Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Review: Indian Palace Restaurant in Heidelberg

(I wrote this a bit ago and am just now getting to posting it)

We'd been craving samosas since the weekend, so Tuesday night Damon and I decided to go out for some Indian food. The weather wasn't cooperating so we decided to stick to the nearby Altstadt, which has, so far as we know, 2 or 3 cheap Indian places and one expensive one. Previously we'd only tried the cheap ones and hadn't made a decision on where to go on this particular night. When it started pouring (again) on our way there, we decided to just go to whatever place we found first. It happened to be the expensive one, Indian Palace.

At first we thought that we might not be able to eat there because it appeared that there was a private party going on. A buffet was set out on a white-tableclothed table and everybody there was Indian. However, Damon found some free tables and Germans ordering off the menu in the back, so we picked our way through the Indian party crowd to a seat. We noticed they were all speaking English and drinking tap water.

We perused the menu for a while and finally a server came to take our order. Damon started to ask him something auf Deutsch, but got a little lost partway through and, based on our earlier observation of all the English-speaking Indians, slipped into English. The server seemed okay with that. We ordered our dishes and then Damon asked for tap water. The guy became very clearly upset, which was surprising to us, having noted everyone at the Indian party tables drinking it. It sounded like he wanted to curse at us and was grasping for more acceptable mean things to say, throwing up his hands and looking to the heavens, making a face of clear revulsion. He then told us we could order bottled water with or without gas. Damon asked for tap water again, and the server stalked off in a huff without another word. He then proceeded to say nothing to us the rest of the night. Rather sad, because the food was pretty good. He was relatively nice to the bottled-water-ordering table next to us, though. I'd like to extend a hearty "bite me" to our server at Indian Palace in Heidelberg. Next time, we'll eat over at the Taj Mahal.

I never fancied myself a restaurant-reviewing type before. Most food is fine for me. Since getting here though I keep finding myself full of commentary...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Varied Tidbits

* Hey, if you think me and all those other lemmings are losers for not wanting to hear what happens in a kiddie book before reading it themselves, please feel free to say so right in the comments. No need to go all passive-aggressive about it, posting vague spoilers in your own blog just to show us all that there are more important things in the world. Got it. You are righteous. You are above all that.

* A while back I said we found out that the Hausmeister isn't the one who changes our name in the elevator after all. Finally Damon got around to asking the person who he told us about to do it. I'm sure you can guess what he told us. The other guy is the one to change the name, of course. We'll be eternally running back and forth between the two. And in the end, probably will have to pay them 20 EUR for the service!

* We've reached a new low in Mexican food. The other night we went to El Paso here in Heidelberg. We went there before and it actually wasn't too bad, so we thought we'd try it again. We ordered chips with guac, which we got there before and were fine. However, this time they brought us the guac with some nasty flavored Dorito-like chips! Good god, it was revolting. No more El Paso. We'll just have to continue in our unending search for the elusive Ripe Avocado to make our own guac.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

DHL Joins the Grumpy List

When we lived in Boston, we always preordered our two copies of Harry Potter (of course we couldn't share!) from Amazon. They appeared promptly on our building steps on the morning following release. No need to brave crowded bookstores, waste travel time to/from the bookstore, and risk running into spoilers anywhere in the purchasing process. No need to even change out of the jammies before starting in on the book.

So it of course didn't occur to me for a second not to take the same approach here. We preordered from, which also promises day-of-release delivery. We had it sent to the Packstation, out of sheer habit at this point (no "insufficient address" problems with something this important, please!). We got emails from Amazon saying it would be to us by 6pm, or it would be free. I was horrified that it might be so late when it was always so early in Boston, but whatever. I would still be able to finish it by Monday if it arrived halfway through Saturday. The whole weekend had been left clear for the book.

I am very paranoid about spoilers. Even just knowing the vague "someone important will die" hint that was provided before Book 5 lessened the whole experience of the book for me so I've been really, really careful to not expose myself to even the most vague of spoilers. But this of course gets more difficult in the days before the release, and after the release...well, I have to read quickly because I can't stand to stay in hiding that long. I could barely sleep Friday night, knowing the book was now out there. I kept having fitful dreams that partiers in a nearby building would shout out spoilers loud enough for me to hear from my bed. Saturday morning I was itching to get the book as soon as possible.

Damon headed out late morning to stop at the lab and then the Packstation to pick up the books. We just assumed they'd arrive by then since the mail usually isn't all that late. Unfortunately, he came home empty-handed. The Packstation was empty. We dawdled quite a bit before heading out to check it again. We're supposed to get an email when anything arrives, but we figured there could be a delay before the email came, so no harm in checking! So, we headed over. It was mid-afternoon. No book. I started to feel we'd made a mistake. We witnessed other people checking their Packstations and finding them empty. Maybe this is normal Packstation behavior...or were they waiting for their books too?

We did some shopping in the Altstadt, returning to the Packstation for another look around 4 pm. Only 2 hours to the big deadline. No book. We went to the coffee shop across the street and whiled away the time until 5pm, then checked again. No book. I had no faith it would turn up in the last hour. And there was no way this day was ending without at least half of the book read, especially knowing that hundreds of thousands of people, potentially spoiling people, had finished the book before I even got out of bed. So, we went to the nearest bookstore and bought two copies. It was a horrifying experience for my spoiler-fearing self, as people were standing around the big pile of books flipping to the end to see what happens. What if they said something out loud? What if they made a mere face that said too much? Argghghhgh.....exactly what I was trying to avoid by having it come in the mail instead! Luckily we escaped spoiler-free, ran home, and read away. Not before checking the tracking on Amazon. According to that, DHL got the books as far as Speyer, at 8am Saturday morning. And that was all the further they went. So, who knows if/when they will show up - and if they will automatically not be charged because Amazon can tell from the tracking that they didn't get here on time, or if we will have to argue about it or bother with returning them to get our money back.

Grr, DHL, why!?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Another must-see cathedral bites the dust.

Yesterday we hitched a ride with a friend to Speyer, a very nearby town on the Rhein. She wanted to make a stop at an orchid greenhouse, as she is an orchid junkie, so we went there first. We ended up getting a cool orchid as well (called Pimoccio or something - green and pink and supposed to bloom almost all the time!) and a little tiny pot of hens & chicks, one of my favorites from childhood! Afterward, she dropped us off in the downtown of Speyer (no interest in touristy stuff) right at the end of the Maximilianstrasse. This street is marked on one end by the town's old gate, a huge clock tower, and on the other by the Imperial Cathedral, built in 1100 (since burned to the walls and renovated a few times) and one of the zillions of nearby UNESCO World Heritage sites. The cathedral was built around the same time as the ones in Worms and Mainz which we already visited.

We made our way down the Maximilianstrasse, stopping first at the tourist info place for a map. I also found a tiny little booklet of all festivals happening in the Pfalz this year, including wine festivals - mmm, that's important information! We also saw that Speyer was currently celebrating Brezelfest, complete with big rides. We never made it over to the fest though. The weather was already getting really hot. The shady side of the street was so crowded as to be irritating, while the sunny side of the street looked like a ghost town. Alas, I'm not one of the world's many lovers of hot weather. I hate it.

We stopped for lunch at a doener/Mexican joint right on the Maximilianstrasse, then headed into the nice, cool cathedral. We discovered that they have at some point since December (when Damon came here with labmates while I was in Mainz) added a 2 EUR charge for visiting the crypt, complete with some shiny metal gates installed. I supposed they got annoyed by having so many visitors here to collect their UNESCO point and not leaving any donations. The crypt is one of the most important things about the cathedral, so we went in. Several emperors are buried there. The cathedral also has some interesting relics, and they're not all hidden away in boxes - some are bones right out for you to see. There is a relic of Edith Stein, who taught for ten years in Speyer, and a shrine to her near the baptismal font. Edith Stein was a Jew who converted to Christianity and became a nun, and later was murdered at Auschwitz.

We walked through the cathedral courtyard and park afterward, stopping for more beverages and taking a look at the Brezelfest - from the shade. The whole fest was right out under the burning sun, and didn't look too busy. So, we walked through some other areas of the town and stopped in a couple of shoe stores - I'm looking for a new pair since mine turned out to have a lemon. Great brand, expensive shoes, but one of them broke. I guess I do walk a lot. Plus I really only wear one pair. Love shoes, no money for twenty pairs. I didn't have any luck though, as most of what was in the stores were junky sandals and runners/trainers. I guess I could go for athletic shoes in the end but I usually like something a little nicer-looking.

See the photos to get the full story!

Speyer & More Jul 07

At the end of the afternoon we headed back to Heidelberg on the train. You gotta love the S-bahn, full of screaming (literally) teenagers, grown adults painting their toenails right there in the enclosed space with you, and people sharing their favorite music with the whole train via boom-box. Always a treat.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Damn you, Lidl!

This morning we talked about shopping in German class and Lidl came up. I remembered that this week is "Mexican Week", when Lidl sells "Mexican" foods that they don't normally have, is this week! All I could think about for the rest of class was the refried beans I was going to have for lunch, and the crunchy taco shells I was going to stock up on. Maybe I'll get a tomato to eat with the beans, too, I thought. Oh yum. I know I can get this stuff at Rewe, but it's ridiculously overpriced. Sorry Rewe, I paid about 60 cents in Boston for refried beans. I'm not often willing to pay 3 euro here for something that probably isn't even as good.

I stopped at my office to print out some articles I am supposed to read then biked over to Lidl. I really dug being there in the middle of the day instead of later - there was actually a lot of good-looking produce stocked! I could walk down the aisle without wanting to strangle seven people who are in my way and totally oblivious! I picked up some cereal and green peppers then made my way over to the Mexican section.

It was total crap. There was a box that said flour tortillas, but it was empty. There was no sign at all of taco shells or refried beans. The only thing offered that even looked like food was canned "chili beans", whatever those are supposed to be. The rest were bland-looking sauces, snackes, and just-add-water mysteries, as well as a selection of bizarre frozen "Mexican" foods such as Mexican wraps, Mexican pizza, and Mexican chicken nuggets. Arrrrgh!!! I went home depressed, with only a box of cereal, Uncle Ben's rice-for-lazy-people, and two green peppers to show for the trip.

Grr. I hope they restock.

When I got home a nice older lady from the second floor was in the elevator with me. Things have improved for me in the elevator conversation area since I last wrote on this topic. However, today I really thought I heard her ask me if I was visiting a cat. I was really confused. I just said no and she said something else, but no idea what. Oh lawdy. Oh well, I don't think I messed up too badly, because she was still very friendly with me when she got off the elevator and I wished her a nice day. (Maybe even with proper adjective declination, but don't count on that.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Heidelbergerin im Odenwald

On Sunday, the awesome Piera and Gregor and their kids took us along on a little trip through some of the Odenwald! We have been wanting to explore it some more for a while, and they have a car which makes it much faster to get around because the area is rural. Gregor had already explored a lot of the area by bike, so he picked out some interesting places for us all to visit.

After leaving their place in Weinheim, we first stopped in Lindenfels, a small town up on a hill with its own small castle ruin. All around the castle was a garden path with detailed labels on all the flowers. Inside was a courtyard with a little stage. (In fact we saw some signs around town advertising a concert taking place in there, complete with great after-school-special band names like Musty Basement!) They also had a couple of interested old buildings (other than the castle) and two old town gates. We had a little picnic in the courtyard and then continued on.

We next drove to and parked in a tiny town called Winterkasten. From there it was a very short hike up the second highest hill in the Odenwald to the Kaiserturm, a tower with a great 360-degree view of the Odenwald and beyond. We arrived in the midst of a celebration of the 100th birthday of the Kaiserturm, complete with food, drink, old guys playing tuba and seven-year-olds dancing with pompons. We cut through the crowd to climb the Turm and the view was really amazing, even despite the semi-cloudy weather! We could make out the towers on top of the Heidelberg Kaiserstuhl in one direction, and the Frankfurt skyline and beyond to the Taunus in the other direction. Very cool!

After walking back to Winterkasten we continued on by car to a nearby park called the Felsenmeer, or Rock Sea. The area is full of giant naturally-occurring "seas" of big rocks. The Romans once used it as a quarry (the area's also called Roman Rocks) and apparently one can find rocks that they carved and left behind. Piera's daughter is the only one of us who found one, though! She said it had a Roman numeral IV carved into it. The place was really like a giant playground, though naturally conducive to injury...we heard a few kids falling and crying. They weren't really injured, although there was a sign on way in reminding everyone of the emergency phone number!

Our final stop was a quick look at the old town of Bensheim. Damon and I were there in May when we did a hike from Heppenheim to Bensheim, but we'd been tired and not really seen any of it. The old town was full of very nicely cared-for and painted half-timber buildings, plus a brand-new kids' playground. It was a quick stop since everyone was getting tired, so we headed back to Weinheim to eat. Thanks again, Piera and Gregor, for being so awesome and taking us along for the ride!

Does this not look totally idyllic? Check out the photos:

Odenwald Jul 07

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Schokobroetchen, Those Darn Mediterraneans, and Other Tidbits

Woo, hump day! I feel like I haven't accomplished much this week, but am still glad it's half over. I just want to sleep in, just one day...please.

* My cravings have branched out! Formerly reserved only for difficult things to get like refried beans, root beer floats, and Qdoba crunchy tacos, last week I finally experienced my very first craving (in Germany) for something that I could easily get! And did...yum. A Schokobroetchen (literal translation: little chocolate bread) from Cafe Blank in Neuenheim.

* It never fails to surprise/amuse me that so many Germans are such language lovers. Nearly all, if not all Germans I've met speak at least 3 languages pretty well. Often, they want to know what other languages you speak. And they are surprised when they meet others who aren't interested in learning new languages! One fellow student in Mainz said he wanted to study Spanish because he loves visiting Spain, "but the people in those Mediterranean countries, they just aren't interested in learning any other languages, so you have to learn theirs, ja?" As if it were strange that the Spanish, in general, don't care to learn other languages - I'm used to that sort of populace in the US.

* I really did not expect the sort of disconnect from Independence Day that I felt on the 4th. I tried to get the usual "Woo! Get those damn colonialists out of here!" mood on, but just ended up thinking, "Out of where? Not here..." It's not that I don't like the US, but I just feel so distanced from it. However, every time I read a glurgy/biased email forward regarding some aspect of US politics, I do get a little further away from ever wanting to return to the US environment.

* My husband has declared that "no one in Germany has just one general practitioner/primary care physician." Although I love the idea that people can just walk into any doctor or clinic they want without dealing with the HMO-approved list and other fun aspects of the US system, this feels a little weird to me - and especially after spending five years working in patient safety - a little dangerous due to the resulting disjointedness of one's medical history. Or is there a central databank that keeps a medical history of each person which is accessible by computer to all doctors? (That seems a little weird, too, I guess.)

Time to study for tomorrow morning's German test: using the passive, verbs with prepositions (none of which I can remember to save my life), and the ever-present adjective endings. I sometimes wish I'd grown up with a more complicated language than English so that some of these concepts would seem a little more natural to me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And now it's sunny again.

Wow, my timing rocks. I stopped for a few things at the grocery store after German class. When I came out, the sun was shining and it was beautiful. "What a great afternoon!" I thought. Then I looked west. Hahaha. It was black as night over there and getting awfully close. Hoping to get home before it hit, I zoomed home on my bike, but got caught in a traffic jam full of cranky car drivers. The sky above me was still blue when I got home and put my bike away. I went inside, went up to my apartment, and saw from my window that it was pouring like you wouldn't believe. (Unless you've been in Germany the last few weeks in which case you can probably believe any amount of rain, especially strangely timed and intermixed with 5-minute-periods of sun, is possible.) Whew.

Blogger's being a bit of a pain today and not letting me enter a title for this post. WTH? Maybe later I can edit it and add one.

For now I just have a couple of quick little blog-related things, but I have lots more to post when I get a chance. I've been writing the blog by hand during the break of my German class, heh.

* To anyone out there who uses Google Reader to keep up with other blogs – do you find that it doesn’t always work very well? Sometimes there seems to be more than a day delay after a new post goes up before it hits the Reader. I almost never use direct links to the blogs anymore and hate to think I’m missing new posts because Google Reader doesn’t always update!

* Thanks to Martina (American Im Odenwald) for naming me a Rockin' Girl Blogger. (She just happens to be one herself!) Now I’m supposed to spread the award to 5 other female bloggers, but I gotta tell ya, I’m really wondering if there’s anything like this for male bloggers. And if not, why not? (I know it’s all in fun, blame it on my analytical nature...or something. ;) ) I’m actually going to just pass it to two bloggers which I haven’t recognized with a link here because their blogs aren’t expat-oriented. This way I can recognize them and keep my link list relevant to those interested in expat stuff only. These bloggers are my sister, Sara, and my sister-in-law, Michelle, for their photo blogs. Sara has updated 2007 Year in Pictures every single day of 2007 with a new picture representing something that happened in her day. Michelle loves to add little anecdotes to her photos at Photogoblog. Both blogs are a treat and I love them! Thanks Sara and Michelle. :) Feel free to pass it on if you like! You can also put this badge on your blog if you want (pass that on too):
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Frankfurt am Main...not just the airport

On Sunday we tried to break our travel drought with a trip to Frankfurt. We've been through the airport and train station a few times, but never stopped to check out the city itself. Frankfurt sounds like a huge place because of its major international airport, but in reality it's barely bigger than Boston!

Unfortunately, we picked the wrong day to show up in Frankfurt. Some kind of Ironman competition was going on, crowding up the riverfront and the Roemerberg, Frankfurt's famous cute square. (You've probably seen it in photos before, even if you don't live in Germany.) There were some calm places along the river, but we had to forget the Roemerberg entirely. It was bisected by a fence and red carpet, and a giant grandstand and TV screen had been erected. Thankfully we've seen enough cute squares in the last few months to not be too bothered.

Damon wanted to try Aepfelwein (apple wine, or in local dialect, something like Eppel-Wei) so, arriving shortly before lunchtime, we first made our way across the river to Sachsenhausen, the neighborhood supposedly known for it. The area must be better known as a nightlife area, because it turned out to be almost completely abandoned, full of closed bars and restaurants which looked themey and cheesy (including Hard Rock Cafe). We crossed the river again and hoped to find some lunch in the Roemerberg area. As expected, everything was overpriced, but we were seriously hungry at this point, so we went into a restaurant anyway - one called Historix, which also touted itself as Frankfurt's apple wine museum. We both had eggs and potatoes with Frankfurter Gruene Sosse (Frankfurt green sauce), and of course the Aepfelwein. Afterwards we visited the Dom, had cake at a little French-Japanese cafe, then visited the modern art museum. We heard the museum was good but at first we thought we'd really wasted our money - almost everything on the first floor seemed like the awful kind of modern art that everyone makes fun of. Things got much better on the second and third floors, though. Afterward we left the area and walked out to the Palmengarten, a botanical park (with an entrance fee). There was almost no one there and the weather held out with no rain for the first time in days, so it was a really nice place to spend the rest of the day.

Frankfurt am Main Jul 07

Be sure to check out the photos for the full story!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Climbing Back on the Wagon

The wagon of those who would learn German, that is.

I've not set foot in a German class since March, when I completed the third of four levels of basic German. My schedule just hasn't been conducive to getting that final fourth of the basic levels in, allowing me to take the basic level exam and get a certificate for it. Because I use so little German in my day-to-day life (basically only at stores or restaurants or if someone asks me directions), class is the only practice I get, so I wanted to finish up the last of the basic grammar in an intensive course so I'd remember it from one class to the next.

This month I have no class in Mainz and no major travel planned until the end, so I signed up to take another month of intensive German. It's very expensive but thankfully Damon's fellowship program agreed to pay, or I would have been SOL. I went back to the same institute I've been going to all this time, thinking that I wouldn't have to test for my level and they'd just keep moving me up through their levels, since they know me and what I've taken.

Alas, that was wrong. I contacted them last Thursday about starting the course and they said to come in at 8:30 this morning to take a placement test. I thought this wasn't a good sign, but kept some hope that they were thinking I might have advanced during my three-month class drought rather than regressing due to lack of practice. So, I showed up for the test this morning. I thought the free writing section went okay - after all, if I didn't know how to word something, I could just write something else. The sentence-completing written portion was a little harder. The whole last page had things I don't think I have learned. The third page was full of things I knew I should know, but had mostly forgotten. I tried to push through it.

Then there was the oral segment. They had five of us in the room and two instructors, and just went around the room. The two people before me were just excellent, especially the first, who was really only there for fun at this point because his grammar was all perfect. Normally my public speaking is marginally good (last week I actually got an A+ on it in Mainz) but this was way too difficult with no German practice and an audience of seeming experts. I tried to play cute and people laughed, but it really wasn't funny when the teachers appeared crestfallen that I had spoken almost no German since walking out their door three months ago. I felt pretty embarrassed. It's not hard to get around without speaking very much. I've become pretty good at it. I can understand what I hear and usually that gets me by pretty well. I never thought I was a perfectionist before, and maybe I never was about anything before, but I am about this. I can't bring myself to say anything for fear it won't be perfect. I know I've addressed this in the blog before; it's nothing new.

I was afraid they would put me through basic level 3 again after my horrible performance. I had to return to the institute in the afternoon to find out my placement. And....they placed me in intermediate level 1! There were no other students at my level and they were left to choose between dragging me through basic 3 again, or bumping me up to intermediate 1 and hoping I keep up. Nice of them to have so much faith...but maybe they had no real choice, as I wouldn't have accepted going through basic 3 again, and would have taken my money to anyone who could promise me a basic level certificate by the end of July.

I guess I better start studying.