Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday Quickie

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Just popping in for a moment to say that the Whiny Expat Blogger Meet-Up in Bremen this weekend was even more awesome than I could have imagined. We met/re-met up with so many truly cool people, and to top it off, Bremen is gorgeous.

Unfortunately I have a cold that got progressively worse all weekend and am now feeling like a big germy piece of crust. Wicked parched, if you will. A longer post will come later!
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heidelberg: Off the Beaten Path

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Heidelberg is a pretty tourist-beaten town. I've heard people go so far as to call it a tourist trap: not worthy of the visitor traffic it receives, full of fakeness and schlock. While there are a strangely large number of opportunities to buy little figurines of Neuschwanstein, a popular castle completely unrelated to Heidelberg and several hours away, I don't think I'd agree that it's a trap. Heidelberg's popularity with tourists is well-deserved. The natural setting of the river, hills, and plains all meeting together is incredible, and the castle ruin is definitely the best I have seen.
With so many tourists it's not easy to come up with a list of local things that are worthwhile and not overrun, but here are some suggestions:

1. Climb the Heiligenberg. Most tourists don't go past the Philosophenweg. If you continue up the hill, following signs to Heiligenberg and heading ever upward, you'll reach two monastery ruins, an amphitheater built during the Third Reich, an area called the Celtic ring which was settled before the Romans ever came through, and a little pit stop where you can get food & drink. There are great views of Heidelberg from up there, too. Those with lots of time can follow signs in the woods to hike to other towns, with great views of the Neckar if you head east, or of the Rheinebene (plains) if you head north.

2. Ride up to the Koenigstuhl. The same Bergbahn (funicular rail) which you catch in the Kornmarkt to ride up to the castle can take you all the way to the top of the Koenigstuhl (King's chair), the highest hill in the area. Halfway up, you'll transfer from the more modern Bergbahn to a creaky old one, even steeper than the first! When you reach your destination you can view the mechanisms that make the Bergbahn function. At the top of the hill are incredible views on a clear day, all the way to Mannheim and beyond. There's also a falconry and a kid's park up there, as well as some nice trails. You can also hike to the top if the Bergbahn isn't your style.
3. Go for a bike ride to Ladenburg. I hope stepping outside Heidelberg a bit counts! Bikes can be rented from a place right near the Old Bridge in the Altstadt. Ride across the Neckar and head away from the hills, sticking as close to the Neckar as you can. Ladenburg is right along the river northwest of Heidelberg. You'll pass through a tiny little village with a place for food/drinks on the way there, in case you want to stop. The ride isn't far and it's flat the whole way. You'll pass through strawberry fields, see people out walking or biking or flying kites, and have nice views across the Neckar or back to the hills of the Odenwald. Ladenburg itself is a tiny town with pretty houses, a grassy park along the Neckar, and lots of cute little nooks and crannies to discover. If you've reached your biking limit for the day by the time you get there, you can always ride back to Heidelberg on the S-Bahn. Just get a bike ticket so you can bring it along on the train. Cars with space for bikes are marked on the outside.
4. Ride down the Neckar and hike up to Dilsberg. You can pick up the S-Bahn heading eastward at the Hauptbahnhof or Karlstor and ride along the Neckar to Neckarsteinach. After getting off the train, cross the Neckar on the footbridge across the hydroelectric dam and make your way through the woods up the hill on the other side. At the top you'll discover what feels like a surprise after all the solitude of the woods - a whole wall-enclosed village atop the hill, complete with a tiny church, a castle and tower, and a community that was even made fun of by Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad. It doesn't look like he describes anymore, but it's still very quaint and the views from the castle tower and the path outside the town walls are incredible - even better than any of the hilltop views near Heidelberg. I highly recommend doing this by walking from the train, but for those who are not interested or able, there's also a bus that can get you to Dilsberg from Heidelberg.

5. Picnic with the locals. Gather up some goodies from the bakery, deli, and/or grocery store and cross the Neckar from the Bismarckplatz into Neuenheim. On a nice day, the green grassy area to the left of the bridge will be completely packed with locals of all ages playing sports, sunning, or picnicking! Find a patch you like and join in. And remember, you can even drink beer in public, so it's not off-limits for your picnic. :)

Thanks to Christina G. for the challenge!

Coming soon: Photos from our recent trips to Wuerzburg and the Black Forest!
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yum.

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I was hoping for at least 10 votes, but I guess I'll take 9. Germany has won the 2nd round of our little language contest, 6-4! German winners were Kartoffel, Senf (crushing mustard 9-0!), Zimt, Knoblauch, Zitrone, and Kaffee. English winners included ginger, cloves, bean, and cumin. Thanks for playing; I guess round 3 will come around in another year and a half or so, at the current rate!

In other food-related news, check out this site! The creators have taken German packaged foods and compared the photos on the packaging with photos of the real contents. The results are not at all appetizing. I suspect that the results of such an experiment would be the same anywhere, but I have to admit, I find that the US is much better at packaged/processed foods than Germany. Of course you're not supposed to eat it no matter where you are, but if you want some, I'd go with the American stuff any day. There were several processed things I would eat now and again in the US, but here what I would go for is pretty limited.
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Saturday, September 13, 2008

German v. English, One-on-One: Part II!

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Today marks our two-year anniversary in Germany. We arrived in Heidelberg on September 13, 2006. What an innocent post I wrote that day, wondering why there were two buttons on the toilets and no screens on the windows!

In other news, I am now only 6 pounds away from my pre-Germany weight. The new jeans I bought on the day I felt like the fattest chick in Heidelberg are too big. And I'm still eating Eis and regional specialties, just being more careful about it!

To celebrate these events, how about round 2 of German v. English? (Here's round 1! It was a tie!)

Which of the following words do you prefer - the English, or the German? There will be a food theme this time. Submit your ballot in the comments!

1. ginger v. Ingwer
2. cloves v. Nelken
3. potato v. Kartoffel
4. bean v. Bohne
5. mustard v. Senf
6. cinnamon v. Zimt
7. garlic v. Knoblauch
8. lemon v. Zitrone
9. cumin v. Kreuzkümmel
10. coffee v. Kaffee :)

Edited! I've added a photo of Kreuzkümmel (cumin) next to Kümmel (caraway) to show they both exist, since there was some confusion. :)
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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cookie!!

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Look what Damon got me this weekend! I always wanted one of these things. They're not as delicious as they look, but better than I expected. I guess it sort of fills my occasional need for the pretty decorated cakes and cupcakes that you can get in the US. And the decorated mall cookies. Oh, so bad and so good.

Now I want one of those mall cookies.

In other news, I don't plan on doing any political blogging here, with the possible exception of reminding people to vote. However, if you need a fix, a friend of mine, who comes from the same background as me (American small town -> American city -> other country entirely - therefore we straddle these American cultural divides), has started a great blog on the subject over at The Informed Voter! Check it out!
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