Sunday, February 24, 2008

Relaxation on the go...

Last week at work was a straight up kick aft-wards, meaning this weekend I needed turbo-relaxation. The agenda was packed but I still managed to decompress as much as can be expected in two days. On Friday night, we supped at Sardenga. Culinarily speaking, they haven't moved an inch despite the relocation. The food was spot on although the same can't be said for the kids' manners. We survived however, as did they.

Saturday started with João's (Thomas's son) birthday at Jump Inn. I can't remember the last month that passed without at least one birthday party there. I had fun while I stayed but had to bounce early as I wanted to take a visiting coworker to the Altstadt. We went up the the castle, halfway across the bridge, visited a couple of cathedrals and Venkat was ready to head back to his temporary digs in Walldorf. I think he liked it. The weather was near perfect -- sunny and in the high 50's (I think). I went without a jacket. We entered the pink cathedral (sorry, not good with names), which I had seen only at night. It is really remarkable. I'll go back with the tripod next time I'm free to get some better shots.
As soon as I got back to the compound, I marched the kids to a little pizzeria down the street for some grub and then got ready for bed. B went out with her friend Luciana to Havana, a decent Latin-like bar in the Altstadt. By 21:30, I was out cold (as were the kids).

Today I woke up, poked around the house a bit and decided to take the kids to the zoo here in Heidelberg. The original plan was to go to Stuttgart, an hour and half from here. I took the kids there last year while B was travelling. Their response when I asked them if they remembered, negatory, of course, led me to the conclusion that it would be all the same to them if I take the to Petco. No complaints -- it saved me plenty of gas and 3 hours on the autobahn.
We got to the zoo early, which turned out to be a great idea as the forecast called for sunshine and temperatures in the low 60's. With weather like this in February, Al Gore's "truth" seems less inconvenient all the time.Getting there early has other benefits as well. I've noticed they feed many of the animals soon after opening. Today we saw the chimpanzees noisily noshing the fruit and salad tossed indifferently on top of their cages. The gorillas were given something that looked like monster stalks of broccoli. Must be nice to get that kind of thrill from raw vegetables. One of the oddest things we saw was a busy bee habitat that sat just a foot or so off the beaten path -- no barrier whatsoever from the hordes of kids and other clumsy folk that crowd the zoo each day. I understand next year they're going to have a pool where you can swim with jellyfish and a hornet's nest you can rent as a piñata for birthday parties.
By the time we left at around 13:30 or so, there were huge lines just to get in. By the way, the kids spent a lot of time at the playground, which broke up the monotony of seeing and smelling one animal after another.After leaving the zoo, we proceeded to buy stuff for a simple picnic, which we ate at a park near our house. The kids seemed to enjoy the day and I must admit that it was a great weekend. By the way, Emily lost her other front tooth. A freak accident with her seat belt ripped it right out of her head. She was thrilled, although judging by the reduced compensation, the Tooth Fairy seems to be feeling the pressure of the weakened dollar. No doubt: it's tough all over.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Indians called it Mainz...

This was a pretty low key weekend as B is coming off a near-death influenza experience. Yesterday I took the kids to the park in the afternoon while B tried to whip this place into shape. She failed. This place looks like a Gap that was looted. We'll be doing laundry non-stop until sometime in early April.

Saturday evening, we ended up getting a babysitter and having dinner at Das Bootshaus. Beyond having one of the best views in Heidelberg in the summer, the food at this place is incredible. B had the lamb (again) while I had wicked salad adorned with steak. This place is a no-brainer any time of year.

Today, Robert had a birthday in the morning. While I held down the fort, all three kids played at JumpInn under the watchful eye of their mother. When they got back we headed to Mainz, a really nice city less than an hour to the Northwest of Heidelberg.

Even though it was already getting cold by the time we got there, I have a great impression of Mainz. It's got a couple of really nice cathedrals and a shopping area that looks top-notch, even though everything is closed in Germany on Sundays (something that still irks me, I must admit). We walked around a bit, hung out, had ice cream (at the kids' request) and headed back pretty quick. Upon walking into the main cathedral, we caught a light effect at the alter that was unbelievable. Unfortunately, this church has a crack squad of tripod police that wouldn't let me take pictures with the help of said contraption. I still managed to get some decent shots from the pews. I then went looking for a church I had seen when I Googled Mainz yesterday: St. Augustine's church. Unfortunately, we got there just as it was closing. I can't wait to go back when there's better weather as it is absolutely gorgeous. I got the following shot through the glass as a very sweet nun was shooing us out the door.
On the way back home, we finally ate at a Macedonian (or Makedonian, as their sign says). This place is within a few minutes of the compound and really good. Although the interior decorating won't take your breath away, the food is quite good. Incidentally, they have a good salad bar for 2 Euros!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A day at the palace...

Today we got up and headed to the palace in Schwetzingen (sans B, who is feigning a debilitating cold). I'm still a little jetlagged after getting back from the States on Saturday and hoped the sun would help jolt my internal clock back onto European central time. The kids said they were hungry when we arrived so we put an American spin on a German tradition and had cake and Diet Coke. Emily's manufactured smile says all that needs to be said about her feelings for apple cake.We've been to the "Schloss", or palace, many times but, for some reason, we've never made it to the back of the gardens to the mosque. This time we made a bee-line for it and were rewarded with a beautiful view. The kids played on the rocks on the other side of the reflecting pond for an hour or so. Today it made it up into the low 50's, so it was actually warm in the sun.
We then hung out in the sun for a while before heading to Zum Ritter for lunch. I had a magnificent salad with roasted turkey breast while the kids devoured a plain cheese flammkuchen (a German {or Alsatian?} cousin of pizza).
Afterward, the kids played outside the restaurant for a while where there were some huge wood carvings on display. By the way, Emily and Sophia are getting pretty good on scooters.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A room with a view...

Here's a shot from my room last night. The white cloud is from the fountain show at the Bellagio (the next picture). Must admit it is quite a spectacle with the "dancing" jets of water seeming to reach the height of the hotel at times!
Reflections on the Mirage...

Take it from a compulsive photographer: pictures are not like children -- you don't love them all equally. Last night was cold and still in Las Vegas and I took a picture that I really love.
Low to medium roller...

Perhaps I was too rash in my initial assessment of Las Vegas. When we checked in last night, we were informed that they were unable to find a room for our entire stay, meaning we'd have to change rooms today. To keep a short story short, we ended up in better digs with a view of part of the strip rather than the (trashy) center of the building (pictures of the decent view forthcoming). While nicer than the already reasonable room I had, it pales in comparison to that of at least one of my coworkers, who scored an in-room jacuzzi. So, while far from being a high roller, I'm also far from having anything to complain about.
The first day of the convention was mellow and tonight we have no appointments. I see some shopping and a non-trivial number of cocktails in my immediate future. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Greetings from Vegas...

As I hear this place was once rife with mafia types (and might still be), I'll spare you a diatribe against Vegas in the interest of self preservation. I'll go back into aggressive whine mode when I'm safely on the other side of the pond this weekend.
My implicit dislike for this place notwithstanding, I did manage to get some interesting shots of the hotel where I'm staying and parts of the strip. Enjoy.
By the way, the spirit of Elvis still permeates this modern, artificial Gomorrah and seems to be getting to me. For instance, last night I dreamed I was eating a stick of butter dipped in table sugar. This morning I awoke with an (almost) irresistible craving for Seconal and Ding-dongs. Must fight urge to abuse prescription narcotics and fatty comfort food. Did I just type that?
Greetings from the Golden State...

I've been in Palo Alto since last Thursday and must admit I'm loving it. I did more shopping last weekend than I've done in the previous ten years combined. Beyond that, I got to watch the Super Bowl on West coast time and the last two days the weather has been incredible -- sunny, cool and clear.

I'm now sitting in the San Francisco airport waiting for a flight to Las Vegas. My game plan is to land and take some night shots in Sin City before the conference I'm attending starts tomorrow.
We've had all-day meetings the last two days with a beautiful view of the mountains and Bay. On the second level of the briefing center where we had lunch today, there are big wooden tables on a terrace sporting saplings heavy-laden with lemons. Simply beautiful.