Saturday, December 29, 2007

and back again

Well, it's official, I'm back in Wisconsin. The trip back was pretty much uneventful compared to the trip out there! Dee and I got up at 6, she got me to the airport without a problem, and I was on my way! I read most of the way back, trying not to sleep. My mom had given me Tears of the Giraffe (part of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series) as part of a Christmas gift, so I read that completely en route! Since I had done as much of my homework as I could without an internet connection, and the rest of the books I brought were in my checked luggage, I ended up buying The Bourne Ultimatum in an airport store and reading that the rest of the way (so far liking the book better than the movie - Marie is still alive!!).
Now I'm off to visit friends and family throughout Wisconsin and might even dip in to Minnesota a tad to celebrate New Year's with Jen & Mustafa!
Happy New Year, one and all!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

last full day in Heidelberg

Oh dear, it's Thursday, the day before Friday, when - if all goes as planned - I head back to the States. Not that I dislike my home! But it has been marvelous here and it has felt wayyy too short. 3 weeks in New Zealand must have spoiled me!

Dee and I started out the day by heading to Heidelberg castle. It had loomed tantalizing over our heads for every previous visit into Heidelberg, day and night - so it was time! It was great fun; it's one of the largest ruined castles in Europe, and it truly was difficult to comprehend both its age and size. We had a guided tour that was helpful, but even so there was much I missed with my abysmal knowledge of European history. People to look up: Lisalotte and the little sun king (that's a note to myself!). One of my favorite bits was the huge tower that the French had blown up as they ditched the castle at the approach of the Germans. Check out the width of those walls! Another was the huge underground wine cask; apparently a big-time status symbol at the time it was built. I would think it would work for today as well, but it might be a tight fit in my garage! And just when I was hoping so much to impress everybody...

Deanna had to work in the afternoon, but her friend Christina offered to take me to Dilsberg in search of good chocolate! There was no resisting that one, so we took off this afternoon for the tiny walled city. It used to be one of four fortresses protecting Heidelberg. Unfortunately, the chocolatier there runs on odd hours, and apparently today was not one of her days. It didn't slow us down much; we wandered the town, the castle ruins, and even a few shops. We found amazing pottery in the quaint attic of one - it's probably a good thing it was closed when we came back through - and we stopped for crepes at another one. The were AMAZING! Pear-honey-green pepper (as in the seasoning, not the fruit), and plum-ricotta-cinnamon. Really fun to try. And the shopkeeper had on an Arwen necklacy thing. :) The castle was locked, but still neat to see from the outside walls, and it was funny in such a small town to find a Protestant church on one side, and a Catholic church on the other. I'm sure there are interesting stories about that one.

After a stop at a grocery store for chocolate (we had missed it at Dilsberg after all, and I couldn't very well be readmitted to the 'States without it!), wine, and greyere cheese (which I've really developed a taste for since I've been here) we returned to Deanna who was making roast! I don't remember if I mentioned this but she's a great cook, and this was no exception. She hadn't even made it before, and this one was smothered in small tomatoes and whole garlic cloves - ooh la la! Robert & RJ came over for that too, and Lane and Jacquie even stopped by for a bit.

The evening ended on a less lovely note - I had to pack! And fit in everything I'd bought with everything I'd brought! And now to pray for gentle baggage handlers... :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesdays in Germany

So on Wednesdays in Germany we always go to France. At least in my experience. And what jolly fun it is too!

Christina (Deanna's good friend) came with Dee and me today. It was snowing much of the way there, so - while it made driving challenging for Deanna, it really made the trip there delightfully beautiful. I unfortunately slept part of the way - we'll blame that on remnants of jet lag and never mind what my New Zealand travel buddies say. I did wake up enough to see a bunch of deer stands - and actually two deer! - and these big fuzzy puffball things in the trees that I couldn't quite figure out.

Strasbourg was beautiful in the snow. They actually had a merry-go-round running, and a Christmas Market still underway!! So I got to experience that and gluhwein (or vin chaud: we were in France after all) - woo hoo! - after all! The picture is of Dee and Christina warming their noses on theirs! We did get pretty cold. But we wandered all the way up and down it, and inside the Strasbourg cathedral. The cathedral was built between the 13th and 15th centuries and is remarkable for its architecture, history, and the voice that comes on the PA system shushing everyone every half hour. It also has the biggest, oldest astronomical clock that's still functioning in the world. Tres cool. I'll put more details on pictures of today in case you're interested (today's start here)!

We stopped in Soufflenheim on the way back to look for an open pottery shop. We found one (hooray!) and had great fun trying to figure out what (not to!) get. We also found a restaurant where I got to try several things for the first time, including veal cordon bleu with a mushroom & white sauce, garlic-y frog legs (what Deanna ordered!), and capers (on Christine's pizza - I'd always heard of 'em but never tried one!). All three things recommended - although Deanna has informed me a tad about nasty ways in which veal makes it to the plate, so I may not go that route again....

And just to make sure this account isn't too sugary; we did have "discomfortable" moments - nearly running out of gas, having the gps thingy quit for a while, wishing very hard for "toilettes" to be a little more convenient to find, AND getting quite cold wandering about.

All in all though, it was a great day. Awesome people to do fun stuff with in a great country that serves incredible food - Wednesdays in Germany are most highly recommended!!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day

Today was lovely. But it's late and I'm tired, so I will try to be brief! (wish me luck!)

This morning Jemila, a friend of Deanna's who's fairly new here (she's a nurse) had no plans for Christmas Day and was working last night and tonight. So Dee invited her for brunch! She made us shirred eggs (yum!!) and lots of other good stuff, and set the table out beautifully. We had great fun, and Jemila hated to go even though she desperately needed to sleep.

Then I took a nap, and then we headed to the Philosopher's Way, a street here in Heidelberg that runs parallel to the river and overlooks the city on the other side of it. I guess Heidelberg has been a huge place for philosophers to congregate, and many of them would walk that route and look over the city and contemplate! Mark Twain lived here quite a while too. We ran across this huge hand-statue that says something like "Have you philosophized today?" How sweet is that?!! The walk was beautiful, and it was neat to see all the people out and also walking and enjoying the view. Deej says that's one thing she loves about Europeans; they mostly walk on Sundays.

Then we headed to her favorite-friends' place for Christmas celebrations: Christina & Robert and son RJ, Jacquie & Dane, and the two of us had a great afternoon/evening - complete with wine, amazing food that Christina had spend all day making, games, gift opening, and MARSHMALLOW PIPE GUNS! What more could you want for Christmas day?!

Dee & I wrapped up the day by coming home, getting in our jammies, and watching The Nativity Story, which neither of us had seen before. Actually, quite well done, though they did change the story in places.

Losing a day in travel snafoos has really made my time here seem short; we head to Salzburg, France tomorrow (and a really great pottery place on the way, John!). We're hoping Jacquie and Christina will be able to join us. Then the castle here on Thursday morning (Dee has to work in the afternoon), and then I fly out of Frankfort Friday morning. Eeep!

Merry Christmas, all.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Day in Heidelberg

Merry Christmas Eve, friends near and far!

Deanna's summary of today:
"Just say you had gluhwein and you watched a French movie and you ate some French cheese (greyere), and we watched some German guy cut a huge loaf of bread and you ate the best apfel strudel you ever had in your life. And you laughed like a mad woman at all Deanna's hilarious jokes. And hypothesized about why European pavement is usually curved (is it that that's how the guy doing it can best follow the path of his arm's reach - in rainbow shapes? - or that it might not be quite so slippery or change shape so much that way?)."

That's pretty much it! We did some errands this morning down town, and this evening headed to "the cool part" of Heidelberg; very fun to see the old streets and shops and window displays. And the strudel was... indescribable. I have a new culinary challenge! We also had fun just sitting around and catching up more. Then we opened presents! She got me these super-cool pottery bowls that have polka-dots on them. And the coolest little journal that's held together with a long toothpicky thing. Woo hoo!

And thanks for the e-mails and posted responses to this blog! (Hey Becky, good question about the kitty! For some reason Zani doesn't get me at all; she must not have a ton of dander, and then she's not allowed up in the attic where I sleep, and it's all hardwood floors down here? Anyway, I'm glad I'm not needing an inhaler all the time or something!). More pictures of the day are posted to the end of this set! (And game night - I finally got the pics from last Tuesday added there as well...)

I'm so thankful for the birth of Christ, and for all that became possible when "God became flesh and dwelt among us".

I wish each of you joy, heaps and barrels of true and beautiful joy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

yes Virginia, there is a Germany

Made it! Not without my suitcase being lost and us spending over an hour wandering the airport to track it down - and a few other mishaps with meeting up and parking. BUT... Dee did meet me with a big "Ich Liebe Dich" gingerbread heart cookie that I was supposed to wear around my neck (here's a picture - looks like someone got to it before I got the picture taken...)!

The flight was fun; I really tried to sleep most of it, but the food (for airplane food) was lovely, and it was jolly fun having a full-auto-control seat in which I could nearly lay flat. I could have stayed there twice as long! ;)

While we were in Frankfort, we decided to try to see the Christmas mart, as most of them in the surrounding towns have pretty much wrapped up, already. Unfortunately, although Frankfort's was supposed to be still going, the vendors must have gotten tired of it, because all we saw were people breaking down and moving out these cool little huts that must have been great fun to see when they were up and running. (So sorry Patrick, no gluhwein yet - although Dee has a bottle we might break open tonight!) We wandered about the city, got ourselves lost a few times, and then headed out toward Heidelberg where Deanna lives.

And decided to stop at a castle that just happens to be on the way! Schloss Auerbach was built in the 1300s, and looks like it was primarily a fortress-style castle (lots of slots for archers in the outer and inner walls). It was great fun to wander about, climb the two tall towers, and wonder what the landscape looks like without all the fog. It helped that since I've arrived all of the trees have been coated in the most beautiful hoarfrost. The frost was falling on us as we approached the castle (you can see it in the picture if you look carefully!).

Then we got to Dee & Ben's place, and I got to see Zani-the-kitty (who I haven't seen since she moved out with Deanna 8 years ago! I think we're still friends). Their apartment is beautiful - clean and IKEA-esqu with wooden floors and heaps of skylights. I'm in an attic room with a ROUND BED! That's a new one for me! Am looking forward to seeing how it bounces. We've been settling in a bit - I'm fighting sleep and will try to do so till 8 or 9 or so. :) Click here for more pictures of the castle & our trip from Frankfort.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Deutschland Dizzy

So, I'm creating a mini-blog to cover my trip to Germany for the week - I'd like to share it with a broader audience than I (so far) have shared this one with.

So if you want to see updates about the trip, here's your link!

(and side note; I've been homeworking like MAD! I finally finished one class on Wednesday (hooray!!)... but I did not get the second one fully done. The good news is I should be able to get most of the tuition reimbursement based on the first one. The bad news? I still have the second hanging around in my conscience. After my trip to Germany, I'll stop it and just enjoy being there.)

One thing that will be nice about being back in Appleton after the term's end (hopefully) is having less of that constant grinding pressure to get a million things done - I've been pretty dang regimented about homework and gifts-figuring-out, so I'm VERY ready for relaxed and marvelous trip. :-D

Stateside Scafuffling

Well, I'm off! Sort of. If you are a seasoned traveler, I suppose situations like mine today are, if not commonplace , not particularly notable either. So feel free to skim if it starts feeling... tedious. It sure did to me!

I started out by of course forgetting two things; neither of which is essential, but both of which somehow bothered me. One was the upload USB cord for my camera (so if I have pictures to post for this trip "real-time" they will either be from Deanna's camera, or it will mean I found and either stole or borrowed one for myself). The other was the charger for my phone - which also shouldn't be a big deal since I can't use it in Germany, but I do find myself hoarding precious battery time "just in case".

After my friend Linda dropped me off at the airport, I waited about a half hour in line to learn that my Northwest flight to Detroit had been canceled. Their best option was to fly me via Delta out of Green Bay later, then to Cincinnati, and then to Frankfort. I called Linda back, she came and got me, and had meanwhile found that Barbara was heading to GB and was happy to take me, so after a few traffic delays and several Abbot & Costello moments trying to find Barbara, we headed north. Once I reached the GB ticket counter, they informed me that the flight was delayed enough that I would miss my connection to Frankfort, so they re-routed me to fly to Detroit again, and this time to take Lufthansa to Germany. TONS of flights were being canceled or delayed, so I was delighted when we took off; the weather was supposed to be clearer in Detroit. We reached Detroit in plenty of time for me to approach the Lufthansa ticket counter and request my boarding pass (Delta had told me this would be necessary). Here's when it started getting ugly: I didn't have a FIM... an actual ticket. They sent me to Northwest. Who said it was really a Delta problem and sent me outside the security site to the check-in counter at Delta. No one was there but another distraught passenger. We talked to some luggage guys and they suggested finding someone at the Delta counter down by the baggage. We did find someone there... who told us that she couldn't help us but that if Security would let us back in through the gate there would be someone at the Gate B20 Delta counter till midnight (it was probably 9:30 by this point, and my flight leaves at 9:55). There wasn't a long security line, HOWEVER! they couldn't let me in with my ticket not being a boarding pass. After calling in the supervisor and explaining again the situation, he let me back in. At this point I started running. Lufthansa was back in concourse A so this was going to be tricky. B20 was at the far end of a whole different concourse, and the counter was.... empty. I did see some Northwest folks behind another ticket counter, and I put my situation to them. They doubted it would do me any good, but issued me a FIM so that I could try to make my flight. I'm estimating it was a good 3/4 mile between there and the Lufthansa gate, but I ran most of the way, laptop bag, purse, and flapping jacket in tow! I arrived breathless, sweaty, and thirsty... the staff were still there for the flight, but they had already finished boarding and wouldn't let me back on the flight. I stood there, trembling, and just about cried. I returned to Northwest customer service, waited in another half hour line and was SOOO thankful to get someone who took responsibility for the problem and really tried to help. She ended up calling her supervisor over because there simply weren't any flights to re-book me to, unless I was willing to delay another day. (NOoooo!). So they booked me on a $5500 World Business Class flight and told me I'd have to now become the Northwest Airlines poster child! So here I sit in a half-way decent Quality Inn, with a flight that leaves tomorrow at 5 pm and gets into Frankfort Sunday morning at 7. Oh, and without my checked luggage, which means I got to take an adventurous walk to a tiny gas station that (hooray!) had souvenir t-shirts in size XL (read: Angela gets to wear JAMMIES!). Thankfully, I had an extra pair of socks in my bag that Paula had given me for Christmas to wear on the plane. They're so cheering that I took a picture and (if I get a cord!) will try to post here!

Since I'm here for most of the day tomorrow, I'm debating if I should be good (read: finish up Econ homework), or adventurous. Looks like there is an art museum, a Henry Ford museum, and a zoo which might be interesting to check out. I know nothing about mass transit options in Detroit - or really anything else, for that matter. What do you think?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

a bit o' background

So the story is: Deanna is a super-good college friend. When I moved to Appleton, she was already living here, so we became roommates. Which doesn't always work out (the whole friends being roommates schtick), but for us it really did. After she and Ben got married, she bashed about the 'States teaching French in sketchy places and distracting him from his medical studies (I made that last bit up, but I'm guessing it would be way too fun not to do...). They moved to Heidelberg in the summer of '06, once Ben had completed his residency, and this past August he was deployed. So Dee and I talked about me coming for a visit, and this is what came of it! I'll only stay a week, but dang! all sorts of things can happen in a single minute. And a week has heaps of those!

This is a picture of us with some friends at our last school reunion; Deanna, me, Tushar, Archana, & Santosh!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

the fattest wudgy wittle Christmas twee in the world

So! I was not going to get a Christmas tree this year. As nearly as I can guess, if I want to get my schooling done in time to get it reimbursed by work for 2007, I need to do about 5 hours of homework a day between now and Christmas (today's is done, hence the luxury of blogging!). Add to that Christmas shopping, wrapping, baking, the occasional ramble and times with friends and then packing/prepping for a week in Germany and I couldn't see it happening.
But I couldn't do it. Somehow the thought of not pulling out ornaments and having the warm lights to study by just didn't seem do-able. Then I got the lovely gift of a tree skirt, and there was no more option. I couldn't leave it till next year. So today after church I stopped by a lot, found the funniest-looking tree I could, had them whack off the bottom half (small trees are gazillions of times easier to deal with than tall ones), paid them $10, and voila! It fit in my trunk with the lid closed! I somehow like the reject trees in all of their off-set glory. And the fun thing is - they still look beautiful with lights and ornaments; at least I think they do. I was able to bribe Serena with tea and fresh-baked cookies to come over and we had great fun setting it up and decorating it and my apartment.
Isn't the new tree skirt lovely? And isn't the tree just so cute that if it had cheeks you'd just pinch them and say "wudgy wudgy woo"?