Sunday, December 30, 2012

Porto Travelogue

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Our flight to Lisbon was uneventful, despite having the entire German under-18 rugby team on board. We met up with my husband's parents there, then hopped in the rental car they'd already picked up and headed up to Porto!

We'd booked an apartment near the cathedral, where the roads are a little confusing - we were supposed to drive into what looks like private cathedral grounds to get there. We messed up and the GPS panicked a little, leading us onto narrower and narrower alleys until we finally reached a corner which was physically impossible to navigate in a car. A guy in a car and a woman on a stoop both tried desperately - and pretty nicely - to help us, but of course we didn't speak the same language! Eventually we just drove out wherever we could fit, pulled over, and called the apartment owner, who came to fetch us and lead us up there with his own car.

The apartment was amazing, with views over the Douro and Dom Luis Bridge which are probably among the best views of anything in Europe that I've seen. Our time in Porto might have been successful even if all of it had been spent in those windows looking over the city. We did manage to tear ourselves away and explore, though!

We had dinner at a touristy but decent restaurant not too far from the apartment, where we tried the ox and dealt with the awkwardness of having a bottle of wine brought out that they were unable to open! The following morning we had breakfast in the sun at a cafe on the river. Like the helpful people on the street the previous evening, they didn't speak any English. This is when it started to dawn on us that the people who said "everyone there speaks English" maybe weren't entirely correct. For the rest of the trip we got by in these situations on a mix of D & I's combined shaky knowledge of French, Spanish, and Italian and a few Portuguese words we picked up. His parents, however, were not completely comfortable with navigating things this way and we often ended up eating at more-touristy (read: English-speaking) places in order to make communication less anxiety-inducing for everyone.

We split up from the 'rents and spent the day wandering the narrow streets and stairways of the north side of the river, stopping occasionally for pastries, peeks into gaudy churches, and paper cones of chestnuts. We also stopped at Livraria Lello, a beautiful tiny bookshop which has, apparently much to the chagrin of its employees, become a massively popular tourist attraction. No photos allowed, and they didn't have the Portuguese name dictionary that I was hoping to take home as a souvenir.  (In fact, no bookstore I tried had one and I came home without...first time that's happened!!)  At the end of the day we all met back up for some port in the apartment, then had dinner at Ora Viva.  The service was very nice and the decor fun to look over, but I wasn't as into the food as everyone else was.  They liked it enough that we went again the next night (after some day trips which will be in my next post).  The second night we found out by talking to some other North Americans at the restaurant (honestly it was pretty much entirely North Americans) that it was recommended by Rick Steves.  They went on to tell us how amazing Rick Steves is and how he is never wrong, and that if you mention him to the waiter you get a free drink.  So we did, and then the waiter also gushed about what an amazing human being Rick Steves is.  It was an interesting experience.

But you're just here for the pictures, right? :)
Porto Okt 2012
TL; DR: Porto is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen and you might as well skip all the wordy bits and go straight to the pics.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Birmingham Christmas Market

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You read that right!  Birmingham has its own German Christmas market, apparently the largest in the UK.  It's called the Frankfurt Christmas Market in reference to Frankfurt am Main being one of Birmingham's sister cities.  We got a chance to try it out while there earlier this month, and expected it to be a little "off" as German celebrations in the US often are.  We were pleasantly surprised - it's actually pretty close to the real thing!  I think the major differences were the large amount of beer being drunk - you don't generally see anyone drinking beer at the Christmas markets in Heidelberg - and the fact that people were forming lines at the stands instead of just crowding up front.  I'm normally in favor of lines and annoyed by the German inability to form them, but it turns out that since my only Christmas market experiences have not involved lines, the fact that there were lines turned out to be annoying!  I don't want to line up for a Schaumkuss, I want to smash up to the counter until I get one!

They had all the standards - different varieties of Gluehwein, Wurst cooked on incredibly large grills, tacky figurines, ornaments and candle holders, lights strung up everywhere, carousels, a giant Christmas pyramid, crepes, and crafts.  They even had one stand with a functioning Glockenspiel.  One stand sold Edeka brand cookies, which amused us, but they could do that here too for all I know!  (Edeka is a big grocery chain.)

The market in Birmingham seems pretty popular - it was incredibly crowded both times we stopped by, to the point that we actually kind of didn't want to be there!  But, it's comforting to know that next year at this time, if we find ourselves fiending for some of that German Christmas feeling and maybe a little Lebkuchen, and can't go to Germany, it will all be easily available right downtown!
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

RIP Heidelberg Woolworth

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On our way to the Hauptbahnhof last week to head to Birmingham, we noticed signs in the windows of Woolworth saying it would close in a mere two days!  And close it did - when we came back the place had already been closed and cleared out.  Graffiti has even already appeared on an inside wall.

Woolworth wasn't the classiest joint in Heidelberg but it was the only conveniently-located place offering really cheap necessities like vegetable peelers and ironing boards.  We got our ironing board, Wasserkocher, Christmas tree, butter dish, and several other household things there.  The stuff at Kaufhof and Bauhaus may be nicer, but sometimes you don't need something all that nice, and don't want to pay the extra for it.  RIP, Heidelberg Woolworth.  I hope something good moves into your giant hideous vacant building.
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Friday, December 21, 2012

New Impractically Tiny Sink!

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A few years ago, the landlord replaced our counter when he installed a new oven and stove, because the old oven left a hole in the counter too big for the new one.

He's a nice guy but a little cheap.  The dopey worker who reinstalled our 70s sink into the new counter cut too big a hole for the faucet.  Over time, water got in the hole (water in the area of a sink!? whoda thunk?!) and it started to deterioriate the inside of the particleboard counter. 
So, yesterday we got a new sink and counter starting at 7:30am.  Although it's a double sink which I've been wishing for for ages, both sinks are still hilariously shallow.  I noticed this in British apartments we saw, too.  I can only conclude that Europeans never use soup pots, cookie trays, serving platters, or cutting boards.  Anyway, it will be nice to enjoy the new stuff for a couple of months.  Turns out the landlord planned to charge us for all this, even though it's not our fault the faucet hole was cut poorly and caused all this.  But, since we told him we're leaving and we thus endured the early-morning noise and sawdust storm to very little benefit to ourselves, he's letting us off the hook.  Yee ha.  Somehow, though, we are still considered responsible for replacing the wallpaper in the bedroom which got moldy due to a still-unidentified moisture source in the lower square foot of that corner.  Not so many benefits to renting vs. owning around here, in my opinion.

In other news, a grocery desert is starting soon here - things will not be open Sunday, Tuesday, or Wednesday and will only be open half a day on Monday (which promises to be an awful day to be at any grocery store).  Alas, we cannot shop Saturday, as we are meeting up with relatives in Cologne that day.  Maybe there will be good Kartoffelpuffer there - the ones in Heidelberg are variable but mostly not great.  Any recommendations??
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Panic on the streets of London, panic on the streets of...

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...Birmingham!  The brilliant Harvey Morrell guessed it! The photo, showing an older version of the coat of arms of Birmingham, was taken in the Great Hall at the University of Birmingham, which will be my husband's new academic home later this spring.  I don't know yet where my new work home will be but I bet it will be better than what I've got now. :)

I had been counting on a fall move no matter where we ended up since I figured it would be based on academic year, but surprise, we're looking at a spring move.  It seems so fast!  Standing between us and Birmingham are apartment searches, visa applications, moving companies....  We just came back from a few days there and we did look at apartments, but things are pretty different from Germany and it's way too early to find a new place (although we have to give our German landlord notice right about now).  More on the weekend soon!

Could life ever be sane again?

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Forward

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This blog will soon need a new name.  A big change for us that's been slowly coming together over the past few weeks finally became official over the weekend - we are leaving Heidelberg this spring.

If you haven't already heard where, and want to try out your detective skillz, I will wait a day to say where - first correct guesser (of the city name) gets their choice of a goodie from Heidelberg or one from the new place (after we move).  (Sorry to those who have me on Facebook for already spoiling you!)  You already have two clues - the photo above, which was taken there, and the fact that it's a big enough city that you've probably heard of it.
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Schlossweihnacht Heidelberg (Heidelberg Castle Christmas)

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Heidelberg is experiencing today that most repulsive of weathers: winter rain.  Yuck.  Let's think back to better times - like just yesterday afternoon!

We woke up to a gentle snowfall which continued into the early afternoon, at which time we decided we should take advantage of this perfect Christmas market weather while it was still underway!  We'd been planning to go up to the castle Christmas market - a new thing as of last year - later in the day, but headed out around 1:30 instead to enjoy it in the snow.

The market up at the castle was really pretty - more so than in town, with large decorated trees and narrow paths. It's in the garden so you don't have to pay admission to get in.  It's open today and tomorrow, but will be closed Wednesday, then open again until it closes for good on December 18.

At the market:
Salmon grilling on planks
At the garden entrance
They have different mugs up there, too!

At the castle:
My husband really wanted this one of the moat in black and white :)
Entrance over the moat

Powder tower
Holly trees!
 Views over Heidelberg:
The Altstadt and, beyond, the Heiligenberg and Rheinebene

With the castle!
Down the Hauptstrasse!

In the Altstadt:
Christmas market in the Marktplatz
On the Steingasse

Castle from below.
Old Bridge
From the other side of the Neckar

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Unfortunate Marketing Sightings

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Rewe seems to have recently undergone some changes in the cereal department. I try to avoid buying cereal too often (because I will eat a box of it in a day, no problem, and it is, unfortuately, generally free of any nutritional value...) but when I went in for tea the other day I couldn't help but notice the new name they've come up with for our old friend Nougat Bits/Pillows/Pockets:


That....just doesn't sound good.  Better to not use English if you're not entirely sure how.  I bought and tried them for, uh, research purposes, and they're not as good, either.  Several cereals that were formerly there in Ja brand (the Rewe house brand) are now all there in Hahne brand only.  No idea what that's about.

Moving on, we found this one online earlier this week:


This is the end panel of an ad for a toilet that sprays your butt. The heartbutt is kind of weird, although I can't really put my finger on why.

Any other fun ads or product names you've spotted recently?
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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

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Upon my arrival at the Rewe this morning I saw quite a scene - the Christmas chocolate display looked like it been hit by a tornado.  Only a couple days earlier it was chock full of goodies!  It could mean only one thing - it's St. Nicholas Day! I'm sure there's more to it, but in my experience the holiday has manifested itself as a day to give and receive chocolate Santas - hence the run on the Christmas chocolate.  It also means the occasional freebie, like this tiny chocolate bar I got when I picked up some pyramid candles and dishwashing gloves (damn this dry weather) at DM!

The weather's appropriately frosty today, too.  Maybe some snow later while we visit the Christmas market?
Happy St. Nicholas Day!

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Heidelberg Winter Watch!!! :)

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This is the scene right now! Big fat flakes!!!  Get out there and enjoy it before it turns to rain, as Heidelberg snow always does!



This little guy got snowed on again this year: 
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