Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Purging & Preserving

Since we moved back from Germany, we have been clearing out a lot of our belongings. Not seeing most of our possessions for an entire year really gave us the mental distance that we needed to purge a lot of unnecessary items. Each week, I have been trying to sell or donate at least one item, even if it's just a shirt or a book. We still have a lot of stuff, but now much more of it is things we use or love.

Some of the most difficult things for me to get rid of are items with memories attached. After we got back and unpacked the storage unit, I was finally able to recycle my college notes and materials that weren't relevant to my current work. There were a few gems, though, that I wanted to preserve even if I didn't keep a physical copy. So I have been slowly scanning the pages of old essays, notes, and materials that I think we may want to look at again.

By far my favorite of these are page from my Field Biology class at Cornell. I took this course with Charlie Smith my first semester in Ithaca, and (even though it was a difficult course) it's still one of my favorites. First, because it's where I learned about GIS and, second, because I learned so much about the natural world. Almost twelve years later, I don't remember a lot of the scientific names or species identification that we had to memorize (excepting the more fabulous names, such as Liriodendron tulipifera, the tulip tree, or the fact that the new branches of black birch taste like root beer), but the pages from our weekly species identification expeditions bring back such wonderful memories...

Many days we would all troop outside and use the two hour class for an extended nature walk. Our instructor would stop and talk about a particular tree or bird or insect, and we would look in our field guides and take notes about useful ways to remember a particular species. (Still with me today: Ash trees often can be identified by their paddle-shaped seeds, which we remembered with the phrase, "paddle your ash".)

When possible, I would pick a leaf or branch, label it with my waterproof field pen, and press the leaf between the pages of my field guide. By the end of the class, I had a study guide of the trees on our campus, which today I appreciate as much for its beauty as for its utility.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Record-breaking Winter

Starting with a blizzard in late January, we have gotten the most snow in a 30-day period on record -- over 70 inches so far! While the blizzard of '78 dropped more snow in one storm (and was much more destructive than the storms we've experienced this year), we have gotten more snow in total over the past few weeks. In the storm on Sunday, we got another 15" in Somerville!
digging out in 1978 (via The Boston Globe)
pre-digging out in 2015
This has resulted in 3 snow days so far, and a couple days of telecommuting to avoid the snowy roads. There has been a lot of hot chocolate-fueled shoveling as well!
only pedestrians were on the road near Davis Square, walking or skiing, after the 1st blizzard
Although it's been inconvenient in some ways, J and I really love snow and we have been soaking up this spectacular winter. Both Sam and Nora are loving it, too. It's one of the reasons we chose to live in New England!
sledding (at work!)
hard core sledding in NH
snow makes her frisky and fashion forward

Monday, September 1, 2014

Our Favorite Things to Do in Cologne

We loved living in Cologne, and we tried to experience it as much as possible. So I have compiled a list of a few suggestions and a few of our favorite things.....

In the City

Things to Do & See
"Must Do's" (where we took visitors)
(L-R: View from the Dom tower, a choir concert at the Dom, Köln's Altstadt)
  • The Dom - towering over the rest of the city and directly next to the Hauptbahnhof, the Kölner Dom (Cologne cathedral) is hard to miss! There are many Dom-related activities, and they are all worthwhile.
    • Explore the Dom - best on a weekday or in the mornings to avoid the crowds. I prefer going when it's quiet, so it's easier to absorb the awesomeness of the Dom without bumping into people.
    • Dom Concerts - Orgelfeierstunden (organ concerts, literally "organ celebration hours") in the summer, and regular choir concerts the rest of the year. Not to be missed! If the website looks out of date, check their Facebook page for the most timely info.
    • Climb to the top of the Dom towers (info) - I'll be writing a post on this soon! It is a very neat experience, and absolutely worth climbing all 533 steps.
    • Attend a mass. Lots of pomp and circumstance, and a good way to hear the organ play if you couldn't make it to a concert.
  • Roman Praetorium + Archaeological Zone - visit underground Roman ruins at the Praetorium and see an ongoing archaeological excavation of the old Jewish quarter
  • Roemisch-Germanisches Museum - next to the Dom, with really neat displays of all sorts of Roman artifacts found in the area. Some of the museum info is in English. Even if you don't go in, check out the Roman mural, which is visible through a big window near the Dom.
  • Walk through the remaining Altstadt near Groß St. Martin Kirche and Heumarkt - It's pretty touristy, but you'll get a feel for what Cologne was like before it was bombed in WW2.
  • Stop by one of the old city gates. Our favorites are in Rudolfplatz, at Severinstrasse, and just south of Ebertplatz. Our favorite thing to do was walk from our apartment to Ebertplatz and eat gelato in the shadow of the Eigelsteintor. 
  • Visit other churches and cathedrals in the city. Our favorites are St. Gereon's Basilica (built in the 1100s) anSt. Mariä Himmelfahrt (go inside to see incredible pictures of WW2 destruction; also, the name means "the Assumption of Mary, or literally, Mary Heaven-travel", not what it sounds like in English!).
  • Go to an FC Köln Game - they just moved back up from a lower league to the main Bundesleague. Games are a blast! Learn the words to the FC Köln hymn beforehand, wear red and white, and buy a scarf on the way in to hold up during the game.

Other fun things....
(L-R: Tierpark, Botanic garden, a Rhein Spaziergang)
  • Lindenthaler Tierpark - a free petting zoo in the Grüngürtel. One of my favorite weekend activities! Best in spring and early summer when the baby animals are there.
  • Buchermeile + other antique/flea markets - once a month during the warmer months, used book sellers set up stalls along a long street. You can find all sorts of books, from expensive rare finds, to paperbacks, to old cheap books for a Euro a piece. I only went once because I came back with 5 books (including a huuuuge 1950s world atlas)! There are a bunch of other Flohmarkts (flea markets) throughout the city, and they usually have lots of inexpensive treasures. If you want a Kolsch glass or a pair of Lederhosen to take home, you can find them at a Flohmarkt for a much better price than anywhere else!
  • Botanishergarten + Zoo - the botanic garden is free and quite lovely, with a couple of parrots named Moriz and Oskar. The zoo is not free, but you can get discount tickets on Mondays, and it's great fun if you're trying to learn German! Check the calendar, and try to watch them feed the piranhas.
  • Walk along the Rhine - from the Dom up to the Zoobrucke and then a bit past it to enjoy a nice riverside park. You might also run into a flock of Rheinische lawnmowers (pictured above, at far right) hard at work. This is a long walk, but wonderful on a pretty day -- bring beer and snacks!
(L-R: Oma Kleinmann's, a local cafe, Nippes daily market)
  • Bei Oma Kleinmann - the best and largest Schnitzel in the city! We took all of our visitors here. Closed Mondays.
  • Fruh am Dom - a typical Koelner brauhaus, with decent food. Try the Sauerbraten (marinated roast)!
  • Max Stark - the best Reibekuchen in the city (served on Tuesdays after 6pm only). It's quite small, so arrive early and be prepared for a wait.
  • Cafe Eichornchen - the only place in the city to get delicious Belgian beers. Rochefort 10 is the best!
  • Kaffeekiosk Nippes - the best cappuccinos in the city, run by two best friends. Grab one after a morning of shopping for cheap produce at the daily market (Mon-Sat, 7:30am-1pm) .

Special Events

(L-R: Zons Easter egg market, Marburg Christmas market, Karneval parade)
  • Christmas Markets - running from late November to December 23. There are 7 markets in the city, each one different. German Christmas markets are such a special experience! If you're in Germany for the season, be sure to go to a market in a small village, such as Bad Münstereifel, too.
  • Karneval - a full week of city-wide partying in early March. Be sure to bring a costume and a bag for candy!
  • Zons Easter Egg Market - a nice day outing in the spring. Explore the medieval town and check out the beautiful egg crafts at the market.

Day Trips

(L-R: Rhine cruise, Bonn, Bad Muenstereifel)
  • Brühl - the historic home of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologe. The palaces are best seen in spring or summer when the gardens are green, but it's still fun to go in winter. Post forthcoming!
  • Koenigswinter - a nice hike to castles overlooking the Rhine. Best in summer when the Biergarten is open, but still a fun hike any time of year!
  • Bad Munstereiffel - charming walled village, just an hours ride on the S-Bahn. There's a shop here with THE BEST mustard I've ever tasted.
  • Bonn - we visited this city several times on day trips. Things to do include the Beethoven House (his birthplace and a museum), the German National Museum of Contemporary History (really excellent, and free, with lots of English translations), and the botanic garden at the university. We really wanted to visit the Rheinische Landesmuseum (history museum about the Rhineland), but we never made it.
  • Rhine Cruise - I did this with my mom and sister. We caught a train to Bacharach, saw the town, then caught a river cruise ship up the river to a couple more towns before getting off in Mainz and catching the train back to Cologne. It was very relaxing! Unlike driving, everyone gets to enjoy the views and everyone has a good view. You can get on and off wherever you like along the river, or ride the boat all the way back to Cologne. I think it would be really fun to do this over several days.
  • Mainz - often a starting or ending point for Rhine or Mosel cruises, this is a fun city in its own right. Bibliophiles should definitely visit the Gutenberg Museum!
  • Industry Museums - Cologne is in the Ruhr, Germany's industrial region. There are a lot of very interesting museums in the area, including an old woolen mill (the Tuchfabrik Museum in Euskirchen) and mining museums (post forthcoming!)
Making this list has made me realize that I still have a number of things that I want to post about before I forget the details. I kept travel journals from all of our big trips, but our smaller day trips are documented mostly with photos and ticket stubs. So look for more Ausflug posts soon!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Checking In, 7 Months Later

Back in November, I posted a list of things we were missing from the US and things we wanted to do before we left Germany. Now that we've been back 7 months (!), I thought I'd look back through the lists...

Things we were looking forward to in the US:

  • Inexpensive, high-quality steak. -- Yep, we definitely missed this! Thanks, Mom  & Dad F, for grilling some steak for us when we got back!
  • Tacos, sharp cheddar, and good salsa. -- Our first homemade tacos were 100x better than the best we managed in Germany. Though now we eat them with a lot more fresh ingredients, like chopped onions, peppers, and lettuce.
  • Maple syrup and brown sugar available at the grocery store. -- Lots of baking has been happening, and I've already gone through 4 bags of brown sugar and 2 jugs of maple syrup.
  • French toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs...eating at Parker's Maple Barn and Soundbites. -- We ate a Parker's for my birthday weekend, we've made it to Soundbites several times, and gotten fried chicken with waffles at M3!
  • Our stinky hound! -- She turns 10 this month and is slowing down some, but overall she is very happy and healthy. We have been enjoying taking her on lots of walks!
hiking together in NH, just like old times
  • Getting reacquainted with my kitchen gear and all my other clothes. -- Oh, bread machine, slow cooker, and kitchen scale, how I missed thee! But for every kitchen gadget I did miss, there is one that I didn't miss at all...and those have been donated or given away in a house-cleaning extravaganza.
  • Having a cell phone with a camera and being able to text family on the go. -- 'Inbox 100% full' is a common message on my phone these days, and it's nice to be able to look up restaurant recommendations or directions on the go.
  • Seeing family and friends who we have only seen online for too long! -- We see J's family frequently, I got to see my parents and Em in January when I picked up the Granny Mobile, and I made it down to see Beth and Chris in March. We are slowly making the rounds!
  • Being able to effortlessly speak with shop owners, administrators, and pretty much everyone without having to compose each sentence in my head beforehand. (Though I will miss this, too!) -- Extra thankful for this during tax season, though it took several months to clear our accounts with the German electric company and our German bank, so I didn't have to go cold turkey. I also took a German class in the spring, but it's just not the same!
  • Having a car! Oh, how I have missed the freedom of having a car! (And, yet, oh how I will miss the fabulous trains and public transport in Germany!).  -- Mom road tripped from TX to MA with me to bring the Granny Mobile back to Boston. Sadly, the green truck drove its last mile on my second day back to work, so we're now a 1-car family. When sitting in summer beachgoer traffic this summer, we have sorely missed being able to kick back with a book in a train. But it is also glorious to be able to pack up the car and go!
3000+ miles of non-stop catching up :)
RIP faithful green friend

Things we wanted to do in Germany before we left:

  • Go shopping for gifts at all of Cologne's Christmas markets. -- Done! I have a long list of the best of/worst of the Cologne markets, which you can read about here.
  • Visit a Christmas market in a small, charming village (Bad MunstereifelMonschau? Münster? We shall see...). -- We made it to markets in Hattingen and Marburg, and they were one of our favorite things to do in the fall and winter!
  • Eat schnitzel at Oma Kleinmann's. -- check.
  • Eat saurbraten (J's favorite) at a Kölsch pub. -- double-check. I undertook a culinary adventure to replicate this recipe on the hottest day in July. Recipe and post coming soon!
  • See Radical Face at the Kulturkirche in mid-November. -- So much fun! I get very nostalgic every time I hear 'Welcome Home' now.
  • Cheer on FC Koeln at another soccer match. -- We actually didn't make this happen. Instead, a quick trip to London happened.
  • Attend mass at the Dom. -- This was a very neat experience! There's a lot of pomp and circumstance. Highly recommended for anyone visiting Cologne on a Sunday!
  • A quick, 3-day trip to London, staying at a super posh hotel using our free Hyatt nights. -- Done, and post forthcoming!
  • Experiment with more interesting ingredients from the market. -- I think this happened...probably. I don't remember any specific weird veggies or fruits, but I loaded up on Kaki and other favorites before we left. So much so that, when Sam and I departed for good, I had an entire bag filled with snacks and beer and things that were too good to throw away!
a last family photo on our back porch in Cologne
[Long, rambling] side note: Our departure from Germany was quite a production! J took a separate flight out of Amsterdam on Iceland Air, while Sam and I took a train to Paris the next day to catch a flight to JFK, where we rented a car and drive up to Boston. (Pets can't go through Iceland and other island nations without getting quarantined, and we were trying to save money, hence the abominably complicated travel plans!) J and I spent most of Dec 13th doing our favorite things in Cologne, before he left the next day.
saying 'bye for now' to the Dom
top row: walking along the Rhine and enjoying Koeln's Altstadt
bottom row: enjoying the Christmas markets (ice skating and hot chocolate, respectively)
soaking up our lovely neighborhood, Nippes, one last time
on his way to Boston, via Amsterdam and Iceland.
the next time we saw each other was 3 days later in NH!
J, along with his mandolin, backpack, and two bags weighing precisely 20kg (thank goodness for luggage scales!) hopped on a train to Amsterdam in the afternoon on Dec 13th. Then I went home and started packing my bags. At about 4pm, I realized that there was no way everything was going to fit so I threw away some things (bye-bye, tennis shoes) and speed-packed a box to mail. I had the box ready by 4:45 and the post office closed at 5, so I ran several blocks carrying the 15kg box to the post the rain. The rest of the day was spent packing and cleaning. The next day, I gathered everything together, did last minute clean up, put the cat in the carrier, and trudged (in the rain) to the UBahn station near our house with about 15 minutes to spare before my train to Paris left. Aaand when I got to the UBahn station, I realized that I had grossly misjudged the timing of the trains on a Sunday morning (every 10 minutes), which caused poor Samson and I to miss our train to Paris by 3 minutes. So I had to go to the Thalys counter (side note to the side note: the woman who helped me was French, but spoke excellent German as well as perfect English with a Cockney accent!), buy new train tickets, and wait 4 hours for the next train. Sam was not amused, though the ladies in the restroom thought it was hilarious to see a cat wheeled into a stall with me. I spent the time reading and killing time in the Hbf.
there's a small cat in that carrier, being very quiet and definitely not appreciating
that she's getting her picture at a UNESCO World heritage site
The rest of me and Sam's trip was also pretty eventful. We caught our train to Paris and it was uneventful except that I sort of spewed beer all over the place (I couldn't leave behind our last Rochefort 10!) and I ended up not in my assigned seat. But we got to the airport with plenty of time, which was good. I had been stressing about the baggage weights, which were very strict on this budget airline -- you got one 20kg checked bag (every additional kilo was 10 Euros or you could check a second bag for 100 Euros) and one carry-on bag (not counting the cat, since I paid 75 Euros to take her in the cabin) that must weigh under 10 kilos. I got my checked bag down to 23 kg and was planning to just pay the 30 Euros, but I had two big carry on bags (plus the cat) and both of them were waaaay over 10 kg since they contained J's camera and lenses and my computer. As I stood in line, I watched the attendants carefully count and weigh everyone's bags. But God took mercy on us, and the very nice man who helped us didn't bat an eye at my 23 kg bag and he pretended that he didn't see my excessive carry-ons...and we made it through the baggage gauntlet!

The flight was very empty, so Sammy and I got a whole row to ourselves. When we landed in New York, it was midnight and raining, but we got our little rental car and headed out. The rain turned to snow once we got into CT and we were making terrible time--no one else was on the road, but I couldn't see the asphalt. I had planned to stop at a Motel 6 just outside Hartford, but I passed the exit with no sign of the hotel. Fortunately, 30 minutes later I saw a sign for another Motel 6! Sam and I stopped at about 4am, slogged through 8" of snow to get to our room, and slept til about 10 before getting back on the road. The plowing teams must have worked the entire night, because the roads were completely clear by the time we headed out of the motel. We made it to NH just in time to avoid a late fee on the rental car, and Leslie, Kristy, and Nora met us at the airport rental return. Silly Nora didn't remember me at first, but I finally got a couple tail wags. And I could finally relax--we had made it!

Sam was such a trooper--she was dragged all the way from Cologne to Paris to New York, got rained on, and then had to ride in the car. She was in her carrier for 30 hours! I gave her relax treats and water throughout the trip, but I am still amazed at how good she was. She didn't struggle when I carried her through the Paris metal detector, and she didn't make a mess in her carrier. There were so many little blessings along the way that made our adventure of a return trip possible!

And now she is sitting contentedly beside me on our couch in Somerville, a real world traveler with a German cat passport!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Word of the Week: Wiehnachsmarkt

the Marburg Weihnachtsmarkt, in front of the Rathaus
Let's talk about Christmas in August. Specifically, Christmas markets, known as Weihnachsmärkte ("vye-nachts-mehrk-teh") in Germany. These markets begin usually in late November or early December and run right up until Christmas Eve. Cologne alone has seven different markets, and there are smaller markets in villages all over the country (plus large markets in other major cities). We visited all seven markets in Cologne, as well as markets in Brussels, Hattingen, and Marburg.
"Happy Christmas" in Marburg
The smaller markets in Marburg and Hattingen were delightful, with a much cozier, less commercial feel than the markets in Cologne. Marburg was especially beautiful, and I highly suggest visiting a market in a small town such as Marburg or Bad Munstereifel. Spend the day wandering the cute Altstadt and exploring the city, and then spend the evening hanging out at the cheerily-lit Weihnachtsmarkt.
escargot & Swiss-style noodle bowls at the Brussel Christmas market
The market is Brussels was huge, and quite different from the markets in Cologne. Rather than discrete, themed markets, this market in Brussels ran 2km from the Grote Markt to the Place Sainte-Catherine (map). In the market square at Place Sainte-Catherine there was the neatest carousel I have ever seen, called La Manege D'Andrea (kids could sit in a rocketship that blasted up through the roof!). The food was also quite different, too --I got a delicious bowl of escargot, and Jeremy and I both ate really tasty Swiss-style noodles! Sometime in the future, I would love to make it to Christmas markets in other parts of Belgium and in the Netherlands, as well as in other parts of Germany. But in the meantime, here's what we learned about the markets in Cologne...