Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
Dear readers, Alex here; please find a special-guest blogpost from our friend Gina– Gina took almost every pic below; I inserted them into the text. Thanks, Gina. I’m getting pushed off my own blog. ;)
Impressions and Lessons Learned on a Visit to Deutschland (and a town in France)
I recently had a wonderful visit with the continually adventurous family, and Alex invited me to blog about my time in Germany. Instead of writing a long narrative, I thought I would just share some specific aspects of my trip—what I learned and experienced while I was there.
- Though I have been to other countries in Europe, it was upon my arrival to Frankfurt airport where I discovered the aloof Euro-smile (or the non-smile… perhaps what most of us know as a glare).
- Germans will stare, and possibly even laugh, at someone’s misfortune, but rarely offer help. I discovered this while traveling from the airport to $peµer (and almost fell backwards down the escalator), as well as after I crashed, flew off my bike, and landed on the sidewalk in $peµer. Alex and Cati explained to me that there is even a German word for a happiness brought on by another’s misfortune: Schadenfreude. After learning this, it seems less surprising …I guess.
- Soft pretzels are an anytime food in Germany (similar to a bagel, according to Alex). And of course why wouldn’t they be? They are delicious. I, however, only had two on my visit, but both were for breakfast.
- Germans like to include pickled vegetables in their salads—in fact I had one salad that only had fresh greens and the rest of the veggies included were pickled. I actually liked it quite a bit.
- People seem to be allowed one napkin each, per meal, in Germany (and you’re lucky if you even get one—you may need to ask for it). I still wonder what would happen if someone asked for a second or even a whole stack of napkins.
- Perhaps the reason they don’t favor giving away napkins, is that the Germans are very serious about recycling and the disposal of garbage. There are at least (on my count) four different receptacles to a typical public trashcan.
- German beer is really, really tasty. I kind of wish I had one right now….
- There are also some very lovely white (Trocken) wines in Germany. We had one while in Friensheim that was phenomenal.
- Also, when toasting in Germany (Prost!), you must look the person(s) you are toasting with in the eye. Otherwise it’s considered rude and insincere.
- I had a very tasty traditional Palatinate meal when we visited Frienshiem. It included, meat, meat, and meat, as well as sauerkraut and onions (with a fruit garnish). One of the meat items was Saumagen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saumagen), I’m not quite sure if it was the real-deal, but I actually really liked it.
- I agreed to try, what both Cati and Alex agreed was delicious, calamari at this lovely tapas restaurant in $peµer. Unfortunately, my opinion has not changed about it. I did love the rest of the food (and the wine) we had there, though.
- In Baden-Baden (at Caracalla Therme) I discovered that Germans are very comfortable with nudity and their bodies (regardless of shape and form). All the men wore speedos and almost every woman, except perhaps those who were over 60, wore bikinis. It made me wonder, whether or not, if they would be shamed into “modesty,” if they came to the U.S., as we all seem to be.
- When riding around town on an unfamiliar bike (and being on a bike for the first time in a while), it’s probably a good idea to avoid a large beer with lunch (particularly if lunch is a salad). Also, when riding a bike in Germany, don’t get nervous about getting out of the way of the car behind you and try to jump the curb (after just having a large beer with lunch). …My knee is still somewhat tender and my leg has quite a hideous bruise that’s taking its sweet time to go away.
- Germans must not have as much concern about kids getting access to cigarettes because there appeared to be cigarette vending machines on every corner.
- Halloween is bigger in the U.S., but it is (somewhat or beginning to be) celebrated in Germany. I had the fortune to see Nina and Natalia all dressed up in costume and makeup looking so adorable and excited to “trick or trick” (as Nina would say). You really can’t get much cuter than kids who are already criminally cute dressed up in kitty-princess-fairy costumes.
- From my experience there, and after speaking with Cati and Alex about it, the only reason I would ever want to learn German is if I absolutely had to. I am very impressed with the apparent ease they both spoke it (I realize a lot of effort went into that and still does).
- Thankfully, most Germans (in the areas I visited, anyway) speak some English.
- If you visit Strasbourg, France, it is a good idea to prepare yourself with some French phrases. Unlike my experience in Germany, there seemed to be very few English speakers there. Fortunately, I remembered more French than I thought I would, and understood it well.
- Strasbourg is an interesting, old city, and I think I’d like to go back sometime, but perhaps with others, and particularly with someone more skilled with French than I. (Of course I could just review and practice my French…)
- Apparently, I can pass for German or French (or just European). While traveling about, a handful of people asked me questions in both languages. Of course once they heard me tripping over the few words I know (with my very American accent) I gave myself away.
- My Spanish may be worse than my German. When Nina thanked me at one point (gracias), instead of saying de nada, my pronunciation made it, “with cream.” However, I definitely understand a lot more Spanish than German.
- When my brain tries to think in terms of a foreign language, it immediately defaults to Italian—despite my five+ years of French classes. I am happy to say, I speak Italian with much more ease (usually) than any other foreign language.
- From what I can tell, the only real difference between a mall in the U.S. and a mall in Germany is that, in Germany, you can stop and have a glass of wine at a well-stocked wine cellar kiosk.
- The quickest way to Nacho’s heart is to get Alex and Cati to feed him twice in less than an hour. (Whoopsie!)
- One of the quickest ways to Nina’s and Natalia’s hearts (or at least to get a lot of affection from them) is to show them cartoons or give them candy.
- Taking the trains (Bahn) in Germany is very easy and I felt completely safe on them. It was also a source for some German language lessons. I quickly figured out what “Ausstieg rechts” and “Ausstieg links” meant.
- The security guards at the Frankfurt Main Airport are very thorough. Once I made it through, I thought, “the least they could have done is bought me a drink first.”
- Flying first class is wonderful, but it still has the same funky air in it as the rest of the plane—especially, if your neighbor hacks, sneezes, and breaks wind during the whole flight.
Overall, I had a lovely trip visiting with Alex and Cati, the girls, and Nacho. (I was even laughing about my bike accident the next day when I thought about how, while I tried to get myself up off the ground, I heard Cati yell out to Alex, “Gina’s down!”—as if we were on military operation.) $peµer is a beautiful place and it was wonderful to see my friends living happily in this quaint, but happening, town.
We had a great summer of wine fests, food fests, town fests, parks, cycling, swimming pools, biergartens, parties, and museums. The lowlights were the bouts of illness, from stomach bugs to fevers to colds and flus, the European viruses and bacteria had a ball with our New World immune systems. But we endeavoured to persevere and came out victorious– for now.
Here’s a shot of a local park near our house. It’s a lovely little park that unfortunately seems to attract a lot of homeless inebriated old men and what appear to be junkies. Hey, everyone likes flowers, I guess.
It’s big enough for all to enjoy.
I cycled to work. That’s not work in the photo (that would be kinda sad), just me and a colleague on our way. He’s demonstrating the importance of hydrating, me, of photograping.
Here’s a shot I took en route.
I usually take the train to work where this is my parting view of town (sans Heißluftballon).
The girls played.
I taunted koi at a nearby park (which had the unintended effect of making Natalia quite nervous– so I stopped).
A shot on a beautiful day– I think we had Indian food for lunch and let the girls run around.
Nina turned four so we partied in front of our place.
We went to a cool town-party. The whole night was a it like a dream that you hope you’ll have again one night. It was quite fun. We bought shots of home-made schnapps from some sketchy (and very popular) dude on the street. He has a still in the Black Forest and comes to town for this party every year.
A lot of private residences and artist studios were wide open to passers-by.
I stumbled upon a small club with a punk-rock band and stuck around for a song or two.
A rockabilly trio.
We wrapped up the evening at a “French tent” listening to a melodic jazz trio and drinking red wine with friends. Between all the people in our entourage, French, English, Spanish, and German were all getting used to best communicate. Then Cati and I got a call from the sitter informing us that Nina indeed had a stomach bug. We rushed home and were both thankful we ended the night when we did– we may have regretted the wine if we had stayed much later.
Both girls have recovered and are soaring to monumental proportions.
I liked this simple apartment building with orange blinds in Landau. It looked like something from the ’70′s. And look at the foreground of the shot– Cati is from the ’70′s. Have I mastered photo composition or what? Don’t answer that.
We also visited a nice park in another nearby town.
Nina (and Nacho– at bottom) listened to a Sunday morning choir sing in front of a charming little chirch. Then we ate a pretzel on the street and went swimming.
Even though these guys apparently don’t want to go, we’d like to go to Berlin as well– someday. I think the lead singer looks like me, particularly from profile (that handsome devil). Anyone else see it?
Recently, while Cati and I were making the hour-long drive home from the airport, we passed the time with idle chatter. We asked each other “If you could go back in time to a particular stage of your life for one week, where/when would that be?” We both pondered this and agreed that our “right now” is pretty good, so we would definitely want to come back to it. Cati said she’d like to spend a week together as we did 5 or 6 years ago as a childless couple in our little house in Albany– those were good times. On weekends, we would stay in bed late and our toughest decision was picking a breakfast joint at which to eat and sip coffee until noon-ish. Cati also mentioned, seeing how good our girls have it, that going back to childhood might be fun too. It’s interesting how well-cared-for babies seem to have 24/7 butler service and they are too young to remember how much we toil and labor for them. Ah well, we can only hope they remember us favorably when they are picking the nursing home in which to abandon us when we are older, right?
Here are some photos; please enjoy.
Nina makes the international hand signal for “ME WANT FOOD!” in Neustadt, D.
Natailia shows off her delicious pretzel.
Nina is less than thrilled to be on her first Ferris wheel ride; I had fun.
She and Natalia are more into the carousel– it stays at ground level.
The move was taxing. Cati and I probably shaved a few years off our lives with this adventure. We reaffirmed our belief that children need order and schedules. Few things upset that like packing up almost ALL your belongings and bouncing for weeks between hotels and time zones. Compounding our difficulties are the facts that we don’t speak the language, there is tons of bureaucracy for new residents, I have been battling some sort of nasal, throat, or chest infection for about two months, and figuring out the trains schedules is tough.
We are now, finally, getting settled in nicely. We had Xmas here in DE and the girls had a ball. Then we went to Mallorca to spend New Years and Three Kings with my mother-in-law. Nacho is thrilled to have an entirely new continent to pee on.
Not a bad way to transition into a new year.
The girls were basically treated to an extra Xmas day for Three Kings day with my mother-in-law. I actually wonder if they think Santa is kind of cheap relative to “Gaspar, Melchor, y Baltasar.” They got hooked up big-time.
We even went to the local Cabalgata (aka parade) to see the Kings’ arrival to Mallorca. Nina was excited and picked a favorite– it’s Melchor (for whatever reason). Well, actually, I think the new tricycle had something to do with why she holds him in such high regard. And as for Natalia– she lives like everyday is Xmas, so it’s hard to know how excited she was.
We then returned back to DE, to enjoy our beer and Palatinate specialities.
Here’s a photo I took this afternoon while we were out for a family walk.
I think we’ll be okay here afterall.
Halloween was a lot of fun. We adults were preoccupied with all we had to do to prepare for the move, but the girls had a ball. Trick-or-treating was actually rescheduled by our town due to the storms and snow and power outages. Some of the homes we visited had been without power for a week. We didn’t care though– we SAID “Trick or treat,” people– now cough up the candy OR ELSE!” Just kidding. We skipped any houses that didn’t look festive.
We went to my folks’ place for the week of Thanksgiving. We had been without furniture for about 3 weeks in our home, so we were particularly looking forward to this visit. The weather was great and the girls had a blast.
We went to a small scenic beach and the girls played until the sun went down.
The girls think they own the farm– or at least that it was built solely for their enjoyment.
Natalia wants to get closer to the llamas.
I was on bird duty in the kitchen. I used the ATK method and it came out great. This was the third time I’ve made it this way, and it worked out well again. The trick is to cut the turkey into pieces before roasting it to ensure even heating of all parts– and no dried out breast. Check out the link above for a better explanation than I can (care to) give.
We kept it simple and had a great holiday meal. The focus was the turkey, the gravy, and the stuffing, and little else.
Another glimpse into pure spoildom.
Note my two daughters’ different approaches to ice-cream.
Natalia; all fun and games.
Nina; serious business. It must be that extra 20 months of wisdom and maturity she has on Natalia.
On a related note, about a year ago I heard a story on NPR on a common problem many of us have as we age (no, not THAT problem). I’m talking about the feeling that time is rushing by as we get older. It’s a real measureable phenomenon. Well, the best thing we have to combat this is (drumroll): new experiences. Apparently doing new things makes you notice more things around you rather than just floating by on cruise control. So when I was offered a ride on an airboat at a party recently, I thought of the NPR story and I accepted the invitation. I must say, the experience was certainly new.
Cati and I are packing up the girls and moving to Germany for a about three years or so. We’re excited about the new country, culture, and language, but we’re also a bit ambivalent about it. We’ll be leaving our much appreciated friends and community here in New Jersey, but we have every intention to return.
The new language is daunting to us both, but we are starting lessons next week in hopes of getting up to speed. The worst part (for me) about learning a new language, is the always-being-wrong part. It’s exhausting and frustrating. I’m barely fluent with Spanish, so naturally, I still get things wrong and struggle for vocabulary ALL THE TIME; literally, every day. Just today I learned the Spanish word for rocking chair [it's mecedora]. It’s frustrating to me that I am approaching 40-years-old and have the Spanish vocab of a slow Spanish kindergardner– yeah, it’s humbling alright. And lucky for us, Cati and I get to start all that again with a new language– German.
Last week we went on a house-hunting trip to Deutschland. We found a nice place. Here are some photos of the trip.
We took advantage of the Indian summer we have had lately and spent the weekend visiting friends in Boston. What a great town. We left on Friday night near the girls’ bedtime so they would sleep most of the 4-hour drive. It worked. We arrived and tucked them into bed at our friends’ place– and then we adults all enjoyed a glass of wine and chatted until around 2 AM. The next day started earlier than we would have liked, but it started all the same. We hit the downtown and had a great time site seeing and snacking from street cars. It was, well, picturesque.
We took the girls to a children’s museum so they could burn some energy. They had a screaming, running, good time. Remember, we like our kids nice and tired.
At the museum there was a little green-screen set-up where kids could walk onto their favorite cartoons. Our girls saw themslves on TV and started dancing around like they were on “Soul Train.”
That was fun, but the high point of the day was when they played in the fountain downtown and got soaked. Check out the video below:
After that full day, we were able to leave the girls with the baby-sitter (we brought her with us for the weekend from NJ) and we went out to a great steak place with our friends. It was not cheap, but it was very nice. I selected the wine for the table, and it was kind of a let down. It was a 2008 tempranillo from Ribiera del Duero called Tinto Pesquera. It wasn’t that good and I felt like a loser for picking a dud [hey, it happens]. We had a great time all the same. As the night progressed Cati and I were reminded by the steak and booze that we had only slept 5 hours. We went “home.”
I remember thinking on the car ride back to our friend’s home how much fun I was having. Reminiscing is easy, but it’s a rare thing to stop and reflect on the present. There I was, with my #1 girl, genuinely enjoying a night out with her and my friends. My babies were “home” sleeping soundly with the sitter and I just felt great. I jokingly thought to myself, “I could die and I woudn’t mind.” Ha.
Before leaving MA on Sunday morning, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast with our friends and we stopped for ice cream at what has been regarded “The best Ice Cream Stand in MA (2010).” It’s called Kimball Farm. We all enjoyed that too.
Then on the way back to NJ, we broke up the 4-hour drive by stopping in New Haven, CT. We had lunch on the Yale campus while the girls ran around like they do.
We had a positive impression of Boston. We hope to visit again.
Here’s Boston’s own The Pixies noisily covering The Jesus and Mary Chain who apparently have also felt they could die and not mind. Enjoy, friends:
Oh, and if I had unlimited access to a time machine, I think I would go back in time to Dallas to sing along with the crowd for this song:
We enjoyed some really nice weather during our vacation in Mallorca in early August.
The pomadas went down easy, like they always do.
The girls had a ball. Due to the fact that they were in the sea and the pool everyday, I don’t think we gave them a proper bath for about two weeks. Eventually, when all of us had hair like hay, we figured we ought to shampoo and condition.
We had a fun time at our friends’ place too in Alaró. They live on a small farm and they are able to fill a pool with the irrigation water from a private well of which they are members (too weird to explain). Anyway, they have a really cool swimming pool in the middle of a farm, surrounded by mountains, as a result. It was cool and we all had much fun frolicking at the pool and throwing the kids around.
Also, we had plenty of food. Here are two great classics– paella and arroz negro. “Two great tastes that go great together.”
The black rice gets its color from cuttlefish ink, and cuttlefish are cephalopods. AND speaking of cepalopods, that reminds me of something cool we all saw while going for a stroll along the water one evening in Alcudia (how’s that for a segue? Yeah, I’m ashamed.). So, we were strolling along and I noticed there were several medium sized crabs clinging to a rock. The only thing that made it unusual is that they seemed to be hiding from something. So I looked down into the water near the rock and there was an octopus feeling its way around looking for crabs. Its head was about the size of a softball and maybe about 16 inches from tentacle tip to tentacle tip. Nina and I called the others over to see the octopus. While we are all watching the sinister way it cruised along the shallow water and rocks, a large crab, about the size of Cati’s hand, crawled out of the water and on to my foot. We all had a good chuckle about this crab’s strange behavior. I tossed it into the water and the octopus darted right over to it and enveloped it. Then the octopus walked (or whatever you would call that) out of the water and over a rock, with the crab in tow. We were all a little speechless. We were watching our own live Nature program. It was pretty impressive.
We had a great vacation.
Fast forward a few weeks to Northern NJ and Hurricane Irene. Due to all the trees in close proximity to our house, we, and the girls, slept in the basement. Nina really enjoyed “camping” down there; Cati and I would have preferred our bed.
Here’s the view straight up from our deck. See what I mean about the trees?
There are no less than seven trees that are in perfect smashing range of our house. Nothing happened– to our house, but take a look at what went down three houses away. [pun intended] It missed their house by feet; power was out for half of the block for days. Not us though, whew!
And for no reason at all, here are three unrelated things:
1) A nice picture of Nacho.
2) A dish that reminded us of a traffic light after I plated it.
3) A song you should not listen to if you’re allergic to melancholy.*
*This may only affect people who were teenagers in 1985.