Monday, July 30, 2012

5 countries in 15 days

Since we still don't know whether our "European Vacation" will be 3 years or 3 months, we are making the most of our time right now, especially while we have the long days of summer sunlight. You'd think we were actually on a vacation to be able to be in 5 countries in a short period of time but my husband is actually working during the week and I've done some work remotely from here as well. Fortunately from where we are geographically situated here, driving to different countries is similar to driving to different states in the US.

Starting on July 14th, we went to Strasbourg, France, befitting because it was Bastille Day.

The next day we headed south and decided to venture into Switzerland where we spent the day strolling around Schaffhausen. I will have to tell more about Schaffhausen and how it was serendipity to wind up there.

The next weekend we left on a Friday and made a long weekend out of driving to Vienna, Austria with a stop in Salzburg on the way home. We could have driven not quite 90 more kilometers east to Bratislava, Slovakia and added one more country to our list, but we decided it would take time out of seeing Austria, so we chose not to go.

This past weekend we drove to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg and stayed overnight.

I have pictures from all of these places and plan to post them here and on Flickr, with a little commentary about where we visited.

The Produce Man Returns

After figuring out that the Produce Man comes every 2 weeks, around 8:30 in the morning, I was ready for him. I had my list, my Euros, and most importantly the key to the apartment because the door locks behind you. Of course I needn't have worried about my inferior German language skills - the Produce Man is young and speaks better English than I speak German, though I did speak German when I could. I also wrote down the German words for what I wanted but it turned out I already knew them after buying them in the grocery for the last 6 weeks: Kopfsalat, Tomaten, Heidelbeeren, Kirschen, Erdbeeren, und Eier.

I suspect the price was higher than at the grocery, but it's worth not lugging the bags up the hill or spending fuel to drive to the commissary. And if you can't tell from the picture, the produce is quite nice. Silly as it sounds, it was a fun experience and I look forward to buying more in 2 weeks. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fourth of Munich

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Munich, a set on Flickr.
We could have celebrated with hot dogs, beer and fireworks on the Army base but instead we skipped the festivities and opted for a day trip to Munich.

Hopefully it will be one of many trips to the city, and we'll be able to explore more. On this trip we stopped first at the Biergarten in Englischer Garten where we enjoyed oversized pretzels, beer and some sandwiches I'd packed. We could have lingered there all day and enjoyed the German band that was playing in the Chinese Pagoda, and of course more beer, but since I hadn't been to the city since 1992, I was curious to see if I'd remember any of it and how much it'd changed. Turned out I didn't remember much at all, except for the famous Glockenspiel that every tourist to Munich visits.

We headed toward the Marienplatz, where the Glockenspiel is located, but first I had to witness the river surfing. Yes, surfing on a river. About a half dozen young men in wet suits took turns hopping from the banks of the Eisbach River onto their surfboards to ride the wild rapids that form on the river just after a bridge. Apparently people have been surfing here for 40 years but 2 years ago Munich made it legal to do so.

From the bridge over the Eisbach River we walked toward Marienplatz, passing through the Hofgarten. We had mssed the last show of the Glockenspiel (11 am but also noon and 5 pm in the summer) but perhaps we'll catch it another time. I do remember that I saw it 20 years ago - about all I can tell you is that characters come out and twirl around and music plays. I'm sure there's a Youtube video of it out there.

On our way back to Englischer Garten where the car was parked, we stopped to see a huge memorial to Michael Jackson. We don't know why there is such a huge memorial to him - it takes over the statue commemorating a Bavarian musician. At any rate, it was somewhat amusing to read the heartfelt messages and see the items left by his fans. It was certainly impressive to see such an expression of adoration. I don't know if there was a special connection he had with the city, other than probably playing concerts there.

Munich is about 2-3 hours away, depending on traffic, or more accurately the amount of construction on the autobahn that causes the traffic. We'll be back, I hope.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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Rothenburg, a set on Flickr.

The town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Fortress above the Tauber [the river]) is about an hour and a half drive from Stuttgart. We visited there on a whim one Saturday after we exchanged the rental car (the car can only be rented for 28 days maximum). There was a navigation system so out of curiousity we looked to see where the previous renter had visited. Rothenburg ob der Tauber was on the list so we decided to go.

The town is a well-preserved medieval town and as such it's a draw for tourists. The day we visited it started out sunny and warm and then a heavy shower moved through. We sought shelter by visiting the enclosed walkway atop the city wall.

Preservation of the town began in the late 1880's when Romanticism artists rediscovered the city bringing tourists, and laws were enacted to prevent major changes. The city was bombed during WWII; however, the U.S. Army was ordered not to use heavy artiliery to preserve the historic importance and beauty of the city. Donations came from around the world to quickly repair damage to houses and the town wall. (source: Wikipedia).

There appears to be a lot to explore in this town and I hope we will return another day to do just that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Color out of a box

One dilemma you face when you move is finding a new hair stylist, which is even more of a problem when you move to a new country where you don’t speak the language very well. If it was only a haircut I needed, then I would have put it off because I wear my hair long and straight, but the inch-wide stripe of gray along my part was bothering me.My first gray hairs sprouted in my early twenties and not even ten years later I was a regular in the salon chair. Now without the hair dye, I’d be almost completely gray. While I have toyed with the idea of “rockin’ a head of natural gray” like Jamie Lee Curtis, my stylist convinced me that I’m too youthful looking to go that route just yet. I may be “cursed” with the gray-hair gene, but I was blessed with the “no-wrinkles” gene. I’d definitely choose gray hair over wrinkles.

Since I’m 6000 miles away and not wealthy enough to fly my stylist out for a cut ‘n color (wouldn’t she love that and wouldn’t I love being wealthy enough to do that?), I decided to color it myself. Yes, there are salons here, and I probably could find someone who speaks English, but I just don’t feel confident yet to go ask. I’m shy, ok? I’ve done my own color a few times when my schedule didn't mesh with my stylist’s and it couldn’t wait, but the difference this time is that I didn’t have the exact same dye she uses. I used L’Oreal Excellence to Go 10 Minute Cream, which I was able to get on base (we have access to the nearby army base for shopping, which is a nice perk). And yes, there is a salon on base but I still chose coloring my hair myself over taking trains and buses to get there.

So the results? I miss my hair stylist. I do – she is a good friend now. But I also miss just sitting back and having her make my hair pretty again while we chat. The gray is mostly covered but so are most of my highlights. I tried to only cover the roots but I didn’t want a stripe of a different hair color either so I “mooshed” it in a bit like my stylist does every so often to merge in the older, dyed hair and avoid a stripy “tree ring” effect. All in all, it’s not bad…a little darker than I wanted (left it on too long I think, fearing that it wouldn’t cover the gray), but not bad. When I was in the store, a young, blonde woman was also looking at the hair color on the shelf, but when her mother came by and briskly warned her repeatedly that “it’ll turn your hair orange”, she gave up. My hair did not turn orange. Maybe it’s because I’m not blonde but maybe it’s also because I had some guidance from my stylist before I left about which color to choose.

In theory you should be able to achieve the same results from a box of dye bought from the drugstore as you do from a salon, just what L’Oreal and Garnier and Clairol want you to believe too. After all, it’s pretty much the same stuff they use in the salon. However, you don’t have the ability to see your own head from above and behind to make sure you get the dye everywhere it needs to go. Also, the reason I pay my stylist is for her to choose the right color and apply it correctly so that I don’t look like I just dyed my hair.

I will probably dye my hair myself again – I have one more box of the L’Oreal dye, but I will also work on my confidence to go to the salon here. Pretty soon I’ll be wanting a haircut too and I won’t do that myself. Well, maybe my bangs.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn

We drive drive drive on the Autobahn*

The German Autobahn: drive as fast as you want but beware of even faster cars coming up behind you. Well, except when there actually is a speed limit and when there is stau. One of the first words we learned here is "stau", which means "traffic jam."

And it's often because of this:

But the roads that aren't under construction are in really good shape, much better than the average U.S. highway. In the U.S. we'd need to have these two signs posted just about everywhere - they mean "road damage":

This sign is what many drivers want to see on the autobahn. It means there is no speed limit:

There is an advisory speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour (81 mph) on the autobahn but I can tell you that many people drive much, much faster when they are able. You'd think at those speeds there'd be accidents all over the place. There aren't because the Germans adhere to the policy that slower vehicles drive in the far right lane, and you only move to the left lane to pass. That's supposed to be the law in the U.S., right?  Well here in Germany, you really do only move to the left lane to pass and then you better get back over to the right or you'll have an Audi or a Mercedes or even a little VW in your rearview mirror when you thought for sure no one was back there when you checked before passing. You are also prohibited from passing on the right except when there is congestion. This makes the flow of traffic much more predictable - really important because when you drive at higher speeds reaction time is critical, and the last thing you want is to have someone do something unpredictable when you're driving over 100 mph.

One thing I'm pleasantly surprised at is that the truck drivers here are not aggressive drivers - or at least we have not witnessed this. If you've driven I-95 along the eastern U.S., you know the feeling of being nearly (or actually) squashed by the trucks. What I've experienced here in Germany as well as in France is that the trucks stay in the far right lane and drive almost convoy-style. They have a strict speed limit of 80 km/hr (50 mph). They do occasionally pass slower moving trucks and this sometimes causes congestion, especially on 2-lane autobahns, but it's temporary. Trucks from all over Europe drive through Germany and at first it was entertaining to discover where they come from: Poland, Turkey, Slovakia...but now I'm used to the international mix of trucks. Just one warning though - be prepared for the rest stops to be jammed with trucks on holidays and Sundays as they are not permitted on the roads before 10:00 pm. I did not know this until I did some research (i.e., Wikipedia) about the autobahn.

And what else did I learn about the autobahn from Wikipedia? The idea for the autobahn was conceived following WWI but didn't progress until Hitler embraced the project just after the 1933 Nazi takeover. I was surprised to learn that the autobahn was not intended as a major infrastructure for the military since military transport of goods was done via rail to save on cost. However, as the first limited-access, high speed road network in the world, the autobahn was a propaganda tool and was used to attract international attention. The first section opened in 1935 and was from Frankfut to Darmstadt - we've driven that route! Another bit of trivia is that one of the highest speeds ever achieved on a public motorway was set on this section of autobahn: 432 km/h (268 mph) set by Rudolf Caracciola.

*Lyrics from the 1975 song Autobahn by Kraftwerk. I remember this band and this song because my sister had an album by Kraftwerk with this song on it. Now wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn.