Friday, October 30, 2015

The Veggie Clubhouse burger: McDonald's and quinoa?

I heard something on the radio this summer that gave me pause: there was an ad for McDonald's that mentioned something about a quinoa burger. While I don't like McDonald's except for the occasional McMuffin if I'm desperate for a breakfast on the run, I was curious about this burger. I'm not into fast food but if I could find something that tasted decent and was vegetarian, it could be an option if I'm on the run.

I finally tried the burger. It's presented on a toasted bun with cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce, and a sauce (which might be what they put on Big Macs but I'm not sure since I haven't had one in more than 20 years). The patty itself has quinoa, bell peppers, onions, and leeks all ground up.

It was reasonably crisp, which I think is because it seems fried. It was okay but I'm not super into fried foods and knew it would equal heartburn later as it seemed rather greasy. As far as flavor goes, it definitely had that salty-greasy, rich thing going on, which is what registered the most after the bun and toppings. However, if I had to eat a non-breakfast meal at McDonald's, I could order this again if I wanted to deal with the greasy aspect of it.

Obviously this post is not sponsored, just to be clear. I'm not sure that the company would pay someone to say that she would buy the burger if there weren't any other options ;)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

No one will take a Shine to this roadside candy machine

I came across this roadside candy machine in Leipzig. A few things stuck out: first of all, it was blue.

Second of all, like many things in Leipzig, it's been tagged with graffiti. I saw "redröm" tagged on it. I had a suspicion that it was the German take on "red rum," and I think it is, as "Mörder" if it's reversed.

Sometimes I think I'd love to see security footage to find out what roadside candy machines go through. (Although, having seen some of them looking really jacked up, I'm then  not so sure that I would want to know!)

Interesting juxtaposition with the poster in the window too!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My week: October 25 ed.

The workweek was rather normal with my usual meeting with my tandem partner. I did have plans to go out on Friday night but wasn't feeling well so had to cancel.

On the weekend, our group of friends had a dinner. I just love these gatherings; usually it's mostly familiar faces with some new ones too. I'm sure that the new people are always wondering what on earth is going on as a string of people come up to me and rub their elbows with mine. It's our weird version of a side hug (yes, I pulled it from the one and only episode of the Duggars that I watched and no, we don't have creepy beliefs that state we can't do regular hugs, though I'd prefer no hugs at all).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Is the Leipzig Card worth buying?

Some cities offer special discount cards for tourists. The cards often offer transportation on the local bus, tram, and subway system, in addition to discounts and free admissions to local museums and attractions. When I visited Leipzig, I made the decision to buy the Leipzig Card because I thought it might be worth it from a cost-saving perspective. Was I right? Is it cost-effective to buy the Leipzig Card?

Let's look at my thought processes for buying it. My trip to Leipzig was from Friday-Monday. I planned to visit some museums and take public transport. I usually buy a day pass for public transport since it works out to be cheaper than buying individual tickets for most of my wanderings. For example, the day ticket was 6,90 euro, whereas individual tickets are 1,80. It would only take four trips to make it worth it for a day card. Four trips would really be two roundtrips.

The Leipzig Card is 10,90 for a one day or for 21,90 for three days and includes public transport and discounts on museums, stores, etc. It also includes free entrances to some attractions, though this is limited. Since my visit was 3 days and it averaged out to 7,30 a day, I thought that it would be worth to get the card.

However, upon tying up the trip, I had to re-evaluate that. I didn't realize how compact the main sights are within Leipzig. I stayed mostly in the center of the city, pinpointed on the map as Markt. In that vicinity are many museums, stores, restaurants, etc. My hostel was right in the area so I didn't need transportation to that either. I found several free museums that took up a lot of my time. I also could have used very little, if any, public transportation. In order to try to get my value out of the ticket, I did take some tram rides to see the city but I could've walked.

I used the card to get a discount at the fine arts museum (I think 2 euros discount) and on a bus/walking tour (4 euros). I only heavily used the travel portion on one day. My take is this: I don't think it was money totally down the drain but had I realized how easy it was to see most of the sights in a compact area, I probably wouldn't have bought the card. For those considering it, it would be wise to figure out how far everything you want to see it and if the discounts are worth it to justify buying the card. For a short visit, it might worth it just to walk and visit free museums.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My week: October 18 ed.

The previous week spilled into this week some, as Monday was a federal holiday and I was finishing up my trip to Leipzig. On the way home, my train had a delay and I missed my connection at Fulda. Instead, I stayed on the train and transferred at Frankfurt. Strangely enough, I think I ended up taking the same exact last train that I would have anyway and got home at the expected time. Crazy how that works out, huh?

On Friday, K invited me to a Tim Fischer concert. Neither of us had any idea of who he was; I said yes immediately because I could figure out who he was at the concert ;) I'm open to new experiences and this turned out to be a cabaret performance at the Fruchthalle in downtown Kaiserslautern.

It was an opportunity to practice listening to German, especially as songs. I don't have a lot of experience in that and it was definitely tested because Fischer effected regional dialects for many songs.

Sunday saw an invite from my friends D and S for dinner. They made a delicious salad and a cabbage/pumpkin casserole. I don't know if this is a trait of the German people, but many folks that I've met make some dang good homemade salad dressing. My tandem partner does, too. Usually it's some sort of mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, some sort of mustard, etc. I'm glad for this experience because it makes me realize that it's not hard to make some dressings from scratch and from ingredients that aren't difficult to keep on hand.

We finished our visit with a walk. I think D would have preferred our customary walk through the woods, but my foot was hurting me (it is probably plantar fasciitis) so I suggested a shorter walk downtown. We encountered a special Sunday open day for shopping. Normally stores are closed Sundays so people flock downtown to shop on the open day. We perused some stores and parted ways. It was a peaceful end to the week.

Monday, October 19, 2015

My week: October 11 ed.

Man, I've been bad about writing these weekly wrap-ups (not that they're all that exciting, but they work as a nice means of remembrance for myself). I haven't been so great about writing regularly in the blog, either. I don't know that this situation will improve since my second German class is starting soon and there are many projects occurring at work right now. At least I won't get bored, though I do have the firm belief that if you're bored, you're boring ;)

-I had a meeting with my tandem partner and attended the VHS class. In the VHS class, it's really become more of a review of B1 (so I guess it's similar to what the VHS calls B1+). While I would like to focus more on conversation, I'm also happy enough with reviewing grammar since that's always needed. I like listening to the teacher talk; he has a very calm, reassuring way of speaking and a nice cadence.

-Since it was a three-day holiday weekend, I decided somewhat last minute to take a trip to Leipzig. It had been on my mental list (which, for the record, has no rhyme or reason) of places I'd like to visit. My main travel partner C had moved back to the US so this trip I went by myself since it was so last-minute. I lucked out, however, and bought some Sparpreis train tickets for 26 euros each way (with seat reservation) after BahnCard discount. It can be difficult to find train tickets at a good price if one doesn't book early (up to 30 days in advance) or super late, such as several days before with L'tur. The problem with the latter option is that cheap tickets aren't always available so soon before departure.

I also booked a hostel through but realized that if I had booked directly with the hostel, I would have gotten a better rate. The frustrating thing is that one must call the hostel though. I don't enjoy doing this; I'd prefer to do everything online. The hostel has a website but the booking capabilities are limited and the website directed me to call since not all of their available rooms were listed online (why?!).

I had found another hostel with good rates and I tried calling at 10 p.m. since I figured it would be a quieter time to inquire about reservations. Well, the woman couldn't help me because there was only one person on staff at the time. Argh! That certainly didn't help with my frustration and dislike of having to call places instead of being able to book instantly through the hostel's website.

I left for the trip on the Friday night after work. It's about a 5-6 hour high speed train ride to the city and I got in really late. However, the party at the club next door to my hostel was ready and waiting for me! I could have even arrived at 4 a.m. and they would have had the music booming. Sigh. It was so loud that I could still hear it in my room when I had my earplugs in, but at least it was mostly muffled.

That's how I learned that Leipzig doesn't have a set closing time for its clubs and restaurants. Usually, it's 10 p.m. or 12 a.m. in many other cities. I think I'm getting old because I was wishing for a closing time. To be fair, I also don't expect to get a great night's sleep if I'm at a hostel.

I might write more about the weekend later, but to sum up the rest of it: I wandered around town and admired the architecture; took a walking/bus tour; visited museums; did some window shopping; and took the time to do whatever the heck I wanted to do. While I usually prefer to travel with a friend, it was also a positive experience for me to enjoy my own company and set my own schedule.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Frankfurt Book Fair is this weekend!

This weekend is the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest book trade fair in the world. It's worth a visit, even for those who don't work in the book industry.

Official website for the Frankfurt Book Fair here.

I wrote about my previous visit here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Store review: Galerie Wagner, Kindsbach - gift store

Are you looking for a lovely and traditional gift that's actually made in Germany? In Kindsbach, a suburb of Kaiserslautern, shoppers can find just that at Galerie Wagner.

Store with traditional German handcrafts
Galerie Wagner, Kindsbach, street view

It's a delight of German handicrafts with everything from cuckoo clocks to doll houses inside the store. The highlight there is the selection of traditional German Christmas items. Räuchermännchen (little smoker men, which use incense inside so they appear to "smoke"), Christmas pyramids, ornaments, Schwibbögen, nutcrackers, and snow men line the shelves. Some items come from the Erzgebirge, a mountain area in Germany known for its handmade wooden figures.

Christmas decorations
Räuchermännchen (und Frauen!)
Mini Christmas pyramids and holiday scenes
Beyond that, there are paintings by German artists, Black Forest cuckoo clocks, pewter steins, music boxes, and Easter decorations. Everything is tidily packed into the store, making effective use of the small space for a large selection.
Pewter items for sale
It's not just the items for sale that make a store worth a visit. Friendly and knowledgeable service is important too and Frau Wagner, the store keeper and namesake, offers just that. I've visited the store twice; the first time, just to look, and the second time, to purchase gifts. I never felt rushed or pressured to buy anything; I actually enjoyed my shopping experience.

Frau Wagner, fluent in English, is happy to answer questions about the products, make suggestions, and explain German traditions and how the pieces in her store relate to the traditions. She has operated the store for forty-five years and takes pride in offering quality items that have been actually made in Germany. She told me that items marked "Germany" were probably not made there; items marked "Made in Germany" were produced in-country, which is a requirement to receive that stamp.

Guided by Frau Wagner's helpful advice, I bought some really nice gifts for my family. I felt that prices were fair and very much in line for handcrafts actually made in Germany and I was happy to support an independently owned local business.

VAT forms are accepted
Galerie Wagner
Address: Kaiserstraße 35
67862 Kindsbach
Free street parking is available directly in front of the store or behind the building.
Phone: +49(0)637115144

Note: these opinions are entirely my own, based on my shopping experience there. I received no compensation from Galerie Wagner for this review.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

My week: October 4 ed.

I realized I haven't written an update on my week for a while. I spent most of September preparing for, and conducing, another huge staff training. It took up so much of my time, energy, and mental effort that I didn't want to do a whole lot beyond that.

-Anyway, I had my regular tandem speaking meeting and was able to have my tandem partner explain Indirekte Rede a bit more, which was definitely appreciated. I've started up Volkshochschule classes again and had learned it there but didn't fully grasp it. It's wonderful to receive extra tutoring from my tandem partner!

-We had a going away dinner for one of our colleagues from another department and found it funny when we all showed up wearing black. It looked as if we were either mourning his leaving or we were part of some sort of mafia.

We then had a hilarious, bawdy conversation. If you get the vapors at such a thing, skip the next two paragraphs. We met J's friend, whose name also starts with a J and will be the focus of the story. J #2 has a pet hedgehog so of course I had tons of questions for him. He was sharing anecdotes about these unusual pets. There was a Youtube video of a new owner petting his new hedgehog. Suddenly J stopped the story, worried that it might offend us. Of course I had to hear the story then but I can appreciate his wanting to be polite with new acquaintances. Anyway, experienced hedgehog owners saw the video and just about died. The person in the video was surprised at how much the hedgehog liked having its belly rubbed. Well, a male hedgehog's, um, male bits are on his belly and the new owner was inadvertently petting everything, without realizing it. (That gave me pause but it makes sense, given all of the quills on the rest of the 'hog.)

J took a sip of his beer and peered at us, trying to ascertain if we were offended by the story. I asked, "So, did he at least give the hedgehog a cigarette afterward?" and J spit his beer out in surprise and laughter. Obviously the story didn't offend me and I learned an important thing: I don't want to pet any hedgehogs!

-On Saturday, I planned to attend a housewarming party that my friend was having in Saarbrücken. Since I wanted to maximize my time in the area, I also decided to visit Forbach, which is a French town on the border. I wanted to see the tourist sights, if any, and go shopping at Cora, a megastore with extensive grocery options.

I had a dickens of a time finding things to do in Forbach. Their tourist information website isn't translated very much and it wasn't playing along with Google Translate. I finally decided that I'd visit Schlossberg, a castle ruins and I'd decide on further sights after stopping by the tourist information center.

I was so bent on doing all of this because I've visited Forbach before and found it quite depressing. Since it's so close to my friends, I wanted to see if there were any redeeming features about the city for future visits. Considering that the city was damaged heavily during WWII, and it was a mining town that saw the major employer, the mine, close, it's not too surprising that the town isn't exactly beautiful with its out-of-place modern buildings, commercial area, and traffic-heavy vibe. Honestly, it reminds me of my visit to southern New Jersey.

My first stop was the tourist information center. I had researched its hours and thought it should be open. Well, if it were still September, it would have been, but it's not open on Saturdays in October. D'oh. I decided to walk around downtown and walk up to the castle hill.

Downtown is strange. The main road through town is congested and ugly. There are some abandoned-looking 60s buildings, the tourist office (in a worn out historical building - late Baroque, I think), and a hideous 60s-city administration building. I crossed into the downtown shopping district and it was a bit better but still a weird mix of the new and the old.

A prettier section of the pedestrian zone - unfortunately, not so much of it was this nice.
This guy was taking a nap in the window of the hair salon.

This guy was vacuuming up leaves with what amounted to a giant vacuum.
I continued up the hill to the Schlossberg, which is a city park located at the base of a castle ruins. Ah, this was more like it, with a forested area of paths leading up to the castle. For a two euro fee, one can climb the tower, which is the main section remaining of the castle that's been rebuilt multiple times (including the tower itself). I didn't do that but did pick up some tourist brochures.

Schlossberg, Forbach
After that, I fetched my car to join the madness of shopping at Cora. It was the German day of unity so all the Germans* left Germany since its stores were closed and headed to Cora in France for some groceries. It was complete madness there and I had not only my normal feelings of crankiness from shopping, but added crankiness because it was hard to move around. A German guy tried to cut in front of me in line at the cash register and I gave them a look that my horse would give before squealing and kicking at another pestering horse. The dude backed off ;)

It was a relief to load up the car and return to Germany. I met one friend for a decent TexMex dinner at Cafe Especial in Saarbrücken. I've eaten at this and the Cologne location. It's somewhat expensive but reasonably close to TexMex and it doesn't have any curry in it so that's a plus.

I then made my way to my friend's housewarming party that she was hosting with her boyfriend. I didn't bring them bread and salt, which is a traditional German housewarming gift. Instead, I bought her boxes of macaroni and cheese, Doritos, and peanut butter cups. There is flour and salt in the mac n' cheese so I figure that's close enough to the German gift. Plus, she really likes these American snacks, so why not? My good friend R and his girlfriend S showed up so it was a happy reunion for all of us. I drove home around 4 a.m. I haven't been out that late in ages. I must be getting old ;)

*well, not all of them, of course!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My summary of Far from the Madding Crowd

If I were to sum up the novel Far from the Madding Crowd: dog-shooting, a very confused form of feminism, courting by literally waving a sword in someone's face, melodrama galore, and sheep, lots of sheep.