Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trip to Strasbourg, verse 11…

My friend Evan has been touring Europe this month. He came to Heidelberg and then proceeded to Munich, Prague, Barcelona, Rome, and Nice and then came back to Heidelberg for a couple of days before heading home to Dallas. It was his first time in Europe so the few days he spent in each city (a little over 3 weeks combined) gave him a reasonable sampling of some of Europe’s finest cities. The verdict? I think he’ll be back soon to "peel a few more layers off" these wonderful places.
On Thursday, he flew from Nice to Strasbourg, where I picked him up at the airport. Although I’ve been to Strasbourg itself so often I’m afraid I’ll be considered a resident for tax purposes, I’d never been to the airport. This trip was somewhat complicated by my complete reliance on our navigation system, whom we call Poposuda. It seems that Poposuda has thrown a rod. No matter what I do with her settings, she refuses to take us on highways (selecting and deselecting the avoid expressways setting has proven futile). Heidelberg to Strasbourg on back roads is a fate only the lowliest of fugitives deserves. Regardless, I found the airport and we headed to S town. However, I couldn’t find anything in Poposuda’s Points of Interest list that would get us close to the cathedral. Old city centers like that of Strasbourg can be extremely difficult to navigate as a.) They were essentially laid out by cows and b.) They are full of one way streets with limited left turn possibilities that create a vexing condition I call the “Moses Paradox”: one can clearly see the Promised Land but can’t quite get there. After driving in circles and almost driving ourselves nuts, I found a space in front of the cathedral (even though it’s better to park in the Gutenberg garage {hint, hint}).
On Saturday, I took Evan to Heidelberg’s Altstadt. We went up to the castle and cruised around taking pictures.
We had a couple of beers at the little restaurant inside the castle grounds. I highly recommend this experience if you haven't done it. This place still houses an old oven (I think) with a massive chimney that looks somewhat interesting (although nondescript) in HDR.At the castle, I walked for the first time to the area beside the main garden. Not sure what to call it, but the view of Heidelberg (including a direct shot up the Hauptstrasse) and the Neckar are big league beautiful. The sheep grazing on the hillside were also a nice touch (in all but an olfactory sense).
Something about the impending rain made me focus on some of the darker subjects we came across in our long rambling. The following faces can be found on the interior facade of the central building in the castle (I’m not sure what it’s called). The dried moss and hollow gaze of these faces are mildly disturbing up close, no? I was fascinated by the skull dangling from the beaded belt (is it a belt?) of one of the statues of one of the saints in the pink church. I can as easily picture Ozzie wearing this ornament on a Sabbath album cover. Kind of reminiscent of certain Tim Burton flicks too (in my opinion).
We had planned to take some long exposures of the castle at night but simply ran out of steam. It’s also a tedious exercise without a tripod, which I had consciously left at the compound. Anyway, we booked Evan on the Lufthansa shuttle for Sunday morning to save ourselves another trip to the airport in Frankfurt. If you’re not familiar with it, this extremely convenient van leaves and arrives between terminal one and the Crown Plaza in Heidelberg at a cost of only 18 Euros (less than a fifth of a cab and even less than the train I believe). You should make a reservation.
On Tuesday evening, we head to Barcelona for a week. We’re staying near the beach so we can bum around in the afternoons after having taken in some of the sights during the morning. As always, you can count on me to compulsively take pictures of this fascinating city.
On the move...

As I've mentioned before, we'll soon move to Walldorf. One of the things I'll miss most about our current neighborhood (Kirchheim) is the tolling of the church bells (actually, we might hear Walldorf's just as well -- I haven't been there at bell ringing time). I've always wanted to record the tolling on Sundays and finally got around to it. The noise toward the middle is not a band of Huns invading our building; one of my neighbors got back from walking her dogs.

Anyway, take a look below for one of the simple pleasures (for me anyway) of a lazy Sunday morning in Kirchheim, Germany. By the way, if you squint you can see the top of the steeple over the tallest tree a bit left of center.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Carbonite baby...

Was reviewing some of the pictures I took today and noticed that Carbonite had already backed most of them up. I must admit I haven't had to retrieve lost files from this online backup service, but thought I'd let readers of this blog know about it anyway. The files below with green lights under them have been backed up (this info shows up for all files right in Windows Explorer).
Carbonite backs up the fixed drives on your PC for about $50 a year. It's always running in the background and, as far as I can tell, has never adversely impacted performance on my PC. If you have a lot of stuff like I do (about 400 GB to back up), the initial backup can literally take months. However, after that, it automatically detects new files and gets them backed up off-site in pretty short order. They encrypt your backup so I guess it's relatively safe from prying eyes on their side.

Anyway, losing the pictures I've taken over the years is one of my biggest nightmares (having to sit through a Cirque de Soleil show is #1). I back most stuff up to DVD but am usually a few months behind on this task. Even so, if our building goes up in flames, I'd be pretty much screwed as a lot of fine memories would become little more than ash and smoke.

Anyway... hope this helps someone.
Gratuitious shots...

of the kids. Enjoy.
Seven years of flirting with disaster...

and she's still flying high. Emily turns 7 today. She commemorated the event yesterday by almost getting hit by a streetcar. I would just as soon not recount this one.
As is tradition in Brazil, the day started out with her opening her presents. I invoked executive privilege at the last second so Emily didn't get her roller blades. I've spent enough time in emergency rooms with that girl. Her friend Jana spent the night so they were already on fire at 7:30. By 10:30, her party was in full swing.
We had the party at Happy Kids in Eppelheim. I think attendance was just about right this year, about 20 kids. They all had fun playing like there was no tomorrow. Ever notice how sweaty kids smell like a hand full of nickels (apologies to European readers for the obscure reference)?
B made brigadeiro but left the cake preparation to a bakery in our neighborhood. The birthday table received the usual full treatment as you can see below. The highlight of the party was Emily's impromptu face plant in her cake. Everyone was shocked for a second or two before we all erupted with laughter. If she were predictable, she wouldn't be Emily.The icing seems to have had an exfoliating effect. I've never seen Emily's skin so radiant! I smell infomercial for the "European Sugar Lift". With all these spooky ideas, I can't for the life of me figure out why I'm not a millionaire (but blame oppression by "the man" in the mean time).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

XXX weekend...

Centuries before the MPAA irrevocably twisted the meaning of XXX (in the minds of most Americans anyway), Amsterdam adopted 3 crosses (of the St. Andrew's variety to be precise) on their coat of arms and much later their flag. There's something menacing (in a medieval sort of way) about this flag in my opinion.
I took the train to this incredible city last Friday, returning Sunday evening. I went with a friend whose name I'll withhold until the statute of limitations has run on the most egregious of his crimes. Just kidding -- I went with Evan, a longtime friend and former business partner who is visiting Europe from Dallas.
The weather our first day was absolutely incredible. Amsterdam is already an 11 on the beauty meter, but with a solid blue sky and radiant sun, it's almost supernatural.
We stayed in a decent hotel (the first one below) that was a 5 minute tram ride from Rembrandt square. The weather didn't cooperate as much on Saturday and Sunday but we still (somehow) managed to have an incredible trip.
One interesting note about the Deutsch Bahn trains: they are not the paragons of organization and punctuality I expected. We experienced a few delays and platform changes that reminded me of (average) air travel. They're also not particularly cheap in my book. I can drive to Amsterdam in about 4 hours. The train takes between 5 and 6 and cost over 100 Euros.