Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some Entertainment During Intermission

The in-laws are in town so we've been traveling with them, and will be doing so again this weekend. So, no time to blog.

But, here's something to keep you awake in the meantime...for better or for worse.
Don't watch it if flashing colors give you migraines or seizures.

See you next week. If you survive the video.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Peanut Butter Cups

We brought peanut butter cups back to Germany with us - both bags of the miniatures, and packages of the regular-sized ones. They're available here in the regular packs, but only in the fancy import section, and pretty expensive. Peanut butter cups are the good stuff, as far as I'm concerned. I know I'm not the only one. Growing up, that was the good candy on Halloween, the house everyone wanted to make sure to go to. They went faster than anything else from the office candy jar, too. Though they're all good, I like the regular-sized ones better than the miniatures. I think the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter is different in the two different sizes, and I prefer the ratio in the bigger ones. (I never tried those extra-big ones they came out with, though.)

So, we gorged on some of the miniatures, and fed the rest to unsuspecting (and/or suspecting) non-Americans, with mixed results. Chocolate and peanut butter are considered a pretty weird combination in most of the world.

One of my coworkers started to unwrap it and asked if it was an "Eis-konfekt". I don't even know what that is, but I ducked out of the room before seeing the reactions. A friend from class said, "I like this. You can bring me these." One of Damon's labmates smelled the bag and already knew she wasn't going to like it. Another looked at it after unwrapping and said, "I don't know if I'm going to like this." Then she tried it. "No, I don't like this." A third ate four of them, until he felt ill, then ate a fifth for good measure. Guess he liked them. It's funny for me to even imagine them not tasting good, when they were basically a childhood luxury to me. I tried one with an open mind and tried to imagine it tasting bad. I found that lingering on the peanut butter too long does taste a little strange. Maybe. But, I'm still not convinced :) I'm already asking people to bring us more!

Even better than Staubsauger...

How is it that I've gone a whole year in Germany and never managed to mention the German word for lightbulb?

Gluehbirne. The literal translation of this is "glow-pear".
I think they've outdone themselves on this one. Forget dust-sucker (vacuum), hand-shoe (glove), and zebra-stripes (crosswalk). Light-pear would have worked and been pretty damn cool. But they did even better. Glow-pear. German rules (when it's not sucking).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

God mend thine every flaw

Notes from a week back in the US: The good, the bad, and the other stuff. I was really struck at first by the strange feeling of being in a place that was completely familiar, but also completely foreign. To see it all from this new perspective was really incredible.

* People, get off your damn cell phones. It's insane. Looking around at the airport, more than half of the people in any given scene were on their phones. They weren't even making arrangements or anything crucial like that, just blathering. Then, a friend picked us up from the airport and on the way home got a call. I was sort of okay with it until the words, "No, I'm not doing anything. What's up?" came out of her mouth. Actually, you are driving in city traffic, paying a toll, talking to your friends who just flew here from six time zones away? She proceeded to yap on the phone the rest of the way home. When I'm in Germany, I feel that I should limit my phone time in public - it's impolite and irritating. When I'm in the US, I feel that if I'm not yapping on my cell phone, everyone will think I have no friends.

* Oh yeah, and you don't have to be in such a damn hurry all the time. I know it makes you feel important, but you haven't even given yourself a chance to feel the benefits of slowing down.

* So many cars. Consider ped zones! They improve your life, I swear.

* It's so diverse!! There are people who are neither super-white nor Turkish! LOTS of them!

* Everyone sounds American! I got in the habit in Germany of turning my head at the sound of American English. My head was spinning the first couple of days in the US. Even towards the end I was doing it pretty frequently. And it feels like everyone is a potential conversation mate. Oh, the freedom!

* It's a bit loud, though.

* Shorts, shorts, everywhere.

* And flags! Ye gods, there are a lot of national flags flying, hanging, and otherwise displayed in the US. A short conversation we had our first morning there -
Me: "There are American flags everywhere!"
Damon: "Yeah, I wonder what happened."
Me: "Uh, I think it's normal."

* All the trash goes in the same can! It's so easy! When I cut a tag off something I don't go to the paper trash with the tag and the packaging trash with the loop. I can toss it all together. And I can toss it in the room I'm in (in Germany we didn't want 4 trash cans in every room of course so you have to go to the appropriate room to find the can for the particular type of trash you have.)

* Yap yap yap yap. In Germany, you get small talk only from people who are likely to see you again - your neighbors, coworkers, classmates. In the US, you get it from everybody. They go on and on! Examples from the airport alone:
- Lady from ag department who caught us accidentally importing a piece of fruit: "...yeah it's alright, we just need to take it, no problem, then you take this paper, and go over there? by number five? and turn right, and take it to that guy, and he'll stamp it, and hey! what does your customs form say you live in? your US address? oh, you're going to maine? something harbor? my brother works in boothbay harbor! he's a....blablabla"
- Guy at security when I took off the shoes I'd been wearing for about 16 hours: "step on! good thing you took off those shoes! it looks like your feet needed a break!! have a nice day!!"
- A guy wanted to get around me in the store. Instead of just silence or a short "excuse me" it was, "Excuse me, can I just reach over your head for just a second here?" So many extraneous words!
And....I can use extraneous words too! This is my language!! When someone came up to me for directions, at first I had the knee-jerk, "oh no....prepare inadequate German langauge arsenal for emergency situation..." but then he asked for directions IN ENGLISH!! YES! And I could say more than just "Go straight to whatever street and then left"...I could say any combination of words and extra information and "i'm not totally sure but"s that came naturally! It was so easy. My lazy side wants to move back NOW. My intellectual side says I should keep with the German, not be just another unilingual American. The whole inner argument makes me just want to take a nap. (There's the lazy side again.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Boston successfully munched!

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We're back in Germany as of yesterday morning, and as messed up from jetlag as one might expect. It's always a lot worse than I remember it being. I've been messing stuff up all day. Then I cave in and take naps. At this rate it will take longer than it should to recover.

As for our USAir transatlantic experience, it was not bad at all on the way to the US. There were three movies (on a big screen), the food was identifiable and not too bad, the service was good, and there was no delay at all. Everything was surprisingly smooth at the airport in Philly, too. Our flight from Philly to Boston was a little scary, though. About 20 minutes in, during beverage service, the first officer came on, using not his SuperCalmPilot3000 voice, but with a very urgent tone, telling the flight attendants to stop cart service and secure the cabin. But, he didn't say why, so we were all left wondering for about fifteen minutes until he came on again to say that there were "signs of wear" on the first officer's window so we had to slow down to try to keep it from blowing open or what have you. The flight attendant told us he has seen it a few times, I guess it's just one of those things for this particular plane. There were big cracks in the window when we got out.

The way back we were delayed out of Philly because they put too much cargo on the plane and it was overweight. Then the pallet-moving system wasn't working so it took them a long time to remove the extra weight from the plane, which turned out to be "several pallets". WTH? Don't they weigh that stuff before they put it on the plane? So, they should know that it's too much before they get it all on there and then we have to sit around while it's removed, right? Then there was a really long line to take off, the likes of which I haven't seen since I tried to fly out of Boston at 7pm on a Friday one time. Actually, I think we waited longer this time than that, even. And a woman nearby was praying the rosary...I hate seeing other people be nervous on planes because it only validates my own anxiety. This flight had TVs at every seat, but as a result there were all these mechanical boxes under the seats, so there was no place for storage and Damon (tall) was really uncomfortable. He now swears he will never fly USAir again. Also, the food was much worse than the other flight. All in all, though, things were pretty ok.

The wedding was beautiful. We ate everything we hoped in Boston, and more. We brought back all the goodies we needed, plus some we hadn't thought of earlier (chili powder, Almond Joys, Starburst...). I still know Boston so much better than I know Heidelberg, so it felt like really going home and it was strange to leave again, being only a visitor. Will post more soon about the trip, but for now here are some photos!

Maine Sep 07

Boston Sep 07

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's good to have goals.

And here are my goals for Boston:

* Eat:
1. dim sum.
2. at Olé Mexican Grill.
3. at Qdoba.
4. clam chowder.
5. buttered popcorn.

* Hang out with:
1. people from my old neighborhood
2. people from my old job
3. people from Damon's old lab
4. people from college

* Shower said people with:
1. German wine
2. Schaum-Erdbeeren
3. Nougat Pillows
4. marzipan
5. Hachez chocolate

* Bring back:
1. root beer
2. peanut butter cups
3. peanut butter
4. marshmallow fluff
5. stick sunscreen

* Sit on the harbor.
* Ride the T and think about how much I don't miss commuting on it.
* Overhear other people's conversations and understand every word.

I leave you with something Bostonian:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Shopping: I hate it.

Kick me out of your girls' club now. I don't like to shop. There's nothing fun to me about the crowds in stores, the piles and piles of merchandise to sift through, and the nagging in the back of my head that I can only afford one thing I really need in the whole store so I had better do a good job, dammit!

But, one can only put it off for so long. I think the problem is that I'm so picky. I was in the market for a little black dress for my friend's wedding - dressy enough to be a bridesmaid in, but not so dressy it requires nylons, because none of the other bridesmaids are deigning to wear them. Then shoes for said wedding - that didn't show off my heels and toes because I didn't want to deal with a pedicure. I need shoes for walking too after the destruction of my usual pair became complete on the two-week trip - and they must go with everything because I can't be getting multiple pairs. A bracelet for the wedding - should be pearls to go with my necklace, but maybe with a little color to help me look less washed out, but also cheap (ie fake), and also not look cheap. And then it turned out that for the "casual" rehearsal dinner, "casual" actually meant "summer dress or skirt with nice top" - I have no "casual" dress (I actually don't get the concept) and I have no "nice top" to match my one skirt. (I have some that would be appropriate for the office, but would sort of corporate next to someone in a summer dress.) So, more shopping to come - the shoes, the bracelet, the dress or top... and about one day to do it.

Then there's the calligraphy project. I got the pens in Munich. Then I got some paper in a little shop off the Hauptstrasse. The paper didn't work with the pens. So Damon stopped yesterday at a pen/paper shop in Neuenheim to get some. The paper is poster-sized. Damon asked if they could cut it smaller. "It's too big for us to cut." Too big for them to cut?? And what cutting facilities exactly do they think I have at my apartment!? Shouldn't they have a way to cut huge paper if they are going to sell it? (This is typical in US art stores, at least.) Now I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to do a decent job cutting down this paper with a cutting mat that's only about a quarter of the size of the sheets. I might have to just resort to scissors and then trim off straight edges later.

EDIT: I went to H&M and got two "nice shirts" and a skirt that was on sale for only 5 EUR. So, rehearsal dinner now covered. Looked for bracelets in a couple more stores. No luck. Maybe I'll just go bracelet-less. The wedding is this weekend :)

Monday, September 03, 2007

What is wrong with airlines in the US?

I really hate flying. One of the biggest barriers in moving to Europe for me was the thought of the long transatlantic flights I would have to take any time I wanted to go home. Flying to the Midwest from Boston for six years was bad enough.

We're going to the States this week. I was hoping for a good fare on British Airways or Lufthansa. You know, nice airlines with decent food, free drinks, and some small standard of comfort and friendliness. Instead, I ended up with an American airline: probably bankrupt with horrid food, no free drinks, and no more amenities than you'd expect on a domestic flight. And I ended up with the worst of them, apparently: USAir.

I never cared for this airline but I hadn't heard anything about their transatlantic service, so I held a modicum of hope until this morning when I found this article online while trying to get some info:

And this blog entry from only three days ago:

Crappy cabins, never on time, shortstaffed, and CRAPPY MAINTENANCE.
By the way, did I mention I am terrified of flying? After I read this article, just a couple of minutes ago, I had to go be sick in the bathroom.

Next is to check kayak and see if I can get anything last-minute at a good fare on another airline, and find out what my losses would be if I cancelled my USAir tickets.

And if I do have to take this flight and I die on it because of some cheap mother in Arizona, I will haunt the ass of everyone on this planet until they are forced to find all guilty cheap assholes and make them die in a way that is just as horrid as dying on an airplane. Only the cheap assholes will still win because they are probably older than me and will have lived longer in the end.

Crap, this sucks.

And we reach the end...finally.

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We spent the last day of our tour in the Alps, on the Herzogstand and in the tiny town of Mittenwald. I don't have much to say about it, except that it was beautiful, and a really nice, relaxing way to end the trip.

Herzogstand Aug 2007

Mittenwald Aug 2007

Mittenwald shut down early so the night crowd had drinks in the hotel lobby, convincing the hotel staff to put some music on for us. The next morning we rode the bus straight from Mittenwald back to our point of origin, Frankfurt, and went our separate ways.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

And continuing through the state of Bayern...

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We left Bamberg and drove the short distance to Nuernberg the next morning. Our bus was parked near the castle and we were given two and a half hours free in the town - to have lunch and see whatever we wanted. In most stopovers like this we had a city tour, but not this time. It was really nice to be able to cover what we wanted instead of lingering too long on one thing at the expense of another - although I did miss the extra tidbits of information one can normally get on a tour.

Nuernberg Aug 2007

Our guide warned us not to use the restrooms in the castle, and I had to go, so we checked on our map for the next closest public one, which was in the little medieval section of town right next to the castle. She'd told us to go to a cafe instead, but we didn't need anything from a cafe. So, I used the public one, which was of the toilet-seat-free, cold-water-only, soap-free variety. Ugh. Nuernberg is a major tourist should really have better places to pee than that. I would have been willing to put a coin in to use it if I could have gotten a seat and some soap!

We stopped at the market and bought the typical tourist fare, Lebkuchen. What can I say...they taste damn good. We hit the three major churches, all of which were amazing and definitely seem to be the highlight of this city. The center was a little boring, with a broad street filled with all of the usual shops one can see in a German city of any size....Kaufhof, New Yorker, Deichmann, etc etc. We ate a quick small lunch in a super-crowded touristy restaurant near one of the churches, then it was back on the bus for the trip to Muenchen.

Muenchen Aug 2007

We had a bit of free time before going to a concert in the evening at the Residenz, so Damon and I explored the area around the hotel. It was pretty seedy. Mostly strip joints and hotels. I did find an art supply store, and had been looking for calligraphy supplies, so that was great. We grabbed a bite, then met up for the concert. Afterward, a few of us had drinks at the Augustiner, which wasn't bad, and conveniently located. (No one really wanted to hang around at the places near the hotel...)

The next morning we had a tour with a Munich tour guide on our own bus. She was really terrible. It was okay at first - we went past some museums and such, and out to Schloss Nymphenburg, which had some beautiful lakes and gardens (though we were of course only there very briefly). Then we drove around a bit more and stopped in the center so she could walk us around a few places. She stopped inside a mall and spent at least 15 minutes, probably 20, yapping on and on about a stupid picture on the floor of the mall that can't really have been of any importance. About half of the tour group members peeled off during that time, including our guide! We ended up leaving the tour and heading over to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch. Most of us had been to Muenchen before anyway so it wasn't a major loss. Damon and I ate at Buxs, a vegetarian buffet restaurant near the Viktualienmarkt, out of curiosity. The food was alright but really, surprisingly uncreative for vegetarian food. It was mostly potatoes. Where are all the crazy meat substitues, beans, and nuts? I did like the style of some of the food - small pieces of things, like American appetizers. This style of food is hard to find in Germany.

We went through the market some more, then made our way over to the Asamkirche, the only major church we hadn't made it to on our last visit to Muenchen. As you can see in the photos, the Asamkirche is a Rococo hater's nightmare - or a Rococo lover's dream. When I stepped in, another woman came in beside me, and after a glance around, just looked at me with the universal "What in the hell!?" face, shrugged a tiny shrug, and left. We went shopping for a gift for our tour guide from the group, and I looked again for some shoes to replace my broken ones, with no luck. (As of now I still haven't replaced them and really must...) We also checked out Schwabing, which had seemed like an interesting neighborhood when we went through it on the bus. It had a nice variety of restaurants which would be good to remember for our next trip there!

We met up with the group for food and beer at the Chinese Tower in the English Garden. It was raining so everyone was crowded under the Tower. Afterward, the guide convinced a few of us to go also to the Hofbraeuhaus, Munich's great shrine to tourism. It was hot as hell, loud, and unbelievably crowded. The room was pretty cool, though. And we noticed that the mugs that can be easily stolen from the English Garden cost 8,50 EUR in the gift shop. I think that people in our group stole at least 10 of the mugs from the Garden.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bamberg: Kunigunde digs it, so you should too

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We left Buchenwald and made our way toward Bamberg, a town in Franken (English: Franconia), a new region for us. On the way there, we took a shiny brand new Autobahn, smooth, full of ridiculously long tunnels and ridiculously high bridges, connecting Thuringen in the former East with Franken in the former West. The road was so new it didn't show up on the driver's navigation system - the bus indicator on it looked like we were driving out in the wild. It wasn't on Damon and I's 2007 atlas either. On this road, the amount of money that must have been spent updating the infrastructure after reunification really struck me. This area of the country is doing very well on financial indicators, though.

We ate sandwiches at a brand spanking new rest area, where a store and restaurant hadn't yet been built, then continued onward, arriving in Bamberg in late afternoon and just in time for a city tour.

Bamberg Aug 2007

Our tour guide was an adorable old Catholic guy named Hans. His focus was mostly the more religious aspects of Bamberg, including its amazing cathedral which holds the tomb of a pope (only one buried north of the Alps!) as well as saints Kunigunde and Heinrich, the town's patrons. After we left the cathedral he joked that he hoped he'd converted at least one of us so he could go to heaven. He took a liking to Damon and I for whatever reason: Damon because he always has questions about religious symbolism and is good at identifying saints and religious figures in artistic portrayals, me probably because he sensed I love old guys. And I laughed at all his jokes. Between sites he asked me if I was "also from England". I was confused because there was no one from England on our tour. I said, "No, I'm from the United States." This was interesting to him because he went to college in Worcester, near Boston. He turned to Damon and asked, "But you're from England, right?" I told him, "This is my husband!" Then he said, "Oh! Your English is so good, I thought you were from England!" Which is funny because Americans have poor English...and so do the Brits. No one there uses the Received Pronunciation either! Anyway, see the photos to find out more that this dude told us about Bamberg. And by the way? Bamberg is gorgeous.

The tour was followed by dinner at a restaurant in the town center, which was honestly pretty bad. We all did enjoy some of the local Rauchbier (smoked beer), though. Imagine beer that smells like ham. It's weird. Everyone tells you if you don't like it, you should just have a couple of more and it will grow on you. We ended up back at the hotel bar, where drinks were really expensive (we were at a 4-star hotel now - this is the place that wanted 3 EUR to wash one pair of socks) but conversation was entertaining.

The following morning we had a tour at a pharmaceutical factory in Bamberg called Dr. Pfleger. The company is owned by a foundation which donates a certain portion of profits to research and such. Perhaps they have some kind of relationship with Damon's fellowship foundation. The tour was really interesting - we got to see a pill-making machine, and pill-packaging machine, and hear a guy refer to suppositories as "torpedo-shaped". Haha, butt torpedo.

Afterward, we took the bus to the Fraenkische Schweiz (Swiss Franconia), a beautiful park area with valleys and some interesting rock formations. It was quite rural; I got Deliverance vibes from some of the people at the place where we stopped. The plan was to go canoeing, but after our previous experience and given the cold and rainy weather, Damon and I wanted to be counted out. Also, they never told us we'd be going canoeing, so we didn't pack anything appropriate. So, we and a few others instead hiked in the woods along the canoe route and met them at the end. It was a really beautiful walk, with lots of snails and slugs! Too many slugs, actually. I was really worried about stepping on them. Alas I didn't have the camera with me to capture their more orangey shade. Afterward we all enjoyed Kaffee und Kuchen at the end of the route then returned to Bamberg. We went for a walk and had dinner with the Polish, Japanese, and Hungarian at a place in the center which was cheaper and better than the previous night. Bamberg is really pretty and was less damaged by WWII than other towns. It's very, very worth a visit. Actually, I think I'd move there. It's at least as pretty as Heidelberg, but not quite as touristy.

That night, I enjoyed a BATH in the hotel room!!! That's right, there was a BATHTUB! Man, do I ever miss taking baths....I don't think bathtubs are as common in apartments here as they were in the US. If we ever move again, I've got to make sure there's a tub. I didn't ever want to leave the cozy hotel in Bamberg...but we had more to see and the next stop was Muenchen.