Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Tis the season...

You can take folks out of the US, but it's hard to take the US out of the folks. We put up our Christmas tree today. From what I understand, we've done so much earlier than is the custom in Germany. As we say in Oklahoma, "It looks perrrrty".

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Hump Weekend...

We started this weekend celebrating Thanksgiving but managed to switch gears smoothly into a Christmas vibe. On Friday night, we went to a small Thanksgiving celebration put together by the expats where I work. All that was missing was a good football game and a Barkalounger to sleep off the tryptophan overdose. Fun was had by all and none of us are likely to crave Turkey before the end of December. On Saturday, the kids were determined to stay at home so we let them. I went walking along the Neckar, snapping some decent pics here and there. On Saturday night, we took advantage of Sandra's being here just a few more days to have dinner out. We went to Das Boothaus but they had rented themselves out for a holiday party. If the people there would have been 20 years younger, we would have tried to crash it. We ended up having dinner at Da Vinci. What we lack in spontaneity, we more than make up for in predictability.
After dinner, we went to Schwimmbad, a club near the zoo in Heidelberg. B though she remembered reading that a Stones cover band would be playing. Obviously hard up for anything even mildly entertaining, we went. Turns our B was wrong. Schwimmbad was throwing a 30+ (Ü30) party. Now that smoking is verboten inside restaurants and bars here, the usually thick smoke was replaced by the dispair of single people well over the age of 30. 10 minutes was about all we could take so we uncerimoniously booked it back to the ranch.

On Sunday, we decided to go to Titisee, a city a couple of hours to the South of us, to see the wonderful snow B had seen the previous week. To make a long story short, virtually all of it had melted! The city was still beautiful and we managed to pick up some Christmas decorations for friends in the States and for the compound in Kirchheim. I would definitely recommend this city for those who love coo coo clocks and holiday stuff. The kids loaded up on hot chocolate at a café where we had lunch and later at a restaurant on top of a "mall". Deep into her second cup, Emily entered into a chocolate-induced coma. She came out of it before emergency personnel could be summoned so we decided to take it as an omen and head back.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The end of an era...

Although many have never even heard of it, a Kirchheim landmark has closed its doors for good. That's right kids, Zum Wasserturm is no more. Less than 30 seconds from my front door, this "Oasis of Kirchheim" was my watering hole of choice on this side of the Atlantic.
Those who knew of it but didn't really know it will wonder why I make such a fuss. Sure, it was usually so filled with smoke that you could feel polyps spontaneously sprouting in your lungs. Sure, it was not frequented by the "pretty people" ("degenerate drunks" is more like it). Sure, it was sometimes a surley place that saw its fair share of drunken skuffles and people being forcibly ejected. But to me, it was my little corner of the world where a guy could have a couple of cold beers and think about absolutely nothing after a long, hard day in the salt mines. (And did I mention that it was less than 30 seconds from my front door?) There was also the "Master of Disaster", Chris the bartender, a German who moved to the States as a kid and came back as an adult. I was never fooled by the biker façade. Chris is the kind of guy who not only knows where the bodies are buried but probably helped put some there. Just kidding. (Kind of.) Chris has a heart of gold and was a "bottomless" well of some of the funniest stories I've ever heard (although in an attempt to maintain a PG-13 rating for this blog, I can't share many of them). If Chris is reading this, I hope you get your driver's license back soon brother.
I'll also miss Carmen, Chris's wife. While we probably never exchanged more than 10 words, she was a sweetheart and certainly one of a kind. Her birthday party was last Saturday. Little did I know it was also the swan song for my little home (30 seconds) away from home. But alas, the end has come and I must accept it. No more watching Walter get beyond sideways, telling me (and everyone else who would listen) that he loves me. No more crazy drunken lady sitting in the corner, relentlessly busting Chris's onions. No more "overalls guy" coming in after work and talking to himself while he got pickled. No more 30 second stroll to tall, cold Hefes.

Tonight, I will be forced to walk almost 2 minutes in the other direction to get a beer. Although I'm sure the place will be just fine, something tells me the smoke won't be quite as dense and the beer won't be quite as cold. My guess is I'll see some familar faces there, other Zum Wasserturm refugees. I'll be starting a support group in the coming weeks -- stay tuned for details. If you'd like to make a donation to help us in our hour of need, please make it anonymously and in cash with small, unmarked bills (Euros only and, again, no coins).

Although my chances of getting lung cancer (or getting the crap beat out of my by a mob of xenophobic drunks) have probably been dramatically reduced, I can't help but feel the world is slightly sadder place today. On the positive side, we found out that the folks that own Sardegna (one of our favorite area Italian restaurants) are going to open a pizzaria in the same place. What the hell: they serve Hefeweizen and we all know you can't stop progress.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A miracle on Schwetzinger Strasse...

The Christmas season still hasn't begun in earnest yet we at the Prickril compound have already witnessed our first holiday miracle. As readers of this blog know, B's best friend Izabella (Iza) and her husband Renato are here on their honeymoon. Yesterday, they motored like bats out of hell in their rented Beemer sedan down to Titisee , a lake in the Black Forest a couple of hours south of Heidelberg.

While there, Renato saw his first snowfall. The Brazilian lovebirds frollicked in the snow and darted in and out of stores there selling traditional German Christmas wares. Unbeknownst to Iza, her wedding band came off with her glove while there! Just married, having lost her ring in a little German town buried under feet of snow, all hope was seemed lost when Iza discovered her bare finger on the drive back. Obviously, Iza and Renato were crushed.

Today, they headed back with B to scour the city for the ring. They meticulously retraced their steps to each restaurant and store they'd visited. After visiting several, they had all but given up hope when they found themselves before the tourist information center, which had closed for lunch. After waiting a few minutes, the center opened and Iza recounted her nightmare for the girl behind the counter.

Can you believe that someone found Iza's ring and left it at the information center? We are all absolutely dumbfounded. We will celebrate tonight with copious amounts of Champagne and absinthe. Don't expect a (coherent) post tomorrow. Truth be told, this was the plan whether the ring was found or not!
Anyway, they stocked up on beautiful candle carousels for the kids and us. See below a few pics of our little snow bunny and Christmas angel.
BTW, one of Emily's front teeth is hanging on by, well, the skin of her teeth. I think it will be very cute when they both go. Emily put this getup together by herself yesterday for her "appearance" in school. I consider her fashion sense impeccable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wham, bam, Amsterdam...

Since I last posted, the little woman and I headed to Amsterdam for a few days with Iza and her husband Renato. If you've been reading the blog lately, you know that Iza is B's best friend who is on her honeymoon in Europe. B and I celebrated 9 years of wedded bliss last week so we wanted to do something special. We chose well.

I've never been a man of few words, but I honestly don't know where to start in describing this fantastic voyage. Maybe I should start by describing what an unbelievably unique and beautiful city Amsterdam is. On paper, it probably shouldn't even exist. Amsterdam is below sea level and essentially built on a bog. Good ol' fashioned Dutch ingenuity and tons of pilings driven into the ground have kept the buildings from sinking into the quicksand for hundreds of years. Now on to other surprises. As most folks know, marijuana is perfectly legal in Amsterdam. One can march into a "Coffee Shop" and order pot and hash from a menu. From what I could tell, these place are packed during their hours of operation. Something I didn't know before going is that hallucinogenic mushrooms are also legal. The low price of these "drugs" and the casual nature with which they are sold and consumed is also remarkable.Here's the really shocking part for those of us brought up in puritanical corners of the world (like the US): Dutch society is not falling apart at the seams! Amsterdam is a modern, organized city full of culture and good times for all types. I really admire their ability to handle diversity.
Most people have also heard of the red light district. What you may not realize is that this area of town, far from being seedy and dangerous, is a tourist attraction! We walked through it at various time of the day along with tons of other tourists. While I'd heard about women flaunting their wares in windows, I didn't realize these "windows" are actually glass doors leading to a room just large enough for the expected services to be rendered. We saw all types of men and couples walking around "shopping". The whole time we were there, I saw no signs of ill will or aggression by anyone. By the way, many of the women we saw were absolutely smoke'n (even B and Iza thought so).
One of the highlights of the trip was the Van Gogh museum. It's impossible to describe the sensation of standing 2 feet from a world famous painting you've seen your whole life in books. I was also pleasantly surprised that the museum houses Monets, Pissarros, Cézannes and other impressionists I'd never heard of. If you love Van Gogh (and let's face it, you should), this museum alone makes the trip to Amsterdam worthwhile.

Friday, November 02, 2007

In a fog...

It's been cold and foggy around Heidelberg lately, but that didn't prevent this intrepid photographer from taking a few shots of the castle. I wanted to take the whole family, but it was too cold and Emily got a fat lip falling off a chair. At this point, with her sling and facial contusions, she looks like Wyle E. Coyote at the end of the cartoon. We'll keep her inside until the swelling goes down to avoid any possible complications with the German authorities. Maybe she'll slow down a bit now.


By the way, today is Sandra's birthday. We'll go celebrate at lunch today. We're thinking Da Vinci with Da Mario as backup.
Anyway, the pics I took were mildly interesting. The sunset in the haze was surreal looking.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Noth'n do'n (and do'n noth'n)...

Not too much to report. Emily's x-ray on Monday revealed that all is well with her arm. They'll keep the sling on for 9 more days and she'll be good as new. Pretty cool that she didn't need a cast.

I was buried in meetings all day and into the night on both Monday and Tuesday so today, Thursday, a holiday, is a welcome break. I'm taking tomorrow off too. I plan to go to the castle later and take some shots. In the mean time, I've processed more of the shots from Bulgaria, primarily of the trip up to the Rila monastery. Enjoy.