Sean’s Cryptocoryne Odyssey

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The day has arrived, the long flight to the Netherlands. I knew I had to be on the Metro to the airport around noon, I found myself leaping out of bed to go out and get a few last items for my trip. Visit to Best Buy and Kohls, batteries and other stuff. Then it was off to the Metro to get to DCA for my 3:45 flight. Getting to the airport and through security took longer than the actual flight to Philadelphia (25 minutes) where the transatlantic flight leaves at 6:00 PM. With the flight and the time changes I’ll be arriving in Amsterdam at 7:45 local time on Thursday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It really still seems like Wednesday to me, the flight lasted about 8 hours. Oddly I didn’t sleep so I’m walking around in a daze in Schiphol Airport, through a very quiet customs check to my bags and out to look for Jan.

I don’t see a face I recognize so I sort of move to the side of the “greet the flights” crowd with my obvious fish box to wait for Jan to notice me. That only takes a few moments, Jan spots me and asks “SEEN?”
“Nice to see you again Jan….Sean.”

It’s been two years since the AGA convention, hard to remember each others face. Time for a quick cup of coffee, European espresso is so much better than Starbucks. Plans for the day, see a little bit of Amsterdam, go to the Herbarium in Leiden, and then maybe some sightseeing on the way back to Emmen. I’m dead tired but eager to go.


Canals, 30 to 50 feet wide, “fresh” water, no flow through them however. I’m not sure what they are like in the summer. Right now the water is brown, occasionally there are lily pads, cattails or rushes growing. Ducks here and there. We turn off the asphalt onto a bricked or modern cobble stone street. Traffic can be one or two way here, I’m about to get my first bit of culture shock.

OK if you have never driven in Amsterdam, don’t try it your first time there. There are canals everywhere, cars everywhere, bicycles everywhere, people walking everywhere, it must be how tired I am but I can’t process the amount of information coming in. To my eyes at intersections I don’t know who has the right of way, everyone else does, it looks like it’s the one who takes it. I never actually set foot in Amsterdam, the tour is completely by car.

We leave Amsterdam behind and head down a highway (Autobahn.) Jan takes me to see the North Sea. The little beach resort town we are in is quaint, Noordwijk I believe was the name. I’m enjoying the sea air. Looking out over the sand dunes and beach grass, the light house at the other end of the beach. People bundled up against the wind and wet, odd leafed plants on the dunes that I just don’t recognize. Jan says that these places are boring, “nothing to do but lay on the beach with nothing to do.” Somehow the opportunity to read a book, rest, relax, recover, and recharge sounds like what I need at the moment.

After taking a look at the dunes and beach we head off to Leiden which is a small city south of Amsterdam.


At the University of Leiden there is an herbarium, which is a place where they store collected plant specimens. There are several crypt specimens there that Jan wants me to see. When we get to Leiden we go up and visit with Willem de Wilde and Brigitta de Wilde-Duijfjes, a botanist couple that are retired, but not really. They are working on the Flora of Thailand, from whence they have just recently returned. We spend some time chatting with this nice couple in the Building’s galley, coffee for me. They are very interested in this odd, tired, American who would come all the way to Holland for crypts. They accuse Jan of giving me the disease, but Jan tells them I had it before he ever met me. Knowing eyes of fellow collectors smile at me as I tell them my background, “no, not a botanist, fish and wetlands ecologist. I’m better looking at the whole picture than just the individual plant.” Did I mention they speak English, they seem to enjoy practicing with me.

After coffee, Jan and I are led down to the Herbarium, rows and rows of high shelves with boxes and boxes of herbarium sheets holding pressed plants. Over 4.1 million plant specimens is what I am told. They have to cycle the specimens through a freezer to kill bugs, it’s more effective and less toxic than pesticides. We are led back to the Aroid section where the crypts are kept. Jan shows me the existing old sheets that have survived colleting in the swamps of SE Asia and wars on the European continent. He points out mistakes and corrections people have made analyzing the genus. Type materials, holotype, isotype, I’m tired and can’t remember the differences. Time for lunch.

We leave the herbarium and wander in to Leiden proper. There is a central section of the city that has been closed off to auto traffic, just bikes and pedestrians. Shops and eateries, line the ways. Jan points out some streets that are backfilled canals or canals that were “roofed” creating semi flooded tunnels. I notice that the canals do not have guard rails, “do many people park their cars in the canals?”
“No, that never happens, but”when it does,”., it is VERY funny.”

Jan shows me the house where he and Cora lived while he was in school here. Then he shows me the building where his Physics lab was, about 3 blocks away. Nice commute. After walking around a bit more, seeing the sites, we grab a bite to eat at a “bagel” shop, I have something that has capers on it. Interesting. Back to the herbarium building.

After saying good bye to the Herbarium couple we head off to Emmen via the Hague. I tell Jan to take the quickest route, skip Rotterdam, I can’t stay awake for the ride. He is amused as I play yo-yo with my head in the car.


We arrive in Emmen after dark and I get to meet Cora, a beautiful lady with bright smiling eyes. Jan was a heck of a salesman when he was younger”. A few minutes and I can tell that they are very well matched. Cora has dinner ready for us, “a simple meal” it’s called. In my traveler weary state, a minor feast see I. (I am so tired I had to write in Yoda Speak.) It is a continental European meal, exactly what one should expect, and I was glad for it. After dinner I helped dry the dishes, Jan thought it was because I knew the story about the Japanese visitors, honestly I just wanted to spend a few more minutes with them both. There were a few minutes for a tour, I got to see Jan’s new green house/laboratory. I’m jealous already. Kidding.

Bedtime was not far behind the meal, I don’t think I lasted until the 8 PM evening news, and since we had to be on the road to Switzerland the next morning by 6 AM it was probably for the best. Jan bustled about getting his stuff ready for the trip, packing crypts to take with him, etc. I got my stuff repacked into a smaller case for the trip south. (A smaller version of my stuff. Thanks George Carlin)


Friday, October 27, 2006

I snap awake, leap up out of bed, and search for my iPod which I set to have clocks for the multiple time zones I’m living in. Bleary eyes almost focus to find it’s 5 AM, but is that in relation to Daylight savings or not? I didn’t know yet that Europe also does daylight savings time. I know Jan was going to get up at 5:15 so I wait for some noise in the house besides the muted clatter I’m causing. Nothing for 20 minutes so I assume it’s actually 4 which is 11 PM at home (groan) but at least 8 hours after I went to bed. I think I may have switched my internal clock already. OK, I grab a shower, get myself and my stuff ready, and lay back down on my bed to watch the sky out the room’s huge window. I am enamored by the large windows in Jan’s house. About 6 AM I hear Jan getting ready. He knocks on my door and I surprise him, dressed, showered, packed, ready to roll. He tells me he was up later than he thought he’d be, packing up crypts, so he got a little more sleep. That’s great in my mind since he’s driving. I don’t have an international drivers permit. I can’t drive in Germany.

Quick breakfast, cornflakes, bread, cheese, luncheon meats, coffee. I’m going to find that everyone assumes my appetite matches my size. When I was still growing that assumption was less then accurate, at this point it’s an overstatement, I don’t eat quite as much. I won’t go hungry this week. I do want to steal Jan’s coffee maker though, it’s a pod coffee brewer, small cup of coffee with the crema like espresso. Wow, great coffee! Jan asks if I find it to be stronger than American coffee, but I drink it without any “additives” which answers the question. That will be another conversation this weekend with the group, “do you like our stronger coffee?” Jan just has a bit of sugar in his.


We get the car packed up and about 7 AM we are on the road again. Emmen is situated on the border with Germany, it takes 15 minutes to be in Germany, and another 5 to be on an Autobahn cruising south at 120 km/h. The sky is still dark and starry. Jan says that if he needs to get to southern parts of Holland it is quicker to hop into Germany cruise down and jump back into Holland. (Holland is actually only the two provinces around Amsterdam on the Coast, but the name has become synonymous with the Netherlands back home.)

I’m watching road signs today. Yesterday I was too tired to try to puzzle out the foreign signs. So with a map in my lap I see an exit, Ausfahrt is the sign. I start looking for Ausfahrt on the map. I see a few more exits with Ausfahrt and as the sun comes up, light dawns on marble head. “Jan, does ‘Ausfahrt‘ mean ‘Exit’?” Jan confirms my conclusion, “well that explains why I can’t find it on the map.” He’s laughing, it won’t be the last time he laughs this trip.

Traveling the autobahn is not always fast. It is subject to traffic congestion and many sections are under construction slowing things down. There are places where the cars rip by you at excessive speeds, but those are not so common. Listening to the radio report of traffic in German is entertaining. Eventually you realize that English infects the language, “stop and go” is clearly stated in the middle of the broadcast. I just hope it’s not our route. The highway cuts through mostly agricultural areas, fields harvested for the winter, vineyards turning colors with the season, small hamlets nestled in valleys between hills. The country is mostly rolling hills, I see why the Germans settled in Pennsylvania. I spot an IKEA store, but it’s not pronounced the same as we say it in the States, in fact the pronunciation is so different that I find I can’t replicate it now.


Driving along noticing German towns and cities that I remember from “Hogan’s Heros”, sad way to know geographic names, I agree. We pass Düesseldorf, Köeln, Bonn, when Jan decides to stop in Koblenz. Here is where the Mosel and Rhine Rivers flow together. There is a large castle straddling a hilltop on the other side of the Rhine from the mouth of the Mosel. I figure that a cannon shot could hit a ship in either river from up there. These must have been the toll takers at this point on the river. There is a very large statue to a local hero, “Which Wilhelm” is a joke Jan and I share. There are site seeing cruises leaving from here, and a few small trinket shops for tourists, like me, hope the kids like their trinkets. (they did)

We head back to the car to find that Jan got a parking ticket. Then we get lost trying to get back on the correct autobahn. We spend a few more minutes in Koblenz than was intended but emerge unscathed. Just outside of the city is a rest stop where we catch a bit of lunch. I wish they’d use softer bread if they really expect you to eat it with a knife and fork (the Continental way.) I hate the way the roll struggled when you try to cut it. The rest stop is next to a bridge that spans the Mosel river gorge. It must be 300 feet to the bottom. There is a vineyard planted next to the rest stop, the grapevines are dieing back for winter.

Of towards Stuttgart we go, over the bridge giving me a great view of the vineyards on the gorge walls. They say that mountain grown grapes give the best wine, I think they know here that canyon walls have the same effect on the vines. I remind Jan that I want to buy Eiswine before I go home. This highway doesn’t take us very far before we encounter the bane of the autobahn, traffic. The traffic delays are crazy all the way from Stromberg to Mannheim, Heidelberg to Heilbronn, to Stuttgart. After Stuttgart the traffic lets up most of the way through Schwenningen to the border with Schweiz, I mean Switzerland, stuck in a German name groove there. There are several tunnels on this part of the highway, I picture a country cut off from the rest of the world in it’s own little valley. Not quite, but it was a fun thought.

We are passed by the border guard with a wave, Switzerland is not part of the EU so the borders are not open. They also have their own currency still, francs, which the travel guide said was a strong currency. I assume that means it is worth more than a Euro. I’ll find out later that it’s worth less than a dollar. Hey if you have to budget this is the best way to trick yourself and save money.

In Switzerland we pass Schaffhausen, and then Winterthur. We are almost to Zürich so our “map” must be wrong. Rütlingen is west northwest of Winterthur and almost due North of Zürich. So we stop and ask directions, once, twice, the third set of directions comes with a “just follow me” which is much better than trying to find Rüdlingen in the dark. The follow me came from a gentleman in a car that had pulled up and asked if we were alright as we sat pondering road signs in relation to the directions we had received. Did I mention we are a little late for the meetings. Jan has called ahead and they are saving us some dinner. It was only another 15 minutes of driving through the countryside before we arrived at the meeting site. Our guardian angel got us there. I don’t know who he was but it was not a short drive, I just hope it wasn’t too far out of his way.

I ask Jan if he is going to tell everyone that it’s my fault we are late. I explain that I am joking as he protests he would not do that. He relaxes and laughs, as a joke he actually thinks it’s funny.

Rüdlingen Schweiz

We stagger our way into the meeting, stretching our legs and de-cramping our back muscles, everyone knows Jan and is glad to see him. I’m stuck as a wall flower for a minute while the greetings are passed in German. I’m nodding a lot and trying not to look uncomfortable. A tall slender German bounds forward, Kai whom I have exchanged emails with from Aquatic Plant Central steps up and says hello, I feel like we are instantly friends. He helps Herr Kettner orient Jan and myself as to where our rooms are and how the drinks are billed. Herr Kettner points to a list that has my name on top, for a second I thought that meant I would be speaking first that evening. Turns out it was a list of room assignments. Jan jokes and says that my room is usually reserved for newly married couples. When I see the room I tell him I’d hate to see the rooms they reserve for people who have been married a while. My room is obviously a single room, small bed with a comforter and pillow, table and chair, two closets, and a sink. It is about big enough to turn around in. I think they thought I’d say it was too small when they asked if it was big enough. Seriously, how much room do I need to sleep and dress anyways?

We drop our stuff in the rooms and head back to the dining / meeting room. Kai sits with Jan and I as we enjoy our late dinner. Steak and veggies, I select a bottle of Pinot Noir that is from the village, 15 francs. Very nice start to the meetings. People are coming over and introducing themselves, Stephan, Roland, Tom, and Romeo. I vow to learn the names of all the participants. The meeting starts as Jan and I are finishing up dinner. Kai volunteers to translate the German to English for me, this is good it lets Jan talk with many of the people he needs to discuss things with while not worrying that I’m getting anything from the meetings.

Herr Kettner is the first speaker. He talks about growing the black water crypts in small plastic containers using the beech tree leaf litter that Jan and Niels have made famous and about 2 inches of water. He reaches into a container and pulls out a very healthy looking C. elliptica mother plant. He has my attention, he shows a couple more examples, C. usteriana is the last one I remember, it was grown from seeds in the container.

I can feel the exhaustion setting in at this point, I’m not sure of the second speakers name, He also speaks in German, his slides show very healthy emersed grown crypts. The third speaker is Romeo, he begins to talk in English, Kai begins to translate for me. I whisper to Kai that the speaker is using English, everyone laughs even though I said it quietly, I appreciate how hard Kai is trying to help me understand the proceedings. The talk is a discussion about the effectiveness of different substrates to grow the black water crypts. Composting beech tree leaves from areas without limestone seems to be the best. They break for the night, and I know I’m going to sleep tonight. The overnight plane flight the night before, 14 hours in the car to day, a bottle of wine to myself tonight, I hope I hit the bed when I fall.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ever have to relive a childhood memory? When I was young “Sean” was not a common name. Oddly everyone here says my name as “Seen” like people did when I was growing up. I correct them, smiling, I hope I keep them from feeling bad. Only Herr Kettner continues to call me “Seen”, I don’t try to correct him, he’s busy running the show this weekend and I can live with the occasional “seen” if I can help keep his mind clear for what he is doing to take care of us.

Breakfast is good strong coffee, granola, yogurt or clotted cream (I’m not sure), milk, bread, cheese, luncheon meat …., filling fare. This is where the “weak American coffee” discussion comes up again. I’m drinking my coffee “straight up” while my new friends are pouring milk and sugars into their cups. I joke that I’m not sure they could handle American coffee. I’m eating with Stephan, Josef, Roland, and Kai, discussing my “20 year” crypt search list, I’m introduced to Alfred who asks what is on my list. I run through a couple names C. hudoroi, being first on my list. They are amazed at what we cannot get in the US for plants.

This morning we are attending our field trips. We are going to the Madagascar exhibit at the Zurich Zoo. Then I am tagging along to see a fish shop, Herr Schneider’s store. I am put in Claus’s car (Herr Kettner) riding shotgun. Everyone in the car speaks English to me and German to each other. I catch phrases here and there, “middle of nowhere” is one I remember.

We get to the Zoo and pay to enter, 20 francs, not bad I guess ($16.00). We enter the exhibit, it is a huge greenhouse with a rainforest replica. The topographic relief is incredible, the lowest point is 25 or 30 feet lower than the main level. It sounds like it is raining, even dressed for the Swiss Indian Summer we are over dressed and begin to perspire. We wander up to the point where the guides have to take you though and we line up. They walk you along a narrow dirt path through the undergrowth of their rain forest along a twisting trail to the bottom level of the exhibit. There are bird flitting about, lizards waiting for the “opportune moment”, and lemurs howling in the distance at some intruder into their home. The plant growth is spectacular. We discover why it sounds like it is raining, there is a 20 foot waterfall in the building, very impressive.

There are also small streams here and there running through the forest. I joke to someone that we should have brought some crypts to plant in the streams. They laugh, at the silly American, crypts don’t come from Madagascar after all. I have a protector for these field trips, actually everyone from the meetings is keeping an eye out so I don’t get lost. Roland however has volunteered to keep me out of trouble. He is a large bear of a man with a full beard and smile, his temperament however is just like a teddy bear. I think he’d be my best friend if we lived closer together. I am introduced to Maike, who is getting ready to marry Cord in a few weeks. She seems to like to practice her English so I find her at my left elbow a lot. Their British/German accent is interesting.

I am listening to a conversation later and I try to understand a question someone poses to Herr Bogner about a plant. I don’t quite catch the scientific name being used so I ask the speaker to repeat the name. Herr Bogner launches into a lecture about the necessity of using scientific names. I’m confused at this point, I agree with his lecture but don’t understand why I’m getting it. I try to tell him that the binomial naming system is important in my field as well. I’m just trying to catch the difference between classical Latin pronunciation and the Americanized Latin pronunciation. I got a nod so I guess I settled the issue. I’ve been introduced to Niels but I haven’t really had a chance to talk to him yet. I have a couple theory type questions that I’d like to discuss with him. I’m looking forward to talking to him.

We convene for lunch in the cafeteria of the exhibit. The dinning room has a huge window looking out into the exhibit house, over the “pond”. I get a salad and brownie, and Coke Light, (Diet New Coke), I joke to Roland that the brownie is to help me catch up to him, big smile back. This referred back to an earlier joke, simply I ended up in the front seat of the car because they all found the American to be larger then the rest of the car’s occupants and they didn’t want to squeeze into the rear seat with him.

After the Zoo, Clause drives us around in Zürich up to a high point so we can see the mountains and the lake. Unfortunately it started as a foggy day and has progressed to hazy so the distant mountains are hard to as see more than an outline. The haze is from the unseasonably warm weather, I can take the trade-off. Claus turns us towards Herr Peter Schneider’s shop, I swear it must over on the other side Switzerland from Zurich, it is a long ride. They have been building up this visit. The hype is that the shop has been growing plants in the same aquariums for 30 years, no CO2, fertilization and limited water changes. They use a single 40 watt bulb over every tank. The substrate came from his garden, he keeps these apple snails that he feeds a garden weed to fertilize the substrate. He was the person who “discovered” the C. cordata “Rosanervig”. They make it sound like he is very “vocal” about his method, since I am linguistically challenged here I will only be getting something from this if someone translates for me.

The place is in his basement. It is a small Mom and Pop store, when we arrive Mom is catching fish for someone, Dad and Son are greeting us quickly then turn back to helping the current customers get their orders together so they don’t have to share the little space available with us Cryptomaniacs.

I wish they had not hyped this up so much to me. The species list is impressive, in that many of them are unknown in the US. Most are easy to grow plants. The oddities are stems and swords that have been recently added to the hobby, and crypts that are usual here but not back home. The snails are interesting, I don’t see any juveniles. There is BBA and GSA in the tanks on the back glass. I’m told he doesn’t dose, looking at the pin holes and chloritic leaves on the Anubius makes me think he should change that ideal just a little. Many plants look great, others in the same tank are like the Anubius, struggling to compete with the plants that are doing well. OK, let me just say that if all they had told me was that we were visiting the shop of the person who discovered the “Rosanervig” cordata, I would have been very impressed with what I saw as far as a fish shop goes. I really needed to get a little more rest and adjust my attitude, the Schneider’s were very nice to our group.

There are many species of fish that are not common in the pet stores back home, several beautiful live bearers, some rainbows, in fact the tanks are packed so full of fish I can see why there is no need for CO2 injection. There is plenty coming from the huge fish biomass. I do not have the permits to bring fish home so I do not pay the fish too much attention, why torture myself over it. I see several interesting crypts, I do not have any Swiss francs though and I cannot seem to get an answer as to if they are accepting Euros. I wait outside with a couple of other people while the others get their “Schneider” fix. Roland is surprised that I am not buying anything. I am too, but in the end it is ok, I do not realize yet just how much plant life I am going to be carting home.

On the way back to the meeting hotel Claus points out a hydroelectric dam on the Rhine, the “Hoover Dam” of Switzerland, he tells me. It’s probably about a 10 Megawatt plant from what I can judge from the car but I’d believe it was bigger. I’m sure the Hoover Dam reference was a joke. We drive back through the agricultural part of Switzerland, what I think are large piles of oversize potatoes are actually sugar beets. There are occasional vineyards on the hillsides.

When we arrive back at the hotel, Alfred hands me three bags, two different varieties of my “20 year crypt” C. hudoroi (I manage not to hug him) and a bonus C. wendtii that he collected near his wife’s village. Kai finds me a bit later and gives me four bags of plants from his collection and Peter brings over a few plants that he wants to share with me descended from collections he has made. I’ve got a small pile building up in my room and we have not had the plant exchange yet. I tell Kai that I will be in my room laying down for a moment to recover from the excitement.

Dinner is pot stickers, rice, pommes de frites (french-fries), salad, a nice Riesling x silvaner wine, 17 francs. Dessert is a custard with whipped cream and a raspberry. I get to talk to Niels after dinner before the plant exchange, I was never sure what they meant by fagus leaf mould now I understand that to be the genus Fagus which is a beech tree, the same genus in the US for beech trees. He walks out into the rain and shows me the beech tree and leaf, the next day he hands me the beech tree nut as well. Anyways, I ask him about the leaf litter substrate, the 3rd year decomposed leaves, he starts with. The process he described in the 1992 publication sounded like he was creating a “fluff layer” for the plants. I ask if there is a build up of mineralized soil at the bottom of the containers, it would look like silt. He says yes there is a silt build up, but he’s not sure it is mineralized soil. My theory is unproven but I get to try myself at home now. I tell him a bit about my soil set ups and my one emersed setup, the latter makes him cringe a bit.

He tells me that my observations may be correct for temperate species in the US and Europe, but conditions are different in southeast Asia. The plants can often be found rooted and submerged in peaty muck. Often these are low light plants, I ask if they have stepped beyond being tolerant of low light to having evolved an intolerance of high light. I get a “yes”, he seems happy I understand something.

The plant exchange starts, Jan tells me I don’t have to run to be first, he has already picked out one of each of Niels’ plants for my box. The rest of the guys are pressing me to get plants, they don’t know about Jan’s stash. I pick out four or five bags from the plants that people other than Niels have brought. A few moments later I am requested to “clean off the tables”, which means I end up with about a hundred or so plants. Added to the plants from Kai, Alfred, and Peter, I have about 120 odd plants. I’m a bit overwhelmed by their generosity, and the knowledge of the work I’m going to have to do to get these plants ready to go home.

The presentations start next, they are given in both English and German, Kai is right there again to help me. The talks are about people’s set ups, tests of different leaf litter moulds (when the Emmen sample is announced as the best Jan beams.) Jan talks about all the species that were either rediscovered or named this year. He’s very passionate about taking the old records and tracking down the localities where plants were once found, the Sam Spade of the Crypt world.

There are a couple more talks about people’s green houses and trips to collect plants, then Kai decides that I’m next and he grabs my CD and gets my presentation loaded in the computer. I don’t have a problem with public speaking, it’s part of my job to run public meetings. The only stress here was to make sure I spoke clearly, slowly, loudly, distinctly, and avoid the typical American idioms. From home I brought two publications from 1977, a book “Aquarium Plants” TFH publishing and Aquarium Digest International #17 from Tetra. The reason I brought the book was that when I got it 20 years ago I went through the book slowly and made a list of crypt species that I thought I could grow in an aquarium. Just before my trip I rediscovered the list folded up in the back of the book. It is now known at the ECS as Sean’s 20 year list. The Digest gave me my first inkling as to the importance of clay.
I give three talks in one.
Historical: Why and how I became interested in crypts.
Historical: Why and how I devised the soil substrate I use.
Current: How I actually set up the substrate and pictures of the results.

I end up being the only person at the meeting showing a picture of their aquariums, luckily the pictures get a good response. The members here are all growing crypts in a sterile environment of green houses or light box, they forget a little how beautiful these plants can be underwater. Everyone tells me I spoke slow loud and clear enough for them to understand the talk. The only question came later when I had to explain what “potters” clay is, that was a very quick question to answer. I think Jan was please with my talk, he told me five times he was. I feel like I just made a favorite uncle proud. Jan tells me later that one of the older gentlemen also uses a mineralized soil for culturing the plants. Unfortunately he did not give his talk.

Kai goes next, the computer has eaten his pictures but he has his samples to pass around. Kai did an analysis of the Fagus leaf mould soils from several different places in Europe. He measured the pH and conductivity of the samples, when waterlogged, over time. He has a great deal of information to share, I think he should put his talk together in an article on the web someplace for everyone to see.

I’m finishing my bottle of riesling x sylvaner wine while the talks go long into the night. They show a lot of emersed set ups, man these guys can grow crypts, and travel pictures of crypt localities. I’m noticing a change when I am talking to them now. When I got here I was able to ask questions that they’d expect from a “newbie”, but now that they’ve seen my tanks I’m finding I have to change tactics when asking a question. I have to ask more for agreement with an idea. I can’t straight out ask “how do you do ____?” that has to be replaced with “do you agree that I can do _____?” Jan says it was the picture of my tank of beautiful crypts. I feel accepted.

Niels closes out the evening talking about his work uncovering the sources of natural hybrids by backcrossing and crossings to discover the genetic parents. This is another talk that shows how much work they are putting into understanding this genus of small plants.

Everyone is tired now, ready to collapse, we all head off to bed.

Thud! Thud! Thud, is the echo in our little Swiss valley.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Well Sunday morning rolls around and I find that I’m the second one up. I spot Piet, the other gentleman from the Netherlands, walking around outside as I get my things together for the trip back to the north. I get out of my room and go outside to look around in the daylight. It seems like I never really got a good chance to do so before. I step over to the edge of the backyard where there is a fence and I discover that the bell I heard tinkling nearby last night was attached to a sheep.

Breakfast is setup while I look around at the farmland. I can see a section of the Rhine River. More agricultural fields surround the property. It’s a very quiet place, except for the bicycle tour of about 50 “metric” kids that stayed in the hostel next to our building last night.

Breakfast, I’m getting used to the selections, breads, cheese, meats, coffee, juice, granola, or cornflakes with that yogurty stuff or milk. Then it is time to settle up our bills and get our things to the cars. My bill came to 300 something Swiss francs. My mind is thinking that this is more than if it were Euros, so I’m convinced my preloaded Visa card is almost gone now. Little did I know, it was about halved.

Saying good bye takes a while as everyone has about 20 people to say goodbye to. What also takes a while is that we are waiting for Cord and Maike to come back to the building so we can follow them to Gula, the plant wholesalers where they work. Gula is located up near Stuttgart in Remseck and Jan says it would be a good visit. Roland, Romeo and Uwe are also going for the tour. When they arrive we all say good bye to the few people that remain, mostly our Swiss hosts at the hotel, Claus, and Alfred, we line up our mini caravan and off through the Swiss countryside we go. It turns out that you have to buy a Swiss autobahn toll sticker and put it on your windshield to use the highways. Since the stickers are only good for the calendar year, Cord did not get one (who could blame him) so luckily for me we are taking the scenic route to Germany. More sites for me to see, quaint little villages. A few wrong turns here and there, I’m glad I’m not driving. One turn takes us over a bridge below a hydroelectric dam. I’m not fast enough with a camera to get a shot of it.

We get to a spot, after several border crossings, where we are in Germany and Cord can use the highway, about 40 minutes later we are turning off the highway, back into a small village, past a group of farming greenhouses to the site of Gula.

Gula has several greenhouses where they are growing plants with both submersed and emersed culture. They actually have three layers of plants in one section, tanks of water with submersed plants, then a layer of emersed lowlight plants like anubius, then a layer of higher light plants, swords, stems, and some more anubius. The other greenhouses are single layers where they are growing out tissue culture plants and the like. Cord also showed us his aquariums and betta tower, very innovative use of space and a nifty water change setup. They are very generous, they give me several plants to try to bring home with me. I take their list, to try to set up an order with them. They promise that they will get a phytosanitary certificate for an order so I may try to organize one for our club. It seems that Oriental aquarium ships plants to Europe that we try to order in the US but they never ship them to us. Going through Gula may be away around it. Gula also sells a dimmable T-5 light fixture, that could be interesting in the future.

We say our good byes and head off for Emmen, stopping just north of Koblenz for a bite. We arrive back in Emmen around 8:45 PM, we made much better time going North than we did going South. I joke about it being easier going downhill, the Netherlands is very flat, I’m not sure it translated. We have dinner with Cora and relate the events of the trip. Jan tells me that Christel Kasselmann stayed in my room when she visited, I didn’t realize it was already my room. Semantic also don’t translate well. Well, I spend a few minutes emailing my “girlfriend” and my wife, they just happen to be the same person (another joke with Jan), then after posting a few quick notes up on the forums I realize I need to get some sleep because Monday is going to be a day of labor. We pull together a quick list of the plants that we have carried back from the meeting. The easy part is over.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Well to start the day we have breakfast with Cora, I make the coffee and help in the kitchen. Cora has things to do so we are going to be on our own for the most part. While Jan organizes the list and permit data I am told to sit and read from Jan’s library. If there was something you wanted to know about crypts that was published someplace, Jan has it. I stop reading and work a bit on this Journal.

When Jan has the list to his satisfaction, we move the plants out to the lab section of the green house. I spend from 11 AM to 8 PM cleaning plants of soil, dead leaves, debris, snail eggs, etc. Jan looks at me at 7 PM or so and asks if I have had lunch, funny. As I clean off the plants Jan puts them in to plastic bags with a sheet of white paper and a name tag and a bit of moisture. Occasionally he uses the compressed air gun to ensure we get everything off the plants. So we finish the plants collected from the meeting and Gula and Jan asks, “what must you take from the greenhouse?” I’m tired, overwhelmed, still trying to fathom what I’m going to do with half of the plants I already have in the box, I’m having a hard time asking for anything. Honestly I just spent nine hours at the sink praying that my box is not inspected by someone at the US Customs entry who likes to “find any reason” to reject a box. Well I’m not one to argue so Jan and I pick out a couple more plants, C. alba, two or three Lagenandra, a strange hybrid that Jan says will grow quite well underwater in my aquariums, and a couple other interesting plants.

Time for dinner, Cora has a cheese fondue and salad ready for us. We enjoy a sweet white whine from France with the meal. After dinner Jan and I finish the paperwork, plant lists, phytosanitary certificate application, shipping documents, packing the plants, and loading the boxes. We are ready to get the phyto’s tomorrow. After the work is done Jan opens a bottle of South African red, we get to relax a bit.

Repetitive, yes, I know but true, THUD!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This morning we have an 11 AM appointment in Groningen to have the plants inspected. I wake up and look at my iPod clock and panic, 9:45 AM. Jan said we need to leave at 10 AM. I scramble to wash up, dress and get downstairs. Jan seems relaxed when I get downstairs, and I realize that my iPod does not reset itself for the change in daylight savings time. Well now that I know I can relax, I have coffee and breakfast. Last thing I wanted to do was make us late for an appointment, being late is not usually acceptable in European cultures.

The ride is uneventful, we are caught in the rain, the sun, the rain, the sun, then when we find ourselves in Groningen we get turned around, twice. Eventually we find the correct building and parking is actually easy in the parking lot. We drag the boxes inside to a “front desk” where Jan tells the lady there that we have an appointment. She makes a phone call, goes around and opens the door for us, and escorts us to the elevator pressing the up button. I half expected her to press the button for the floor but she just told us as the elevator arrived that we were going to the first floor.

We get off the elevator and Jan picks a room that has no obvious markings to me and asks if we have the correct place. There is an affirmative response so we pile the two boxes on the counter. The government inspector surprises both Jan and I. He takes the carryon box and inspects it quickly, he actually seems more interested in the rolled up newspaper in the box than the plants. He complains a bit about the application for the certificates, then informs Jan that the cost of the inspection is 1.74 Euros per minute and they don’t take cash or credit, only transfers from accounts.

Jan give the inspector his account and tells me I can pay him back. The inspector then starts on the large shipment box. Every part of the conversation here is in Dutch, so I don’t understand much, Jan keeps feeding me tidbits. The inspector has never done such a small inspection before. He apologizes for taking so long, takes my permit and all the paper work and makes photocopies of everything for us. The two certificates cost about 40 Euros, but I can live with that. Jan is amazed at:
The Cost, he remembers it being much less;
The Service; we both are stunned that both boxes were inspected while we waited.

Honestly, I’ll bet this is one of the cleanest shipments they will ever see. OK We have two certificates in hand, time to site see, we go park the car in town so we can walk around Groningen. Jan shows me several churches that are no longer churches, one has an Artist’s show going on. We walk in and I’m looking at the stones that make up the floor, many are actually the headstones of graves. People paid to be buried in a church, I bet they never thought it would stop being a church. I walk through the exhibit, it is by a “shock” artist, I wonder if they are offended that I’m more interested in the church then their stuff.

We wander back out to the street, there are many small shops here, kind of what it was once like on main street in most American towns. I spot a fishing/pet store, European fishing is much different than it is in the US, they LIKE to fish for carp. This is a SERIOUS tackle store for carp fishermen, I’m tempted to buy a pile of their gear and bring it home. The pictures on the wall are of customers with these pot bellied pig like carp, not the sleek torpedo carp of the US, certainly not the typical bass, trout, salmon, or pike pictures you see in the US. The fish shop in the back is an after thought in the store. Jan is amused that I find the shop so interesting.

Back out on the street we walk towards the town centrum. It is market day, stands selling fish, meats, cheeses, veggies, clothes, and more. We stop at a fish vendor, Jan says I have to eat a herring, it is traditional Dutch fare, the herring is raw with onions, clean and headless and raw. Fine with me. I eat sushi, striped bass cheeks, cherrystone clams, what’s a herring to me?

The herring wasn’t bad, just different, I think I would have liked more onions with it, maybe packed into the body cavity . We look at the whole fresh fish they have for sale, salmon, trout, hake, turbot. Nice selection. We find a wine shop next to a grocery store. Eiswein! While Jan is asking where to find it I am selecting a wine on the shelf, he turns around and says “She says the wine is right where you are. Oh you’ve found it.” Well now at last I get to show Jan and Cora that Eiswein is real. We tell the shop keeper that we will be back in a little while.

We walk around for a while looking at the churches, shops, and such, looking for a place to have lunch. Jan has a place in mind if it is still there. A small sandwich shop in the basement of a building. A fresh baguette with pineapple, provolone, and ham, hot, yum. The odd part is you buy the food in the basement and then take it outside, upstairs, to a “bar” setting where you can eat it and have a drink, coffee, coke, beer, wine, whatever. It’s basically a room full of young Dutch people, college aged. I have a cappuccino, probably the best I can remember. I’m going to miss the coffee here.

Back to the wine shop before we are off to Emmen. The shop keeper tells Jan that if you buy two bottles of the same wine the second is half off. This wine is already a bargain compared to what it costs in the states so getting a second bottle is an easy choice. I get the Eiswein and a late harvest wine from France to take home. One bottle of Eiswein is for dessert tonight. I ask Jan if he knows someplace we can get a dessert, an apple cake or pie or something. Amused, he tells me that yes we can do that. Jan looks at the time when we are back at the car, we have a lot of time to get to the box mailed.

On the way back to Emmen Jan drives through one of the small villages. I spot houses with thatched roofs, Jan tells me that they lay the thatch down and attach it and then shave off the excess. Which is why they look so squared off at the corners. Then Jan shows me a prehistoric cairn (rocks positioned by someone long ago), interesting stuff, there is another one as we are leaving the village. I saw my only windmill on the way back to Emmen.

We get back to Emmen and go to Jan’s house, where we seal up the bags, put the paperwork together in the boxes, and seal up the one to be posted including affixing the Green Importation sticker. We take that box and go to the local shop that handles the post. This shop usually sells Jan his pipe tobacco so they are a little confused when that’s not what he wants. Thirty-two Euros later the box is officially on its way. Huge sigh of relief to have that done. I remember to get stamps for the post cards to my kids. Next is a tour of Emmen.

Ok in the middle of the street near the center of town is this boulder. It is the size of the front end of a car. We dodge it on the way to park to walk around town. I ask why it is there, Jan says no reason in particular. I’m laughing in disbelief, it is now the “Rock of Emmen!” I threaten to turn it into a new urban legend on the internet if he doesn’t come up with a better story than that by morning. I’m still waiting for a good explanation.

We stop quickly at a grocery store for an apple pie. Cora has a friend over when we get home, Lenie is the name I hear. I’m introduced, American, but she thinks I say Proost just fine which amuses Jan. After Lenie goes we have dinner, sausages, salad, bread, potatoes, cauliflower with a cheese sauce, we clear the dishes and break out the dessert. My relief comes as the wine and pie match up great, now they understand what I was looking for.

We all help with the dishes and Cora heads for her Women’s club meeting. 8 o’clock and Jan settles in to watch the News. Politics, Tragedy, Human Interest, seems like the news is the same in all languages.

Time for my photography lesson, C. edithiae is in bloom. Jan and I go out to the green house and collect the bloom. Jan shows me how to dissect a Crypt bloom to show off all the structures inside. Then I get a lesson in how to take macro pictures to document the structures and features of the bloom. Jan uses a digital camera with an accessory lens to give more free space in front. With my camera trying to do the same thing we document the inadequacies of my camera.

Time for bed, this is my last “thud” on the European continent for this trip.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

I wake up about 6 AM Europe time, 1 AM home time. I get myself and my stuff together and drag it downstairs. Cora comes downstairs and we surprise each other, before going back to bed she makes me a last cup of coffee. Did I mention before I like their coffee maker? Jan comes downstairs a few minutes later, joins me for breakfast, and gives me my schedule.

This morning I am taking the commuter train to the airport. The train station is over in Hoogeveen, about a 20 minute drive from Emmen. As per our usual results we get lost on the way and have to turn around an try again. Hey, what else would you expect when the co-pilot can’t read the street signs. Anyhow, At the train station the machine won’t take my card, so Jan buys the ticket for me, and I pay him back, I have extra Euros at this point, 36.30 Euros for a 1st class ticket. The 2nd class ticket is 10 Euros cheaper but I don’t have much else to spend Euros on so I splurge. Glad I did when I see how people crowd into the other cars. I get a nice seat with a fold down table which lets me write in this journal!

Jan hangs around for a minute to make sure that the train leaves the station. This train should take me right into the bottom of Schiphol Airport, the last stop. As long as the train doesn’t have a problem I should not be able to get lost. The Conductors alert everyone that the train is going to leave so Jan and I say good bye and I go get comfortable.

At Schipol I just get off the train, head up a ramp into the airport, into a check in line, to the gate through security and to my plane. My trip is coming to a close, as I head back to the “New World” leaving behind the new world I’ve been exploring. I guess how New a world is depends on where you were standing when you left.

OK, one last story. I arrive in Philadelphia and gather up my bags. I take my customs form to the Immigration officer and tell her that I need to go to Agriculture with my box of plants. She looks at me and asks what kind of plants do I have. I inform her that I have live aquarium plants with me, but I have the permits for them. I must be too forward, she welcomes me home, tells me that I have to go to Agriculture, marks this down, and signs off on my papers.

Smiling I wander off to find Agriculture, no lines over there, everyone else is lined up in “nothing to declare”, liars. I take out the small styro I brought the plants home in. The Agriculture agent takes the styro from me when I say that I have live plants with me and looks at the sticker on the side of the box. I tell him that I’m an academic and we all recycle boxes like this one for multiple purposes. I take the top off the box and the inspector spends a few seconds checking the rolled up newspaper, not the plants. He picks up the paperwork and looks at the others behind his desk, “Hey, this one has a Phyto”
“A Phyto huh, well you know what to do with that right?”
“Yup” he puts the paper work back in the box, puts the lid on the box, signs off on my paperwork, and says “Have a nice evening” and hands me the box back.

“Thanks,” and I was gone.