Saturday, June 29, 2013

In the Harz Mountains

Way back in October of 2009, Mike and I were informed that all of the orchestra and choir students of the Waldorfschule take a weekend trip for sessions of intense music rehearsals each spring.  The trip seemed like an event far, far into the future, but that weekend snuck up on us as soon as we returned from our travels in the south and the conference in Kassel.

At the beginning of the year, Petra, the head of the school board, and Katya, one of our music colleagues, had picked a little village in the Harz Mountains called Wernigerode as the location of the Orchester-und-chorfahrt.  It being only an hour and a half drive from Wolfsburg, Petra kindly offered to take us on a day trip out there a few days before we were there with kids so that we could better plan our stay.

Many of the old historic buildings still stand today.  Walking through the village center, descriptors of the village such as "quaint", "picturesque", and "toy-town" come to mind.

The beautiful well in the town center seems to be a cool hang out spot for young boys, as well as a good place to go diving for change.

One of the highlights of the day trip was visiting Cafe Wien, a lovely little place to get coffee and baked goods. 

The cafe's building dates back to the 1500's and has gorgeous stain glass windows and a wonderfully decorated exterior.  

Originally the home of a merchant, the interior is surprisingly spacious.  The downstairs resembles more of a normal cafe, though as you progress further inside, the more it feels like a high-class place to take your afternoon tea.  We took our coffee and delicious cakes upstairs where you could overlook the giant chandelier that hangs over the grand stairway, appreciate the delicately wallpapered dining area, and feel completely transported from the modern world.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of the village is the castle that sits high above the rest of the village.

Originally a medieval fortress, it was rebuilt and renovated again and again due to damage from the European wars and changes in residency.  Now the castle draws hundreds of tourists who go to see the preserved living rooms and bedrooms of European higher nobility, the architecture of the fortification, shop, and stay the night in the apartments rented especially during Walpurgis.  This festival that occurs around May Day,

is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Brocken and await the arrival of spring.

The Orchester-und-chorfahrt, henceforth known as the retreat, began the first day back from spring break, the first Tuesday of April.  We returned five days later having put in over forty hours of rehearsal with our kids.  By the end of the weekend, many of my kids had lost their voices, unaccustomed to singing so much!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Midwestern Road Trip: Michigan

June was not the only month of travel for the Tamander household.  The international part of the Blue Lake International tour wrapped up after the first week of July, but there was still the mini-tour in Michigan itself.  The mini-tour is a chance for the band to bring their concert to one of the students' hometowns as well as back to the camp.

Arrangements had been made long ago that Mike and I would drive to the first destination in Michigan (with a pit stop in Chicago), stay in a hotel for the two days of the tour there, drive to Blue Lake on the other side of Michigan, meet up with the Herths who decided a year ago to take their family vacation in Michigan during the mini-tour, finish up the tour duties, and spend a few days with the Herths and Zeislers before heading back toward home.

We left Tuesday afternoon.  Except for a bit of heavy rain leaving St. Paul, the drive went very smoothly.

We stopped for a little snack in Wisconsin.

We reached Chicago around 8 pm, thankfully missing the heavy after-work traffic.  Our friends Sutina and Will graciously let us stay in their apartment in the city for the night.  It already being so late and we needing to leave rather early in the morning, we were only able to visit for a very short time.  The four of us would spend more time together on the return trip.

The remaining five-hour drive to Tecumseh, Michigan the next day was monotonous (Indiana, you know), but went by quickly.  Tecumseh is a small town in the south-eastern corner of the state with an Arts Center that could host the Blue Lake International Northern Winds Band.  As soon as everyone and everything (percussion equipment and such) arrived, Dennis ran the group through a short rehearsal.  It was also a trial-run of the concert program for me, as I had to fill in for the parts of the German percussionist who was not flying out to Michigan for the mini-tour. 

Afterwards, we took a walking tour of the city before heading off in our separate ways:  the kids to their host families, us to our hotel, and the Zeislers to their son's home in Ypsilanti.

A couple of the boys in the band left Mike a nice note.

One of the host families held a barbeque at their home for the campers and counselors, but other than that, our next obligation with the campers was not until the next evening to play the concert for the community.  Mike and I had to entertain ourselves in small-town Michigan!

Our hotel was in Dundee, a village about 20 minutes east of Tecumseh.  Fortunately, there were a few things to check out in the area:  a Cabela's store, an outpost of St. Julian Winery, and a Russell Stover store.  We especially enjoyed the wine tasting at St. Julian's.  The people there were very friendly and helpful and we bought a few things to enjoy back at home.

For dinner, we stopped at the local Big Boy restaurant to pay homage to our friend Kurt.

The concert that evening went fine.  In the percussion section, I made fewer mistakes than I had at the rehearsal the previous day.  The last thing everyone did before heading off was load the truck so that all of the equipment could be brought back to Blue Lake for the final concert.  The truck is normally driven by Mike, but because he drove to the tour this year, the responsibility had been passed onto one of the other counselors.  Unfortunately, when the camp rented the truck for the Northern Winds, they were given an unusually large one.  So large that the original counselor driving it might have had an incident involving a fence and some handicap signs when backing out of camp to go to Tecumseh.  And said counselor decided not to drive the truck any more.

As a result, Mike (who was originally supposed to ride on the bus with the kids while I followed in our car) got to drive one of these to the other side of Michigan.  And, no, a 22-foot long truck is not necessary to haul percussion equipment.  It was hardly 1/4 full with everything packed away.

It did mean, however, that Mike and I could leave before the rest of the Northern Winds group the next morning.  It worked out quite well because we could then check into our hotel in Muskegon, Michigan (about 20 minutes away) and unload our things before the final portion of the tour.

One of Mike's responsibilities after each international tour is to run the buses into camp upon their arrival carrying flags.  When the campers were getting close, we headed back to Blue Lake where I dropped Mike off with other counselors at the end of the long drive.  Because of some confusion with two different groups arriving at camp at the same time, Mike actually got to run twice (actually 1.5 times because they only went back half-way for the second time).  It was a lengthy distance!  But the Northern Winds kids enjoyed and appreciated it.

Hannah and Mike a bit winded after so much running.

 Once the kids unloaded the bus, everyone headed to the outdoor performance shell and got set-up for the final concert of the tour (this involved Mike driving the giant truck through narrow, winding paths and backing up the truck down a dirt hill without running over campers, counselors, wooden posts, and buildings).  We had a short rehearsal (even fewer mistakes the third time around for me!) and then the kids had dinner while Dennis and I drove out to the RV Camp Grounds where the Herths were staying to pick them up for the evening concert. 

After the concert (which went quite well), everyone said their goodbyes, packed up their things, and the kids headed home with their families.  The Herths, Zeislers, Kayla (another counselor), Mike, and I had a nice dinner together before we went our separate ways.  Kayla headed home (near Chicago), but the rest of us had plans to spend the next couple of days together.

Most of Saturday was spent at the Blue Lake camp grounds.  Annette, having hosted Blue Lake groups three times now, was very interested in the facilities.  I also had never been to the camp grounds where Mike had spent so many of his summers.

The camp is huge.  Even after walking all day, we had only covered half of the camp's area.  Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp models itself after a camp philosophy of sheltering young people from the outside world so that they can concentrate on their areas of study in a natural setting that encourages creativity.  My favorite sight around was various instrument cases stored all around camp at the base of trees.

One of the most impressive sites we visited at the camp was The Rose Theater, a newly built theater built in the style of Shakespeare's Globe.

The Rose from the outside.

View of the stage from the lower lever seating.

 Benjamin and Carol put on quite a show for Jo, Dennis, Mike, and me.  First, there was Romeo and Juliet.

 A nail-biting sword fight.

An important announcement!

The king has arrived!  Or is it really the court jester?

 Buccaneer Benjamin makes Carol walk the plank.

 An action-packed fight scene between Batman and Carol!

And they take their bows.

After touring Blue Lake, we had a little time to rest before having a very nice dinner at a place called Hearthstone in Muskegon.  We sat at a table that circled a fireplace (fortunately not turned on that night -- Michigan got all of Minnesota's extremely hot and humid weather) and had locally caught fish for our meal.  It was a lovely evening.

We checked out of our hotel on Sunday and met up with The Zeislers and Herths in a nearby harbor town called Grand Haven, Michigan.  Our group spent the morning walking the boardwalk towards the lighthouse where the Grand River meets Lake Michigan.  When we hit the beach, Mike and Benjamin went for a swim while the rest of us enjoyed the sunshine.  It was a peaceful way to spend our last day together.

Mike helped Benjamin ring one of the many bells along the boardwalk.

After having a last meal together and saying our goodbyes, Mike and I took off for the last leg of our journey:  westward bound towards Chicago!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A 15 Course Celebration

In early June we decided to go out for dinner to celebrate Mike signing his second contract at Minnetonka and my getting a full-time position in Maple Grove.  Feeling adventurous, we decided to head up to Robbinsdale and see what Travail Kitchen and Amusements would have in store for us this time around. 

Though we were mentally prepared for being very patient, we were fortunate enough to have absolutely no wait time to be seated having decided to take our seats at the counter looking into the kitchen.  We had an unobscured view of the chefs working and could wonder at their ingredients.

Like the last time, we opted to go with their ten course tasting menu for two.  Their menu is always changing, so we knew there would be plenty of surprises. 

To start, we ordered some prosecco.  It was a celebration after all.

Dinner started with an amuse of white cheddar soup.

Then course number one came:  Beet salad with compressed strawberry.  A variation of our salad from our last dinner and still very delicious.

For course number two we had sugar snap pea agnolotti with crème fraiche, preserved lemon, and carrot on the side.  (Some courses, like the one above, came as one plate to share.  Others, like this and the amuses, came with two individual portions.)

The next dish was a very curious sounding creation:  beef tartare pizza.  It included olives, sweet onions, and arugula amongst other ingredients.  Not necessarily a favorite (the tartare was good, but the crust of the pizza too crispy), but definitely interesting.

Following the pizza came another amuse:  Date and speck relish with sweet potato chip.  Mike was a fan; I, not so much.

Course number four brought amazingly tender octopus to our plates again.  This time our dish was siracha and honey glazed octopus with compressed apple, and Shashiko (twisted) pepper with pickled radish and horseradish puree.

Here is an up-close shot of our yummy friends.

Even the little guy wanted some apple.

Soup at Travail is absolutely amazing.  Our next course consisted of orange, cherry, and pumpkin seed with cauliflower soup. 

Now at course six, we had agnolotti filled with goat cheese with charred cauliflower, capers, olives, pine nuts, tomato broth, and garlic aioli turned into foam.  Both agnolotti were top contenders for my favorite.

Another amuse:  pickled green bean with Pachillo pepper.  Heavy on the pickled.

Mike called course number seven a homage to Top Chef:   pea puree, oyster mushrooms, brussel sprouts, risotto, and scallops.  Three of those components had been the cause of major drama on our beloved show.  

At this point, we already felt satiated.  But the meat courses were still on their way!  The eighth course:  chicken presse with sausage in the middle, zuchini, fried polenta, caper jelee, pickled okra, and lemon.

Thoroughly stuffed at this point, we pressed onward to our next course:  kielbasa with butter whipped potatoes, fried potato skins, leek puree, caramelized onions, and a soft poached egg fried.  This reinterpretation of breakfast was one of Mike's favortie dishes of the evening.

The egg that had been first soft poached and then fried was pretty awesome and impressive.

Mike is enjoying this late breakfast.

We didn't know if we could eat any more.  Full beyond belief, we prepared ourselves for the tenth course:  roasted beef cheek with baby bok choy, ramps, parsnip puree, and Raclette cheese ravioli.

We had decided many courses earlier that we were going to forgo the the dessert sampler.  There simply was not enough room in our bellies.  Perhaps because it was the beginning of the week or maybe they just had extra, the staff decided to treat us to dessert anyway.

Dessert number one (yes, there was more than one):  brownie, lemon bar, and green apple Dippin' Dots with orange broth.

The "Dippin' Dots" were in the shooter glasses with the orange broth.  We took those first.

I have to admit that the second dessert was quite heavenly, even if I could barely squeeze in any more food.  I know I have a weakness for lemon/lime desserts, but doesn't lemon tart with blackberries, blackberry puree, sugar cookie crumble with shattered lemon ice, and lemon segments sound amazing?

Including the three amuse bouche and two desserts, we had fifteen courses to digest.  Some of the dishes were forgettable, but others were wonderfully whimsy and delicious.  We had a great time dining at Travail and were able to make our way home overwhelmingly full and satisfied with our trip.