Saturday, April 30, 2011

Massive Photo Upload Project

As you know, I have still got thousands of pictures from my travels in China and Germany.  Since I was busy living life, I didn't always have the time, energy and/or internet connection to post to the blog, especially due to the large number of photos.  For most experiences, I have anywhere from 100-500 photos (that is AFTER taking out the really bad ones), of which I must choose the best 20 or you would all run away screaming!  Trying to decide which photos best epitomize each experience takes me a long time... (is "best epitomize" redundant?)

So, here's the plan for the coming week while I wait for my next teaching course to begin:  I will make the "old" entries at the front of my blog so you can see them, then after y'all have had a chance to look at them, I will move them into their correct date sequence.

Some of the existing Germany entries will also get a few photo/video updates in the coming days.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Auf wiedersehen

I'm on my way home from my little vacation in Germany now.  It was wonderful. Berlin was really great, a very lively city with loads of history and charm.

Here is a picture of London from the air:
The layover was long enough in London that I decided to amuse myself trying some British food in the restaurant: Steak & Ale Pie, Mushy Peas and Chips.  With cider.

How was it, you ask?  It was plain but tasty.  I used the gravy pot to dip the fries (oh yeah, "chips") in; it was probably not the proper etiquette for the Queen, but she wasn't watching.  I wonder what they put in the mushy peas to make them so very bright green and slightly unusual flavored - possibly mint.

I flew British Airways both directions on this trip and they were quite good. They had some kind of weird headrest extensions that allowed me to actually get a little sleep without feeling like I'd been run over by a truck.  The meals were pretty good, and of course the tea.  Service on board was excellent, and the pilots made smooth and controlled landings on all four flights, which lately I've found to be a rarity.

The personal entertainment centers in each seat are quite nice and in addition to trip info, they have a huge selection of movies, TV shows and music, which you can choose at will.  I watched "Chronicles of Narnia III: Voyage of the Dawn Treader", two episodes of the new "Dr. Who", two episodes of the new "Merlin", and snippets of a few other movies.  I would recomment bringing your own earphones, though, because the foam covered earpieces sit loosely over the ears so that much of the sound is drowned out by the noise of the plane.  I had to cover my earphones with my hands quite often, but I was also sitting right over the wing engine.

I would also like to thank the woman in the seat behind me for sporadically thumping, whacking and jostling the back of my seat like a six-year-old for the entire duration of the flight - I would hate to actually have gotten enough sleep... NOT. 

There are a ton of trip photos still to go through, so look for back dated entries in the coming days. 

German Foods

27 April 2011

It seems that the way to my readers' hearts is through their stomachs, so here is the post you have been waiting for.  Food, glorious food!

First, we have my new all time favorite fast food: Döner Kebap, which is of Turkish origin.  These shops have sprung up everywhere in recent years, and it's easy to see why.  The food is delicious, plentiful and cheap.  The shops usually display the meat on a spit somewhere near the front window.  It's lamb or goat and is shaved thinly with a long knife.  If the shop isn't busy when you arrive, it means the shavings will be nice and crispy, like good bacon.
 A flat bread resembling a square pita but less dry is spread with the sauce of your choice (herb, garlic or spicy) and then is layered with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and more meat.  The end result resembles a tostada salad more than a gyro, so I felt a bit of trepidation about eating this without a fork.
The trick is to squish it just right so that none of the food falls out - no easy task! (For easier eating, it is also offered in a burrito style wrap called Durum Döner.)  At most shops the cook squashes it for you a bit.  Here is my local expert showing me the ropes.
End result? A huge meal that is filling, delicious and cheap.  Not to mention that döner shops are open till the wee hours.  McDonalds, eat your heart out!  

In case you have difficulty finding them, ice cream (Eis) shops all seemed to have this giant cone outside.  Mine!
 The ice cream inside the cases is NOT just dumped into a tub like in the USA, but is displayed beautifully, with fluffy scoops and garnishes.  Talk about "eye candy"!

Next on the menu: Quarkkeulchen, which are basically big donut holes.  Quark is a kind of fresh cheese that resembles a smooth ricotta.  I was kind of hoping for a filled confection, but the Quark is mixed in with the batter for richness.
 Mmmmmm... donuts.

Hot dogs!  Get your hot dogs!  Bratwurst (sausage) vendors are everywhere, from subway to shops to stalls to carts to these incredibly heavy looking backpack-grills.  Usually they sell several different varieties.

This Rostbratwurst was delicious, perfectly browned and crispy.  As far as I know, the only topping available was mustard, which isn't a problem because I like it that way.

For all their skill at engineering, the Germans have not yet figured out how to make the bread the same shape as the sausage... sigh.

Another food that is a "must" in Germany is Schnitzel.  We found a restaurant called Endlos that offered an "all you can eat" Schnitzel plate.  This is a relatively new phenomenon in Germany, so there is no "Hometown Buffet"; the restaurants offering it tend to be much more upscale.  At only 6€, this meal was very inexpensive, but the atmosphere of the restaurant was beautiful, and our waiter was attentive and friendly.  I had a glass of Riesling to make sure I didn't put them out of business.
This plate is bigger than it looks - I don't know how anyone could eat more than this of deep fried items, to be honest! On the right side are cylindrical potato croquettes.  This is the kind of meal you can't eat more than once a month, but yummy.

Oh, and by the way, as far as I can determine, "Wiener Schnitzel" means Schnitzel prepared in a Viennese style and has nothing whatsoever to do with hot dogs. What were those guys thinking when they named their hot dog chain in the USA?

Lastly, we have Spargel!  Spargel is asparagus, but unlike the USA, in Germany the popular variety is a fat white asparagus that is peeled before cooking to ensure you get only the tender part.  It is highly seasonal, so when it is in season, restaurants offer special dishes and advertise it heavily.  This first one says "Spargellust" ("Asparagus Love").
 And this one says "Spargelzeit" ("Asparagus Time").
I did try the Spargel in one restaurant, and it was delicious and tender.  Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of it before tucking in, and partially eaten food does NOT photograph nicely. :(

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Funny signs in Germany

26 April 2011

One of the fun things about traveling is the local signage.  Here are some signs that I found amusing in my travels. 

[NOTE:  Some may be offensive to some readers, so proceed at your own risk!]


What is this?  Yes, it's really dog poop.  In my entire three weeks in Germany, I saw exactly ONE dog owner pick up after her dog (bless her heart). 
 The sign-on-a-toothpick says something along the lines of "mound seeks owner" ("Haufen sucht Herrchen"), along with a web address and a cartoon of a hand waving a flag out of a toilet.  Apparently there are not one but several groups in Berlin that go around sticking these little flags into the piles of dog poop which are on the sidewalks everywhere.  It would probably take less time to scoop them up, but they are making a point... that you can still step in.  Watch your step!

 Mysterious warning on the subway...
"Don't dance on the wall like Fred Astaire"?
"No bungee jumping"?
"Press this triangle for antigravity field"?
It's probably just an oddly dramatic way to indicate "mind the gap", but honestly, it's hilarious!


This is not exactly a sign, rather an Easter display.  Made of a giant egg.  With round patches of human hair apparently swept from a salon floor glued onto it.  Eeeeeuuuwwwwwwww.

I think I've seen this one in English speaking countries too, but it's still cute! :)


This sign was in the street/sidewalk in Dresden.  I had to have this one explained to me, because I simply could not guess what it meant.
"No holding hands"?
"No children"?
"No pedestrians"?
"No school zone"?
"Moms not allowed"?
 Nooooooooo... it's "Ende eines Fußgängerbereichs" (end of pedestrian zone or Fußgängerzone).  Yeah, I knew that.  Of course.


Do they check you for this at the door?  I was afraid to go inside...


Hmmmm... clothing and accessories... Bambi... death...
I see the connection right away, don't you?


A medicine container.  Should I let you guess what is in it?  
These are fizzy tablets to be dropped in water.  (Apparently the "ASS" stands for "aspirin" and is NOT an indication of the flavor.)


If you were offended by the above picture, just close the page and don't look closely at this next one.  Sports clothing for kids and adults, apparently with an attitude.
Say wut?


Sunday, April 24, 2011


24 April, 2011

After the lake, we had dinner in a restaurant and then headed for Dresden, arriving there late at night, but being the weekend things were still lively.  Restaurants were busy, tourists walking about, and the cathedral was ringing the night before Easter bells.

This is the Frauenkirche.  It was about 80% destroyed by bombings, and has been restored.  You can see the dark "original" stones surrounded by the white new stones.
This is a chunkof the original dome from the top of the church, which has been completely rebuilt.

More manhole covers.  It would be cool if they were so interesting back home.  The first one has a map of the downtown area on it, the second and third have the city name and a coat of arms.

Walking away from the Frauenkirche through a little bright, busy alleyway of restaurants and bars, at the end was this very lovely old clock.
The river goes right through the city, and the lighted buildings look fabulous over the water.  I hope someday I will have the time and skill to try more night photos from the other side of the river with a view of the bridge, cathedral and palaces, as they were truly impressive.
Here is the cathedral.  The Easter bells were still ringing as I took this shot, echoing through the night.  It was truly awe-inspiring and brought tears to my eyes.
A palace on the left, the cathedral on the right, and an unknown building behind and center.  (Probably another palace.)
On the site of what was once the Sophienkirche is now a more modern looking building.  But enter, and the cellars have been preserved as a theme restaurant.  We were allowed to wander through freely as it wasn't busy.

Around every turn was another section, from small nooks to a cavernous area.  Each area had little variations on the theme: the alchemist's laboratory.
The wine cellar?
The torture chamber, now that was one table that didn't look so appetizing.
Even the mailboxes were works of art.
It was worth all the driving (thank you, my friend, for doing that!) to see Dresden even for just two brief hours.  The buildings were truly spectacular, even though my nighttime photography doesn't do them justice. I hope I get a chance to go there again.

Road Trip in Rural Germany

24 April, 2011

A new friend, a young Romanian woman who has been living in Germany for over a decade, took me on a road trip south from Berlin. I thought we were just "going to the lake" but it turned out that she had much more than that in mind!

First stop, about an hour's drive away, was a little town called Doberlug-Kirchhain.  Here we stopped for Kaffee und Kuchen at a small local bakery.  Just like everywhere I visited, there was an eagle monument.
The architecture was quaint and lovely, and some of the streets were still cobblestone.
This is the town square for Kirchhain.  I suppose the large open space must once have been the marketplace.
Contrary to the idea you may have from my photos, NOT every building in Germany is restored and maintained... here is a building with its facade falling apart.  Cute window shutters, though! :)
The next stop was at her house.  She purchased an old farmhouse in the nearby area for an incredibly low price, but she doesn't live in it (you will see why shortly).

The extension contains the summer kitchen, bathing room or storage area (?), and toilet, which were not part of the original 1938 house.
Looking from the bath/toilet area at the end of the building toward the kitchen.  On the left you see what is left of the wall that divided the summer kitchen from the storage/bath area. The wall appears to be made of a mud and straw core which was then covered with something else.  At the very rear, the long hole in the wall opens into the original kitchen in the original part of the house.  In the far right corner is the stove and its chimney.  The oven is on the left, covered by a circular wooden lid.  If the gratings were replaced this stove would be good as new.
Standing now in front of the stove looking back into the storage/toilet areas.  The toilet is in the far right corner - the thing that looks like a bench has a small round lid that one would remove, sit over the hole, and, well, you know.  The cylindrical thing is just a trashcan that was stored there.  There used to be walls enclosing this tiny corner and as you can see it had its own door.  The rest of the area must have been either storage, bath area, or both.
The water pump - carrying water is very heavy, by the way - and the overturned tin bathtub. 
A nearby house had this trailer parked in the yard.  At first I thought it was some kind of chicken house, but it turns out it's a giant mobile apiary (beehive).  Cool.
The road the house is on.  Nice view, huh?  Talk about quiet...
Here is what the other half of the town is named after, Schloss Doberlug.  Formerly a castle, then a treasury during the Prussian empire, and finally a monastery, which it remains today. 
It has a MOAT!!!!!!!  I don't know why the bridge was filled in, possibly to prevent collapse, but they have planted a nice lawn at the bottom and I can imagine in summer it would be a nice place for a picnic.
The church of the castle/monastery.  It didn't appear to be open and we didn't go in.
Here we are on the bridge over the moat, with the entrance to the castle on our right.  The building behind us, on the outside of the moat, is the refectory (where they ate, I think), and behind that is the church.
Near the gate of the castle wall is a nice little restaurant.  We had a meal here, but once again I forgot to photograph it before I started eating.  A basic meat and potatoes meal, but very attractively presented and delicious.
While waiting for the food, this family drove up and I couldn't resist snapping a pic of their little girl, with her explorer hat and miniature suitcase.
Finally, around 5:30pm, we make it to the lake in time to catch a few rays! 
She packed a massive amount of stuff to bring to the "beach" - blanket, ball, towels, bathrobes, lounge chair, cushion, badminton rackets and more.  I'm from California, I would have brought only the towel...
If I understood right, the lake is an old quarry that has been opened to the public.  It has only a handful of parking spaces, no facilities, and requires a short hike through the forest, so only the locals go there.  Perfect!
One thing to keep in mind when going to a bathing area in Germany, even if it's FKK (Frei Korper Kultur or nude bathing) - WEAR SANDALS AT ALL TIMES.  The national pastime of beer drinking extends to the out of doors, so  broken glass is on the ground and no doubt also in the water.