Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snow!

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Damon got me a new camera for Christmas! It's super-tiny so I can carry it all the time, and it has lots of dummy settings like "snow" and "food" which are perfect for a lazy person like me. So, I went out yesterday in the snow to get photos to show you why I wish it would snow more in Heidelberg - but I forgot to put in the memory stick. Even this camera can't save me from that. It does hold two photos in its internal memory though, so I got two!


Isn't it incredible on the hills?
This is what it looked like right after it finished snowing yesterday. It never got that cold, though, and the snow was already falling off the trees in big clods when I took this. This morning we woke up yet again to see not a trace of snow on the terrace - all rained away again. It's depressing to go from the photos above to everything brown and wet and slushy again. I can understand that it sucks for transit/driving though...can I ever. That's why I want just one snowstorm so big that everyone has an excuse to not have to travel in it for a day or two.
Let's schedule one for January or so so we don't mess up anyone's Christmas travel plans, eh?
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Monday, December 20, 2010

What snow?

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Everybody else's exciting snow news is bumming me out. We got a whole two inches here, which only stuck for a couple of days before being all rained away last night. I would love to just experience one day of getting snowed in and civilization coming to a halt. Of course, since Frankfurt has been getting plenty of snow we could still end up getting screwed by it when we need to fly, but without the benefits of seeing our own town buried. Boo!
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Music Post, 2010

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It's the most wonderful time of the year: list-making time, that is. 2010 was a pretty fun year in music for me and I hope you find something here that makes you say the same!

This year I did a better job of turning off the shuffle and listening to albums in full so I ended up with as many "favorite albums" as "favorite songs" this year. Still this post will be focused on individual songs because it seems more likely someone will give them a shot.

Caribou - "Bowls"
Album: Swim

Caribou has gotten a lot of play this year! It's not often that I hear familiar new music away from home, but caught Caribou in a Welsh pub and a Berlin taxi in the last couple of months. We saw him play a very sold-out show at Karlstorbahnhof last month and the crowd was young enough to look at us funny. (Dan Snaith = my age, kids.) I really looked forward to this album and was so glad he did not disappoint.

Yeasayer - "O.N.E."
Album: Odd Blood

Surprise - Yeasayer's new album had almost nothing in common with their last one. The gamble lost some people and gained some, but I'm among those who really enjoy both styles. It's a particularly interesting move because I now wait with a special sort of suspense for their next album, having no idea at all what to expect!

The Books - "Beautiful People"
Album: The Way Out

In the immortal words of Questionable Content, "Music + Science = Sexy". At the first listen through this album I thought I'd made a mistake in getting it. I was wrong.

Sleigh Bells - "Infinity Guitars"
Album: Treats

I think Fluxblog described it best. Hearing Sleigh Bells the first time reminded me of hearing Nirvana the first time in junior high. I didn't think I should like it, but secretly I did anyway.

Joanna Newsom - "Good Intentions Paving Company"
Album: Have One on Me

Like most ....odd female singer-songwriters, it takes a few listens, and suddenly goes from irritating to charming as hell. Taking the first couple of lines totally out of context gives you something a lot of expats can probably relate to: "Hello, my old country, hello - the stars are just beginning to appear, and I have never in my life before been here."

Delorean - "Infinite Desert"
Album: Subiza

El Guincho - "Ghetto Facil"
Album: Pop Negro

These albums are so lovably chipper. I could usually take or leave beachy music so these were more great surprises for me.

Local Natives - "Sun Hands"
Album: Gorilla Manor

Also, "Airplanes". This album is excellent all the way through.

Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"
Album: The Suburbs

I never got into Arcade Fire before. It seemed like alternative music your mother-in-law could love. I guess this year I was just in the right mood for it. Talking about dead shopping malls is always a good way to get me involved. I'll stop here before my consumerism rant kicks in...

Menomena - "TAOS"
Album: Mines

I didn't like the new album as much as the last, but I had to include them, as I saw them at Karlstor last month and was completely endeared by the fact that band member Brent Knopf was the one selling shirts in the lobby before the show - in sweet, polite too-perfect German. Later we got a second encore too, and the whole audience left enamored with them, even though they called us boring. ;)

Vampire Weekend - "White Sky"
Album: Contra

Let's all enjoy Ezra's young voice while he still has it. :)

Orbital - "The Gun Is Good"
(single)

I can't leave off Orbital, THE band of my college years, back to put out a couple of new songs. Welcome back to the 90s.

Is this too many yet? One more.

Yawn - "Kind of Guy"
Album: Yawn E.P.

I actually prefer "Toys" but couldn't get it on YouTube. Yawn has generously put their super-catchy EP up for free download on their site, so just try it!

OK, I know when to stop, really I do.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

13 Teeny Tiny Centimeters

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Yesterday I got one of my Christmas cards back in the mail. Over the address was a giant yellow label telling me that the envelope was missing 1.70 EUR in postage (the standard cost of a letter to the US). It already had 1.70 worth of (some pretty cool) stamps on it. The label went on to give a big list of appropriate postage for various sizes of package and envelope. Apparently, one side of a letter must be at least 14 cm long in order to be mailed. The envelope that was returned to me was 13cm x 13cm square.

So, I'm a little confused! Is it really missing 1.70 in postage and does it really need to have 3.40? Or is it totally unmailable? And why did only this one come back to me? There were others that were the same size. I tried deutschepost.de, but it comes back with an error if I put those dimensions in.

I think US mail requires extra postage for square envelopes, actually (not sure if the size matters or just hte shape) - or at least they did for a while. When square cards came into style they ended up redesigning the envelopes to be longer than the cards so you wouldn't have to pay extra. Strange (it's cheaper to send something bigger?!) but true...
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Hochwasser! (II)

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Underwater!

I blogged before when the Neckar was high, but it wasn't as high as it was today! I didn't get any photos, but you can see some on Facebook here. (I don't think you need an account - I'm not part of the group that posted them, but I can still see them.)

It's not THAT high but definitely the highest since we've lived here. Unfortunately it is causing a bit of a problem for some people because it closes the road along the south side of the Neckar, and the road along the north side of the Neckar is already closed to thru traffic becuase of construction. This leaves only the Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage open. (Heidelberg is trapped between hills!) Also, you have to wade if you want to get to the boat restaurant near the rowing club in Neuenheim! The water looks like it has retreated slightly - or am I just imagining?
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Friday, December 03, 2010

It's Friday!!

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I n celebration, a few fun Germany-related games for you from Sporcle:

Great German Companies!

Most Common German Surnames! This was a lot harder than I expected. I got what felt like only a tiny sprinkling of them (and kicked myself when the rest were revealed) but managed a high percentile despite that.

German Chancellors!

Enjoy!
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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Rest of the mold story

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Alright, the architect and his pal are gone, so here is the rest. After the kip lecture he said he thought we were just getting regular moisture in the room and not letting it back out, and he had his hand twitching over his "how to air out your apartment chart" like he was about to whip it out and show us how to care for our ever-so-fragile German apartment, but he decided to do a couple more moisture readings first. And, it turns out that although most of the room is dry enough, the corner where the mold was, right next to the floor, is WAY moister than the rest of the room. So, he decided he wasn't going to turn around and blame it all on us after all, but that maybe the heat is leaking water into the wall/floor or maybe the wall needs to be torn out (!?). Well, hopefully the wall won't need to be torn out, but we'll find out more soon.

In the meanwhile, he wants us to run the heat in the bedroom all the time and open both our windows (haha, we have two in the whole apartment) wide open four times a day. He didn't specify how long. Having the heat on is going to hurt because we use it very sparingly and never in the bedroom - I might have to start sleeping in the living room, because I sleep best in winter because the bedroom is nice and cool and conducive to the big blanket piles I love. But, at least we are on the road to having it figured out after months of no response! YAY!
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More fun with air

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FINALLY, today someone is here to have a look at what might have caused our massive bedroom mold problem (it hasn't grown back since we tore off the wallpaper and floorboards, cleaned it all up, and put a dehumidifier in there).

Right now "the architect" has his little hygrometer out, of course, to find out where there might be too much moisture. I believe that he is currently lecturing Damon on how it is bad to kip (tilt) our window because moisture will build up on the window and roll down into the wall. Thereby leaving our only method of airing out the room (an absolutely crucial part of living in a German apartment as you know by now) having the window wide open in subzero temps all winter. (Because with the no-circulation situation we have because there is no way to pull air through on the other side, we have to have them open way longer than normal.)

I'll have the architect pay my heating bill, then.
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Monday, November 15, 2010

DHL Update

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F or those who read my whining about DHL's sad inability to redeliver a package to our apartment, a bit of follow-up: We complained over the phone when we called in and discovered that it wasn't going to be redelivered after all. We didn't think anything would come of it, but DHL sent us a letter about the complaint, along with a label for 6.90 EUR (I have a Euro key on my new keyboard, but don't know how to use it...) worth of postage. This is basically a little package within Germany and isn't all that useful to us since we pretty much never mail packages within the country, but I guess it's nice to know they logged our complaint.

And oh, yeah, I don't suppose you believe Nazis are about to take over Germany? My comment was admittedly a bit empty and reactionary; I made it too quickly. Anyway, I figured some people who read this blog might be interested in seeing that, and I'm sure the author will be happy for whatever attention I send over there. I mean, what else can you be seeking with the N-word?
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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Craig Morris on Expat Life

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I found this set of articles by Craig Morris, an American living in Germany, several months ago, and I just rediscovered them now! I've been meaning to post them.

This article is my particular favorite, and some parts of it are all-too-familiar. (Bolding mine.)
. . . "It certainly does matter," I said. "If you don't speak the language at all, you can't be yourself. You won't be able to show your humor and your personality for years. You should be going out and spending time with the natives so you can learn their language, but you'll get a headache after talking to them for 10 minutes at a party. A whole night in the foreign tongue will feel like a college admission test. Pretty soon, you'll be spending all your time with all the other foreigners who are suffering the same fate . . .

. . . It's easy to criticize the natives because foreigners are not well integrated, but foreigners also put themselves in ghettos," I continued. "At some point, you find yourself surrounded by nothing but other foreigners, who also don't have any friends that aren't foreign, and then everybody starts complaining about how hard it is to make friends with these cold, unfriendly natives. I saw that go on for years in Germany and also thought it must be true because all the foreigners thought the Germans were not interested in us.

"Then I spent a year in France. You think the foreigners in France spoke differently about the French? The Germans I met in France loved spending time with me because they could tell me exactly how they felt in their own native tongue. You wouldn't believe how these Germans talked bad about the French! You can never make friends with them, they're not interested in foreigners anyway, and so forth. Real integration is almost impossible even when the conditions in the country of your choice are good. Both sides have to give it their all."

It continues to be interesting from there, but the above was all too familiar. Integrating is really hard and takes years and years and years and if you don't spend every one of those years working your ass off at integrating, it might never even happen.

There has recently been a little more negative attention on foreigners around here, and even though people may tell us we are the "good kind" of immigrants, whatever that means, I don't really feel all that comfortable with it. I haven't totally integrated and don't know if I ever would. I still speak English with doctors, for example. I just find my health way too important to botch that communication with my shitty German, and every doctor I've had was excellent in English. Are these doctors, in the back of their minds, thinking poorly of me for being foreign and not being 5 billion percent integrated? That possibility does cross my mind.

Of course this talk is always going on in the US too. To my surprise, when I was home earlier this year, my own father asked me if my husband and I speak German at home. Of course we don't (except for some little bits for fun here and there), and I was pretty shocked that he would even wonder about that. But, I think he was thinking of immigrants to the US and whether they should be expected to use English even at home, even if the whole family speaks a common native language that isn't English. Personally I find that way too much to ask! You could easily destroy a family by taking away the nuances of their communication by forcing them to do it in a language they are just learning. But, I think there are people (not my dad - he was just curious) who really believe that should be done. We've had people comment to us in public that we should be speaking German when they overhear us speaking English to each other. I don't think talking to my own husband in English is really imposing an imperalist language on anyone else or failing to integrate at an appropriate level.

Thoughts?
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flannel = Fancy?

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I just spent EIGHTEEN EURO for one meter of ugly* flannel fabric at the Pfaff shop, where I will never shop again. (Seriously - they sell remnants outside the shop and don't even put a discount on them. Half yard of remnant cotton = NINE EURO.)

Are you kidding me? We used to wear flannel shirts in high school because they were so cheap. I didn't even think to check the price so it was already cut when I found out. A cursory look online shows ugly flannel to be around $5 a yard in the US.

This is just to remind myself that there are some things which are fancy here and not fancy there. Yeesh.

* I bought it for a quilt for someone else and although I just wanted solid white they only had prints, and I figured this one that was mostly solid was "good enough" for the project. Of course I would not have thought that if I'd known the price. The baby I'm making this for had better love it forever and take it to college with them and build a shrine to it and stuff. Jeez.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cornwall: Bodmin Moor!

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Every day this vacation is receding further from my mind, seemingly at a faster and faster pace. I've got to hurry and post about it or I might never!

Bedknobs Bed & Breakfast in Bodmin

All three of us stayed in a two-bedroom apartment at Bedknobs Bed & Breakfast. We arrived a bit late but both of the proprietors greeted us and spent plenty of time with us showing us everything and suggesting things to do the next day. They also helped us find a place to eat since we arrived right before most places stopped serving food, and called in for us to get a table! The apartment was really fantastic. The first bedroom was enormous - probably the size of our whole living room - but the second bedroom was even twice that! The living room was also huge and there were two TVs, one in the living room and another in the bigger bedroom. The bathroom didn't have a standing shower (they're going to add one soon) but it DID have a BATHTUB!! I enjoyed it thoroughly. They also have some really nice soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner in the rooms. (And you can buy some of it too.) Breakfast was fantastic. I was already getting sick of the full English breakfast by then so I tried the porridge with brown sugar and clotted cream. I ended up getting that the second day too. Also, the first night I slept the best I have in ages.

They gave us an Ordnance Survey map for the area with a route showing tons of old rocks and things and reviewed it all with us so we could plan out our day. With that, we were off!

Some cool stuff we saw at Bodmin Moor

We made our way through the moor toward a town with the amusing name of Minions, stopped a couple of times on the way to see some old crosses. At Minions, there's a nice little walk from the town past three stone circles called the Hurlers, toward a hill with some crazy natural rock formations and the remains of an old fortification. Along the way you also have views of other standing stones and mining ruins. (Tin and copper were mined in Cornwall.) There are also great views of the moor from the hill, and you can see south to the ocean. It was a beautiful weekend day so there were plenty of people out, but not enough to make it feel fake and weird.

Bodmin Moor & More Okt 10

After the walk we stopped at the Minions Tea Rooms for a snack and tea. The weather was so nice that we actually got too hot sitting in the sun. Did I mention October is supposed to be the rainiest month in Cornwall? We really lucked out! We then continued on to St. Cleer, where we checked out their holy well and church, and then drove a little ways outside of St. Cleer to see Trethevy Quoit, a dolmen. I wasn't expecting such a nice one! It was at least as impressive as Poulnabrone, but without all the damn tour buses pulling up. In fact we had it all to ourselves.

This marked the end of the tour the B&B laid out for us on the map, but I noticed another holy well in St. Neot nearby so we went over there to check that out. It was more interesting than the one in St. Cleer, and they also had a more interesting church, so I'm glad we stopped there. The first time I saw a holy well, we just stumbled upon it in Ireland and I thought it was really cool, checking out all the things people left behind there. I wanted to see a bunch when we came to Cornwall, but there just wasn't time for very many.

Tintagel Castle

My friend wanted to see Tintagel, purported to be "King Arthur's Castle" and we really had to hightail it up there after St. Neot because we wanted to get there before dark. Unfortunately the quickest way to get there was closed down and we had no warning until we were actually at the roundabout to turn off, so we wasted a few minutes trying to get turned back around. I'd been reading the map all day in the car and was starting to get really nauseous so we had a map hand-off to my friend as well, and it takes a little time to reorient there. We ended up making it to Tintagel just as the sun was setting. It was officially closed already, but the part we got to (up on a hill rather than down by the shore) was wide open to stroll into, so we just went in. There isn't much there except a bunch of stone walls (I'm really getting jaded about castles - don't need to see any more of them unless they are really special), but the location is fantastic. It was a great place to watch the sun go down. The town of Tintagel itself seemed to be mostly closed down. It had some cute old buildings but you had to dodge some cheesy tourist bits.

We returned to Bodmin for dinner at a restaurant down the street from our B&B that came highly recommended, Steak and Thai. (Using the cached version because their site isn't working at all right now. Good job, guys.) It wasn't bad, but we all actually thought the Bodmin Jail was better, and this place was also more expensive. On the way out, we ran into a Thai woman working there and she was so excited to see my (Filipina) friend that I felt bad for her. I guess Bodmin probably isn't very diverse.

Monday: Two more wells pls?

That night after dinner and of course a wonderful bath I took out the Ordnance Survey map and studied it for any possible wells near our route back out the next morning, since we'd only seen two and one of them (St. Cleer) was kind of lame. (There wasn't anything left there or anything, and the water was under a grate you couldn't open.) I found a couple, so the next morning we tried to find them without having the map, which we of course had to return when we checked out. The first was in a village called Laneast. When we got there, there weren't any signs for it, so without a map to show which way to leave the village (there were a LOT of possibilities) and not that much time, we never found it. We went to the next village over, St. Clether, to try another one, and that was perfect! There were signs at the church pointing the way to the well. It's out in the country a ways and there's even a tiny chapel out there for it! (And, uh, people trying to sell things like pagany candles and walking sticks in it - they're not actually there, just some honesty boxes - but still.) So that was really worth going a little out of the way and I felt a bit better about seeing what I'd hoped for. Although a little bad too, because I'm sure my friend thought the wells were a bit of a drag. Traveling with friends can be hard. However, after our day on the moor, she told us that she was surprised, but she really liked it after all. What a relief after she asked in the car why anyone would want to go to a moor!! Now she wants to retire in Cornwall. :)

Song o' the Post!
Did you know Aphex Twin grew up in Cornwall? In a tiny place near Redruth, which I never previously realized was a town name rather than something he just made up.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

DHL = INCOMPETENT

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Just FYI.....we interrupt the Chipper Vacation Recap to inform you that DHL totally sucks!

A package was sent to us while we were on vacation. It arrived the day after we got back while we were out. We missed it by five minutes - I even ran out in the street to see if we could see the truck down the street or anything, but no luck. I've bitched before about the ridiculous pickup location for packages. Trying to avoid dealing with that, on Thursday we called the number on the slip to arrange redelivery for Saturday. Then we stayed home almost the entire day waiting for it. We thought it would come in the morning, and called in the early afternoon to see what the deal was, because the tracking number they gave us didn't work. They said it was on the truck and should show up by 4 or 5pm. So, we waited until 6pm. Still no package. Called again. This time they said it never made it onto the truck at all. Massive biff. They said it would be redelivered on Monday.

Welcome to Monday. It's 1pm and still no package and I'm terrified to even pee for too long in case I miss it. We call in. Guess what!? They forgot to put it on the truck again! The woman on the phone said we could arrange Wednesday redelivery, but we had better just come pick it up, because regardless of our phone calls it is going to be sent back on Wednesday if not claimed. So if they forgot to put it on the truck again that time, we would be screwed.

I can't believe their incompetence in forgetting to redeliver the package twice. It's especially confounding because normally I find things run pretty competently here. WTF, DHL!? YOU COMPLETELY SUCK.

Grump grump grump.
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cornwall: Not as close to Bristol as you might think

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Cornwall almost didn't happen on this trip.

We talked for a long time about going to Wales or Cornwall sometime. Later a friend moved to Bristol and we started to include her in these theoretical plans. As this trip actually started to take shape, three things were certain: we'd be renting a car, Wales would be involved, and our friend would join us for some part of the trip. The remaining bits were up for grabs.

Trip Planning

What I really wanted was to go to Cornwall. I always had a little bit of a thing for it after looking at a map and realizing that it was so small yet had (in the past, and is trying to again) its very own language. But after planning the first half of the trip and realizing how far Cornwall is from everything, I almost kicked it out. I considered going back to Wales, or going to Bath or Avebury or Salisbury, or going to Devon. For two days Cornwall wasn't in the plan at all, and I was looking into Devon quite seriously. Then I couldn't stand it. What if I never had another chance to see Cornwall? What if fate whisked us back to the US and we never had a dime or a day of vacation again in our lives? I put it back in, with the plan that we would not go out to the further points in Cornwall, but hang around in its eastern edges, making getting out there less of a car-y nightmare. I booked a place in Bodmin and planned to poke around Bodmin Moor and do some research for other things close to there.

I kept selfishly saying "I" there didn't I? I was the primary trip planner. But there were three people on this trip, and one wanted to go to St. Michael's Mount, waaaay out near Penzance. I wanted to include this for her, knowing that the desolation of moors that I love so much might not be her cup of tea, knowing that she likes landmarks with a little more impact. So, so much for keeping to the eastern edge of Cornwall - we were going whole hog.

It was a long, long ride from Bristol to Marazion, where St. Michael's Mount sits off the shore, accessible by foot only during low tide. I wanted to get it out of the way right away so we wouldn't feel rushed at the moor the next day. On the way we passed signs for the moors of Devon, Dartmoor and Exmoor, and I said I thought they looked really nice when I read about them. My friend said, "But why would anyone want to go to a moor? There's nothing there." Cue music of doom in my mind. We stopped for a mediocre lunch at the Victoria Inn and pressed onward.

St. Michael's Mount

Well, we should have planned a little better. When we arrived in Marazion, we discovered that everything on the island is closed on Saturdays. Cue some tense hemming and hawing about whether to go to the island if everything was going to be closed - because it wasn't low tide, and we couldn't cross by foot yet. We couldn't find a tide table anywhere in town to tell us how much longer it would be. Supposedly there are ferries to the island when the tide is high, but we couldn't find a schedule for any of those either, and we only thought we saw one making a crossing the whole time we were there. We walked around Marazion a bit, then had a drink at a crowded cafe on the water, waiting to see if the tide would go out. A lot of other people seemed to have the same idea. They waded out as far as they could, then came back, over and over. We didn't have any proper gear for wading across even if it got low enough to make that possible. It never got low enough to cross, and we gave up, wanting to salvage a little bit of the day.

St. Michael's Mount & Land's End Okt 10

Land's End

We figured we'd try to salvage it by heading out to Land's End as long as we were practically all the way out at the end of Cornwall anyway. Land's End is famous just for being the southwesternmost point on Britain. There is a hideous sort of amusement theme land or something out there now, but it's not that big and very easily avoided if you just want to check out the cliffs. We watched the sun set there (complete with sun dogs!) and it was fantastic. There were only 10 or so other people there, and none of them anywhere nearby. It was definitely worth it, even though it took us almost 2 more hours to get all the way back to our B&B in Bodmin (which I'll talk about a little more in the next post). Thus we ate dinner at Bodmin Jail - a restaurant built right into the former jail and supposedly haunted - well after 9pm. It was pretty good, by the way, including the brownie and bread and butter pudding desserts! (I'm ALL about the desserts in the UK, since Germany often falls flat for me in that regard.)

Song o' the Post!
Patrick Wolf has a song that mentions Land's End!
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Adventures in the Very South of Wales!

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W hile we were planning, multiple sources recommended that we check out the Gower Peninsula, which sticks off the southern coast of Wales near Swansea. Since we were meeting a friend in Bristol that night, we thought it was a good thing to fit in between there and Brecon Beacons, and headed south.

Rhossili

We wanted to avoid city driving, but unfortunately the main road out to the Gower Peninsula goes right through Swansea, and the signage had us going through neighborhoods and everything. At some point we almost got in a wreck at one of these "traffic circles" that is actually just a normal intersection with a circle painted in the center - NOT obvious if you're not familiar with it! Anyway, we made it out to Rhossili, at the end of the peninsula, physically unscathed. :)

Rhossili Okt 10

The town of Rhossili sits up on a cliff above a huge beach, which was nearly empty the day we were there. You can park at the church in town for a donation in an honesty box, or park in a (pay and display? I think) lot at the end of the road. We parked at the church and checked it out - they were selling postcards for 20p there and I bought a few. We knew we'd be going to a beach when we were in Cornwall so instead of walking down to the beach, we walked along the cliff and had great views of it. At the end of the cliff is a sort-of island called Worm's Head, which you can walk to at low tide. Unfortunately it was totally the wrong time of day so we couldn't go out there, but just having a look was really nice.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a visitor's center/gift shop on a whim and found the Ordnance Survey map of the peninsula. We weren't going to be there long enough to justify buying it, but we were very intrigued by the photo on the cover. It looked like some kind of old dwelling built into the side of a cliff! On the back it said the photo was of a place called the Culver Hole in Port Eynon. We set out to find it!

Port Eynon

Port Eynon is just a short drive from Rhossili. Instead of being on a cliff, it's down at sea level, and at this time of year is practically abandoned. We looked at a map in town that indicated the very general location where the Culver Hole could be found, so we set out in that direction. We never saw any more signs or markers indicating where it could be found! First we followed along the water, but the path ended so we went up on a cliff, and saw no markers there either. Finally after going down the cliff on the other side and going along a scary path above the water, we found it!!

Port Eynon Okt 10

Isn't that awesome?! They aren't sure what it was - it might be a pigeon breeding house, or a pirate headquarters! (I like the second theory better.) Apparently there are rooms and stairs and stuff inside but we didn't have any way to get in and it's supposedly pretty dangerous in there anyway. Just getting to the thing was scary enough for me.

We were pretty hungry after leaving Port Eynon, so we pulled in at a roadside cafe on our way back toward Swansea. There we found a guy who was super chatty and wanted to talk and talk about the US and how he wants to move either there or to New Zealand. "I want to move to the US" is something we virtually NEVER hear from Europeans. (Although it should be said that the British don't really put themselves in the same category as the rest of Europe!) It was particularly interesting to us because we're so torn about going back to the US. He spent a lot of time there during his time as an engineer in the Royal Air Force (so not like Lionel Mandrake, but close). He informed us that on just one particular air base in the US there are more of some kind of airplane weapon than there are in the entire UK Air Force (and admitted that there is no way we needed them all). He also said that on practice runs the American pilots always dropped all their bombs, while the English always came back with some. I guess this idea of having too much of everything and just throwing things away is appealing for him. It was really interesting. Anyway, he's selling his cafe in hopes of pursuing these dreams so if you're looking for a business venture on the Gower Peninsula, there you go! He told us that Rhossili gets 6 million visitors a year so there are plenty of potential customers going by!

Monknash

After our snack break, we were back on the road through Swansea and on toward Monknash, which is near the coast sort of between Swansea and Cardiff. We wouldn't have ever gone there if not for the following recommendation from my husband's sort-of colleague (they know each other because of work but never actually worked together) who used to live in Cardiff:
There is a great fossil beach near the Plough and Harrow pub in Monknash
The pub has decent food but I go mainly for the great outdoors and the selection of beers from small wooden barrels. From the pub drive down the small road until a parking lot near a farm (lawn parking) and then walk downhill (through a little forest) until your reach the beach in about 15 mins - very spectacular).
By the time we arrived at the car park the sun was threatening to set very soon so we did this walk in a bit of a hurry since we didn't have flashlights or anything with us.

Monknash Okt 10

Coming out here was a little bit out of our way but it was absolutely worth it! The walk to the beach was short but gorgeous - after going a little further along a road through pasture, it turned into a little wooded valley with the ruins of an old mill and a bunch of little tiny waterfalls heading toward the shore. There it opened up to cliffs, rocks, sand, and a sort of interesting rock plateau where the creek went into the water. We didn't really see a lot of fossils, but with more time I'm sure we could have. I wish we could have stayed!

When we got back to the town, where there had previously only been a couple of cars parked at the pub, there were now so many we had to park in overflow! Apparently it was happy hour! I was skeptical when we walked in and it was about 40'C in there and packed and I felt like an outsider, but then they started playing Caribou and I was swayed. Yay, the power of music. We just wanted to drop in for a drink, but the menu looked great and I wish we could have eaten there! I swore I was going to try spotted dick at some point on this trip and I never did, but it was on the menu there. They also had faggots and peas, which I was still wondering about at that point. While we waited for our drinks (and by the way, my cider was really excellent), some spots to sit opened up and we shared a table with a couple who live in the area. It turned out the woman was an American! Then the conversation got rolling on American foreign policy and living abroad, which was really fun. They also swear that Marmite is good. (Recommended Marmite recipe: toast with butter, marmite, tomato slice, and salt/pepper.) They were really nice and I so wish we could have had a few more drinks there. Who am I kidding, I'm ready to move to Wales RIGHT NOW PLS. Unfortunately we had already stayed too long and were super-late meeting our friend in Bristol! (Getting lost on the way into the city probably didn't help....)

Song o' the Post!
Some Caribou, just like in the Plough and Harrow!


Coming soon: We go to jail in Bodmin!
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Brecon Beacons: Some like it desolate!

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F rom Hay-on-Wye we made our way toward our next B&B. At this point I should mention that I had prepared a detailed itinerary which included all the contact information and complicated directions for all the places where we were staying. Then we forgot to print it out. Thankfully we had my husband's laptop with us and he had the file on there, so we had to pull that out and look everything up when needed!

Beili Helyg B&B

When I envisioned a place to stay near Brecon Beacons, I wanted something in a really tiny, remote place. I found a few options online, but one rose to the top pretty fast. I really wanted a place with a bathtub. I don't have one in my apartment and I miss baths so much, so I love to have one after a long day of wandering around on vacation. I wasn't sure from the website whether this place had them so I emailed them. The proprietor wrote back and said that they did not, and wrote, "If you need any help finding alternatives, just ask." I asked myself, is this guy so nice he's going to help me find a room with a competitor? Forget the bathtub! And booked it. (But swore to get a bathtub on the Cornwall leg of the trip.)

Anyway, we drove further and further from the highway down a single-lane road, and eventually found Beili Helyg up in a huge field. Our room was gorgeous and stocked with a new treat each day we were there. They also have a breakfast room with big Ordnance Survey maps on the wall (which I spent a lot of time staring at - how I love maps) and a fruit bowl and dishes you can use, and a great lounge with a fire in the fireplace every night, three couches, and a bookshelf full of books and games, including a lot of books about the area. Breakfast was also a really perfect size - not too big - and the sausages were amazing! Not only all this but they were SO helpful with personalized suggestions of where to go and what to do. We didn't take advantage of it, but you can also have dinner there. (One of our fellow guests did this - as we were leaving for the night we asked what he was having and he was clearly thrilled to report that he was going to have faggots & peas like it was the best thing in the whole world, and we had NO idea what that was....)

Hirwaun & Penderyn

After settling into our room and having a cup of tea, we set out to find a pub for dinner. The proprietor recommended a place in Hirwaun called Glancynon Inn and drew up a little map for us to find it, since it was a little complicated. The place didn't look particularly special but the food we had was actually really good, especially the desserts! The first night we had Merlyn & strawberry cheesecake and the second night, sticky toffee pudding. Neither of us had ever had that before and are now pretty sure it's the best thing ever. (Although my husband is reconsidering that fact since he discovered it contains dates.) Also, the first night, I am pretty sure there was a guy speaking half-English and half-Welsh with one of the staff. I was surprised we got a chance to hear Welsh in the wild, which I think is not so common!

After dinner we got in a bit of stargazing at the B&B since it was a clear night. The sky was almost as good as at my dad's house, but there is a little bit of light pollution on the horizons which I think was exacerbated by the mistiness. We saw a few falling stars! While we were out there, four bicyclists whizzed by on that tiny country road absolutely silently. Bad ass.

The next morning we stopped in the nearest town, Penderyn, to buy some whisky. We discovered that they make what is currently the only Welsh Whisky there. (It just now occurred to me that whisky is a really cool word.) It's the world's smallest whisky distillery! That's also where the Merlyn we had in our cheesecake comes from.

Ystradfellte & walking around!

Brecon Beacons Okt 10

We wanted to see some old rocks and found a walk that looked like it fit the bill in one of the books in the B&B lounge. In the morning we asked about it and they said it was nice (probably not as exciting as the waterfall walks that are more popular) and also pointed out an additional cool feature near there that we could add to our itinerary. We took their Ordnance Survey map with us.

We started in the tiny town of Ystradfellte, where we could park, and looked around there a little. It had a pub that didn't look open, an old church and churchyard, and a post office that also sold gum and candy and stuff.

The walk was listed as taking just 3 hours, but it took us more like 4.5 because we tend to meander and stop for EVERYTHING. Look, sheep! Look, moss! Look, a wizened tree! Look, a hole in the ground! Look, a pile of rocks! Look, according to the Ordnance Survey map that thing could be a cairn! Or...maybe the cairn is that thing! The maps are really just amazing. I've been reading Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island during and since the trip and related when he wrote:
"I am constantly impressed by the richness of detail on the OS 1:25,000 series. They include every wrinkle and divot on the landscape, every barn, milestone, wind pump, and tumulus . . . There's always some intriguing landmark just over the next contour line. You could spend your life moving from stone circle to Roman settlement (remains of) to ruined abbey and never see but a fraction of them even in a small area, particularly if, like me, you seldom actually find them."
I would love nothing more than to spend days and days with a stack of those maps looking for every gothic-font landmark noted on them!

Anyway, check out the photos to see what we saw on our walk! It was really beautiful in a very simple way. I was totally satisfied with it, and we saw almost nobody the whole time. The only major event was running into a hunting party (with about a zillion dogs) shooting pheasants. We waited for them to pass and they were actually shooting - in the other direction - but still, kind of unpleasant. Their dogs were cute, anyway. Afterward it was late afternoon and we were famished. The pub in Ystradfellte still showed no signs of life so we headed back toward Penderyn hoping for a convenience store or anything there, although we didn't remember having seen one earlier. On the way, we ran across a lay-by with a snack van parked in it. These things kept popping up in the most unlikely places, but we were thankful this time because we really needed some food. We ordered chips. They took forever and were nasty. Oops. Still, they did potentially spare us a lot of driving looking around for just a snack to tide us over until our next meal at Glancynon Inn. After dinner we sat around the warm lounge reading our books from Hay-on-Wye. Ahhh.

Song o' the Post!
Did you know that Los Campesinos! are Welsh? Okay, they formed in Wales. Still, that's cool.


Coming soon: We try not to fall off cliffs on the Gower peninsula!!
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The great joy of flying into London City - and the even greater joy of Hay-on-Wye

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W e've just returned from a glorious week in the UK. If only we could have stayed longer! By the end we were feeling more like ourselves than we have in months. I'm pretty sure that if I had to limit all my future travels to one general destination, I would be happy making that destination the British Isles. Unfortunately we have a lot going on over here so a week was all we could manage.

London City Airport

We flew out of Frankfurt in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, and it was the most empty and pleasant I've ever seen it. When we went through security there were no lines and about five times as many staff as passengers coming through. Also, the second security check that we had to endure for previous flights to the UK and US has been removed! Hallelujah!

My cheapskate-y ways resulted in an itinerary where we flew into London City airport and out of Heathrow. I wouldn't do this again, but I'm glad I did it once. I didn't know anything about London City before, except that I saw on Google Maps that it was really in the city.

Our plane had a 2-2 seating arrangement but was still not all that small. It turned out to be probably the biggest plane London City can handle. The plane landed and the pilot immediately slammed on the brakes. Yeah, you always get a little bit of slammy on the brakes when you land, but not like this; it was drastic. We stopped in a very short distance, and when we came to a stop we found out why. The plane made a complete u-turn and we could see that not only were we already at the very end of the runway, the other end was extremely close, and there are no taxiways - the plane has to taxi on the runway! It's tiny! When we got to the terminal we could see out the windows that the airport is embedded directly in a little neighborhood of townhouses - they're just right across the street from the terminal. I think they built the airport in the smallest possible space in which you could fit one.

We went through passport control with some creepy-voiced guy who sounded like a serial killer in a movie and wanted to know way too much information about our trip, picked up our checked bag, put money on our Oyster cards, and headed for public transit.

Getting from London City to Heathrow

We were renting a car for the trip but didn't want to drive in the city, so we arranged to rent a car at Heathrow. This means a loooong trip between the two airports. An online trip planner recommended that we take light rail/the Tube to Paddington and take the Heathrow Express from there. However, a friend living in London advised us that it wouldn't really save much time to do that and it would be easier and cheaper to just take the light rail/Tube the whole way, so we did that. There is a Docklands Light Rail stop right in the airport and it takes you on an interesting ride through the Docklands, then hooks right up with the Tube. It was a long, long trip to Heathrow. We landed at 4:30 or so but it was dark by the time we picked up our car at Heathrow.

Here are my friend's instructions for the trip from London City to Heathrow:
Sadly, getting from London City to Heathrow is no treat. What I would do: take the DLR to Canning Street, then get on the Jubilee and take that to Green Park. There, catch the Piccadilly line and take it all the way to Heathrow airport. That would at least remove a couple of steps from your process and you would avoid the added expense of the Heathrow Express, which is not all that fast, frankly.
Box Hedge Farm B&B

Knowing that it would be relatively late when we picked up the car, we didn't bother planning to try to get all the way to our first destination that night. I whipped out a map and looked for a place on the way to Wales that was 1.5-2 hours outside of London and near the motorway. That puts you near Bristol, where I saw something on the map adorably named Chipping Sodbury and started searching there. I ended up booking with Box Hedge Farm B&B, which actually has the slightly less cute address of Coalpit Heath, but which looked nice for a decent price. We got lost trying to find the place in the dark, but managed to find it without having to call in for help. Our room was very cute (bed was a little hard, but some people are into that) and our breakfast was huge, served in a little cubby next to a huge set of windows. We asked for help choosing a route to our destination. When the proprietor essentially just told us to use our map and follow the signs, I thought that was friendly enough, but it actually turned out to be about the least helpful person we ever asked for directions. It seemed every person we met was more helpful than the last. It was amazing.

Anyway, the next morning we headed out and chose poorly with regards to which junction to get back on the M4. We ended up lost in the Bristol morning commute. However, it didn't last too long because there was a 2+ lane with nobody in it. Cars with just one occupant were backed up for miles and we passed all of them handily, with no other car even visible before us in that lane. I guess carpooling hasn't really caught on in Bristol. By the way I saw a sign for a town called Pucklechurch. Man, I wish we had time to go there. I think I could read the index of a British atlas all day.

Hay-on-Wye: BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS! All in ENGLISH!!!

We escaped Bristol's gravitational field, crossed the Severn on an enormous bridge, crossed into Wales, and made our way up past Brecon Beacons toward Hay-on-Wye. The scenery was just incredible. The sun was shining, but there was a mist clinging to everything that never burned off. The fields were unbelievably green, and on the hills the green faded into yellow and red. Every once in a while we passed through a little town with lots of gray buildings, a square-steepled church, and a bright red mailbox. And once that town was named Three Cocks, which is funny when you have a totally juvenile sense of humor.

Hay-on-Wye (etc.) Okt 10

Finally we reached our destination: Hay-on-Wye. I don't know where I first read about this town, but it made the must-visit list right away. It sits on the border between England and Wales and somehow ended up being home to 25-30 used bookstores. Our usual access to cheap English-language books being what it is, it was like walking into paradise. We looked at books until we couldn't stand it anymore. Then we had a quick lunch (meh) and looked at even more books. Miraculously, we managed to come away with only 14 books. I was particularly looking for books for my name book collection, and had the best luck in this endeavor at the Hay Cinema Bookshop (scarily mazelike...I was afraid I'd never find my way out) and Hay-on-Wye Booksellers. Thus these two were my personal favorites. I also loved Addyman Books for its awesome shelving built from pieces from an old church. Really, every bookstore we visited was worthwhile and the 14 we got came from at least seven different places. I would love to go back!

Song O' The Post!
I was going to link to a relevant song on YouTube for each post of the trip but can't find this song there. Try it here - click the play icon next to the song "Lliwiau Llachar"! We listened to it many times in the car - it's by the Welsh band Super Furry Animals and is in Welsh, so you can get a taste of how it sounds.

Coming soon: We try not to get shot in Brecon Beacons!
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to Lose and Gain Weight Really Fast

8 comments
Just change where you shop!

I've gotten used to shopping here in Germany. If I want to try on a top, I take the L into the dressing room, and maybe even the XL if the L is looking a little small. I can sometimes squish into an M - if I wanted to go for the ultra-tight check-out-my-boobs look. Which I don't.

However, when I was back in the US, I was browsing the Target clearance racks and discovered that the L is much more L. I bought a shirt that was an M and although it is a slightly fitted cut it's all billowy like I have no waist! The medium!! The difference was really shocking.

However, I guess it shouldn't be, according to this nifty chart showing the extent of vanity sizing in the US. At Old Navy, if pants say they have a 36-inch waist, they actually have a 41-inch waist!! This isn't even exploitation of the vagueness of S, M, L, XL sizing, it's a straight-up lie.

Even Germany has vanity sizing, though, apparently. A friend who went clothes shopping in Sweden thought the sizes there - at the same chains - were smaller than here. This is just anecdotal, but it is true that the Swedes themselves are thin. I don't know how they stay that way all winter when the temptation is to go nowhere and eat lots of hot fatty foods... or is that just me? ;)
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Rick Steves knocks the Black Forest

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A pparently Rick Steves thinks Americans are going to be bored by the Black Forest:
Germany's famous Black Forest disappoints more people than it excites. If that's all Germany offered, it would be worth seeing. For Europeans, any large forest is a popular attraction. But I'd say the average American visitor who's seen more than three trees in one place would prefer Germany's Romantic Road and Bavaria to the east, the Rhine and Mosel country to the north, the Swiss Alps to the south, and France's Alsace region to the west all high points that cut the Black Forest down to stumps.
Well, those other places are pretty nice too. I'd especially go back to the Mosel Valley in a heartbeat. But I think the Black Forest is more than just "more than three trees in one place". How many places in America can you go hiking in the forest and buy spring-cooled schnapps at the pathside on an honor system? Yeah, I can't think of any either.

Try it sometime, Rick!
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Monday, September 13, 2010

DRAFTS ARE BAD, mmkay?

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Soooo, our apartment is partly set into a hill. It has two windows. Both are on the same side of the apartment, so there is never, ever, ever a breeze of any kind in here. But that's good, if you're German. Drafts cause lots of bad health problems (according to German lore). Our German apartment has no draft and terrible, terrible, terrible ventilation. I guess it's great in the winter. It saves energy on heating.

So, is saving energy on heating worth...BLACK MOLD?

Because I'm pretty sure I've just discovered some growing on a wall behind the dresser in our bedroom. And I'm starting to wonder if that's the stuff we have to keep cleaning off the bathroom ceiling. And if it's what showed up on the part of the wooden clothespins that touch our damp clothes (plastic clothespins for the win here).

Here's hoping it's not THAT black mold - you know, the toxic one that causes your lungs to burn out and brain to melt and gonads to shrivel up - but just some other black mold.

UGH, I hate this apartment so much. But with the constant threat of leaving Heidelberg hanging over our heads, I don't know how we could afford a move....but if that really is THAT black mold...we might have to.

And before I get lectured on how a proper German knows to keep the windows open for three hours a day or whatever the hell it is. Our windows are open at least 2/3 of the day almost year-round. We live by the woods on the water. It's humid. Having our windows open is not a magic solution for the massive humidity problem in our apartment.

****

PS. This is our four-year anniversary in Germany.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Schneuz!

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When you go to the Apotheke (pharmacy) here, you usually get a little freebie thrown in with whatever you buy. The most common is a little pack of tissues like this one with an ad on it for the Apotheke or for something they sell. I got a kick out of this one. What the heck is "schneuz"? Is that the sound of blowing your nose? Or of a sneeze? Either way, it is nicely illustrated here.

Hi to everyone who is in Hamburg this weekend for the big expat meet-up! Wish we could be there this year!
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Friday, August 27, 2010

The Noise Situation

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T oday they are jackhammering the balconies off our side of the building next door. Charming! Anyway, it reminded me to post an update of the situation! The Mieterverein advised us that it was within our right to withhold 20% of our (warm) rent from the landlord as long as this is going on. We would also be allowed to ask for the money back retroactively for all the months we already endured. However, we felt this was unfair to spring on the landlord, so we only plan to do it from here on. However we did tell him we'd be happy to see that money if he manages to get it in damages from the construction company. Since we informed him of the problem he has joined up with the Hausverwaltung and some other pissed-off residents of our building in trying to get some kind of compensation from the construction company. The guy we talked to from the Hausverwaltung hinted that it had been thus far unpleasant and there is absolutely no sign yet of when the end of the construction will be. Wish I could say when we know we are leaving Heidelberg so we could make some kind of decision as to whether to bother moving, but no, we know nothing and have no idea when we will know anything, so we are really stuck. 20% off the rent is nice, but it doesn't cover up the sound of a jackhammer at 7:30 in the morning.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Endearing German Habit Alert!!

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This guy is eating his double burger with a knife and fork (as was the other person he was with).
Actually, he could be French. I heard they do this too.
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Monday, August 02, 2010

How close is the jackhammering to my apartment?

15 comments
(Photo removed, but trust me, IT'S CLOSE)

Guys, I can't take it any more. The guy in the red shorts is jackhammering, and the photo is from inside my living room.

This has been going on for months. They start around 7am Monday through Saturday. It goes until around 5pm (I think they quit earlier on Saturday). The only day of peace is Sunday. Sundays have seriously become a holy day around here. They are glorious. Imagine, we used to have that kind of peace EVERY SINGLE DAY!! I can't imagine it anymore. Jackhammering is just part of it, but it seems to be a project where jackhammering is the biggest part of the job right now. There's also hammering, scraping, drilling/buzzing, you name it. Nothing can cover up the noise - not closing the windows (and baking in our hot apartment), not putting on white noise, not wearing noise-cancelling headphones, not cranking the music. I can only escape by going in the bathroom, closing the door, and running the fan in there. For whatever reason we have a really sturdy bathroom door. And it looks like it will be continuing for months, as the progress on the building, which is being completely gutted and renovated, is moving at a snail's pace.

On top of this, our road has been closed since we returned from the US in May and is intermittently another source of jackhammering and other construction noise. That's going to be another long-ass project.

Since we don't even know how much longer we'll be in Heidelberg - it could be anything from a couple of months to a couple of years - putting a lot of money into moving across town (and then having none left to move again right after) doesn't seem feasible. You know, unless we can get the construction company to pay for it. Oh, I'm sure our landlord would be thrilled at trying to find a new renter with all this shit going on.

IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO!?!?!?!?!
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Friday, July 30, 2010

Passport Pages + an Article

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We did manage to get our passports sent to the consulate in time to avoid the new $82 fee for having additional visa pages added. Yay! It took about a week for them to turn around. It appears that they sew the new pages to a piece of tape, and then tape them into the passport. You can see the sewing and tape in the photos here (click to enlarge). The quote on the stitched pages is kind of appropriate - I wonder if they did that on purpose.

It's nice, but I can't help thinking it doesn't look like $82 worth of materials and effort. They don't even pay for postage - you have to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (unless they've changed that since the fee change).

In other news, I just clicked on an article someone posted on Facebook tonight and in the sideline of the article saw this headline: "America, There Is a Better Way: It's Called Germany".
I'm not prepared to make a comment on it yet as I'm still reading it, but wanted to put it up right away because regardless of the lean or content I figure plenty of people who read this blog might be interested in checking it out based on the title alone.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jein zum Stadthallenanbau!

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B ack in March, this appeared on the cover of Heidelberg's free newspaper (click to enlarge any image in this post):


It shows the Heidelberg Altstadt from the north side of the Neckar, with a big change - the addition of that big modern box-like thing on the side of the Stadthalle, a Heidelberg landmark. Right now there's a little park where that box is sitting in the picture. The article says the design has been approved for the addition to the Stadthalle, and I didn't really read any further than that. Other than the fact that the photo was a little shocking - shocking enough that I saved it to share here - I assumed the addition was some kind of done deal. A really weird decision - I thought we all got over throwing up crap like that in the middle of nice old things back in the 50s or so - but done nonetheless. After all, this is the administration that put those jarring benches in last year.

Apparently a lot of other people were shocked when they saw it too. Since March, Heidelberg has exploded in signs and events for and against the addition, and there's going to be a vote about it this Sunday (July 25). There are handmade signs (oddly one on the Theodor Heuss bridge actually says "this sign is handmade" after imploring you to vote against the addition), parties and concerts to raise money against it, and a bunch of crap in our mailboxes. Even one of the local Italian delivery joints is asking us to vote against the addition (and then, after voting, order some salad from them):
There doesn't seem to be as much publicity in the pro-addition camp, but it's out there. They say it will save a lot of money over building something new in a less historical section of town, like near the Bahnhof. Other than that, I can't figure out what their arguments are. The most common sign just says it's "for the future" and this is illustrated by a young-Republican-looking blond guy frowning at the camera.

I don't think I can vote but haven't double checked that yet. Most of my German friends don't seem to care whether they build it or not. I guess maybe the mayor wants it in the Altstadt so they can have big meetings and stuff right there on the Neckar to show off the town to visitors. It's ugly. Seems they should be able to come up with something better.
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Friday, July 09, 2010

Do you need more passport pages?

5 comments
R ight now it's free to add more visa pages to your US passport, but starting Tuesday (July 13) it's going to cost $82 to have them added! So if you're getting low on pages, hurry and have them added before then! You can do it by mail (should arrive at the consulate before July 13 to be safe) or by going right to the consulate in person on Monday.
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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Awesome German Customer Service Alert!!

7 comments
C all doctor's office.

Secretary picks up. She is clearly frazzled. "The phones are ringing off the hook," she says.

Does she put you on hold?

No - she tells you to call back later and hangs up!!
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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Germany defeats Argentina!

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D amn, and I'd been all nervous.

We went to watch the game outside at a restaurant/bar. We arrived at 1:30 for a game time of 4pm, and that was just in time to claim a pretty good table. By the time the game started the area was completely packed with Germans eating salads, drinking beers, and smoking stinky Gauloises. It was wicked hot and humid, and I think the big umbrellas at the restaurant were collecting everyone's body heat. During halftime, though, it POURED rain and a lot of people got soaked.

Everyone talked about Argentina winning the whole thing and the odds I checked on line were in their favor, so I looked around and imagined all these Germans walking home all sad in their schwarz-rot-gold flags and leis.

Watching the game in a crowd is a totally different experience from watching it at home or even at home with a group. It's very tense and involving - every little thing that happens on the screen earns a reaction from the crowd and it keeps feeding itself. Huge cheers just for getting possession of the ball, nervous twitching and cigarette-lighting for losing possession, and my favorite, mocking Maradona's sad faces and the Argentine players when they put on their trademark high drama that they are hurt after THEY trip someone else. Mwa ha! People sang and high-fived strangers.

Angela Merkel was at the game too and I always love her at these games. She's usually so stiff and it's adorable when she gets all excited. (But can't really get her arms all the way up because of her jackets!) And I'm not being ironic when I say I kind of love Jogi Loew always wearing the same outfit of that other important guy next to him whose name I am always forgetting. (Yeah, even though he picked his nose on camera - check YouTube if you really want evidence. Even this is amusing because one of my teachers in Mainz also shamelessly picked his nose in front of the whole class.) On the fashion front, though, Spain's blue uniforms are really sharp, I LOVED Paraguay's stripey socks and I'm sad they're out, and I wish Croatia had made it to the World Cup with their awesome checkers. The German uniforms do nothing for me.

After the game came the standard massive street party that's been following all their wins, but this was the biggest yet. Unfortunately I've forgotten my camera every time! I'm scared to bring it now because we might lose if I have it with me. So I can't promise any future pictures either...plus, Germany might lose to Spain. It happened in the last Euro Cup. :/

I've been rooting for the Netherlands too - seems no one has been talking about them at all while they quietly kick ass. I guess if it came down to them and Germany I'd root for Germany, but feel a little bad about it!

***

On our way home from the game, we ran into a couple of (Japanese?) tourists, one of whom greeted us by raising his right hand in greeting and saying "Auf Wiedersehen!" Then he asked in English for directions to the Hauptbahnhof, which he managed to say all in one syllable. That was pretty awesome. :D Hopefully he found it because we were nowhere close!
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Saturday, July 03, 2010

What rivalry?

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T here's an ad showing here for Altoids-esque mints called Fisherman's Friend. Their motto is something like, "If they're too strong, you're too weak." The ad uses imagery to convey the strong and weak parts of this - and the strong shows German soccer fans cheering, while the weak shows Dutch soccer fans moping in nearly-empty stands. Kind of sad. It plays off of a supposed rivalry/hate going on between the two.

Not to say that it doesn't exist at all, but it can't be so bad. Last night my husband was riding the Bahn (train) when the Netherlands defeated Brazil, and he reports that not only did they make an announcement on the train that the Dutch had eliminated Brazil, but that everyone was happy about it! (Me too - I've come to love how they've been quietly kicking ass all over the place while everyone has eyes only for South American teams.)

Germany's playing Argentina today. NERVOUS!!! :D

In other news, the trip had to be cancelled to the tune of some major money loss. In addition to not using ebookers, I don't recommend flying British Airways. They have some seriously draconian policies. More on that later, if I feel like getting all pity-party about it again. (Okay, so maybe you won't hear more on that later!!)
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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ebookers horror continues...

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So, last episode we talked about how calling ebookers costs more than you would ever save by buying their insurance or using their site in general (instead of other travel sites).

It also turns out that to change a flight with them there is a 50 EUR change fee with ebookers on top of whatever the change fee of the airline is. AND it turns out British Airways' change fee is not the 30 EUR or so that I expected, but 75 EUR. So much for the 40 EUR worth of insurance covering anything. I feel really naive.

Unfortunately the possible need to change the itineraries that we thought might happen, DID happen. So, time to deal with all this! Turns out British Airways' customer service desk doesn't open until 9am! God forbid your flight is any earlier than that. We can't even do anything with the flight online like check in or see if we can change it, because the British Airways booking number that ebookers gave us DOESN'T WORK.

If I could go back I would never have booked this trip - but now friends there have arranged their schedule around it, so I have to figure something out other than cancelling. I HATE FLYING!
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Monday, June 21, 2010

Do not use ebookers.de. Ebookers.de sucks.

6 comments
U sed them to book an upcoming trip that we know we might have to alter and got the 30 EUR insurance to cover up to 40 EUR of the change fees if we did have to alter it. That covers the usual change fee about exactly. Turns out, we have to alter the trip. But, we have to call ebookers to have it changed. And it costs 49 cents per minute to call the number from a cell phone. (We have no land line.)

And they DO NOT EVER PICK UP THE PHONE.

We already spent 5 EUR on holding, waiting for them to pick up, and will spend more because we haven't gotten through yet. So, actually, we should have never bought the insurance and should have just paid the change fee to alter our tickets.

EFF YOU EBOOKERS.
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Saturday, June 19, 2010

How Yesterday's World Cup Games Exemplified the National Personalities of the Favored Teams

3 comments
As nicely summarized by a friend who has lived in Germany and the UK and is very familiar with US culture:

CN Heidelberg: i thought the games yesterday could be an interesting illustration of the differences between germans and americans
Awesome Friend: i think you said it right, including about england
Awesome Friend: americans are relentless and push themselves more
Awesome Friend: germans are not too good adjusting to obstacles
Awesome Friend: and the english are too complacent. they expect results based on sheer talent and reputation but do not really push themslves that hard
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Monday, June 14, 2010

What European Countries Are Americans Naming Their Children After?

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Onward with the name weirdness. In the hearts and minds of Americans, all European countries AREN'T equal, if what Americans name their children is any indication. (That despite plenty of "In Europe..." commentary that seems to insinuate it's all the same.)

Among babies born in 2009, here's the name tally! Data is only available if 5 or more babies had the name.

Georgia: 968 girls (maybe it's cheating to include this one)
Ireland: 8 boys, 340 girls - plus Irelan, 6 girls; Irelyn, 131 girls; Irelynd, 14 girls; Irelynn, 105 girls
Holland: 25 boys, 135 girls - there are also Hollin and Hollyn, but I can't tell if those are riffs off of Holland or Holly
Italy: 54 girls - plus Italee, 7 girls; Itali, 9 girls; Italie, 5 girls
Scotland: 11 boys, 5 girls - plus Scottland, 8 boys, Scotlyn, 28 girls; Scotlynn, 7 girls - there are also boys named Scottlyn and Scottlynn, but I'll assume those are plays on Scott, not Scotland
Germany: 5 boys, 9 girls - plus Germani, 11 girls***
Cyprus: 10 boys
England: 9 girls
Iceland: 5 girls - plus Icelynn, 5 girls

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine: none or fewer than 5

***Edited to add: I missed some. There were also 26 girls named Jermani and 7 named Jermany.
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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beliebte Vornamen 2009 (Popular First Names 2009)

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I'm a little late on my yearly name nerdery this year since I was away last month, but as in the previous three years, here it is! Data sources* are the same as in previous years, but this time I've also included Heidelberg's most popular names, which I was happy to discover on the front page of the local free newspaper one day. By the way, this year the US Social Security Administration (SSA) upped the name nerd happiness levels big time by including not only the top 1000 names in the US, but offering a download for every year from 1880 onward of every name used 5 or more times that year. It is amazing. I was dying to know that in 2007 5 baby girls were named Yunalesca. And 5 baby boys that year were named Zyquavious.

Since the SSA data does not combine spellings of the same name (meaning one entry for Sophia+Sofia, not separate), I found a list made by someone who combined them (using the SSA data). (Normally I do this myself but no time yet this year.) This gives a better picture of the most popular names than the list as presented on the SSA site.

* German data is not collected by the government and not official and probably not all that accurate. If you know of a better German source, let me know!






Maedchen (Deutschland)
1. Mia
2. Hannah
3. Leonie
4. Lena
5. Leah
6. Anna
7. Emma
8. Emily
9. Marie
10. Lilli
11. Sarah
12. Lara
13. Laura
14. Sophie
15. Sophia
16. Lina
17. Nele
18. Johanna
19. Maja
20. Amelie

Jungen (Deutschland)
1. Leon
2. Lucas
3. Jonas
4. Luca
5. Paul
6. Felix
7. Maximilian
8. Finn
9. Tim
10. Ben
11. Luis
12. Max
13. Julian
14. Elias
15. Niclas
16. Noah
17. Jan
18. Philip
19. Moritz
20. Yannick


Maedchen (Heidelberg)
1. Marie
2. Sophie
3. Maria
4. Anna
5. Sophia
6. Emilia
7. Emma
8. Elisabeth
9. Julia
10. Charlotte
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Jungen (Heidelberg)
1. Maximilian
2. Paul
3. Alexander
4. Leon
5. David
6. Tim
7. Elias
8. Lukas
9. Jonas
10. Felix
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Girls
1. Isabella
2. Sophia
3. Olivia
4. Madison
5. Emily
6. Emma
7. Ava
8. Abigail
9. Chloe
10. Hailey
11. Madeline
12. Addison
13. Kaylee
14. Caitlin
15. Mia
16. Natalie
17. Lily
18. Elizabeth
19. Brianna
20. Alison

Boys
1. Aidan
2. Jaden
3. Jacob
4. Ethan
5. Michael
6. Alexander
7. Cayden
8. William
9. Christopher
10. Jackson
11. Joshua
12. Daniel
13. Noah
14. Matthew
15. Anthony
16. Christian
17. David
18. Andrew
19. Joseph
20. Caleb
Thoughts? Lots of nicknames and short forms on the German lists, but that seems to be a European standard now. No one would want to use Cornelia anymore and they just go straight to the diminutive Nele. It's a little opposite on the American side, where parents want to have a long form for everything and sometimes in complicated directions, thinking you need a Jackson for a Jack when really you just need a John....along with Madison and Addison for Maddie and Addie, although Madeline's finally catching up and maybe Adeline/laide will too.
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