Friday, May 29, 2009

Notes from Kilmartin and the Kintyre Peninsula

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The weather was terrible - sheets of rain - and we were in a hurry to make it to Kilmartin at a time somewhat resembling what I'd told the B&B proprieter, but the scenery on the way there was amazing. We arrived slightly late in Kilmartin at the Rosebank Argyll B&B. After making it clear that she thought we were insane for taking our friends to Glasgow instead of telling them to get a bus (!?) because Oban is only a few miles from Kilmartin, the proprieter told us where to find the only supper in town and we were on our way. Kilmartin Hotel has quite possibly the coziest pub in all of existence, and we enjoyed dinner there with a fireplace, lots of locals, and a pile of worn atlases and world record books (pub quiz? settling bets?) next to our table. Kilmartin had pretty much already won us over at this point, only an hour after arriving!

Our B&B was really something to behold. Our room was all pink and full of stuffed animals, figurines, and other things an expat can easily forget the existence of (who could move all that stuff!?). But, we did have to remove the batteries from the Disney princess alarm clock overnight so the ticking didn't drive us crazy. I was happy to see the room had a tub!! That's something I really miss not having in my little German apartment.

Breakfast the next morning was just huge, plus there was a great cereal selection! (Another thing I miss in Germany - many types of cereal just don't exist here.) We poked around Kilmartin for a hour or so waiting for the local museum's shop to open, hoping it would have an area Ordinance Survey map we wanted. They didn't have it, so we just went on our way with a free map we got in a brochure at the B&B.

Our goal was to visit Glenbarr Abbey on the Kintyre peninsula south of Kilmartin. The Abbey is now the center for Clan MacAlister, which is the only Scottish ancestry I have that I know about. It's located next to the teeny tiny town of Glenbarr. The peninsula had lovely views out over the sea to some of the Hebrides, but appeared to be pretty much devoid of much tourism industry. When we arrived at the Abbey, we discovered its hours had changed since the printing of my guidebook, and it was closed all day!! Doh!! I should have checked the website, eh? Since the book was written the head of the clan, who was the one who gave tours, actually passed away, so I imagine that affected the schedule. We walked around it a bit then went into Glenbarr itself to stop for a drink and of course a Rice Krispie-based snack, something I probably could have just lived on for the whole trip. Glenbarr was tiny and unassuming. It reminded me a lot of some of the tiniest towns in the part of Iowa that I'm from. There was a tiny grocery and convenience store which led to a courtyard, where there was a coffee shop/community hall/gallery/gift shop sort of place. On our way into the courtyard we ran into a guy and Damon asked him if the coffee shop was open (I suppose feeling he had to say something, the guy looked really friendly). He said yes, "it's open because we need the money!!" When we went to pay for our stuff Damon realized he'd left his wallet at the B&B!! Ah, scientists.

Kilmartin, Kintyre, and more May 2009

We headed back north from Glenbarr, stopping in Tarbet at Lite Bites for lunch. It was so cheap!! I had a turkey and cranberry wrap which was delicious and only 2 GBP or something, and they had a huge variety of home-baked goodies to choose from, so we stocked up for later. (Later being about five minutes, despite better intentions.)

When we got back to Kilmartin Glen, we spent the afternoon checking out ancient sites - forts, standing stones, stone circles, cairns, cists, rock art - the glen is full of all kinds of these remnants of previous civilizations. Many of them are publicly accessible and there are free maps in Kilmartin to help find out how to get to those ones. Many more are on private land. We got to hang out with the sheep maybe a little more than we wanted to when we found out the path we were supposed to take to see a few different sites, a narrow lane between two fences, was being used by a herd of sheep moving from one field to another. There was no other way, so we took the path, but inadvertently separated three sheep from the rest of the herd. Most of the sheep were ahead of us, but the other three were behind, and they were not happy about this situation at all. With no way out we just kept going, turning around to try to scare them back when they started running at us - we didn't want to get run over by some crazy ass sheep!! Poor things. At the end there was a little corner we could back into to let them pass, and then all was well again. By the way, sheep make grass look so totally delicious, don't they? They eat it like it's soooo good. The field with the standing stones had a fresh, mutilated sheep carcass in it...this was seriously disturbing. I don't want to know what that was all about.

After all the tromping with sheep we got dinner at the Kilmartin Hotel again. The owner was working and was really helpful with various beer and local questions.

Back at the B&B I decided to have a bath since there was a tub!! This is when I discovered something on my knee. I remembered seeing it earlier, but I couldn't remember when. I thought it was a tiny scab and when I brushed at it earlier it hadn't come off, and so I left it alone. Now that I was in the bath I figured it was ok to try to get rid of it, but when I picked at it, I thought I saw a leg. Yeah, you read that right. I tried to remain calm. "Damon? Could you come in here?" He came in. "Can you look at this thing? Is it a tick?" He looked at it and poked at it. "No, I think it's just a scab." Poke, poke. "Wait, is a tick." EW! I usually have good luck. This is the first tick I remember ever having. We had no tweezers or tick-removing devices so Damon decided to try pulling it out with his fingernails, which worked. Whew. Now to wait and see if I get any funny rashes. Normally I am so paranoid about ticks, but on this trip I had just completely forgotten. I didn't think about it at all. I wasn't wearing any bug/tick spray and I hadn't tucked my pants into my socks when we were out in the fields. How could I not think about it? Again with the ah, scientists. Unfortunately it could have been there for quite awhile since I knew I'd seen it before and couldn't remember when.

The next morning we started our journey to Edinburgh, first stopping for gas in Lochgilphead.
On our way to Kilmartin two days earlier we'd noticed that a town we came through, Inveraray, looked really cute, so we decided to stop there on our way to Edinburgh.

Inveraray + Road to Edinburgh May 2009

When we arrived we were surprised to discover that it was full of tourists and tourist shops! This was the first place on the whole trip that actually felt touristy. Even on Mull, where we did meet plenty of fellow tourists, Tobermory didn't feel touristy at all relative to Inveraray. Still, Inveraray was very cute and friendly. The main street is symmetrically laid out and all in black and white, with a courthouse-like building at the end of the street right in the center of the road. There's also a cutesy castle with big cone turrets which is the center for Clan Campbell. We stopped for coffee and Krispie treats again, then headed onward toward Edinburgh.

Notes from the Isle of Mull

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It was a long drive up to Oban, a town on the coast of Scotland which serves as a ferry hub for the Hebrides, from Carlisle. We wanted to catch a 6pm ferry, and needed to arrive half an hour early since we were taking the car with us. Thankfully, we reserved a spot that morning by calling in - the website didn't say anything about whether one was needed, but when we arrived in Oban, there were only six spots left! Because time was short, we didn't get to make any spontaneous stops on the way to Oban, with the exception of a lunch stop at a restaurant on the shore of Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow. (Note: starters are cheaper and are all the food you need for lunch - this seemed to be the rule everywhere we went! In the photos you can see Damon's lunch, which was on the menu has a haggis starter.) It would have been nice to stop more often, because the roads are tiny, bumpy, winding, and busy and all of us felt really carsick. Getting on the ferry was such a relief after all the time in the car - the ferry is huge and the ride was smooth as glass. It has tons of amenities, including a large bar, a cafeteria with full meals, and a gift shop.

The ferry docks in Craignure on the Isle of Mull, so we had more driving to do when we arrived, to the town of Tobermory where we had reserved rooms at a B&B. Nearly all the roads on Mull, even the major ones, are single-lane. When meeting another car or passing, one must get into a little bulbous tumor-looking lump on the road marked as a passing place. So, it requires constant vigilance to make sure you take advantage of the passing place if necessary before ending up in a stand-off and having to back up into one.

My notes from the drive between Craignure and Tobermory just say, "BEAUTIFUL!"

Upon arrival in Tobermory, we easily found our B&B, Copeland House, in the upper part of town, which lies on a cliff above the bay and the main part of town. The rooms were huge and beautiful, the bathrooms recently renovated, and there were delicious homemade cookies waiting!! It was so wonderful to see after the previous night's experience, which had actually cost more! (Note: the cookies are refilled every day!!) We had dinner at the Mull Pottery shop/restaurant, where we had a Latvian waitress who was really nice. I got scallops and bacon with salad and it probably was one of the best things I've ever eaten. The meals were served on pottery made in the shop, which had a lot of interesting things for sale.

The Isle of Mull (+ some extras) May 2009

The following day, we'd hoped to drive all the way around the island on a road mostly following the coast, stopping here and there to hike around or grab some food or coffee, and checking out the view of Iona from Mull, starting from a road leading west from Tobermory. This is not possible! Do not plan to do this! The road west from Tobermory down the west coast is very small and winding and has only one lane. There simply isn't enough time in a day to drive down all of it plus the rest of the island (which has somewhat better roads) unless you never want to leave the car. But, we did see quite a lot despite not making it all the way around:

Glengorm Castle - this is very near to Tobermory and you can rent rooms there. It's not that exciting as an attraction, but the views of it from the down the road are beautiful, and there are nice views up the coast from there.
Calgary - this little tiny town, just a few houses, gave the city of Calgary in Canada its name! It has a small beach with bright blue water. We stopped there for lunch at a small gallery/cafe which had good treats! In the area of Calgary we also stopped to see some ancient standing stones, which were in a forest clearing just off the road. It was windy and the forest was really creepy and cool. (And mossy! I love moss.) Somewhere along the way we witnessed a massive single-lane-road-driving fail, with two drivers refusing to budge from their positions on a curve up a hill and having a little standoff!

When we met up with the bigger road we gave up continuing on around the coast and seeing Iona and crossed the island back to the eastern side, where we paid a visit to Duart Castle, the clan center of the Macleans. Admission was 5.30 GBP. The castle was more interesting from the outside than the inside. Inside there were some dungeons and wax models on the lower floors, followed by a massive collection of the treasures of Clan Maclean, in addition to lots of family pictures of the Macleans of today, and a special highlight, a Boy Scout uniform worn by a Maclean! Oh boy! But, in a really lucky moment, we got to see a rainbow or two from a giant window overlooking the sea! (You can see it too if you look at the photos.)

After the castle, we explored the grounds a bit then stopped for a drink at a crowded little pub in Craignure, then had dinner at Sagar Indian restaurant in Tobermory. Indian food in the UK is much better than in Germany! I had the vindaloo (which the waiter informed me was "too spicy" and wondered if I still wanted it) and got to enjoy the spicy-food-high for the rest of the evening. We spent it in the Mishnish pub on Tobermory's main street, where the TVs were all showing....EUROVISION!!!! (My friends seemed to think I was the only one who watched this crap, but not so, hehe!!) We got there around the time of Estonia's performance, about halfway through, so we missed quite a few acts. It was fun to watch in English - the commentator didn't take it seriously, commenting for example after Germany's horrid song that "the low point of the show is finally over."

On Sunday, we drove down the east coast of Mull in the direction of Iona, to see if we could make it there on the faster road before having to catch our ferry back to the mainland. We didn't make it, but got to see some cool new landscapes on the way! We took the ferry back to Oban, where we stopped for lunch at the Kitchen Garden. At this point I learned about all the different mayonnaise-based sandwich concoctions available in the UK, all with fancy names like "Coronation Chicken" (chicken salad) or "Prawn Marie Rose" (shrimp salad). I had the tuna and sweet corn, which didn't have a frilly name, but did have an awful lot of mayo.

Our friends were flying back to London from the Glasgow airport, so we headed back the way we came, past Loch Lomond. At some point, as the car was warning us that we had less than 100 miles of fuel left in our tank, we passed up a gas station because it was slightly more expensive than gas we'd seen elsewhere. But, the next down had no gas station, and neither did the next, and pretty soon the car started to panic. Where it normally said [Range: X Miles] it now said [!!!Range!!! Refuel!]. Nothing like seven exclamation points to drive home the fact that passing up gas earlier was, in 20/20 hindsight, a poor decision. Luckily, our friends had brought a TomTom and it took us right to a gas station after many, many miles of panicky car, and we didn't run out of gas. Our friends were successfully dropped off at the airport, and we still had over two hours of driving back the way we came from to get to our next destination, Kilmartin.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Notes from Manchester and Hadrian's Wall

I've waited too long to update and lost followers again. Oops!
We've actually been back from our trip since last Thursday and I'm still not done sorting through all the photos. Rather than wait any longer I figured I better just start posting what I've got!!

This trip was the result of a Lufthansa deal posted on Regensblog in December. They had fares around 100 EUR to various destinations and I'd just had a crappy month and was looking to plan our next escape. The deal included Manchester, so I decided to book it and then decide later what we wanted to do from there - and we ended up deciding on driving up to Scotland!!

So, we flew into Manchester on Thursday morning. As usual, the airport was hell. No drinks through the security check, of course - and there are usually two security checks for flights to the UK. There's so little for food/drink available behind the second check that we stood around outside it chugging all our water so we could go through and have a seat and our lunch in peace. (The sign said we couldn't take food through the check either, but we asked the guy about it and he let us take it in.) I really hate the airport. All the ridiculous security just serves as a giant reminder that some people are such worthless assholes that they would try to hurt each other on airplanes. If humans just weren't so prone to being dicks, boarding a plane would be as easy as boarding the train.

All was well once we got on the plane, though. I love Lufthansa. Big snack and free wine on a one and a half hour flight = win. Forget all those crappy American airlines. I did laugh in the airplane bathroom though - there was a no-smoking sign right next to a sign indicating the location of the ashtray.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a giant glowing UK BORDER sign above passport control. Very dramatic. There were also brochures everywhere about not spreading swine flu around. They asked a million questions, like whether we had any friends who lived in the UK, what kind of scientist Damon was, etc. We were dorkily thrilled, though, that while asking all the questions, he took the time to find the earliest possible empty box in our passports for the stamp. So often they just skip to a fresh new page and stamp there and I'm trying to hang onto my clean pages and put off the trip to the embassy for new ones as long as possible.

We arrived in Manchester around noon, but would be picking up friends at the airport around 9:30 pm with our car rental to head out immediately to our hotel for the night in Carlisle, two hours north of Manchester. But, we'd booked the car well before all these plans were created, so we were due to pick up the car right after our plane arrived. Whether they made us actually hold to that reservation would determine how we spent the afternoon.

I've been in Germany too long. I was sure that the rental people would tell us we had to take the car when we said we would. But no!! When we arrived at the desk to see if we could pick it up that evening, they were completely casual about it. In Germany they'd have looked at us like no one had ever asked to do anything so completely absurd. It was no problem to change the pick-up time or the drop-off time for the car! They were friendly too. I texted my friend that we'd arrived in her country and were enjoying the customer service. So, we decided to pick it up later and take the train into Manchester to check it out.

The Manchester Airport train station is connected to one of the terminals, so very convenient. We had no idea what we were doing when we arrived so we went up to the desk to ask some guy what train to take and to get tickets. He treated us like idiots for our basic questions. Oops, so much for the customer service. Still, we got the info we needed so it was all good. Manchester Airport is a major terminal and all the trains leaving from there stop at Manchester Piccadilly station in downtown Manchester. For both of us it cost 6.40 GBP round trip and took 20 minutes.

Around this point I have a note that says "lots of British looking people!" - hehe. Go figure!

Manchester & Hadrian's Wall May 2009

Upon arriving at the station downtown, we tried to find a place with a map we could pick up to figure out where we were and where we might want to go, but the only general info desk was shut down. We ended up wandering off in a direction that generally looked promising and eventually came upon a map on the street. Using that, we decided to check out something marked Chinese Gate, just on a whim. And, we discovered there's a little tiny Chinatown in Manchester!!! Woo hoo!! This means dim sum, moon cakes, sesame balls, and maybe some cute stationery (if there's a more Asia-wide shop). We made a note to come back there later and moved on toward the city hall. On the way, we stopped for coffee. The goodies in the coffee shop looked so good and so different from what's in Germany that we had to get something, so I got a little tiny piece of chocolate-covered cheesecake. Damn!! It was completely different from German Kaesekuchen - so much more rich and sweet, more like what you'd get in the US. So began a week of cramming my face with all kinds of treats on an island that knows how to do sweet snacks. Hell yes.

Anyway, we moved on to the city hall, and on the way finally found a tourist info stop and got some maps. From there we headed toward the cathedral, and on the way went past a street market selling all kinds of goodies, including fresh donuts! But, we had to save room for some goodies in Chinatown later! Manchester's downtown is a very Boston-like mix of old and new (see photos). Some is very new, as there was a major IRA bombing in downtown Manchester in 1996.

We got some shrimp dumplings, barbecue pork rolls, and spring rolls at a place in Chinatown called Little Yang Sing. It was so super-formal - the waitress insisted on unwrapping our chopsticks for us - but everything tasted amazing, probably because we've been totally deprived. It's kind of weird how excited I get about finding a Chinatown. I didn't realize how much all my fun Chicago and Boston Chinatown memories affected me until getting to Germany and not having anything like it around. Afterward we loaded up on goodies at a Chinese bakery and stopped in a couple of shops (none of what I was looking for, though).

By the time we finished in Chinatown it was time to head back to the airport to pick up the car and all the luggage that we'd checked at the left luggage there (5 GBP per piece). The left luggage place closed at 8pm, so we had some extra time at the airport before needing to get the car and pick up our friends. We waltzed into a sit-down restaurant in the terminal like we owned the place, until a waitress stopped us halfway through and asked, "Uh, do you need a table for two?" can't just seat yourself like in Germany! (That one I never managed to get over the whole week. I kept wanting to walk right in. I like picking my own spot!) We wasted some time there, then headed to pick up the car, just in time, as our friends' plane came in a little early. But, as we tried to get over to their terminal to pick them up, we were attacked by a crazy roundabout and ended up instead on a motorway, speeding away from the airport with no clue what was going on. Doh! What a mess the roads are. Anyway, we managed to turn around somewhere and get back to the terminal within around 10 minutes, then off to Carlisle!

Our home for the night, the Pine Grove Hotel, had insisted we call with our arrival time because we would be getting in so late and someone might have to get up to let us in. We did so, but when we got there a big party was happening in the lounge, so I guess we needn't have worried! Our room was a blast from the past (see photos) - with the most unfortunate feature being the carpeted bathroom. Think of all those pee dribbles....ugh. Our friends, however, had a completely different room - it came with a frilly canopy bed, goofy period phone, and other bits in line with a sort of princess theme. So, some variability there, eh?

The next morning we all enjoyed breakfast before driving off to check out Hadrian's Wall before continuing north to Scotland. We just set the TomTom to Brampton, and once we arrived there, followed some signs toward the wall. It was incredibly cold and windy! Spring wasn't nearly so progressed as in Heidelberg, either - rapeseed was still bright, bright yellow (it had already faded here) and some of the trees were still nearly bare! We checked out some bits of wall and stopped at one former turret where there was a cafe and gift shop. The people working there were as friendly as could be and Damon and I spotted some kind of bar in the cafe made of Rice Krispies and chocolate!!! (Rice Krispies are a special treat in Germany only to be had for a high price at the import shop.) It was delicious (of course we got it!!). We also stopped at a priory ruin, which still has an operating church and of course a little gift shop. Be sure to check out the photos, so that I didn't spend all week poring over them for nothing. ;)

By the way, does anyone know: why are all the tables in the UK sticky? I thought it was just a problem at the first place we ate, but actually, they're all sticky everywhere, like it's a special kind of finish or something.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'll be away from the blog for a bit! In the meantime, here's a whole bunch of stuff to keep you entertained - should last a few days, unless you've got a huge backlog on your blog reader like I do!

First, check out the Eurovision post again - I added some videos!

There's been lots of news lately about how the downturn is affecting people in the US versus how it's affecting Europeans. I had just been pondering that things just didn't seem as bad here as the stories I was hearing from home, but wasn't sure if it was just because the downturn is catching up to us more slowly here, or if it's because of the different ways the countries are run, and the differences in people's behavior. These are worth your time!
From the Wall Street Journal: US, Europe are an Ocean Apart on Human Toll of Joblessness
From the New York Times: Going Dutch
From MSNBC: In Europe, social safety net softens the slump (includes a fellow expat in HD!)

Here are some blog posts I starred in my reader recently!
PhD Comics: Budget Cuts
Opinionistas: Chicks are People Too
The Lint Trap of My Mind: Germans Have More Free Time Than the Rest of the World
Strange Maps: A Russian Professor's Prediction of How the US Will Split - Kentucky in the EU!? Why European Mobile Calls Don't Get Dropped
Love Is a Journey: Florida or Germany?
The German Way Expat Blog: Where My House Is My Home
Overheard In New York: Dr. Ruth Was a Challenge to Raise
Bad Science: Experts say new scientific evidence helpfully justifies massive pre-existing moral prejudice
Waterloo Birdhaus: In the Supermarket - Cool American-flavored chips and more!
Euro Like Me: Whatever - I used to be cool too....
K. Rae: Dating Americans: A Guide for Foreigners

Alright, better stop there. The internet is full of great stuff.

And, a few things things that have been in my head a lot lately! Enjoy!!

So, all this should provide plenty of reasons to come back to my blog and click on something every day while I'm away. :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eurovision 2009!

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**Now edited to add some videos!! Yay!**

Well, I will probably miss the Eurovision final this year. How could I possibly schedule a vacation over Eurovision weekend!? I clearly was not thinking! We watched the first semi-final tonight as sort of a consolation prize. This is all thanks to Adam, without whom I probably would have never even realized it was happening this week. (I also forgot my oldest friend's birthday this week. My mind is toast. Do I blame the upcoming vacation? Age? The new job? All the damn Zyrtec I've been taking?)

Anyway, I love the big European bonding moment and all the drama and goofiness that is Eurovision. I didn't really prepare to take notes or anything tonight but here's what I remember of the acts in the first semifinal! Asterisks for those that made it to the final.

1. Montenegro - Kind of a dancy thing. The lyrics were too repetitive for even me, and my love of repetitive music is a joke among some of my friends!

2. Czech Republic - This guy was dressed in a superhero outfit and I thought it would be bad in a good way, but it was unfortunately only plain old bad.

3. Belgium - Bad Elvis impersonator. Ugh!

4. Belarus - Yessss!! The totally horrible cheesy drama that makes Eurovision so awesome. There was a guy standing on a pedestal holding two big sticks, and a big sheet was covering him and blowing back in a wind machine with some fire and stuff projected on it. I wish I could describe it better, it was so ridiculously dramatic. The white-suited singer looked a bit skeezy. Too bad they didn't make it to the final so everyone could enjoy the madness.

5. Sweden* - Opera singing over disco with blinding white lights (Damon liked them, I didn't). It alllllmost worked for me, but not quite.

6. Armenia* - At first it seemed kind of boring, but ended up being a decent one of those standard Eurovision ethno-dance tunes. I might even listen to it myself.

7. Andorra - To me, it sounded like very American radio fodder. I wonder how many musicians there are in Andorra. It's tiny!!

8. Switzerland - A completely unmemorable rock band. I don't think rock works well on this show.

9. Turkey* - This was a pretty decent ethno-dance thing too. They always do well, even if they're not very good.

10. Israel* - This was just blah. Can't believe it made it to the final!!

11. Bulgaria - OMG! Dancers on stilts that look like peg legs!! It would be a great spectacle, but the singer was just painful to listen to. Very bad.

12. Iceland* - This was a boring girly number, but it turned hilarious when this ultra-kitschy - not the good kind of kitsch - Lisa-Frank-esque dolphin arced across the big screen. NICE!

Soaring dolphin at 1:53:

13. Macedonia - Rock band warped in from 1989!!

14. Romania* - Brilliant lyrics from a Mariah Carey lookalike: "Balkan girls like to party like to party like nobody." Bleh.

15. Finland* - This song was okay overall but it had some rap sections that just didn't fit with the rest of the song and were terrible. But, the show included cool fire sticks so it's all good!

16. Portugal* - This was a cute little pop-ish song with cute little rainbows and clouds in the background. I fell for it and was really glad they went to the final - I didn't think they had a shot!

17. Malta* - Snooze.

18. Bosnia-Herzegovina* - Overdramatic - everyone in white, doing some kind of statue/marionette act...I don't know, not my thing, but this stuff seems to go over pretty well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

AmiExpat's Erdbeer-Bowle (Strawberry Bowl) Challenge!

This week, AmiExpat let us off easy with this very simple recipe for Erdbeer-Bowle! I first tried Erdbeer-Bowle at a festival in Mainz, where I was staying with a friend after classes were scheduled particularly late one day. This recipe doesn't look anything like what I saw them make in Mainz, which was full of juice and sugar. AmiExpat's recipe has only three required ingredients - strawberries, wine, and champagne.

A friend of ours was having a little housewarming on Thursday night so we decided to take it there. She has a small kitchen and was going to be cooking, so I cut up the berries in advance in our work kitchen right before leaving for her place. I cut all of them, large and small, into quarters for maximum juiciness!

Note on the strawberries: I went to buy the strawberries that morning and it was the first day I saw German strawberries at Rewe. They were sitting alongside Spanish strawberries. I couldn't decide which to get. The Spanish ones looked more ripe and were cheaper, but German strawberries have been sooooo good to me in the past, plus it's nice to buy local. So I ended up getting a half kilo of each. Oh German strawberries, why did I ever doubt you? They were incredible. I'll never be able to go back to California strawberries shipped for days in a truck to the midwest or east coast.

At my friend's place, we dumped the berries in a giant 3-liter bowl and poured on the wine. I guess the label's not really legible in the photo; it's a sweet wine from the beautiful Mosel Valley. We also made a second, non-alcoholic Bowle because one of the guests couldn't have any alcohol. For this one, I got white grape juice in place of the wine. Then we had to remove shelves in her little German fridge to fit the bowls in there to chill for an hour while we all ate.

After an hour, we pulled the bowls out of the fridge. To the real Bowle, we added the champagne; to the non-alcoholic Bowle, sparkling water. Turns out this recipe has a seriously high ratio of strawberries to liquid! This is also pretty different from Mainz, where a glass was about 1/4 - 1/3 strawberry. These were so full of strawberries they were practically dessert. Yum!! Both versions got good reviews so I recommend this to strawberry and champagne fans everywhere. Enjoy!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Beliebte Vornamen 2008 (Popular First Names 2008)

I mentioned a bit ago that name nerdery was nigh, and here it is! As in the previous two years, here's a comparison of the most popular names for the newly born in the United States and Germany in 2008.

A bit on the sources: The US Social Security Administration collects first name data and releases it on their website every year. However, multiple spellings of the same name are not combined, therefore the list isn't entirely what it seems. Per the SSA data, the most popular name given to baby girls in 2008 was Emma. But it comes in at a lower position when multiple spellings of names are combined. I combined spellings myself and present here my adjusted list of most popular names. Go to the SSA site for the original, with all spellings of a name listed separately. Combining spellings is a subjective practice so everyone's mileage may vary.

Germany does not collect official first name data. I usually use this hobbyist source, but there are other lists out there that are not exactly the same. If you've got another source, let me know about it!

(Number in parentheses = number of variant spellings included in Germany top 500 / US top 1000, if more than 1.)

1. Hannah (2)
2. Leonie (2)
3. Lea (2)
4. Lena
5. Mia
6. Anna
7. Emilie (2)
8. Lara
9. Laura
10. Sarah (2)
11. Emma
12. Lilli (3)
13. Marie
14. Lina
15. Maja (2)
16. Johanna
17. Sophie (2)
18. Nele (2)
19. Sophia (2)
20. Amelie

1. Leon
2. Lucas (2)
3. Luca (2)
4. Tim (2)
5. Finn (2)
6. Luis (2)
7. Jonas
8. Felix
9. Paul
10. Maximilian
11. Max
12. Niclas (2)
13. Julian
14. Ben
15. Elias
16. Jan
17. Noah
18. Moritz
19. Philip (2)
20. Jannik (4)

1. Sophia (2)
2. Isabella (3)
3. Emily (5)
4. Madison (4)
5. Olivia (3)
6. Emma
7. Ava (2)
8. Abigail (4)
9. Hailey (8)
10. Madeline (8)
11. Kaitlyn (7)
12. Chloe (3)
13. Addison (5)
14. Brianna (4)
15. Sarah (2)
16. Elizabeth (2)
17. Natalie (5)
18. Kaylee (9)
19. Lily (3)
20. Samantha

1. Aiden (10)
2. Jayden (10)
3. Jacob (2)
4. Michael (2)
5. Ethan (2)
6. Joshua
7. Alexander (2)
8. Daniel
9. Christopher (2)
10. Caden (9)
11. Anthony
12. Matthew (2)
13. William
14. Andrew
15. Nicholas (4)
16. Joseph
17. Christian (3)
18. David
19. Noah
20. Jonathan (4)


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Can we get some hot water please?

I'm working back at the same place as before. I didn't miss the bathroom there. First, there's only one toilet, and it's always cold in there for some reason. But the real issue is that there is no hot water at the sink, only ice cold!! This is actually a pretty common thing here at public toilets. It's okay now and then - saves them the money to heat the water, I guess. But at work I get seriously chilled washing my hands in the cold water and I feel like I never recover from the chill, then just have to go back in there again later, and wash my hands in the cold-ass water again, and get even more chilled...brrr!! I so look forward to going home at the end of the day to use my own bathroom and use some nice warm water. :) Still, our offices are in a building that is at least interesting and is convenient for me, so I can't really complain otherwise.


In other news, it's almost name-nerd Christmas!! On Mother's Day the new name statistics for the US for the previous year are usually released. When they are, I'll post them here in a comparison with the most popular German names. In other name news, the German Constitutional Court ruled yesterday that people can't have triple or higher hyphenated last names. From the article:

Frieda Rosemarie Thalheim, a Munich dentist, wanted to take the last name of her husband, Hans Peter Kunz-Hallstein, to become Frieda Rosemarie Thalheim-Kunz-Hallstein. The case brought Germany’s minister of justice before the court in Karlsruhe for oral arguments in February to defend the ban on what the Germans call “chain names.”

By a vote of five to three, the court refused to budge, ruling that ballooning names “would quickly lose the effectiveness of their identifying purpose,” and declined to overturn the law on the grounds that it infringed on personal expression.

In a telephone interview, the couple’s lawyer, Rüdiger Zuck, said his clients had no comment on the ruling, but added, with what sounded distinctly like a note of resignation, “The Germans are old-fashioned.”

Germany takes a highly regimented approach to naming. Children’s names must be approved by local authorities, and there is a reference work, the International Handbook of Forenames, to guide them. Jürgen Udolph, a University of Leipzig professor and head of the information center there that provides certificates of approval for names that have not yet made the official list, said that “the state has a responsibility to protect people from idiotic forenames.”

The United States, of course, does not have naming laws of any kind - anything is fair game for a first or last name - and I doubt they ever would. It would not suit the American attitude. ;) As a consequence of our naming freedom, we have a reputation for using weird, wacky, and meaningless names. (My parents did a good job, though. Thanks guys.)


I've had this in my head all week. Note: you need a high tolerance level for annoying music to click this.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

American Bread

You can find lots of bread marked "American" here: the square sliced white kind, hamburger buns, and hot dog buns. Germans think American bread is terrible. They're not wrong about that. But, American bread is not as terrible as the stuff marked American bread here!! I had a hankering for maidrites (that's my-corner-of-Iowa-ish for "sloppy joes") today and got the hamburger buns and was reminded again of what I already learned a few times. That bread is so light and dry it just falls apart if you put anything on it. Buns actually made in the US seem to be built to take the addition of meat and condiments a lot better!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hessische Bergstrasse Weinlagenwanderung!

On May 1 every year the Hessische Bergstrasse celebrates spring with its big Weinlagenwanderung, wine hike! We did this two years ago with a group from the university international house, and decided to do it again this year on our own (with friends). This time, with the previous experience under our belts, we were much more prepared, with a good lunch, water, sunscreen, and hats!

Hessische Bergstrasse Mai 09

As usual the photos give the full story so check them out!

We started in Heppenheim, just as we did last time. The stretch between Heppenheim and the first wine stop is just too gorgeous - I didn't want to pass it up in favor of the unknown parts of the trail up near the other end in Zwingenberg. The weather was more hazy and a little less hot than last time, which worked in our favor - we made it to six stops instead of just four! You can get a stamp at each stop and with six stamps you can be entered to win one of 100 prizes, ranging from two nights vacation in the Hessische Bergstrasse to a bottle of wine. Parts of me are still sore, however. ;) Including getting to and from the train stops, we must have walked around 20km up and down hills. All kinds of people can be seen along the path - retirees with their amusing Nordic walking habits, parents with strollers, hen parties, teenagers getting progressively sillier (I think the age to buy wine is technically 16? but in wine country, seriously, who is going to ask?), and on and on. It just reminded me of another difference with the US - where alcohol can only be drunk within a fence or wall, everyone is IDed and the drinking age is much higher, everyone would have to have bands on their arms, no one would want to deal with taking little kids along, there wouldn't be any public transit to the countryside so there would be higher drunk driving risks, etc. So, I am determined to enjoy as many wine walks this year as possible in case we have to go back to the US at the end of the year!! I've already found a couple we've never been to by poking around the intarwebs, plus we can't forget the super awesome one in Freinsheim in fall!! (DAD, I'm looking at you...last weekend in September... don't you still like Riesling? ;) )

If anyone can recommend a wine fest they find especially great, please leave me a comment!!

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Heidelberg (well, today too). It was also the long night of shopping as I mentioned in an earlier post. It's very cute how a really big deal is made out of the shops being open past 8pm. There are candles lining the sidewalks outside the open shops, food stands, promotions like DJs and drinks and food in the shops - it's very festive!! We went out to get a Wurst at one of the food stands and enjoy the evening, and I was looking for some Sharpies so we stopped in a couple of shops. I didn't find any Sharpies, but the paper store on St-Anna-Gasse had free Sekt (champagne) and snacks for just walking in the door. I got some Edding and Stabilo pens instead. I'm not sure Sharpies are available in Germany (boooooo!) and I needed to restock on several colors of the ultra fine tip. I'll see how the Stabilo ones are as a substitute. They kept trying to give us more Sekt, so I totally recommend shopping during these things! :)

There was also some extra hullaballoo in Heidelberg because the mayor set up tonight to show off the fancy new lighting he had installed on the Old Bridge. After much blathering on over a mic, they turned on the new lights, which are....something we'll have to get used to. There is just a lot of lighting now, highlighting every inch of the rail along the bridge. It's kind of overkill, but, maybe I'm just being too conservative and will get used to it with time. We already know I don't like the new benches over there and the tunnel under the city idea is theoretically cool but in reality a total disaster waiting to happen. I think the mayor's a little goofy...but he does seem to be a man of action.