29 May 2012

Weekend and a half

I can't say I've been reminded of what Pentecost is really about. All I know is that Sunday night a lot of beer descended on me and Monday a lot of visitors descended on our village street market. To add to the excitement of the evening, two guys ended up under a table next to ours. Ah, brawling. Keep it classy, Germany.

Yesterday's market saw everyone who runs a stall anywhere in this area come together to sell. When someone gave us the expected visitor numbers early in the day I thought "really?"... but as we were crushing our way back and making some final purchases (fresh strawberries!) I was beginning to see his point. At €5 for a kilo of strawberries I'd do it all again though!

Something else that I didn't expect to be quite as true as it turned out to be was the promise of the "region's spiciest sausages". I'm not a total spice sissy but I only made it one bite in. The man had to work his way through two of those, and that expression on his face isn't smiling or acting, it's a bit of a real spice-gasp. I later went for some much milder Schupfnudeln with cabbage and bacon. Naturally this had to be followed by something I had discovered the night before: chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick! Yum!

In other news we spent the earlier part of the weekend watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Captain America: The First Avenger. I also got my rhubarb-baking on with rhubarb apple bread and rhubarb streusel muffins. For the pièce de résistance I plan some rustic rhubarb tarts in the near future.

23 May 2012


Maybe you remember the post I did on retro Japanese album covers? Oh, actually there were two. [ I | II ]

Well, I've been looking for some it's-so-bad-it's-good German covers for a while, but mostly they were just it's-so-bad-it's-bad. And my standards were high. I mean some of those Japanese covers are just good, period.

I finally found two at a recent flea market. Crazy type, weird pictures of the musicians, wacky colours—all beautifully composed.

Wikipedia has some information on the Dutch entertainer Rudi Carrell.

Even the German Wiki on Horst Muys is very limited.

Maybe the covers are so fun because they were both kind of into comedy.

22 May 2012

A question of scale

Thursday was Ascension Day here, and it seems Germany celebrates it as "Men's Day", a replacement for Father's Day. Evan took part in a sport club event that involved teams of five challenging each other in what is best described as "human foosball", as you can see above. How meta is that? Scale down a sport, make it a game, then scale the game back up to make something new.

The next day we made our way to Legoland Deutschland in Günzburg. Before the park opened we were greeted with announcements addressed to "Children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles..." Well, Legoland, we felt a bit left out. I mean, I am an aunt, but my nephew was not there with me. Maybe you should add a few more possibilities, like "...fans, freaks, and engineers." Just a suggestion. Kind of like this Lego for Men approach.

Anyway. Legoland is a super awesome place to visit. Even if you have no interest in rides, the miniatures, decorations in general, and the shops, are all fantastic. Do note that by not going on rides you will miss out on some of the best models. Rides generally start with a meander through an area with a bit of a story to the whole thing, including lots of awesome Lego stuff, and only after that are you plunged down the track into the water, or propelled all over the place in loops. My favourite thing was when we did the dragon ride that went with a whole castle and wizard story. They had made crests from Lego to put on the walls! The best crest was in the tunnel at the beginning of the ride though: it was made of translucent Lego blocks and back-lit. Brilliant!

If regular roller coasters and other rides are too sissy for you, or too small and uncomfortable—as it may happen, try the Kuka ride. Kuka is an industrial robot manufacturer and if you crank their ride all the way up... well it made me scream loads. Especially when it spun us backwards. Wow.

Below is a load of pictures, mostly of the miniature models. They're apparently about 1:20. The characters are made from blocks presumably because using minifigs would make everything too small. The stadium is an exception, in this case the model would probably become impossibly large if it was also 1:20.

Here's a brief clip of life in the miniature zone. The actions are fairly basic, but very effectively handled. Many actions are triggered by buttons, conveniently placed at child-height. Sounds are also used very well to really make the ideas come to life. I'm sure Hamburg's Miniatur Wunderland will prove to be more impressive, but the Lego did pack a lot of charm and is quite astounding if you consider that these models have to live outside in all kinds of weather.

Fun Lego links recently received from friends: isogawastudio's LEGOstudio and bricksports.de.

UPDATE: Just seen on German TV, the creations of Steffen Tröger.

P.S. It's so interesting to see what it's like being a kid on an outing these days. If you're old enough not to drop a camera, you've got one in your hand and you're taking your own pictures of stuff you like. No more film, no more dad taking two pictures in one day. It's all you and what you want to do... even if you're only six. Lucky!

16 May 2012

Belgium with the girls

Back! With a smattering of pictures from the last few days in Antwerp, and a day trip to Ghent.

After arriving in Antwerp on Saturday, and after finding some good South African wine on the best kind of special—you know, the kind that forces you to buy three bottles—we were set for our first evening of non-stop girl talk.

On Saturday we made our way to picturesque Ghent. We had a tea party to attend, and the rest of the day was spent strolling around. Ghent is definitely the place for a fun Sunday in Belgium. Just before we left I got my hands on some Gentse neuzen, a purple sweet that's quite gooey on the inside. Wikipedia just taught me that they don't last very long, so they're not exported outside of Belgium. Regional food achievement unlocked!

Monday kicked off with a revisit to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal which was, disappointingly, under even more renovation than last time. I suppose it's not surprising then that annual running costs amount to 1.5 million Euro. We joined the Japanese tour groups in trying to make the most of the parts that we could see.

After the cathedral we moved on to Grote Markt and the folk origin of the name Antwerp. The town hall was looking very cheerful this time around, with flags poking out all over the facade. The statue of the hero that has conquered the evil giant also had its fountains switched on, so one can picture blood spurting everywhere.

Next we got our shopping and our fries-with-mayo on. I don't really have an opinion on the possible differences in taste when it comes to the two fry establishments I've tried so far, but the T2 just off the Meir is the best second-hand clothing store in Antwerp. Turn off the Meir at the Disney store. (No, I don't understand the Disney store either.)

In the afternoon we would have liked to visit the Middelheim sculpture park, but since it regards itself as a museum it is closed on Mondays. We enjoyed the sunshine in the city park instead.

And that's about it! I don't know if I would have ever visited Belgium if my friend wasn't studying there, but it has been interesting and fun both times. And I'll never tire of listening to people speaking Flemish.

14 May 2012


I'm hoping that by the time you read this it has proven to be a sunny week in Antwerp. Friday it was 30 °C here. I went for a bit of a walk.

All six pictures on Picasa.

"See you" tomorrow!

13 May 2012

That moon

Had it not been for reading twitter before going to bed, I would have forgotten to take a look outside on the evening of May 7th.

Back from Antwerp on Tuesday.

12 May 2012

April, May...

Well friends, and since I've picked up a few more daily visits on this blog than I used to have I'm wondering who you are, but anyway, as you read this I'm on my way to Antwerp again. The weather forecast looks more favourable than last time [ I | II | III | IV ] and a friend from the US is coming too! Exciting! Also, the MoMu fashion museum has reopened, so there's even something new to see this time around.

Here's some random news from the last few weeks.

I attended my first Toastmasters division contest. I had to fill out a judging ballot during the English contest, but during the German one I could draw. I didn't zone out completely mind you, I could make sense of most of the speeches.

The next day, the last Sunday in April, we went to the first big flea market of the season in Hulb. There was even some entertainment in the form of this old Mercedes Benz fire truck driving people around the block. I bought an old book or two (duh).

The next evening we attended a barbeque, an event which is far too infrequent in these colder climes. A barbeque a week, that's what I say!

And on the first of May we watched the somewhat protracted process of putting up the Maypole. The fire department's cherry picker (above) was used to put some decorations on after the pole was up. I showed you some pictures before, but below is the full set and a short clip.

11 May 2012

Of pizze, piazzi, and everything else: Day quattro e finale

True to form, the weather on our last day in Milan was once again rather dreary. There we are, having ice cream with our scarves and coats on. Anyway, we spent the morning at the museums of the Castello Sforzesco. The furniture collection includes works by Giò Ponti. I also made a note of Giuseppe Maggiolini, he's worth a Google image search if you like furniture. Interesting notes from the section on ancient Egyptian funerary customs include canopic jars and shabti. But enough about my museum-geek notes.

Here's a review, in no particular order, of some other notes I skipped in the previous posts.

I remarked to Evan that Dutch and Belgian people have a language and voices like cheerful bells and chimes, and that German isn't like that. So he said, "What is it like then? Beer and bretzels?" Well I think he was onto something there. So I was trying to think what Italian sounds like, other than just plain fantastic. I think it would have to be some food or cooking analogy, but maybe I'll have to go there again before I can figure it out completely. :)

One of the top reasons that Italian is fantastic, is that people answer the phone with "Pronto!" Seriously, "Hello?" pales in comparison.

One of the culinary things that I had read about but that takes a while to figure out, is the aperitivo tradition. Bottomline, from about 6 p.m., before you have dinner, you can order a drink and you'll get some snacks that are included in the price. Seems Italians tend to have their actual dinner a bit later.

Tipping! Oh, man. It's the one thing you always forget to look up before you go to a foreign country. Does one tip waiters in _______? We were unsure the whole time. Googling it now the answer for Italy seems to be "it's mostly up to you".

Some people in very tourist-oriented Milan spoke plenty of English, as is not unexpected from younger waiters or hotel staff anyway. What I really appreciated was that no one seemed afraid of the language. They just used whatever they had. Also, they're not shy about their accent. Nowhere did we hear an automated recording made by a native speaker. On the train it was all, "Nextə stoppə, Turro. Doors open on de rightə." And the train ticket machines that seem to shout at you even had some parts that would be hard to transcribe. You know what the machine wants, you just don't know exactly which words it chose to communicate that.

The Senegalese bracelet guys! Or umbrella sellers. Or whatever else they might turn into, depending on the weather. I mentioned the bracelet "scheme" in the first post. What I was wondering is, how do these guys, and all other new and industrious immigrants, operate? Where do they buy their wares from? How quickly are they connected to other people from their home country who help them out? Just, everything. I bet there's a documentary in that. How does someone like the umbrella seller a) get to Italy, b) support himself initially, c) become economically active, d) continue from there? I'd love to know.

Milan was my first experience of beggars on the subway. Twice we had "musicians" announce their plight and then play their violin for their alms. After telling us about how his family needs to eat (see, my Italian is great!) one guy proceeded to do so, his violin plugged into a portable amp set on a really odd-sounding echo effect. The Italian guy sitting next to me said something, then realised he had to switch to English to tell me that "the music is so bad." There's that famous Milanese culture and snobbishness: I'm being tortured by bad music on the subway. Another time a lady got on the train and announced her problems in a loud, high-pitched voice, before making her way through the car with her toddler in tow. I wondered how he'll feel about that experience when he's older.

On a more positive note, I'm sure you noticed the greenery spilling from the rooftops and balconies. This was one of my favourite parts of Milan. Also, you need to peek through doorways to really get an idea of how nice the courtyards are. Alternatively, you can spy on Italy with Google maps. Torino also had nice greenery, but there I was more obsessed with the neon signs. Even Shiseido and Zara had neon signs in addition to their regular signage.

And finally, "prego". Japanese students and teachers often asked how to say "dōzo" in English. The answer is, "It depends." If you're handing someone something, it's usually "Here you are" or "Here you go", or something along those lines. There are situations where a gesture and a simple "please" could work, e.g. "Please, take my seat." A more formal context may even call for the closest phrase I can think of, "If you please." As it turns out, the European languages I've encountered so far have this idea of "dōzo" covered. In Dutch or Flemish "alstublieft" functions as "please" (as one might guess from "asseblief" in Afrikaans) but also as "Here you are" or "If you please". Waiters use it all the time. German has "Bitte schön" for "please", "If you please", "May I help you?", "You're welcome"... is that even all? "Bitte?" also works for "Pardon?" As for Italian, "prego" works for "please", "You're welcome", and "If you please"-type situations.

The end!

10 May 2012

Eat Torino!

We spent our third day on a day trip to Turin, which was beyond lovely for a number of reasons. First, my husband has been there before, so he knows some great things to see, do, and—most importantly—eat. This was all doubly exciting because the weather also finally played along, though only in Turin it seems, since Milan's streets were wet when we got back that night.

But before I tell you more about the city, here's a bit about the train ride there. As you'll see in the pictures, we had some lovely views of the snowy Alps on the way. You however won't see the school group of nine- and ten-year-olds that joined us on the journey. Two boys were seated across from us, happily chatting to each other and their classmates in Italian. Their names were Mohamed and Osama.

I've noticed that real-Europe and imagined-Europe are quite different places. Notably, real-Europe is much more diverse than we might think. And this is not some negative judgement of immigrants—look at me—for the moment at least I'm one too; albeit in a rather milky disguise. Anyway. The best part was when Mohamed decided to try some of his English on us. "Is you English?" [...] "I am Tunisia." I also learnt that these kids are as bad as Japanese ones at mastering the "What [noun] do you [verb]?" construction, as in "What subject do you like?" But clearly I'm tuned into the international curriculum of things kids might try to say. Mohamed likes math and English, by the way.

As we managed to communicate to our new friends mainly by way of gesture, our first target in Turin was the Mole Antonelliana, a major landmark and a good place to get a view of the city. We also visited the National Film Museum that is housed there. I'd love to go back there at a time when I don't feel like I'm wasting the lovely weather by being inside a museum.

After this introduction to the city it was time for lunch, so we headed to Evan's old favourite, the sFashion Pizzeria. Pizza with a view over a piazza, why yes please.

In the afternoon we strolled around, interacted with a street performer, and saw some Roman ruins that included the Roman Palatine Towers. For a traditional sweet treat Evan managed to locate Caffè Confetteria al Bicerin again. He already knows all the rules, like that you should not mix the different layers of your Bicerin.

After some more general strolling we made our way to Eataly. Now, if you have any kind of relationship with food, even if you don't cook and you just consume, you need to go there. And you need to go to the main one—Eataly Lingotto—that's a few train stops outside of the city centre. They have eeeeeverything. So much beautiful local produce, and so many beautiful packages, and many, many things to eat. The idea is that you seat yourself at a counter, pay about €1 for water and bread, and then order something from that section. We decided on the produce section and had some really delicious salad. If you go with more of an appetite there's nothing stopping you from eating at more than one section of course! We left just enough room to finish off with gelato: praline and pistachio for me, stracciatella and pistachio for him.

I can't even imagine how nice it would be to live near there and go shopping there often. But hey, here in Germany we eat Spanish and Italian produce all the time anyway, so that's kind of the same, right? Naaaaah. Anyway. Tomorrow I'll put up the final part, our last day in Milan, before I go to Antwerp again on Saturday morning. Can. Not. Wait!

09 May 2012

Mostly rainy but with some well-timed sunshine: Day two

This hilarious feature by Christoph Niemann for The New York Times has motivated me to return to my pictures and notes and finish writing about our trip to Italy.

Our second day did not get off to a very promising start in the weather department, so we opted to get value for the money we spent on the City Sightseeing bus tickets that are valid for two days. We learnt some more about Milan, this time on the blue route. We opted to be warm and dry on the lower deck, so I didn't take pictures.

During a ten-minute stop at the Piazza del Duomo we got out to "admire" a Hummer limo and peek into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. A bridal couple and their entourage were exiting onto the piazza to take pictures... Condolences on the weather, guys.

For lunch we stopped in at the charming Van Bol & Feste. I made a note about "farro soup". Definitely something to find a good recipe for.

To further escape the weather, we spent the afternoon at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci. As per usual the museum was a bit larger than my attention span is long, but it did have its moments. One of my favourites was two frames with interacting videos. Retired refuse workers were discussing the tools they used to use, and then sometimes their video would stop, or they would hand something out of the screen, and a man in the other frame would take it and talk about current practice. I liked that the way the profession was discussed gave one respect for the hard work that we often forget someone has to do, but also that one realises how many technical details can go into something as seemingly simple as sweeping the streets.

On the Da Vinci front there were some cool things, like models based on his drawings. I also learnt that "composer" can be tacked onto the long list of accomplishments of this true Renaissance Man.

The rain finally lifted and we took to the streets to look for a bookstore a friend had told me about. We didn't find it, but I saw some nice balconies and window reflections, and we found what we later agreed was the best gelato of the trip. We think the shop was at Via Andrea Solari 1, but it may have been new and so Google maps does not confirm. The place has coloured floorboards, we know that much*. Anyway, I had Greek yoghurt and chocolate fondante, and Evan had pistachio and peanut butter something or other. All super delicious! We had some gelato in Böblingen a week later and we were both like, "this is sub-par, remember that one in Milan? No gelato will ever taste as good again." Yes, first world problems, we know.

We made our way back to the Piazza del Duomo to start hunting for dinner and as we arrived, there it was, wham, the sun was hitting that cathedral in the face. Gorgeous!

After poking around the Galleria a bit, we walked around some more and picked a restaurant across from the Piccolo Teatro. A restaurant where, as it turns out, the owner likes to sing to a backtrack. A female German guest also elected to European-cheek-kiss their waiter, young Luca, goodbye. Okay?

After dinner we did something that one can tend to neglect when you're tired at the end of a long day of sightseeing—we took to the night streets. In the end we didn't have a drink anywhere, but we saw some of the city by night before heading back to our hotel to pass out.

*UPDATE!!! Upon zooming in on some picture details I worked out that the gelateria is called latoG!

04 May 2012

I've got (real) mail

As seen on @BiblioConnection this morning:

“Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.”
—George Gordon Byron

I was ever so pleased that a postcard of Monet's Red Poppies at Argenteuil that I sent to Katrin inspired the colours for her personally illustrated reply. Seems she has had quite the connection with the artwork actually—dit is maar bitter toevallig! Ek het nie geweet nie. :)

I recommend checking out her site, as linked above, as well as her most recent blog post on this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair. I've got the tab open in my browser and I'll be doing some link-clicking later!

I also intend to play catch-up with the remaining pictures of our own trip to Italy, but for the moment I'm concentrating on cramming some German before my online course ends in a few days.

01 May 2012