Saturday, August 25, 2007


On Friday night we left the kids with a babysitter and headed out to have dinner. We ended up at Das Boothaus, a restaurant next door to Thermalschwimmbad that has a terrace with a world class view of the Neckar. If you're lucky, you can get a table with a view of the setting sun. We got there late so sat at the huge communal glass table. Although the menu options are few, the food is superb. We started out with a Spanish chorrizo appetizer that was some of the spiciest food I've had in Germany. For dinner, I had a Cesar salad with chicken and B had the best lamb we've ever tried (it wasn't gamey like a lot of lamb). I highly recommend this place.

Saturday came with good weather so we headed to Thermalschwimmbad. Another great day. The kids were working their star power on the train with sunglasses provided by Alan and Donna. Emily's Scarlett O'Hara hat was Fierce (note the capital "F").

I took the camera but it didn't come out of its case until we were walking to our apartment from the Strassenbahn stop (the truckster is in the shop -- long, embarrassing story). I took three exposures and combined them with HDR software. Is it just me or does the sun do cooler things in central Europe?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mellow weekend...

This weekend we pretty much took it easy. On Saturday B took the kids to Thermalschwimmbad while I stayed home running errands and doing more laundry than I've ever seen in my life. I also spent some quality time generating some hi-def pics (see previous post).

On Sunday, I took the kids to a park near our house I'd never been to (behind the Rewe in Kirshheim). This place has one of the coolest swingsets I've seen. The frame (or whatever you call it) is super tall and the area beneath the swings has been dug out. This makes for a huge arc that the girls loved.
Later that afternoon we went to Speyer. We had dinner at Biergarten called Domhof. The place is really beautiful and was packed with folks. There's a play area for the kids and it's right of the main drag in Speyer, a E ticket itself. Soon after dinner as we were walking down "Main Street" it started to rain so we ducked under some umbrellas and had ice cream. During the trip I took more HDR pics that I think turned out great. It's official: I'm addicted to HDR photography.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dynamic Friday...

On Friday, we left the kids with their babysitter and headed out to take care of some errands; I'll spare you the gory details. Anyway, we ended up having lunch at
Brauhuas Vetter in the Altstadt. We've been there a few times but I've failed to mention it here. If you want traditional German food and great beer in a casual atmosphere, you should check this place out. It doesn't hurt that the portions are huge, although those with an aversion to saturated fat should probably try one of the Italian places next door, e.g., Mercado.

Later that afternoon, I returned alone to feed my new obsession: high dynamic range photography or HDR. I'll spare you the photo-geek rap on this relatively new technique and show you a few pictures. The idea is that you can simulate a broader range of tones than you can with normal digital photography by merging multiple shots taken at different exposures. That night, we headed back to Da Vinci. I think the wait staff is getting sick of seeing us. We however, like this place more each time we go. I then went back to the Altstadt (third time's a charm) to take some long exposures and test HDR at night. (A dopey idea by but it yielded some interesting results). I hope you agree.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A zoo is a zoo is a zoo... NOT!

After a week of vacation, I went into work on Tuesday and Wednesday and became so exhausted I decided to take Thursday and Friday off. On Thursday we decided we'd go to the zoo in Karlsruhe, a city about 35 minutes from the Prickril compound in Kirchheim. As usual, we piddled around entirely too long and didn't get out the door until around lunchtime.

No sooner had we gotten onto the autobahn (A5) than emily started complaining that she was hungry. We happened to be passing a gas station/rest stop where we had eaten soon after arriving in Germany. We were pleasantly surprised by its nice interiors and culinary options the first time so we decided to return. As crazy as it sounds, we may go back to this place for lunch or dinner now and again. It has a convenience store, Burger King, a café and a restaurant that has a great salad bar and tastey almost-ready-to-eat grub. There's also an outdoor playground that you can easily see from tables indoors or on the terrace.
After lunch, we sped toward Karlsruhe in what ended up being pouring rain. We decided to stop at the Karlsruhe Wal-Mart, which as become a Real. Since the change of ownership, they've cleaned the place up. We bought a bunch of stuff while we waited for the rain to stop.

After an hour or so, we headed to the zoo in Karlsruhe. It's located directly across from the Hauptbahhof and has plenty of curb appeal (beautiful flowers, a fountain and café at the entrance). We walked around and saw most of the typical zoo animals as well as the polar bear exhibit, which was cool and depressing at the same time (it's a bit sad to see these kings or the Arctic trapped in an exhibit, however nice).
The most remarkable thing about the place is that it seems to be as much a botanical garden as a zoo. The landscaping and flowers are truly impressive.
We soon decided we'd take the 40 minute full ride on the little boats that make a circuit in a series of ponds and canals. It was very relaxing for all involved. Highlights were the bridges with beautiful flowers and the "dancing" fountains, à la the Venetian in Vegas (although on a slightly smaller scale). By the way, if you want to ride the boats, which I highly recommend, buy tickets at the front gate when you come in.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A park for those on holiday...

Monday we went to
Holiday Park, an amusement park about 30 minutes from our apartment. The forecast wasn't great so we were hoping it wouldn't be rediculously crowded. Overall, I'd say Holiday Park definitely feels like a regional amusement park but is extremely well-maintained and organized. Our 3 kids, 7, 6 and 3 loved it although B's sister Marina, who's 16, found it boring when she went with friends a few weeks earlier. It cost us about 20 Euros each to enter (Sophia didn't have to pay) and lunch was about 50 Euros, and really good.

The biggest surprise of the day was what an addrenalin junky Sophia is. She raised her hands like a roller coaster veteran on all the "big" rides she went on.

A few highlights:

  • Waterskiing pirates show

  • Flume ride (Devil's Barrels)

  • Swinging ship ride

I'll stop blabbing now and let the pictures do the talking...
After a day at the park, we were starving and in no mood to cook so we headed to Sardegna. Even though the lights were set on "intimate", I got a few clandestine shots off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Our second home...

or Thermalschwimmbad as most people in Heidelberg know it. The forcast for Sunday looked good so we decided to spend the day at the pool. I ventured into the water with my camera to give you an eye-level perspective of the kids at play, but none of the shots turned out so great. My freaking out trying to keep the camera dry probably had something to do with it.
That evening I went back to the Wasserturm (water tower) in Mannheim to take some long exposures. It was a very popular idea as there was no shortage of SLRs and tripods. Although not unique (apparently), I did get some nice shots.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Let's go near the zoo...

On Saturday we decided to go to the
zoo in Heidelberg (Emily's idea). We'd already been a couple of times but, what can I say? It's a great place to kill a few hours. We, being our usual selves, didn't get the whole clan moving in the same direction until around lunchtime. B remembered seeing a Biergarten near the zoo so we decided we'd have lunch there.

Before we left, we decided to pack the present we were going to send to Alan and onna (who had sent us a big box of presents earlier in the week). We found an appropriate container but Sophia was cranky so we decided to ship her next week. Get plenty of sleep Alan and Donna, you're going to need it!
It's easy to miss Rosete as you turn onto "zoo" street (I don't know the name). However, we were pleasantly surprised. It sits next to a large soccer field and we thought the inside was quite nice. A very charming Italian man kept the kids entertained with jokes and even a soccer ball, which they test drove on the soccer field. I had a salad and B split a steak with Emily. Robert and Sophia split a pizza.
While we were there, we also met a Brazilian woman who told us we should check out the zoo in
Karlsruhe. That's now on the to-do list for this week.

After lunch, we drove toward the zoo and saw that it was overflowing with folks. We decided to skip it and head back to the ranch. I took the kids to the park while B put a bigger dent in the mess that is Robert's room.

The kids' newest thrillride involves "winding up" the chains on the swings and then laying down while they spin at a few hundred RPM. Sophia may be young but she's got great form and huge potential if this ever becomes a sport. I deducted a couple of points from the "spin" below because her feet clearly came apart prior to a flawless dismount. That night we ate at Chiang Mai's again (new Thai restaurant in Schwetzingen). I had spicey beef, which I I give a hearty thumb's up. If you're in Schwetzingen and want a quick bite to eat at a reasonable price, give this place a shot.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Heidelberg vacation: Day 7
The weather still wasn't cooperating so we decided to go to an indoor pool complex in Schwetzingen. We spent the better part of the morning trying to whip the apartment into shape, with only limited success. The rain was really coming down so we decided to have lunch at the Goldene Rose, an Italian place near our apartment (we had dinner there with the kids on Sunday night). This place is really charming indoors and the food is great. B had a steak with some kind of pepper sauce. I had a baked lasagna/pasta combination dish. The kids had pizza and spaghetti as usual.
We had been to the outdoor part of Bellamar earlier in the week, but with rain coming down, we headed inside. We only stayed a few hours but he kids had a blast. I found a lounge chair and slept off the Hefes I'd had with lunch.
That evening, B and I decided to go to Da Mario, an Italian restaurant in Heidelberg owned by the same folks as Da Vinci. Whereas Da Vinci has very modern decor, Da Mario is all old school: wood and mirrors everywhere. The place is really big. The atmosphere was good as was the food, although our waiter was a little clueless. He forgot to bring our appetizer and B's dish (eggplant Parmesan) could have been hotter. All in all, I recommend the place. We had a decent dinner for less than 30 Euros (I almost never get off that light). It's on the second floor across the street from Café Rossi (a nice segue, as you'll see).
B and I started to stroll down the Hauptstrasse (main pedestrian street in Heidelberg) when it began raining a bit. We decided to head back to Café Rossi. We'd had dinner on their beautiful terrace before but had never gone in. At night the place is really charming indoors. They have a good size bar and plenty of candle-lit tables. B was still a little hungry so she ordered a plate of assorted cheeses. The ones I tried were excellent.
For once, we decided to get home early, leaving Café Rossi at 10 or so. Now the big question: how much more vacation do we take in Heidelberg?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Heidelberg Vacation: Day 6

More bad weather. We left the kids with their babysitter during the morning and headed to the mall in Viernheim again as I was in desperate need of some clothes. Being the manly man that I am, the clothes shopping took about 10 minutes (I bought some dress shirts for work). We then had lunch at Al Forno, the place we had eaten with the kids a couple of days earlier. B had carpaccio again, which was excellent. Before we went in, we bought some marinated shrimp at the place next door as an appetizer. This place (next door) has tons of "she-she-poo-poo" appetizers etc. for those rare festive occasions when you feel like impressing your friends.

On the way back from the mall, we decided to buy some DVDs to distract the kids while B headed out for some "me time". I watched "
My Girl" with the kids who, as opposed to being scared by the little boy's death, seemed fascinated by it, replaying the funeral scene several times. I'll chalk this unexpected response up to healthy curiosity. I had forgotten how bad this movie is on all levels. If anyone in Hollywood is reading, bad script + past-their-prime actors (however young) + catchy theme song (that has nothing to do with the story) = PURE CRAP (now and forever). The kids, especially Emily, liked it though.

Unfortunately, B spent most of her time stuck in traffic. She did manage to run by Ikea to buy some shoe wracks that ended up not fitting well into my "closet" (it's really an armoire as the closet doesn't seem to have caught on in Germany). They worked perfectly for the kids though.

That night we all went to a Thai restaurant in Schwetzingen, Chiang Mai, owned by the couple that lives in the apartment above ours. It's co-located with a grocery store, Rewe. As we expected, the food was incredible! I had Pad Thai that was off the charts. The kids had simple noodles and B, a slave to her diet, had beef and vegetables. We barely had enough cash on us to pay the bill (they don't take credit cards), but, even if we'd been a bit short, as our neighbor said, he "knows where we live". At the end of the meal he surprised us with deep fried bananas with honey. B and I used to eat these with ice cream at a great sushi restaurant next door to our apartment in Rio. At this point, I'm just hoping my clothes fit when it's time to go back to work.

By the way, this Rewe is a "Super" Rewe. It's much bigger than most grocery stores near us and it stays open until 10. There's a Plus (another super market) across the street so we may start shopping there regularly. We have 4 super markets in walking distance of our apartment but they are all small, with very limited selection.

All in all, I'm convinced we made the right decision to stay here for vacation. It's been relaxing and surprisingly fun.
Heidelberg Vacation: Day 5

On day 5, the bad weather continued. I'm not complaining as a bad weather day on vacation is much better than one spent working. We didn't do much during the morning, finally heading out to have lunch at Mandy's around 14:00. I've written about Mandy's before -- it's an old railroad car that's been converted into an American-style diner. It's usually packed with Americans chowing down on great hamburgers. Our kids usually pound down a few pancakes. I highly recommend the "Downunder", an enormous hamburger that leaves your blood feeling like jello. Not sure how many folks have had myocardial infarctions while consuming one of these, but I imagine it happens at least once a week.

Later that night, my blood thinning to unacceptable levels, we headed to Mannheim to Brasil Tropical for churrasco. B is on a low carb diet (and has been since birth!) so the quantity of meat consumed was astounding and not a little embarrassing. This time, there were a few other couples (all German) enjoying this all-you-eat meat-athon.

Sensing that B was inebriated with saturated fat, I asked her if we could stop by Mannheim's famous water tower so I could take some long exposures. Unfortunately, I got there right as the fountains were turned off. I still got some impressive images (if I do say so myself). I'll go back a bit earlier in the next few days to catch the splendor of the fountains (although I'm almost glad they were turned off, the lights reflecting off the still water is beautiful).
Although you can't see them in these low-res images, stars actually appear through the clouds during long exposures. Most cool.