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!

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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 things....how 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 marks....at 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

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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 funding...it 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.


Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Well, I got my bloody internet at home.

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I think I hate Virgin already, though.  They had to drill a new hole to bring in the cable and I almost threw up when I saw it...and this isn't even my property. We didn't think they were going to need to drill because there were already some cable holes around, but it turned out they did and our estate agent gave permission himself.  Then, without warning, they also drilled a hole through the doorframe from the front to the back room.  It looks awful and I didn't think that was part of the deal. Maybe I'm being too sensitive, I don't know.  They must do this to a lot of houses.  If I'd known maybe we'd have gone with some other company, maybe whoever laid the previous cables. :(  On top of that they insisted on hooking it all up themselves and the Kabelsalat behind my computer is such a disaster.

Time to escape the scene for a local market.  Maybe when I come back we'll have internet but the rest will just be a bad dream.