Nuremberg

Last weekend, we went to Nuremberg. Nuremberg is famous for several reasons: the city was the “unofficial capital” of the Holy Roman Empire, as the Reichestage and courts met there; it was the center of the German renaissance in the 15th-16th centuries, the Nuremberg rallies of the Nazis, the Nuremberg laws were (obviously) passed here (banning citizenship for Jews), the Nuremberg trials, and last, but not least, they are quite famous for their gingerbread! We had a great trip there…

We took the train (which I LOVE), and wandered and explored and tasted and explored. It was lovely, especially since it was a last-minute decision (we’d been thinking of going to the Disney Castle, Neuschwanstein, but the weather there looked distinctly un-promising), and I am VERY glad we went!

Getting off the train, we walked around the empty moat for a bit.

and took in the sculpture garden.

Santa Claus attacks Müller!

Par of the city wall around Nuremberg.

A different take on a sun dial.

hallowed halls, indeed. St. Lorenz Church (I think).

Grand pulpit.

This jolly fellow was also popular with the pigeons!

A plaza in memory and honor of Aids victims. Standing in the middle of this square, I realized that I had never thought about Aids in Germany, at all. Or Europe in general… As a side note, I also realized that it isn’t just in Atlanta where people mysteriously lose only one shoe. I can say, definitively, that this has never happened to me.

Lovely tower or subway stop? You be the judge.

A mural depicting the rebuilding of Nuremberg. It was heavily destroyed in the WWII battles for Nuremberg (on 2 January 1945, 90% of the old town was destroyed in just 1 hour; Nuremberg was the spot of another 4 day battle in which hand-to-hand combat was used until it was won by the Allies). Nuremberg was an important site for the Nazis, not just because of their parade grounds that were here, but because a lot of weapons, aircraft, submarines, and tank engines were built here. As such, it was also a popular destination for Allied bombs throughout the war (at least from 1942 on).

Yep, just your average joe, wearing lederhosen through the market square.

Church of our Lady, Frauenkirche, on the market square.

The entrance to Frauenkirche. Wow…

The street leading up to the castle. A little San-Francisco, a little old-timey Germany…

Looking up towards the castle, which offers lovely views of the town. Parts of the castle go back to 1050… Other parts now serve as a hostel!

The castle was the visiting home for the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire!

Appropriately named Schöner Brunnen (beautiful fountain), as seen in the evening. Along the bottom row, you see figures representing the Free Arts and Philosophy, the next row of figures represent the Evangelists and Latin Church Fathers, the 3rd row hosts the 9 heroes and 7 electors, and the top row shows Moses and the 7 prophets. A bunch of people kept climbing the fence around it and kissing this one place, but I haven’t found anything that indicates why several people who do this… People are interesting, folks, that is for sure!

This was one of my favorite parts about Nuremberg… so pretty!

In the Altstadt (Old City)

Nuremberg had a number of interesting statues, often depicting a lot of people in a small space in a water-faring vessel. I don’t quite get it, but it was interesting…

This fountain represents 6 different takes on marriage… All of them on top of what look to be angry beasts… I’m not sure how to take that!

There was also this rather disturbing rendition of a large bunny, with a bunch of small bunnies on the back, bursting from a crate. Again, I don’t get it, but…

You may recognize this pelican of Guinness fame. While in one of the most historic cities in Germany, we found a couple of Scottish guys drinking Irish beer, while watching South Africa play rugby. Needless to say, we had a great time! 🙂

I’m already looking forward to our next visit! We didn’t even get to go see the place where the Nuremberg trials took place! In the meantime, though, this weekend we head off – 1st stop Neuschwanstein! Then, it is Italy or bust!

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A Few More Images from Darmstadt

I kind of feel like Darmstadt has been strewn throughout too many posts to organize a cohesive imagination of what it might be like to someone who has not visited. Or, maybe that is exactly what Darmstadt is like: multi-faceted and different with each turn… In any case, here are some more pictures from our All-Saints Day day-trip there.

A fountain in the Mathildinhöhe garden. It was very relaxing in this area, and the number of fountains sure helped that. This one was calibrated on an almost metronome-like rhythm, with the water marking time swinging from one side to the other of each basin.

The throne of the garden. All around the garden were artistic designs on everyday objects: chairs, tables, lamps, lanterns, tiles, everything!

A building in the Künstlerkolonie, the area built by artists to showcase the integration of art into living space and work space. This particular one is Haus Dieters, and it is now a gallery in it’s own right.

I loved how triumphant this figure is, against the fall colors and light… It’s kind of too bad it also makes me think of Vanna White. Oh well.

Mike, imitating the statue of the man walking the roof ridge on the museum… Art imitating life, or life imitating art… You be the judge… 🙂

One of the most famous buildings in the Jugendstihl area, the Wedding Tower. The tower was a wedding gift to the Duke, Ernst Ludwig, from the town.

This is the Ernst Ludwig House. Originally, it was intended to be a “Temple of the Arts,” and is now a museum for Art nouveau exhibitions.

It is really impossible to capture this little church accurately in words or pictures…

Does it ever happen to anyone else that you just can’t find the rest of your pictures? I know that they are all right there, in fact, I was just looking at them when I loaded the above pictures, but now… the rest are hiding. Perhaps I should just take a clue and end right there… Or perhaps, I should share another picture of my cat. 🙂 All of the sudden, I couldn’t find the rest of my Darmstadt pictures, but I could find all kinds of pictures of Kramer. He’s been on my mind today… I went to the store earlier with a friend here, and I saw that they were selling Advent Calendars for the Katze! 🙂 How awesome is that? I figured that Kramer tends to be rather particular about what he should and shouldn’t eat, so I didn’t purchase it for him, but I wanted to share that it was there, so that his people looking after him (my parents) could show him that I’m thinking about him (not that he would necessarily care, but…).

Kramer, like the Jugenstihl, is definitely in the young style, and is the perfect embodiment of life, art, and work. Just ask him. He is happy to share his wisdom.

I don’t know how I’ve missed this in the past…

Double 0-Who? + Updates

I am not a great movie watcher, by any means. I tend to judge movies based as much on their length (my enjoyment is directly inverse to the length) as much as by their content. I don’t like scary movies, and if a lot of people die in a movie, it probably isn’t for me. Mike, however, is very much a movie-kind-of-guy. Last weekend, he had reached his limit: we had to go see a movie. As luck would have it, the new James Bond movie was not only out here in Germany (apparently at least one week earlier than in the States), but there were a few showings where it wasn’t dubbed or subtitled.

True story: I’d never seen a James Bond movie. Like I said… I’m not a great movie watcher…

As a testament to how much I love my husband, however (or was it that he bribed me with Starbucks?), we went to a movie. At 2 hours and 23 minutes, this is well past the length that I can comfortably sit still, but, like I said, I’m in this for the long-haul, so there are probably going to be a few more movies whose length exceeds their content (“Snow White and the Huntsmen,” anyone?).

One of the things I really like about going to the movies here is that when you buy your ticket, they give you an assigned seat. We were there almost an hour before the movie started, but still ended up with seats on the 5th or 6th row. Even though we didn’t have great seats, I still liked it that I didn’t have to scope out the theater, angle for seats in the center, and all of that hubbub. I just show up with my ticket and follow directions. This, this I can do!

We were in theater #5, seats 30 and 31, row U.

I have read numerous reviews, both of the professional nature and quick blurbs on Facebook (which honestly is where I’m also most likely to go on Sunday mornings these days to find out how college football in the US went on Saturday), and it seems that most everyone thinks that this latest iteration of the James Bond brand, “Skyfall,” is the best yet. I haven’t seen any others, like I said, but… if that one is the best yet, and there have been 22 others before it, a lot of people have spent a lot of time watching a lot of movie that neither seemed very exciting nor very compelling (to me). In fact, if we assume that the average length of James Bond movies is 100 minutes, many people have (or soon will) watched James bond for over 38 hours of their lives. Over a day and a half. That they won’t ever get back. (I know… I’m a real Debbie Downer about movies).

I’m not saying that I thought it was terrible, mind you, just that if this is the best yet, it is really hard for me to imagine that there were 22 other movies that managed to be successful before this one. I was also disappointed in the lack of glamour I saw. I thought that James Bond was characterized by glamorous characters, glamorous cars, glamorous accessories, glamour glamour glamour. While he is certainly no slob, I could not accurately use the word “glamour” in response to anything in that movie. 😦

Anyway… I also understand that I’m in the minority on this one. No need to convince me, I promise.

Other updates:

Our “garden.” While it is nothing like the lovely (and productive) garden at our home in Atlanta, having plants makes me happy. We have grown Amaryllis for the last couple of years at the holidays, and this year is no exception. It is such an incredible thing to witness: a bulb emerging from the dirt into a bloom of exquisite beauty. We are not yet to the bloom stage, but we’ve only had the sucker for a week! Watch it grow!

Picture #1, Amaryllis Day 2. Our friend the Amaryllis is joining company with the enduring basil, and 3 mini-plants (including a rose bush).

Amaryllis Day 3.

Amaryllis Day 5.

Amaryllis Day 7. Pretty cool, huh?

Flowers covered, let’s look at the flour situation. We, as you know, have tried a few things trying to somehow make it work to not have self-rising flour. There are many (and perhaps even many of you) who think, duh… just add baking soda, baking powder, etc. Well, after both research and trial and error, I am here to report that this is not always the case. In recipes like biscuits, for example, self-rising flour does not equal all-purpose flour + various leavening ingredients. Apparently, pancakes fall into this biscuit category, as well. But.. rejoice, dear reader! You no longer will have to read blog-sized fits about our flour situation! We have found, as it were, “Self-Raising” flour at the Asian grocery store. I like to think of our flour quest as a metaphor for adjusting to living in a country not one’s own: our first attempt was to take a giant-sized square and attempt to fit it into a medium-sized circle (massive effort to convert a whole bag of all-purpose into self-rising all at one time); our second attempt was to massage a medium-sized square into a medium-sized circle (adjusting all-purpose flour per cup for the recipe); our 3rd attempt was to find a triangle to align with our medium-sized triangle (go to another resource for people not accustomed to cooking with strictly German ingredients). I think that my experience probably aligns with a multi-stage acculturation theory:

  • Stage 1 – Assimilation – When we arrived in Germany, I honestly did not believe that I would have another pancake until I was back on US soil. Rejecting the minority culture… I was fully expecting that somehow, I would grow to love having ein Brötchen (a bread roll) each and every day for breakfast. Not that I don’t like the bread rolls (I do), and I don’t doubt that there is significantly more variety than I am implying, either.
  • Stage 2: Separation – Rejecting the host culture in favor of holding on to one’s own. Buying the big bag of all-purpose flour and trying to make it self-rising, regardless of the futility of this effort.
  • Stage 3: Integration – Adopting cultural norms (all-purpose flour) while maintaining one’s own culture of origin. Buying a small bag of all-purpose flour and adding leavening as needed for the recipe I prefer for pancakes.
  • Stage 4: Marginalization – Rejecting both the host culture and the culture of origin. Giving up and going to the Asian grocery store.

“Self-Raising Flour” Who needs White Lily when you have Green Dragon?

There you have it:  Our experience as expats through a theoretical lens. 🙂

From flour to pasta: With only one week to spare, we have our little excursion to Italy booked! Yippee!! We’re stopping at Neuschwanstein Castle on the way down to Venice, where we’ll spend about 1.5 days, and then to Rome for the rest of the week. (As I write this, I almost feel like my fingers themselves get excited!) I do hope that you will pardon my absence next week… You gotta do what you gotta do, and in my case, that is go to Italy! If you have suggestions of things to do or see, we’d love to hear them!

 

Big Day Here in the ‘Burg

Was ist “die Burg?” Aschaffenburg!!

I made a little trip to the Edeka, hoping to make use of the excessive change we have accumulated while procuring the necessary ingredients for what has been missing in these parts (cupcakes). I tend to be easily distractible in the grocery store (and I do love grocery shopping), so wandering amidst aisles I have no intention of actually getting anything in is not incredibly unusual. While in one of these aisles (the candy aisle, if you have to know), I listened in on a conversation between what appeared to be an adult child with her mother. DID YOU CATCH THAT?!? I LISTENED IN ON A CONVERSATION! IN GERMAN!! AND I UNDERSTOOD EACH AND EVERY WORD!! I stopped myself before I gave them both hugs (this isn’t a very physical culture, so besides the fact that I’ve never laid eyes on either one of them, that would have been very unusual and probably would have made everyone uncomfortable, and possibly could have gotten me arrested or something), but can you imagine my excitement?!? I’m still glowing! I know… it is the little things, eh? 🙂

That’s me, minus the bassett-like face… All ears!

Not to mention that I now have ALL of the ingredients necessary to make pumpkin cupcakes! 🙂 The last to arrive in our little apartment was the vanilla. I’ve heard mixed things about the vanilla here. One of the ladies in the group here at the apartment building thinks that the vanilla here is the bomb! She’s adding it to everything: french toast, tea, coffee, probably even her lasagna (I don’t know that for a fact, however..). On the other hand, I’ve heard that vanilla here just isn’t the same and if I care about vanilla or baked goods, I should probably import it from the U.S. (strong opinion, indeed…). Well… I decided to “buy local.” They call it vanilla “aroma,” rather than “extract.” I feel like that is probably the gist of the difference. I also had the choice between buying it in very small packets vs. very small bottles. I opted for the bottle (ever the optimist, I am!).

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“America’s Favorite Pumpkin”: After looking high and low and most other places in between, I’m fairly convinced that this is the primary canned pumpkin globally, not that most people outside the US care about pumpkin one way or the other, especially in cans.

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Vanille Aroma

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The finished product! Not the most beautiful cupcakes I’ve ever made, but they sure are tasty! 🙂 FYI: if you don’t have a mixer, icing is hard work! And… can you believe that the recipe produced exactly 12 cupcakes? I have never, ever had that happen!

Wishing you a very happy Thursday, from our delicious-smelling home to your’s!

Coming Full Circle

Some of you may remember a few of these things, but I’ll start at the beginning for the sake of clarity.

Last week, it was a pressing concern of mine to remind everyone, near and far, both those who are known to me and those of you who have just stumbled upon this blog, to ALWAYS, ALWAYS use roller bags, and documented my less than delightful adventure up and down escalators (which will break down in the event that you do not utilize your roller bag) and all around Frankfurt via my independent train adventure. All on a previously unrealized quest to take a particular test at a particular time in a particular place. Yesterday, that particular test (the GRE) was taken at a particular time (7:30am) in a particular city (Frankfurt). This was NOT my original plan, but it was the plan that was going to work.

I hoped.

And then… insomnia struck. I had started to take it for granted that sleep would come when I laid down. Silly me. But seriously, after years of very regular insomnia, I have had almost 2 months of 7+ hours of sleep each night! (Can I get an AMEN?!?) And the very routine of it got me all caught up in expecting it. Wouldn’t you know that the very night before I had to take a 5 hour test, laden with geometry and percentages and factorials was the very same night that… “Insomnia Strikes Back?” (Take it from me, Insomnia is way more powerful than the Empire, no disrespect to Luke & the Gang. It probably isn’t as good a movie, though…)

On 0 hours of sleep, I set out to face down the enemy known as quantitative reasoning. It was at least 1/4! as much fun as it sounds…  (That is my attempt at a nerdy math joke, by the way. I was not implying that I was really excited about it being a quarter of the fun that it sounds like it would be, but 1 quarter factorial, should you know how to expand that little equation.) I arrived, and after clarifying with the nice man behind the desk that Mike had dropped me off in the right place, and that I did not, in fact, speak German well, I was off. To the cafe for a cup of something with caffeine. And then to take the test. Rather than put you through the pain of my morning, I’ll summarize by saying that math is hard (just like Barbie says…). And of course, I got an extra math section (they always include an extra section for “research,” and I was not all surprised, given the no-sleep situation, that mine was math). But… all in all, I didn’t feel too terrible about the whole thing. After completing the question, you go through a series of questions asking you what you want to do with your scores, and then you see your scores (less the scores on the 2 essays which are reviewed later). You know that dream? The one where you are sitting at a desk, taking a test, and it’s written in Chinese but you don’t realize that it’s in Chinese so it is very confusing, and you have no clothes on, and there is a spotlight shining on you and an audience of thousands is pointing and laughing at you, while you are sitting at the desk in complete confusion and humiliation? Oh! You don’t have that dream?! I do (who said insomnia is a bad thing? With dreams like that, insomnia sounds like the better deal, n’est pas?). And I felt like it was happening – IN REAL LIFE – this morning! I saw my score, and then I rubbed my eyes (I was wearing my contacts for the 3rd time in the last couple of months (blindness is ok with me, I guess) thinking, surely, it isn’t that bad?! But it was. My scores were exactly what it said that they were.

While I do kind of agree with critics who say that attitudes like this make it harder for girls to be successful in subjects like Math, I appear to be in agreement with the statement itself as it applies to me. Math IS hard. And I would rather go shopping. 🙂

Immediately, tears rushed into my eyes. All of those people in my dream? They were falling out of their chairs, they were laughing so hard. I maintained composure, at least nominally, and exited the testing room. The very nice man who had checked me in was on a smoke break, and his replacement didn’t speak English well enough (and my German just wasn’t there with no sleep and that much math; there is only so much room in my brain, and the spot that German language goes had been squeezed out by the circumference of a circle formula) to tell me where the nearest train station was located (Mike had thoughtfully dropped me off at the start of this disaster). He encouraged me to go downstairs and ask the lady. The lady was thoroughly annoyed that I was in her office, it seems, and told me that the train station was out the front door. Which was true, in her defense, plus or minus a couple of kilometers and a few turns.

Walking out the aforementioned front door, into a blinding rain storm (well, maybe not blinding, but it was pouring) without an umbrella, the tears came in earnest. At that moment, I felt that my worst fears had come to pass. I was a confirmed imbecile. And it was raining. And the lady knew that I was a confirmed imbecile and had treated me like I wasn’t worth the space in her presence.

I did what anyone would do in a similar circumstance. I cried all the way to the train station (but it was raining, so it didn’t look so weird; given the insomnia situation, I had also flaked out of any real effort on getting ready, so there was no make-up to streak; who knew I was such a planner? Such foresight!). And past the train station. And back to the train station (the lady’s directions left a little something to be desired…). And then, I pulled myself together, got out my Kindle, and read. Nope, not too stupid to read (yet). Fortunately, the 1st train ride was rather long, and the train was rather busy, and the book was quite good (“In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson; I’m not through with it, but I would recommend it so far…), and a sit-in at a certain international coffee chain was on the agenda for the afternoon. So… much to my surprise, given my newfound lack of intelligence as measured by a standardized test, I found my way across 2 different train lines from the ffffaaaaaarrrrrr side of Frankfurt to my little burg.

After throwing out all evidence of the test and test-related paraphernalia, and going to our German class (out with the circle, in with the Kreis, I say), I wanted to check again. How low was that score? I logged into my account at ets.org, and do you know what I learned? They have reformatted the way that they do their scores since the last time I took that sucker! Instead of having 1600 possible points (+ writing section), there are only 340 possible points (+writing section). Proportionately (for those of you who like math-stuffs), this makes a HUGE difference! 328ish looks REALLY low if you think that you could have 1600, but out of 340? I’ll take it! I am not stupid (as measured by a standardized test)! YAY!! (and yes, I know; a single test could never really reflect my worth no matter whether the score is high or low, and yes, Mike had already gone into major recovery mode, buying flowers for me and rubbing my back and doing all kinds of nice things, including reminding me that a test can’t really make you stupid or smart, but sometimes, when you are on that downhill train, well… we know where that ends up, right? Just ask my flashcards! Le garbage…)

With that, I’ll leave you this thought:  “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” ~ Guillaume Apollinaire

In the garden just outside the artists’ colony in Darmstadt, I found a series of trampolines. Trampolines always make me happy! (my pants wanted to respond to gravity, but that wasn’t going to impact my fun!) I didn’t know that Mike was taking pictures (or videos for that matter; I am having technical difficulties getting it uploaded or I’d share that here. I get on a trampoline and just start giggling and playing like I am 10!)

Yee haw, y’all!

The video is really, um… “precious.” I’ll work on figuring that whole editing/uploading thing out… In the meanwhile, I wish you more trampolines (wherever you find them) and less tests!

Tchüss!

Christmas in November and our Tour d’Bruxelles

You know what is fun? Whatever you think is fun (to each their own, I say) + this experience: Mike and I went to the Real on Friday (a Target-like store filled with everything from groceries to china to electronics to clothes, but organized in a less frantic fashion than at, say, Wal-Mart) and when Mike put my little treat up on the conveyor belt at the cash register, 2 women (who didn’t know each other) both turned around and appreciatively eyed what we were getting. It’s a look I’ve worn before, so I know it well. This look isn’t quite jealousy (these looked to be lovely ladies not bitten by a green-eyed monster at all), but it is appreciation of the I’m-putting-this-on-my-Christmas-list variety.

What was I getting you ask? Prepare your Christmas list! Christmas, like daylight savings time ending, comes early in these parts!

Just what I’ve always needed and I just didn’t know that it existed….

An electric cape! (It is a lot like an electric blanket, but it is for all of those times when you want to be warm and cozy but not actually in bed.) I first eyed it a month ago or so (when shopping for the rote lampe), and have been day dreaming about it ever since. I can pretty much guarantee that all of my posts from here on out are going to be happier as a result! How can I not be happy when I am surrounded by the softness of the softest kind of fuzzy blanket with an electric heater inside? Impossible! And I can guarantee you that this thing is going to be on me every waking moment inside the apartment. We’re even looking into getting an extension cord so that I can roam freely about the entire apartment with the cape on. SCORE! (and I’m counting that as a score for you and for me! Isn’t this a lovely arrangement: when I win, you win! Carry on with your happy Sunday, people… carry on…)

And you may enjoy carrying on with some more photos from our trip to Brussels, placed here, again, not for your jealousy, but for your appreciation!

Brussels’ version of a shopping mall: Le Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.

Things are so stylish in Brussels, even the Coke Light cans get Jean Paul Gaultier’s name on them…

Although this house is now a restaurant on the Grand Place, it once was a house where Karl Marx wrote “Das Kapital.”

The courtyard inside le Hotel de Ville; the cobblestone star you see here is the point from which all distances are measured in Brussels.

A replica of the statue of Everard ‘t Serclaes; touching this statue is supposed to bring you good luck (and if you touch his arm, it is said to ensure your return to Brussels). This guy is important to the Belgians because he led a band of patriots over the city walls to defend Brussels from the Flemish in the 1300s. He was later assassinated because he defended the city against the Lord of Gaasbeek (Dutch), and I guess the Dutch must have won. Later on, though, the Lord of Gaasbeek’s castle was destroyed in revenge for his killing of our dear Everard.

Cool clock over a road tunnel going through the heart of Brussels.

We stood amid the crowd for about 45 minutes waiting for the grand unveiling of the Mannekin Pis (literally translates to “Little Man Pees”) wearing his new clothes. They change the outfit he wears regularly, but we totally lucked out on getting to see the new outfit. In preparation, they poured a bunch of little cups of beer for distributing to the group, and then a bunch of people wearing the big people version of his clothes came out and all toasted the Mannekin Pis in all of his peeing glory. It was, actually, very exciting. There are a bunch of legends about the Mannekin Pis, but basically, it is a statue that has been around for several hundred years (although it has been replaced a few times because it has been stolen or marred; the original sits in the Maison Rois at the Grand place). One of the legends is that there was an army in the name of a 2 year old “Lord”, and they had the baby in a basket as they went into battle. They hung the basket in some trees so that they could see the baby and be motivated by their “leader” and the leader then peed on them and they lost. Another legend (and the one usually told to tourists) is that their was a wealthy person visiting the city when is son went missing. After a search party was formed and sent out throughout the city, the young boy was found doing his business in a garden. They wealthy guy then had a statue built and donated in his thanks for the people who helped find his son. You pick!

Notre Dame au Sablon… perfect weather (if a little chilly) and amazing architecture.

Close up of the detail at Notre Dame au Sablon

Le Petit Sablon: A small park next to Notre Dame with 48 statues representing each of the 48 medieval guilds in Brussels.

Place des Martyrs, memorializing the dead of the “September Days” of the Belgian revolution in 1830 (during which they won independence from The United Kingdom of the Netherlands).

The middle of the Royal Square, where the Coudenberg Palace once stood.

The archeological remains of the dining room in Coudenberg Palace. Coudenberg was the royal palace (and the place to be) from the 12th century until a fire (which started in the dining area) burned it down in 1731. 40 years after it was destroyed, it was basically covered up when they decided to try to level the ground to build the new palace. None of this was dug up until 1986! The black you see in between the bricks and such? Ashes from the fire… Cool stuff!

Approaching the Atomium, built for the 1958 World’s Fair. You take an elevator up to the viewing platform on the highest sphere. They will rent you other spheres… I’m thinking it would be a good place to have an office. What would you do with a sphere of your own?

Zooming up the elevator to the viewing platform for the Atomium!

Mini-Europe from the Atomium. In case you don’t want to bother say, going to the real Eiffel Tower or going on a real canal in Venice, there is a clever amusement park where you can take in all of the miniaturized versions of the “must-sees” all over Europe.

St. Michael’s Church, from the outside. I think I posted this before, but I wanted to give some exterior context for the pictures that follow…

This area completely took my breath away… Completely.

Some kind of organ, huh?

The steps leading up to the pulpit. It was absolutely incredible…

The widest triumphal arch in Europe

this is how trombones looked a couple hundred years ago. Progress? I think not.

Our first (and last) “taste” of Brussels was in this park, with monuments to all things Brussels. First, of course, is a toast to their beer.

Belgium is actually the home of french fries as we known them (they are cut in the “French style,” but the Belgians came up with frying them)! Here’s to French fries…

And lastly to the mussels (which we did not partake in)… Fresh of the North Sea, they sure are proud of these guys!

The Brussels underground/metro system is known for integrating art into their stations. Here’s Mike, taking it all in…

I must confess that the challenges I’ve had in posting this blog almost made that cape necessary:  our internet has gone somewhere around 1/3 the pace of a snail since Friday. I’ve been writing this blog since Friday morning… It is now mid-day on Sunday afternoon, and it is finally, finally ready to publish. Thank goodness for that cape, or I’d be downright grumpy by now. 🙂 I’m not!

What Makes a Holiday? + Darmstadt, revisited

I’m not sure that I can adequately describe my answer to this question. But… I can start to answer it. A holiday has to include a special breakfast, right? Or at least a breakfast that you might not ordinarily have on, say, a Thursday. And given that we spent last weekend traipsing around Belgium, thus precluding my weekly intake of pancakes, this particular holiday needed pancakes to make sure that it was properly celebrated. As you know, pancake making in these parts is, shall we say, an adventure…

The last time we had pancakes, we ran out of our homemade self-rising flour. And you know what an ordeal that was, right? Right. Me too. I had a grand plan about getting new self-rising flour – the real deal, but Sandy foiled that plan, too. She’s such a pain. But anyway, we still had no self-rising flour. Yikes! So… we needed a new plan. We decided that we weren’t going to commit to making a whole bag of flour at a time, but we were still going to make pancakes. After an emergency run to the market at the train station (open on days that nothing else is open and at times when you realize just after you get back from the store that you have forgotten something and your grocery store would close before you would be able to get back there), we had the good old all-purpose stuff, which would be the foundation of our pancakes for the holiday.

But then… eek! We are out of back pulver (baking powder)! Uh oh… are you imagining the Great Pancake Disaster of 2012 like I was? Almost 2 months in… We got this. Right?

The assembled ingredients. You may notice in the background a few bottles: Edel Weiss (beer) and Winter Jack (Jack Daniels flavored with apples and spices).
Mike: “Are you planning to add Winter Jack to the pancakes?”
me: “No, it is the back-up plan. If the pancakes don’t work.”

Fortunately, I am married to Mr. Google search himself! Hooray! After some “I-don’t-think-this-is-going-to-work”s and a few “You-know-sweetie-this-is-going-to-taste-different”s, we decided that we were going to have buttermilk pancakes… BUT WAIT!! We don’t have any buttermilk. Enter last night’s leftovers…

Served with bread, we were given a bunch of the pieces up in the upper left corner, which were spicy and yummy, lettuce, herbs, lemon, green onion, and a tasty little sauce. Surprisingly good, I say!

I know what you are thinking… What does leftover food from last night have to do with buttermilk or pancakes? Last night, we went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. Not just any Turkish restaurant, mind you, a vegan Turkish restaurant that offered to wrap up our leftovers (this is not an incredibly common thing in German, the idea of taking leftovers away from a restaurant; many places, I’m sure, this would be considered poor form, in fact)! VEGAN! RESTAURANT! ASCHAFFENBURG! Imagine that… (oh, happy, happy day…) Anyway, our leftovers included 1/2 of a lemon which, when added to a couple of cups of milk work as a good buttermilk substitute (1 tablespoon per cup of milk, in case you were wondering). Providence!

And you want to know something? It worked! 🙂

“Buttermilk” pancakes! No Winter Jack required! (I jest, of course… I wasn’t really going to take to the bottle if my pancakes didn’t work out. I hope..)

After making our tummies happy, we set off on a holiday adventure (an adventure that could be completed post-pancake project and pre-Mike’s-meeting-with-people-in-the-US-who-aren’t-observing-our-holiday-schedule) to visit the Jungendstil area in Darmstadt. We’d skipped this part of town on our previous visit in favor of sitting around and cafe-ing (like how I just verbed that noun? It’s my post, I’ll create whatever language I want). I am SO glad that we went back! The photos, oh the photos! Here are a couple, but I’m also saving some of the rest for a “rainy day.” 🙂 We also even shot a video today! Actually, Mike shot a video today. While I jumped on a trampoline… It was a very happy day, indeed. (And it is made all that much happier by the fact that I’m the one who is writing this and will therefore have all rights associated with editing said video…)

The entrance to the garden at Mathildehöhe (the Darmstadt quarter where the Künstlerkolonie (aka “Artist’s Colony”) is located.

Garden statues… They call it the “Vortex Garden.”

The Ernst Ludwig House – Ernst (we’re tight like that, I’ll call him by his first name) is the guy (also referred to as a Duke) who founded the artist’s colony in Darmstadt in 1899 famous for the Art Nouveau style, which in Germany is called “Jungendstil” (youth style). The point of the colony was to present a unified city block integrating art and work and life. Great idea! Too bad WWI ended it, but what they did was pretty darn cool. (WWII messed a bunch of it up, but the city of Darmstadt has been pretty diligent about restoring what they could.)

The Russian Church from the reflecting pool.

🙂 We found the timer on the camera!

What You Need To Know… Plus Some of the Cool Street Art We’ve Seen

1. When traveling, roller bags are ALWAYS a good idea. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Having toted around a duffel bag on one shoulder and a computer/book bag on the other shoulder yesterday (up and down untold numbers of flights of stairs; funny thing: I had actually considered adding the concept of consistently working escalators to my list of “things that I love about Germany.” Then, I threw a couple of heavy bags on my back (metaphorically) and suddenly a remarkable number of escalators were out-of-order. Should I take it personally? Is it a sign of the apocalypse? Your call.), I am here to tell you that roller bags are ALWAYS a good idea.

2. Hurricanes can really throw a wrench into a perfectly good plan. Even hurricanes that are thousands of miles away. (I add this not to be insensitive to the genuine danger and havoc caused by this deadly storm, but because it is a part of my story.) I had made an appointment to be at a particular place at a particular time to take a particular test which I am going to be unable to make due to the hurricane and related travel difficulties. Very sad. Tragic, even (though definitely not as tragic as what some people in the path of the storm have experienced). Upon calling this particular place to cancel my particular time, I was told that I may be given a refund as the “Big Brother” may understand the extenuating circumstances given the weather, and that this particular call center employee did not want to cancel my appointment until Big Brother had a chance to weigh in on the matter. Upon calling the “Big Brother,” however, I was told that they are not working due to the danger and difficulties caused by a certain storm (why call center lady didn’t know that part of the story is still beyond me). And, in the meanwhile, I am unable to reschedule said appointment because I can’t cancel the 1st appointment, so now, I’m pretty much stuck for the time being. And stressed. And sore (see point  #1). And I really want to go ahead and be done with it, darn it! Please say a prayer that this works out somehow.

3. Everything does, in fact, get better with Starbucks. On my little adventure yesterday, I took the train by myself! 🙂 I figured out where I needed to go, purchased my tickets, and made multiple transfers. While this may not seem like that big of a deal, let me assure you that it is a VERY BIG DEAL. I am selectively independent, and logistics are one of the areas I choose to de-select. I look at a map and usually get more lost than I was to begin with, so this is a very adaptive choice most of the time. However, I did manage to take 3 different trains involving 4 different stations (while carrying said bags up and down said stairs while wearing clothes that were much more appropriate for my originally planned activity of sitting in an artificially heated environment) BY MYSELF. Combined with the previous day’s success driving a stick shift car IN THE SNOW (which I adamantly avoid ever since the “Blizzard of 93” (trust me, if it is a blizzard in Atlanta, it is serious business; also, as an aside, when I typed this, I was recommended a tag of “1993 Storm of the Century;” I hope that puts this in perspective for you. ) incident involving ditches and semi-trucks), I am feeling very empowered with regards to my own transportation. But anyway… back to Starbucks… While I ended up successful with the train situation, it did not come easily, and there were many extra stairs to run up (while toting the bags) than would have been absolutely necessary. After one such unnecessary trip down and back up (8 flights of) stairs in an un-heated building, I felt like I may be entering into an alternate reality when suddenly, just out of the left corner of my eye, I saw the familiar font and the familiar green reading “Sta…. Cof…” (the angle coming up the stairs was such that I really couldn’t see the ends of the words). Rejoicing filled my heart, and a new spring appeared in my step as I fought through the desert of train-station-land and arrived and arrived to the site which summoned me. Starbucks! Hallelujah. And, as if to say, “we got you, girl,” they are celebrating their 10 year anniversary in Germany this week, so I got a nice little discount on my warm and tasty beverage. ****ahhhhhh**** I felt renewed and remarkably, for the next half an hour, I travelled up nor down any unnecessary stairs. PTL.

4. Expectations are bad news bears. They will bite you in the rear end. Don’t have them. I’ve learned this lesson before (and I expect to learn it again), but as always, dear reader, I am thinking of you and want to pass on what I am learning. Expectations are like assumptions and are best avoided.

Today, I will leave you with some of the images of the graffiti and street art we’ve seen. It hasn’t been Banksy or even Banksy-esque, but… I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve averted my eyes (none of these examples are included; again, you can thank me if you would like), and I’ve appreciated. I hope you do, too!

Seven Weeks, and Redefining Weekends

Mike and I arrived in Germany 7 weeks ago today. Time has begun to shape shift for me, I can tell you that for sure! This morning alone, I have already (successfully to this point) juggled 5 loads (loads are relatively small here) of laundry (I’m a big believer in clean sheets. All the time. It makes my days happier and my weeks more cheerful. Trust me: Clean sheets is worth a potential 5 Euro investment, but as if the universe wants me to have clean sheets, I’m getting 2 loads WASHED + DRIED for free! That kind of thing makes the 4 flights of stairs a lot shorter…), sorted all of our different trash containers and recycled/disposed appropriately, cleaned up (which I can’t accurately portray here, but trust me: IT IS DIFFERENT!), etc. None of these things are remarkable in and of themselves, but they are all at least a little bit different than how I would do things in my “normal” life, and they have somehow happened as if nothing was really different. I guess that means I am adjusting. Yay me.

Here’s an example, though, of something that is different that I haven’t gotten used to (and I’m not sure that I will, but I.LOVE.IT!):

Mike: “Hey Sweetie. What are our plans for the weekend?”

Moi: “Ummm… We don’t have any “plans,” per se, but I want to go to Brussels.”

Mike: “Oh. Ok. I don’t know much about Belgium except that the monks there brew really good beer.”

Moi: “Bwahhaha… All part of my master plan!”

So, yes, we spent the weekend in Belgium (and escaped the even worse weather where we live!). And we went to a beer museum. And a lot of other things. 🙂 This adventure is to be continued, but I wanted to share a slice of our weekend! Also, I wanted to brag as quickly as possible (expect this to shift to as often as possible in the near future; the bragging, I mean): I drove our (manual-shifting) car through 3 countries and on and off the highway!!! Yes, Moi!! And in a small town (but that didn’t go as well, so we aren’t going to dwell on it).. 3 COUNTRIES! 1 day!

A La Mort Subite: A pub named after a game (To the Death) its patrons used to play back when it first opened. Over 100 years ago. We had lunch here… 🙂

Hotel de Ville, capped by the Archangel St. Michael. Gorgeous in all its Gothic beauty, it has graced the Grand Place since the early 1400s.

Our first look at the Grand Place, a magnificent square in Brussels recognized as a Unesco World Heritage site. In addition to the Hotel de Ville, there are a number of buildings surrounding the square, including the Maison du Roi (King’s House), which now houses a museum. Really breathtaking, in spite of the terrible weather which greeted us when we arrived in Bruxelles.

Inside La Maison des Brasseurs (the house of the brewers) on the Grand Place.

When we arrived for the Mannekin Pis, we were there for the unveiling of one of his outfits! It was quite a spectacle! Stay tuned for the rest of this story!

The Sablon Church, a branch of Notre Dame de la Chappelle.

The Royal Palace. Unlike most American opinions of our politicians, the King and Queen here are quite beloved. Seriously people, I am thinking I may need to move here… (the palace, I mean…)

The original palace, from the way way back machine, was wrecked in a fire in the early 1700s. It was later buried to make the ground flatter (did I mention that we saw more runners in Brussels than anywhere else added together?) and a new palace was built. In the early 1900s, there was some more construction which revealed the remains of the original palace, which has since been preserved through archeological processes. This image is of the Rue Isabelle, and the white cobblestones are some of the original ones from the 12th century.

The Atomium, built for the 1958 World’s Fair.

ooooh fun! Shiny object+sunset!

Mike was playing with the camera on the subway/tram. Does this look spell tired and hungry? Yes, whether you speak English, German, Flemish, or French, this says poor pitiful soul.

The Belgians are known for their sense of humor… (as seen in a café) (Bruxelles is predominately French speaking, although the northern part of the country is more Flemish/Dutch, so the common denominator is English)

“Like taking candy from an… old lady?”

A Second Look at Cultural Differences

Hello! Happy Thursday! Thursdays are my favorite days. The promise of a weekend is so close I can taste it!

Today is going to be a day of fewer pictures, and on some of the things I’m going to say, you will be glad of this (and you may express your thanks in the comments below). I promise. Having now lived in Deutschland for nearly 7 weeks (can you believe it), I thought I’d take a second look at some of the cultural differences we’ve experienced so far…

1. Holidays. Holidays are somewhat confusing to me, to tell you the truth. Only German Unity Day is a national holiday in Germany, every other holiday is determined by the local state (including widely observed holidays like Christmas or New Year’s). Here in Aschaffenburg, we live in Bayern (Bavaria), but Frankfurt is in Hesse. Lucky us, I suppose, as this means that our state observes Epiphany as a state holiday! The other tricky (ish) aspect of holidays is that they aren’t really all that big on announcing them. As an example, 2 of the other families who are here have children in schools, and despite asking several times for a school calendar, they were unaware of the fact that the kids have ALL of next week off from school until a couple of weeks ago. In our German language class (a separate post unto its own), we didn’t find out that we were also out of school next week until this past Monday. Mike found out yesterday that most of his (read:  every German employee falls into this category) coworkers would not be at work for the holidays that are next week. Upon doing research (this morning), I note that Bayern observes both Reformation Day and All Saints’ Day next week. There are a total of 16 possible state/federal holidays, of which Bayern (as a whole) observes 12. The schools observe two other holidays beyond these twelve (Assumption Day and the Day of Repentance and Prayer), and there is districts that observes one other holiday beyond any of these (Augsburg observes Peace Festival Day). Keeping track of these is an exercise in calendar management, for sure. Especially given my (formerly held) expectation that people actually discuss holiday plans in advance…

2. In spite of eating ice cream on a day so chilly that it required flannel, Mike doesn’t feel German yet (that I know of, and if this isn’t correct, I really don’t want or need to know about it). I know. So sad. It turns out that it is both commonplace and accepted that men can (and will) relieve themselves almost anywhere. I have lost count of the number of people I have seen using the bathroom on the side of the roads, and even off to the side of the grocery store… yep… I really can’t dwell on this long. As we were leaving the grocery store yesterday, Mike suddenly said, “Maybe I should go use the bathroom over there.” I said, “Oh, do you need to go? Should we hurry home?” His reply, “No, I’m fine, I just feel like it’s the German thing to do.” WWWWWWHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAA????? (see, aren’t you glad I’m not using photos to illustrate every point? Me too!)

3. Rules. Rules are good. Rules are important. Rules make life easier. But… Good grief! I’m honestly still adjusting to the rules about the trash (which I am in favor of, to be clear, but they are a wee bit complicated made more so by the lack of space to sort), but there really are rules for everything and anything. And (with the exception of speed limits), my experience is that Germans hold a relatively high regard for rules (again, I am pro-rule, most of the time). It is the kind of regard, though, that upholds the letter of the law far more so than the spirit of the law. As an example: pedestrians. Pedestrian lifestyles are the norm (alongside cars and bikes), and there are really lovely spaces for walking just about everywhere. And the pedestrian cross-walks are very well-marked and maintained (when there is a button to push requesting a walk sign, not only does the button work, it makes a difference! And it gives you a little light on the push button letting you know that it has received your request! Brilliant!!), and cars will definitely stop for you if you are in the cross walk. Pedestrians have the right of way. This is the letter of the law. However, if you are approaching a cross walk, the spirit of the law would dictate that the automobile would slow, as if to give the pedestrian their due right of passage, right? THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN. Cars will zoom past right up until you actually put your little toe on the street. It is amazing. The difference half an inch can make. I’d love to tell you that all of my math studying (in preparation for the GRE) had yielded a mind that could tell you the force of the energy that half an inch could bring to a stand still, but… I have a mind for letters and ideas, people, not numbers and calculations. That is also something I’ve learned in blazing clarity…

4. Lunch is serious business here. I knew that lunch is typically the largest meal of the day even before we got here (and for the most part, I’m good with that). I’ll give you an example, though, to make the point more precisely. Yesterday, at Mike’s work (you remember the glamour and shine of his place of work, right?), he had beef tenderloin (not jealous yet) with plum chutney (umm, yes please!), a noodle creation, and vegetables. AT HIS WORK CAFETERIA. He said it was all really quite elegant (well, he meant that, although he didn’t use those exact words). And to think that I had been pretty darn pleased with my lunch of leek and carrot soup (which was amazing and lovely and special all unto its own, but… )! It’s just a Wednesday at the factory cafeteria…

That’s all I’ve got for today. Not that there aren’t 1,000s of other things that are a wee bit different, but we’ll save those for another day. Tchüss!