Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Mom and Dad

They are awesome.

Mom sent me these; they were a total surprise!

My dad wrote this on the back of the "You're 21!" card he sent:

They rock.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ljubljana! (+ the way there)

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, a little country of two million people just south of Hungary. It's only about the size of Des Moines! To approximate the pronunciation, you can just pretend the Js are Is (so Liubliana) and it will be easier, although not perfect to the ears of a native Slovene speaker - I can't really even hear the L in this example. It has a German name - Laibach - but I've never heard anyone use that.

Damon's parents were visiting for a week and a half and left it up to us to plan a vacation within certain terms - it had to be by car and stay under 70 EUR per night per couple for accomodations. We hoped to make it all the way to the Adriatic sea, but driving that far and still having a nice time is a bit of a challenge. The Alps are in the way, making everything take longer, and the route takes one through the most clogged sections of the Autobahn (and right now, kilometer after kilometer of construction). They also wanted to visit a concentration camp at some point during the trip.

We got the camp out of the way immediately by visiting Dachau the first morning of the trip. For the night before, I stayed under the price limit by booking outside of Dachau (which is kind of expensive because of its proximity to Munich) at a little place called the Koanznhof north of Markt Indersdorf. The day we left a Bavarian friend of mine told me she thought it was going to snow because her toe hurt. Apparently, her toe is still tuned into Bavaria. There was no snow in Heidelberg, but there were reports of snow all over the radio on our way to Markt Indersdorf, and about 10 minutes from our destination we ran into a minute or two of pretty big hail!! The following morning, we woke up to frost on the windows.

I wrote previously about a concentration camp visit so I don't have much more to say about Dachau. It was the first camp and housed a lot of political prisoners. It has a good museum which talks about all the different groups of people who were brought there. It's enormous, though, and it's easy for a person to run through it reading only the parts they want to see and thereby maybe still not learning much. With a lot of time, though, it really is educational and thorough. We left the camera in the car.

Then it was off to Ljubljana, a 4.5 hour drive from Dachau. Loooong. We ate at a rest stop. It snowed on and off through Bavaria. In Austria, we began to pass south through the Alps and it was snowing in earnest. I had actually checked to make sure the roads would be passable at this time of year and they were, but wow! Winter just doesn't hit this soon over here in sunny Heidelberg. Luckily there wasn't much traffic. Maybe everyone else knew better and stayed home! They missed out on some beautiful snow-covered trees then.

To drive on the major roads in Austria you have to buy a special road pass. You can get them at rest stops in Germany - at least the ones near Austria. Unfortunately, the pass does not cover the enormous tolls on tunnels in the Alps. We went through at least 3 tunnels over 6km long, and two of them had tolls - I think one was 6.50 EUR and the other 9.50 or so. Brutal! The major roads in Slovenia also require a special road pass called a Vignette (Vinjeta?), also available at German rest stops.

We found an apartment in Ljubljana through Apartmaji Sobe. The apartments, though not terribly cheap, are a much better deal - by a landslide - than any hotel we could find online. Ljubljana apparently suffers from a shortage of accommodations. For stays under four nights, though, there is an additional percentage charged, up to an additional 50% for one-night stays. So, we stayed three nights in Ljubljana (an additional 10% over the base price) and made it our base. Our apartment, Martin, was conveniently located near the center and great for us with two bathrooms and two bedrooms! (And a balcony, but the weather didn't cooperate for that.) There were some parking snafus but otherwise the stay was totally problem-free.

Ljubljana Okt 09

So, about Ljubljana!

  • By a landslide, this is the most well-off looking former-East city I've seen. Shiny cars, fancy clothes and restaurants, and just a generally fresh appearance compared to Budapest, Bratislava, or even Prague or any German city in the former east.
  • To go along with that, Ljubljana is not cheap like other eastern cities. Prices in the center are the same or higher than Heidelberg prices, plus the accommodations problem I mentioned earlier. The restaurant where we ate the first night, Sokol, had jacked up its prices about 30% since the 2007 publication of our guidebook. (And the food was not worth the prices, although the atmosphere was alright!)
  • They don't seem to eat out. We had a hard time finding sit-down restaurants that weren't super touristy/expensive - but there are kajillions of cafes with just drinks/desserts, and they were all busy. We did see stands for ultra cheap not-sit-down food, but with the inlaws along this wasn't really an option for us. (By the end of the trip I was really craving one of my usual vacation doeners!!) Leaving the center might have solved this problem, but again with the inlaws they preferred to get around on foot but not get tired out, so our radius was limited. (Also, as in Bratislava, it might have raised a new problem - no English menu and a lack of a complete Slovene language food guide on us.)
  • You can see all the tourist attractions (other than museums) in less than a day. It's just that small! The castle isn't very exciting - it's very modernized - but entrance to the courtyard is free and there are nice views over the city and country from there. Even better views can be had by climbing the tower for 2 EUR. The churches were mostly locked. At the market you can talk down the prices easily.
  • See the photos for more, including lots of graffiti pictures and pictures of all the Art Nouveau buildings we checked out!

Coming soon..... we go to the coast!

Friday, October 23, 2009

AmiExpat's Kaninchen mit Pilzen (Rabbit with Mushrooms) Challenge!

Sorry to be a little late on Monday's recipe!! We decided to take the plunge and try AmiExpat's rabbit recipe. I never had rabbit before, but I'm a huge fan of Pfifferlinge (chanterelles) and we decided to take on this adventure. Well, more like, Damon agreed to deal with the rabbit parts because I can't stand raw meat and would probably still be a vegetarian if I had to do all the cooking myself.

We got the rabbit from the farmer's market in Neuenheim. It was fresh, skinned, with the liver left in and the head left on. Yes, I am a pansy who finds having an animal head in the house kind of weird. It went first and was in the trash can until this whole procedure was over and we took it out, but thankfully Damon sort of buried it in there so I never had to see it while I was throwing other stuff away. Whew!! In the photo you can see Damon peering into the innards to check it out. He looks like a hunchback because our counter is so low. (Also, our cupboards are too high. Somebody very odd designed our kitchen.)

The recipe said to cut up the liver into small pieces if it was present, and it was, but then it never said what to do with the liver. We assumed it meant to cook the liver along with the rest of the rabbit meat, so we did that. Damon had to look online to find out how to cut up a rabbit. Lots of gruesome scenes in the kitchen trying to get through the sinewy bits and take it apart.

Everything else was relatively easy after the rabbit was disassembled. We served the rabbit with pre-made spaetzle (the fancy kind, but dried nonetheless) to Damon's parents, who had just arrived from the US a mere hour or two before! Everyone liked it - they even said later in our vacation that it was probably the best meal they had here, better than any of the restaurant food we had. Flatterers!

Here are the rabbity songs mentioned in the previous post!

(last 30 seconds of video potentially disturbing)

Damon prefers this one:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who Could Win a Rabbit? or: Where'd you put the keys, girl?

Big points to whoever recognizes the two songs in the post title, both of which ran in and out of my head while we put together AmiExpat's rabbit dish for next week! Alas, I think I will be posting it a couple of days late, but hopefully everyone will join in for some "oh god there is a rabbit head in my trash can" fun next week!!

In the meantime, English-speaking expats in Germany can weigh in:
When you see Germans use the term 'so-called' in their English (that you are reviewing because it's for their paper or what have you) and they are not being sarcastic, do you change it?

Monday, October 05, 2009

September: Muenchen/Munich, Heilbronner Weindorf, and the Freinsheim Kulinarische Weinwanderung

Muenchen Sep 09

The first weekend of September, we went to Munich for the 2009 expat blogger meet-up. It was incredibly well-organized and we enjoyed learning more about Munich, a city we never really found as interesting as Berlin. After this trip we came to see it as a great place to live - excepting, perhaps, the high cost of rents and difficulties finding apartments.

Heilbronn Sep 09

The following weekend we checked out the Heilbronner Weindorf, a wine fest in Heilbronn, about an hour up the Neckar by train. This wine fest doesn't involve any vineyards or walking, but is set up in Heilbronn's town center. Each stand is very elaborately decorated and there are hundreds of wines to try. Their church, Kilianskirche, was also having an open house, with free Sekt (champagne) for anyone who climbed the tower for a great view over the fest, Heilbronn, and the surrounding countryside!

Freinsheim Sep 09

We then took one weekend off from all the debauchery, skipping Bad Duerkheim's big fest, then were back out for our favorite, the Freinsheim Kulinarische Weinwanderung. The sky was clear, it was warm, and there was all kinds of great food and wine to have. I'm really sad to think this could be our last time at this fest - I look forward to it all year. We don't really know what the future holds. It's quite frustrating to not be able to concretely plan any farther than about three months out. I'm not the kind of person who likes to have her whole life planned out - that would be boring, and I like having a lot of possibilities ahead - but I think this is a bit too far in the other extreme. However, it's the nature of academics for anyone who isn't tenured yet, and it's especially bad in Germany where contracts in this field are kept so short. I can honestly say I don't have even the slightest guess where we'll be or what we'll be doing a year from now. NONE. NO GUESS.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Two things I have to say

1. I love fall.

2. I have having a serious problem right now with over-romanticizing Ireland. I see a damn map of Ireland and feel all choked up that I will never live there. What is the cure for this problem?