Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!!

Attempting to break world record for longest Christmas cracker pulling chain

Christmas Feast at canEAT in Stirchley

Preparing for Feuerzangenbowle at our house

Feuerzangenbowle at our friends' house

Wall o' cards

Christmas Feast at our house

Caroling on Christmas Eve

Flaming the Christmas pudding in our kitchen

TREE with pile we are about to tackle!
Have a wonderful holiday!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Last weekend we went to Germany!

Last weekend (a week and a half ago, actually - time flies when there's so little sunlight in the day) we visited Germany for the first time since moving to the UK!  Our purpose was more to visit friends than to visit the country, but it's so full with fun stuff to eat and see that we ended up with a nice dose of Germany on the side anyway.

It hasn't been that long and only a few things about Germany really stuck out to me while we were there:

1. Actually there's some really good food.  It always frustrated me that I lived in Heidelberg for six and a half years and by the end there was still no really consistently amazing restaurant that I could call a favorite.  My favorite restaurant ended up being an Eiscafe.  (Where I did indeed get a big freaking sundae while visiting!)  There's a lot of really mediocre food all around and even the famous bakeries were full of duds as I remembered it.
One bakery I particularly remember never being all that fond of was Wiener Feinbaecker.  We made a stop there while in Heidelberg anyway, to stock up on goodies for a train ride, just due to the lack of other options.  As it turns out, if you've been starved of German flavors for a while, Wiener Feinbaecker's stuff is pretty delicious.  Especially this salty Dampfnudel....

 I miss you, salty Dampfnudel.

A hazelnut horn-shaped thing, which I never cared for one way or another in the past, was amazing. Even the Berliner-Brezel, previously dismissed by me as forever disappointing due to its inability to taste like an American sugar donut, was delicious.

2. So many trees!  So, so many trees.  And vineyards!!  How could I leave a country with so many beautiful vineyards!?!

3. The light to open the train door comes on a lot faster in Germany than in the UK.

4. The UK's false "sorry" is, for me, so far preferable to the German habit of just unapologetically running into you and then looking at you like it's your fault and not saying anything.  Got this one straight away at the airport train station, and then it just kept happening the whole time.  So frustrating!

5. I find it much easier to speak German when there as a tourist than I did when living there.  Even though no one is going to know whether I'm a tourist or a foreigner living there, as a tourist I put less pressure on myself to be perfect because hey!  I'm just a tourist, you can't judge me for not being fluent, why should I be?  Without the pressure, it's much easier to just blurt out a bunch of possibly wrong German and not care.

6. That tower in Duesseldorf has a bunch of lights on it that are a clock.  This was my third visit to Duesseldorf, but the first time I noticed that.  Cool.

Taken at 16:29.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Awesome Birthday Present 2013: Stuck In Customs

1 comment
One of the many reminders that you're living in a different country than your family and oldest friends is when they send you gifts and they wind up being held in a warehouse somewhere instead of on your doorstep. I'd certainly developed a (not entirely positive) relationship with the Zollamt while in Germany, but for some reason it still came as a surprise to me when the gift D ordered for me from the US came to a grinding halt in customs after crossing the ocean. Oh...that's an import? Boo.

I know what the present is (FLUEVOGS!) so I was tracking it a little obsessively when it ended up in customs. After a day and no movement I googled how long this usually takes, and the answers were given in weeks! Nooo.... but when we came home last night after a couple of days in Germany, there it was on the floor inside the door: a letter from an entity called Parcelforce.

Parcelforce pays the customs duties and taxes on your behalf, then mails you a request to pay them back plus another fee. After they receive payment, they'll deliver your package on the day of your choosing. (That's the best part!  No taking half a day to find the customs office in some remote back alley maze!) If you don't pay within 20 days, they send it back to the sender. Of course, this item is a gift and it's weird to have to pay to import something I didn't actually have any say in importing, but it turns out the tax-free limit on gift value coming in the UK is something really low like £36. Also, it can't count as a gift if it's been shipped by the company instead of an individual. Shipping is apparently included in the value, so good luck staying under that line if you're shipping from abroad!

The charges are ugly.  The import value added tax alone is 27% of the price of the shoes (remember shipping counts so it's actually a lower percentage, but why should shipping count?!), and on top of that there's a customs duty of nearly £15 and then the Parcelforce's special handling fee (a "clearance fee") of £13.50.  All in all, I could have bought a whole other pair of less-good but still pretty decent shoes with the money I have to spend on importing them.

Please note, this is not a complaint against the sending of gifts from abroad.  These shoes are a gift for which I am very, very grateful and they are going to be awesome. But I do find it a little unfair to pay so much for something someone tried to send me as a present.  What if I couldn't afford the duties and taxes? (Damn near can't, really!) Someone was just trying to do something nice for me. I know there's not really a good alternative to this system since anyone could just claim gifts for everything they send if it were so easy.  Still.  Argh.

In this case there was no way around it because there is no EU source that supplies this particular pair of shoes.  If you plan to buy for someone abroad, where possible consider buying it online from a supplier in their country of residence to avoid both high shipping costs for you and the possibility of high import fees for them. :)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

It's not cheap and the houses are small, but there are dryers!

This morning I woke up to this article floating around the internet: US Expat Describes the Best and Worst Things About England.  It seemed a timely read especially considering the previous couple of days saw this other article floating around the expat community - it describes the UK as being one of the worst places in the world to be an expatriate!  (The two articles turn out to be unrelated, though.)

The best/worst article gives me, having been quite the lazy blog-writer lately, a springboard for putting in my two cents on the things she discusses!
"Just because people speak English, do not be deceived.  It is an utterly alien place from America culturally"
Man, I don't know.  Really?  I think we did this the right way by moving to Germany first and then coming to the UK, avoiding a US to UK transition. But even still, I think "utterly alien," even if used in a sort of teasing British context, is an overstatement.  Unless the differences are so massive they're actually going over my head.  Maybe it's regional. If I moved from Des Moines to London I'd probably be miserable over the change in the people around me.  Coming from Boston (open relative to Europe, but on the low end relative to the rest of the US) to Heidelberg (some say a particularly cranky section of Germany) then back to Birmingham - Birmingham is feeling pretty damn friendly.  This may depend on political persuasion, too.  While we seem like lefty freaks in much of the US we were pretty centrist in Germany and still relatively centrist here.  A US centrist or conservative may feel some extra isolation.

"One of the biggest realities is the drop in the material standard of living.  British wages are not as high as in the US and things are more expensive."
Mostly true. In my job search the biggest shock was seeing the salaries.  They are seriously low. (My first thought was "How on earth can these people afford to make the pub their second home? How?!?") I wrote off some job postings at first, sure that the low salaries they were offering meant I was overqualified given my earlier salaries.  Nope.  You just have to take a pay cut if you want to live here.  The pay cut is not matched by a comparable reduction in the cost of living.  Compared to Germany, where we also spent some time on just one full-time salary, doing so feels more difficult here.  I haven't entirely pieced together if those are just cost of living differences or if there's been a change in our behavior and expectations since moving, but in any case it's a little less comfortable now, even though D had a slight pay raise in the new position here.  However, I'm not sure about the truth of the statement that things are more expensive than in the US, since it's been so long since I lived there. I do know that there is no way in hell we could have survived for two seconds on just one salary in Boston, though...and we've made it a few months here on just one.  I guess it depends a lot on where in the US/UK you're living.  I don't think we'd be doing so hot in London.
"Houses are very expensive and you will live in a house half the size you'd expect in the US, often attached to your neighbour and with a one car garage (if you are lucky).  There are no basements, so you feel cramped and everything is cluttered -- I've never seen a walk-in closet to date.  You will cram everything into a 'wardrobe' the size of your coat closet."
 True. Houses are expensive.  Whether they're more expensive than the US depends on where you're coming from.  Our neighborhood here is pretty comparable to or cheaper than our Boston neighborhood (which was on the very low end for Boston).  Compared to rural Iowa the prices here are terrifying.  The houses are indeed small and utterly lack good storage space, and this is something that you just start to deal with.  You have fewer things.  You don't feel as much pressure to have so many things.  It doesn't bother me so much when I'm here, but I do feel a bit wistful about it when I go to Iowa and see that my dad's house has three full-sized fridges and a chest freezer and he could have even more if he wanted - there's plenty of space. I'll never be able to throw parties as awesome as his in my little British house!  But there's less to clean, the houses are adorable, and maybe it's better to have less material crap in your life.  Plus, not everyone in the US has a giant house.  It really depends on where you end up living/working, and we weren't going to have a lot of say in that anyway, revolving around the difficult academic world as we do.
I've seen houses with basements here, so it's possible to end up with one.  You do often share a wall with at least one neighbor.  I guess I don't mind high density like that. It actually makes me feel at ease, safer, to know that there are plenty of people nearby.  I do wish my neighbor's smoke would drift in a bit less often, though.
"You will eat sandwiches in your office, not go out for lunch as is done daily in the US."
False. Everyone at my workplace in the US ate in the office.  Same in Germany.  I think D's current coworkers actually eat out for lunch more than any place I've worked! Is this really a thing? Even if it is, I'd rather eat in the office, it's much cheaper and usually healthier.
"You will not have a garbage disposal"
 True. I didn't have one in Germany either.  I grew up without one, my dad still doesn't have one, so I guess I don't really expect to have one, so this hasn't bothered me.  They can be handy but I don't really think about it.
"You . . . will be expected to hang your laundry out to dry"
Not expected, but you can!  I consider the ability to hang my laundry outside in a garden to dry to be a privilege!  It's free and the most relaxing of all household chores.  This is a privilege denied a lot of Americans because of homeowners' associations that have banned the practice.  In Germany we mostly had to hang things to dry inside.  That works fine but takes up a lot of space and contributes to dampness problems indoors.  We have to do that a lot of the time here too because of the rain, but yes, I religiously watch the weather reports and look forward to the days I can hang the laundry outside! 
As for being expected to do it, I don't think so.  Of the neighbors whose gardens I can see from my house, I'd say I've only ever seen laundry hanging in about 50% of them, and most of those it's not all the time so they are also using other methods.  I imagine everyone else is using a dryer or drying things inside.  When I have to dry things indoors, to help combat the dampness I usually dry them partway in our combo washer/dryer and then let them hang dry the rest of the way.
"As I type this, our laundry is hanging in the family room, damp, and when dry must be ironed.  All Brits iron, or hire someone to do it."
 Huh? I find my clothes come out more wrinkly if they've been through the dryer than if they've hung to dry (even if hung indoors).  I don't iron any more here than I did in the US. I'll have to ask around about this one!  I actually prefer to do my laundry here.  Every time I do laundry in the US while visiting now, I remember that top-loading washers and American tumble dryers are really hard on your clothes, shrinking, fading, and aging them more quickly.
"Our groceries are ordered on the internet and delivered to our front door -- as is typical for all supermarkets."
Not sure. I haven't noticed this being more common than in the US.  I don't use it because I don't ever really buy that much at once so it hasn't seemed necessary.
"A massive advantage of living here is the National Health Service.  If an American could understand it, they would be amazed by its magnificence."
True. God, it's so easy. It's so, so easy.  Yes, we pay in taxes. That's fine. It's so easy.  I take a medication and I have to pay for it out of pocket because I don't fit any criteria for getting it free - but most people do fit.  The pharmacist is always horrified that I'm paying for it even though it's like 7 pounds for a 3-month supply.  He has no idea how much I paid out-of-pocket for health shit in the US.  How insurance companies would find ridiculous reasons to deny coverage leaving me on the phone for hours solving things that ended up being typos. Denied insurance over typos. Rage. Seven pounds being the only thing I have to pay for anything health-related at all, and having it be EASY, feels like getting away with something.  Even in Germany there were co-pays and there was a complicated system of getting new referrals in person every quarter if you saw a specialist.
"The infrastructure of the country is in a much better state...there are no derelict buildings or crumbling roads."
It's intermediate.  There are derelict buildings in Birmingham to be sure!  Far more than in western Germany.  Eastern Germany did have quite a few.  In the US there is a lot of dereliction too.  It is a little surprising when I go back because I didn't notice it that much until I moved away.  As for roads and bridges, I don't really have enough experience with them here to say. We all know the US has problems since bridges seem to crumble right under commuters now and again. German roads and bridges are amazing, of course. I doubt any country has them beat for that!
"There is a deep love and care for the countryside that makes it compelling, and you can never tire of it.  It is the work of a thousand years -- a landscape built by man, layer by layer.  A masterpiece."
It's different. The English countryside is beautiful, but so is the American one. I can't say that one is preferable to the other.  I think on my most recent US trip the one thing that hit me the most was the size of the sky, the size of the views and vistas.  It's overwhelming and amazing.  In the English countryside, I feel like part of history and humanity. In the US countryside, I feel like part of the universe.

She goes on to talk in reverent tones about big mansions in the English countryside.  This is something I'm just not into yet.  They are nice and it's definitely a thing here to go visit them on the weekends, but it's hard for me to work up a sense of wonder about them, even though I can get going about a pretty church, no problem.  Rich people had nice mansions? Surprise surprise?  I guess I'm more interested in beautiful old things that regular people had some access to.  Why, I do not know.  I'm hoping to one day have an epiphany and be able to hop on the stately-home-loving bandwagon.

As for the second article claiming the UK is one of the world's worst places to be an expat - well, that's probably something difficult to measure.  Since they had to base it on something, they based it mostly on disposable income, I think.  Well, if you're coming from some rich western country to a poorer country you're going to feel rich!  And if that's your main measure of happiness in expattery, then great - and you'll find the UK to be pretty bad due to the pay cuts and all discussed earlier.  Also, our visas have a big statement printed on them: "No recourse to public funds."  This seems a bit crazy - we pay taxes so we should be able to take out from the system, too.  That is disadvantageous to expats living in the UK. I hope with time we won't come to find that the UK is bad for expats.  So far we are happy with it.

Well, I think I've gone on long enough here - I did have some other stuff to do today.  :)  If you're a US-to-UK expat, what do you think about the differences mentioned in the article?

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Original Shrewsbury

The second half of July and all of August and September were a whirlwind of visitors and travel.  Right away I got behind on keeping up with all the photos I was taking and it just snowballed from there!  Hence I'm just now getting around to showing you Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury is actually very close to Birmingham and an easy non-stop train ride from New Street.  Several people had recommended it to us but I never thought much about it.  Ever since we moved all I crave is either total urbanity or total country isolation - maybe all that time in Heidelberg made me want a bit of a hiatus from big towns, small cities, and in-between places like that.  But when a friend visited from the US and we needed some easy day trips with a good dose of Englishness, Shrewsbury was an obvious choice to top the list!

It was a pleasant surprise.  Somehow Shrewsbury's center survived the wars and mid-20th-century urban planning pretty well intact, so it's full of lots of fun stuff you don't usually see in places of its size - my favorite being the Victorian train bridges!  See the photos for those and plenty of other goodies like half-timber buildings (have I burned out on those yet? maybe a little) and impressively neat library graffiti!
Shrewsbury Jul 2013
On the downside everything in Shrewsbury closed freakishly early so when we wanted a coffee/cake break around 4:30-5p, we were stuck choosing between Starbucks and Costa because the more interesting places had all closed up shop for the day.

Still, would visit again.

 Later in her visit we also went to Lichfield. Haven't even looked at those photos yet but I hope to have them up soonish. :)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Four Months In!!

Leave a Comment
We arrived in Birmingham with our giant suitcases on March 20...four months ago!  It's hard to believe because we have already come to feel so comfortable where we are.

We took the train from the airport to our new neighborhood, Stirchley.  The first thing that happened to us as locals: still lugging our suitcases only a block or two from the train station, a car pulled over to ask us directions to "that store that sells homemade bread" (referring to Stirchley Stores, which currently sells bread baked by next-door Loaf bakery and cookery school).  We already knew the answer and were able to help her out!  Just before pulling away, she asked, "Are you Canadian?"  The first of many.

I think the reasons we already knew about the bread shop are some of the same reasons this move felt so easy and we felt settled here so quickly.  First, because we were living so close before the move (compared to our US-to-Germany move), we could actually both came over to visit three times before moving here.  On two of the trips, we came to Stirchley to look at apartments.  On the first of those we became interested in the area and could focus more on it the second time around - when we started to notice things like the cute side-streets and the cookery school.  On the people front, D's new mentor set us up with a few people he thought we should meet, and we saw them on all the trips so we already knew them a bit by the time we arrived.

My first-ever Stirchley picture: while visiting in February 2013.
Second, I think we owe a lot to - of all things - Twitter.  I didn't have much use for Twitter for many years.  I eventually set up an account to go along with this blog. I started to use it to make Germany-related commentary that was too short to warrant a blog post and to communicate with fellow expats, but I wouldn't say it was terribly useful.  Just an outlet for chatter and #expatweathernetwork.  However, while googling around for Stirchley-related info after we decided on an apartment here, I discovered that there's tons of local information here on Twitter - and it's been unbelievably helpful in finding places to go and things to do and giving me an understanding of the area.  Before we moved I'd already started following several Stirchley-related Twitter accounts, including Stirchley Market, Stirchley Stores, Loaf, Stirchley Park, and Stirchley Happenings (that one seems to have really slowed down, though). Maybe a little too keen, but, well, Americans. We're excitable. Sometimes. Several academic friends here have asked how I always seem to know things that are going on and when I tell them it's a little embarrassing because nearly all of them seem to think Twitter is "a bit weird" or something "I never really figured out". Following useful Twitter feeds is effortless and can really fill up your calendar with worthwhile ideas for stuff to do and make you feel involved even if you aren't very. Volunteer opportunities, festivals, pop-ups, markets, almost everything we've done that wasn't through friends was found out about through Twitter.  If only it had been so useful in Heidelberg!

We caught this exhibit at BMAG on its last day after hearing about it on Twitter.

And those are my theories as to why Birmingham felt like home so quickly.

That and English.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

British Food Is Not Long-lived

I live on a road that sees a lot of big trucks.  Er, lorries.  One morning I tied back the bedroom curtains to find a truck parked outside our house with a huge ad on the side for a campaign called Love Food, Hate Waste. Can't help but get behind that, because I can't stand wasting anything, especially food.

I think I found part of the problem, though:
Shortly after taking these pictures (clockwise: ketchup, tomato sauce/passata, milk), I found my favorite of all: a 300-gram jar of jam that insists it must all be eaten within three days of opening.  Are you kidding me?  I've never used a whole bottle of ketchup in 8 weeks, tomato sauce in one week (it's a big bottle), or milk in three days.  An entire jar of jam in three days?  Forget it.  These estimates are way too low...if people are really paying attention to them and tossing 4-days-opened milk or 9-weeks-opened ketchup then that really is a lot of needless waste.

The funny thing is that even though I've generally just used sniff and eyeball tests or general common sense in the past, and am cynical about these labels, they are still getting to me and I find myself more paranoid about food safety than I was before.  I haven't tossed anything that didn't really deserve it yet, but have considered it more than ever before.

In the US & Germany I don't recall these instructions on packaging, but am I mis-remembering?  I only remember sell-by and best-before dates, neither of which is an instruction to use it all up by then. Are these legit guidelines and I've been somehow lucky not to spend most of my life hurling from eating old food?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Four Surprise British Pronunciations

Separated by a common language and all that.

Clerk is CLARK.
D was the first to hear this one and after he told me about it while walking down the street I spent the next block insisting that it could not possibly be true.
It's true.
Forvo proves it.

Derby is DAR-by.
I actually knew about this one, but somehow believed it only referred to the location, then only referred to the location and the horse thing, then only referred to the location, horse thing, and hat...but it refers to any and all usage of derby ever.  Despite already knowing about the place, horses, and hat, I was still surprised to hear someone talk about "roller darby".
It almost sounds like Dobby.
The US version is actually starting to sound funny.

Oregano is o-re-GA-no.
I didn't know about this until I had a local person bring it up, as they are apparently amused by the US o-REG-a-no pronunciation.  At first I thought they were asking me to pronounce Oregon (a matter of some contention within the US).
Hear for yourself.
Oregano comes from Spanish so this may be another example of the differences in how the US and the UK Anglicize Spanish.

Pants is TROW-zers.
I don't even know what's going on there.

Got any of your own?


Friday, July 05, 2013

Making Frankfurter Green Sauce in the UK


Our green sauce herbs.  See note at end of post regarding the choices.

We got hooked on Frankfurter Green Sauce (recipe at link) when we were in Germany, and fretted a little bit about what would happen if we had to leave Germany.  You see, several of the seven herbs needed to make it are very rare in the US.  Although they can be found at any market in our area of Germany during the right time of year - and an approximation of them can be found year-round in the frozen section at supermarkets - people making the recipe in the US often end up having to make some pretty far-out substitutes.  Our fix was going to be to grow our own green sauce garden so we could have it every year out of our own garden - if we ended up living in a suitable climate.

Turns out we ended up in England!  Suitable climate managed.  Assuming (correctly) that supermarkets and greengrocers wouldn't carry the weirder half of the herbs, we set out immediately to set up a green sauce garden. We lucked out right away at the local awesome-logo-having Stirchley Market, finding sorrel from Martineau Gardens and chervil, borage, salad burnet, chives, and lovage from Urban Herbs.  We also wanted to find the cress we were familiar with from the German herb bundles, but never did: we thought it was a special variety and only later did we realize that it's the same thing as the cress they sell as tiny sprouts in a box at the supermarket....just grown up. Oops. Next year.

Having not had to raise the plants from seed we thought we were all set but there were a couple of challenges along the way.  The first was the damn gastropods in the garden.  There are a LOT of them, more than I've ever seen anywhere in my life...and it turns out they love chervil.  The chervil took off like a shot when we brought it home and planted it and was doing better than anything else, and smelled amazing.  Exactly at that point, it was completely devoured in two days by slugs and snails!  They didn't seem to care much for the burnet planted right next to it, but mmmm chervil.  Sadly we never found more chervil by the time we needed to harvest everything else for the sauce, so we went without this time.

The second challenge was harvesting the plants.  It didn't occur to me until that day that I wouldn't really know what parts of the plant were the best to use, having had someone else harvesting them in the past!  After some googling I found that in most cases, it's the youngest leaves that you want.  The borage might have gone too long. The thick stalks and big leaves develop tons of unpleasant little thorns! I did manage to get some good smaller leaves off of it.

Sieving egg yolks - oddly satisfying.
The only other difference in making green sauce this time as compared to past adventures is that this time we have a single-layer wire sieve to push the egg yolks through as written in the recipe.  Previously we just mashed them.  Sieving the yolks is really fun so if you have an appropriate sieve do it!

The finished product
The end product was totally delicious, just as in Germany.  When we get our own property one day we can make a whole garden of herbs instead of just having a few plants in pots!  That should be awesome. (If we can figure out non-disturbing ways of getting rid of the gastropods. We tried some slug pellets this week and the carnage was horrible, especially since it was mostly snails and you know how I love them....)

It's a bit late in the year now but if you can get some of the goodies, make the sauce!  And that leads me to my side note about this recipe.

Man, you won't see people on the internet being dicks about any other recipe the way you will see it about this recipe.  Try not to be intimidated by people saying it cannot be made with any herb other than the Memorialized Seven: chervil, chives, cress, parsley, borage, burnet, and sorrel.  If they are referencing the officialness of these and EU protection of the dish - to meet that standard you would also have to only make it using herbs grown within a certain radius of Frankfurt, and you probably can't pull that off anyway. You can make substitutions and it will be fine.
This handy chart is the result of evaluating online recipes for green sauce and the herbs they suggest using, with the x-axis being the number of recipes suggesting the given herb.  I guess the best is to substitute from higher off the list than lower - but mostly just use what you find delicious and can get your hands on.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

We went to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina and I'm finally going to tell you about it!

Well, a little bit, anyway.

D had to go to a conference in Dubrovnik in mid-April. The timing of the trip wasn't ideal since we'd just blown a lot of money on the move (some will be reimbursed, but it hasn't yet) but we decided to make a little vacation out of it anyway since plane tickets are one of the pricier things about getting to this part of Europe and his was already covered.

On the last day of his conference I flew over to join him.  Lufthansa served, of all things, Wurstsalat on the flight!  Normally they're pretty good!  The layover was in Munich; it was my first time through that airport and it's nicer than Frankfurt.  When we got to Dubrovnik I couldn't believe how small the airport was.  There are no jet bridges, the plane just pulls up to the building.  Also, the countryside there is gorgeous and really made me feel like I was somewhere totally different than where I woke up in the morning!

We stayed at an Air B&B apartment in the walled town.  Dubrovnik sits right on the Adriatic Sea and one small, hilly section on the water is completely walled off with unbelievably massive stone walls.  This is the bulk of the heavily-touristed area.  Our host, a grandpa-ish guy named Antun, greeted us and hung around for about an hour serving us fresh almonds and shots of god-knows-what.  There were separate male and female beverages, apparently!  He either didn't speak a word of English or he pretended not to, but he still managed to show us everything we needed to know about the apartment and we all had a nice time.

Dubrovnik was more impressive than it looks in pictures.  I tend to go for colorful places and the gray, gray, gray theme in Dubrovnik didn't look that cool until I saw it in person.  The walls are much more massive than I imagined, and the hills are really steep - no roads up them, just stairs!  Actually, I don't think there are cars at all in the walled city, which lends it a relaxed atmosphere.  The houses are in mazes of stairs and paths with ocean views and terraces and strange little gates - but supposedly very few people really live there anymore.  You can walk the walls for a fee, and the views of the sea and the city are stunning; it's very worthwhile.  The ticket also gets you access to a fortress located across a tiny bay from the walled city.  Although the walls are crowded with tourists, almost no one goes over to the fortress so it's a nice escape (also with beautiful views).

On the down side, Dubrovnik is a major cruise ship stop and as such is often jam-packed with boatloads of tourists.  On the main street in the walled town, most of the shops cater specifically to cruise ship passengers and have special agreements with or are owned by the cruise lines.  The other downer is that things were a lot more expensive than I might have guessed based on previous travel to Croatia.  Dubrovnik is the rich ritzy tourist town and you will pay for that.

It's worth visiting but next time I might try winter when things are a bit more chill.  There were a couple of cranky moments on the main drag when I swore I'd never visit another cruise port in my life.
Dubrovnik Apr 2013

We also spent an hour or two in nearby Cavtat when we had a rental car.  Its center is very small, although there's some tourist-industry sprawl coming out from it.  We had a nice walk along the water, where you could see neat creatures in tide pools!!
Cavtat Apr 2013

We rented a car specifically for a Mostar-based side trip.  I saw a photo of the bridge in Mostar a few years ago and immediately added it to the list of places I wanted to see, so I was pretty excited to discover that it's not far at all from Dubrovnik.  Information on non-car options to get there was a bit thin and sketchy, so we decided to play it safe and rented a car at Dubrovnik airport.

We drove from the airport to Mostar via a Google-suggested route that we later found out is not the usual route for tourists, possibly because it is less scenic or because it goes through less-affluent areas of Bosnia & Herzegovina.  It passed through lots of empty scrubland near the border - impressively empty.  Then I noticed a sign at the edge of the field - "MINE!"  Mines!  Literally, mines!  You could get blown up trying to cross through that scrubland!  People are killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina every year by mines left over from the wars in the 1990s.

Most of our drive took us through the Republika Srpska, the Serbian section of Bosnia & Herzegovina.  We stopped at a churchyard to have a picnic lunch after trying to drive into a town and seemingly getting told to just leave. Maybe the guy was trying to be helpful, but who knows with the language barrier!  Further along, we actually got pulled over in a small city for not having our headlights on in broad daylight, which is apparently a local law.  We couldn't communicate with the cop either and we thought he was trying to fine us for it, but he wasn't.  He was just trying to tell us the speed limit and to have a nice day.  We think.

As we neared Mostar the countryside started to look much more prosperous.  Photos I'd seen of Mostar were a bit misleading.  They made it look like a village, but it's pretty big!  It also saw a lot of fighting in the 1990s, and its famous bridge was actually destroyed in that war.  The city was divided at the time right along the river.  The area around Mostar is also heavily mined.  The town itself seemed quite safe and is now very touristy.  Buses come in from Croatia, including cruise ship outings, so all the businesses take Euro since that's what the passengers have.  We changed some money just to be sure, but then left the country with some of it and couldn't change it back, so take note of that if you visit!  We stayed at a Pension where our German came in handy with the staff (and the fried bread at breakfast was amazing!).  Things were much cheaper than Dubrovnik but still priced up because of people like us.

Oh, and I had a special toilet adventure which I have to share, so maybe stop reading now if you are eating and sensitive to such topics. I might have talked a bit about the squat toilets in Turkey and how I managed to avoid ever having to use one. Usually there were both squat and seat toilets available there, so you just had to wait for your preferred type to become available, which I did. I've also somehow managed to never have to pee in the woods. Anyway, at a restaurant in Mostar, I got up to pee and discovered that there was only one type of toilet - the squatter.  (Not only that, there was a giant axe in the restroom. Irrelevant, but notable.)  I actually wasn't in a desperate situation so I could have just bailed, but after the alcoholic beverage(s?) I'd consumed it didn't seem all that intimidating so I decided to go for it.  And... it was TOTALLY FINE! I didn't fall in or touch anything weird or pee on my clothes or anything.  Hurrah!!  (Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for a disaster tale.)

Mostar Apr 2013

We took a different route back to Croatia from Mostar to hit up some different sites on the way.  One of these was Medjugorje, which might sound familiar if you know Catholicism.  Some kids in Medjugorje claimed to see Mary up on a hill in the woods, and since then the town has made major bank on it, building a big pilgrimage church and selling tons and tons of Mary crap.  It's a do-not-miss for shrine junkies or kitsch fans!  But there's really nothing else in town other than the church and a lot of plastic Mary statues and rosaries, so it was a quick stop for us.
Međugorje Apr 2013

We also stopped in nearby Pocitelj, an ancient hillside town on the Neretva River (the same one that passes through Mostar).  Like seemingly everywhere, Pocitelj took a lot of damage in the 1990s and you can still see this.  It was a sunny day and the setting was charming as all get-out with pretty stone buildings, flowers, ladies selling cones of fruit and nuts, and views over the river. 
Počitelj Apr 2013

Overall, it was a great trip, although it felt a bit rushed and financially the timing was a bit crappy.  Every single day the weather was beautiful, which was a nice contrast to England's dreary spring.  I could sort of start to see why people love to go south for vacation (which has never much appealed to me before - I dislike heat and crowded beaches).   I'd love to do more in both countries.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo would be next on my list. (Actually, it's already been on my list for years.) In Croatia, I think I'd like to go back to somewhere in Istria or near there - it was cheaper than Dubrovnik and just as lovely.  We also heard some great things about Montenegro while we were there and I'd love to see it for myself.  The border is very close to Dubrovnik but we couldn't take the rental car over there.  Perhaps next time we should also take the time to learn a few words in some Slavic language just to have a basis - neither of us has ever studied a Slavic language, leaving a big linguistic hole in Europe for us as we have some Germanic and Romance language down. I hope we'll be back in the area sometime, but for now we have a lot going on with family and friends and are on a bit of an international travel hiatus.  One I'm looking forward to. :)

TL;DR: We went to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and we liked it.  You should look at the photos, it's faster than reading all this and says more.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Birmingham Central Library Closes Tomorrow!

1 comment

When we were here last October for the interview that I had no idea would lead to us actually living here, I noticed an interesting building downtown.  I only saw it from afar and never figured out what it was.  Now I know that it's Birmingham's brand new as-yet-unopened Central Library. 

There's more to the story than just a new library - the old building that's to be vacated is probably going to be demolished to make way for a collection of tall and uninteresting but lucrative office buildings.  Kind of a downer, as the current central library building IS interesting and might not deserve the wrecking ball.  It's from the ever-unpopular days of Brutalism, though, and that's all coming down nowadays

The current library building is closing for good tomorrow, June 29, so we went down there last weekend to get a look inside before the end.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the library is already closed to the public, so there's almost nothing to see!  The photo to the right is one of the only ones I took.  The library was still impressively busy, actually, so I felt like a bit of an annoyance walking around trying to take pictures and limited myself to just a couple. 

I do look forward to checking out the inside of the new library when it opens in September, but can't believe there's really no way the old one could be used for something else - it is a cool example of what it is.  Unfortunately what it is is not a popular type of architecture right now.

Get down there today or tomorrow if you want to get in one last time!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Britain's Favo(u)rite Font?


Is it just me, or are these round-edged sans-serif fonts all over the place here?  I don't remember seeing quite so many of them in Germany, and haven't been in the US for months, so I'm not sure if I'm looking at something that Britain in particular loves or a current global trend.  These photos are but a tiny selection of them; they are everywhere.

We'd been having great weather for days but it's finally pouring today.  The rain came about three hours earlier than predicted and hence I have some seriously drenched clothes hanging on the line right now.  I'm not even quite sure what to do; they are way wetter than they would be if I'd just taken them out of the washer, and there are two loads of them.  I could leave them up until it stops....or bring them in and hang one load sopping in the living room while running the other through the very slow tumble dryer...hrm.  Mostly I just want to pretend they're not out there and curl up under a blanket for the evening. ;)  (We have other plans that make this impossible anyway, though!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sainsbury's Sells Everything

Leave a Comment

Sorry about the irritating problem with my blog backdrop.  I've been away the last few days and just saw the nature of the problem.  It's a free theme I picked up online and installed, and it has to be reinstalled to correct the problem.  Since I tend to do these kinds of things according to directions and then promptly forget how I did them, I need to figure out how to do the reinstall and it might take a couple of days before I feel like investing whatever amount of energy that requires.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

In the realm of Mexican food, no improvement.


England brings you, inexplicably, fajitas with breaded meat.  What the what.  What.

Thankfully we got really good at making Mexican food during our time in Germany - because this does not bode well for the scene here!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Almost Two Months In

Looking back on the almost-two-month mark in Germany, way back in 2006, it looks like at this point I was bitching about crappy mail forwarding, being amused by German sayings, complaining about the shower water temperature, and trying to get a feel for life without a dryer or an outdoor clothesline

Well, the mail forwarding this time hasn't been great.  Some things come, some things go to the old German apartment and our old landlord finds them.  Local sayings here are still amusing me.  Yesterday I heard "ta" for "thanks" two or three times and it confused me for a split second every time.  Our shower water temperature is extremely difficult to regulate but it heats up straight away and never goes to freezing cold, so I'm okay with it.  As for drying clothes, I'm so thrilled to have an outdoor clothesline!  Even though most days it's sort of hard to tell when you can actually use it without getting your clothes rained on.  Current observations indicate that I'd have to get up with the sun in the morning and start wash right away and have it on the line by 7a or so - since we seem to have the lowest risk of rain in the mornings.  If the weather is awful, never fear, because we have a washer/dryer combo.  If I just dry the clothes for 30 minutes or so and then hang them indoors they will still be dry pretty quickly and they won't humidify the apartment as much.

I think my biggest complaint at the morning is about getting around Birmingham.  It's not great.  Let's look at our options:

* Train - the train is actually really great if you are going to any place on our train line, and would be pretty good for any place not on our train line that connects at New Street.   This does include downtown, which is nice, but really it's a pretty limited selection of places that have good train access.

* Bus - requires exact change and the site to figure out bus routes is a little tricksy. I have managed to figure out a few routes.  The exact change thing is a pain in the ass.  Of course if you have a bus pass, good for you, but they only have the kind that cater to frequent users, which I am not.  This town desperately needs an Oyster-style card for infrequent transit users to make hopping on the bus easier.

* Bike - if you want to die.  I have already been in a bike accident in a town full of bikes and therefore full of drivers who know how to look out for them.  I am not ready to get my ass killed, so I'm not ready to bike anywhere in Birmingham except bike trails.  We have good access to biking along the river and the canal, but this again only gets you to a limited number of places.

* Walk - my preferred method.  Still, unless you have all day this gives you a limited area that's accessible.  And if you want to be carrying anything heavy it might be less fun.

* Car - EVERYONE IN BIRMINGHAM HAS A CAR.  Because of all the above points.  I think it's absurd to live in a city this size and have everyone tell me that really I'm going to need a car.'s kind of like being back in the US, which would be the same story.  Even though I lived in Chicago and Boston without a car, it was always limiting and I always figured one day I was going to grow up and have to get a car.  I always hope to keep putting that day off because I don't really enjoy driving, much less parking and paying for gas and insurance.  But, I think that day is rapidly approaching.  On the plus side, there might be a car sharing service opening up in our neighborhood soon which might help us put it off a little more.  Fingers crossed.

I've been a bum about writing lately and I know this is a little annoying for everyone back home who keeps up best this way.  First, I've got such a backup of Croatia photos and I wanted to put up the trip next, so I got behind there.  Gave up the idea of having to do Croatia next.  Second, I've honestly been feeling much more self-conscious about this blog since coming to Birmingham.  When I lived in Germany I felt that only a limited number of locals with special English-speaking interests would bother putting in the effort to read my foreign-language blog.  Now I'm writing in the same language the locals speak (for the most part) and they don't have to make any effort to read it at all!  Which is fine, just different.  I wonder if I'm actually delusionally thinking that I have more of a shot at fitting in here than I did in Germany and that I could mess that up with something I write.  Really I don't have much more of a shot - I started doing some stuff outside the academic sphere and have thus far been seen as a bit of a curiosity more than anything else - "how did you end up in Stirchley?" - but the shared language makes it easy to be fooled into thinking you could belong!  It's funny that I feel a bit less free socially when really it shouldn't have changed at all.  In the months ahead I'm sure all these feelings will come and go as they please.  Right now, my utter and true relief at being free of having to speak German, free to interact with people with ease, free to answer the door or the phone and know I'll probably understand, this relief is so great that it completely overshadows everything else.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Electric Mysteries

It wasn't until the movers arrived with all our stuff that I noticed: there was nowhere near the sink to plug in our electric toothbrush.  In fact, there wasn't a single electrical outlet in the entire bathroom!  The situation was strange and novel enough that I decided to comment about it on Facebook. Jul, a fellow American who just moved from Germany to the UK, replied:

"They're illegal. Apparently it's the only way to prevent Brits from making toast while in the bath."

I actually couldn't tell if she was kidding, so I looked it up...and it's actually true!  No regular electrical outlet can be placed within a certain distance of the bathtub/shower, and the distance is long enough that pretty much the whole bathroom is usually covered.  Special outlets for shavers, as pictured here (I took this at an inn, we don't have one), are allowed.  A normal UK plug doesn't fit into these outlets.

This really is a safety measure to prevent electrocution, but wow.  It's just completely new to me.   In Germany we had the washer plugged in in the bathroom!  I guess that's why the washers are usually in the kitchen here.  Anyway, this is kind of a pain because we have to keep the electric toothbrush and shaver charging in the guest room instead of the bathroom, which is less than ideal.  When guests come we'll have to move them to our bedroom (no problem, just further away).

Well, I feel very safe from electrocution.  There must be a special fear about electrical hazards here, kind of like the US with fire hazards.  All our outlets have on/off switches on them.  Also you can buy these things that plug into outlets and I have no idea what they do, they just look like a plug adaptor but with no place to plug anything in.  Also something safety related?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fun with pence!

1 comment

It would appear that something is still missing!

I was trying to figure this out at a restaurant (noticed a piece while digging through change to pay) and someone there who's been living in the UK since before these came out said he'd never noticed them before.  You can always count on the new people to notice many years before we take it all for granted and don't see anything anymore?  I was still noticing different and unusual Euro pieces when we left Germany, so longer than 6.5 years...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This is play money.


We just spent a few days in Croatia with a brief side trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina - trip log and photos to come!  Bosnia & Herzegovina have their own currency, the convertible mark, which isn't used anywhere else.  We didn't think anything of having some marks left over when we left the country, as it happens a lot and we either keep it for future trips or exchange it.  Turns out it's not easy to exchange!  We had a layover in Frankfurt and took it, along with some leftover Croatian kuna, to a currency exchange there.  They happily took the kuna (at a horrible rate) but immediately refused the convertible marks.  Actually, he looked at us like we were offering him Monopoly money and said we were going to be stuck with it - no one was going to take it.  Whaaat?  It's a legit currency.  I didn't heed his words and took it to our bank today.  The teller there thought he was going to be able to take it, but after much clicking around on his computer, he also told me that he couldn't take it and said we could try the post office.  There's no post office near home so I looked it up online and discovered the post won't deal with them either.  So, we're stuck with these convertible least until we (hopefully) visit Sarajevo or some other yet-unexplored Bosnian/Herzegovinian locale someday.  Thankfully it's really not worth that much - about 20 pounds.

If you go to Bosnia & Herzegovina and can get Euro beforehand, most places in tourist areas will gladly accept Euro. Sometimes they'll take Croatian kuna.  Between those two and credit/debit you may be able to get away with never using the local currency.  The local ATMs only dispense convertible marks, though. If you do get convertible marks, be sure to exchange any you have left over before you leave the country!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Did I miss anything?

We're back in Birmingham after a week away - D spent the first half at a conference in Dubrovnik while I spent it visiting friends in London.  Then I joined him in Dubrovnik for four days there and in the area.  It felt a bit wrong to be running off on vacation before our honeymoon period in Birmingham had even ended, but we wanted to take advantage of the conference to visit some places we've wanted to go for a long time.  Maybe it will just mean our Birmingham honeymoon lasts longer. :)

I dropped by the apartment between the trips to London and Dubrovnik and found at least one slug trail in the kitchen.  Ew.  I hope that doesn't happen too often.  Upon Googling I found it's not that rare a problem!  On the floor it's neither here nor there but if I find a slug or trails on the counter I might find that a little unpleasant.

Our flight came in unfortunately late last night, landing at 11pm (after a 5-hour Frankfurt layover - boy was it weird to connect there instead of going home).  At the time we booked we giddily thought about how we were going to be living in a city with an airport and that surely there'd be an easy train home even at that hour.  Alas, that was not to be.  We could have waited an hour to catch a train downtown, but then we'd be stuck downtown with no further trains out to our neighborhood.  Boo!  That's how we learned that the price of a cab for 2 home from the airport is about 32 pounds. Actually, still cheaper than 2 train tickets to Heidelberg from Frankfurt.  Woo!

We got home really late so we didn't notice until this morning that while we were away, two sections of our back garden fence had fallen into the neighbor's yard.  Apparently it was a bit windy!  We are still waiting to find out if the fence belongs to this property or the neighbor's.  It seems likely that it will be since it's on the left side as we look out from the house and that's typically the one that's yours, but it's not a hard and fast rule.  I guess this will be the first real test of how good our estate agent is.  Here's hoping he's good.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Very Short Excursion to Shropshire

D's birthday was earlier this month.  We usually try to do something interesting for it like a little trip, and managed to squeeze one in despite all the moving chaos!  After much deliberation, we decided to rent a car which we could use both for the trip - much faster to get somewhere remote by car than public tranist - and for a shopping run to pick up large things like an ironing board, a couple of storage contraptions, and a TV.

D picked out a town by some method I actually know very little about.  I'm pretty sure it involved pub reviews!  We picked up the car and headed out into Shropshire.  Our final destination was Clun (rhymes with fun), a tiny town very close to the Welsh border with an old bridge, a bit of a castle ruin, and supposedly a great pub where we booked a room.

On our way there we took advantage of having a car and stopped all kinds of places.  Our first stop was Church Stretton, where we had lunch at a schamncy cafe that was good, but a little more expensive than we might have hoped. We recently got Lonely Planet England and are testing it out - they really vary a lot by country.  The cafe was one of their picks.  We didn't linger long in Church Stretton but moved on to Bury Ditches near Clunton, the site of an Iron Age fort.  Only the rings of the fort remain now, but the walk had beautiful views over the hills and everything was snowy!  Afterward we warmed up in Bishop's Castle at another Lonely Planet pick.  At this point we were starting to feel skeptical about Lonely Planet because the cafe didn't have a great selection of treats and the person working wasn't at all happy to be there.  The attached bookstore really was nice, though, so I guess Lonely Planet still has one more strike to go before we just pitch it. ;)

After Bishop's Castle, we continued to Clun and explored the town.  That took all of  45 minutes, then it was on to the pub, White Horse Inn.   It really was a great pub with good food and a nice unpretentious atmosphere. They had ice cream from some local company based in Churchstoke which was amazing - I hope I can find it in Birmingham somewhere. I wish we had more time at the pub - my drinking abilities were limited due to lingering car sickness* but I would have been fine by the next day.  We'll be back, Clun!

Church Stretton, Bishop's Castle, Bury Ditches, & Clun Apr 13

* I don't know if this is from being so rarely in cars or from age, but I am not thrilled with the development.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Prelude to a Tesco

1 comment

This is a picture of Hazelwell Lane in Stirchley. I took this picture before I really knew what was going on with it. (Not sure I entirely know the whole story yet, either.) There's one house that still seems to be occupied. (A "Nail" as a friend of a friend referred to it.) The others are obviously done for, although you can still see lace curtains hanging in some of the windows if you walk up to them.

Apparently, Tesco - as I understand it sort of the British equivalent of Walmart (although maybe a little better than Walmart) - has been planning for years to put up a huge store here.  Last Saturday after the handprint fun we stopped at a public exhibition put on by Tesco to show the neighborhood what they have planned.  In the plans, Hazelwell Lane will turn into just a way into the parking lot.  Where those houses stand there will be a small section of additional parking.  It also looks like some other things which aren't yet boarded up are going to be demolished to make way for the Tesco.  These exact plans aren't approved yet, but it sounds like they probably will be.

On our way out, a smiley Tesco employee handed us a comment card to fill in and drop in the mail.  We, or at least I, honestly don't know what to think about the whole thing.  I can't help that my gut reaction to a huge, boring chain store moving in is solidly negative.  The store is ugly, it's something you can find anywhere so it's not interesting, it has an enormous parking lot which is also ugly and depressing, and it depresses me to think about streets that used to have real life on them being turned into dead parking-lot access routes.  (Apparently I'm not the only one...just now I googled Hazelwell Lane and found memorials to its death!) 

On the other hand, if there were already a Tesco it wouldn't have stopped me moving here, I don't think.  With my only urban planning experience being a reading of Jane Jacobs more than a decade ago, I don't really know what the addition of a store like this would do to Stirchley.  There are a lot of empty storefronts around.  Would a Tesco kill what stores do exist here, or would it bring more shoppers to the area, thereby stimulating more shops to open?  Walmart of course killed many small town shops in the US - I could see this happen right in front of my eyes growing up as they moved into our area.  The dynamics of small towns and cities are pretty different, though.  Maybe I'm just being a snob or behind the times or...I mean, it could be useful.  The day we moved here we needed pillows and a blanket and wanted to just find them without leaving the neighborhood again after all that travel.  We found only one pillow at Domestix, and a blanket but no pillows at the Co-op.  So the neighborhood could probably use more shopping - I just don't know that Tesco is the answer I'd prefer.

I don't know.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Tidbits

* There's a whole aisle at the drugstore for fake tanning products.  A whole aisle.  It's making me feel a bit alone in my acceptance of my natural skin color (or lack thereof).

* Room for toaster on the counter = toast for every meal!

* They sell Grape-Nuts here!!

* Since we're in a house now the mail comes right to our door.  No mailbox or anything - they stick it right through a slot in your door and onto the floor of your front room it goes.  This process is a lot louder than I would have expected.  If I'm home and downstairs I jump a mile when it arrives!

* Surprisingly, British English is as easy for me to tune out as German is.

* D's first encounter with the social pressures of buying and drinking beer in rounds was a bit ugly.  Obviously this is something which is going to take a while to figure out how to do without over-drinking or feeling cheap or weak.

* I got this vacuum cleaner.

* And I'm vacuuming the kitchen, because I cannot find a broom I like!  I want the broom shape typical for US brooms.  Every time I find one it's either 12 pounds (for a broom!?), or it's cheap but covered in rhinestones or pink swirls or something.  WTF Britain?  Rhinestone brooms?

Monday, April 08, 2013

Stirchley Baths

As soon as we knew we'd be living in Birmingham's Stirchley neighborhood (not to be confused with the Shropshire town by that name) I started following a bunch of Stirchley Twitter accounts to see what was going on around there - the accounts of the bakery and tiny local store we'd walked past, the pub, things they followed, etc. This was how I found out that the abandoned baths building we'd noticed on our visit is slated for restoration - hopefully. I couldn't help but think of how much I liked Heidelberg's new Altes Hallenbad development!

About a week ago we wandered past Stirchley's local library, next door to the baths, while it was actually open and we went in to check it out.  We applied for library cards and when we came back to make use of them, a librarian there asked us to come back on April 6 to participate in a community art project supporting Stirchley's bid for Heritage Lottery money to renovate the baths building.  I made a crack to D about putting handprints up on a wall since that's what immediately came to mind with the words "community art project".

Turns out...that's almost exactly what it really was!  We came back for the event and traced our hands on paper, wrote on them our responses to a prompt about how we'd like to see the history of the baths preserved, and hung them on a clothesline on the front of the baths building.  I hope they get the would take a lot of bake sales to raise enough since the building has been left to ruin for over 20 years.  (And hey, it's hard to bake much at once in these tiny British ovens! ;) )

Despite my crack about handprints I do really like looking at messages people write and leave (like at shrines, in churches, in graffiti....) and the hands were really interesting, even from my current position as still pretty much a clueless outsider.  I made an album of some of my favorites!
Stirchley Baths Apr 2013

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Heidelbergerin / Brummagemerin

My new blog title may seem a little mysterious at first glance, especially for those who neither speak German nor are familiar with Birmingham. We don't need any mystery around here, so I will explain!

The old title, Heidelbergerin, was just a reference to where I was living.  In German, a man from Heidelberg is called a Heidelberger; a woman from Heidelberg is called a Heidelbergerin.  To use the name Heidelbergerin as a foreigner was stretching it a little bit - the term is generally used for natives of a city - but I didn't really understand that yet at the time I named the blog.

This blog's history is of course still very tied up in Germany, and all my future observations will still be influenced in some way by the years that I spent there,  so I wanted to keep something German: the -erin ending was a simple thing to keep.  So why not Birminghamerin?

If you've a bit of experience with Birmingham, you may already know that its nickname is Brum.  A person from Birmingham is not called a Birminghamian or Birminghamite but a Brummie, and the local dialect goes by that name as well.  Brum is short for Brummagem - an older/dialect form of Birmingham.  Brummagem or brummagem ware also can be used to refer to imitation goods (more on the history of this through the Wikipedia link).  I went with Brummagem instead of Birmingham for a few reasons.  First, it goes better with -erin. Second, if I were to ever call myself a Brummie, I would still be an imitation. It's my home now and may even become my home permanently, but it's not my original home. Brummagem seems appropriate. Third, I like that this word is being reclaimed with positive connotations rather than the negative ones that in the past led to its second meaning.

I also considered permutations like Heidelbrumerin, but it seemed like Heidelberg should leave the title since I won't really be posting anything current about it anymore.  I had goofy ideas combining my real name and Birmingham which thankfully didn't leave the drawing board.  I also tried several ideas relating to popular local vocab that I found strange like "You alright?" for "How are you?" and "Hiya" being used amongst strangers...but they all came off a bit too hokey.

What would you have renamed this blog?  Would you have renamed it at all?  Have you ever needed to rename your blog or other online presence, and if so what factored into the decision?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

"What will you do about your blog title if you move?"

I didn't know for a long time. 

Turns out: I'd change it.  Since my layout heavily featured a Heidelberg-centric photo, I threw out the layout, too.  For a little while the blog is going to show some things that don't work or don't belong, but hopefully I'll have it all sorted relatively soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy the last  picture I took before we left Heidelberg, and the first I took after we arrived in Birmingham.