Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's over!

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Germany had a great run in this year's Euro Cup - actually, along with Spain, they were the favorites.  Unfortunately, it's over now; Germany just lost to Italy, 1-2.  Not a lot of honking going on in Heidelberg - just a few stray Italy fans.

I left the game a bit early.  In my experience watching them, the German team is not known for its ability to come from behind, so things were already looking very bad once Italy was up early in the game. I did wait until 75:00 to head home, though - hey, it's a long walk.  I should have used my camera - in every bar, cafe, and restaurant there was a TV on and a silent crowd gathered around it.  One TV was in a parked van and people were sitting on the sidewalk around it.  Other than the occasional almost-cheer or cry of anguish, it was oddly quiet.

I'm not a fan of the Italian team, but I'm glad it was them who just beat Germany, since I was just in Italy.  It sucks here, but having just been there I can see so clearly in my imagination a bunch of people clustered around a TV in Burano, behind their striped door curtain, cheering with joy, and it all seems alright.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Favorite Church

Moin moin! It's already Wednesday, and no one guessed the church at the top of my favorites list.

1. Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary
Every surface inside the church is painted with colorful repeating patterns like those in this picture and the one I posted earlier. The patterns lean more folksy than churchy. That's not all - the roof outside is tiled in the same manner...with more intricate detail than other patterned church roofs I've seen (another thing I'm a sucker for).  It helps that I had never heard anything about this church before seeing it, and had no expectations of being blown away by it, which made being blown away by it all that much more memorable.  So....sorry everyone for the spoiler.  See more pictures here!

I've just returned from Venice, where three of the churches I saw - Santa Maria Assunta, San Marco, and Frari - are definitely worthy of top-10 contention. I think it will take some time for them to settle into my mind and to decide where they go on the list, if at all. :)  More on Venice soon.  I have over 600 pictures to wade through!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My 10 Favorite Churches (So Far)

Very soon I'm headed for a couple of days with a friend in Italy - land of beautiful churches. In anticipation of getting to see a few that threaten to knock others off my favorites list, I started thinking about which churches would currently be on that list. It's hardly comprehensive, and I hope to shake it up with plenty more churches on future travels!  Here are my favorites so far.

I'll start with a few runners-up which were considered for the list but didn't make it. In no order, with the best features listed:
Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany -Richter window, tons of Gothic detail
Limburg Cathedral, Limburg, Germany - View from the Autobahn, hilltop setting, outside painting
St. Vitus, Prague, Czech Republic - Mucha window
Heiligen-Geist-Kirche, Wismar, Germany -Boat details, cozy, unusual paintings
Luxembourg Notre Dame, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg - Pilgrimage-inspiring dress-up Mary
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City - Just impressive overall feeling
Notre Dame, Paris, France - Gorgeous paintings in side chapels and on columns
Manchester Cathedral, Manchester, UK - Not sure why it's stayed with me so much
Mainzer Dom, Speyerer Dom, Wormser Dom  - My husband's nominees - and their inclusion is a matter of regional pride. ;)

Now for the top 10!

10. Westminster Abbey, London, UK 
There will be a lot of Gothic on this list, because I love Gothic architecture, and I think Westminster is such a beautiful example of it.  This ceiling in particular is breathtaking. As a special bonus the place is dripping with history.  All things being equal it should perhaps be higher on the list, but there are some unfortunate downsides - the place is so crowded with tourists that you can't linger too long anywhere without being pushed along.  The admission fee is astronomical, and there's a reason I didn't post my own photo of the ceiling: I don't have one, because photography is prohibited inside the church, and there's a large staff of vicars hanging around to make sure you don't take any.  They also lead tours - the tours are great and I highly recommend them, but the vicar who led ours seemed deeply unhappy with his job.  It must be very difficult to want to keep a space sacred and have it be overrun with gawkers every day, but you really can't blame anyone for wanting to see it.  It's amazing - just amazing enough to make the list despite the lack of atmosphere the crowding causes. See more pictures here.

9. Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago, USA
This makes the list for being the first church I ever walked into and had the immediate feeling that I was in a special place, truly separate from the maddening world.  Not every great church imparts this feeling, although they ought to.  Perhaps it's just lucky that it was really the first large and the first (neo-)Gothic church I ever experienced.  Compared to others on the list it's a bit lacking in detail but has neat little colorful ceiling designs, interesting carvings, the rose window in the picture (from the 70s, and you can kind of tell), and a little extra meaning to me because it's at my alma mater.

8. St. Neot Church, St. Neot, Cornwall, UK
From the hanging lanterns to the scrolly gravestones, the personalized embroidered kneeling cushions to the strange name, the print-skirt Mary statue to what look like Art Nouveau bathroom tiles behind the altar...this church is charming as all get out.  Bonus: there's a holy well behind the church.  The unexpectedness of finding a favorite church in Cornwall - not a place you visit for church hopping - makes it all the better.  See more pictures here.

7. Aachen Cathedral, Aachen, Germany
The patchwork of architectures, one of them rare Carolingian architecture, is fascinating.  Beautiful ceilings, a chair made from sidewalk stones from Jerusalem, a chandelier given by Barbarossa, a dress-up Mary, a sweet little tiny platz before the entrance, and a cool/creepy collection of relics make it very worth a visit.  It doesn't rank higher only becuase the marbly details inside are kind of ugly.  Get the tour!  See more pictures here.

6. Sebalduskirche, Frauenkirche, & Lorenzkirche, Nürnberg, Germany
We're lucky enough to have gotten to visit Nürnberg, but not lucky enough to have much time there!  We had only a couple of hours, leaving me with just an impression - an impression of incredible churches with detailed altars, colorful stained glass (often only on the bottom half or so, with clear glass above - a neat effect) and painted Gothic features. (My first experience with painted Gothic!)  Given that my mind has compressed the three churches I saw that day into one big mish-mash church, it doesn't seem fair to pick just one of them, and leaving the Nürnberg church-visiting experience off the list would be wrong, so I had to go with all three.  See more pictures here.

5. San Giovanni Laterano & San Clemente, Rome, Italy
Rome is another place where we visited an incredible number of churches, ending up in a big churchy mish-mash in my mind later. I simply couldn't choose between these two.  Both feature the beautiful mosaics typical in Italian churches.  Laterano also has a detached round baptristy and a serene little courtyard which is worth the extra couple of Euro to see; Clemente has the ruins of an old basilica and an old mithraeum right underneath.  See more pictures here.

4. Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, Germany
Best approach to a church ever.  You're wandering around the quaint, narrow streets of Strasbourg, stopping for a cookie here or a photo there, and you just turn a corner to what you think will be another beautiful little half-timbered street - bam.  Immense, incredibly detailed cathedral in your face. It has it all - new carvings to discover every time, mostly Gothic but enough Romanesque parts to keep it even more historically interesting, an astronomical clock, mosaics, even a sorta gross baroque side chapel if you're into that sort of thing.  See more pictures here and here.

3. Freiburg Minster, Freiburg, Germany
I think places 2 through 4 are really a 3-way tie. I feel funny putting this above Strasbourg, but I'd feel funny putting Strasbourg above it. The two actually share a lot in common - part-Romanesque, but mostly Gothic, tons of fascinating detail, in the same region.  The Minster is much smaller, though - both grand and cozy.  The thing that I love the most, though, is the entrance.  The entrance is all painted Gothic and adorned with what must be a hundred tiny painted statues.  I think we spent half an hour just admiring it before even going in the church.  See more photos here.

2. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France
Painted Gothic. Wallpaper-like patterns on the columns and ceilings.  Thirteenth-century stained glass windows which seem to make up the entire wall.  A cozy basement chapel underneath.  Wow wow wow. See more photos here.

1. .....Want to guess?
It suits the theme.
First to guess it right gets a prize. One guess per person...and you have to tell me your favorite church(es) while you're at it! I'll check it on Wednesday.  Here's a photo to help you out, and a clue: it's not in my husband's top ten at all.

ETA: Guessing is's Matthias Church in Budapest!  More here.


Friday, June 22, 2012

A Walk Around Bad Dürkheim

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On Frohleichnam (Corpus Christi - it's a free holiday here) we finally went to nearby Bad Dürkheim for the first time.  It's on the Weinstrasse in between several other places we've been to multiple times - Freinsheim, Deidesheim, Neustadt - but we'd never gotten around to going!  A friend of ours had a hiking map of the area and we all went together to see what's there.
Bad Duerkheim Jun 12
Bad Dürkheim is small and pleasant - a bit more modern-looking than other Weinstrasse towns because it actually suffered damage in World War II.  (No idea why a town of that size would be a target.)  Sitting over the town are the pretty ruins of an old monastery, Kloster Limburg.  I think a friend of ours has actually attended a wedding held there.  There's a restaurant up there and there seem to be a lot of local activities held there too; when we visited there was a dress rehearsal for a play going on. 

After Kloster Limburg we continued into the hills to see Burgruine Hardenburg, a large castle ruin in one of Bad Dürkheim's little incorporated villages.  We enjoyed lunch and wine at a Biergarten there, then returned to Bad Dürkheim for some ice cream to erase any actual exercise we might have accidentally gotten with all the walking. ;)  It was a great day trip, and I learned about a tram that I'd somehow never noticed before - Tram X! Sounds like bad sci-fi, but it's an express between Heidelberg (Bismarckplatz), Mannheim, and Bad Dürkheim.  I don't think it gets you there much faster than the usual S-Bahn itinerary, but it's simpler.

I think my next Weinstrasse destination will be see where all that Sekt we win at pub quiz comes from. :D

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Meanwhile, on the Neuenheimer Landstrasse...

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...vines climbing up onto the new fences have unfortunately gotten quite the aphid problem.

There are mating ladybugs all over the area, so I guess it's good for something. :), I have never seen so many aphids in my life.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Welcome to the USA Video

Last month we enjoyed a non-Christmas trip back to the homeland for a few days. While standing in line at immigration in Chicago, I noticed this video playing at the front of the line:

Have you seen this at immigration? According to the video, the United States has all of the following very special things:

* Cities with tall buildings
* Fog
* Pointy monuments
* Smiling women watering gardens
* Little boys
* Bearded guys with top hats
* Yellow school buses
* Smiling schoolchildren
* Smiling people who get married
* Women who sit by pianos
* Bridges
* Traffic
* Smiling people in narrow alleys
* Coffee shops with smiling staff
* Smiling truck drivers
* Smiling children playing near barns
* Smiling children on tire swings
* Smiling families on porches
* Smiling children jumping rope
* Fields
* Vineyards
* Hot air balloons
* Spiky tall buildings
* Fancy restaurants with smiling employees
* Smiling businessmen
* Small airplanes
* Flag murals on barns
* Tractors
* Smiling farmers
* Ferris wheels (with smiling families)
* Silly dancing children
* Scenic rocks
* Bearded guys with fenceposts
* Saxophone players (thoughtful, but then smiling)
* Clouds
* Eagles
* Hills
* Waterfalls
* Bears
* Smiling children who like to fish
* Cafe waitresses
* Old guys who like to fish
* Guys who shovel ice
* Smiling guys who throw fish
* Cities that are lit up at night
* Trees that change colors
* People who ride horses
* Those wacky horses!
* Lone serious dudes
* More tall buildings
* Smiling people who take their dogs to the park
* Smiling couples
* Smiling women who drive
* Smiling people who build houses
* Smiling people who have houses
* Smiling people who have lots of books
* Smiling people who stand by walls
* Smiling firefighters
* Tough guys
* Smiling diner employees
* Cotton candy stands with happy quirky employees
* More cities that are lit up at night
* Smiling ladies all dressed in costume
* Smiling Elvis impersonators
* A big sign that says Hollywood
* Smiling women who shop
* Smiling dancers
* Smiling kids on empty suburban streets
* Churches
* Smiling people who shake hands
* More smiling families
* Smiling ladies in wheat fields
* More and more and more smiling people
* Smiling children in costume
* Smiling park rangers
* Canyons
* More waterfalls
* Buildings with columns
* Statues
* Rockets
* Cornfields and smiling people looking at them
* Carved rocks
* Smiling chefs
* Smiling kids playing basketball
* Rodeos
* Boats in swamps
* Smiling kids playing soccer
* Smiling cheerleaders
* Beaches
* Ladies with leis
* Crazy water activities
* Traffic at night
* Snowy mountains
* People skiing
* Smiling filmmakers
* People who ride bikes
* People who run in races
* People who skateboard
* More tall buildings
* Smiling people who play baseball
* People who play music
* Smiling people who surf
* People who go really fast in wheelchairs in scenic places
* People in cowboy hats
* More canyons
* Greenhouses with smiling employees
* People throwing mortarboards
* Babies with smiling mothers
* Smiling babies and serious babies
* More smiling children on tire swings
* More smiling families.  FAMILIES ARE THE ULTIMATE!!!
* Guys on motorcycles
* Oh, those quirky pregnant ladies!!
* And all these people are so glad you're here.
* Staute of liberty ending!!!

So, would you feel particularly extra welcome as a visitor to the US?  :) 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mold Again

Summer is here, and our mold problem is back.  Most people in Germany experience more mold problems in winter, when one's apartment is closed up for more of the day.  Not us.  Our problem is not only lack of ventilation (which is a problem year-round for us due to the layout of our apartment) but the obscene humidity levels in Heidelberg's valley.  Multiple times we've come back to a summer evening in Heidelberg from a day trip and been shocked by the humidity. As we near the river we can feel this veil of moisture all over us.  Our apartment lies within that veil.  It's so. freaking. humid.  All things being equal, it would probably be wise to move, but we do like the location convenience-wise, and it's extremely expensive to move (2.5 months' rent to the Makler, then there's the security deposit and the cost of moving itself, plus usually the cost of buying a kitchen since we don't own one, etc etc etc).  Anyway...since we can't move, it's a freaking constant battle with mold.

We got a dehumidifer to help with the bedroom humidity (the worst room, though no one has found the cause) and the humidifer molded inside.  This week I removed the floorboards on one side of the apartment to vacuum out some dust, and discovered - of course - more freaking mold.  This isn't even a wall with windows.  Which brings me to the German anti-mold rules which I find so annoying to live with.

Directions for airing out your apartment.
Our ventilation options: not as pretty as in the instructions.
1. Thou shalt air out your apartment year round multiple times per day by opening every single window wide. This allows us to replace the humid air inside our apartment with humid air from outside the apartment. Oh-so-effective.  Since we cannot get a cross-breeze in our apartment due to the only two windows being on the same side, the only way to get somewhat slight ventilation is to open both windows and the apartment door and the door in the hallway that leads to the stairwell.  And then be deathly quiet because everyone in the building can hear every sound we make echoing through the stairwell. Boo.  Even then the ventilation is not great since our terrace (outside our windows) also doesn't have good air circulation.

2. Thou shalt not put anything at all against any wall that has a window in it.  When you have a tiny apartment it's a real pain in the ass to have a entire wall unusable for furniture or storage.  Or I guess for those of you with windows all around, all your walls are unusable.  Or are these just rules they tell idiot foreigners?

3. Thou shalt not kip your windows.  If you do, moisture collects in weird places around the window and mold grows.  Why do windows have a kip feature if you're not supposed to use it? Although the airing-out instructions I show here say kipping works, we have been personally advised not to do it by the Hausverwaltung.

4. Thou shalt constantly check every crevice of your apartment to stop the mold that is inevitably going to grow anyway despite taking all the above steps.  The ceilings. The sills. Behind every piece of furniture.  Under the floorboards.  Hell, it might be slowly destroying your health to not tear off the wallpaper and flooring every single year, because it's probably under there too.

5. Thou shalt be blamed if you have mold.  It's not the fault of the building you live in or where it is.  It's your fault for not keeping it dry enough inside.

My apartment's all torn up the moment trying to deal with said under-floorboard mold. I can only do one wall at a time because there's nowhere to put the furniture if I have to pull it away from all of them at once. It's growing on the wallpaper behind the floorboards.  I plan to add some anti-mold protection crap (whatever sick chemical that is), but really, it's just going to come back as long as we have wallpaper.  Which makes me wonder: why isn't there a no-wallpaper rule?  Isn't that just begging for mold, too?  Yet nearly every German apartment is covered in this standard-issue bumpy wallpaper.

Damn you, mold!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From Strange Maps: Germany's Equators

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People living here love to mention Germany's "Weisswurst Equator" - the line between north and south, ostensibly south of which people eat Weisswurst (white's really good).  People who live in the north actually seem the most fond of talking about this, for reasons unknown.  The Strange Maps blog has found a map of several southern "equators" in Germany which divide regions for their quirks.  Interestingly, there's not actually agreement on where the "Weisswurst Equator" lies - along the Donau (Danube) or the Main!  I'd actually only previously heard the Main version of it.

Check out the map and various "equators" here!

ETA: The same source (Die Zeit) also recently posted a map showing food prices in Germany, which explains why I came here complaining about the price of chicken and got a bunch of people from other areas looking at me like I'm an idiot for paying so much.  BW is apparently a pretty expensive place to eat.  Having been to grocery stores in other BW towns I think HD may even be on the high end of that.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Mexican Food

TAMALES! (before cooking)
Mexican food is commonly cited as a miss-most item for people who have moved to Europe from the US.  Most large towns do have a Mexican restaurant or at least a döner joint purporting to serve "burritos" - but they often leave a bit to be desired.  About a year and a half ago, Heidelberg did get a Mexican restaurant, Chimichanga, which is the best we've had in Germany.  Faint praise, to be sure, but it's not bad and we've gone back more than once.  One thing they have that's hard to find and a pain to make is good tortilla chips!

Still, the restaurant's range is limited and eating out is expensive.  While we'd been making a few Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes all along, when we were finally prodded by the closing of Heidelberg's only shop that sold corn tortillas, we decided to really take matters into our own hands.

Flour tortillas.  Sure, there are wraps at the grocery store, but the prices are absolutely insane and they aren't all that good. You can make flour tortillas at home with cheap ingredients and they taste amazing.  Our pan is small so our tortillas are small, but no way are we going back to the nasty Fuego brand.  (Did you know it's owned by the same guy who also does the other faux-ethnic foods found at Rewe?)

Corn tortillas.  To make corn tortillas, you need a special corn flour called masa harina which is not sold in stores anywhere near us.  Don't try it with the corn flour you find here - even if it says on the back that you can make tortillas with it, you can't.  We tried.  At first we had masa harina brought to us from the US, but it turns out you can order it online here from a company called Mex-Al.  Mex-Al is meant to be a restaurant and supermarket supplier so a lot of their sizes are huge, but they can be pretty handy if you have a place to store the extra goods.  Even with the masa harina, corn tortillas are slightly more complicated than flour, but they're hard to get otherwise and turn out really amazing.

Sauces and seasonings.  You can bring back dried chiles and chile powders from the US or get them from Mex-Al.  Ancho chile powder is great for making enchilada sauce, and chipotles are great for flavoring beans, soups, meat, etc.  Don't worry about bringing back salty flavoring packets (although it's easy since they're so small!) and just make up your own taco seasonings with cumin, chili powder, cumin, garlic salt, more cumin, or whatever you like.

Now you have your base. Avocados have become delightfully easy to get in the years since we moved here, which is awesome.  Make your own refried beans with beans and lard or broth.  (Don't by the grody Fuego ones unless you don't have 10 minutes to mash your own up!) Salsa is not hard to make, with good chiles being the usual limiting factor. Mex-al also has corn husks for tamales and canned chiles for chiles rellenos..and with that we move into the harder stuff.  Fresh chiles and cheese.  Fuego sells pickled jalapeño slices which are okay for some things, but fresh jalapeños are a bit harder to get.  We occasionally see them at Rewe and are sure to buy them up when we do.  You can make them into escabeche which will help them last longer, and they are better than the Fuego ones.  As for the New Mexican-style chiles, can't help you there.  And we still haven't figured out the best cheese to sub in.  If you have, let us know.  They say feta works in some applications but I can't imagine, say, chiles rellenos dripping in feta.

What are your Mexican food tips or problems?  Share in the comments! :)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Ode to My Favorite Shoes

....Well, I'm no poet, actually.

I bought my favorite shoes 7 years ago.  So if they look a little "7 years ago"...that's why.  I don't think they do, but I'm no expert.  They are no longer made in this color scheme and are thus not replaceable.  After a couple of days of rough walking as they broke in, they've been heavenly to wear.  They are great for all the walking I do while still being wearable with nicer clothes.  The heel bottoms are replaceable and since they are very springy rubber, they wear out more quickly than the rest of the shoe.  I've had them replaced two or three times.

Sadly, the seven years and many miles have caught up with more than just the heel bottoms.  Recently the side on one of them started to separate from the sole.  On Saturday, my husband helped me take them to a cobbler in Neuenheim.  The guy speaks in dialect and is really hard to understand - even together I think we might have missed a bit.  I got a little verklempt having to leave them behind there.  Not that I don't trust him, but OMG MY FAVORITE SHOES EVER.  I did snag a black pair on ebay for only 40 Euro last fall, which is softening the blow a little bit, I feel like I have a very close family member in surgery right now.  I hope they make it through.  Good luck, Pfaelzisch cobbler.

How long has your favorite pair of shoes lasted?  Could you replace it? 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Mark Your Calendars x2

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First and foremost, mark your calendars for this year's expat blogger meet-up!  It will take place September 7-9 in BERLIN!  This happens to coincide with the Berlin Festival (featuring Orbital and Slagsmalsklubben, among many others) - taking place at the abandoned Tempelhof airport - so you get two amazing events with one train ticket.

Second, mark your calendars for next year's Eurovision final, which will be on May 18!  It's going to be in Stockholm, for those of you rich enough to actually afford the hard-to-get live tickets.  For the rest of us, just make sure you're going to be somewhere with an internet connection or European TV channel that day.