Pokraine

This is the nickname we gave to the destination for the celebration of our first wedding anniversary. Poland and Ukraine – the two countries that hosted the 2012 European Soccer Cup this summer. Yes, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary in a soccer stadium fevering along with other crazed European soccer fans. This might not sound like every girl’s dream, but we couldn’t forego the opportunity to combine adventure with family and soccer. Besides, it makes for a good story.

We landed in Kattowice, Poland on a Friday afternoon and were picked up by Toby’s brother B in his Mini Cooper for the drive to Krakow where we met B’s girlfriend C. Just the fact that we were traveling with B and C was special – we also drove through South Africa with them right after we got engaged (I see a pattern emerging…). We didn’t spend much time there, but it was enough to see that Krakow is a beautiful city with very friendly residents. Its narrow streets and large central plaza offer the typical European city sights that I never tire of. A short ramble up to Wawel Castle and the old city center provides great views over the city. The blue skies, warm air, and joggers along the Vistula River made for the summer feel we’d been craving.

Krakow’s central Grand Square, Rynek Glowny

Krakow’s old city center

But our true destination was Lviv, Ukraine, so on Saturday the four of us plus luggage jammed into the Mini. The German flag in the back window revealed our loyalties to the other soccer fans making the same trek. Thanks to an unfinished freeway, we were forced enjoyed the opportunity to really soak in the Polish countryside and all its villages, pedestrian crossings, and horse-drawn carts. The border crossing into Ukraine was slow but uneventful. After six hours in the car, we were more than ready to hit the streets of Lviv and join the masses of Danish and German soccer fans.

Lviv’s fan mile

We spent Sunday exploring Lviv’s city center, building in frequent stops for a cold beverage in the shade (it was a hot, humid day). We of course wore German soccer jerseys, but it was the crazy fans completely decked out in jerseys, face paint, wigs, and accessories that really drew the attention of the locals, who were always asking for pictures with them. It was sweet because you could tell that the locals were excited to share their city with us.

Lviv from above

Although the organization of the whole thing would have benefited from a little more attention to detail, we managed to find and squeeze (literally) onto a bus to the stadium. While I’ve watched a lot of soccer on tv over the past year, I’m glad I got the chance to experience it live in the stadium. The air is absolutely electric. I found myself torn between watching the action on the field and the fans in the stands, who had been transformed into two giant amoebas (a Danish one and a German one) that alternately held their breath, cheered, or sighed depending on the action on the field.

Opening ceremony at the game

A late-night, death-defying taxi ride back to the hotel made sure we maintained a post-game adrenaline high before collapsing into bed. On Monday morning we headed back through the Polish countryside for our flights to Germany.

I hope this first anniversary celebration, complete with adventure, excitement, and new experiences, sets the tone for future ones!

PS – Germany beat Denmark then Greece, but lost to Italy in the semi-final, who then lost to Spain in the final.

Soccer, pretzels, and Leberkäse

As a lucky twist of fate would have it, Toby’s birthday and the quarter-finale for the Champions League (soccer) landed on the same day. A perfect excuse for a party on an otherwise normal Tuesday! Because FC Bayern München was playing Olympique de Marseille, we hosted a Bavarian-themed party replete with Toby’s favorite Bavarian beer and typical beer garden eats. The evening went splendidly!

The creation of our menu items was a full day of adventures in the kitchen for me.

First up was a trip to the bakery to buy pretzels and rolls. Note – Bavarian pretzels disappear in Düsseldorf very quickly; they must be acquired first thing in the morning. With my baked goods safely stashed away, I could concentrate on the other tasks at hand – Emmentaler squares, Obatzda, potato salad, accordion-cut Radi, and other simpler but important accoutrements such as mustard (store-bought, I’m not that ambitious), little tomatoes, and radishes. The crowning Leberkäse was brought from the butcher by Toby.

I started with the easiest thing – Emmentaler squares. It’s all about building on the small successes, right? Emmentaler is a slightly nutty cheese with holes in it (think Swiss cheese). At the beer garden and Oktoberfest it comes served in cubes, salted and peppered. A delight with a fresh pretzel!

Next up – Obatzda. This is a very traditional Bavarian spread made of Camembert cheese, cream cheese, and butter flavored with finely cut white onions, sweet paprika, caraway, salt, and pepper. The mashing of the Camembert with a fork is a heck of a workout (note – it goes much easier if you leave it out for an hour or so), but the effort is worth it. Obatzda makes the perfect beer-soaker-upper.

The potato salad was a special request from Toby – “the kind with pickles and an oil and vinegar dressing.” Fortunately it’s an easy request to fill – cook and peel potatoes, cut into small pieces, add diced pickles, add diced red onions cooked in vegetable bouillon. Oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper come right before you serve your bowl o’ potato salad. A perfect companion for your cheese and pretzels!

The most adventurous task of the day, by far, was the cutting of the Radi (a long root, with a flavor like a radish). It’s usually served in a very thinly sliced spiral. But, because you need a special machine to do this, I voted to try the accordion-cut version (I could have cheated with regular thin slices, but where’s the fun in that?). All I can say is, You Tube rules. I won’t bore you with the details, but it requires a great deal of concentration, limb control, and the exact knife angle. Once you have your accordion, you salt the crap out of it – the Radi’s flavor comes out when you make it “cry.”

The anchor for the meal was Leberkäse, something like a Bavarian meatloaf that you eat with sweet mustard on a white Kaiser roll. While Toby and I aren’t big meat eaters, this was to complete the menu for our guests. And they ate it up, literally!

Wash everything down with Hefeweizen (wheat beer) and Pils (Pilsener) for the boys and white wine for the girls – a raving success!