Thursday, September 27, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #4

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Look at that nice sunny day we are having!  (Well...part of the day, anyway. ;) )  On the 25th it was pouring when I took the photo.  The red patch is getting bigger and there are definite yellowy leanings on many of the trees on the hill now!  All the fallishness will be just in time for Heidelberger Herbst this weekend.

I've been a bum on the Berlin/Freinsheim front but they are still coming.

In other news, my Eis post got linked on this Facebook group.  Hopefully I won't be deluged with crabby comments from Eis Palast fans or Schmelzpunkt haters. Deluges of reasonable comments are always welcome, though. :)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #3

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You can click any of these to see larger versions. I did take a picture on the 23rd, but I forgot my memory card and I haven't found the menu to move it onto the card from the camera.  That red patch on the castle wall is super red now!  The vines at our apartment are turning red, too.

Reports on Berlin and Freinsheim are coming soon!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch #2

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Well, not much change here.  If you zoom in there's maybe a little more red on that vine on the wall in front of the castle.  Maybe. :) 
It's 11'C (~50'F) here right now...that's chilly!  Excellent sleeping weather!  I love fall!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Spotted near Bismarckplatz

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"Mesut Özil is German!"
I didn't even know anyone was still talking about this.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Heidelberg Fall Watch!

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  I'm bringing back the Heidelberg Spring Watch...only for fall.  Not much change on the first four days, but there is some fall showing up - thos trees on the lower left near the end of the Old Bridge are pretty brown, and there's some brownish stuff showing up near that hotel in the forest to the left of the castle!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Should we visit Neuschwanstein?"

Neuschwanstein was never on our travel list.  Despite it being Germany's biggest tourist attraction - the only thing in Germany many people ever see, I'd guess - it never really piqued our interest.  Maybe just because we aren't all that into castles.  Maybe because seeing pictures and snow-globes of it all over the rest of Germany drained off any curiosity we might have had.

However, we still did wonder...why is Neuschwanstein Germany's greatest attraction?  Why does every guidebook have positive things to say about it, even the ones that would honestly warn you if something was overrated?  Seriously, what's the deal?  Maybe it really is that impressive. So, after we booked our hotel and knew we'd be staying within a reasonable distance of Neuschwanstein, we started asking around.

"Should we visit Neuschwanstein?"

We asked expats from all over and Germans.  I expected a variety of answers, but I didn't get it.  One person said it was overrated.  Everyone else was in agreement: yes, we should go. (In the case of Germans, we, as foreigners, should go.)  We should go to say we had, to check it off our list.  (Which it wasn't on, or we'd have had no need to ask.) We should go because the area is beautiful. Some said we should go to stand on the Marienbrücke and get the famous picture of the castle that everyone gets.  I was tempted to ask, "If I forget my camera, should I no longer go?  Does it lose all its value then?"  What I wanted was for people to tell me why it's great and I should see it, but no one really did.

Well....people MUST know something we don't or they wouldn't tell us we should go.  We decided to compromise and go to look at it, but not bother to pay big Euro to get tickets and get herded through.  I had a sneaky feeling my dislike of crowds and photography prohibitions (none allowed inside the castle) would be irritating enough to cancel out the coolness of the interior, especially since no one actually said the interior was cool.

The siting of the castle was unexpectedly obvious.  I thought it would be a bit more hidden, but it was right out on the edge above the plain.  We parked in a big lot at the bottom of the hill and started to walk up past the ticket booth, a few tourist shops, and the castle Hohenschwangau.  There were so many people everywhere.  Waiting at the bus stop were at least 5 buses worth of people.  It was hot, hot, hot - in the upper 30s centigrade (almost 100F).  We were disappointed to realize the way up to the castle was not a forest path but a paved road.  A little ways up, though, we discovered a smaller, steeper path and took that instead.

So hot.  So, so hot.  My husband thought he wouldn't need water, and I had taken a bottle which was clearly not enough, particularly after a salty German lunch.  Hot, hot, hot, hot on that steep trail - I started to feel like I might pass out.  Thankfully, it didn't take that long to reach an area with a big wooden map, full of huge groups of people from all over the world.   Turned out, we were already right next to the Marienbrücke!  So, we went there to get that photo.

We fought our way onto the bridge past a busker and through massive crowds of hot, sweaty people.  Yup, there it was.  The view was pretty nice, but....we'd seen it hundreds of times before in other people's pictures.  And, not to be a jerk ass hipster about it, but I actually thought the view we'd gotten of the castle from the Tegelbergbahn was better.  And the beautiful area that was supposed to make the castle worth it - we'd seen all that from the Tegelberg too.  Maybe we ruined it by going there first?

We fought our way through more crowds from the bridge to the castle.  My husband was very uncharacteristically cranky at this point from the heat and dehydration and people, people, people, people everywhere.  The castle turned out to be about 50% buried in scaffolding.  We had to walk under the scaffolding to get around it, under the scaffolding with so, so many hot, hot, sweaty, overwhelmed, stroller-pushing, tour-group-following people.  So many.  Everything was hot.  We got to the end and stopped to look at the view and couldn't touch the wall; it was too hot. We walked into the courtyard, which you don't need a ticket for.  Guess what?  This castle is pretty boring from the outside. We found a souvenir shop and got beverages, which were probably the best thing we ever drank.

Then we got the hell out.

From the bridge we'd seen people standing in the stream below, and we wanted to do that!  We'd seen a sign from the path between the bridge and castle that said "Pöllatschlucht" and pointed to a trail heading right down into the gorge.  That sounded good.  Just leaving the main trail meant we were suddenly much freer from the crowds.  There were fewer and fewer people the further we went down.

We got to the bottom and there was the stream.  It was full of cairns!  The water was so cold, it cooled the entire gorge like a natural form of air conditioning.  I took off my boots - I'd have been in Tevas, but I found a huge crack in them when I went to pack them - and stuck my feet in the water.  It was so cold it almost hurt.  PERFECT.   Thank you stream, for rescuing the entire afternoon. 
Neuschwanstein & Poellatschlucht Aug 12

We followed the stream out of the gorge, and there was a path leading back to the parking lot, so thankfully no need to go back the way we came.

Admittedly, maybe we should have gone inside - afterward I looked up pictures and the throne room at least looks pretty awesome. But I'd read so many people talking about the giant tour groups going through and that you can only see 5 rooms and the herding aspect and the no photos, and setting aside a lot of time to deal with that felt like too much of a pain for something we weren't that crazy about in the first place.  And, I bet it's a lot nicer on weekdays and on days that aren't 30 degrees. Maybe I'm too easily distracted by crowds. Hey, I'm rural. Or maybe I've gotten to that point I wrote about way back in an early blog post, when I worried that I'd overload on pretty things and start taking them from granted.

I think people were right to give us the advice they did, but in retrospect I now know the correct answer to my question, and I probably should have known before I even went.  If you have to ask whether you should go to Neuschwanstein, the answer is probably no.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Allgäu, Part II!

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On Sunday morning,we got out the laptop at breakfast in order to look a few things up and have a day plan that doesn't involve entirely missing opening hours like we had the previous day.  Some Americans at another table remarked to each other that we just didn't know how to go on vacation and get away from work. Cute.  We came up with a basic plan to go up on a high mountain first, then have a look at Neuschwanstein and Füssen.

After breakfast, we spent a few minutes having a better look at Knottenried, then had to settle a debate about which mountain to go up by flipping a coin.  The Tegelberg, near Füssen, won over Oberstdorf's Nebelhorn, so we started the day there.
Knottenried Aug 12

These little cable cars that go up Alps are frustratingly expensive, but the one in Tegelberg was at least a bit cheaper than some of the others - probably because it's a bit shorter.  On the ride up, there's a very nice view of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau if you're not too afraid to look out the windows!  The cable cars seem to cause a bit of nerves in a lot of people as there were several little screams when we went over the pylon (and absolutely nothing happened...).  Once at the top, you can take a short hike over to the summit of the nearby Branderschrofen.  The views from the trail are incredible - to the north, green plains dotted with red roofs and blue, blue lakes, to the south, nothing but mountains, including the Zugspitze, Germany's highest!  After baking in the burning sun for a couple of hours up there, we stopped for a relatively cheap lunch at one of two cafes near the top of the cable cars, then headed back down.
Tegelberg Aug 12

Next, Neuschwanstein.  I'll tell you guys about that later.

After Neuschwanstein, we went to Füssen in search of a calmer atmosphere and some dinner.  Thankfully, we found both!  The town was having a festival with live music and several streets in the pedestrian zone turned into beer gardens!  We had some drinks and food, looked around town, then finished up with, of course, Eis. 
Fuessen Aug 12

We'd actually intended to head back to Heidelberg on Sunday night, but ended up booking an extra night at the hotel since we already had the car until late Monday and wanted to enjoy a more relaxed Sunday.  It ended up working out particularly well since that Monday it was about 40'C in Heidelberg and we got to spend half of it in the air-conditioned car!  I can't tell you how deliriously happy I am that fall is starting to make an appearance (although it was over 30'C today...summer doesn't want to give up yet). 

Coming soon: Neuschwanstein, and a report on our weekend at the expat meet-up in Berlin!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Weekend Music

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I could have posted several more, but this is about as far as I can stand trying to use YouTube with my surf stick. Hopefully we'll have DSL again next week sometime!! Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Enjoy some German city trivia!

I ran across this quiz on Sporcle today and thought others might enjoy it too! Twenty-five German cities are listed, and you must decide which city matches the given clue.  Some of it is stuff tourists would know, but some is a little tougher. I got 24 out of 25 - click here to try to beat me! :)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

We've finally met the Allgäu!

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Our wedding anniversary sort of snuck up on us this year.  We'd been planning to celebrate with a short trip of some kind, but it was less than a week before our anniversary when we finally got around to putting the plans together!   We wanted something pretty close, which eliminated some of our earlier ideas like Salzburg or Quedlinburg, and something we hadn't really done yet, which eliminated the Mosel and the Pfalz and most really close things.  In the end, we settled on the Allgäu, a nice Alpy area near the Bayern/Baden-Württemberg and Austria borders!    We booked a car and a hotel near Immenstadt (based on price, not anything in particular about the town) and headed down on a Friday after work.  The Friday of that Really Hot Weekend, actually.

Our hotel was in a tiny village outside Immenstadt called Knottenried.  When we arrived there were about 20 kids playing soccer on the local pitch right in the center of the village.  That must have been every kid in town and then some - it was that small.  Adorable!

Saturday was not well-planned.  We figured we'd first go see what's in the Kleinwalsertal, a valley in Austria which is only accessible from Germany.  We then would get lunch at a place a friend recommended in Oberstdorf, followed by a walk in the Breitachklamm, a watery slot canyon nearby, during the hottest part of the day.  Afterward we'd take the cable car up to the top of on of the highest mountains in the area, the Nebelhorn, walk around up there and check out the views, then get dinner somewhere.

The Kleinwalsertal was full of tourists with Nordic walking sticks.  We sent postcards from Austria and went out to the end of the road, but the valley probably would have been better enjoyed with some kind of planning for a particular hike or something. It was cute and scenic, but not more scenic than anything else in the area.  Mostly it was just sporting-good shops and hotels.
Kleinwalsertal Aug 12

Our timing was perfect for lunch in Oberstdorf, which was delicious.  The local cuisine - lots of heavy, cheesy food - doesn't really lend itself to the oppressively hot weather we were having, but we enjoyed it anyway.  I don't know what conditions would be necessary to make me want to turn down Käsespätzle!  We looked around town a bit.  Mostly sporting-good and Trachten shops.  Everything was spic-and-span and it looked rich.  On the way in and out we passed a big Biergarten and planned to come back here for supper.
Oberstdorf Aug 12

Onward to the Breitachklamm, which was heartily recommended by both friends and guidebooks.  It's a cool slot canyon with catwalks built in so you can easily just walk in and have a look.  It was blissfully cool in there, with cold mountain water rushing below and dripping down from the sides of the canyon.  It was extremely crowded on a Saturday, though - it's clearly a huge local attraction, especially for families.
Breitachklamm Aug 12

Back to Oberstdorf to hop on the Nebelhornbahn to go to the top of the Nebelhorn!  It took considerable fuss to find it hidden in some crazy back corner of town, deal with a broken parking machine, and wind our way to the actual Bahn, only to discover the last car goes up at 4pm - we were too late!  Bummer!  We reviewed our list of area attractions we thought sounded interesting, but all of them were a little too far away given that we wanted to come back to Oberstdorf for dinner.  We ended up taking a guidebook suggestion to visit nearby Bad Hindelang and drive up a windy mountain road above the town.  We stopped for Eis in Bad Hindelang - it didn't meet my newly elevated expert standards ( ;) ) but was nice and cold - then drove up the Jochstraße above town.  We were there at the perfect time of day, with sun pouring into the valley from the west.  It was empty, too, which was welcome after the crowding of the Breitachklamm.  It was a lovely way to finish up the afternoon!
Bad Hindelang & Jochstrasse Aug 12

Back in Oberstdorf, we got spots at the last empty table in the entire Biergarten, which was in a little hut near the end that we shared with some of the staring-problem variety of locals.  Glad to fascinate!  They had Pfifferlinge on offer so I had those on pasta, which was very nice.  While eating, we were entertained by a band with accordions and yodeling.  Woo!

Coming soon: Sunday adventures in the general vicinity of Füssen!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Your Guide to Heidelberg's Ice Cream / Eis Shops

Ice cream is my mom's favorite food.  I've always liked it too, but never understood it as a favorite.  I'd often rather have cake, cookies, brownies, or bars as a treat instead.  Then I moved to Germany, where the cake is not as sweet and rich as in the US, and cookies/brownies/bars are not local and pretty subpar when you find them.  Seeing Germans in front of beautifully-constructed sundaes at ice cream (Eis) shops every weekend, I decided to go for ice cream more often....and now I'm addicted.  I think my husband is, too.  Allow us to channel our addiction into something useful: a guide to Heidleberg's Eis joints!  It's mostly limited to the Altstadt as we are mere humans - but we did make sure to extensively research the places we did include. :)

Eis Roma
Location: Fischmarkt north of the Heiliggeistkirche
Cone: 1 Euro per Kugel (scoop)
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: €4,80
Winter: turns into a coat shop
* Eis Roma is conveniently situated right near major tourist areas like the Steingasse and Marktplatz.  It has very limited indoor seating but plenty of outdoor seating on the pretty Fischmarkt; although the platz is otherwise lovely it never gets sun because it sits in the shadow of the enormous Heiliggeistkirche.
Flavor and Becher (sundae) options are good but limited and don't seem to change often.  The Eis itself is relatively mediocre and the Kugels are on the small side, but the chunky varieties have nice big chunks, and the service is among the friendliest! They are very fond of sprinkling Krokant bits on the Becher.
We usually only go here in a pinch.

 Eis Palast
Location: North side of the Hauptstraße between the Marktplatz and Uniplatz
Cone: 1-2 Euro per Kugel, minimum order 2 Kugeln
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: don't care
Winter: Either this or Gelati Caffe turns into a Schneebällchen shop - can't remember which
* This place has changed constantly.  When we went there recently to check it out, we discovered the prices had increased and there was now a minimum order of 2 Kugeln.  I understand that is typical in Italy and would have totally been down with it if not for the fact that the guy behind the counter was a complete dick about it.  We never spoke to him in English but he insisted on speaking English to us for some reason when we - horror of horrors - didn't immediately notice the new rules and attempted to buy just one Kugel, which is standard in Germany.  I mean this guy was shockingly rude even by American-evaluating-German-service standards.  I'm sure he deals with tourists all day, but if he can't handle that, maybe it's time for a new job.  The Eis was middling.

Gelati Caffe
Location: North side of the Hauptstraße between the Marktplatz and Uniplatz
Cone: 1 Euro per Kugel
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: €5,00
Winter: Either this or Eis Palast turns into a  Schneebällchen shop - can't remember which
* There are only one or two tables inside, but a few tables outside on prime people-watching territory.  It's a bit on the pricey side, but the Becher are beautifully executed.  The staff are mostly older and give the whole place an air of extreme competence, much like getting a gray-haired pilot on your flight.  There's always a pretty pile of meringues on a silver tray on the counter, and you can get the Eismeringue which is a great deal relative to other Becher at only €4,90.  The Eis is a little on the sweet side but quite good.  The Stracciatella is jam-packed with chocolate bits!

Location: Hauptstraße between Uniplatz and Theaterplatz
Cone: 1 Euro per Kugel
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: must check this
Winter: turns into a Lebkuchen shop
* Bertolini is hands-down my favorite ice cream shop in the decor category - a little run-down and retro.  There is seating both inside and outside. It has some of the speediest and friendliest service and experiments often with crazy or trendy flavors like spicy cactus, rhubarb, and Aperol.  The Becher are beautifully presented.  Unfortunately the Eis is less creamy and flavorful than in other places, and the cones aren't as high-quality.

GelaTo Go
Location: Hauptstrasse between Theaterplatz and Providenzkirche
Cone: 1-1,20 Euro per Kugel (non-Bio/Bio...I think)
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: I don't think they have it
Winter: I think it just closes but don't remember
* This is a relative newcomer.  The cheesy name and lack of seating put us off this place for a while but we went after hearing good things about it. The German-hip decor and young hip staff don't inspire me the way Caffe Gelati's staff do, but image isn't everything: the Eis is nice and thick and there's an interesting rotating variety.  There are actually 4-6 bar seats inside and some cushions tossed on the windowsill outside, but no tables.  They offer 3 or 4 Becher options but we didn't try any of them.

Location: Hauptstraße near Providenzkirche
Cone: 1,70 Euro per Kugel
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: they don't have it
Winter: stays open
* Schmelzpunkt doubles as a chocolate shop. It opened a couple of years ago and we were put off it for months by the high price per Kugel.  Then one day last summer we ran into a friend on the Hauptstrasse; we mentioned we were thinking about getting some Eis and her friend unequivocally recommended Schmelzpunkt, so we finally tried it.  The Kugeln are bigger than usual and the Eis is more American-style in that it has big chunks in it.  I love chunks.  They serve a Becher called the Cookie Crunch Spezial which doesn't look or sound all that special but is worth every cent and calorie.  It may be the most delicious thing in all of  Heidelberg.  I don't know if there's crack in it or what.  Their collection of flavors is heavy on the chocolate, which is nice since there's often a fruity emphasis in many of the other shops.  There's seating both inside and out, but based on the weather one or the other is nearly always full.  Service can be a bit slow even if it doesn't look busy.

Eiscafe Capri
Location: Neuenheim Brückenstraße  
Cone: 1 Euro per Kugel
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: I've checked three times but forgot again..
Winter: just closes
* This is one of the most popular Eis shops in Heidelberg, partly due to its location near the Neckarwiese.  For the first few years we were here, we didn't understand the giant lines out the door.  We tried it several times but never liked it as much as Venezia across the river.  Recently, however, it seems to have improved.  The flavors seem better, the Eis seems less watery, and there is more change and variety in the offered flavors.  Now it's definitely in our top three!  There's tons of seating inside but very limited seating outside. Service is average. Beware the Schwarzwald Becher late in the year as they often have fruit fly problems then and you'll get swarmed if you order this and eat inside. (If this grosses you out, maybe you haven't been in Germany long enough. ;) It's nothing compared to the bakery wasps in August....)

Eiscafe Venezia
Location: Darmstädter Hof (near Bismarckplatz)
Cone: 1 Euro per Kugel
Price of Basic Spaghetti Eis: €4,70
Winter: stays open
* Venezia was easily our favorite Eis shop the first few years we were here, and is still top-three.  Its location is convenient to our weekend grocery runs and until recently it offered the lowest prices per Kugel in town.  Now it's caught up with the others price-wise and although the Eis is still very flavorful, thick, and generously-portioned, it's been less chunky lately and they have pretty much the same flavors every time we go...hence its mere "top-three" status instead of clear first place.  The variety of Becher is huge - it's harder to decide what to get than in any other shop - and prices are a bit more reasonable than in the places along the Hauptstraße. All the seating is indoors and unfortunately set next to the gaudy orange Saturn that has moved in.  
They also have a food menu, but I've never tried it.