his world is full.  But I’m regretting I didn’t try to find her.  She’d be an old woman like me now, but I bet she still has that broad smile and positive attitude that I remember.  And blonde hair – not out of a bottle.

Wow, there are a LOT of blonde, attractive people here.  As Ellie and I walked down the street, I remarked that there were so many pretty girls; she replied “And boys!”  Very athletic looking, but gosh, with the snow in the winter and the glorious sun in the summer, the residents have to be very active. Continue reading “Day 4 Scandinavia – Copenhagen By Bus, Barge and Bike”

Day 3 Scandinavia – At Sea and Ellie Tries to Kill Her Grandma

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The sun just coming up at sea at 5 a.m.. Notice the slip of a moon in the upper right-hand corner.

The call of nature, and habit, woke me this morning.  I love going out on the veranda to see what the sunrise has to offer.  It gives me a little shiver of pleasure to think I’m somewhere exotic and this special spot and time is mine to savor.  What an opportunity to live in the moment.

This morning, I paid tribute to the moment and then the lure of the soft, cushy bed drew me back.  We are all exhausted, and today is a day of recovery at sea.  Yes, this will be a day of regeneration and get ready for Copenhagen tomorrow.

Last night, when Ellie was working me over in the gym, I had stupidly agreed to attend a 7 a.m. fitness class with her.  Something about finding my core.  I just wanted to find my bed.  Fortunately, Ellie was zonked out and I “forgot” to wake her up.  In fact, I slept until 9:30 a.m., which is very late for me.  Ellie slept until almost 11 a.m., and I was more than happy to tiptoe around so she wouldn’t wake up.

Continue reading “Day 3 Scandinavia – At Sea and Ellie Tries to Kill Her Grandma”

Scandinavia Day 2 – Bruges, Belgium: Waffles, Chocolate and Beer, Oh My!

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Sunrise from our balcony at Zeebrugge, Belgium, where we docked. We took a 30 minute bus ride into Bruges

In a perfect world, it would have been nice to have a day at sea before landing at our first destination inn Bruges, Belgium.  The majority of cruisers were still rummy from traveling.  It’s fun to meet people from around the world; especially when there is time to sit and have a chat.  Despite our cultural differences, we have so much in common.  In essence, it was hard for everyone to get out of bed.  We docked at 6:30 a.m. and headed to shore soon thereafter.

A healthy breakfast is a great way to get energy for a day of adventure, so we each individually staggered our way to the breakfast buffet. Personally, I feel the buffet is the easiest location for me to manage a healthy breakfast.   I wanted to keep the calories down, so I could enjoy some food treats in Bruges (chocolate and waffles), our first stop.

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Non-Fat plain yogurt, pineapple/melon, roasted tomato, salmon lox, scrambled eggs and grapefruit. One point breakfast

I still felt like I was dragging, so I decided to have a bit more protein, without spending any more points.  I hit the buffet and came up with this:

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Lox, capers, cucumber slices, thin-sliced onions and lemon quarters

With a bit of re-arranging:

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Yummy salmon protein rich appetizer. Gave me just enough extra protein to get me motivated and energized for our excursion.

Continue reading “Scandinavia Day 2 – Bruges, Belgium: Waffles, Chocolate and Beer, Oh My!”