Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Attending conferences in San Diego...

is he**, but someone has to do it. I artfully used photoshop to paint a sunny face on the gloomy weather here. How I wish I were back in cloudy Heidelberg...

I took another panoramic long exposure of the view from my room. The picture doesn't do it justice.For higher res pics, take a look here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Greetings from San Diego...
Got here today at 6:00 pm and promptly went to a Brazilian churrascaria. Conservatively, I ate 10 pounds of meat. While I in no way endorse bolemia, I now understand it...

View from my hotel balcony

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fear not...

We are all well. I haven't been blogging because I'm Stateside, in Palo Alto, California. I'll travel to San Diego on Sunday and spend a few days at a conference. Aside from the jet lag, it's nice to be back in the States. I must admit I'm a bit disgusted by the coverage of the Anna Nicole train wreck. Do we really have nothing more important to think about?

Although the time zone difference and B's propensity to spend as little time as possible at home have made it difficult for us to connect live, all appears well back across the pond. When B picked the girls up at school the other day, they were holding hands with new German friends -- pretty much an "11" on the cute meter.

We plan on going to a Brazilian steak house or "churrascaria" in San Diego. Anyone know a site that will deliver Lipitor next day without a prescription?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Karnival in Bad Schönborn...

Today around lunchtime we noticed lots of people dressed in colorful costumes arriving in the main square of this little town. It was fairly obvious that a Karnival party was brewing. While B was screaming toward Franfurt at 100 mph (literally) to pick up Marina at the airport, I took the kids into the heart of the celebration.

Bad Schönborn really is a small town but the Karnival celebration was pretty big. There were thousands of people dressed up and lining the streets awaiting the parade. At about 14:30, a fire truck initiated the festivities. For the next hour or so, groups of revelers with marching bands proceeded down the main drag (our street!).

Robert, Emily and Sophia dressed up as Elliot from E.T., a pirate and a cat, respectively. They fit right in. While they were a bit uneasy at first, they warmed up to the celebration fairly quickly once the candy started flying. Robert was particularly wary of a crew dressed as monkeys. If Sophia doesn't stop bouncing off the walls by midnight, we'll spike her next bottle with a dose of insulin.
While a good proportion of the folks in the street weren't feeling much pain, everyone seemed very well behaved. It's funny how little details like our obviously not speaking German didn't seem to dissuade "the toasted" from engaging in animated (though one-sided) conversation.
BTW, Marina had a great time in Spain. She went to a really cool artificial ski slope where the friend she was visiting captured on video a spectacular wipe-out on a snowboard that involved a number of unseen, innocent bystanders. She also went to Toledo. Marininha em frente do Palácio Real.
Child rearing tip of the century...

Although this blog has always been free, I'm thinking about making some posts pay only. I am about to bestow upon you the single greatest parenting tip you will ever receive. Are you sitting down? Are you ready to bask in the blinding light of my spooky parenting wisdom? Here goes...

Buy your kids a mini-trampoline. Marina (B's sister) bought this thing when we went to Wal-Mart and I thought it was the dumbest purchase she (or anyone else) had ever made. That was until the kids starting jumping on it like kangaroos with gift cards from Starbucks. I remember the day each of my kids was born. I remember their first words and their first days of school. However, I've never seen anything as beautiful and satisfying as their utter exhaustion after a solid 15 minutes on the "tramponator".

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Another low key Saturday...

Today we woke up with a mission to buy a washer and dryer. Yes, we're living on the edge.

We bought a front loading Siemens washer and dryer, each of which is supposed to handle 6 kilos of clothing at a time. Being unaccustomed to this metric thing, we're hoping that's more than a couple pairs of socks.

Funny thing about dryers here is that since most buildings don't have vents to the outdoors, the evaporated water collects in a large plastic container you must empty after each load (and it's seems like about a gallon or more). Who knew wet clothes packed so much water? Anyway, aside from parting with the Euros, it was a relatively painless experience.

On the way to the MediaMarkt (the German Best Buy), we passed the apartment we'll move into in March. We went there on Friday to sign the lease and to our untrained eye the place still looked like there was a couple of months of work to be done. The owner assures us that all (except the blinds) will be ready by our move-in date. We like it more every time we see it. They've put in the wood floors and had filled a large bathtub with water (to check for leaks?).

After taking care of hour home appliance needs, we went to downtown
Leimen to check out the town square. It was nice although today was a bit cold (but sunny at least). We ended up having lunch at a brauhaus. I had penne with Gorgonzola which was ok. B asked the waitress to recommend something and did very well for herself. She ate some kind of onion-topped meat with German noodles. The girls split a plate of spaghetti and Robert had cheese sticks and fries. While his limited diet doesn't seem to be stunting his growth, I'm hoping his digestive system doesn't go into arrest the first time he eats a vegetable (I'm kidding {kind of }).

As a quick aside, we reached an important milestone in our assimilation into German culture: Emily drank her beer at lunch without having to be reminded. Congratulations Emily!
The previous paragraph was a joke. No minors consumed alcohol, smoked cigarettes or were harmed in the creation of this joke.
It looks like some businesses will be closed on Monday and Tuesday for Carnival. I've got an important presentation Monday and then Tuesday I'm off to California for 10 days or so for some meetings and to attend a conference. I'm looking forward to visiting San Diego. I think it will be strange to be back in the States.

The day I get back is the day our stuff arrives at our new apartment. Looks like B will have to direct traffic without me. My first couple of flights this year will be in the rear with the gear (coach) so I'm assuming I'll get back here more zombie than not.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I got wheels...

I finally got my "commuter car". B fell in love with its avant guard design; I fell in love with its sleek lines and awesome horsepower. How does one say "chick magnet" in German?

Not! OK, so it's an econo-box that looks like it should have shriners hanging out of it. Before you mock me, I should mention that gas in Germany is over $6 a gallon. I learned in Redmond that our commuter car should be as simple as possible as it doesn't see much action beyond the drive to work and back. I guess this one will see even less given the great public transportation system in Germany.

Anyway, I bought a 2005 Mitsubishi Colt. I've always had good luck with Japanese cars and I couldn't find anything else that cheap at a dealership that wasn't older than Robert (who turned 7 in January). It appears that in Germany an independent inspection is done of a car when you buy it from a dealership. I'm hoping this will help prevent my pouring hard-earned Euros into a lemon.

I'm thinking about going to work a couple of times a week on the Strassebahn (tram) once we move to Kirchheim. Seems like a reasonable way to be somewhat "green" (and to avoid paying for Exxon executives' summer homes). By the way, Exxon is called Esso here.

So if you happen to be on a German autobahn and get stuck behind a small, slow Japanese car that's dark gray, be sure to wave as you fly past.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday poolside...

Today we had lunch at home and then went to an indoor pool in Schwezingen (probably my favorite city in this region so far). The German indoor pool experience is highly evolved. You pay a few Euros to enter and are then treated to what amounts to an indoor water park. At the one in Schwetzingen, there are multiple pools, both inside an out, with slides of various sizes and plenty of other attractions to keep the little ones occupied.

Probably my favorite "feature" is that you can sit poolside and nurse a cold beer while the kids shoot down the various slides like uncontrolled canon balls. You can also enjoy a hamburger and fries or a nice plate of fish. For those that like to toast themselves, you can get your ray tones on at various tanning areas throughout the facility.

My second favorite feature may be the private saunas where you can steam yourself in solitude for the meager price of a single Euro. One shutters to think what must go on in these steamy closets, but in the interest of maintaining this blog's PG-13 rating, I'll change the subject.
This was the third time B and the kids had gone, my first. I'm sure we'll be back. Next on the agenda is to explore the other indoor pools in the region. When we went to the old part of Heidelberg, we entered a mall that had one of these pools. I doubt it's as cool as the pool in Schwetzingen, but location is everything and this one is a 10 minute S-Bahn ride from the soon-to-be Prickril compound in Kirchheim.

After arriving back in Bad Schönborn, we went to our now favorite restaurant, the Glaushaus. B had curry steamed mussels this time; not as good as the variety with gorgonzola, but a close second. It was great to see people filtering in after having gone to Carnival parties. Looks like Carnival is heavily celebrated in this part of Germany. Nice to know the kids will stay somewhat in touch with this part of their Brazilian heritage. I can't wait to take them to the real party in Rio though!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Lazy Saturday...

Today we decided to just take it easy but still managed to have an interesting day. B and I laid around alternately until noon or so at which time we thought it about time to feed the crew. We walked to a little Italian restaurant called Da Renato. The place was really quaint and made a mean plate of spaghetti for the girls. Robert, B and I split a couple of pizzas.

On the way home from the restaurant, we decided to take the kids to the public park almost next door. Even though this is a small town, the park is really cool. As you can see below, they passed the Positive and Negative "G" test with flying colors (bad pun intended).

On the way home from the park, our van looked lonely so we decided to go visit our new neighborhood (again). There is no doubt about it, we have a crush on our new apartment. We took a few pictures so we'll remember what it looked like under construction. We then washed the Family Truckster as the snow storm some weeks ago left it looking neglected (the real reason we decided to wash it was that our hands were getting dirty opening the back door).

The windows above the empty first floor on the right belong to our apartment. You can see S-Bahn tracks in the foreground.

Then we drove to another city in the area, Wiesloch, to poke around downtown and look for a place for the kids (and B) to have some ice cream. Even though it was almost deserted (most shops etc. close early on Saturdays), we found a few open places.

We went into a café that had some of the best ice cream I've ever tasted. Robert got chocolate as he has done since he was 2. Emily decided to switch things up and go vanilla; Sophia wanted "pink" so she got strawberry (and it tasted like it was made with actual strawberries). B ordered a bowl of ice cream that looked like pasta and tasted of pistachio. Out of this world all the way around. To avoid shocking the locals with a sudden change of habits, I had a Weissbier.

By the way, I know I've been throwing that "best I ever had" phrase around quite a bit, but I'm not exaggerating. We've have happened upon some extremely good food since we arrived.

On the way back to Bad Schönborn, we picked up my rental car that we'd left at Thomas's house. I had downed a few beers the night before and decided the inside of a German jail isn't the sort of attraction I need to experience (for now anyway :)). BTW, the place where I had the beer also has some hamburgers that put most places in Texas to shame.

We're still impressed with the relaxed pace of life on the weekends. It seems to be just our style. It was nice to see groups of friends escaping the rainy weather over beer and coffee. Ever pushing the dog-inside-establishment envelope, this place had two dogs beneath the same table that seemed to be sparring for dominance. It's not every day you watch a dogfight over a cappuccino, but when in Wiesloch, do as the Wieslochians do (or something like that).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

We have been to the promised land...

and it's name is Wal-Mart Super Center. Today, after stopping by a few dealerships to find a second car, we stopped at the Wal-Mart in Karlruhe, a city about 40 kilometers South of our temporary apartment in Bad Schönborn. I was hoping that Wal-Mart was like McDonalds: whether you're in Atlanta or Addis Ababa it's more or less the same thing. This proved not to be the case.

A few differences:

- There are a bunch of little shops co-located with Wal-Mart that sell jewelry etc.
- The place looked like a slightly remodeled bomb shelter. The floors were torn up and there was a general dinginess about the place.
- There's a McDonalds, but 3 Happy Meals and a couple of regular meals ran about 23 Euros! (that's almost $30 for those of you scoring at home)
- This Wal-Mart had two stories connected by a sort of flat escalator that allows you to go up and down with your shopping cart (think airport moving sidewalk at an angle).

We stocked up on school stuff for the kids and a bit of food. We plan to go back and (over)load the van with good stuff once we're in our new apartment. The prices I saw were noticeably lower than in these parts.

Finally, I think I've found a car. It's a '05 Mitsubishi Colt. Should get me to work and back and I guess that's all I expect. I spoke to an insurance agent today and discovered I'll need to sell an organ to pay car insurance here. I'm thinking right kidney.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A streetcar runs through it...

Our new neighborhood that is. Today we parked our car in front of our new apartment and hopped an S-Bahn or streetcar/tram to downtown Heidelberg. The S-Bahn stop is a two minute walk from the apartment we'll move to at the beginning of March. After a 10 minute ride, you end up in the old part of Heidelberg. In the summer, this part of Heidelberg fills up with tourists from all around the world.

Today it was sunny. We walked down the main drag of old Heidelberg just to see what it was like. In the next few weeks we'll return and go up the mountain to the famous castle ruins.
The kids pretty much behaved themselves although Emily was demanding star treatment. Lucky for her Sophia love to push the stroller!
Soon after we arrived we wondered into a mall. On Sundays, almost everything is closed but we found a great ice cream shop open.

We also discovered that this mall is home to one of Heidelberg's inside public pools. It's going to be nice to go there by S-Bahn as finding parking can be a real bummer.

B bought some chestnuts from a vender but seems to be the only one that likes them. After walking for about half an hour or more, the kids were getting restless so we hoofed it back to the car and came home. We're all eager to move into our new apartment.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

How not to go to Strasbourg...

Today we made a quick hop over to the French border town of Strasbourg, a little over an hour from our temporary apartment. It's a beautiful city, but today just didn't seem to be our day. Our first mistake was not researching our trip better. A couple of folks had told me it was easy to find the old part of the city (and it was), but it wasn't quite so obvious where we should park. We ended up trying to parallel park our land yacht (minivan) like highschool kids in driver's ed. Suffice it to say the locals were amused.

We saw a tourist information center on the way into the city, but passed it before we could stop. B wanted to go back, but we'd already found the cool part of the city and I thought it was better to just park. Wrong!

Soon after we parked, we started walking (and walking and walking) along the river, which was filled with some of the biggest swans I've ever seen. Emily is crazy about swans so that suited her just fine.

Although we saw some beautiful sites, I think we would have done a lot less walking if we'd done our homework. Another major faux paux: we forgot Sophia's stroller. Later, we were starving and looking for a place to have lunch and ended up in the touristy part of the city so I didn't want to stop. I assumed we could walk for a few minutes and find places that weren't so crowded and expensive. Wrong! Conservatively speaking, we walked about 240 miles (386.24 kilometers for the non-American readers of this blog).

~700 Swans a-swimming

Anyway... now that we know how NOT to go to Strasbourg, we'll do it better the next time.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How do you say "Wow!" in Greek...

B and I finally made it to the Greek restaurant that was too full last Friday night. We innocently ordered a dish for two that looked like a sampler. The restaurant was lively but not too crowded. We were first served a plate of salad that was a good size but nothing out of the ordinary. Then came the main course...

The waiter brought more than enough meat for four people (from all the "usual suspect" livestock) to our table. It was all so tender you almost cut it without a knife. It also came with a side dish of assorted vegetables and another of fried potato medallions. They also served a white sauce that was hot and seemed to be somewhere between cheese and yogurt.

Next time we'll remember to invite another couple (or take Sophia).

On a related note, B is starting to get addicted to the contact buzz from smokers at these restaurants. Having great beer readily available doesn't help as in her youth these things went together like "saur" and "kraut". Will B revert to old habits? Stay tuned.