Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I have been busy all afternoon sizing my favorite photos and making adjustments in Photoshop which I save to my 2GB SD-card that plugs into the back of the digital frame. I should be baking a cake but I am already baking a pumpkin pie tomorrow for a cookie exchange event on Thursday.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
To get out of the house and the funk I have been in, B and I went to buy our Christmastree today. It's a potted blue fir with such sturdy, sharp needles that B put the lights on with his gloves.
We also went to see the local Christmas market this afternoon. The atmosphere was just wonderful with a brass band playing Christmas music on the town square. Video above has music but it was Jingle Bells being piped through from somewhere and it wasn't really as noisy either but there were kids playing on gravel all around us.
Today is Nikolaustag (St. Nick's day) and, traditionally, children clean their boots and put them in front of the door on the eve of Dec. 5 to find goodies in them on the morning of Dec. 6. If a kid has been bad over the year, which rarely happens, he/she receives boots filled with charcoals. We went to fill up the car with gas today and B actually got two free St. Nick chocolates from the station attendant. I guess, we've been good.
Friday, December 5, 2008
I am in Xmas denial, postponing shopping and mailing cards. Along those same lines, I came across this web site - just to put off some more chores and waste more time.
B's company Xmas party is this evening. He asked what the dress code would be and they said anything from jeans to "Stoffhosen", which we take to mean dress pants. Or maybe, it's so people don't wear their Lederhosen (snicker!).
My B-day is next Tuesday and I miss all my friends in the US. In a year of living here, we have not yet made any friends. Heck, we don't even know our neighbors because we rarely see them. I hear that complaint a lot from expats about Germany - it's difficult to make friends with locals. Maybe that will take another decade or so of living here....
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I am looking forward to seeing the remake of a great classic and my favorite movie of all times, "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Maybe the Turm Palast movie theater in Frankfurt, which shows English movies in their original version, will run it.
The trailer of the remake suggests this version will be much more apocalyptic. I hope the message of peace that Klatuu brings to Earthlings will not get lost in all the special effects. The classic movie had all the innocence of the 1950s-style movies which made it so special.
Keanu Reeves stars in this remake and I wonder if it is coincidence that he should have chosen a character with a first name similar to his own(Klaatu/Keanu). Very appropriate for Reeves to star in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" because the acting involves the same kind of stoicism he displayed in the Matrix trilogy. "Klaatu barada nikto" is Martian for "go save Klaatu", but I think it also means have some popcorn and enjoy the movie.
Friday, November 14, 2008
...and I don't mean, he got drunk. He was in a hurry to pick up medicine from the pharmacy and drove 40km in a 30km zone. This Kodak moment was captured in a flash ("Blitz") by a roadside camera. I am hoping that the soupy fog (see picture of horse in fog below) we have today will make it hard for him to be identified and through some great stroke of luck he will be spared a speeding ticket.
Our winter tires are mostly flat tires (see previous post) or at least, this is what the car's computer keeps telling us. Somehow, after installation, the new tire pressure has to be saved but it will not let us do this. If I could only find the car manual. Just looking at the tires, there is no noticeable sign that they are flat. B thinks the top of the tire looks smaller than the bottom but I cannot tell.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
We ran out to get groceries at the Real supermarket today. Supposedly, Real used to be Walmart in Germany. I was really hungry for sushi. Whole Foods in the US carried a nice brown rice variety.
The above picture is what I found. I love the soy sauce in the fish-shaped bottle and the Wasabi packet on the side. I had already squeezed some of the soy sauce on the sushi before I took the picture. Note the German compound word for wasabi preparation on the green packet. Gotta love those compound words.
In the US, I have seen the ginger and wasabi placed on the side with the fake little green grass clipping. Ginger was either pink or white. The German wasabi was more mustard-colored and stronger in taste while the ginger slices were much milder. The peapod strapped to one of the rice rolls is a good indicator of freshness.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Hmmm, that Sheryl Crow video I added to my previous post has been pulled. Why does YouTube offer the code to embed only for it to be pulled? Anyways, you can hear "Now That You are Gone" here.
Here, another tune playing in my head these days:
I like the crackling record player sound but it's like watching my Miele washer turn. After a while, you are hypnotized.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Oberursel celebrated Halloween last Saturday. There is a recurring theme to town festivities - stands offering cake and coffee or sausages and beer line the streets. A clothing store and a hair salon offered free face painting for kids dressed in costume. We saw lots of kids dressed as witches and wizards. I walked by one of the bakeries and took the above picture of colorful donuts sprouting gummibear eyeballs. They were sold in the blink of an eye - ha!
B and I tried out a cooking class last night offered by the Oberursel VHS ("Volkshochschule", or community college) A group of 14 people showed up to bake a variety of breads topped off with several creative spreads. As the teacher explained the individual recipes, we enjoyed a glass of bio-Prosecco, an organic sparkling wine from Northern Italy, mixed with sea-buckthorn juice. I baked hazelnut bread rolls made with spelt flour and a vegan prune-almond jam as a topping. B made a spread from goat cheese, coriander, garlic and olive oil. After everyone completed their recipes, we enjoyed a huge spread and packed the leftovers to take home. This cooking course was a great way to meet locals, socialize and practice German.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Pictures of the first snowfall in Germany are here. No snow in Oberursel but people are lining up to have their snow tires mounted for the winter. Apparently, everyone waits until the last minute to have this done and it is next to impossible to get an appointment.
According to this site (in German), if you are caught driving summer tires during the winter, you have to pay 20 Euros. Even if you are not to blame in a car accident, but you are driving with summer tires, you have to pay a fine of 40 Euros. Some insurance companies won't even cover you in an accident if you drive with the wrong tires.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Wow, I am amazed that the shelves are already filling up with Christmas stuff. It's not even Halloween, which just in the last couple of years, has gained popularity in Germany. Don't the cookies and marzipan dry out if they sit around for that long?
The mad rush starts even sooner than in the US! Just to get everyone in the mood and plan for their favorite German Christmas market, here is an awesome site with 360degree panoramic pictures of markets around Germany. To plan on where to go, check out this interactive map from the German tourist office.
I asked my local post office about sending parcels to the US and I was advised to get them out by the end of November or first week of December. Here is the Deutsche Post site (in English) but with a German postage calculator. Our postal office also carries cute Christmas-themed boxes.
Countdown to Xmas. Visit in November and practice writing your wish list to Santa in German. In December, they have a virtual advent calendar.
And if the shopping gets you all tuckered out, sit down and relax for a little Glühwein (mulled wine) and Lebkuchen (ginger bread cookies). Brigitte online claims that one of the best Lebkuchen brands available in stores is called Leysieffer.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
After returning from our vacation on the Canary Islands, we had to turn on our radiators for the first time in about 8 months. We felt cold because we had just returned from a sunny, desert-like island with 80 degree weather to foggy, grey Oberursel and the radiators were not producing much heat.
And so our introduction to the German way of heating began. I called the building manager and he ordered a heating company to take a look. Someone came two days later (yes, we were shivering for two nights) and bled the air out of most of the radiators by using a key ("Entlüfterschlüssel") to turn the nut on one side of the
radiator (see above picture).
I asked the repairman where I would find such a key and he said I could get them in any home improvement center. It looks like the radiator in our bedroom is still not working properly because I hear dripping sounds at night.
In our rental contract, it stipulates that the heating unit in the basement has to allow for us to maintain a temperature of no less than 20 degrees in our unit in the winter. This is a good clause to have especially if you live in a multi-story home.
I love radiators for two reasons: a) forced air blows a lot of dust around b) towels, underwear and socks placed on a hot bathroom radiator in the morning feel soooo good when you get out of the shower.
Update: Just for fun and since I have not embedded videos before, here is one from msnbc.com about what Germans hope for from the US elections:
Sunday, October 5, 2008
If you have the itch to travel to a warm place outside of Germany in October but want to enjoy all the conveniences of your expat home, consider the Canary Islands.
We spent a week on Gran Canaria - Playa del Ingles to be precise. Although the name translates to "Beach of the Englishman", a more accurate description would be Playa de los Alemanes - "Beach of the Germans". Not once during the whole stay did we encounter one single American tourist. We were mostly surrounded by German retirees.
There are no pictures to document our stay there because a) it was so windy on the beach on a couple of occasions that we worried about sand getting into our cameras and b) clothing was minimal and, at times, optional.
Booking our trip through a discount travel agency online proved to be very frustrating. To make a long story short, be careful to read the "AGBs" (Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen) which spell out what you are legally on the hook for. According to this agency, flight information was subject to change and little did we know that change could happen as quickly as 5 minutes after booking online, putting us on a flight arriving at 1am instead of 12pm. Well, after much yelling over the phone and threats of reporting them to the German equivalent of the consumer protection agency and the German Tourism Board, we got the flights we originally requested.
Many of the touristy spots around our hotel offered menus and translations in German first, then in English. We ordered German beer just about everywhere and if we wanted to we could even have our coffee and cake right on the beach. I think we heard more German spoken than Spanish.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
We are following developments of the 700 billion dollar bailout bill being proposed to Congress by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Chairman Bernanke. I've been watching live video here.
The kind of fear mongering surrounding this event and the hype in the media is very similar to the shot-gun decision making process that Congress was being forced to make about Iraq.
The German media seems more relaxed about events in the US saying that most banks in Germany have not participated in the shady subprime lending market in the US. Sure, US investment institutions are in a pickle but so were dot coms not too long ago and people and the market have survived that "crisis".
Maybe now is a good time to think about changing dollars into Euros? We'll keep our eyes peeled on the greenback.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
It's a sad day in Germany. Knut (pictures from Spiegel Online), the adorable polar bear that made headlines worldwide, lost his caretaker from his bear cub days, Thomas Dörflein (CNN story in English). Update: Knut has his own blog (in German, of course)!
In other news, we went to a German movie theater (Kino in German) for the first time. Unlike the US where it's first come-first serve for seating, the movie theater we went to had numbered seating. It also took 30 minutes of commercials before we got to see the featured movie which included a cameo appearance of Art Garfunkel's son James Garfunkel. The movie is called "Robert Zimmermann wundert sich über die Liebe" and is a sweet, funny story reminiscent of "The Graduate".
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
...check this site out for some interesting facts about how and where your tax money is spent. Interestingly enough, both Obama and McCain worked to pass legislation to make this type of fiscal transparency possible and available to you online. Go ahead, click through it. It makes you shout: "Willie Nelson for President!"
Our absentee ballot requests are in the mail. I think we went through this site.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Trier, the oldest city in Germany, is well worth a visit. We spent a whole day sightseeing - the Porta Nigra and the Roman thermal baths being the highlights of our stay. I was amazed and somewhat creeped out by the tunnel system of the thermal baths. It was our last stop of the day and we were the last visitors. We went down into the tunnels which are endlessly long and wind around well beyond where visitors are allowed to walk. At one point, we heard someone running behind us and we were afraid that we would get mugged because we thought we were the only ones there. We got out and back into daylight in a hurry but we liked our little adventure.
Another place worth a visit is the amphitheatrer on the outskirts of town. Actually, it's more like a coliseum or arena because it was used for gladiator fights. They actually offer re-enactments but unless someone gets torn from limb to limb, I don't buy it (ha!).
We headed over to the city of Luxemburg because of its proximity to Trier (30 min.) and just to add another country to our list of places we have visited. While it is a very nice city, it lacked something... I think, it's an identity. In the past, the country has been taken over many times and acquired a generic feel and quality. I asked a tourist information person what Luxemburg is known for and she listed three things - banks, wine and steel.
The pedestrian part is a shopper's paradise and restaurants are quite pricey there. For a better value, it's best to save the big appetite for a meal outside of town. Must-sees in Luxemburg are the Wenzel walk along the valley and the Bock "casemates", a tunnel system inside the fortress walls built by the Austrians.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
If cathedral towers are like mountains, I climbed the equivalent of Mt. Everest this weekend. B and I visited Cologne with family and walked around the "Dom" and by the Rhine river. We ate lunch at a place that served sausage and beer by the meter. Since neither of us is able to eat or drink that much, we stuck to light meals so we could get to the top of the Dom afterwards.
Friday, August 22, 2008
It's a cheap thrill and fun to hop into the small cabin (2 passengers only), be carried up six floors, move sideways to the "down" direction and hop off in time. Signs both inside and outside the cabin assure you that going sideways through the attic part and the basement part is perfectly safe. A commonly held myth is that the cabins turn upside down as they move through the top and the bottom.
We strolled through Frankfurt the rest of the day,took a couple of shots of the Old Opera theater and strolled down to the Main river before heading back home. Frankfurt is full of surprises - yesterday, we visited the Palmengarten, a beautiful botanical garden in the Westend part of the city and took a lot of pretty flower pictures.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I have heard now from a couple of people that the water in Germany contains very little iodine and fluoride and that it is recommended to buy salt that contains both. Has anyone come across this as well? Supposedly, the recommended dose for adults of iodine is 150mg.
Apparently, too little iodine can cause thyroid and hormone problems. Mineral water can be supplemental too in a diet low in iodine.
Monday, August 11, 2008
When I talk to expats, I come across two schools of thought - those who want to learn German and those who don't. Members of the first group will take the six-week course prescribed by the company or organization that moved them here. They will make attempts to order their own food and find their way around. Members of the second group also take up language courses but then they just retreat back into their safe, litttle bubble and say: "What's the use - I am moving back in x years anyways." They will usually first speak in English to natives before using their acquired German skills.
Since I learned four languages very early on in life, it is difficult for me to remember how long it takes to master a language well enough to feel confident for use in everyday communication. But I have become aware of how essential it is to bridge cultural differences. Of all aspects of a culture (politics, religion, economics, etc.), the most important aspect for an expat to understand is language.
I think, if you have had the choice to move to Germany and you see it as an adventure, the adventurous spirit needs to include using German skills at every opportunity to understand the culture. If, however, you are an unwilling/trailing spouse or partner or you were thrown into the situation of living here, the argument could be made that you do not need to force yourself to embrace the language, especially if you have no talent for it.
I have conflicting thoughts about learning different languages. Once you understand a different culture and a different way of life, it messes with your identity. When you learn about an advantage one culture has over your own, you grow dissatisfied unless that benefit is easily exported. I have not yet found a country where I have enjoyed all the benefits of a multi-cultural life.
I have a concrete, but trivial, example: I love to eat German bread. In the US, not even the most artisan or hand-made bread in the supermarket comes close to German bread. I would have to go out of my way to find German bread (usually made by a German baker) or bake it myself. This is just one tiny aspect of German culture that has not been successfully exported but it is a quintessential part of German culture and it makes for thousands of discontented German expats in the US.
My point is, what do we as willing/unwilling expats take away from the experience? Is giving up part of our identity worth the adventure?
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Yesterday, we went on a bus tour organized by the American Women's Club that started out with stops in the small towns of Bacharach and Winningen and included a 2-hour boat trip on the Mosel. The weather was perfect for cruising but there wasn't that much to see along the way. After the boat trip, we sampled wines in a nearby vineyard. Most of them were Rieslings which both B and I found to be too sweet for our palate.
The highlight of the day were the "Rhine in Flames" fireworks over the Ehrenbreitstein fortress where the Mosel and Rhine rivers meet. We found a good spot on the riverbanks (Koblenz side) and waited three hours for the fireworks to start but they were well worth the wait. In the meantime, we ate a couple of bratwursts and drank a couple of beers as there were food booths lined all along the river.
At the start of the show, the fortress was lit up with red flares all over. I tried getting pictures but they wouldn't turn out. I just used video to capture a small portion during the fireworks display. We got home by 3am and fell into bed.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Even bloggers have vacations - I went to Spain. And since I was visiting family, I don't have many pictures to post.
I was in a very remote part of Spain, off the beaten path and away from the usual tourist crowd. Extremadura is a region not much frequented by tourists probably because there are no beaches and no all-inclusive resorts. But the vino tastes great and the sun shines every day... no rain until October or so.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
New in town? Don't know how to make new friends? Just do as we did, buy a group train ticket to go to town and share it with total strangers. It's true - we went to Frankfurt on Saturday to buy books and instead of buying two single tickets for a total of 7,20 Euros each, we bought a group ticket for the day for 13,80 Euros, saving us 60 cents.
We saw a woman and her son approach the ticket machine, asked her if she was traveling to Frankfurt and invited her to share our ticket, since it is valid for 5 people. We enjoyed a nice chat on the train . It felt nice to do something good for her because she is a single mom of two kids.
Frankfurt had turned into a party town for the weekend as it celebrated Christopher Street Day and the Opernplatz, or square in front of the old opera building, was celebrating Opernspiele ( in German). For the Opernspiele, they had all kinds of games and entertainment for families and we had fun watching the kids sitting in plastic bins and rolling down a long conveyer belt-type ramp.
Just before returning to Oberursel, we enjoyed a couple of beers in a cafe on the Opernplatz- B ate a real Frankfurter sausage with potato salad and drank a Czech dark beer (Krusovice) and I had the new grapefruit-flavored Schöffehofer Hefeweizen. We had just finished drinking our beers when it started to rain.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Yesterday, I hosted a book club meeting and in preparation went to the local REWE to buy snacks and munchies for the evening.
I have noted several times now that the strawberries, which come in open, cardboard containers, get picked over by customers. With apples or other large fruit I am ok with it, but strawberries and smaller fruit get bruised easily. Not to mention the yuck factor of people looking at each strawberry. But unless you catch them as they come off the truck, you end up buying strawberries that have been picked over by who knows how many people. I suppose, if you covered the cardboard containers up with cellophane as they do in the US, people here would complain how environmentally unfriendly that is.
I had a difficult time finding small crackers that could hold cheese slices finding only larger toast-like looking things or tiny flavored ones that are not suited for hors d'oeuvres. I also had to ask someone in the store what qualifies as a dip for fresh vegetables and found a suprisingly tasty one - hot pepper variation that went well with fresh veggies.
We digressed from talking about our book to discussing Walmart greeters and how that concept failed in Germany. I found it amusing that Germans think of it as an annoyance whereas I see it as a benefit to employ otherwise lonely, sedentary seniors. Well, not important, since Walmart couldn't make a go of it in Germany anyways.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Of all the places I have seen so far, my favorite one is in France. It must be the canals and bridges decorated with purple petunias. Or the fact that the facades of the houses look so bright and clean.
We drove for a little over 2 hours one way to see Strasbourg. After arriving, we ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in "Little France", a quaint part of town with cobble stone alleys and lots of cafes by the canals. Then, we took a boat tour - the choice was covered or uncovered. We chanced it and went on the uncovered boat and luckily we didn't get any rain except for a few small drops.
Afterwards, we walked over to the cathedral - wow, that was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. It's enormous, intricately decorated with statues, gargoyles and spires. Inside is a fabulous astronomical clock and beautiful stained glass windows. For about 9 Euros total, we climbed the 66 meter, 332-step tower - a fast-growing fitness trend on all our trips. Just to one side of the cathedral was a small food festival with music and tents showing food stuff of the region.
We treated ourselves to hot apple strudel with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream and vanilla sauce on the side before heading home. That balanced out all the healthy stuff we were doing.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
How lucky was I to score a day-pass to Tendence , the coolest international design fair on Earth? Very, very, very lucky... I've decided, next time I'll ask the show organizers if I can just live there. My senses are still overwhelmed. The funniest booth I saw was from a company called pups.it . They deserve a medal for bravery in the field of international marketing gone wrong... or maybe right?
Because I had so much fun this week, I am having to do chores today and waiting for my Miele to get done with the wash. To pass the time, I am playing Star-Fighter. This game - Germanizer -will test your knowledge of Germany. It's a little cheesy...
Sunday, July 6, 2008
We finally took the time to tour Oberursel with a guide yesterday. We meant to do it since we moved here but since we were busy getting settled in on weekends and the guided tour is offered only on the first Saturday each month, we kept missing it.
The name Oberursel is celtic in origin meaning something like "running waters". It is known as the gateway to the Taunus and was established 791 A.D. These days it's better known for the Frankfurt International School but back in the old days it was a milling and weaver's town. There are several old mills still standing today. The old part of town used to be surrounded by a protective wall.
Currently, Oberursel is celebrating the "Orscheler Sommer" (Oberursel Sommerfest) running from June through August. Annually, Oberursel also celebrates the "Brunnenfest" (Fountain Festival), a tribute to many of the fountains found in Oberursel. You can see pictures of some of the fountains by clicking on the picture above and going through the tour of the city.
Friday, July 4, 2008
To all expats out there, a very happy 4th! I will be celebrating with other expats (mostly Americans) and enjoying hamburgers, hot dogs, brownies and pie. This holiday is also a good reminder to register to vote from overseas. I found a site here.
Those who are living in Berlin can celebrate the opening of the American embassy today.
If you want to train your vocal cords and belt out the anthem from your balcony, but forgot some of the lyrics, here is a little help. And to appease your German neighbors, follow it with this one. Then, to give everyone a good laugh, sing Borat's version of the Kazakhstan anthem (note: content definitely NSFW (not suited for work)!)
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
B's company (a major software company in the US) has taken cost-cutting measures to a new level....
He checked into a hotel for a company "team building" meeting. In the US, this meant that on a couple of occasions, he would have to share a room with double beds with another male colleague. The German equivalent of sharing a room, is that he has to share a queen size bed with someone other than myself. The German version of a queen bed is like two twin beds within one frame, and I am not feeling very comfortable with this. B says, he is taking it with a sense of humor.
I just feel like it's a total invasion of personal space and oversteps certain boundaries... This is so different from boy scouts.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
One of B's many famous quotes which he borrowed from somewhere is: "I may not know art, but I know what I like."
I am taking an expression art course in the Westend part of Frankfurt. It's as bohemian as a banker's suburb could get, I guess. My first assignment was to paint a tree. And here it is:
Fortunately, B likes it and I absolutely love it. Anyone who knows my love of minimalism and my love for blue will like it too. The teach said, she's never seen a tree like mine.
Not sure if that is good or bad (but thinking makes it so).
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Click on Mrs. Big Ears above and see recent pictures of Limburg and Burg Falkenstein. Our navi system in the car has a neat feature that displays places of interest wherever we happen to be at the time.
Burg Falkenstein offers the best view over Frankfurt. Access to the top of the tower was closed but it's a beautiful place for a picnic. There are about a dozen Falkenstein castles in Germany but this one is the one closest to Frankfurt.
The town of Limburg that we were in is not the one where the smelly Limburger cheese originated. That honor is bestowed to another Limburg located on the border of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The town we saw is about 45 minutes northwest of Frankfurt. Next time, B plans to take more pictures of the funny statues on the building in Limburg.
Has anyone ever picked up an English version of the driving rules in Germany?
Sunday, June 8, 2008
The start of the EM soccer championship fell on our 10th wedding anniversary and we see cars everywhere with (mostly) German flags attached to their windows and soccer fans all over-including this lady peeking out of a window in Rothenburg. I love the soccer ball hats.
For our anniversary trip, we started out in Heidelberg, where we stayed at the Ritter Hotel in the old part of the city. It was close to everything we wanted to see - the castle, the old bridge and the walk up to the Philosopher's Way. For more information and pictures on Heidelberg, also see Heidelbergerin's blog.
Our hotel is a building from 1592 and it was funny to watch the tourists take pictures of the facade - every time we looked out of our window, we got an impression of what the pope must feel like when he steps out on the balcony in Rome.
The next day, we drove through Bad Wimpfen (again, thanks to Heidelbergerin) and on to Rothenburg. We had seen Rothenburg 11 years ago and were surprised by the changes. All the building facades have been renovated and there seemed to be a lot more street traffic than we remembered. Also, the number of souvenir shops has increased ten-fold. It is still a very picturesque town. On our list of favorites is walking the city wall surrounding Rothenburg, climbing the city hall tower and walking the woodsy path down to the Toppler House, which sits on the base of a tower.
Since that day was our anniversary, we treated ourselves to a stay at the Burg Hotel with a beautiful view of the Tauber valley. It was a very quiet place to stay and the staff were very friendly. Since the hotel does not have a restaurant (just a breakfast buffet), we decided to have dinner on the outside terrace of another hotel nearby.
This four-day trip was very touristy but the nice thing about touristy towns is that they keep up appearances - the cobblestone streets lined with outdoor cafes and umbrellas, the flowers everywhere... Maybe it's fair to say that if it weren't for tourists, a lot of historic places would fall into decay and places like Rothenburg would not have the money to keep it up.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
We were near Stuttgart where B had a two-day meeting. I wanted to see a friend of mine but had to cancel last minute because I developed a sore throat and didn't want her or her 4-month old baby to catch whatever cold I seemed to be developing.
I ventured into Stuttgart and I couldn't believe how hot the day was - 31 degrees Celsius, phew! Luckily, the hotel room was air conditioned. It seemed as though a lot more people spoke English on the S-Bahn than what I have heard going into Frankfurt.
I wanted to take pictures of the beautiful fountains on the Schlossplatz and noticed that I forgot to put my memory card back into the camera. Luckily, a Saturn store (the equivalent of Best Buy) just opened nearby and I purchased a 2 GB SD memory card for close to 10 Euros. It's always good to have a spare card around.
The main pedestrian area is down the Königstrasse and it was nice to sit in the shade of a Cafe Schlossblick umbrella eating a big salad for lunch and drinking a cool "Orangenschorle" (orange juice mixed with mineral water). I was pleasantly surprised to see that the beverage was served in a tall (0,4 l) glass with ice cubes. I was expecting an itty bitty glass which I remembered from Germany trips in the past. I guess things are being super-sized in Germany as well.
A good 360 degree view of Stuttgart is available at no charge from the main train station tower. I could have visited a whole bunch of museums and expositions but the weather was too nice to be inside.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I also went on a day trip on Monday to see the Rhine Valley. I knew Germany had many castles but I didn't expect this many (about a dozen) on a 45-mile stretch of road. There was one very cute little castle in the middle of the Rhine called the Mouse Tower. It was used to collect tolls from people on the river but it looks like someone wanted a castle and ran out of money...The highlight of the Rhine valley trip was Marksburg castle - it's the only hill castle that has not been destroyed and has been occupied for 700 years.
And for a little bit of humor... anyone who remembers the Assman from a particular Seinfeld episode, will appreciate this sign. It's where Assman lives:
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I have my moments lately when I miss family and friends. Now that all the initial excitement has worn off, the dust has settled and the paintings are hanging on the walls, I have time to think about the things I miss most.
Fortunately, some family members have already announced their visits. I have to think of ways to fill up the time until then. I am so grateful for having the women's club activities to get me out of the house. And I am finally driving. Yes, the company car was delivered last week and it's awesome. It's a BMW 1 Series - it requires no keys to open or start it, and it memorizes the individual mirror settings for B and I. I still make a point of walking 2km every day but having a car is a huge improvement.
I went on a job interview last week for a part-time position. I was surprised they even called me in because I don't have a work permit. But it turned out what they were looking for and what I expected from the advertised position were two completely different animals. The work permit issue didn't even seem to faze them so my guess is that around the Frankfurt area it's pretty easy to get a work permit as an American.
Speaking of animals, I miss the graham cracker circus animals. Other products I miss from the US: plain Cheerios, Aveeno Body Moisturizer, Advil in giant bottles, EZ-Off Oven Cleaner (think potent, grease-cutting chemicals). B misses boxed mixtures like couscous and boxed rice dishes and the variety of frozen mixed vegetables available in the US.
I guess there is a low point every expat hits along the way. Today is just one of those days...
Saturday, May 3, 2008
It is really not that noteworthy but I wanted to share a little tip for anyone looking for a Euro or 50 cents to put into the shopping cart slot to pull it out of the cart corral... An American quarter also does the trick.
Is it just me or does no one in the family feel the urge to call me now that I blog? It's probably just me whining a little...
While I am at it, why does every free public surface have to be covered with graffiti? If I were dictator, I would outlaw paint in spray bottles.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The women's club organized another tour in Frankfurt today. It was interesting to be a part of this one because I learned about an unusual aspect of the old part of town, the Roemerberg. For all vegetarians out there, you may not want to continue reading as this concerns the slaughter of animals.
Anyways, by the city hall in front of the church, one of the cobble stones is labeled "OK". This stands for "Ochsenkueche" and marks the spot where the butcher's guild would roast an ox on a spit for three days to celebrate the coronation of a new king. Today's short tour also covered what used to be the butcher's market nearby, the origin of the Frankfurter and the importance of certain architectural structures in that area as they related to the butcher's guild. Another fact I heard today is that the exposed wood in half-timbered houses in the area used to be painted with ox blood because it was believed to be a natural pesitcide that would draw out little critters. Hmmm....trivial but interesting.
In contrast to the historical part of my morning, after the tour I came across three "Land of Ideas" tents set up near the Zeil. Land of Ideas seems to be a government-sponsored campaign highlighting renewable energy source technology, and in this case, educating shoppers in the area about energy saving methods at home. Aside from the brochures they handed out, I got to play a simplified version of Wheel of Fortune and won a little goodies bag which included a couple of minibags of gummibears in German colors of black, red and yellow, a couple of balloons, a pencil and some flower seeds in a clever post card envelope (to grow more ideas).
Friday, March 14, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Our apartment no longer looks like the Easter Bunny lives here - the rooms were painted yellow, pink and blue and we had it all painted white on Monday. The landlord is taking over half of the costs of re-grouting a spot along the wall in the kitchen but no other renovation costs. Needless to say, paying for a professional painter is not cheap but it was worth it because I wouldn't dare get on a ladder to paint parts of our cathedral ceiling.
On Tuesday, we received delivery of our couch. It's stone colored. B thought it looked more greyish in the store and is disappointed that it's taupe colored. To him, it looks like a brown couch. I love the modern design and natural color. Plus, it has a chaise lounge with a headrest. I consoled B and told him it would look more like grey if we put light-colored (perhaps white?) pillows on it but I welcome any suggestions.
Our "Hausmeister", which in our case is a company that takes care of cleaning the stairwell and maintenance of common grounds of the property, told me a month ago that our name plate on the mailbox would be changed from the previous renter to ours. I called them again today and he assured me this would be taken care of right away.
Now that the walls are painted, we can finally hang up the rest of the lights and start decorating the place with pictures.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Happy Leap Year! Yesterday, I learned the difference between champagne and sparkling wine. Some of the activities organized by the American women's club I joined, include daytrips to museums, factories, etc. So I decided to go on a tour of the Kupferberg museum and cellars in Mainz with the group. Technically, Kupferberg produces "Sekt" which falls between champagne and sparkling wine. After a sample glass of rose Sekt at the end of the tour, we all went out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant.
On Wednesday, I got to see the seedier side of Frankfurt. The women's club had organized a dim sum lunch. The restaurant was in the red light district. I stepped out of the central train station and because I was overpunctual (as usual), I decided to walk around a bit. I kept thinking "must not make eye contact with anyone" as I walked down Taunusstrasse. That was the first time I've seen an internet porn cafe...
The dim sum was very good (that means, no chicken feet or thousand-year-old eggs) and I enjoyed meeting new people. One of the women told me that the Taunusstrasse is actually fairly safe because they have had so many cops patrolling that area. Must make mental note not to go there again.
Monday, February 25, 2008
I have a hard time keeping track of all the different garbage pick-up days. We are supplied with yellow plastic bags that are picked up twice a month. These are for recycling packaged goods marked with the green dot recycling symbol (looks like a ying yang symbol with arrows). Paper and cardboard belong in a blue garbage bin that is picked up once a month. We have to bring glass to designated glass containers. The rest goes into our grey garbage bin. Every neighborhood has its designated days for paper and yellow bag pick up.
I can't wait for the day when we are out of renovation/move-in mode and can begin to explore the area. We went for a nice walk on Sunday. It was beautiful out - 16 degrees C and sunny. On our walk, we saw two dogs chasing a rabbit across a field. B managed to whistle one of the dogs over and distract him. The other dog soon was called back by his owner and luckily the rabbit was spared. We were impressed by the speed and endurance of the rabbit. After our walk, we ate at the nearby farm and treated ourselves to German pancakes and cranberry sauce for desert.
I have found an American women's club in the area, contacted them and I'm going to a newcomers coffee this week. It's an attempt to develop social contacts in the area. I hope they have tea too because I don't drink coffee.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
B was installing lights this past weekend. We noticed that our apartment had been thoroughly childproofed. To plug anything into a electrical outlet you have to slide the plug into place, and the balcony doors have locks and alarms on them.
We are using energy-saving bulbs as much as we can. IKEA has some cool and inexpensive lighting solutions. For the dining room and the living room we want to install something fancier. B and I disagree a little on that point - he wants to put a fluorescent tube on a wide ledge above the balcony door to shine up and provide indirect lighting against our cathedral ceiling. Well.. ok... as long as it doesn't hum, flicker and give off the warmth of a meat locker.
The electrical wires have different colors in Germany than in the US - green/yellow for ground, black and blue. Just about everything electrical and electronic is different. We had to buy a SCART (huh?) to cinch connector for the TV and the cable TV outlets look different too. B paid the mandatory TV and radio tax online. The particular agency handling this is called the GEZ. Their motto: "GEZahlt?" means "Have you paid (your TV and radio tax)?"
We were also introduced to our town's "Recycling Hof", or recycling center, this weekend. We took our IKEA furniture boxes and were amazed at all the things that are recycled - aside from the usual paper, cardboard, plastic and glass they had bins for corks, batteries and fluorescent tubes (ha, ha).
Friday, February 15, 2008
Here I am, connected again. It all takes a little longer than expected. No internet cafes in the immediate vicinity but a lot of nice coffee shops with "Kuchen" (cakes).
The past couple of weeks were spent running to IKEA and the German version of Home Depot to buy closets and tools to put everything together. In our move, B's rechargeable drill disappeared.
Other items that fell victim to the transatlantic voyage - a glass end table and our kitchen trash can. We are a bit mad about the glass table because we had told the movers that it needed crating just like the glass coffee table at the time they were packing everything up in the US. They just wrapped the end table in cardboard. Oddly enough, it did arrive crated but a corner was chipped. Here is what we think happened: the movers dropped it and then crated it. Our metal trash can looked completely dented as though someone practiced for a soccer tournament with it.
Oh well, we'll fill out the claim forms and hopefully get some nice new stuff for it. We still have to buy light fixtures, a couch and a dining room table.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I will be offline for two weeks or until I find a place to connect again... Our German internet provider said it takes that long before they hook us up :-( Ok, so Germans have a different take on customer service than Americans. Even the most basic products and services are described in explicit, almost technical, detail but to get your hands on them takes a little longer.
B and I were looking at irons online the other day. We had to smile when we read about the exact amount of water a tank holds, the exact number of holes on the sole plate and about the pressure at which the steam comes out. In the US, we'd go to Target or Walmart and we had the option to pick the prettiest color or go by price.
So, I won't be cuddled up behind the comfort of my computer screen. A little fresh air will do me good and I'll have that much more to blog about when I return....
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Top ten lessons learned from living in Limboland (the time spent living in hotels between moving from the old home into the new home):
1. If you keep any kind of username and password on a piece of paper, do not let the movers pack it.
2. Pack American bedding (blanket, sheets) if you are allergic to or cannot sleep under heavy, hotel down comforters.
3. Do all your banking way, way, way in advance.
4. Familiarze yourself with German road signs. When you are hurtling down the Autobahn at 100+ miles an hour, it is life-threatening to pause for a nanosecond to ponder what they mean.
5. Do not move in the winter. Germany just doesn't look as inviting and you want to be excited about your new home away from home.
6. Really explore extended stay options in depth - our 4-star residence hotel claims to have apartments but we are living in two rooms and two bathrooms (one of which was converted into a pseudo-kitchen; the defunct toilet flusher panel is above the stove). There is no fitness room and they are nickle and diming us for everything. But the hotel is close to B's work so we don't mind.
7. Be prepared to show your S-bahn ticket to officials who do not wear uniforms.
8. As an example to German children everywhere, do not cross the street unless you get the green little street light guy telling you to do so. If a child sees you break this rule, they will let you know, especially because there are small signs at pedestrian crossings reminding you to serve as their example.
9. Not everything is closed on Sundays in Germany - the Plus market in my neighborhood has a bakery open from 7am to 11am.
10. Rent the smallest car possible - and get the kind with a navigation system and a rear bumper sensor. Initially, you don't know what lies ahead or who is behind you.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks of the same thing upon arrival and for about several months after landing in a foreign country. Culture shock. I'm suffering all the symptoms right now... It actually has me wishing for McDonalds signs whereever we go.
I've neglected my blogging duties... We have been living in several hotels the past couple of months and connectivity was not always easy to come by or used for other more pressing needs like emails, banking, etc. Living in hotels adds to my sense of limbo.
The name of my blog will need to change to American in Oberursel. We never did find an apartment we liked in Bad Homburg. Could be the time of year. But the place that we are going to live in is awesome - slanted walls, a spiral staircase to our loft, with bike and walking trails right outside our door.
I miss convenience most of all. We arrived in Munich, where we are staying temporarily, with the mother of all colds and found ourselves hunting for the one pharmacy that is open for emergencies during holidays and after hours (in our case, New Years Eve) .
I am reminded of Heidelbergerin's blog that talks about the holistic effects of German medicine. All I can say is, load up on cold medicine before you get here. The German version of Nyquil just boozes you up and has absolutely no effect on your sinuses. It also costs close to $17. You might as well drink beer which tastes much better.
Munich is awesome. Too bad we are here in January but, I purchased a monthly train pass and have been seeing the sights - the Glockenspiel on the Marienplatz, the Asamkirche, the Haus der Kunst, the surfers on the river outside the Haus der Kunst etc. I check out the good touristy spots and take B to my favorites on the weekend.
B is going through his own culture shock. He can understand some Germans just fine and at other times he has no idea what people are talking about. I have the same problem but it seems to be mostly linked to the poor sound on our hotel television.
I'll try to post more regularly again. It depends how fast we get connectivity once we settle in Oberursel.