29 November 2012

Anchors Aweigh!

Yep.  The rumors are true.  Somehow I was convinced to go back out on a big boat for an extended vacation with my family AGAIN.  Back in 2008, we did a 7 day cruise out of Galveston with the family (parents, brothers, wives).  It was our first cruise and an exciting/interesting trip.  The itinerary was to sail from Galveston through the Caribbean to three ports (Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel).  Was a nice trip but after about 5 days of togetherness with the family on the boat we were getting a bit stir crazy.  The wife and I decided it was nice, but we felt 5 days was probably our limit and we didn't really see this as a regular trek for us (my parents and oldest brother are regular cruise veterans).  This past summer, my brother got the urge to take a 10 day cruise to the Panama Canal for their anniversary and they talked my parents into going.  Initially, they tried to convince us to go, but I declined because I we couldn't swing an extended trip away from home for that long and I wasn't sure I could be on a boat with my siblings without some serious counselling.  They convinced my middle brother who lives in Seattle to come out of his yurt and make the trip and eventually they guilted us into going (could be my 89 year old parent's last cruise).  Momma was not as keen on making the trip, given the logistics, so I applied my silver tongue and sweet talked her into the trip.  I felt this was the one and only time we would be able to see the Canal so we should "climb on board".

So, after making all the preparations and packing way too much and dumping the dogs off at doggy day camp (where I discovered a really great BBQ place), we finally headed out for the airport at zero thirty for the 1st leg of our excursion.  Since momma is a very nervous flyer, I cashed in a few of my frequent flier miles I acquired from my travels and bumped our tickets to 1st class to make the flight a bit easier.  Good flight, a bit hectic getting the bags from the airport to the boat, but we finally made it on board.       

For the next 10 days, we made our home aboard the MS Zuiderdam for a jaunt through the colorful Caribbean with various ports of call along the way.  Lots of sun, lots of food, lots of drink, lots of pictures.  I am culling through the roughly 2400 pictures I took (not counting the ones taken by my brothers/dad) and plan to post up some of our adventures.    

MS Zuiderdam
My office for the next 10 days
Bye-bye Florida
Party on the Lido deck
Casual dress day

27 November 2012

Of all the cars I've known (epilog)

Work in Process

Yea, I've had a few cars over the years.  Some good, some bad.  Some work horses, some explorers.  Some new, some used.  I still have a few wheels on my "wish list" that I would love to drive, given the time and resources to own such a ride.  My brother has been into antique cars for quite some time and somewhere along the line, he sucked me into that world.  He has owned several classics over the years.  At one point, he owned a '57 Mercedes and a 36 Ford Pickup truck.  Today he is down to only 4 antiques (not counting the 1950 Airstream aka "Ole Bob"): a 1932 Model A, a 1936 Ford Cabriolet, a 1939 Ford Deluxe Sedan, a 1951 Ford Business Coupe.  The Model A, the Sedan and the Coupe are currently drivers, the Cabriolet is still in restoration, but it is "pushable".  After doing a number of swap meets and car runs with him, I was always on the look out for something of my own to play with/restore/drive.   

1968 Mustang GT Convertible (Maria) - my project car.  289 ci, 4 speed, 4 barrel carb with a GT  package.  Picked it up from a kid in Highlands, Texas and there is a story behind the deal.  Basically, I was just looking for a project car and have always had a thing for Mustangs for some time.  One weekend, I spotted an ad in the local paper and casually mentioned it to my brother and he convinced me we should run out to take a look at it.  We drove out to look at a car east of Houston and found this deal steal sitting in a guy’s side yard.  Of course, it had a story to it (was his mother's car but she died a few years ago, he was 18, bumming around town on various jobs and living with his sister and their grandmother and had decided to sell the car to trade school).  I drove it a while and decided I had to have it.  I wrote him a check on the spot (two other guys were already on their way out to look at it and drove it home that morning.  She ran ok, but needed some serious maintenance (only one brake worked going home).  I replaced all of the brakes, rebuilt the carburetor  replaced the leaking gas tank, new wheels and; tires (OEM rims) - got rid of the over sized tires.  I've had it a while but right now she is just sitting in my garage waiting for me to dedicate some time to her for repair.  I intend to make her a driver, but not a serious show car.  I need to rebuild the carburetor (tends to gum up if you don’t drive it often).  One tire is flat, the battery is dead, and I need to change the oil.  I am planning to spend some time with her over the holidays to see if I can coax her to back to life.  She is a good old car that just needs some serious TLC and attention.  I have no intentions of getting rid of her, just need to find the time and energy (and motivation) to get back to work on her.  

Just great

Well, isn’t that just special?    I’ve been scouring my photo albums for pictures of the old cars, but, so far I’ve only found a few of the Toyota truck and the Volvo (we really need to organize our old photos).  So, in the interest of keeping things moving, I was just going to move on with the final post about my project car, the key word being:  “was”.  The post is already written and ready to fly but when I tried to attach a picture or two of Maria, I am got a warning from e-blogger that I am “over my limit” for file sizes.  It seems that, from all the pictures I’ve been posting over the past 4+ years, I have kinda maxed out my account.  Not wanting to delete any of the old shots, I’ll need to pony up a few $$ in order for me to upload any pictures of my project.  Of course, being Mr. Tightwad, that just chaps my a$$, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  Besides, I have a boatload of pictures from our 10 day journey that I need to share.   

Speaking of that journey, ShadowRun300 and Terri both guessed at the right destinations, just not the mode of transport.  We just got back from a 10 day cruise to the Panama Canal.  Got to tour a good portion of the Caribbean with stops at various islands or tourist sport.  I’ll post a trip report after I finish up the car tales.  Basically, it was 10 days of eating, drinking, gambling, site seeing, eating, reading, sitting out by the pool, drinking, buying souvenir crap, and eating.        

22 November 2012

Go stuff it

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're slowly getting back to some sense of normal.  Being away from home for a weekend usually puts me a week behind.  Out little vacation was over 10 days and our schedule is completely blown right now.  We have not prepped for any Thanksgiving feast as we normally do each year, but we are planning to break bread with the newlyweds and their parents.  It's the first year of marriage and the first round of "whose house to we spend the holidays at?".  Still, we are immensely thankful for all of the blessings we have.   

For those gorging themselves on turkey and dressing and gearing up for Black Friday, I hope everyone has a great AND safe holiday.  Remember to eat sensibly, exercise and shop wisely.  And if you cannot do any of that, at least have fun!  And take a moment to remember those who cannot be home with families to celebrate the season.  My prayers and thanks go out to all the men and women serving overseas.    

Will hopefully have pictures of the cars up by tomorrow.  

As for the vacation quiz, I think I am being too cryptic.  SR300 got close.  A few more things we did/buy/saw last week:
  • Sampled more local brews (Balboa)
  • Spent 10 days with my 89 year old parents and my two older brothers and their wives (no fisticuffs, we are still talking to each other)
  • Got to tour an incredible engineering marvel
  • Bought a new hat 
  • Smoked a Cohiba 
  • Played several rounds of Mexican Train
And FWIW, I have been participating in the Movember challenge.  Normally, when I go on vacation, I tend to "go scruffy" but usually shave it off when I go back to work.  Shadowrun300 and Abby and RC inspired me to keep the facial hair to see how it looks.  Although each time I let it go, a bit more grey tends to show up.  22 days and growing...

Day 17

20 November 2012


First, let me apologize for the untimely delay in finishing my car tales.  I had fully intended to post the final story over the weekend but I got to looking at these after they were posted and felt I owed ya’ll some pictures.  Back when I originally thought up this meme, I had gathered pictures to go along with each vehicle.  Lord knows I take enough pictures, so I do have a few around the home, but they are all old school Kodak prints and I have to scan them into my computer.  I had done that earlier but when I got my computer virus earlier, all my pictures went MIA.  Not gone, just MIA.  Somehow the registry on the computer has been corrupted and, while the pictures are in the computer somewhere, I cannot access them.  So, I am going to resurrect the photos and post up pictures of each conveyance by this weekend.  Then I will wrap up my final/current car saga (Maria).

In the interim, some of ya’ll might have noticed that I've been absent from the net for a while.  I haven’t posted any witty replies or smart-a%% comments on anyone’s blogs for almost two weeks.  No, I haven’t been abducted by aliens.  No I wasn't in jail.  No, I am not ignoring you guys.  And, No, Comcast didn't drop my access again (except for last night when I couldn't get on at all).  Now let me pause right now and say to Mr. Comcast Customer Satisfaction guy - if you are trolling the net for negative comments regarding Comcast service and how I am not having an "optimum experience", save your sympathies, my friend.  My needs are simple - all I want is my ?#$@%^% internet to work when I come home.  Kapish?  Otherwise I miss out on Meleah’ s Sandy saga or ShadowRun300’s latest baking tease, or Abby’s sketches, or RC's Movember report or Terri's birthday.  Missing all of those makes me more than a bit testy.  

Now, where was I?  Oh, yea, not being on the net.  I have to admit I've been out of town for a few days.  We finally left town on our big vacation and just got back in town yesterday afternoon.  I hadn't posted my plans in advance because I still get paranoid someone will come over to the house and steal all my beer mugs.  Momma and I were off the grid for an extended vacation that I have mentioned in the past.  That trip will be fodder for my next few postings and I promise you some very interesting sites/stories and beau-coup pictures.  Now, I have dropped a few meager hints on our destinations but never really revealed where we were going.  

Here a few clues:

  • A place we have never been to
  • We traveled by car, plane, bus, boat, trolley, tram, and foot
  • Ate way too much food (lobster, eggs Benedict, 
  • Lost money 
  • Took hundreds of pictures
  • Paid way too much for junk (souvenirs)
  • Drank several new beers (Balashi, Polar, Leffe)  
  • Attended a comedy/magic show
  • Stepped on a pop top (actually a fork)
  • Uniform of the day throughout the trip was Hawaiian shirt and shorts 

Any ideas on where we went?

BTW - Happy Belated Birthday Terri!

14 November 2012

Of all the cars I've known (IV)

Houston, at last

1993 Toyota Camry LE (Momma’s car) - 4 door automatic.  After the Volvo started having long term problems, we traded it in on a new 93 Camry (Best Buy in Consumer’s Report).  Great compact car that was about the same size as the Volvo with better handling and pick up.  The Volvo was a great car, but not really designed for south Texas summers.  It really did not handle some of the mid July days when temps topped out over 98 degrees.  The Camry handles nicely and gets great gas mileage.  I wound up giving it to my son as a college car and he is taking decent care of it while in college.  Every time junior comes home from college and heads off to his summer internship in Seattle/San Jose, I get the car back for the summer.  I tend to use it during the summer to commute to/from work because of the gas mileage and saving wear and tear on the land barge.  Besides, I take the opportunity to work over the car (oil change, inspection, tires, brakes) so it is in good shape when he heads off to college again in the fall.  Even though it is highly reliable, it is over 19 years old and has somewhere shy of 182,000 miles on her.  I've talked with my son about looking to trade her in for something newer (like made in this decade) but, as he is a newlywed and just out of college, he is not interested in going into debt and is happy with her.  Smart kid.   

1998 Cadillac Deville D’Elegance (The Pimpmobile) - a deal from my uncle/dad.  Great car, just not my style.  My uncle has always leased his cars since the 80’s.  He tends to get the top of the line cars/minivans.  At the end of the lease, he will offer it up to anyone in the family if you are willing to pony up the residual cost.  Typically, you get a low mileage car that is in pristine condition and has never left the city limits of Dallas/Fort Worth.  My dad bought this 98 and drove it for a few years before Cadillac #2 came available and my dad sold me this car for next to nothing.  We were starting to look for another set of wheels so I could give the Camry to my son for college and the timing was right.  It is a big, Detroit Cadillac with all of the bells & whistles.  All leather, Northstar engine, gold trimmed - way more than we are used to and a bit fancier that I would normally drive.  That said, the thing is a sweet ride.  With a Northstar engine and relatively lightweight frame, the car has some serious kick-a%% horsepower.  When I am cruising down the beltway and have to pass someone, I tap the gas and she takes off like a rocket.  I would label this car as a true highway vehicle.  It is not good on gas mileage in town but on the interstate, it glides along the highway.  Almost like driving a road sofa.  The few downsides of the car is that 1) it looks like something that a little old retired lady would drive (ergo momma is not altogether happy with it) and 2) any repairs require a massive investment into GM stock.  The alternator went out on it two years back and, while I consider myself a amateur mechanic, that turbo charged, transverse mounted, Northstar engine was way beyond my skills.  That little job cost me the high side of $700.  Unless you have your own shop or you are dating a mechanic, you might consider more affordable transportation.  Even though she is the youngest on in the fleet and is currently sporting around 98,600 miles, we will probably look to trade her before she caps 100k for something a bit newer. 

2000 Ford Expedition (The LandBarge) - almost a school bus, just not as tall.  Bought the beast to be able to haul kids in and tow my trailer.  Is a great hauling SUV with plenty of room, but crappy gas mileage.  It is powerful enough to pull out a stump, but rides nicely (for a truck).  I still drive it every day, although I would prefer something a bit more gas friendly.  Currently hovering around 185k mileage, but I am hoping to eek out another few years.  Depends on how well I treat her.    

We pondering getting rid of the pimpmobile and getting something "newer" with some room and with better gas mileage.  Not sure who will drive this one as my daily commute tends to add up on mileage.  

And, for the last round - Next:  Work in Progress

12 November 2012

Of all the cars I've known (III)

Dallas (aka north Texas)

1985 Toyota Pickup Xtra Cab (Sparky) - 2 door, xtra cab 2wd pickup with standard transmission and a camper top.  2.4 liter, xtra cab with about 6 inches of extra space behind the seats for gear, tools, one young kid (he only did that once).  Early on, we found we needed a 2nd set of wheels to commute to work and work on our new house.  A great little truck that I literally ran into the ground.  I took her all over Texas on trips to swap meets, campouts, fishing, hunting, gardening, fence-building, etc.  This truck that got great mileage and was small enough to get into a lot of places.  Replaced tires on her many times, did my own transmission and clutch work, radiator, timing chain, brakes (multiple times), plugs, points, and even learned how to rebuild a carburetor on her.  I maxed out the towing capacity of her by towing a 1932 Model A out from Oklahoma City to Dallas on a flatbed trailer.  On one occasion, I put her in a vertical launch mode (tailgate in the ditch, headlights pointing skyward) by sliding off a muddy trail on the backside of our hunting lease.  The truck was so light that I had several guys I was hunting with simply pick up the rear end and slide her back on the road.  She even went head to head with a full grown Bramha bull on the top of an earthen dam on that same lease and won!  At times, I slept in her, hauled crap in her, got sick in her.  After 15 years and 325,000 hard miles, I reluctantly had to trade her in for a truck with a bit more towing capacity.  When you plan to haul a 25 foot Airstream trailer, Sparky was just not up to the challenge. 

Next:  Houston 

10 November 2012

Of all the cars I've known (part duex)

The Army years

1972 VW Super Beetle (Larry, the Stink bug) - After I moved to Germany, I started looking for a set of wheels.  Since I could not afford a new rig on a LT’s salary and we had never bought a new car, I wound up buying a used ‘72 Super Beetle from a warrant officer right after we moved into the housing unit in Germany.  Was a nice bug, but was totally German and had no English instructions.  I never did figure out how to make the defroster work.  After about 6 months, the engine started missing and only got worse.  Not being an expert with them German built, air cooled engines, I tried to diagnose and fix it myself with little success.  Wound up tearing down the engine in the parking lot outside of our apartment complex but could not get it to work.  Had to borrow a buddy’s ‘72 Camaro to go to Frankfurt to pick up my bride (cool car to cruise the autobahn).  I cranked it up around 120 mph (had permission) on the autobahn and still got passed by a couple of Porsches and a BMW.  Finally gave up on the bug and sold it to a more mechanically inclined troop for ½ of what I paid for it.  Pissed me off that the neighbor knew it was a POS and didn’t tell me beforehand.      

1980 Dodge Omni (Ugly) - our first car on our own.  Bought this one through the PX in Germany.  Was looking for a Toyota or perhaps a cheap used car, when the Dodge dealership suckered me into this classic POS (I used to favor Plymouth/Chryslers based upon my experience with the Furys).  2 door hatchback with a moonroof (leaked) and yellow & black paint pattern.  I shoulda seen this disaster coming when, within 6 weeks of buying her, the battery blew up in the engine compartment spraying battery acid all over the inside.  I had that think in for service/warranty work several times in the short 2 years I owned her.  I think, after a year, we decided it wasn’t going to get any better and we cut our losses and I sold it to one of my sergeants.  I really did not want to stick it with him but his wife drove it and she fell in love with it and would not take no for an answer.   I sold it to them (young couple with 2 kids) with my own comments/cautions.  He never did pay me the remaining $400 for the car and I had heard a rumor it caught fire in the PC parking lot one day, so I did not feel right about trying to get the remaining money.  Up to this point, I used to be a Dodge/Plymouth guy, but after dealing with this turd, I decided to go in a different direction.   

1982 Volvo 244 GL (Blue) - our first REAL car (ok, I’m declaring a mulligan on the Omni).   A metallic blue 4 door GL with a sunroof.  It had those big 80’s 5 mile-an-hour bumpers that would take a direct hit from a tank without suffering any damage.  I bought this directly from an off-post dealer that specialized in European cars (BMW, Porsche, Volvo, Saab).  We test drove a BMW 321 and a Mercedes 240D, but liked the handling of the Volvo.  Besides, I was told that Mercedes had a 6 month waiting list.  We ordered our car directly from the factory in Gotenburg, Sweden and made plans to go to the factory to pick it up.  Note:  IF you ever have a chance to do this trek, DO IT.  It was a fantastic trip.  We took a cross country train to Bremen and then a overnight ferry across the north sea to Sweden.  The guys from the factory picked us up and the dock and took us to the factory to introduce us to our car.  The whole experience is first class and you get to tour the factory and see how your car was built.  The end of the day, we signed for our car and drove back to the ferry to head back to Germany.  For the next 8 days, we drove all over northern Germany/Belgium touring the wine country, hitting a few castles and breaking our new car in.  One of the BEST vacations ever!  We drove the Volvo for several years all over Germany & France before we finally shipped her back to the states.  Took 6 weeks, but I picked her up in the port of Houston and was driving her all around Texas.  Was a good car for a young family, but it was not the best for the Texas summers.  During the summer, when it was brutally hot down here, it took a while for a/c to the car to cool off.  Had 135,000 miles on her before she started showing any real problems.  Being an engineer, I loved to work on her.  I did the brakes, oil changes, plugs, radiator, windows, water pump, timing belt.  This car was designed & build by engineers.  Everything comes apart in a sequence and, if you deviate from the sequence, it won’t work.  After 11 years, two continents, and 140,000 well worn miles, I reluctantly traded her in for 1993 Camry.  

Time for a second second car.  Next round:  the Dallas Years  

08 November 2012

Of all the cars I've known

Of all the cars I’ve loved before…

The Beverly Hillbillies.jpg

An old blogger friend used to post up lists of top ten cars of various notoriety or interest (funniest cards, muscle cars, first cars, etc) that would bring back memories.  While reading about Abby's latest Clampett saga, it reminded me of another looming repair on the pimp mobile.  Pondering the possibility of adding a new chariot to the fleet, I looked back over all of the wheels I’ve ever owed/driven/wrecked since I first got my license.  These are ones that I personally owned and drove - not the ones my parents let me drive (or wreck). To give some perspective of time, I broke it up into certain stages of my life.

High School
1975 Kawasaki KV 100a chainsaw on wheels.  An enduro style dirt bike that could go on and off road.  This was my first set of wheels when I got my license and I was in high school. This was my early attempt at two wheelers when I had a burning desire to ride the open road on something bigger.  It rode like a brick, was simple to maintain, had a nasty muffler baffle that I burned my leg on several times.  I used to ride along the bayous in Houston with my friend and did a lot of bushwhacking on it.  I dropped it several times, ran into the back of a '69 Cougar (more damage to it than the bike), and even tried to play u-boat with it once (drove/pushed it through water until the water was up to the handle bar) but it still ran.  I almost upgraded to a Honda CB550 but my mom “gently" persuaded me that it would not be a practical mode of transportation to college.  Seeing how I got into much mischief and had more than a few spills on it, it was probably a wise decision.   

1967 Mustang Coupe - '67 Midnight Blue Coupe with a straight 6 engine, 3 speed stick.  My attempt to be Steve McQueen (aka Bullitt).  My first real car that I bought.  A classic ride but the 6 cylinder engine left it woefully under powered. I tried to pimp it out with new wheels and interior and fancy radio (with a cassette tape player) but nothing could overcome the power train issue. I even acquired a nice set of bucket seats from a 67 Cougar that fit the floor plan to a tee, but it was a matter of overkill. Had a crumpled right front fender from the previous owner and I used to spend my Saturdays combing the junkyards to find a replacement (no joy).  While we were at the movies one night, someone broke into her (popped out the vent glass) and stole my flashlight but left the radio (it was one of those gigantic 4 cell Maglites that cops carry and could be used to interrogate suspects).  Finally sold her off for about what I had in her to get a bigger car for college (seriously regretted).  I may have sold it off for something practical, but my burning desire for a Mustang would come back later in life.    

1969 Plymouth Fury III (the Green Hornet) - sold the Mustang and picked up my dad’s company car.  383 ci engine, 4 doors, metallic green with a black Landau top, power windows, am/fm stereo radio with surround sound system, climate control a/c, cruise control (1st car I ever knew with cruise control).  Was a fancy rig with all of the available bells & whistles. The thing had enough room for a football team (plus cheerleaders). When I left for college, I could pack my entire room inside the trunk and still have enough room for a couple passengers.  Had a huge backseat that you could really enjoy thunder and lighting in.  This thing had a trunk a mobster would love (would hold 3-4 bodies) and the engine compartment was huge.  I could literally sit inside the engine compartment while changing the spark plugs. With that big of an engine, it wasn't the fastest car off the block, but it would easily get up to 100 and hold it steady for a long time (not that I ever did that).  Very reliable car.  Sadly, I wrecked her on a road trip home with girlfriend (future wife) by clipping the back tire of a gravel truck parked on the side of the road (Truck 1, Car 0).  Pretty much tore the right front fender off.      

1970 Plymouth Fury III (the cop car) - sold the 69 Fury and bought my brothers’ company car.  318 ci engine, 4 doors, canary yellow, am radio, and moon hubcaps. This one looked like a police interceptor. Nothing fancy. It was basically the same body style as the 69, just without all of the flair.  If you look at a lot of the cop/chase movies back in the '70's, most of the police cars were this style.  Was a good car, ran forever, would start regardless of the weather conditions (hot, cold, wet, snow, etc.).  It was a cruiser - you could get it up to 90 on the open road and rope it off and it would just glide along the road. She was responsible for my first two tickets.  Not to start a trend, but I wrecked her on my way home from summer school one afternoon by clipping an older man in a 1968 Chevrolet Pickup.  Tore up my left front fender but totally destroyed the old man’s truck (he ran head on into a giant crane truck).  I am just glad it did not kill him.

1972 Chevrolet Impala - sold the 70 Fury and picked up another company car from my dad. 350 ci engine, 4 doors, pearl green, cruise control. One of those big, sloppy Chevys that best used as taxis. This was my post college car. If you look at one of the latter James Bond movies with Roger Moore (Live and Let Die), most of the cars in the movie that were used for stunts were that model Chevy. Replaced the water pump on her twice, new shocks, brakes. I left it with my dad when I headed out for Germany with the Army and they sold it for pretty much nothing.    

Next round: The Army Years

07 November 2012

Run for something

Some people run for a charity, some people run for a cause, some people will drive across three states to run/play in the mud.  

I am signed up for a local runner's newsletter that will post upcoming events, activities.  This one popped up in my in box earlier this week.   

If I wasn't doing the 1/2 marathon a few weeks beforehand, I might consider the drive north to taste this one.  

06 November 2012

Off The Beaten Path

One from the vault.  I'm catching up on a few old posts that never made it into print.  This one is from last summer's jaunt to Hanau last year.  

I've mentioned Volksmarches in a few previous posts when I was over in Germany last summer on my supplier audit but I haven't really explained what they really are.  Unless people have lived in Germany or the EU, chances are, most folk don't exactly relate to that term.  Please allow me to explain.

When we were stationed in Germany back in the early 80's, we would spend a lot of time "off base".  Two of the best advice I got from a buddy about Germany was:  1) bring your own mattress and, 2) whenever possible, get away from post.  We didn't listen to him on #1 and had to live on a sucky mattress for years.  We did take his advice on #2 to heart.  Whenever I was not on duty or on call or in the field, we would explore the local economy on the weekends to get away from our post.  In southern Germany, there was a ton of activities to see/do and we sometimes had a hard time picking one.  One activity/sport we stumbled across was Volksmarching.  Volksmarching is a noncompetitive walk held by various local towns or organizations throughout the country.  A lot of local towns held their own Volksmarch annually.  It doesn't sound like much, but you really have to do one to enjoy it.  Typically, volksmarches are either 10 or 20 kilometers (6-12 miles) in length and are usually held on Saturday or Sunday (or both).  The whole town turns out for this event.  It is sort of like a mini festival for the town folk to celebrate the event and show off their town.  Most will start out at the local school or gym and head out into the countryside.  The walk will typically take you through parts of the town and wander out to the woods or fields surrounding the town.  You get to see lots of neat and interesting things up close.  The path is normally well marked and laid out and is normally a fairly easy walk.  10k is a bit over 6 miles and can be covered in under 2 hours at a slow pace (sooner if you run it).  The 10 and 20ks will start out on the same path and at some point around the 5k mark, the 20k will split off in a different direction only to join back the 10k towards the end.  At the 5k mark, they will normally have stations to mark your card (and keep you honest) and you can get something to eat/drink (bier).  After you collect your marks, you eventually wind up back at the starting point with the rest of the crowd.  You can walk the course at your own pace - as fast or as slow as you like.  The event usually opens up at 0700 and will close down each day around 1600 so you can take your time, if you like.  It is fun to do it with friends or your spouse or even by yourself.  A great way to explore the countryside away from all the touristy glitz and get some good exercise too boot.  If you are really into tracking this whole thing, you can join the IVV (Internationaler Volkssportverband) group to track your mileage and events.  We did that back in the 80s and, by the time we left, I was up to over 3000 km and 200 hikes.    

When I knew I was going back to Germany last summer, I spent hours trying to find info on Volksmarches.  Do they still do them?  Are there still weekend walks?  Who can I contact for more information.  Thank God for the internet.  I was able to dig up a ton of info including a couple of American ex-pats who lived in Wiesbaden and published a weekly newsletter on volksmarches in throughout Germany.  They were part of a club that would travel together to go to various walks in different placed across Germany.  After doing some extended searching, I found a good list of Volksmarches around German for the open weekend before I had to fly back home.  I actually planned my trip to Stuttgart around a few potential walks in the area.  It took some juggling, but I was able to carve out two walks while I was there.  One south of Heidelberg, the other north of Wiesbaden.  Both were great.  Weather was cloudy but cool (not bad for July).  Trail was nice, lots of neat things to see.  One trail took us by a glider school and there were several sailplanes soaring over the fields.  The same trail wound through a vineyard and past a exotic animal farm.  That's the one think I always loved about these marches - you get to see the real country up close and personal.        

Life is more interesting when you get off the highway and explore.