Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Saturday Errands & Sunday Excursion (plus new photos!)

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On Saturday we were faced with a bit of a chore: finding cell service, as well as DSL for our new apartment.
We hit four stores along the Hauptstrasse, shopping around for something that would work for us. Cell phone plans here are excessively complicated compared to what we dealt with in the US. Though the salespeople spoke English, the terms were still foreign to us. The whole experience was incredibly overwhelming, and there wasn't going to be any cheap way to get what we needed. We ended up choosing Vodafone, not least because the customers there were clearly receiving much better service than those at the T-Mobile store, which closely resembled what I imagine hell to be. The other two places we checked would have meant getting multiple providers for about the same cost, so we decided to put it all together under one company. The contract lasts two years, and you must give three months' notice to terminate it, or it automatically renews for another year. Just another way to try to rip people off - I guess that sort of thing transcends international borders. Our phones were very cheap though - only 1 EUR each, and I think our phones in the US were $10, and that was after having to send it for a rebate. My new phone has much better ringtones included than my old one ;)
After the cell/DSL adventure we stopped at Kaufhof to pick up a couple of things that we missed at Ikea and really needed for the new place - kitchen towels, potholders, and fitted sheets. While there I found the Christmas postcards I was hoping to find!! They came in packs of 4 or 5 and they are all incredibly retro - no joke either, as some of them had old price tags on them in Deutsche Marks! The Kaufhof was very crowded, as everything is on Saturdays, and the guy at the register rang up the cards incorrectly, overcharging us. So we had to point it out. The second time, he messed up again so we had to point it out again. I think a lot of people were hating us right then, and I hate being That Person....but we saved 2,25 EUR and don't have a whole lot to spare right now! The cards are so cool - I'm not going to put up a photo since most readers are going to get one in the mail and I don't want to spoil it - but I ended up with over 40 different designs, and they say "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in 15 different permutations! (This wouldn't be interesting if they were in English, but everything is much more fascinating in a foreign language of course.)
We had a great bike ride home along the Neckar - it smelled like fall, the weather was gorgeous, and all the church bells were ringing around us. It's experiences like that that I wish I could bottle up for everybody to share, but unfortunately can't.

* Suppengruen update! At Lidl on Saturday I saw Suppengruen which included everything I mentioned in my previous post on the matter, but also cauliflower!

* Okay, total porn on what seems to be regular cable TV. Maybe they do that in the US too, but I am neither a TV nor a porn expert...but we definitely never flipped past anything in the US like what we flipped past here the other night!!

* Craving for Something Not Available Here #2: Macaroni and cheese from a box!! Oh, Annie's bunny shapes, how I miss you!! Damon doesn't though. Forget him!

On Sunday we went to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, a town about 40 minutes from here on the S-Bahn (the slowest train). It has a long name because there are many Neustadts (it means New Town) in Germany so they have to be specified a bit more. We ate Pflammkuchen and had a liter of wine in a little bar and walked around the town. Neustadt is completely surrounded by vineyards and has some of the biggest wine festivals in the area. It seemed to be a bit of a party town even when we were there in the middle of the afternoon! A bar in the main square was overrun with an unbelievable number of completely trashed people. Wine there is really cheap. We have photos of the town up at our THE PHOTOS link...as well as photos of a few other little life things lately, like the different cell phone setup.
I would definitely go to Neustadt again for a walk up in the vineyards and to explore a little more. However, I would not use the restrooms in the train station again. Not only did they reek of pee, I had to pay 50 cents to get in. While this is common, usually it means the bathroom is going to be pretty nice because the money goes to maintenance. Not so here. There was no lid on the toilet so I had to squat...not easy...probably not easy for all the people who had a lot of wine here either, hence the pee smell. Then there was no soap and only cold water. Yuck! What is my 50 cent coin paying for? Damon's restroom was free, however. I guess girls are grosser or something.
Off to fold some laundry...whee!! :)
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Sunday, October 29, 2006

28

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Well, I had written an entire post describing yesterday's adventures, and it was eaten by a buggy Blogger. Maybe today is not a good blogging day for me.

I do have a request though. It's not hard. For my birthday, I would really like to know how many people are reading this blog. If you read this post, please leave a comment! It doesn't have to say anything interesting, just "John was here" or "I read it" will suffice. Thanks!
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Friday, October 27, 2006

Celery root smells fantastic.

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I meant to update yesterday, but Blogger was down!

* We are recovering gradually from the Ikea experience. This was my first time in Ikea, as we didn't have one nearby when we lived in Boston (until right before we moved, and even then we couldn't have gotten to it). A girl from Damon's lab gave us a ride there, as she needed to pick up a few things as well. The place was a madhouse. We got there at 5-5:30 or so, thinking we had plenty of time until close at 8p. We were the last people out of the store. We felt rushed the whole time, as it was so crowded...if we stopped to look at something, within seconds it seemed a line of others wanting to look at the same thing had built up. We didn't find a lot of things we needed because of the rush. Then when we had to pick things out at the warehouse at the end, we were rushed and grabbed at least one incorrect thing - a shelf a lot bigger than the one we wanted, which ended up costing us an extra $50. Hopefully everything else was correct. We had picked out a small computer desk, but couldn't find it at the warehouse, so we have an office chair now but no desk. We ended up with: a giant shelf, a sofa, a tiny kitchen table and two chairs for it, and office chair, a bed and mattresses (but we forgot sheets), bath towels (but we forgot kitchen towels), a few kitchen supplies (no trash cans...). It's probably a good thing about all the stuff we forgot or didn't have time to grab, or we'd have overdrawn on our account. We wanted to pay with our US credit card so we could pay for it from our US account, but no one here accepts US credit cards, and unfortunately Ikea was no exception.

* The account thing is a pain because we had to come to Germany before we could open a bank account here. But, we can't wire transfer all our money from the US to the German account unless we go to a bank branch in the US in person. So, no matter what we did it would not have been possible to transfer our money to Germany. The only way we can do it now is to make ATM withdrawals, limited at 600 US dollars/day and with ATM fees from both banks adding up to over $10 US dollars per time, then deposit them into our account here. Inefficient and fee-ridden. US credit cards are unfortunately not an answer as I noted above. Very frustrating, but hopefully soon all these start-up costs will calm down and we'll be able to build up some money in our German account without having to transfer stuff. And when we go back to the US next time, we are going to personally tell Sovereign Bank where to go for all of this, and close our account there. If we want to keep money in the US, we'll take it to a local Iowa bank.

* Comforters! I'm a blanket person myself, but you can forget blankets...it's all about comforters here. Maybe an extra blanket in storage in case you get too cold. All they had in every place we have been and at Ikea were comforters - you can get extra warm, warm, "cool" (I find there is no such thing as a "cool" comforter - I wake up sweating at any comforter thickness), or even adjustable thickness ones. Damon got the adjustable...I got the "cool" in an attempt to not bake every night. They do look nice and make it very easy to make the bed. Generally the comforter is not shared for a couple - perfect because that's too hot - so you each get your own. Then to make the bed, just fold it in half and set it on your half of the bed. (There's no top sheet either.) Nifty!

* Pillows! Some pillows here are similar in shape/size to US pillows - maybe a little narrower. But Germans also seem to be fond of square-shaped pillows - as wide as a typical US pillow, but the same length on all sides, so it's huge! We luckily found the US-type pillows at Ikea, because the square ones seem to take up too much room on the bed. When we bought covers for our comforters, though, they came with square-shaped pillowcases. The pillowcases button on, too...very cute.

* Our books that we had shipped via M-bag arrived! Damon had to get a ride to customs from someone in the lab to pick them up. It was all sort of pointless - they didn't open them or anything, just asked him if he already owned them for six months and if he was going to keep them for six more months or some such thing, then handed them over. It's so nice to have them back and know they are all safe. (Book nerd here.) But what to do with the M-bags? The post office actually reuses them, but we can't exactly return them. Since M-bag is only for international shipping, how do they get them back to reuse them?

* And, Damon's mom finally sent our other boxes! I think...there are four listed on UPS tracking but I know we had more than that, so maybe she consolidated them. Anyway, they're stuck at customs in Koeln. We had to fax them Damon's passport, work contract, apartment contract, and our documents showing we are registered with the town of Heidelberg. They wanted our plane tickets here and a kidney, too, but we couldn't find the tickets and figured we could get more for the kidney elsewhere. Hopefully they will arrive here soon.

* And you thought beer hour was cool....Damon's lab's fridge is kept stocked with beer. Put 90 cents into the beer fund, and you can enjoy a frosty one any time of the work day!! (CCErs...run that one past MG!)

* Where are the end credits? I have been finding myself often confused to discover the show we were watching is over and the next has begun, with almost no transition - because the end credits are never shown, even for movies! They are always shown in the US - is there a law forcing them to be shown there?

* Suppengruen!! I haven't seen this in the US before, but let me know if you have. At the store in the produce section, you can pick up a little bundle that includes two carrots, a section of celery root, parsley, and a leek. It's called Suppengruen, or soup greens, and recipes call for it by that name. This is brilliant because I always hated in the US having to buy this stuff and then having so much left over because, for instance, the smallest size of parsley you can buy is way more than I ever need - I usually just ended up eliminating it from recipes to keep from buying it and feeling bad when I had to throw away most of it. Yay for soup greens! Plus it's such a cute little bundle.

So much stuff to remember right now - I have a request in for a work permit at the Visa office, we have to move and get a bunch of stuff before then, school starts soon, I need train tickets for all that, we need to get cell service still if we find any that's affordable, we'll need a phone and internet plan for the new place, we need to find a used TV for the new place (very expensive here new), make our claim to the shipping company for the broken dance pad, etc etc etc...kind of makes me want to take a nap.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Exhausted and broke!

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Just went to world's cheapest furniture store to get stuff for our new apartment. We didn't get everything we needed, and didn't splurge on anything cool, yet we somehow still completely cleared out our German bank account. Exhausted!
More later!
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Monday, October 23, 2006

Finally, a whole bunch of Heidelberg photos.

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We have been meaning for a while to take a sunny day and go to Heidelberg's Altstadt (Old Town) to take some photos of our own town for the blog, for a change. Though we had been considering biking to the nearby town Schwetzingen yesterday, I didn't really feel up to that much exertion yet (though much better than Saturday). So, we took the opportunity to do our Altstadt photo-day. Because the weather was so beautiful, the place was jam-packed. And unfortunately, it didn't stay sunny the whole time. In fact, it seemed the more photos we took, the cloudier it got - and when we finished, the sun came back out! So, click the link to the right called THE PHOTOS to check out our current hometown.

We decided to stop at Cafe Gundel before leaving the Altstadt because Damon really wanted a coffee and I wanted one of these giant macaroons with chocolate I saw in the window. We have gotten pastries at this place before, but they were to go, so this was the first time we sat in the cafe to eat. I don't recommend it! The pastries are all pretty reasonably priced, but they cost slightly more if you eat them there. In addition, the drinks are outrageously expensive. Damon's coffee, in a tiny cup (maybe 1/3 of a mug?), was 2,30 EUR. I wanted water but decided to wait until I got home because a bottle of water (the only way they serve it here - you can forget your American free tap water) was 4,50 EUR!! There's just no excuse. I recommend taking your goodies elsewhere to eat. (And the goodies are definitely worth getting.)

A German/American email list that Damon is on is heating up with arguments about people from the US calling themselves American. There just isn't a word for people from the US in the English language other than American. Can we all find something a little more legitimate to pick on about the US now, like our cruddy foreign policy, low voter turnout, disregard for the environment, or the inability of many of our citizens to truly understand separation of church and state? Something substantial, please?

Damon finally got ahold of his Mom last night after endless attempts, who blithely let us know the boxes still haven't been sent. I guess they found a cheaper way to do it - all the boxes for only $400 and they would get here in a week (through UPS group rate at his dad's work). But, they were convinced somehow that we could buy everything new for under $400 so they didn't send it or contact us. Man, I want to know where they shop!! The coat and two pairs of boots alone were $450 new, and we'd still have 8 boxes worth of stuff to go at that point! So, hopefully they are really going to send it this time.
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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ich bin krank.

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I woke up this morning with a wicked sore throat...so yes, it's a cold. It kind of stinks to be sick on a Saturday since this is the only weekend day anything is open!

Tidbits!

* In Munich, Damon and I laughed at some t-shirts at a souvenir booth. One said, "Muenchen, Bavaria" and another said "Muenchen, Germany". Why? One language or the other would make more sense! (Hence "Muenchen, Bayern" or "Munich, Bavaria".)

* Tourist Tip: If you are in need of cheap postcards, try the Catholic churches! In both Bad Wimpfen and Munich, I found them there, 4 for 1 euro! This is much better than 40 cents to over a dollar each everywhere else. They aren't necessarily the fanciest cards around, and sometimes they are only of the church, but hey. If I were getting an exotic foreign postcard in the mail, I wouldn't be picky about how stereotypically German it looked, I would just be psyched anyway.

* This morning we sent off a package at the Post. It cost quite a bit more than I was estimating. No more package-sending for us until Christmas!

* We also stopped at the Lidl near the Hauptbahnhof. This Lidl has slightly sketchier clientele than the one in Neuenheim. But, this allowed me to make the following observation: Winos here can actually afford to drink wine (because it's so cheap - making the term much more sensible)....no resorting to mouthwash like in Boston!

* The books we sent by M-bag to ourselves have arrived in Heidelberg! Small problem, though - they're being held at customs and they want us to come in (it's in some cruddy part of town next to a brothel) to fill out some forms auf Deutsch and maybe pay duties on them. It doesn't make much sense to me, but maybe we'll get out of it somehow. The secretary from Damon's lab is going to call them on Monday to try to figure out what the problem is. I think we are allowed to ship a certain amount of stuff to ourselves when moving without having to pay a duty on it.
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Friday, October 20, 2006

Oh Yeah.

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1. Go Cards!!

2. This morning I thought to myself, "Hey, we haven't been to Harvard Square in a while." Then I remembered.
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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Continued Adventures

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More on Munich:

* Even there, bike locking practices were no more secure than in Heidelberg, despite Munich's much larger size: usually the bike is just sitting on the street, locked only to itself by threading the lock through the frame and the front wheel. The locks are often not all that either - some very thin cable locks. In a big US city, this is like hanging a giant neon sign on your bike saying: please take me. In Chicago, if you really value your bike, you must remove one wheel and lock it to the other wheel as well as to the frame, and lock all of that to something very secure, and you must take your seat off the bike and carry it around with you.

* I saw lots of words/names of things that have the same bizarre consonant-l ending as my maiden name - which I haven't seen in this part of Germany at all. It does make sense since that branch of the family came from Bavaria. Jason noted that the l ending can be an abbreviated version of the German diminutive ending -lein. (Diminutive meaning "little" - such as in fraeulein, the old word for "miss", literally meaning "little frau".) So now I wonder if that is the case for my maiden name...was the original one of us a "little ___"(whatever the first syllable means, which I haven't figured out - it might mean "nothing" from previous guesses at finding out)?

* In addition to that, now and again I would see a person who looked freakishly like someone from my maternal grandpa's family, who have very distinctive eyes. It was very strange. As for anyone from that same family who might still be in Germany, it is very hard to say. My great-grandpa was an ethnic German in Moravia when his family came to the US. After WWII ethnic Germans were expelled from the area and I don't have any idea where they would have gone if there were any members of his family left in Moravia at that time. (Moravia is part of the Czech Republic.)

And now on to today's Mainz adventure.
Continuing in their time-honored tradition of not giving me any freaking information, I wasn't sent a map showing me where to go or anything, just the name of the building and office to come to. So, we had to do some guesswork when we got out at the train station, but managed to find the campus without going down any wrong roads. We even found the office without too much difficulty and were there two minutes before they opened. Lots of other international students (from all kinds of programs, not just mine) were also waiting. In front of us were three students holding US passports and speaking only in German. I felt like an idiot.
We got numbers and had to go to a specific desk when ours came up, much like when we registered with the city of Heidelberg. Damon was out for coffee when mine came up so I went in myself. The paper I had said to bring in something related to health insurance, so I just brought the same thing we had taken to the Visa office, since if it was good enough to get us Visas, it must be fine. Unfortunately this was not the case and she sounded sooo disappointed in me that I brought the wrong insurance thing. Then she backpedaled a little bit and said it wasn't a big deal but I needed to go to a building, Mensa, on the other side of campus, to some insurance people, who would give me the paper I need. She indicated the building on a map and off I went. I found Damon at a cafe outside (in the rain) and we went to Mensa - which was as far away on the campus as possible. When we got there, we found an office that appeared to be insurance related, but it wasn't going to open until noon, and I had to register by 11:30. So, we went back to the registration place to argue with them about it. I had to get another number and wait again. This woman was a little nicer about it and I almost thought we were going to get away with it, but then she saw the insurance papers and also vetoed them. But, she was more specific about where we needed to go: an office called AOK in the building next to Mensa. Off again all the way across campus. At this point I am starting to wonder if I will be able to register in time as all this running around is really eating up the morning! We went to the AOK office, and she looked at all the stuff, cheerily yapped in German, and made me sign three things all in German. I felt like I was in some Woe-Betide-The-Uneducated-Immigrants scene in a movie as I signed all these papers and had no idea what they said...I just knew that if I didn't do it, I couldn't register for school. All I know is that I scanned them to make sure they didn't say anything about paying for anything. Off we went with all our shiny new insurance-related papers. All the way back across campus, got another number (the guy was laughing at me), and went in again. This time I passed. It took about 5 minutes and all I got was a giant piece of paper with all these student-related things on it. I have only a vague idea what most of them really are. And that was it. Back to the train station, back on the train (it's becoming my second home), back in Heidelberg to sort through all the little pieces in the hopes of figuring out what is going on!!
I've been abnormally tired the last few days and took a nap when I got home. I don't know if it's a bug or what...but I'm glad to have tomorrow off...except for a lot of chores.

Other:

* In the Wikipedia entry for my state in Germany, Baden-Wuerttemberg, I found a hilarious ad about the state. It says, "Wir koennen alles. Ausser Hochdeutsch." Translation is roughly: "We can do everything. Except High German." and it references all of the various dialects spoken in the state. (High German is the "official" German that one learns in class.) It's especially funny to us because as outsiders it's really hard to figure out the dialects, which are sometimes very, very different...and we're not even in Bavaria, where it's supposed to be the furthest from High German!

* Yesterday I got the new power converter up and running, plugged in the Playstation, and tested the dance pads. Pad #1: Passed the "play a song on beginner" test with flying colors. I then played 4-5 songs on standard. It seemed like maybe the back arrow wasn't perfect, but I figured it could just be that I'm a little rusty and that's the easiest arrow to screw up if you're having an off day. So, let's say Pad #1 passes. I think I will retest it one more time if I get up the energy soon (soo tired). Pad #2: The back arrow completely failed the "play a song on beginner" test. It doesn't work at all. So, I guess we will find out if/how we can make a claim to the insurance company about it. I think it will cost more to replace the pad than it took to buy it, not least because I'm pretty sure they don't sell them here, much less ones that would be compatible with a US playstation, so shipping would be very expensive. Secondly, I'm not sure if you can even buy the Konami ones that we have online individually, and I wouldn't replace them with anything less than a Konami or RedOctane pad. Boo to the damn shippers.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Muenchen! (and photos!)

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Yesterday Damon and I met up with our friends Mike & Jason in Muenchen, or Munich. (This is one of the times when the German name of the town is so much harder to say that I keep reverting to the English version even though I don't want to!) Mike & Jason have been visiting Wien (Vienna...both easy to say!) and made a stop in Muenchen for a couple of days.
We got on the train at 6:05 AM...so early. The first train was an S-Bahn which took us to Mannheim. The S-Bahn is the slowest type of train, stopping at every stop. It's also the least fancy and you can't make seat reservations, since the rides are usually so short. When I say stop, this is not a stop like a train in the US makes. These are very, very quick stops - if you don't pay attention, you could very easily miss yours!
In Mannheim, we got to get on our very first ICE - Inter-City Express. These trains make very few stops and are very modern and fast. We had a reservation on this one. To our surprise, we discovered our seats were inside a compartment! The compartment had a sliding glass door and a little table inside, with six seats. The other four were already filled, two of them with cranky college-age guys who had clearly been smoking in there (a no-no). Luckily for us, they got off in Stuttgart, the first stop. The compartment was full the whole way with various people. It was rather awkward, but since we spent a good part of the trip asleep or partially asleep, it wasn't so bad. The worst part was that the compartment was incredibly cold and we didn't figure out until we were about to get off how to control the temperature.
As we approached Muenchen, the English-language announcement included a very German piece of Engrish: Instead of running five minutes late, "the train is five minutes too late." (Not to mention the fact that they even found a five-minute delay worth announcing...I think an Amtrak train would have be about a week late before they would even note anything was off.)
We arrived around 9:30 and met Mike & Jason outside their hotel very close to the station, and then headed straight out to see the town. We have new photos up - click on THE PHOTOS on the right!
It was pretty cold the whole day - the first time it has been quite so wintery. The sun came out in the afternoon, which helped a lot (if you were not in the shade). I definitely need to get some winter clothes - I have none, and no winter coat/hat/gloves either, as they were all in the to-be-shipped-but-now-not-going-to-be-shipped pile. It's too bad because I just got a new very nice long wool winter coat last year and by the time I get back to the States it will probably be out of style...and in the meanwhile there is no way I could afford anything as nice as that one is for now. I think I will just be buying a fleece to wear under my rain jacket and hope that that can get me through the winter. Anyway, I digress!
We walked through an area filled with cute buildings and lots of shopping, very similar to the Altstadt in Heidelberg. We visited several churches, the Marienplatz where the two town halls are, the University area (Jason was here for a program and lived in Munich for a while), and the English Garden, where we ate lunch at the beer garden near the Chinese Tower. We got huge delicious pretzels - much better than the ones I've had on this side of Germany. The whole area was infested with bees/wasps/something stingery, and they were just all over our food and drinks as us. Mike is terrified of them and kept screaming and dancing around to the amusement of everybody else, including people at other tables. Poor Mike, because I didn't like them either! Damon smashed two of them with his one-liter mug of beer and for awhile we had peace, but soon they were back! Whaaa! We also got dessert at a little dessert place near the Marienplatz, which was yummy, and at the end of the day when it was getting cold again, we had chestnuts from a street vendor. Best chestnuts I have ever had! (And now I am craving them again!)
Further proof that Mike kicks ass, he brought the converter to Europe with him, and he gave it to me as a birthday gift! Isn't that sweet? I haven't tested it yet but will give a full report. The box is definitely sort of sketchy-looking, with a dollar-store graphic design feel. But, the thing itself looks sturdy and all. Mike also brought two teeny packs of OREOS to fulfill my first thing-I-can't-get-here craving! Mmm....must save for a special occasion.
We were sad to leave after such a short trip. Our train was at 7:26p - another ICE train! This time our seats were not in a compartment, which was nice. The trains are oh-so-modern, with all automatic glass doors, comfy seats, headphones/programming if you want it, a cafe on board, and a little screen that shows the next stop, ads, or the train's current speed. The highest speed we noticed during our trip was 229 kilometers/hr - that's 142 mph! Trains are so cool. Even better, the German word for train is Zug (pronounced approx. 'tsook'). One of the best words I have learned so far. I also noticed that our second train (from Stuttgart to Heidelberg on the way home) had a name! It was called "Oberursel" and had a little image of St. Ursula (you can tell because she is holding arrows) by her. Ursel is a German nickname for Ursula. I Googled this and found out that Oberursel is actually the name of a town near Frankfurt, and the image is the town's shield.
Well, I'm feeling a little uninspired today, so that is all for now. Tomorrow I go to Mainz to register for school. Hopefully all will go well - it's a long trip if we have to do it again!
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Monday, October 16, 2006

New Perspectives

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Yesterday on our trip with some of the other international scientists I gained some new perspective on a couple of things:
1. Money. A mathematician from Paris doing her postdoc and making the same as Damon said she is thrilled to be finally starting to make some money...whereas I have been fretting about how we have stopped making any money. Granted there are two of us and one of her, but I felt a little better about our financial situation.
2. Language. While a couple of the others there had very good German, for the most part, everyone else's German was as bad or worse than ours. The guy next to me (the Bangladesh-Kansas guy for anyone needing reference) ordered chicken - we all ordered in English. Then when it came, the person bringing it out spoke German and was asking who had ordered the [insert German word for chicken here, which I recognize when I hear/see it, but cannot spell] and he was completely oblivious. I told him that was his and he was very shocked that I knew the German word for chicken. So, I feel a little better about the tiny amount of German I have picked up, because at least 5 and probably more of the others were worse, yet they are all still getting along fine.

Tidbits!

* The post office closes for two hours over the noon hour! And you thought US government employees had it easy!
* My graduate program seems very disorganized. I have gotten an absolute minimum of necessary information from them, and usually it is buried in small print somewhere. The website contains nothing useful at all. Today I emailed the administrator for a quick question and was informed about a dinner for all the incoming students the first night of class. I can't help but wonder why this random encounter is the first I'm hearing of it...and does anyone else know? When was I supposed to find out?
* We got the coolest pizza delivery menu yet last week. Not only do they have almost 50 varieties of pizza, including several with corn and some with asparagus and other unusual toppings - they also have Pflammkuchen, pasta, tacos/burritos, traditional meat meals like Jaegerschnitzel, and an Indian/Pakistani food menu! As your beverage, you can order a liter of pop, a liter of mango lassi, half a liter of beer, three-quarters of a liter of wine, or three-quarters of a liter of VODKA. No kidding! You can get vodka delivered with your pizza!!
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Guesthouse Takes on Worms! (Plus new photos)

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Yesterday we went on a guesthouse-arranged trip to Worms, about 45 minutes from Heidelberg. The trip included a 2.5 hour walking tour, then dinner (we had to pay for that part, though).
On the train to Worms Damon and I sat across from a fellow guesthouser from Spain. He asked us where we were from, but didn't recognize what we were saying when we tried to say "US", "USA", or "United States", so we reverted to calling it America. That is always my last resort because I know how sensitive many people are to the perceived arrogance of people from the US saying they are "American" as if they are the only country on both the North and South American continents that matters. When we called it America, he understood. So the conversation continued, with some difficulty because his English was poor and our Spanish is even worse. I continued referring to the US as America any time it came up because of the earlier confusion. Then to my surprise, he launched into a broken-English mini-lecture at us about how we shouldn't say America when referring to the US because America is many other countries too!! Picture me now banging my head against the train window. I became even less endeared to him when he informed us that everyone in Europe thinks Americans are stupid. Unfortunately his English wasn't really good enough to argue about it so we just kind of had to take it. I am well aware of the international perception of the US and its people, but it is still pretty awkward to be on the receiving end of a broad statement like that. However, I do not want to sit in the US with my head in the sand hiding from international opinion - I would like to face it and understand it. Problem was, couldn't really argue with or get supporting information from this guy because of the language barrier.
We were hit with international perception of the US again later when a friendly fellow guesthouser informed us that he was from Bangladesh and immediately followed it with "....uh, do you know of it?" I guess he got his PhD in Kansas and a lot of people there were just completely unaware of the existence of Bangladesh. More head banging against the nearest surface for me. Kansas School Board, you might have bigger things to worry about than evolution....like whether anyone is getting any geography!
Thankfully though we dumb Americans weren't the ones to get confused when touring the Lutheran church, mixing up MLK with Martin Luther - that was the Chinese guys on the tour. Wonder if "all Europeans" think Chinese are dumb.
Our tour guide met us at the Lutheran Church. She was very good, and as a bonus had the sweet retro name Irmgard. The town's main selling point is its religious landmarks and history. Much of the town is relatively new, as the old sections were destroyed in WWII. It also has very little in the way of industry. Worms considers itself the birthplace of Protestantism. It also has the oldest Jewish graveyard and synagogue in Germany and is home to the Wormser Dom, a Catholic cathedral built in the 10th century, which also plays a part in the German myth of the Nibelungen. See the photos at the link on the right called THE PHOTOS!
After the tour we had dinner & a short brewery tour at the Hagenbraeu on the Rhine, then returned to Heidelberg. The second train on the way back was immensely crowded and we had to stand in a doorway. I can see how all the casualties happen whenever there is a train accident!
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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Apartment Found!

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This morning we went to view an apartment. We had put up a sign in the elevator in Damon's lab building advertising that we were looking for an apartment. As it turns out, one of the other labs is being relocated to Basel and one of that lab's members called us to say his apartment was opening up Nov. 1.
The apartment is not at all cute - in a large 25-yr-old building with an impersonal feel. However, it has a huge main room, the kitchen is included, a large deck with two built-in areas to grow our own plants, a very large closet, and the guy living there now will sell us his washing machine as well for 100 euro! Finally we can do wash without leaving our apt or digging around for 50-cent coins! The bad parts are the ugly building of course, and there is no door on the bedroom, and it doesn't get that much light. And, well, it has no catwalk or slanty ceilings, man. But, now it is done! And, it's right on the river very close to the main street in Neuenheim and the Bismarckplatz, and right across from the Altstadt.
Of course, now we have to worry about paying the first month's rent ($730), the security deposit ($1200), and buying furniture ($Whoknows). This will all cost far more than we have in our bank account, so we'll have to continue the slow drain on our US account. This is one of the scariest things about moving abroad: in order to do this, it costs so much money. I really hope having lived here is going to be worth drying up our US account and being unable to put anything into savings while we are here. If we had stayed in Boston I'd have been able to keep working and saving - instead of doing school instead because I can't get work here, and us therefore having to live off a third of our old income. But, I will have a degree when this is over, without having to take out more student loans, so there is definitely an up side! Just ugly in the meantime.
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Friday, October 13, 2006

Getting Our Stuff: Slow Burn

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* We sent our most necessary books to ourselves via USPS M-bag. This is a very cheap way to send books - we sent three copy-paper boxes full for just under $100. It's supposed to take four to six weeks to arrive. It has now been nine weeks. I just googled around and found stories of M-bags taking up to six months to arrive!! Argh.... The books include some of our most needed cookbooks, some of Damon's lab protocols which he is really needing right now (guess yesterday wasn't a good one in the lab d/t lack of it), and my entire onomastics collection, which would be really difficult to replace if it never arrives. Please, please arrive!

* Even if it takes six months for the M-bag to arrive, it will probably get here before the two boxes that we asked Damon's mom to ship will, because every time we check, they are still sitting at her house/back of her car/wherever! More stuff we really, really need - we aren't on vacation here, we are trying to live our lives and need our stuff!!!

* Yesterday a solicitor came to our apartment door! This was rather shocking, as soliciting in a US apartment building is a major taboo. I felt embarrassed because I couldn't interrupt his spiel, so I waited until the end, and asked if he spoke English, because I thought maybe there was some problem in the building I needed to know about (not expecting at all to encounter a solicitor on the sixth floor of a locked apartment building full of foreigners) - then of course I had to say no when he asked for money because we are practically charity cases ourselves.
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Only one week to go....

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...before I have to register for classes! I can't believe I am going to be a student again. I can't imagine being in class all day. I can't imagine having homework. (Ew...the best thing about stopping being a student was being able to go home at night, and really be done for the day!! The rest of the time was mine, ALL MINE!!!)

We worked out the converter issue! My friends who are coming to Vienna/Munich had it shipped to them for a mere $15 and will bring it with them on the plane (provided it arrives in time, but it should). We're going to see them in Munich on Tuesday and will pick up the converter. Yay! Munich was just such a cheaper option than Vienna, so despite the fact that it's on a Tuesday that is where we decided to go. Plus it means we can participate in a guesthouse excursion to Worms (everybody snicker here! actually it is pronounced vorms, rhymes with forms) this Sunday for only $4.

* Last night we went to the Kaufhof to get Damon a zippered shirt of some kind since we cannot have our clothes shipped and he needed to replace that piece. (Of course there is no way we can afford to replace everything that couldn't be shipped - only the absolute bare minimum to function.) There was a bit of a line at the checkout and Damon and I did chat in English a little bit. When we got to the checkout, the woman asked him something in German which sounded to us like, "blablablablablabalbal?" Damon said "Bitte?" Then she got a sort of twisted smile and said, "You're not from here, are you?" I sort of thought it was on the rude side, but wrote the whole thing off as, "She was probably asking us if we had a Kaufhof card or something, and when we didn't understand, just asked if we weren't from here, because if we weren't, then of course we would not have the card." But later Damon got sort of paranoid about it. "Was it my jacket? Does my jacket look too foreign?" Argh, then I got paranoid too..."Was it my American haircut? Did I talk too loud in line? Am I dressed totally wrong?" I like to think I just look like myself and neither particularly American nor European, and that I will just blend in unless I open my big, fat, nasal, loud American mouth and blast my ugly American English all over the room. I think if we can keep our wits and not panic when someone says something like that, we should insist on speaking only in German, no matter how bad our German may be, just to annoy them back. "You're not from here, are you?" "Wie bitte?"

* Cute cold cuts!!! Germans like to eat cold cuts on open-faced sandwiches. Since they are showing, they have all these adorably shaped cold cuts - geometric ones, scalloped ones, flowery ones. Photos upcoming!

* Brilliant mailboxes! The mailboxes for our building fill a whole wall outside the entrance. Each one has a mail slot on it that only opens inward, and the mailman sticks the mail in there without having to have a key to open the backside of all the mailboxes, as was typical in Boston. Are these slot-type mailboxes also used in the US anywhere?
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Continued Converter Woes

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Last weekend we went to the local humongous (sp?) hardware store to look for a voltage converter awesome enough to handle our Playstation. Alas, no luck. We did find plug adaptors, which are good enough for things which don't need to have the voltage converted, such as Damon's laptop and piano. But, we really need the converter! We have no car to travel to other towns looking around, so I turned to the internet. I found several different heavy-duty voltage converters online that would be just what we need - but all from US sites, of course. (I tried German, but haven't had any luck.) Two of them won't ship internationally at all, and the other charges $110 minimum to ship it to Germany. Arrrgh!! Definitely, definitely, definitely our biggest mistake so far was not getting one of these things when we were still in the US. We have considering having one shipped to one of our parents, then having them ship it to us, but we really need it soon so we can make a claim to the shipping company if the PS2 or the dance pads don't work anymore, and adding that middle step would just take too long. Also, there's not really any guarantee that would be cheaper...reference my earlier "$847!!!?!?? #*&^!!!" post for more on that. So, still not sure what's going to happen there.

Looks like Damon can't go to Munich next week to see our friends that are going to be visiting there, so I either have to go myself (yikes, with my crappy German) or we could go to Vienna to see them instead, since that is where they will be over the weekend. This is a much more expensive option, though, so I'm not sure if we can do it. We might not get to see them at all, especially since it's so last-minute, but we'll see...

In other news, I was browsing ancestry.com and found out that three generations of my great-grandma's family (my mom's mom's mom's family) lived in Heidelberg! Nifty! The name of the part of Heidelberg they were in, though, is completely unfamiliar to me, so I don't know where it is exactly.
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Monday, October 09, 2006

Bad Wimpfen & New Photos!

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New photos!: http://picasaweb.google.com/carmellernh

Yesterday we did what we'd been hoping to do last Tuesday but were rained out: we visited Bad Wimpfen. Bad Wimpfen is on the Neckar River just like Heidelberg, and is only about 50 minutes away by train.
The trains are a little confusing. We purchased our tickets at a machine and we thought they would print out with the track number we needed, but they didn't. There weren't any signs inside the terminal indicating what track our train would be on - and in fact we wouldn't have known what to look for anyway, because we didn't know what the final destination of our train was, and that would be how its track was indicated. So, we had to go to the info desk to find out what track we needed (out of 10 tracks, only labeled when you get to the track - it would have taken a long time to just try them all!). We still haven't found any sort of guide that would help in situations like this.
The trains have first and second class. I don't know what the difference is, but we of course travel second class. With our 50% off with our BahnCard50, the trip was less than EUR 20 for both of us. While we were on the train, they even checked our tickets - both on the way there and the way back! Apparently you can make several trips and never see this happen.
We took many, many photos in Bad Wimpfen, which you can see at the link at the beginning of this post. We entered town through a huge stone gate and proceeded to visit the Red and Blue Towers, which were both part of a former Imperial Palace. There was also apparently a third tower which is completely gone (and under someone's garden patio now). The town is full of half-timber houses which in the US we generally associate with ski lodges. Some things in the town, such as the oldest part of St. Peter's Church, date back to the 1000s, and there is evidence of settlements in the area back to the Stone Age.
In addition to extremely cute walls, doors, buildings, and windowboxes, Bad Wimpfen is home to a kitsch palace called the Gluecksschwein-Museum, or Lucky Pig Museum. Pigs are considered a symbol of luck in Germany, much like horseshoes or four-leaf clover. The museum is a house filled with room after room after room of pigs. It looks like someone's personal pig collection which just got absolutely out of control. Mixed in with all the glass pigs, plastic pigs, piggy banks, pig art, etc, are even some freaker things such as pig skulls and what appeared to be a stuffed (we're talking taxidermy, not plush) two-headed baby pig. Some pig representations were also mixed in with other luck symbols, including horseshoes, four-leaf clovers, stars, mushrooms, ladybugs and chimney sweeps. (Some of these I never knew were lucky - mushrooms??)
The restaurant where we ate lunch was very crowded, so we had our first experience of the German habit of sitting with strangers at a table. This would be considered extremely awkward and bizarre in the US, but Germans don't want to waste perfectly good empty seats at a restaurant, so one generally just shares a table if there's space. It was alright, but some things were sort of awkward for us, not really knowing what to do...such as when our food came first. Are we rudely eating in front of them if we go ahead, or are we supposed to pretend they aren't there and go ahead? (We went ahead.)
Do be sure to check out the pictures from some more comments and info on Bad Wimpfen.
A tidbit I haven't shared yet: Here, strangers will look at you. They will really look at you, and even give you a total one-over now and again. This is really strange coming from Boston, where strangers take very great pains to make sure they completely ignore your existence.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ahhh...Sssssslugs!

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Last weekend and this, I've had my first encounters with German slugs. Let's make one thing clear first about me and slugs: I think they are cool, but I have an absurd and overwhelming fear that I am going to smash one. I don't know why I find this thought so horrifying, but I just got chills typing that sentence, to illustrate how much I do not want to smash a slug.
I never really cared for the slugs in Boston. There's something somehow worse about the striped and spotted varieties you can potentially smash there. I like the black slugs you can see in the northwest US - somehow not as bad. My first German slug was kind of like that - a light grayish color, a little small, kind of cute, and just not so bad. I thought, "Hey alright. This is the start of a new slug relationship for me - these aren't so bad."
Then I saw a different kind of German slug. This slug is a sort of brown-yellow hue and looks like it has some kind of carapice, making it look like...well, like smashing it would be even worse than smashing any other kind of slug that I have previously feared smashing. Oh lawdy. I fear German slugs.

Today we went to see the first apartment in our search. Unfortunately, the inconvenience of the location was as bad as we imagined, and worse. It took us a full hour to get there, most of it spent pushing our bikes up switchbacks up a hill. Once we saw the place, though, we forgot all about the horrors of getting there. I think it was the coolest apartment I have ever seen. We took a long, long stairway down to the building from the road. The apartment was at the top of an adorable old house and had the slanty ceilings and view of the Neckar to show for it. The kitchen, bathroom, and living room were all fully furnished, except that there was no oven in the kitchen. There was an adorable little storage room there as well. Then, the bedroom was up above in sort of a loft. From the loft where the bedroom was there was a little catwalk across to another smaller area with bookshelves and room to sit. It was so, so cool, and the rent is very good for Heidelberg. Plus we would go past the castle every day, and I think the view from behind is much better than from the front. We have tried so hard to figure out how we could make living there work, but we don't think we could. It would pretty much require a car. :(

Tidbits:
* Yesterday Damon was in the bakery line behind an Indian woman. The girl behind the counter was trying to explain to her that it would be cheaper to buy two of something than one of something, and she started yelling, "I don't understand! Why can't you just speak English!?" Unfortunately for her, it seems the bakery worker doesn't know English, and doesn't have to either, since this is Germany! While German students are apparently required to learn a couple of languages besides High German, one of them doesn't have to be English. It's pretty amazing that anyone would have the balls to say something like what she did. I'm not sure if she was coming from America or another country - Damon didn't listen for an accent. Kind of embarrassing if she was American, but I guess if I don't know whether she is, neither does the girl at the bakery.
* Many office buildings here are lined with balconies all the way around each floor. And, the windows open!
* All the Nutella comes in glass jars, unlike the plastic ones in the US.
* And...my sister sent me a package!!!!!! It included this really awesome shirt from Threadless (no photo of me in it yet, but here it is on Threadless: http://www.threadless.com/product/609/Midwest !! It also included pens, mints, and a Rocky Road and Chick-O-Stix from the world's coolest convenience store, the Plaid Pantry. SARA KICKS ASS!!!
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ooh, racy...

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I've noticed a few ads on TV lately which I just can't see flying on US television - but US people, correct me if you have seen these there and we're shedding our Puritan ways!

* Ad in which two ladybugs have wild sex in a car (it's a car ad), causing the car to rock and steam up. Nothing really subtle about it at all! It is pretty funny, though.
* Ad referencing "sexy girls" - just not sure how kosher that is to say on a US primetime ad. The ad is all in German except the words "sexy girls" - guess this phrase entered the pop culture?
* Late-night, totally saw porn magazine ads complete with porn images! This was on cable, though - do they do that in the US too? Admittedly I watched far less TV there so I don't really know.

We're plotting our next attempt at finding converters. The Playstation requires one that's more than 70-something watts. I want to get that running so we can make sure it and the crushed-up dance pads still work after the apparently harrowing journey (for the pads, anyway) across the Atlantic - or if they don't work, make a claim to the shipping company. Damon thinks his digital piano just needs a new power cord/power source/whatever it is, if we can find one that fits. I am really not into electronics so all of this is kind of irritating for me. Thinking back, I can't think of any other way to do this, though. We could have not brought these US electronics with us, but we couldn't have bought everything new for cheaper than we shipped it. I guess we don't really need a Playstation (it's also our DVD player) or a digital piano, but when you think about being here for two to five years without the things that are pretty major in your life at the time before you move - it seems impossible. And of course, we've had to deal with a lot of unsolicited advice on what we should/should not take/have taken, which just makes it all the more difficult to seriously think about. (Cue the Bad Religion here: "Everybody knows what's best for you! Everybody knows what's best for you!") We didn't bring anything we thought we could replace here. Well, except the electric toothbrush, but that just got tossed in the luggage. Oh, and the sewing machine, but we had some extra space in the Giant Crate so we just shipped it. But we forgot to ship the pedal and that's rotting at the in-laws' now...

We've had the first murmurings of visitors to Germany. Father-in-law wants to send mother-in-law and sister-in-law to visit in December for six days. I don't think this is going to work because we don't know yet where we'll even be living at that time, and we are hoping to do a trip of our own in December (Mediterranean, perhaps), and if we take time off to hang out with them, we won't be able to do our own trip. (Unless they did their own thing while we did ours, but having had many in-law visits to Boston, I know that isn't how it works, not even when Damon was in the final throes of his thesis and we were preparing to move - even then we had to drop everything.) So, maybe later. February might be good.
In addition, my lovely friends from Philly are possibly going to be in Muenchen for a couple of days, so hopefully we will get to swing by there and see them and the city. The timing is kind of bad there too but it's only 1-2 days and we aren't expected to be expert guides for them, so it's easy.

We are looking at an apartment this weekend! It's furnished and near the castle. It doesn't sound like a very convenient location, though. We'll see what happens. I have the same feeling I did before we first moved to Eastie in Boston - not a good location, but the apartment sounds so good, it can't be real. (And in Eastie, it did turn out to be real...and we accepted the commute as payment for a great place.) There are a lot of apartment ads in the paper but some of them, instead of having a little phone icon followed by a phone number, have a little envelope icon followed by a number that doesn't work on the phone. What are those? We can't figure it out...is it a text number? There are really apartments you can only text for?

In other news, I am still having great difficulty getting any German to come out of my mouth. Even simple words just don't come. I have a really hard time with bitte, which means please, and is said all the time for all kinds of things. Even in situations where in English I would say "Yes, please", in German only "Ja" or "Ja, danke" ("Yes" or "Yes, thanks") will come out. So, I have learned a little something - when someone who is clearly not a native speaker of the language you are trying to communicate in comes off as rude, it's probably not that they are really rude, and not even that they are not trying. Sometimes, when you are in a hurry to say the right thing in a foreign language, it just doesn't come.
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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rainy Feiertag

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Today is a Feiertag - holiday - Reunification Day. Damon and I had planned on going to Bad Wimpfen today, but it has been pouring the entire day. After getting totally drenched and freezing yesterday on our bikes, I am just not interested in going anywhere today as long as it is raining. Damon is currently outside on the balcony sulking about this. He's feeling a lot of pressure (as am I, but not so much) to DO DO DO DO DO stuff since we are in Europe and by God, we should be having fun and seeing sights 24/7!!!! There were a lot of little sights in Boston that we never saw despite living there for six years and he never had a problem with that, but things are a little different when you move to Europe - no one tells someone moving to Boston that they had better have the time of their life and not take a single rainy day inside. It probably doesn't help either that our apartment here is a third of the size of the one we had in Boston.
So, rain.
The Giant Crate arrived last night around 10pm. The apartment is now filled with packing materials and smells like sawdust. My computer seems to be functioning just fine with the new power cords we bought for it, but we haven't been able to hook it up to the internet yet. We need a better converter for the Playstation, so we can't use that. The dance pads were completely crushed. I will be surprised if they still work.
So, that's the rainy day report from Heidelberg.
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Monday, October 02, 2006

Scheisswetter & the Ugly Side of Heidelberg

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Today Damon and I set out on a couple of errands - we wanted to stop by the main train station to get some info on/possibly buy cards (called BahnCard50) that will get us 50% off train tickets on the Deutsche Bahn (German train system), get another bike lock and bike helmets, and find a store called MediaMarkt that might have converters so we can plug in our US electronics (we have one currently, but can only run a couple of things on it).
First we stopped at the train station. There were huge lines everywhere. We did find out that apparently one of us can get half off a BahnCard50 if the other one gets one - with proof that we're married & living together. Plus we have to bring a passport photo to get one. So, we will buy them later.
Then we tried to find the MediaMarkt. We were relying on memory because we don't have a printer at home to print the little map from the website, and failed miserably. Then it started raining. We came back toward the train station to stop at a bike store we knew about instead, hoping to get something accomplished. The store was closed, but the rain had backed off a bit so we tried looking for the MediaMarkt again. This time we found it. We also found the ugliest hole we have seen so far in Heidelberg. It looked like we had suddenly warped into suburban America. No place for bikes to go, cars everywhere, all gray and ugly, construction ripping up a road, Pizza Hut on the left, McDonalds on the right, and a bunch of car dealerships. MediaMarkt turned out to be a big-box store along the lines of Best Buy. We found one converter tossed into a bin where it didn't belong - better than nothing! When we asked an employee if they had more of them, he seemed clueless and said no. I don't understand how, in a city with so much tourism and a lot of Americans here for various reasons, it is so hard to find a device to convert a German plug to an American one. You would think there'd be some money to be made on that, but apparently not! So if you are coming here, buy converters in the US!! We also tried to find a cord for Damon's laptop so he can plug it in at work where there's no converter, but no luck finding that. We did find some for the desktop computer but the laptop takes a different size. No idea where to find that now, since the only place people could suggest to find it was MediaMarkt.
We were glad to get out of there again, but now it was pouring rain again. We stopped at Handelshof (grocery store) for hot chocolate and headed home.
Our giant crate was supposed to be delivered at 6pm, but it's now almost 9p and no sign of it yet.
To end on a happier note, I was tipped off by some lovely fellow Iowans here in Heidelberg (hello and thanks, if you are reading this!) about some cereal you can get here which consists of small mini-wheat-size squares filled with: HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE GOO! (Basically Nutella.) There is no way it's healthy to be eating this stuff, but man is it good.
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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Photo Update!

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Today we hiked up the Heiligenberg (translation: Holy Mountain) to get some exercise - hiking is a favorite German pastime on Sundays, when everything is closed - and see some ruins. The famous Philosophenweg (translation: Philosophers Path), highlighted in Germany guidebooks everywhere, begins in Neuenheim, and we started there and contined upward. There are several ruins, including a watchtower, a small cloister, a huge outdoor amphitheater used for propaganda by the Third Reich, and a monastery. There's also a restaurant on top of the hill (and a parking lot for those who would rather drive than hike). There were people everywhere, walking, socializing, and picnicking in the ruins. The hike also offers amazing views of Heidelberg and the surrounding area. I uploaded some new pictures including today - check them out by clicking the PHOTOS link on the right!

Yesterday was Heidelberger Herbst, a huge one-day fall festival in the Altstadt, with crowds rivaling those at Boston's 4th of July on the Esplanade (though I never did that again, I would probably do Herbst again). The Hauptstrasse and squares and side streets along the way are lined with booths selling food, wine, and beer, sales from the shops located there, and more booths selling some of the fare you can find in any tourist destination: junk with your name on it, shiny things to hang on your porch, incense, dreamcatchers, beaded jewelry, etc. We went in the morning, took a break as it got more crowded to buy groceries, then came back later for supper. As we went home afterward, a big storm was beginning to move in! I can't imagine the scene on the Hauptstrasse as it did!

*Zwiebelkuchen: This and neuer Wein ("new wine" - still fermenting) are standards for this area at this time of year. Zwiebelkuchen translates directly as "onion cake", though it's closer to pizza than cake. On top of a crust are onion, egg, bits of bacon, and some kind of sauce, creating one of the world's most perfect foods. Damon and I actually made this a couple of times in Boston after finding a recipe for it in one of the Wall Lake cookbooks! I'm very glad to see it is part of this area!

*Continuing my fascination with the travel ads on CNN International: Apparently there is an amazing brand new airport in Thailand that just opened three days ago. There is an entire ad centered around this beautiful new airport, in which it is called the "Pride of Thailand". Come on, Thailand. I haven't visited you, but I know you have much more amazing things than a shiny new airport. What gives?
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Mop Woes

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You may remember from one of my earliest posts that when we asked the front desk of our building if we could get a mop for our apartment, they insisted that our apartment already comes standard with a broom and a "mop for cleaning the bathroom" (her exact words). We can't figure out what is supposed to be the mop. It looks like we have two brooms. Our bathroom floor is just maddeningly filthy at this point, and though I've been able to sweep it, I'm clueless as to how to mop it. Can someone please tell me, which of these is a mop??
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