Thursday, May 31, 2007

We're back (and walking like Fred Sanford)...

Just in case folks are wondering, we survived Eurodisney. As a matter of fact, we had a blast. We're going to go to sleep, hope our feet stop feeling like a truck ran over them and start reporting on 4 intense days over the weekend.
I've started a Eurodisney guide blog here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Blog Participation 101...

Just ocurred to me that many of the folks that read this blog aren't exactly cyber-savvy. Alright, let's face it: they're kind of old. Just wanted to let these folks and others know that there's a link at the end of each post that allows you to leave a comment. I believe you might have to sign up for a Blogger account. If you figure that out (Vegas is giving four to one odds), you'll be rewarded with the ability to tell me electronically how smug I'm being.

Thank you for your attention. I know it's hard to focus during the "silver years
Drunk with power...

It has finally arrived: the weekend before our trip to Euro Disney near Paris. I have never seen the kids so excited about anything. Upon discovering our vacation plans, many Europeans have turned up their noses, finding it clichéd that an American family would go to Disney in Europe. But I can assure you there is no other destination more dear to the hearts of young children (not even castle ruins, vineyards and museums).

Now for the real purpose of this post. I recently saw a story on about a site where one can submit an electronic confession. The obviously heartfelt (although in some cases odd) confessions inspired me to bare my soul here. When we first planned our trip to Disney, we began using it to "inspire" our kids to behave themselves. It started out so innocently. As the date has gotten closer, I must admit (confess?) that I've begun abusing my parental power to cancel the trip.

It all seemed so reasonable a few weeks ago, when we started using this oldest form of extortion to get the kids to behave in public, clean the play room or do their homework. I'm still not sure exactly when or where I let this tactic get the better of me. Perhaps it was last Wednesday when I went to see if Robert had missed any spots while waxing the van. You see, I tripped over Sophia, who was shining my work shoes. Her crying woke up Emily, who had passed out from exhaustion while scrubbing the floors. I felt so bad I decided I'd let them wait until today to wash the windows (time allowing after making our breakfast).

Since Robert did such a good job bringing the groceries up from the van (which was as shiny as we've seen it after his excellent wax job), I decided to take him to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 in Mannheim, about 20 minutes from here. The Cinemaxx there shows some films in English at certain hours. We originally planned to see Spider-man but got lost and missed the English showing. While I'm sure "Pirates" is a good flick, I fell asleep and Robert asked to leave early. Good thing too as I would have hated for him to have to weed the common grounds of our building in the dark (like he did last weekend).

As a mildly interesting aside about German theaters, you get an assigned seat and pay a different price (I believe) depending on where you sit. The outrageously overpriced popcorn and Coke are the same as in the States.

Anyway, all the kids' hard work will be rewarded when we arrive in Disneyland tomorrow. We plan to leave at 8:00 or so to make the 6 hour journey. We'll be back in Heidelberg Thursday night. Later today we're going to Thomas and Luciana's house to celebrate Lúcio's (Luciana's brother) birthday.

As long as I'm confessing, I'm starting to plan a jaunt to Legoland (we might even make the trip some day). The kids are dying to go and if it helps improve their behavior, I figure it's a win-win. Note to self: never use this power for (anything more) evil.

By the way, B bought an electric grill-like device to sate her desire for churrasco here at the ranch. After trying the meat and linguiça she made on Friday, I remain unconvinced as to its being an adequate substitute for the real thing. Better than nothing I suppose.
Finally, see below gratuitous photos of the kids. More to come after the party this afternoon.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Phree at last...

Saturday was Sophia's third (or "phird" as she pronounces it) birthday. We celebrated with a little shindig at the ranch with our ever-evolving Brazilian crew. As Murphy would have it, Friday night she woke up with an earache. After a couple of trips to a clinic that stays open on weekends, we got her the antibiotics she needed to really get her party on.

Her party was a blast although not quite as exaggerated as many of the ones B threw in the States. The heavy weighting of the Latin demographic was unmistakable in the decibel level generated by both kids and adults. In attendance were:

  • Thomas & Luciana and their kids João and Joana (we went to Joana's birthday party last week). Lúcio, Luciana's brother, also made the trip over from Wiesloch.
  • Patricia, whom we met through Luciana (her boyfriend missed the party because he was studying).
  • Horst & Denuza and their kids André and Felix. I know Horst from work.
  • Soraia & Bernard, and their kids Leo and Vivi
  • Luciana ("Lu2") and Chris (it's hardly a Brazilian affair unless there is some name overloading)
For those scoring along at home, that's 9 pre-adolescent Brazilian kids in a single apartment (we ignored the limit of 5 Brazilian kids posted on the entrance to our building). By the end of the night (the party started at around 16:00 and broke up by 22:30 or so), the apartment had the unmistakable"Animal House" look. The playroom looked like a toy bomb had set off a Disney costume grenade. We're still trying to whip the joint into shape.

The girls had a blast playing with Lu2. I think they've adopted her as their crazy aunt (crazy in a good way!).
One of the many highlights of the evening was this group of slightly toasted adults (for the most part) inhaling helium from the balloons and wishing Sophia a happy birthday in prose and song. Call me easily amused, but it was hilarious.
Sophia's present was a little bike with no pedals. We're hoping it will develop her balance so that learning to ride a real bike will be easier. Most German kids have them and whiz by at impressive speeds. We took it for a test ride this afternoon and Sophia is a natural.

One final note: It may have escaped you, but in one of the photos above it is clear that during the party Emily began to turn invisible (see detail below). It started with her right hand, worked its way up her arm and had consumed her completely by 20:30 or so. Luckily for us, the crumbs and chocolate on her face made it easy to spot her. Last I checked, she had "filled in" again beautifully.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother’s Day in Mannheim…

We decided to take it easy this weekend for a change. If you follow this blog at all, you know we’ve been hitting the road on a pretty regular basis. Since we had a birthday party to go to on Saturday and Sunday was Mother’s day, I was looking forward to limiting the miles we put on the Family Truckster. By the way, we’re headed to Euro Disney near Paris the week of May 28th. While I’m looking forward to going, I’m not sure what we’ll use to blackmail the kids into behaving once we’re back.

Friday night I was absolutely beat so we decided to walk to a restaurant we had seen near our house once when we got lost (a regular occurrence soon after we moved). Sardegna is a small, family-owned Italian restaurant (did the name tip you off?) that’s a 5 minute walk or so from our apartment. The place is small with the busy, eclectic decorating style you see in lots of these places. The service was exceptional as was the food. At less than 8 Euros for most pasta dishes, the price was right as well.

We started out with Capri salad (as usual). It was huge and really well put together. B ordered seafood farfalle which was excellent. I wanted to test the basics so ordered spaghetti bolognese (with meat sauce). This is a great litmus test for Italian restaurants: if they don’t nail the basics, it’s unlikely the rest of the menu will be very good. The same principal applies to cheese pizza at pizzerias. I have no doubt we’ll become regulars at this place.

Saturday morning Robert and I jumped on the Strassenbahn to buy B’s Mother’s Day present, a new digital camera. We bought one last Christmas but Emily dropped it and shattered the LCD. We weren’t that happy with it anyway: the picture quality was sub-par and we assume fixing it will probably cost as much as replacing it. I bought her a Canon IXUS 60, which seemed to be just what she wanted.

Saturday afternoon, we went to some friends’ house (Thomas and Luciana) for their daughter Joana’s 6th birthday party. It was a typical Brazilian affair that started at 16:00 and went until about 22:30 or so. Luciana made some exceptional Brazilian snacks called coxinha. We met some really nice people and Sandra (our visiting nanny) finally found a group of folks closer to her age. The Heidelberg area is an E ticket in terms of nightlife and Sandra has hooked up with a group of veterans.
After the party, B dropped me off at the local watering hole, Zum Wasserturm, where I enjoyed a few Hefe’s while watching the locals heavily under the influence slaughter both American and German hits on Karaoke night. It was highly entertaining. I’ll dedicate a post to this, my home away from home, in the next few weeks.

Sunday we celebrated Mother’s Day at Casa de Palha in Mannheim (we went last weekend as well). As a bit of a twist, the owner invited folks to bring dishes for a Brazilian potluck lunch. The food was incredible, including the sal picão Sandra made (a kind of Brazilian chicken salad). After lunch the kids played at a park in Mannheim. We then had ice cream at the Pizza Hut here in Kirchheim. By the way, Thursday is another public holiday in Germany ({cheap shot alert} I think it’s David Hasselhoff’s wedding anniversary). I’ll probably take Friday off for another really long weekend. I think we’ll plan on taking it easy next week as well. I’m trying to get well rested for the six hour trip to France and the four days we’ll spend in Le Magic Kingdom.

Finally, they laid sod in the common/play area of our building. I'm guessing within a month or so this place will be completely in shape. Also, the cherries on our street are ripening. In case any German attorneys are reading this, is it stealing if the limb hangs over a public sidewalk?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Isolated showers...

After weeks and weeks of perfect weather we finally got some rain. Not deterred by a few clouds and some drizzle, we decided to head to Rothenburg, a city that we thought was about an hour and half Southeast of Heidelberg. Just for the record, I did tell B it was a bad idea. For once, I was right.

It turns our that the Autobahn (A6) that takes you to Rothenburg has more zones posted with speed limits than I've ever seen on A5, the highway we normally take to places like Strausbourg and Baden-Baden. After a couple of hours, we arrived in Rothenburg to wind and rain. We walked around a bit and had lunch, but the rain was getting progressively worse. We probably stayed there a couple of hours.
Although Rothenburg is undoubtedly beautiful, it also has all the hallmarks of a Grade A tourist trap. Here are a few of them:

  • I won't hazard a guess as to the median age of the majority of visitors, but let's say many of them remember the Hoover administration with fondness
  • There was much more English than German being spoken in the streets
  • A small stuffed Dolphin in one of the souvenir shops was going for 30 Euros
  • Restaurants had blackboards announcing their specials in Japanese and Korean
  • The main drag has at least 10 souvenir shops that are essentially identical
  • It was raining and the streets were still packed.

What was interesting is that literally 5 minutes out of town on the way back, everything was bone dry and we passed through no significant rain all the way back to Heidelberg. Either we left just as the rain did, or Rothenburg is still under the spell of some Medieval curse. Either way, we won't be going back until the tourist season is over.

Saturday night we went to a Brazilian restaurant in Mannheim, Casa de Palha (House of Straw). The place is simple but the food was great and the owners were very nice. We ordered some delicious "pasteis" as an appetizer. B and Sandra then ordered picanha, which was excellent. I bummed some rice, beans and meat from the girls as I wasn't that hungry.

We were more impressed with
Mannheim. This city of about 300,000 residents has a reputation for being more industrial than many nearby cities. We thought it was beautiful. One of its best known landmarks is its gorgeous water tower. We liked it so much, we went back this morning as the SoCal weather had returned. However, less than an hour after arriving, Robert started complaining that he didn't feel well so we skedaddled. I'm looking forward to heading back to take some night shots of the water tower and neighboring fountains.
Finally, on a completely unrelated note, B bought stools for the kitchen soon after we moved here. At the time, I didn't think we needed them. They've turned out to be a huge hit with the kids, who like to watch folks walking by as they eat meals and snacks. I snapped these pictures of them in action the other day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"L-A-D" Ladenburg...

Today (Tuesday May 1 - German holiday) I decided to take the folks to Ladenburg, a very pretty small city about 15 minutes from our house. On the way, my Stepdad wanted to see how far away it was so we entered the name into the navigation system. Unfortunately, I entered it as "LaUdenberg". I was suprised when Popozuda (navigation computer) told me to get off the autobahn an exit early. Like an idiot, I followed her directions. After about a 30 minute detour, we got back on track. We've been to Ladenburg before, but never with such great weather. As I've said in a previous post, this city's history dates back to the first century. We walked around a bit and then had some lunch (nice wurst at a place that was serving outdoors, fast food style). We then walked a bit more and had some incredible cake and coffee. I know I've said it a million times, but the weather here the last month has been absolutely off the charts. Today it's as sunny as it can be and just slightly cool in the shade.

Anyway, the folks gave Ladenburg a big thumbs up. I think I'm ready to stay home for a few evenings.
Sore feet, white knuckles...

On Monday (April 30th) I took the folks to Strasbourg. That makes the third time I’ve made the hour-long trip West to the French/German border. As usual, I tried to keep the truckster at a steady 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph). I only found out when we arrived that Mom had been in the backseat sweating bullets with a death grip on the armrests. At least it took her mind off her sore feet (we've been walking and walking and walking). As Mick so aptly said, "What a drag it is getting old". (Sorry Mom.)

The weather was nice, although a bit windy. What made this trip remarkable was that we went into the cathedral. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my tripod, which means it was tough to take good pictures (for a place that supposed to show you the light, this cathedral is a pretty dark place). After a while, I got creative and used the battery charger to angle the camera up from various chairs and the floor. All things considered, I’d say the pictures are decent.
After we got back, we headed to a German restaurant in downtown Heidelberg a friend had recommended. After all, I’d bought a day pass on the strassenbahn and wanted to get my money’s worth. The food was okay, but the Biergarten was really something special. Next time you’re on the Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg, think about dropping by Zum Güldenen Schaf. As they themselves say, they have the most beautiful Biergarten in Heidelberg.

I stayed after dinner and took some decent night shots of Heidelberg.