Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pointed Cabbage!

Interesting Deli Products

I was not familiar with these items. I'm told that the one in front, with the vegetables, is also eaten like sliced lunchmeat. Also, I don't know how they got that tractor shape.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

O Holy Night, again!

It's time for this again! O Holy Night. He really goes for it.

Christmas Markets

In the weeks leading up to Christmas (i.e. Advent), it seems like every town in Germany has a Christmas market going on. Ulm, of course, is no exception. We checked out the Christmas market in front of the Münster yesterday, and fought our way through the crowds to look at some Christmas ornaments and drink some Glühwein (hot mulled wine). The day before, we braved the pouring rain to go to the Christmas market in Neu-Ulm across the river. The attraction of that market is that it has a medieval theme to it, so the stalls sell medieval clothing and crafts, and instead of Glühwein, you can drink hot mead.

Sheep and donkey at Ulm Christmas market

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cold vs Kalt

This table reflects my experiences.

Temp. (F/C)meGermans
90+/31+hotomg you can't go outside, I can't sleep, I definitely can't live in a place like this, this is dreadful
80-90/27-31normal summerhot
70-80/20-26slightly cool - nicenice, but sometimes too warm
40-60/5-15coldcool - pleasant
32-40/0-5freezingcold, but not enough to take seriously
<32/<0 still freezing (my scale stops)actually cold, but not enough to keep you indoors

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween!

My pumpkin this year. It's the black mage from Final Fantasy I. I figure, if you don't know what it is, it maybe looks like a witch or something. This was my first attempt at tri-tone. It was harder than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Excursions recap

We took advantage of the fact that my parents were on vacation for a while at the beginning of October and borrowed their car in order to go on some short weekend trips. One weekend we went to the famous castles of King Ludwig, Schloss Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. From there, we stopped briefly at the Wieskirche and then went to visit my Aunt in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. On the way back, we went by two baroque/rococo monasteries, Kloster Benediktbeuern and Kloster Andechs.
Schloss Newschwanstein
 The following weekend, we visited two towns on the Romantic Road, Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl. Then we went to Nürnberg, where we spent the night. The following day we drove to Regensburg, where we visited the city as well as Walhalla. Note: in a very brief survey of Nürnberger and Regensburger sausages, the Regensburg ones came out slightly ahead.
Finally, we returned the car, but on the way stopped by another two monasteries, Kloster Maulbronn and Kloster Lorsch (which was unfortunately being restored) and a made a quick stop at Worms Cathedral.
Worms Cathedral

Thursday, September 29, 2011


On a Wednesday afternoon last week, we went to Oktoberfest with Ben's colleagues. They went to a normal biergarten for lunch, and I met them in Munich on their way to Oktoberfest proper. Apparently there is more to it than drinking beer. I also didn't know that people dress up in lederhosen and dirndls when they go. About half the people there were dressed up. They have it in an area that we believe doesn't have anything there the rest of the year. We didn't go into any of the beer halls, just walked around. Below are some pictures.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vacation in the Alps

We recently had a week of vacation, during which we rented a car, packed the tent, and traveled through the western Alps. We started out driving through Switzerland before crossing into Italy over the Splügen Pass. We then reached our first goal, the Lago di Como, nestled between mountains. We stopped at some small picturesque towns on the western shore of the lake, but the highlight was probably the Villa di Balbianello, probably known best for being the filming location of several scenes from Star Wars: Episode II and Casino Royale. After visiting the city of Como, we made our way towards the next lake over, Lago Maggiore. Here we stopped in Stresa, which has some very nice turn-of-the-century architecture. Our campsite here were, as on Lake Como, dominated by trailers and campers. Our little tent was quite lonely, but that was to change soon. The next day, after a quick stop in the small town of Orta San Giulio, we made our way to the Aosta valley, which has several impressive castles guarding the way. In the town of Aosta, we saw the Roman sights (yes, they had already settled there), and visited the well-preserved upper parts of frescoes underneath the ceiling in the church of Sant'Orso (the lower parts were destroyed in the 15th century during renovations). After seeing a branch of Grom, we couldn't resist and got some gelato. Our goal for the day was the mountain town of Valnontey, where we found a very nice campground with a fantastic view of the Gran Paradiso massif. The next day, we did a day hike to the Lake of Loie and the Alpe Bardoney, a summer dairy farm. Although we were hoping to see ibex and chamois, they were not to be found. We did see a bunch of marmots, though, and heard them whistling to each other. On the way back, we did a detour to the waterfalls of Lillaz before returning to the car and the campsite. The next day, we drove the rest of the way through the Aosta valley and through the Mont Blanc tunnel (incredibly expensive) to reach the French city of Chamonix. Although we were initially planning on taking the cable car up to the Brévent and then hiking down, that side of the valley was in the clouds. The other side though was in the sun, and so we took the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi instead, from which there was a fantastic view over the entire Mont Blanc massif. For dinner, we went to Le Dahu in Argentière that my parents had already been to many times several decades earlier, and had a traditional cheese fondue. From there, we made our way through the foothills to Annecy, and drove by two castles nearby. Since we were determined to avoid staying in Switzerland as much as possible (because it's incredibly expensive), we found a campsite just outside Geneva but still in France. Out of the mountains, we were now unfortunately back in trailer-park country. Following Lake Geneva, we passed through several nice towns, each with its own picturesque castle, until reaching Lausanne. After a quick sightseeing tour of the city, we changed (becoming the best-dressed people at the campground) and attended the public Ph.D. defense of a friend of mine. The next morning we encountered some of the first clouds and rain of our entire trip while continuing along Lake Geneva and seeing some more castles (a highlight being the Château de Chillon near Montreux) as well as stone-age menhirs. Then it was back in the direction of home, with stops in Gruyères (where we bought some cheese, of course) and Fribourg, before spending the final night in Bern. Sunday, the weather had become completely rainy, so the sightseeing tour of Bern was rather quick and hasty. A pity really, because the city seemed very nice (if also very sleepy on this Sunday morning). Then, after two more quick stops for a castle at Burgdorf and the waterfalls of the Rhine in Schaffhausen, it was back home to Ulm.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Some things

- It seems to be the season for selling Lederhosen and Dirndls.

- Tip of my hat to Swiss and Austrian TV stations for giving you the option of watching some American shows with the original English language track.

- Apparently it's a thing in Germany to plant fruit trees on public property, at least in residential areas. Genius.

- Also, I've seen grapes growing on people's railings.

- When it's hot, people here wear shorts (in Florence they continued to wear pants).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Augsburg and Ludwigsburg

We took some weekend trips again recently, this time to Augsburg one weekend and then to Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg the next.
Augsburg is less than an hour away by regional train, and is probably most famous for being the home of the Fugger family. In the late middle ages and Renaissance, Augsburg was one of the wealthiest cities due to trade routes with southern Europe, especially textiles and banking (the Fuggers bankrolled popes and emperors). The wealth of that day can still be seen in the massive Rathaus, and some impressive churches. In addition, Augsburg is home to the oldest social housing complex still in use, the Fuggerei. To this day, inhabitants pay less than one Euro in rent per year, as well as three daily prayers. In modern times, Augsburg might be best known as the birthplace of Bert Brecht, one of the greatest playwrights of modern times.
The next weekend, we visited some friends in Stuttgart and took advantage of the proximity to Ludwigsburg, home of an impressive palace (sometimes called the Swabian Versailles). The palace itself is much too big to take in in just one afternoon, so we restricted ourselves to the ceramics museum (including a room full of Italian maiolica), as well as to the fantastic and expansive castle gardens (formal English style in the front, and "wild" French style in the back).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chicken with Chanterelles

As fall approaches, mushrooms are appearing more and more at the market and on menus around town. I adapted this recipe from here.

300g fresh chanterelle mushrooms
40-55 g butter
2 chicken breasts (about 350-400g)
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 shallots, finely sliced
150 ml white wine
A good pinch of sweet paprika
90ml chicken stock
3 tbsp double cream or creme fraiche
Salt and pepper
100g egg pasta
A little freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp very finely chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
Brush the chanterelles lightly with a soft brush, trim the bases and slice them; then saute them lightly in 15g of butter.
Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then dip in the flour. Heat a medium-sized frying pan over a moderate heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and 15g of butter and place the chicken breasts in skin side down. Fry for about 2 1/2 -3 minutes until the skin is brown and crisp, turn the chicken over and lightly brown the other side. Remove the chicken from the pan, place in an ovenproof dish, transfer to the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
Discard the fat, wipe the pan and replace it over a low heat. Add the remaining oil, another 15g of butter and cook the sliced shallots gently for about 5-6 minutes or until soft.
Add the paprika, stir, turn up the heat and pour in the wine. When the sizzling has died down add the chicken stock. Turn the heat down again and leave to simmer for 10 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half (strain the sauce into a bowl through a fine sieve if desired). Return the sauce to the pan, add the mushrooms, cover and simmer for another 5-6 minutes.
Check the chicken. If it’s cooked turn off the oven. If not give it another 5 minutes (boneless chicken breasts will be done sooner than bone-in breasts). Put the pasta on to cook. Take the mushrooms off the heat, stir in the cream or creme fraiche and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Replace over a very low heat to thicken, stirring occasionally.
When the pasta is cooked drain thoroughly, stir in a small knob of butter and season with a little pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Place the chicken breasts on a chopping board and cut with a sharp knife into five or six thick diagonal slices. Transfer them to warm plates, arrange the pasta alongside and spoon over the mushrooms and cream. Sprinkle with a little finely chopped parsley.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The Nabada is the annual water festival on the Danube in Ulm. It happens on Schwörmontag (oath Monday), when, basically, the mayor swears loyalty to the citizens. Anyone who has a raft or something that floats, or not, can be in it.

there were several of these

Friday, July 15, 2011


There is a channel here that shows nothing but this video over and over again, all day every day. Maybe you have to pay for it to see actual programming.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Things You Don't See in the U.S. #9

That's broth (bouillon) from a hot drink machine.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yellow Field

rapeseed field

It's canola (rapeseed). There were a bunch of these around.


Here are some pictures from the medieval market Ben wrote about.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"New" Music recommendations, part 7

It's been almost a year since I last did one of these, so the definition of "new" is stretched a bit.
  • Regina Spektor: "Fidelity"
    I'm late to the party on Regina Spektor (this song is from 2006), but I discovered this song only within the last year, and it's been high up on my playlists ever since. Simply catchy.
  • Rana Santacruz: "El Funeral De Tacho"
    A little bit of singer/songwriter, a little bit of Mexican ranchero music, and a little bit of Beirut's trumpet lines go into the music of Rana Santacruz, who I became aware of from a Tiny Desk concert by NPR. Also check out the folk-punk-polka "El Ranchero Punk".
  • Dropkick Murphys: "Peg O' My Heart"
    Irish folk-punk, featuring Bruce Springsteen. Gets you into a good mood fast.
  • The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
    I can't recommend any particular song, by this indie-pop group I first heard of last year. Both their self-titled album and this year's follow up "Belong" are filled with slightly fuzzy, retro pop anthems that make for good listening. My most listened-to tracks are "Come Saturday" off the debut, and the title track from "Belong".
  • Of course, there were also releases from old favorites that I can't neglect mentioning. The Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" was probably one of the most talked about albums of the last year, and we were able to catch them at an awesome concert in Bologna. Check out the synth-pop "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)". The Decemberists came out with "The King is Dead" at the beginning of this year, a solid record which goes back more to their earlier folk-rock than the prog-rock of "The Hazards of Love". Favorite tracks: "Down by the Water" and "Rox in the Box". Finally, Fleet Foxes put out "Helplessness Blues" a few weeks ago, which continues to show their ability to make well-crafted songs with beautiful harmonies. Favorites so far: the title track and "Battery Kinzie".

Activities recap

It's been a while since I've talked about our weekend trips and activities on the blog. While we haven't been as active as we were in Italy, we have had the opportunity to explore some of the surroundings of Ulm. So let's take it in chronological order...
Back in April, my parents came to visit for a weekend, and while we spent Saturday visiting furniture stores, we took a day trip into nearby Bavaria on Sunday. The town of Weißenhorn had an old castle in the town center, which was unfortunately being renovated at the moment. Another negative point was that none of the restaurants in the town center were open for lunch. So we stopped on the way to Roggenburg, another small town nearby, which boasts an impressive baroque monastery.
A few weeks later, it was Easter, and we visited my parents for the long weekend. One of the days, we went to Mosbach, where my aunt celebrated a big birthday with a big lunch. On Easter Sunday, we visited Schwetzingen Castle, which is located quite close to my parents' house. There, we wandered through the gardens, where a lot of beautiful flowers were in bloom, and looked at the 18th century interpretations of classical temples, as well as the mosque.
At the end of May, my parents came again for a weekend. This time, we visited the nearby town of Blaubeuren on Sunday, along with what seemed like thousands of other people. Blaubeuren is located at the source of the river Blau, which flows into the Danube in Ulm. The river is a bit unusual in that the source is not just a trickle, but in fact an entire river coming out of the "Blautopf", a series of underground caves that collect water from a large region of the Schwäbische Alb. We also visited the monastery in Blaubeuren, which has a nice gothic altarpiece, and ate a good meal in the old town. We then drove a few miles to visit the Laichinger Tiefenhöhle, a cave that's open to visitors which takes you up to 55 m underground.
Finally, on Ascension Day (a holiday in most parts of Germany), we went to a medieval market (similar to a Renaissance Faire) at Wiblingen monastery. Kristen wore her medieval costume and didn't look out of place at all.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Last weekend, we finally took a trip to München (Munich for all you English speakers). Finally because it's only an hour 15 minutes away by train, and because Kristen hadn't been there before (although she did go right by during her high school trip to Europe, even stopping in Dachau). Anyway, we took the train and then walked into the city center, where we were just in time for the moving figures in the clock on the Rathaus (town hall). We then wandered a bit through the old town before heading over to the "Englischer Garten", the München equivalent of Central Park, where we had lunch in the beer garden at the Chinese tower (originally from the 18th century). The weather was fantastic, and many other people, both native and tourists, had the same idea. After satisfying our bodily necessities, we were keen on also stimulating our intellects, so we walked over to the Alte Pinakothek, one of the great art museums in Germany (and indeed the world). The nice thing, being a Sunday, was that admission was only 1 Euro, although we paid extra for a special exhibition on Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance (which turns out to have been a loan from the National Gallery in Washington, so we had probably seen it before). From there, we headed back into the city, walked through the Platzl quarter (part of the old town), and relaxed some in a cafe in the pedestrian area before heading back to the train station and taking the train back to Ulm.

Hot Air Balloons

Apparently hot air ballooning is popular here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Compound Words

Here are some German compound words that I like:

gloves = hand shoes (Handschuhe)
dictionary = word book (Wörterbuch)
vocabulary = word treasure (Wortschatz)
hippo = Nile horse (Nilpferd)
turtle = shield toad (Schildkröte)
light bulb = glow pear (Glühbirne)
guinea pig = little sea pig (Meerschweinchen)

And this one I don't get: space = world room (Weltraum).

Friday, April 8, 2011

On a clear day...

...you can see the Alps from Ulm. Even from the balcony of the apartment we'll be moving into next week.

Carnival, German-style

This post is two months late. This summarizes what I learned about German-style Carnival ("Fasching" or "Fastnacht").

Apparently the largest Carnival celebration in Germany is in Cologne.

For about a month before Lent you can watch a celebration every night on TV, each day from a different city. Like in Italy, Carnival is people's opportunity to dress up a la Halloween (I don't know how that is in Germany yet). The shows, then, seem to be comedy and music variety shows, which are all more or less the same, and everyone in the audience is dressed up.

Aside from the shows, there are parades. Swabian parades are apparently different from those in other areas of Germany. The groups that march in other areas usually have outfits that look like marching band uniforms, and the Swabian costumes are more like witches. The Swabian style comes from Pagan traditions of chasing away winter.

We went to the Narrensprung (the local Swabian type of Carnival parade) in Ulm in early February. As far as I can tell, every little town has its own troupe that marches in all the local parades. We stayed for maybe 1.5 hours and saw about half of the almost 150 groups. There were two types: those who played weird instruments and those dressed as witch creatures (actually Perchten, I think). The parade was more interactive than any other parade I've seen. Each group had a different, often nonsensical, phrase they would yell, and there was some other word or phrase the audience was supposed to yell back. The programs tell you what to say, or sometimes it was written on the sign each group carries to identify itself. Also, the job of the Perchten (or whatever the things with wooden masks are), besides giving out candy, was to tousle or pull on kids' hair, talk to them, hit them lightly with brooms or inflated bladders hanging from sticks, pick them up and carry them off, or do whatever else they could think of to torment them. That was one way to get candy, so kids had to make themselves conspicuous.

Of course, the wikipedia articles are more thorough.

note: I'm calling all the witch things Perchten, but I'm not sure if that's right

an abduction

Strikes in Italy

If you're going to Italy, there is a website that keeps track of upcoming transportation strikes. It's useful.

p.s. This is the 250th post. Huzzah! Meaningless milestone!


Like Italy, windows in Germany generally don't have screens. I haven't seen any mosquitoes yet, but they do have some large bees.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bread culture

We all know that Germany has the greatest bread in the world, but Ulm takes it one step further by offering the Museum of Bread Culture. Since we have our museum passes which we got visiting the Ulmer Museum a few weeks ago on another bad weather Sunday, we went to the bread museum today. It's a pleasant place, not too big, but with what seemed like the largest collection of bread-themed art around. There were even some well-known artists represented, among them Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Picasso, or Dali. Unfortunately, they didn't have the plush pretzels that appeared in various places in the museum available in the gift shop. A missed marketing opportunity.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


German is now like this to me. It's what English sounds like to people who don't speak English. It does sound like English, except I can't understand what they're saying. German now sounds familiar, like I should understand it, but, except for a word here and there, I don't.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Germany gets a point for soft pretzel products. Italy, though, also gets a point for the availability of pasta with tomato sauce and/or cheese pizza at every restaurant in the country. There is always a respectable vegetarian option.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Word Origins

In fact, there are more words in English from French/Latin than from German. (source) That explains why it seems to have more in common with Italian.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Things I won't miss about Italy

  • always feeling like people are trying to take advantage of you
  • buses that just don't show up
  • fearing for my life when riding my bike in traffic
  • inhaling all that exhaust from the motorini
  • transportation strikes that seem to exist for no other reason than to give workers a long weekend
  • not being able to take people at their word (best piece of advice: "Never take 'no' for an answer")
  • dealing with 3 companies and waiting 9 months before having decent internet access
  • power limitations that prevent you from using the oven and washing machine at the same time
  • mosquitoes at all times of the year

Things I will miss about Italy

After two and a half years in Florence and a variety of experiences, there are a variety of things that I will miss after moving away, and also some that I certainly won't. In no particular order, and without the claim of completeness, here are things that I will miss about Italy in general and Florence in particular. Things I won't miss will be in an upcoming post.
  • my colleagues, who have become friends
  • being able to visit an incredible variety of museums, churches, ancient cities, and other tourist places on a quick day trip
  • cheap house wine in restaurants
  • Italian food, especially the high quality of food and produce you can buy
  • Grom gelato
  • seasonal specialties: porcini and fresh olive oil in the fall, cavolo nero and cime di rapa in the winter, fava beans in spring, and percoche and other stone fruit in summer
  • (relatively) cheap local and regional public transportation
  • lots of sunshine and clear skies

Update on the last few months

As you probably noticed from Kristen's last few posts, we're no longer in Italy. We'll probably keep the name of the blog and its address, just for convenience, but our new home is now Ulm, Germany. But let's back up a bit.
Most of you regular readers probably already know that we got married last December in a small ceremony on the beach in Key West, Florida (email us if you want to see pictures). After that happy occasion, I returned to Florence, while Kristen stayed in the US for another few weeks. The middle of January, I started work in Ulm, while Kristen came back from the US a week later. We both flew to Florence for a week at the end of January to pack up our stuff and say goodbye to our friends there, before heading off to wintery Germany. We're currently in a temporary furnished apartment while we look for something more permanent.
We hope to keep updating the blog with our adventures in Schwaben (Swabia), though you might find that posting will be a bit slower, since the density of sights to see is probably a little lower than in Tuscany! Of course, we'd be happy to host visitors in our new home as well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

First Impressions of Ulm compared to Florence

1. snow. seems to be a permanent feature
2. Burger Kings
3. pointed roofs

Stay Permit

(See this for context)

I was seen almost immediately at the place where foreigners get their stay permits, and the woman answered questions without an attitude and was able to give useful information. Germany: 1, Italy: 0.

Note about Moving

We put up signs saying no parking on the day we moved, so there would be space for the moving truck. There were even metal barricades in the spaces. Of course, by the time the moving truck got there, the metal barricades had been moved and there was no free space. Way to not disappoint, Italy.

Only one person got out and yelled at us for blocking the road, though. For being able to argue back with him rather successfully, I felt I had reached a good level of Italian proficiency.