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A fledgling

24 Jun

[George likes to make these little anecdotal moral offerings….ee]

As we travel Erika and I have shared and have had individual experiences.  Erika stayed in Denver while I  motored north from Denver to Greeley to see my father.  After a long, slow bit coping with someone’s minor accident, I needed to pee.   Eventually, after a patient wait, I exited to a gas station.  The station’s men’s toilet was occupied, as was the women’s (“That’s the ladies’!”).  Around the side and then the back was a fenced-in area protecting the air conditioning fans.  Just inside the gate was a fledgling robin, perched on a bit of metal wire.  I carefully slipped by.  I relieved myself into the grass  without attracting the attention of nutters, and again slipped by the young robin.

Here’s the problem.  Not until some time on the highway did I wonder how would the fledgling’s minders find it to feed it?  Shouldn’t I have shepherded it out of the enclosure?  Was it only alive because it was protected?

That’s what happens when you vary from the protected forms of the norms.  All up, if you worry about worrying about unexpected situations stop sooner and pee where you are supposed to.


Nearly Everything You Need in Ajijic

28 Mar

[In frustration at not finding much easily available information–such as maps, bus schedules, or even directories of places to eat and shop–George has been accumulating all these bits and pieces while we’ve been in Ajijic. Most of what is written here is G’s work, and includes his interpretation of how things work in this little ex-pat town in Mexico–ee.]


Where is the stuff that we’ve needed since coming to Ajicic?


The next time you talk to a Republican who opposes government funding for private services like schools and public transit, agree and describe how Mexico does water supply.  The city pumps filtered water to your house.  You are expected to treat it against pathogens — elaborate filters and ultraviolet lights.  Just think of the investment opportunity from selling these to every household in the U.S.!

When the home-treated water comes out of your faucet, it’s probably okay to use it to boil potatoes or pasta, shower or brush your teeth.  You probably want to get bottled water for drinking water.  To eat veggies (including sliced oranges and lemons), soak them in a basin of water with 4 or 5 drops of iodine solution for 5 minutes.  Between the iodine and the water, you will get rid of the organic and chemical fertilizers. Drain, don’t rinse.  The better restaurants have their own water treatment and will treat their veggies.

In short, get locally delivered bottled water in 5 gallon jugs. Where we rent, we get two 5-gallon bottles delievered for about 40 pesos (about $2.00). Prefer bottled water and sodas at your eateries.  As long as your house has a filtration system, don’t worry over much about your water.


Street vendors.  We’ve bought quarts of quality locally grown blueberries  and raspberries, and bunches of asparagus from vendors on the street, I hope for competitive prices. Why and how blueberries are being grown here now is a good question, but they’re very good, and the raspberries are sublime.  We have not been brave enough to eat from the cooked foods at stalls at the markets, but in most cases, especially around here, that food should be fine.

Tiny groceries are on every neighborhood street.  They are often dark and somewhat forbidding.  I’ve bought milk and fresh cilantro from nice people at Tienamos, just down the way from us on Revolucion. Often you will see a simple table set out in front of a house, with a few things, like drinks or chips, for sale.

There are three regular grocery stores in the area frequented by the ex-pats:

Torito, on the Carretera at Revolución a bit east of the town proper, offers pretty much what every modest grocery store in the U.S. does.  Some fruit and vegetables, beer, wine and spirits, a butcher (I’ve bought chicken wings to boil for broth, but prefer Tony’s as a butcher, see below), and all sorts of normally needed goods. Excellent local coffee, both whole bean and ground, can be found here, too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuper Lake, in San Antonio a few kilometers east of Ajijic, caters to the U.S. and Canadian residents.  It’s the ex-pat market par excellence.  Clabber Girl baking powder, Schar digestive biscuits, McCann steel cut oat meal, Wasa Brot, bottled herbs, proper mayo and mustard, cilantro, wine, yogurt. One pays through the nose for the privilege of having these items available: a box of granola that would cost $2.50 at home costs almost $5 here. It’s also best to check the use-by dates as well.

Soriana Híper is a comprehensive grocery store in Chapala, just north of the city center, with good prices and a good variety of products. And if you would rather shop in a Mexican supermercado than succumb to WalMart or Costco–both of which are in easy distance from Ajijic–Soriana is the one to go to.

Fish mongers and butchers.

Las Playas Fish shop, next door to SuperLake, closed Sat. after 3:00, open Sun. morning.   Good fish, filleted to order, bones and heads for broth, lots of frozen shrimp.

Pescaderia Pacifico. Fish market in West Ajijic.  Again, good fish, filleted to order, bones and heads for broth, frozen shrimp.

Carnicería Tony’s.  Butcher next door to SuperLake on Carretera.  Really nice pork loins and beef.  The intelligent and well-spoken butcher (who speaks perfect English) is a gem and the young woman cashier is a quick wit if she shows it.  Note, in most shops you order and get your food from the provider and take it to a cashier to pay for it.

Bread.  Hmmm.  There’s reputed to be a good French bakery in west Ajijic.  I’ll try to check.  That said, I have found pretty good multi-grain loaves at SuperLake. [Found THE bread shop:  Panadería Escandinavia, in the mall across the Carretera from the Wal-Mart. Excellent Nordic-style loaves, and good sandwiches as well.–ee]

Helados Bök.  A terrific goat’s milk ice cream shop on the west side of the Plaza.  We’ve been able to order goat’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt there, too, but you may have to wait a few days to get it, while the owner pasteurizes the milk and sets the yogurt! (Note, too, that although the shop name includes an umlaut, the real German word for goat is BOCK!)

El Granero.  South side of Carretera just west of Javier Mina.  What a nice herb and grain shop!  Excellent quality, and pleasant people, too.

Open air markets, called Tianguis locally, are held weekly:

Monday:  Chapala, near the Soriana just north of downtown.  Lots of stuff!

Tuesday: West Ajijic, in La Huerta Hall starting not a minute before 10:00am.  Everything’s supposed to  be organic, quite a lot of homemade foods, as well as good fruit and vegetables. Entirely geared toward the ex-pat market, you would see more Mexicans at any market in California than you will see here.


Organic Market, La Huerta, Ajijic.

Wednesday: Ajijic, on Revolución south of the highway.  Trinkets and clothes above, vegetables, fish (filleted open air for you!), and meat farther south. A very happy place!

Thursday:  Jocotopec.  We haven’t been there yet, but it is said to be extensive and right on the Carretera, filling the road.


We’re staying in a house at the corner of Prof. Lázaro Cárdenas and Revolución, about 2 km ENE of the Ajijic’s town center for about $1,200 a month.  Our friend Leslie says that for long stays the price break is about $700 per month to get a nice rental; she has a two-story, beautifully appointed house at that price.  We’ve seen a very presentable house near us–with all the mod cons and a garden–for $950 per month.

My suggestion is to rent something short term while waiting for something long term available through a local real estate agent.  Our experience has been limited to Michael Rosenblum, a thoroughly pleasant ex-pat at Fenix Real Estate.  Once you relax here, it’s easy to buy quality real estate for surprisingly modest prices. (See Erika’s upcoming blog on immigration procedures!)

P1270125You will find that the town is divided first between areas above and below the Carretera (the Carretera is the main highway, and very busy and dangerous to cross).  North of the highway is seriously up hill along quite cumbersome cobblestone streets.  Our street, in Upper Ajijic, is the only paved street in the entire town–that is, paved with smooth, walkable tiles, rather than chunky, volcanic-rock cobblestones. West of the town center are many prosperous properties, some in gated associations, still on cobblestone streets.

Locks, etc.

Household security is quite like that in Europe — lots of locks, bars on windows, and keys.  Screens, windows, screen doors, garages, gates, back doors, front doors, they are all locked even when you are in the adjoining room.

That said, we have never felt the least bit endangered.  We walk through sections of town where poor people live and don’t have the heightened street sense that comes on walks past rougher apartment buildings in Pasadena.  On the other hand, I am careful not to show off my money or cards, pocketing both before leaving the ATM.  We close the first floor curtains and stash the computers in a kitchen drawer before leaving the house.  Like sensible tourists everywhere, we take only the money and credit cards we expect to need on our forays and always leave our passport at home.


Money.  Currently the peso is almost 20 to the dollar, so to figure a cost, divide by two and drop a decimal, e.g., 120 pesos: divide by two=60, drop a decimal=$6.00.  It’s not exact, but close enough to convince you that things are surprisingly inexpensive.  ATMs are numerous, but always ask for a receipt just in case the machine charges your account but doesn’t give you the money.  If it happens, just call the number on the back of the card.  You will be one of a number of people to whom this has happened. Sometimes the ATMS run out of money, too, and many of the ATMS in grocery stores are broken or eat your card without giving you money.  And be aware: very few places here take credit cards! We haven’t even tried. Some of the more touristy places will take a card, but as far as we can tell, the place runs on a cash economy.

Post office.  North side of  the Carretera just past J. Encarnacion Rosas. As you can see, it’s a hole in the wall, and word is mail will take anywhere from three weeks to two months to get where it’s supposed to go. Most ex-pats here use services such as IShop Mail, which actually mails things via a Laredo, Texas, address. Prices are a bit high, but these are the only reliable ways to get and send mail. postcardtotrump_ajijic

Super Farmacia.  Pharmacy.  Carretera and J. Encarnacion Rosas.  Celebrex, over the counter 10 for 280 pesos (ca. $1.40 each). (See Erika’s blog post on Mexico and meds)

Total Body Care.   Ocampo and Benito Juarez, t. 766 33 79.  World-class massage, acupuncture, pedicure & manicure, and the like. Very reasonable prices,e. g., full-body deep-tissue massage costs about 400 pesos, or $20.

Diane Pearl. Colon and Constitucion.  Folk arts. Some books about the Chapala region are also available here.

Creaciones del Lago.  A women’s embroidery cooperative.  Ramon Corona above 16 de Septiembre, cattycorner from LCS.  Four women sell their stitchery-decorated blouses and other finery. Lovely, inexpensive products from very pleasant women.  They will do custom work too.  The blouses and textiles are hand woven for them.

bookshopsign_ajijicEl Perrito Sabio Librería/Bookstore.  On Colon across from the Plaza.  Modest selection in Spanish and English, run by a well-informed gentleman named Ricardo with two small dogs. The ONLY bookshop in town.


Leather.  Excellent handmade leather goods for unbelievably affordable prices at the tiny shop on the Carretera called Marcelino (Carr. Oriente #8). Marcelino himself sits there at his sewing machine and can make anything you ask for, be it coat, jacket, or bag.  We got these three items for under $70. leathergoods_ajijic_apr11


Taxi.  Plaza (766 0674) and Gasoliera (766 1663).  The two plus kilometers from the city center to our rental costs 50 pesos.

Chapala Buses.  You can catch them at stops along the Carretera and the drivers can make change for reasonable denominations.  The buses are always clean, have fairly comfortable seats, and are heavily used. You can catch a “Directo” from here to Guadalajara, for about $2.50/trip, and 45 minutes into Guadalajara’s old bus station.

Local.  7 or 8 pesos in the neighborhood of Chapala and Ajijic.  About 40 pesos to or from Guadalajara but takes nearly twice as long as the “Directo”, and stops at every possible “parada” along the way, so a 2-hour trip.

The Guadalajara Old Bus Central (Antigua Central Camionera, known locally as Central Viaje) is inconveniently located some distance from the city center, which means an 80 peso taxi ride into Centro Historico. The station is also pretty grotty.  We took a local back to Ajijic just to avoid having to wait an hour for the “Directo”.

Drivers.  They are easy to find by recommendation, but a bit pricey — 1,000 pesos (so $50) for a four hour trip to Tlaquepaque, the upscale craft neighborhood of Guadalajara.  Similar fares for drivers to Mazamitla, an architecturally interesting town about 1 1/2 hours from Ajijic on the other side of Lake Chapala, and slightly more to Teuchitlan (Guachimontones Pyramids) 2 1/2 hours away on the other side of Guadalajara.

Tour buses.  The big name in town is Charter Tours, Again, they seem kind of expensive — more than $100 U.S. for a day-long venture to the other side of Lake Chapala, and they require a certain number of people for the tour, so often cancel.

LCS buses.  The Lake Chapala Society sponsors inexpensive bus trips to favored destinations — Tonalá (handicrafts) and Tlaquepaque (artsy Guadalajara) about every three weeks, 350 pesos (450 pesos for non-members), depart 9:00 and return 5:00.

Golf cart rentals.  Because of the tortuous cobblestone streets and the steepness of the Upper Ajijic roads, many people rent golf carts to get up and down the hills.  Emiliano Zapata #52, corner of Encarnación Rosas, Upper Ajijic.  About 3,000 pesos per week.  Much reduced for longer rentals.

Autos.  Long time residents say it’s not as frightening as it looks, but it takes some getting used to.  Car rentals seem expensive because U.S. or Canadian insurance isn’t accepted here, so one has to purchase Mexican insurance.


We were taken to the Telcel shop on the town side of the Carretera west of Juan Alvarez.  Sim card and 1 gig plan for about 500 pesos.  It is vastly preferable to purchase a Sim card and plan for your U.S. mobile rather than incur international roaming rates.  Sandra, the proprietor of this Telcel shop, is easy to speak with and generally instructed her associate regarding our needs.

To call US and Canada 001+area code+phone no.  Local land line, 7 digits. Local cell, 333+7 digit number.  Mexico long distance land line, 01+3 digit area code+7 digit local number.  Mexico long distance cell, 045+3 digit area code+7 digit phone number (Mexico City has 8 digit phone numbers).


So many lovely birds!  Vermilion fly-catchers, kiskadees, lots of water birds. To my disappointment, LCS offers no bird watching groups, but we know they must exist here, because of this kind of video:

Dogs and horses.

The locals let their dogs bark and many allow them to run in the street.  They’ve never given me much notice, though the occasional dog confined to a porch will bark viciously. We find the attitude about dogs here the most dismaying aspect of Mexican small-town life.

There are horses all over the place here.  No horse carts or wagons though, only saddle horses, most often used for carrying five gallon water jugs.

If you know which street to walk down (hint: Encarnacion Rosas) on, you will often get to see a hen and some chicks foraging on the side of the street.


That about wraps up our practical info and George’s observations about life in Ajijic these past few weeks.  So after the chickens, we will end with two beautiful scenes right outside our door:

And a list of special characters to copy and paste:

À Â Ã Ä Å à á â ã ä å

Æ æ

Ç ç

È É Ê Ë è é ê ë

Ì Í Î Ï ì í î ï



Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö ò ó ô õ ö

Ø ø

Ù Ú Û Ü ù ú ü

Ý ý

Þ þ



Surfing : Idle Curiosity. Editing : Intruding?

17 Jun

[Another George post! –ee]

Today is June 17.  Chambers Book of Days mentions that the Roxburghe Club — the famously exclusive book collectors’ club — was founded on this day in 1812.  Curious about its publications — each member is expected to publish an antiquarian volume for their fellow 40 club members — I found a list of the club publications and a list of the club members at its website.  Among the current members are the fashionista Christopher Gibbs and Getty Images founder Mark Getty.   After a romp through Gibbs’ antic career as reported in Wikipedia, I checked Getty’s page there.  In neither instance does the Roxburghe get a mention.  Curious about Getty’s wife Domitilla Harding, I found her photo on Google Images accompanying a Daily Telegraph story about her support of the Lambton sisters’ effort to get some inheritance.  The story mentioned that the Lambton and Getty marriage ended in 2011.

A keen Wikipedia editor, I now wonder if I should edit Getty’s page to include mention of his Roxburghe membership.  It wouldn’t hurt but there’s not much room for it.  Should I also mention that his marriage ended?  I don’t think so — it seems intrusive.

Stuff for dinner

17 May

In the Sigmundsgasse kitchen in Vienna.


Dinner.  It’s lovely to eat, but the ratio of time is about 4 to 1 of preparation and table.  The pleasure needs to be in the kitchen.  What are we doing in the kitchen?  Fiddling with groceries on their way to the table.  So I’ll talk mostly about groceries here, since that’s what I like best.  So there!

We’ve been here fall, winter and spring.  Unlike our experience a couple of dozen years ago, the fruit has been various throughout the seasons — apples, oranges, bananas always pretty good, berries variable, melons very good, and the cost of all seasonal.  If you’d rather buy an avocado than a car, it’s yours. The same is true of veggies — zukes are somehow always good, lots of them coming from Africa in the winter, I guess.  The local spring greens of a surprising variety start to arrive in the south from February or March and northward from March and April.  The affordable winter lettuce must come from greenhouses.  Arugula hits the shelves like a spring rain.  Radicchio and endive are a bit expensive, but still worth it to my mind.

One of the Bosnian markets.

One of the Bosnian markets.

Let me get some order in this.  Salad, done.  Standard vegetables:  everything is like the U.S.  Frozen peas and beans are great.  Onions, potatoes, shallots (!), mushrooms (watch for forest-picked mushrooms usually from stands on the roadside), carrots, and cabbage are routine and good.  I may have mentioned the asparagus arriving in a flurry.  They’re really keen about produce as it comes to market through the season for good reason.

Because I can’t speak the language, I look for my meat in packages.  Our butcher in Lisbon, whose shop was literally on the ground floor of our apartment building,  insisted that he could speak enough English that we could get what we wanted.  It had never occurred to me that ground beef for hamburgers might be different from ground beef for meatballs. He had the best cheap wine too.



In the enormous Kaufland supermarket, East Berlin.

Similarly, the fish mongers were wonderful.  I was astonished watching a woman in a normal store cleaning whole squid.  Sorry to say, but I was too timid to venture beyond recognizable fish.  Once you get to a fish market here, you’ll understand what I mean by “normal” fish.  That said, I had a squid ink risotto that I know I could make if I could get the ingredients.

P1030680 (1)

”Our” wonderful fishmonger in Barcelona.









Sliced meats of a million sorts are usually sold in 100 gram portions.  The same goes for dips and olives and dozens of other treats.  Again,  look up the local phrase “one hundred grams” in Google Translate and point.  They will understand when you gesture for more.


Enter a caption

Bread is a fraught topic.  In fact, it’s not an issue.  Outside of the German-speaking countries the bread is mediocre.  We didn’t even find very good Italian bread in Trieste. You can pick from bins or cello-wrapped loaves if you want.  The women (truly, always women) behind the bakery counter will halve most loaves for you and often slice them, too.  It’s a matter of point and nod or ask for a bit of English.  I’ve never had an uncomfortable interaction, but I have sometimes ended up accepting what didn’t surprise me to be not quite what I’d hoped for.

Let me revise my assertion that only German-speaking bakers are any good.  We were in Greece on a special bread-making day (“a special bread-making day”? yeah, sure, why not?) that featured an incredible big thin loaf of white bread with lots of sesame seeds sprinkled on it that sustained us for days.  We found a loaf full of seeds and nuts at Veritas, an organic shop in Barcelona, so good that I mourned when we’d finished eating it.


In an Athens bakery on the special bread day. 

Wassa Brot crackers are usually available.  I love the British cracker Tucs,  but sadly it uses palm oil, so I shouldn’t eat them.

Sweets and baked goods are fantastic and dependent on their origin.  Honestly, although everyone says that they are traveling for high cultural experiences, they’re really in Europe to eat.  The reason to eat lunch and dinner late in Barcelona is to snack at 11 and 4.  Sure, visit the Temple of Hephaestos in Athens, so you can cross over for something in the cafes adjacent to the site.  I don’t mean some modest cookie; order a small plate of grilled sardines and a glass of wine or a couple of chicken and spinach filo pastries to tide you over until dinner several hours later.  The Viennese museums all have cafes.  My suggestion is that you are visually tired after an hour or so, but a snack can give you a second hour of viewing.  You can pretend to pretend to come to the cultural site for the coffee but really come for the coffee.

What else?

Our soups are usually based on chicken broth from inexpensive parts — backs and wings, boiled for a short while with onion and carrot, cooled, cleaned, the bones returned to the pot and the bits of flesh set aside and usually used in a chicken stew.

The electric mixing wand we bought in Barcelona has saved its cost three times a week making vegetable soups.

All up, as usual success is in the planning.  One bowl for salad and pasta?  Make the salad and move it to the salad plates.  One element boils, the others only warm?  Use the tea kettle to boil the water for the peas. And one time I ended up boiling eggs in the tea kettle!

Oh, here’s something.

What we traveled with (or here’s pretty strong evidence that my suggestions are not particularly sensible after all) as we went from one kitchen to another:

Small French press, bag of coffee, bag of black tea, some packets of herb tea, carton of goat’s milk, small cheese grater, head of garlic, bottle of olive oil, usually a chunk of pecarino cheese and a bit of butter (there’s a dangerous substance to carry around–I once had a pat of butter melt into my shirt pocket!), measuring spoons, packets of oregano, basil, whole black peppers and sugar, a lemon, a couple of empty plastic bags, and as snacks on the road a couple of mandarin oranges, some peanuts, some digestives biscuits (McVite’s were the favorite).

What we found at our destination apartments:

Dish soap, liquid bath soap, salt, pepper (not always), pasta (often), sugar, one beer and one wine (not always), coffee, tea, herb tea, tp (two rolls usually)

[EE:  this may be the last of George’s missives on fun in the kitchen in Europe! Laundry tips may follow!]

KP : Kitchen Patrol? Not really.

15 May

[George continues his recounting of life on the road and in the kitchen….ee]

Right now we’re staying in Hans and Edith’s Vienna apartment.  Its kitchen is spacious, well equipped, and, with a big window, well lit — a trifecta shared by only Evy’s Andros apartment once we gave it a microwave.  (Yes, yes, I know, they’re superfluous, but if you freeze much broth or drink your morning coffee slowly, a microwave comes in handy.  I wish I’d learn how to cook veggies in one.)


Stoves and ovens.

The local technology in each country has provided us with simple, usually flawed electric stove tops with pretty good ovens, and when our stars shine (in Vienna and Portugal), gas stoves.  I sent the following description of the weird elements on a see-through stove that was a bit worse than normal to the owners of our apartment in Barcelona:

I use a gas stove top, so the electrical stove top is a real  novelty for me.  I thought that a rheostat would make it possible to vary the heat of the elements.  Here they are either on or off, but serially and not very conveniently.  The stove has right and left top and right and left bottom elements.
At 1, in the 1st and 2nd minute, only the top right element works, it is bright red.
At 2, in the 1st minute, the top left element is hot, the top right element is bright red, in the 2nd minute the top right element alternates off and on.

At 3, in the 1st minute, the top left is bright red on but usually off, the top right element is usually on but sometimes alternating.  The lower left element is bright red.

At 4, the top left element is on and off bright red, the top right element is usually bright red but also sometimes off, the bottom left element is bright red for the first minute and on and off bright red for the second minute.
The lower right element never turned on.

In short, the clever cook will spend a few minutes in the first evening checking which elements can boil water and what settings will simmer.  Keep notes and plan your cooking accordingly.  If you’re not used to electric cooking, keep in mind that the element is brilliantly hot for a few moments, then off for a few moments.  Someone will make a fortune when they re-introduce the rheostat. [EE: As you can tell, we do not like electric cooking, and George always assumes that everyone else feels the same way, and that no one in America has had to deal with electric cooking!]


Most of the ovens have had convection fans, believe it or not.  I understand that there’s a terrific benefit, but I only ever made biscuits and roast chicken.

Our Meals.

Breakfast.  We traveled with a French press, coffee, and a mixing wand.     Several of our apartments had single-shot fancy coffee makers, but we never used them.  I can barely boil water before a cup of coffee, so the press worked perfectly.  One-cup filters would work well, too.  The filters are routinely available in the grocery stores.

My breakfast was usually coffee, soft-boiled eggs, and some version of toast.  Toasters are rare;  jaffa-makers don’t really work, but if you use only a bit of oil and butter, you can toast bread in a frying pan pretty well.  Eventually I got so I would tolerate plain bread.  Erika had coffee and sometimes a smoothie — goat or sheep yogurt, berries or pear, and banana (have I mentioned that I despise this perfect  fruit — portable, cheap, routinely available, tidy as, healthy, tasty if you don’t mind banana — that I had as a snack nearly daily for years).  Otherwise, she had muesli.

It takes some looking to find unsweetened juice, so we often just juiced our own oranges.  The goat or sheep’s milk products for Erika’s wonky stomach are usually in the better stores and easily found the farther south you travel.  Eggs sell half and full dozen, but you can get them singly at the markets — what a pleasure to take a small paper bag full of eggs home nestled amidst the lettuce and spinach!


Lunch.  When I could, I’d shop for both lunch and dinner in the morning.  We’d have a substantial lunch and a light dinner.  Often we were out and about starting at about 10:00 and would have lunch in a cafe or restaurant.  When we did, we generally shared a first course and a salad.

Dinner.  Served next Tues.  I need some photos of the markets.

From each according to his abilities…

12 May

(George has now written an entire tome of Helpful Hints for shopping, cooking, and cleaning in Europe. This will be the first of many installments, I’m sure.–ee)


Those of you who have followed this blog will know that Erika is in charge of museums, travel arrangements, accommodations, finances, community/police relations, photography, reportage, and the like.  That is all well and good, but I should point out that, in addition to eating lunch with her, my principal roles have been to carry heavy things and look after the kitchen.


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In Evy’s house on Andros Island.


Usually, the apartments you find on AirBnB or HomeAway (we need a generic term for these private services) have been meant for just-married couples, young people in the first jobs, aged grandparents, or as vacation homes.  That is to say, the kitchens will be rudimentary, but there will be plenty of cleaning products.  Tourists are supposed to eat in local restaurants.  Of course, the reason to book privately rather than take a room in a hotel is to cut prices.  I can cook a dinner of baked chicken thighs and legs, braised zucchini, rice with saffron, and a salad, with drinks for less than €10.  This would cost €60 at a restaurant.  Speaking honestly, we do not much like to be out in the evenings or for breakfast (less than €5 in, maybe €20 out).  When we were out and about, we ate lunch at restaurants.

Shopping:  “Excuse me, do you speak a little English?”

Shopkeepers have, without fail, been kind to me.  I have rarely known how much they should charge, and have often offered a palm full of change for them to pick out what I owed.

Once a woman in a market in Bosnia took a €2 piece for about 100 Marka’s worth of early spring pot herbs ($2 for $1 worth), but it was worth the price for the deadly look she got from the woman I had just spent €5 with for a good-sized bag of several veggies.

The open-air and central markets are the most fun.  Sometimes the stall-holders are unhappy if you help yourself, but accepting if you simply load handfuls of produce into your bag.  They simply don’t want you picking through or handling the fruit and veggies.


Boqueria Market, Barcelona.

The fish mongers will not allow you to pick up and hand them a fish.  They will clean, scale, and fillet what you buy.  More precisely, they will ask you questions you won’t understand.  When you say, “Yes,” they will do what is usually done with the fish in question.


Fish stall, Borough Market, London.


It saves a lot of anxiety if you allow the locals to do what they expect you to want done even if that turns a pork loin into pork stew meat or sends you home with a cut-up rather than whole chicken.  I was surprised several times to see how a butcher’s cut varied from my expectations.

Standing in line:  watch for local custom when queuing.  If I needed to speak to the stall-holder, I would aim for the end of the line.  It’s difficult to ask the woman selling you €8 worth of fish if she has some heads and bones for you to make fish broth with, but  I usually ended up with about a kilo of them for free.  (Barely cover with water and boil them with some onion, celery, and pepper corns for only about 30-45 minutes.)

People try to be accommodating.  Routinely, when I needed a little parsley, not a bouquet of it, the grocer would throw in  several sprigs for free.

Grocery stores.  Go ahead, Google the location of the local grocery store.  Oops, better figure out what the local term for market or grocery store is. In most places, we found supermarkets everywhere, usually German companies, but we did our best to find local shops as well.

To get a cart, you have to put a Euro into a little slot to release a small tongue of metal attached to a chain.  You get the Euro back when you plug the tongue back in.  A similar arrangement is at the lockers in museum cloak rooms.  The trick is to have a Euro available.

The layout in most supermarkets is not a challenge, but you’ll have no idea where anything is.



The enormous Kaufland supermarket in Berlin.


In many stores you are required to weigh and label your fresh veggies and fruit, and sometimes fresh bread, either identifying it by picture or number.  Again, with a little preparation (write down what Google Translate says is goat’s milk yogurt or baking powder and be ready to show it to the shelf stocker), some hand signals, and a lot of goodwill on everyone’s part, I was usually able to get what I wanted.  Of course bread crumbs are with bread, not with flour and baking; peanuts are with junk food.  By the way, the €1 box of red wine is much better than any bottle for less than €10.  Wine that’s more expensive than €10 is uncharted territory for me. Sorry, wine connoisseurs!



An exception to the admonition to routinely agree with what you’ve been asked comes at the check-out.  I’m pretty sure that the first question in the markets translates to “Do you have a store card?”(most supermarkets in Europe have fallen into the same lamentable promo systems as in the U.S.), followed by “Would you like to buy a carry bag?” (you are expected to bring your own, but can purchase bags, both plastic and paper, in most shops), and “Do you need your parking voucher stamped?”  A vague smile and a gentle “No thanks” conveys that you are mentally incompetent but not a threat.  Try to give the smallest bill you can and change if possible.  There is usually a little tray where you can dump a pocket-full of coins to let them pick out what they need.

So ends my first installment….

Baedeker’s, 1900, Natural History Museum

19 Dec

[George’s take on the wonders of the Naturhistorisches Museum. He was the keeper of Baedeker’s, so he really had fun comparing the rooms then and now]

As I mentioned earlier, we came to Austria with a 1900 edition of Baedeker’s and have had no end of fun checking to see what remains a century later.

The other posts, slightly out of order from Baedeker’s, are

Train Stations and Tramways

Hotels and Baths

Wines, Restaurants, and Confectioners

Theaters, Concerts, and Music in Churches

Natural History Museum

Once we start talking about institutions of real learning, of course Erika has beaten me to the punch with an elegant and readable blog entry: Naturhistorisches Museum

Following on in my plodding approach, here’s the room by room summary of continuities and changes.

Natural History Museum


Room I.  “Large rock crystals … At the middle window is a group of stalactites from the Adelsberg Grotto.”  Yep.  But the stalactites might have been moved 20 feet from a central window to one nearer the door.

Nathist minerals


Room II.  The diamonds have been moved to more secure lodgings in room IV.


Room III.  Maria Theresia’s crystaline bouquet and the opal have been moved similarly to room IV.

NatHist crystal


Room IV.  Building materials of Vienna, much enlarged are now in room I.  Itś hard to convey how cool a series of rectangular, polished stones can be.   These carefully identify where on which building in Vienna these types of stone are used and where they were mined.

Secure cases are along the far wall.

NatuHist Bldg


Room V.  Meteorites.  Yes, lots of them in interesting variety.

Room VI.  Portraits and a display of coal-forming plants are gone, replaced by a variety of educational displays.

Room VII.  The limestone erosion is now in Room VI.  Now the room houses early fossils.

Room VIII.  The fossil water lilies and pterodactyls are still here.

NatHist lilies


Room IX.  No skeleton of a goat by the door, but fossils galore.

Room X.  No skeletons of bears and lions, but dinosaurs and the like and a huge turtle.

Room XI.  Prehistoric relics.  Yep, including the famous Venus.

NatHist Venus


Room XII.  Prehistoric tombs and relics.  Now some graves and also some salt mines and the like.

Room XIII.  Iron Age implements and Celtic evidence.  Yep.

Erika found the stuffed birds in XIX – XVI too depressing to venture on to the second floor where  taxidermist’s art is applied to increasingly complex animals.  Why a mouse is more complex than an octopus, I can’t imagine.  Suffice it to say that the maps in Baedeker’s and from the Museum match pretty well, as one would expect.

As Simon Winder writes in Germania, the Naturhistorisches Museum is one of the miraculous survivors of the destruction of Europe in the 20th century, and remains ”one of the great repositories of pre-1914 learning.” And lots of fun!