Movin’ on up

So I started a full time job about two months ago, and I like it a lot. For reals. The video game testing had been killing me, I couldn’t stand it. I clockwatch if I’m miserable, and we did 12 hour days so that was a lot of clock monitoring.  Now I work 9 to 5. Literally. Those are the hours, which is crazy in this day and age.  I’m a sales consult or account executive, it depends on who you ask, for non-theatrical film distribution.  Co-workers are great, the company seems pretty good, and all is well.

The commute, on the other hand, isn’t much fun.  The office is over the hill, which makes for about 45 minutes in the more and 60-75 minutes in the afternoon.  Luckily, we signed a lease on a place yesterday and, once we move at the end of the month, the commute will be 7-10 minutes each way.  That…that will be amazing.

Otherwise not much is going on. I worry I’m gaining weight but I plan to fully reengage my previous eating plan once we move. It’s just so difficult and unfeasible where I am now. It seems like a made up excuse, and it partially is, but that’s the plan.

 

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Currently

So here’s what’s been going on.

Nothing.

But more specifically.

Still looking for gainful, non-temporary employment. And it’s proving exceedingly difficult.  I have a temp assignment at Neversoft in video game testing. All I know is they’re working on the new Call of Duty, but I have no idea what I’d be working on or which console. It’s a job I can certainly do well, but it’s a dead end, not stable, and not something suited for me time-wise anymore. There are other potential things in the future, but nothing worth speaking of.

I’m sure I’m gaining some weight, but hopefully not much. Who knows.

And that’s about it.

OK, time for a long, detailed, invigorating post about what’s going on in my life.

…or not.

Whoops

Well I have just been terrible in my blogging duties as of late (i.e. 2 months). Though I have been updating my movie page on here, but I’m sure I’m the only one who has ever even looked at it. I even let my 10 year blogging anniversary slip by. Oh well.

We left Germany on December 8th, spent 5 days in Iceland, and have been back since the 12th. I spent a week with family up in Oregon for Christmas, but otherwise I’ve been dicking around town and catching up with people.

I’ll write a trip report for Iceland, which was an absolutely amazing trip, sometime soon. Part of the problem is I just have no good, comfortable place to type right now. Oh well.

Everything else is in a holding pattern. Stay tuned for further updates.

The Home Stretch

I guess there’s things to speak of for once. Fancy that.

Chris is scheduled to defend his dissertation on the 23rd, just 2 weeks from now. We could conceivably leave just a few days after that, but we’ll be sticking around for a little just to have enough time to sort out whatever might need sorting.

So we booked our flight home (OUR FLIGHT HOME!!!) for December 8th. We’ll have a 5 day layover in Reykjavik, Iceland, which I’m unbelievably excited about. Iceland Air was the cheapest flight available, especially as a one-way flight, and as Hal informed me when he went last month, they offer a free layover of up to 7 days.  We had saved up a little money for a vacation of some kind, as we wanted to see somewhere else besides Germany while we were over here, so Iceland seemed like a great fit as it would add no cost transportation-wise.

And besides, on my list of most wanted travel destinations, Iceland is up there:

  1. Tokyo/Japan
  2. Paris
  3. Iceland
  4. Rapa Nui/Santiago
  5. Norway/Sweden

So, I can finally strike one of those off the list. We had heavily considered Paris, but it was very difficult to do on our budget. And if I’m going to go there, I’d rather do it with the right budget. Which means a minimum of 2 days at Disneyland Paris. At least.

I’m in the midst of booking everything for Iceland now, and I can’t wait. Despite what one might immediately assume, it’s not that cold in Iceland in December. It usually hovers in the low to mid 30s, which is fine. No different than Germany right now.  Just less sunlight at only 6 hours or so. But the northern lights!

After Iceland we’ll continue on to LA via Seattle on the 12th. Just a week later I’ll go to Oregon for a week for Christmas.  And then back to LA for…a while I guess. We don’t know.  It’s all very uncertain, which is kind of OK in a way. It’s been uncertain for a long time, but at least it’ll be uncertain in English.

Oktoberfest

This is the third Oktoberfest since we got to Germany two years ago, and it’s been killing me every time that I haven’t gone.  To be so close, yet to far from one of the world’s biggest and most fabled parties. How could I live here for so long and not go?

Money, mostly. Munich is pretty far from here, and the trains are expensive. And the hotels jack up all their prices for those three weeks. So there’s that. Chris also had no interest in going with me, and I wasn’t going to go alone. Luckily, my friend Shinyee was in the exact same predicament as me. Her husband (also a Chris) didn’t want to go either. So I bit the bullet, decided to use some of the money I had saved up, and go down there for just one night. I found a great rate for a room on Hotwire, which turned out to have a fantastic location (and was a huge discount), so we booked our train tickets, and set out at 7am on Sunday morning.  Four hours later, time to experience Oktoberfest!  Oh, and Munich.

Oktoberfest might as well have started on the train. The train, which was oddly short, was already packed when we got on and we were VERY lucky to get what were the last two remaining unreserved seats. At the first stop, in Kassel, a group of 10 or so got on and just started the partying. They strung up flags across the row, broke out the beer, and starting having a grand old time. Nothing like beer drinking at 7:30 in the morning! When I passed by on my way to the food car I noticed they had a whole spread of Bavarian food and what looked like an entire pot roast out. Even a small boombox playing some oom-pa music. A good start, I guess.

Since it was still morning we started with a walking tour of Munich, from the same company I had used in Berlin, Hamburg, and Prague. Munich must be pretty compact because we didn’t too a whole lot of walking. I had spent one night in Munich before, last year during our little car-centric road trip, but we didn’t see a whole lot. I guess what the walking tour really taught me was that there’s not a whole lot to see.

That being said, Munich is a lovely town, but it has a wholly different feel from other German cities I’ve been to. I can’t really put my finger on why that is, but it’s just a bit different. The buildings are taller, and plainer in some ways, but the styles are all consistent. It doesn’t really have any picturesque, memorable landmarks. The skyline is dominated by the Frauenkirche, which is a pretty ugly church in my opinion. Basic brick Gothic construction and a very underwhelming and plain interior. The Rathaus and glockenspiel are nice and all, but not as impressive as the Hamburg or Hannover ones, for example.  So with downtown out of the way we checked into our hotel and it was off to the Theresienwiese, home of Oktoberfest.

First, and it wasn’t really a surprise, but there was lederhosen and dirndls as far as the eye can see. Not just at the fest itself, but all through town. Every Bavarian has their own set at home, and it’s practically a uniform for those three weeks of the year. I love lederhosen for some reason, and I’m really kicking myself for not buying a pair when I tried them on last month. I wasn’t planning on going to Oktoberfest at that point, and it’s not really an item of clothing you can just wear around an American town without getting quizzical looks. Maybe on Halloween? Besides, leather pants ain’t cheap! And, the dirndl! I’m clearly not an avid fan of breasts, but wow, those things really draw your eye. You’re just compelled to stare right at them.

The trains were packed with people headed down as it was late afternoon, and all the streets from the station to the Wiese were closed and filled with people. Some of the people heading home had clearly had a great time as evidenced by their inability to stand or walk. Roughly 6 million people attend over the 16 days, and while it was busy I get the feeling it was nowhere near as close to the craziness of, say, Saturdays.

A view from the giant swing ride

In many ways, Oktoberfest is like your typical fair back home, only half of it is replaced with massive beer halls. Lots of food stalls, souvenirs, crafts, rides, and games. You can’t go 20 feet without passing gingerbread hearts, the smell of roasted almonds, or big beer mugs and cheesy t-shirts for sale.

We went to Oktoberfest without a table reservation. Mainly because 1) you need a party of 8 to 10 to reserve a table, and we were just 2 people and 2) All the tents tend to sell out a year in advance. Germans love pre-planning! Getting into a tent that night was probably going to be impossible, so we would try to get in somewhere the next day. Instead we started by checking out the rides. Shinyee rode the giant swing ride with me, but that was enough for her and I was on my own for the rest.

I love carnival rides, and Oktoberfest had some crazy ones. I had noticed at a carnival here in Göttingen that the safety standards seemed a bit, well, lax. No barriers between the crowds and rides, for example. You could just run into the bumper cars, or some crazy spinning ride, and get creamed. It smacked of an American lawyer’s wet dream. The giant swing ride, for example, barely stopped long enough for us to on. Instead of waiting for everyone to get off and leave before letting the next group on, we were directed to cling to the outer wall while the ride was in motion. My seatbelt wasn’t even fully buckled before it started rising! Crazy.

I went on the three big roller coasters. The Alpina Bahn, Europe’s largest movable roller coaster, which was a nice, large turny thing. The Höhenblitz, a spinning roller-coaster in a giant tent with lasers, smoke, fire, and crazy lighting. A truly impressive setup, considering it’s mobile. And the Olympia Looping (pictured above) that was simply awesome. I’ve never gone through loops so fast, and it had a whopping five total, along with plenty of drops and turns. If it hadn’t been so outrageously priced at 8 Euro a ride, I would’ve ridden it a bunch of times.

After getting my fix of the rides we tried to at least see if we could get into a tent. And, big surprise, we couldn’t. Instead we wound up at one of the tables outside the tent. Not the best possible experience, but a decent second. We were at the Löwenbräu tent, whith its giant beer drinking lion out front that roars at you every minute or so.

Ordering was simple. I had a Maß (pronounced “mahss”) of beer, some pork sausage with sauerkraut, and a pretzel. Seems stereotypical enough, right?

Me eating a totally normal sized pretzel

I’ve never liked beer. I still don’t. I really don’t understand why people like it. It doesn’t taste as awful to me as it once did, but it’s certainly not a taste I’d ever describe as tasty. Light beer especially. But, hey, this is Oktoberfest, so I’ll gladly down a whole liter of it. Because that’s the only size available (and they sell about 8 million a year). The Oktoberfest brews come from six local breweries and are made with a slightly higher alcohol content (around 6%) and less carbonation. So it’s easier to drink and faster to loosen you up. More bang for your buck. And since each Maß is 9.40 (about $12), I guess that’s a plus. And, sure enough, that one beer in and of itself gave me a healthy buzz.

It’s the atmosphere that’s really special. Everyone is in a great mood, everyone’s friendly, and you just can’t help but get sucked into it. They pipe music from the live band inside the tent, and everyone sings along and dances. Standing on tables, cheering on those brave enough to chug, and so on. And people do this all day and all night.

The next morning we headed straight back as, without a reservation, that’s your best bet to get into a tent. We walked into a few tents to see which one we might like. It was a hard decision. Some of my students, who are Munich locals, had given me recommendations. The Hippodrom is a colorful and hip place to be. The Schottenhamel is the largest (seats 6,000 inside, 4,000 outside) and oldest. The Paulaner tent seemed nice, while the Nymphenburg tent seemed uptight and dull. Where to go?

Inside the Schottenhamel tent

Instead we chose the Käfer’s Wies’n-Shänke tent, which I had heard was the foodie destination. A much, much smaller tent by comparison, seating only 1,000 or so. It had two levels and, in a rush to simply find an open table, we chose downstairs which kind of had the feeling of a restaurant. Kind of a mistake as, when I later poked my head upstairs, I saw it was a more traditional open space. And, once the band started playing, I’m sure the atmosphere up there was a touch more fun. But no real loss.

Inside the Hippodrom

My God, the food in the tent was amazing. We ordered Radlers, which is half beer half lemonade, instead of just beer. A much, much better choice as the lemonade really cuts out the bitter taste and makes it a smoother drink. The menu was pretty extensive (and pricey), so I chose the traditional half chicken, and Shinyee ordered a mushroom dish with dumplings. My chicken was beyond juicy and mouth-watering, while Shinyee’s had the most amazing tasting sauce. I could’ve sat there and ordered more and more if I had the time and bank account for it. I later learned Käfer’s is a famous catering company/store/celebrity chef and it’s usually one of the hardest tents to get into. All tables are already booked for the 2013 Oktoberfest. So, yeah, a good choice calmer atmosphere not withstanding.

After that it was time to say auf wiedersehen to Oktoberfest and head back into Munich. I had such a great time there, and I hate beer, crowds, and party environments. There’s something about the whole thing that’s just very special. There’s an uglier side to which many of the locals hate, but luckily we didn’t really see it. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Back in town we went to the Englischer Garten, as Shinyee wanted to check it out. It’s the largest urban public park in the world (bigger than Central Park even, to my surprise) and is a long and narrow park with lots of winding paths, lakes, and streams. We stumbled upon the famous surfers as we walked in. Because of a block of concrete in the river it creates a constant wave that locals love to surf. It was really fun to just watch them take turns for a while. But it’s also pretty dangerous as it’s flanked by two concrete walls and people have died after falling before. But they still do it.

 

We walked all through the park, just enjoying the scenery and watching all the dogs (a hobby of mine Shinyee also enjoys, unlike Chris). While stopping to take some pictures of one of the rivers, Shinyee lost her grip on her phone and, in a harrowing few seconds, it fell to the ground and right into the river. Her brand new Samsung Galaxy III. Her very first smart phone. All 700+ Euro of it just plopped right into the river. It was awful.  And it had a lot of great pictures on it too.

The Chinesischer Turm Biergarten

That kind of put a damper on the rest of the afternoon. But it’s just a phone, and nothing could be done.  Oh well.

So that was that. A whirlwind night in Munich and the Oktoberfest. I’m kicking myself this wasn’t my third trip there, but we really didn’t have the money to before. But if you ever get the chance to go to Munich’s biggest, most famous party, don’t pass it up.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-the same

It seems like the end if finally in site, though it’s still blurry. Chris will (hopefully) know his thesis defense date on or around October 10th, and is aiming for the second Friday of November. Just a few days after the date I really wanted to be home, but it is what it is.

After that. Well. Still up in the air. But, fingers crossed, we’ll have Thanksgiving at home.

But in the meantime, nothing will change.

I just finished Darksiders 2, which has left me thoroughly burned out on games for the time being. I still have Sleeping Dogs to play, but I’m just not feeling it right now. Borderlands 2 should get here within the next two weeks (if customs doesn’t snag it…again), which I’m looking forward to. I haven’t been watching movies because I’ve been plowing through all five seasons of The Wire.

Strangely enough, I’m feeling like reading a book. Of all things! I haven’t read anything since The Hunger Games books back in March. But I don’t know what to read. I usually stick to non-fiction, but I’m thinking Cloud Atlas right now. Even if it does seem like a pretty daunting title. We’ll have to wait and see.

I wish I could say I was writing, but I’m not. Something is percolating, but that’s all I’ve been able to muster as of late.

Next Monday will mark 2 years of our being here, and the third Oktoberfest. Seriously trying to make at least a day trip happen, even if it is expensive. It really is a shame to be here for so long and not go to an event so synonymous with the country. Every German I speak to says it’s terrible, awful, crowded, and expensive. But that I shouldn’t miss it for the world.

Beyond that, should the timing be OK, the other tentative plan is to stop off in Iceland for a few days on the way home. Because, why not?

Nope…Nothing

I’d post more often if absolutely anything was going on. I really would. But nothing is happening. No news. No change.

Been debating vacation options as we saved up a small sum and why put it something useful when we can go somewhere fun instead? Was pretty intent on Paris for a week, but that idea has peaked and financial trepidation has set in. Currently the thinking is Iceland while on the way home. But who knows if that’s possible time-wise. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Glad the Olympics are over. I’ve never understood the appeal. Why do we only care about competitive swimming so feverishly every 48 months? Why do we care at all?

Most of Germany is on vacation in August. Since everyone gets 4 to 5 weeks of paid vacation at a minimum, they take at least 2 or 3 in August. So it gets quiet around here. Most of my students are gone. That means (even) more free time for me, but bad for my paycheck.

And now I’m out of things to mutter on about. Oh well.

140 pounds lost.

They Put What on Pizza?

It’s not like I have an extensive list of places I’ve traveled to prove such a thing, but I’m getting the feeling there’s no such thing as authentic pizza as every country has their own specific interpretation. That’s not that surprising considering it’s history. We think of it as strictly Italian fare, but they just solidified the tomato part in the late 1800s. It originated in ancient Greece and moved around and evolved, as things are wont to do. So says Wikipedia, at least.

That being said, you still sort of settle into the normal and accepted toppings and ingredients as an American. They’re even pretty consistent and understandable here in Germany. But, man, they have some weird combinations over here. Sure, you hear tale of the Japanese putting mayonaise on their pizza, the Saudis baking mini cheeseburgers into the crust, and so on. But I’ll just stick to what I see here in Germany. And these aren’t examples of, say, pizzas you find in gourmet pizza places. This is just your average delivery place.

The basic differences between US and German pizza aren’t too much. The crust is always much, much thinner and they don’t seem to use nearly as much cheese.  All in all, this probably makes it a much healthier endeavor. As healthy as pizza can be at least. The only important difference to really note is that, should you order pepperoni, then they’ll just put a bunch of tiny peppers on it. If you want pepperoni, in the American sense, you ask for salami. Simple enough, and you learn that quick. And sausage as a topping doesn’t exist here at all, which is odd considering the German penchant for cased meat products.

Instead, here’s some of the stuff that, to me, just seems a bit weird.

Pizza Tonno – tuna, olives, and onions. This one’s really popular here. But I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of dry, cooked tuna from a can on a pizza.

That’s a Peach Club pizza, a current special at our delivery place of choice. It’s got sun-dried tomato sauce, pork strips (Germans put pork/ham on everything), bacon, peach slices, and honey.

Peach slices and honey? I’ll admit, strangely enough it doesn’t so too crazy to include the sweet with the savory meat tastes. But it’s certainly something you’d never see Dominos or Pizza Hut launching nationwide like they did here.

 

 

 

 

 

This is Pizza Crazy Dog (not translated, it’s in English) and it has hot dogs, Danish pickles, ketchup, grilled onions, and Danish remoulade sauce. I have to wonder if a 12 year old concocted this one.

Remoulade sauce?  I’ll admit, it’s the slathering of random sauces onto the top of pizzas that’s the most puzzling to me sometimes. Sauce under the cheese, sure. Naturally. But on top, above the already included sauce? Really?

 

I’ve actually ordered this one, called Pizza Dutchman. It doesn’t seem that crazy as it only has ham slices, tomato, broccoli, and hollandaise sauce. That’s the part that just didn’t work. Hollandaise sauce…

 

 

 

 

While I still maintain it’s a bit odd to sprinkle corn all over a pizza, this one still isn’t that odd. It’s got , onions, bell peppers, olives, broccoli, and the aforementioned corn.

No, to me the really odd part was that they labeled this “French Pizza.” These are not ingredients I associate with French cuisine in any way. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s one regional cuisine you could attach them all to.

 

 

 

 

I only saw these two recently. Frankly, they both look kind of disgusting.  Actually, really disgusting.

The first is just bacon and eggs, which they helpfully call “British Pizza.” The second is spinach, ham, and egg.

Are these breakfast concoctions?  They don’t seem to be, and even then I’d be hard pressed to dive in. An egg or two just plopped into the middle of a pizza?  Really? Are they runny eggs?

 

 

 

 

 

And last, but certainly not least, is Strandfieber, or translated to English, “Beach Fever.”

It has honey mustard sauce (instead of tomato), edamer cheese, chicken breast, mozarella slices, and mandarin orange slices. Mandarin orange slices? Really? REALLY?

Does this just make you want to rush to the shores? Does it fill your head with images of palm trees and sand and…orange slices?

 

 

As I said though, these are just weird to me. But I’ve yet to see anchovies on any menu here (not that I’ve known anyone to order it in America) which might strike Germans as disgusting, but it is, um, interesting nonetheless. Hell, I once had a slice of pizza at a Pizza Hut in Hannover that had cream cheese baked into the crust. It wasn’t half bad.  I think corn was involved too.

But tell Germans you put melted butter on your salty popcorn and they’ll look at you like you told them you poured liquid feces on it. To each his own I guess, but I’ll stick to pizzas with sauces under the cheese. And without randomly assigned fruit slices (pineapple excepted, of course).