Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring has sprung...

and I have an hour of lost sleep to prove it. We're now on daylight savings time German style and I couldn't be happier. Today we went to Speyer to have a little lunch and see what there was to see.
This little city was packed. As hard as it may be to believe, I took a few pics (with the little woman's point and shoot). I'll be headed to the States in May at which time I'll replace my purloined camera. Enjoy.
By the way, we lugged Thomas along. He was surprisingly well behaved given the number of folks taking pictures on the Hauptstrasse (Thomas is an inveterate photo op spoiler). Finally, there was a street performer in front of the cathedral with his hat out so folks could express their appreciation of his performance in Euros. Emily took a 50 cent coin and ran up to make a donation. We found out at lunch that she took a full Euro in "change". Not sure what to make of her "shrewdness", but we all had a huge laugh when she explained where she got the money. Given that she doesn't really understand the relative value of coins, I'll let this one slide. Note to self: buy a strong box for the loose change in my armoire.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lazy morning and a new mode of disaster...

Since I didn't work today, B and I left the kids at camp on the Hauptstrasse early this morning and had breakfast at Café Extra-Blatt. We've been there before for hot cocoa with the kids and B has had breakfast there before (I believe). I really like this place -- it has a decent breakfast buffet and a lot familiar choices for Americans for every meal; not a bad option when you're feeling especially American. B had the very transnational combination of bread with brie and Diet Coke.
By the way, winter hasn't given up in this neck of the woods. It's been really cold lately and has snowed lightly. The Hauptstrasse this morning felt like a wind tunnel in Siberia.

After camp, I hung out with the kids in our building's garage as they improved their mastery of the bicycle. Robert and Emily are now riding their bikes without training wheels. I'm looking forward to burning up the streets of Heidelberg this summer with them.

Jonesing for Turkey Day...

I took today off to elongate the überweekend created by Friday's and Monday's being holidays in Germany (I was off a week straight without ponying up much vacation time). B and I took advantage of the kids' being at camp to make long overdue vacation arrangements. It's official -- we're headed to Turkey.

I'm sure many Americans find Turkey to be a fairly random destination for their countrymen (countrypeople?) living in Germany. However, we discovered soon after arriving here that Turkey is to many Europeans what Cancún is to many Americans (in the Southeast anyway): it's close, inexpensive, and brimming with all-inclusive resorts. While many may turn up their nose at the idea of eschewing more cultural destinations or activities for the creature comforts of a hotel specifially designed to insulate you from the "local experience", they obviously haven't taken care of our kids for any significant amount of time.
We will spend a week at the Melas Hotel near Side. The Mrs. and I will bask in the glorious Turkish sun while the kids get packed off to some kind of on-premise camp designed specifically to keep them entertained and out of our hair. I have committed to but one rule while there: no drinking prior to 7:30 (yes, a.m. -- don't you read this blog?).
Now the down side: we have to wait until nearly the end of August to go. Between now and then we'll go to Euro Disney and spend a couple of days in Paris. We also decided today that we owe it to our kids to take them to one of the greatest cities on the planet, Barcelona, possibly in May. I'm not sure what impact La Sagrada Família and the Fundació Miró will have on their developing melons, but, based on the impact it had on mine (at 31!), I'm convinced it will be life-changing (and in a good way).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pride of Lyon...

We've spent the last couple of days with my Uncle Ben's family in Lyon, France (he disclaims any association whatsoever with the popular brand of rice). We left early on Thursday morning and made great time, roughly five and half hours, from Heidelberg to this great city, paying the French government around 30 Euros for the privilege of traveling the silky smooth highways at the more-than-reasonable velocity of 130 kilometers/hour.Although the weather didn't particularly cooperate on Friday, we managed to see some of the sites, have typical Lyonnaise fare and have a great time getting to know Ben, his lovely wife Li and their beautiful daughter Emily. That's right: there are two Emily Prickrils on the planet and they have finally met (and are getting along famously). Until Thursday, I had only spoken with my uncle on the phone. My dad's family had 10 kids, but, having spent my formative years a significant distance from Park Falls, Wisconsin, the epicenter of the Prickril universe, I know only a few of them.
Historically, Lyon is a fairly simple city, economically speaking. As is common all over the world in areas not known for their affluence, the traditional local diet is notable for its emphasis on parts of various animals not typically discussed in polite company. We ate at a lovely "Bouchon", or typical Lyonnaise restaurant. B, ever the conservative, had steak. I had a local variety of sausage made with pistachios. The girls had delicious looking crepes.
Today we went to Les Halles, a wonderful French market where we stocked up on good wine from the region (Côtes du Rhône), incredible cheese, pâté and, of all things, ribs. Although the freshly slaughtered chickens with heads still attached were tempting, we opted for a more conventional porcine repast (as faithful readers of this blog know, B is losing a protracted battle with rib addiction {and please, don't judge -- it's a disease}).
While at the market, we saw a nice young man meticulously slicing jamón, a traditional style of Spanish cured ham, right from the pork leg. Upon inquiring, we discovered that this variety was a couple of hundred Euros per kilo (when he offered me a sample, I wasn't sure if I should eat it or snort it). Fascinated, my uncle bought 16 Euros worth. While it had an interesting taste (you can really taste the pig blood!), I can't imagine handing over that kind of jack for it -- call me a gastronomically challenged American.We then went to a huge mall, La Part-Dieu, that made us feel like we were back in the States (or maybe Quebec?). We had a light lunch at a Chinese restaurant and then headed back to the Prickril Compound in Lyon (after the kids rode the inside merry-go-round a couple of times). My Uncle Ben and I then embarked on a mission to buy soy sauce in the Asian quarter of the city. We made this trek on rented bicycles, a relatively new approach to public conveyance found in Lyon and now Paris. The idea is simple: you grab a bike at any one of the unattended rental sites that are ubiquitous in the city. The first 30 minutes are free and you're charged a very reasonable rate thereafter. The kiosks that accept payment seem reasonably user friendly for those who speak French. I believe the idea was to minimize traffic congestion and ease the load on the public transportation system (and maybe give folks an opportunity to exercise?). Regardless, the bikes seem to be quite popular.Ben and I made it to the Asian market in 10 minutes or so. On the way back, we stopped at a Moroccan bar and had several pastis, an apéritif which reminded me of absinthe. Although marginally impaired, we made it back home unscathed and stuffed ourselves on Chinese style ribs and the incredible cheese we bought at Les Halle. My sincere hope now is that I'll be able to put my pants on tomorrow despite the 15,000 calories I've consumed each day we've been here.Above is the view from my Uncle's apartment. In the distance you can see the top of Lyon's only skyscraper, not-so-affectionately referred to as "the Pencil" (le Crayon).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

No big news...

but plenty of little updates. Last Monday we had dinner at
Cabaña in Heidelberg. We'd had dinner there before and liked it. We went back because a friend told us that they have childcare during dinner hours and all you can eat ribs and wings on Mondays. B is a veritable rib addict from way back.

As luck would have it, the babysitter called in sick that evening. We stayed anyway and ate a couple of plates of decent ribs and remarkably hot chicken wings. The place reminds me of an ever so slightly upscale US chain. The service is decent and I'm guessing the patio is an E ticket in the Spring. We're not big on fish, the place's specialty.

Lately the kids have been obsessed with lobster thanks to the
Mr. Bean movie. Everywhere we go (McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Gyro joint), they ask if they can order it! They could hardly contain themselves when the table next to us ordered these colorful crustaceans. The folks at this table found the kids' dropped jaws almost as funny as we did and let them inspect this unusual dish to sate their curiosity. I'm sure they thought we were complete hillbillies!

On Thursday, we had a critical meeting with the CEO of our company. All indications are that it went swimmingly. Now back to my day job. I also found out I may be going to Orlando the first week of May. Guess worse things could happen. Germany has taught me to appreciate good shopping opportunities.

On Friday, I got home early so B could take Emily to see Swan Lake in Mannheim. Although they were underwhelmed with the venue (the
Rosengarten), Emily absolutely loved the performance. She is truly graceful so it will be interesting to see if she pursues ballet beyond the low key classes she currently takes. I stayed at the ranch with Robert and Sophia. We had dinner at Mr. Pepporoni, a little pizzeria and döner place down the street. Yesterday, we went to the the Spring fair here in lovely Kirchheim. We got there a bit early, but a couple of the rides were open. The kids wore themselves out on the bungee trampoline. Emily managed the elusive double-flip within a few minutes. We then had some wurst and headed back to the ranch.
Below, you can see one of the many benefits derived from insisting on Shaolin monks as babysitters during Robert's formative years. Be the bungee Robert. Today (Sunday), Emily participated in a parade that started at her school and ended at the fair, complete with a couple marching bands. I tagged along, taking pictures like I was getting paid for it (in rapid succession and with purpose). Spring has almost sprung here so it was a really nice day. I'm assuming that by April we'll be in the clear. I'm hoping Spring here is as nice (virtually perfect) as it was last year.

Finally, during an off-site meeting in Darmstadt this week, I left my camera backpack in a meeting room overnight. Someone stole it (it appears). I'll buy another one if I go to the States in May but, until then, you'll be seeing pictures taken with our point-and-shoot.

By the way, if anyone from the German government is reading this and is appauled that such an atrocity could happen within your borders, it was a Canon Rebel XT. This time I think I want a black one.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Bad clutch weekend...

or so it would seem given the difficulty we've had getting into gear. As I mentioned in a previous post, we somehow let the laundry situation get totally out of hand. This weekend our goal was to get on top of it. I'm not sure how many loads we did as I quit counting after the 100th. Regardless, order has been somewhat restored.

Yesterday we went to the mall in Viernheim for no particular reason. We ended up buying a bunch of DVDs to keep us and the kids occupied while we did the "warsh", as we say in Oklahoma. The girls stayed in the kiddy prison there while B, Robert and I had lunch. In case anyone's wondering, there's no preferential treatment going on with our offspring -- the mall was absolutely packed on Saturday so the "kiddy San Quentin" was only accepting kids 6 and younger.

Something that impresses me about Germany is the variety and size of the salads you can get at most places. Yesterday I had one with turkey breast strips that was off the charts. Who knew?

B styled the girls' hair à la Princess Leia which I found exceedingly cute. By the way, the kids' German is coming along quite nicely. They sometimes have entire conversations in their adopted tongue amongst each other and with other kids. Emily has displayed the inclination to fight with older kids in German whenever the opportunity presents itself.
You may have noticed in the picture above the Emily has quite the contusion next to her right eye -- apparently the result of a schoolyard fracas. Given the lack of her complaining about it and her well documented propensity for giving as good as she gets, I'm wondering what the other kid must look like.

Finally, after having been spoiled by such a handy place to park the kids at the mall, we were at our wit's end when we went to Media Markt later that same day. Lucky for us, they have convenient lockers at the front of the store where they expect folks to stash their backpacks etc. -- an anti-shoplifting measure I assume. We've found that for short periods of times, these little cubbies serve perfectly to keep the girls out of harm's way. Unfortunately, Robert is already too big. The preceding was a joke. No kids were forcibly crammed in tiny lockers in the making of this joke.