Friday, July 31, 2009

It's all because of the Germans

Next time you stop and wonder why English is such a wacky language, know that a large part of it comes from the Germans.

I've been doing well learning names of things at the grocery store, random things that you run into in everyday life, etc. But being able to point at random things and say their names makes you a pre-lingual toddler, not a conversationalist. It's cute for a while, but then it starts to get obnoxious (and a little boring).

So, I've been working on the verbs.

Can I just say that there are a lot of irregular verbs in German? Seven classes, to be exact. With subclasses. They are irregular in a surprisingly predictable way (German must have its rules, you know), but there are still a lot of them.

Ever tried to explain to someone why I sing, you sang, and it was sung?

That would be Ablaut class 3a. The i-a-u stem-changing verbs. Singen, sang, gesungen. Yup. It's all because of the Germans.

How about sinken, sank, gesunken? Springen, sprang, gesprungen? Stinken, stank, gestunken?

Language is so much fun.

And gestunken is a funny word.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In which I talk randomly about not much of anything

Well, by the looks of this blog, our "adventures" must be pretty darned boring, huh?

Not really.

Actually, they've been pretty fun, but I've generally been off doing things rather than posting. What have I been doing? Let's see.

We went to Karlsruhe. Three times now. We did some shopping with friends, visited the palace, climbed the tower, wandered around the city, and last weekend we went to Das Fest. Das Fest is basically a crazy crowded outdoor (free) rock concert. Not usually our thing, but one of Branden's work friends invited us, so we went. It was fun. More on that later.

We've also visited a nearby town called Maulbronn (and its cloisters) twice.

I went walking in the woods with some new friends.

We've gone out to dinner with friends and sampled the local cuisine. It's good. We like schnitzel with noodles. (YES, Mom, I know that you now have a song stuck in your're welcome. Thought I should share.)

We bought a toaster oven. Did I post about that? I don't think I did. I wrote a post about that, but I think it's still in the drafts folder. See, there's this problem with not having internet for a while. We do stuff, I write a post, save it in a folder, and forget that I never hit "publish." On a blog, hitting "save" means that I'm done, content is posted, and it's checked off the list. If it gets saved to a folder rather than the blog, it gets checked off anyway, and I tend not to remember that I need to come back. This is bad for content actually making it onto the internet.

Plus there's the pictures thing. At the internet cafe, it took about an hour and a half to upload the pictures for the Peter and Paul post. That wasn't very many pictures, and it was really not very fun to sit and watch the little "loading" button flash on the screen for that long.

And then we got internet at home. I nearly danced for joy.

Then we tried to use the internet at home.

The internet thinks that we should learn to be satisfied with having and forget about using. Let's be nice and just say that it's slow.

That's a lot nicer than what I said about it earlier when it took me an hour to compose an email which then disappeared into the ether with a "page cannot be found" message. It didn't help that the email should have taken 5 minutes to write, except that it involved browsing to three whole webpages and downloading a very small pdf, which took the rest of the hour...

Anyway. Slow.

I think continents probably move faster most days.

We can't upload pictures from home, so Branden is ferrying the files to work with him and uploading them to the web from there, and hopefully I will be able to show you the things we've been up to soon. I hear that the Processing of Pictures might even be nearing completion, so they may someday be released from the Secret Folder of Mystery so that I can look at them and think about what to write. (Who me? Nag? Never!)

Ok, so technically I could probably access the Secret Folder of Mystery if I tried. But really? Panoramics don't look like anything until they are Processed.

On second thought, they look a lot like random pocket pictures. Except that they're not random and they're not of the inside of a pocket. But other than that? Totally like pocket pictures. Random bit of sky here, half a person there, crazy shot of nothing but pavement over there. Not much to look at, really. Unless you're a two year old and that random gum wrapper was really the most interesting thing in the palace. Then panoramic pieces might be fun. For the rest of us, it isn't really worth it until they are Processed, but then there's something to show. And it might even be worth waiting for.

So. There have been some adventures. Theoretically there will be pictures soon. And, provided that the ether does not return to swallow my writing the moment that I hit "publish," there will even be a blog post.

ETA: Miracles apparently do happen. There is still a blog post.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New fruits

It’s not often that I find a fruit or vegetable I’ve never tried. I tend to eat all the weird things that no one has ever heard of, and it can be a challenge to find new ones to add to the list.

In our first trip to the supermarket, I was intrigued by these little berries:

They’re called Johannisbeere, and they come in red and black. They’re all over the place here; every supermarket has them. Of course, I had to try them.

So, I bought 500 g this afternoon.

They are very sour, just a little on the sweet side of a cranberry. Taste a little like cherries, and a little like grapes, but also not quite like either.

These are not berries that you would want to eat out of hand (or at least not more than one), which leaves me wondering what to do with them.

An internet search identifies Johannisbeere as currants, and suggests jam or other things with lots of sugar. I don’t have enough berries for a jam, and I don’t have an oven to make the myriad baked goods suggested, so I’m going to have to get creative. I’m thinking pancakes, but we’ll see what happens.

I also added dragon fruit to my list of things that I’ve tried. Ice cream shops are very popular here, almost like coffee shops in Seattle; every other building downtown seems to have an “Eis” sign. We were walking around downtown last week, and stopped to get some ice cream. I thought I was ordering raspberry based on the color, but one taste and it was clear that it was a fruit I’d never tasted before. That’s the fun thing about ordering from menus when you have no idea what they say. You’re very likely to be surprised.

At least this surprise was a good one. I like dragon fruit, apparently. It’s sort of like raspberry (maybe because that’s what I was expecting), but it’s also a lot like melon. Maybe a little bit like mango.

Actually, it makes me think of Air Heads candy for some reason. I have no idea what flavor. It’s been at least 10 years since I had an Air Heads, so who knows if they actually taste like dragon fruit, but that’s what comes to mind as something similar. I’m sure that the artificial flavoring of Air Heads candy does no justice to the fruit, anyway.

Unlike Johannisbeere, dragon fruit isn’t a particularly German thing. Google says that it’s an asian fruit, and I haven’t seen the fruit itself in shops here. I’ll have to look for the real fruit next time I’m in an asian grocery store…I think it would be worth a try.

Cats in (and out) of bags

Several people have expressed surprise at our decision to take the cats to Germany with us. Really, there wasn’t much of an option. Most people that we know are
  1. not pet people

  2. have pets of their own

  3. have children

  4. are allergic to cats

Clearly, the 1 and 4 groups are right out. It might be ok to foist one’s felines on an unwilling victim for one month, but six? No, they would need someone who at least likes to take care of animals, and someone that can breathe in their presence.

The cats themselves have ruled out the 2 group. If their interactions with foster kittens are any indication, they would spend the entire 6 months hissing and growling at the door that separates them from the other animals. An entire house is not enough room to ignore the presence of another cat, who must be shown who is boss at every moment of the day.

Children are an unknown quantity, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially since said children are generally on the younger end of things, and we don’t want to scar anyone (mentally or physically)…

So, they had to come. Germany has no quarantine rules, and a few days of travelling was easier than arranging a 6 month hotel around their finicky preferences.

We spent a few months acclimating the kittens to carriers, leashes, and cars when we first got them. They went on trips to parks and on walks in the backyard, until Mischief announced her strong dislike for anything outside of the house. Artemis still goes out in the backyard on occasion, but we’ve generally stopped taking them on outings in recent years.

With this in mind, we weren’t really sure how they’d handle the 3.5 day car ride at the beginning of the trip. We took them on a few shorter rides, and they did a lot of complaining about being in carriers in the car. Caterwauling is really the only appropriate term here. It is as loud and grating as it sounds.

I was really looking forward to be the one playing kitty chauffeur.

Branden built a divider for the hatch back out of PVC pipe and chicken wire, so that we could let the cats out of their carriers and give them access to food, water, and litterbox while we were on the road.

There was a fair bit of crying for the first half an hour or so of the drive, but then they realized that yowling wasn’t changing much, and they settled down. The first two days of the drive were between 88 and 93 degrees, and that kind of heat definitely has a soporific effect, which probably saved my sanity. I didn’t want to use AC in the front, since the air circulation isn’t all that good to the hatch area, and their carriers didn’t provide all that much shade. So, we drove with the windows open and the wind blowing. They got ice in their water, and icepacks under the mat in the bottom of the carrier, though Mischief preferred the natural cooling of her litterbox, and spent most of her time curled up in there. (At least it was clean…) After an initial period of crying each morning, they pretty much gave in and slept the entire way.

We also weren’t sure how the cats would handle hotel rooms, but we needn’t have worried. Their only complaint was not being allowed out of the bathroom fast enough. It generally took Artemis about 5 minutes to find and scale the highest thing in the room, and only about 15 minutes before they were finished poking their noses into every last corner and had settled in as if they owned the place.

The airport was a little less fun. They object to being confined to a carrier. It is an insult to the Dignity of Cat to be refused the right to explore at will. Artemis took to body slamming the inside of her carrier, trying to get out. Head stands and other gymnastics were added to the repertoire when body slamming wasn’t dramatic enough. The airline carriers are soft-sided, and so roll quite nicely, as she quickly discovered. Within moments of being placed on the floor, she’d start rolling off down the aisle in her carrier, unless trapped between a suitcase and a chair leg.

Cats must come out of their carriers at security, so that the bags can go through the x-ray machine. They were harnessed, and we were wishing for body armor as we approached the first check point. Vets no longer recommend sedatives for plane flights, apparently, since cats can’t regulate their body temperature when sedated. There have been a number of kitty heart attacks after flying, and so they recommend that you just deal with the crazed kitty in the airport rather than drugging them. We expected this to be a lot of fun.

The cats surprised us again, and were very easy to handle. I think they knew that there wasn’t much they could do to get out of it, and that playing along was a good idea at this point. They had probably been through enough already; getting in and out of the carrier was becoming old hat. They even decided that they wanted to get back in again at the other side.

We had a long wait at the airport in Madison, as I mentioned earlier. There were almost no people around, and so we did let the cats out briefly on their leashes before boarding the plane. It’s funny how many people are charmed by a cat on a leash. You’d think they were standing on their hind legs and speaking English or something. Really, it’s not that hard to make a cat put up with a harness. You start when they’re little. You put it on them. They walk around on their elbows and look miserable for a little while (if they’re Mischief), and then they get over it. If they’re Artemis, they come running because leashes mean that they can go outside and play tiger-in-the-grass. Bold and fearless hunters love leashes.

The Madison airport was the last time out of the carrier, except for security in Amsterdam. Other than that, there was bumping around as we ran through two airports, and then getting stuffed under airplane seats, all of which they handled with relatively good grace.

I think the cats were surprised that they didn’t have to get back in their carriers on the second day in Germany. It had become such a habit at that point. It was a little odd for all of us to suddenly not be on the move for a little while. Mischief had sworn off going anywhere near the carrier without shoving, but I think she still expected to be shoved.

They’ve now settled into the hotel/apartment as if they’ve lived here their entire lives. The papasan (the only chair in the room) is clearly meant as a large kitty basket just for them, and Artemis sits proudly on my pillow when she’s not following me around.

She has discovered a love of German cat food unlike any that she has had for American food. I’m hoping that we won’t have to import cans back to the US when we leave. I’m not sure she can go back.

Mischief is taking longer to convince, at least on the wet food. We have a few cans of American food with us, so she has a while to adjust. She has been hinting that she’d be quite happy on a diet of German dry food, but that’s not so good for her girlish figure. We’ll be heading back to the pet store this weekend to buy one of everything and see what she’ll actually eat. We’ve tried 4 different kind of food so far, and all have been buried with disdain.

Mischief has forgiven her carrier, and now sits in it almost daily, defying it to close on her. She has clearly won the battle, as it hasn’t closed yet. Artemis sits in it and wonders if we’re going to go somewhere else soon.

I think she kind of likes this world traveler thing…

Or maybe it's the accomodations.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peter and Paul

Turns out that those fireworks were for an Independence Day celebration, after all. Peter and Paul Fest is the single biggest event of the year in Bretten. It’s a weekend festival celebrating the siege that marked the city’s independence from its neighbors back in1504.

For one weekend each year, the people of Bretten and several of its many sister cities put on a festival to remember their history. Everyone dresses up in medieval garb for the weekend, and there is a parade on Sunday where each section is dedicated to a different part of the medieval city life. There were soldiers, a knight on horseback, doctors, nobles, peasants, bakers, farmers, washerwomen, beggars, cobblers, minstrels, jugglers, a jester, prisoners in cages going to the gallows, peddlers, brewmasters, vinters, potters, woodworkers, blacksmiths, priests, basketmakers, metalworkers, ropemakers, weavers, candlemakers, shepherds, and anything else you can imagine.

We saw marching bands

and soldiers.


and the colorguard.

There were shopkeepers,

and peasants.


and ladies.


And coal-makers from the black forest (we were told that the people in this section made the coal themselves, specifically for the festival).


and Monks.

Brewmasters (their emblem says “Hopfen und Malz, Gott Erhaltz = Hops and Malt, God’s blessings”)

and a jester with a tiny cannon

that makes a big bang.


And jugglers.

And, inexplicably, Italians.

No one seemed to know why the Italians were there. Something about a sister city, maybe. Or maybe they’re just Italians. Who knows.

This year, there were 58 different sections in the parade itself, and then the craftspeople settle into their stalls on the side of the street and perform the trades that they represent for the rest of the day. The bakers, brewers, sausage-makers, etc. have stands where they sell fair food, sometimes made in large brick ovens or fried in cast iron basins full of oil, boiling over an open fire. That’s about as authentic as an elephant ear (fried dough) can get.

It’s an amazing event, if only for the number of people participating. Everyone was in on the action in some way or another, and there were throngs of visitors from other cities as well.

We were fortunate that a kind woman from Karlsruhe overheard us speaking English and took it upon herself to make sure that we understood the different parts of the parade, and the history behind the festival. She explained that the city had been under siege by its enemies, and had nearly given up hope, when they were inspired by Saint Peter and Paul to feed all of the food that they had left to a little dog.* When he was very fat, they let him run around the walls of the city, where the invading troops could see him. The enemies decided that a siege was hopeless if even the dogs were so fat, and moved on, leaving Bretten to its independence. There’s a statue of the dog in the town square, by the fountain, and the festival each year celebrates the victory.

*I didn’t understand exactly how Peter and Paul inspired this idea, but apparently they did…

Getting here

Well, they're a little out of date, but here are the things I would have posted had I had internet over the past week:

Did you know that there is a legal limit on the number of pets that can be taken on an airplane? I didn’t. Neither did the person that booked our tickets, apparently. There was some warning in the computer system that she didn’t see when she confirmed our flights. We had almost finished checking our luggage on Friday when the attendant noticed that there was a warning that the plane was over limit on the number of pets on board, and that we couldn’t take the cats on that flight. Since we couldn’t very well leave the cats in the Madison airport by themselves, a fair amount of ticket shuffling and rearranging ensued.

At first, it didn’t look like we’d be able to make it out of Madison until Saturday, but after about an hour of travel agents and airline help lines, and some troubleshooting on the part of the Northwest representative, they figured out that pets were not, in fact, overbooked, and that the warning was there because of the way the travel agent had made the reservations. Fortunately, we’d showed up the full 2.5 hours before travel, and so we still had time to make the first part of the flight.

In hindsight, we’d have had no trouble at all making the first part of the flight. There was a noise in the wing, and so they needed to call a mechanic in. It was something that should take only a few minutes to fix, but the only mechanic was far off in some other part of the airport working on another plane. An hour went by. Then an hour and a half. The mechanic arrived, and we were assured that we should make our connection. The mechanic realized that he’d forgotten something that he needed to fix the wing, and had to go back and get it. Connections were shuffled again. Finally, the mechanic was able to fix the problem, and we were on our way, with a little under an hour to make our connection in Detroit.

After running through the Detroit airport, we got onto a flight to Frankfurt via Amsterdam, with a 4 hour layover. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we settled into the airport for the wait, and then heard our names being called from another gate that was just finishing boarding. Apparently, they’d switched us to an earlier flight out of Amsterdam, and didn’t tell us. So, after another run through another airport, we caught the plane to Frankfurt.

When we arrived, we went to the luggage carousel to pick up our bags. There were only a few people there, so most of our flight must have been making connections. The conveyor started, spit out 5 bags that were picked up by another couple, and stopped again. We waited a while longer. Luggage came through from another flight. Ours wasn’t there. An hour or so later, Branden had filed a report for lost luggage on all 4 of our checked bags. They don’t know where they are…the last time they were scanned, they were heading to Amsterdam. After that, they disappeared.

We were only allowed one carry-on apiece, since we have the cats with us. Branden had his laptops, and I had the camera. Everything else was in the checked luggage.

The airport has arranged to have the luggage sent to our hotel in Bretten, when and if it reappears. Since we ended up with three schedule changes and an airline change, it may take a while to surface, but we’re hoping that it will come soon.

It is much easier to get through the airport with no luggage. If not for the inconvenience of having no clothes, dictionary, electronics chargers, or toiletries, I’d recommend it as a good strategy for lightening the load at the end of a long trip. The same thing happened when I went to France earlier this month, and it was nice to have the bag delivered for me rather than having to lug it around. They also give you a little emergency toiletry kit, and it comes with a free t-shirt. Branden and I are thinking of starting a collection.

The shuttle company had lost our reservation, but the delay with the luggage delayed us enough that they were there just as we finished at the airport. An hour or so later, we were in Bretten.

Our apartment is an odd mix between an efficiency apartment and a hotel. There’s a tiny kitchen (two burners, a microwave, and a dorm fridge), and it’s less expensive than a hotel, but apparently they still come in once a week to change the sheets and such. There are no screens in the windows, but there are perforated sheet metal blinds that we’ll have to keep in whenever the cats are in the room and the windows are open, as there is a roof within jumping distance, and Artemis is nothing if not desperate to explore the outdoors, whether or not she can get back in. We’ve heard that it’s difficult to find short-term housing here, so we’ll probably end up staying in this apartment while we’re here.

Our checked luggage also contained the first-night kitty litter, and there was no way that we could leave the cats without a litter box any longer. They’d made it more than 24 hours already, and anything beyond that is really just pushing our luck, and might border on cruelty to animals. So, we figured out how to use the train system, and found a grocery store. It’s actually easier than I’d expected to identify things, considering that we can’t read any of the labels. Main things that we noticed: hot dogs come in jars like pickles, eggs come in boxes of either 6 or 10, not in dozens (and almost every box has several smashed eggs in it), and it is possible to buy soy milk in Germany. (Yay! I won’t have to go 6 months without milk!). Rhubarb flavored yogurt is apparently popular, and butter comes in large 500 g slabs instead of sticks. Ketchup can be had in curry, Cajun, and several other flavors, and takes up an entire short aisle in the store. If you’re a purist, you can buy McDonald’s brand ketchup (not kidding).

It was a little strange to become expatriates on the 4th of July, and to move somewhere where the 4th is nothing special. It was somewhat reassuring, then, to arrive in Bretten and discover that it is in the midst of it’s own little festival; a Renaissance fair called Peter & Paul (I have no idea why it’s called that). Our shuttle pulled up to the hotel amidst throngs of people dressed in medieval garments, donkeys being led down the street, and booths of artisans selling their work. Might as well step into a foreign time as well as a foreign country, right? At midnight, there was a large fireworks display that we missed because we didn’t know it was happening and were trying to get some sleep. I don’t know how fireworks fit into a medieval festival, but they do belong on the 4th of July, so we won’t quibble.

The clock tower has just rung 3:15 a.m., so I should return to my attempts to get some sleep. I had fallen asleep earlier, but am now awake again. The heat and the lone mosquito in the room (see no window screens, above) are not helping me to settle in for a good night’s sleep at 6 p.m. PST. Fortunately, tomorrow is the first day in over a week where we don’t need to spend the entire day packing, driving, or flying, and I’m planning to sleep in.

Update: Our luggage did arrive, and only two days behind us. We still don't know where it went in between, but it's here now, which is all that really matters.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Half the battle

Ok, so it's a mile walk and costs money to use, but we've found the only internet cafe in Bretten. Of course, I forgot to bring my flash drive and I can't connect with my laptop, so I can't publish the blog posts that I've written, but now that I know where it is, I can come back soon.

So, not all the way to connected, but we'll call it half the battle.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


We're here and enjoying Germany, but there's no internet, and I'm not yet desperate enough to write real blog posts with a cell phone. Back soon when we find wifi!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Here, and gone again

We made it to Madison yesterday morning, met with my new advisor, unloaded the truck, and will be on an airplane this afternoon. We didn't get to see much of the city (for obvious reasons), but it looks like a fun place to explore. Too bad we won't be here until it's cold and covered in snow.

We'll post Badlands pictures when we get to Germany, and hopefully this is the last boring status-update blog post in a while. Maybe one more, when we get to Germany.

It's too bad, really...with 10 or 12 hours of driving a day for the past 4 days, I've had lots of time to compose good blog posts. And then we stop, fall into bed, and there's nothing left of them. Makes you appreciate travel writers and journalists even more.

Ok, need to go finish cramming the last of our things into the suitcase, and catch the cats. They're going to love the airplane...