Look out, Ireland — we’re on our way!

Where in the world?Off we go to the bus stop to get to the train take us to another bus to get to our terminal to check in for our flight, at long last, to Ireland. We’ve been meaning to visit Ireland since about 2004 or so, but it’s never worked out before. Here’s our rough itinerary:

  • fly to Cork, check in at the Lancaster Lodge
  • Hang out there and explore — our Frommer’s guide says Cork is the culinary capital of Ireland. We’ll see about that. I’m looking forward to corned beef and shepherd’s pie.
  • Snag a rental car and drive to Kenmare, check in at the Riverville House Kenmare
  • drive around the Ring of Kerry in a clockwise direction
  • drive home and fly back to Munich, fully refreshed, energized, and motivated for my upcoming trip to Romania (surprise — it’s not Iasi!).

Oh, and about the shirt: it was a very odd coincidence that this shirt arrived this morning in the mail before our departure. shirt.woot.com was offering three random shirts for $6.66 each + $5 shipping and I couldn’t resist. I’m calling it a good omen.

I can do it cheaper!!

This seems to be my motto of late – particularly when it comes to travel. Well, I feel like I need to share a new site I found today – agoda.com. Especially since it was my crowing about that Air France deal that sent several people I know to Paris. I’ve been looking for a hotel ever since that post. Through all eleventy-jillion hotels, B&Bs and apartments in Paris.

Normally, vacation apartments are the way to go for us. In Paris, they have a nasty habit of leaving the oven out of holiday rentals – at least in the price category I look at. And if you don’t have a functional kitchen, why bother with a whole apartment? So I chucked that idea. Then I went searching for B&Bs; more like B&Bust. Finally I gave up and started sifting through hotel listings. And got stuck doing so for a good couple of weeks.

I just can’t stay in a fleabag hotel. I’m simply too old for that crap. Last time I went to Paris, it was kind of last-minute and I ended up staying in a dormitory hostel situation. I felt like an idiot and slept with my wallet tucked into my pants. So I figured we had earned a stay in a decent place, but I was only able to find exorbitant or scuzzy – nothing inbetween. Kayak, my aggregator of choice, pointed me toward Agoda with several listings for hotels that I had seen before and coveted but for the prices. We ended up booking a hotel through Agoda right across from the Île de la Cité for about 40% off of the rack rate!

A warning about using Agoda: it’s not as nicely arranged and easily searchable as many of the other sites (Kayak, Hotels.com, Venere, etc.), so I did have to go through a good 10+ pages of results. Hopefully, they will slicken up the site features after the enormous traffic spike you’re all going to cause by running right over there!

But, you know, no obligation or anything…

WEBMU 2008 — Bremen (and Bremerhaven)

Bremen WEBMU 2008Rolled back into town a couple hours ago after a 6-hour trip back to Regensburg from Bremen for the 4th annual Whiny Explat Blogger Meetup. The trip went smoothly, despite several long delays in the train schedule. Try not to spend a layover in the Würzburg Hbf if you can help it (ugh…).

Big, big thanks to Claire for her organizational wizardry and friendly welcome packets, waiting for us at our respective hotels (even ours, 25 minutes out into the burbs via tram line). How she managed to get the weather to be just perfect, I’ll never know.

This was our first meetup and I’m sure it won’t be our last. It was great fun meeting in person the authors and commenters of many of the blogs we read. I would be tickled to have any of them give us a call (or even better, an email) when they plan to visit Regensburg or meet up with them for a drink or a meal or museum outing or something when our travels bring us to their towns. Easiest way I can think of to avoid those “Aw, shucks, had I known you were going to be in town…” realizations? Sign up for dopplr and connect to me or Sarah. You can follow our travel plans via that site, or RSS, or email. It’s really, really, intuitive and (this is the best part) extremely unobtrusive. And no, we’re not getting points or referral bonuses or anything like that. I first heard about dopplr from a banner on J’s blog and since then, four different expatriate blog authors I read have also shared their travel plans with me/us. How cool would that be to discover I know someone who’ll be in Romania or Berlin or Paris the same week that I am?

Here are the best shots I got from the trip:

the small town weekend edition

receiving lineSome people might have trouble believing it gets smaller than Regensburg, but Sarah and I confirmed this weekend once again that it sure can.

We had the honor and pleasure of attending our pals Jentry and Markus’ wedding again this year. I say “again” because last year we attended their Standesamtliche ceremony. That was nice, but little did we know that was just a cursory wedding. The “real” one was last night and it was a humdinger.

This is what we’d thought out for ourselves, geography-wise for the weekend (below). Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way, but all was not lost.

We got up really early, got our nice duds on, picked up our rental car and headed north to Hirschau. We got there about 2 hours too early, planning to walk around the town’s Herbstmarkt. About five minutes later, we were looking for some other way to kill the rest of our time. We ducked (out of the cold and) into the church to catch the last few notes of the music group’s rehearsal. I could tell right away that this was going to be quite a musically diverse weekend: it was “My Guy” — or rather “My God” as made famous by Sister Act.

The wedding itself was pretty straightforward, except for selections from Godspell and other various pop love songs I’d never heard at weddings in the U.S. (and the priest was looking pretty bemused at times during the musical numbers), but upon exiting the mass, we got a very different musical flavor.

That’s Markus’ band. They march in parades all over Germany. They were great.

After the wedding, we drove to the Kuhdorf* where the reception was being held. We, along with the other guests, got treated to some of this:

We were really impressed with that band. They’re called Tequila Sunrise and they’re based in Neunburg vorm Wald. They played for something like 12 hours — and they were continuously excellent in everything they did. Wedding reception classics like “Proud Mary” or traditional Bavarian folk music — they played it all, with lots of interaction and enthusiasm, including an hour’s worth of party games at a “secret” nearby bar where all the guests snuck off to with the bride (the famous Brautentführung — bridal kidnapping) . Each band member played at least two instruments and they switched off on lead vocals. Here’s what parts they seemed to be playing the most:

Bass GuitarTrompete
DrumsMobile percussion device of some sort — a tambourine (beaten with a drumstick), jingle bells and a washboard rolled into one

Later on in the evening, Markus’ family and friends put on a dance show for the rest of us to enjoy:


Mix all that up with great food and friendly fellow guests and a comfortable (and cheap!) night’s stay with breakfast at the inn (attached to the reception hall) and that yields one pleasant glimpse into small-town wedding celebrations we probably never would have experienced, otherwise.

The next morning after breakfast, we’d planned to check out Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is famous for being one of the most often photographed spots in Germany. I’d been there years ago with my parents and sister, but Sarah never had. Unfortunately, weather, traffic and an astoundingly difficult to use navigation device in our rented Fiat (must go well with the Italian highway system) all conspired against us, and we wound up spending a couple hours on the road for nought. But we still did get to visit Kallmünz on Christina G’s recommendation, especially with regard to the tiny little restaurant near the East bank of the Naab river: zum Bürstenbinder. She said they specialized in Schupfnudeln (a.k.a Fingernudeln — think German gnocchi if you’ve never had them before) . She wasn’t kidding. Variations on that theme were the only thing we could find on the menu. But they sure hit the spot with a nice tall, chilled sparkling apple juice. Before having our late lunch there, we walked around town on both sides of the river and despite the rain and cloudy conditions, managed to shoot these:

Kallmünz on the Naab p9214436 Kallmünz on the Naab

Homemade Tomato Soup

Cliff is a big proponent of eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup when the weather starts getting chilly. I’ve never been all that jazzed about it – thus far, all of the tomato soups I’ve tried here have been either repulsive or so acidic that I end up with raging heartburn. So I finally broke down and searched for a tomato soup recipe. I found a winner here, but the proportions need tweaking. My version is below, calling for much less dairy than the original.

8 tomatoes, peeled*, seeded and roughly chopped (they’re getting boiled and blended anyway)
1.5 L (50 oz) tomato juice
15-20 leaves fresh basil
2 T c heavy cream
1 1/2 T butter
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Bring tomatoes and juice to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add basil and pulse in blender or process with immersion blender until smooth. Over medium low heat, stir in cream, butter, sugar, salt and pepper until heated through. Do not boil or the cream will curdle.

*Do you know how to peel a tomato? I’d always heard you’re supposed to stick a whole tomato on the end of a fork, then immerse it in boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Jesus, that sounds like a trip to the emergency room (complete with tomato-shaped burn scars) just waiting to happen. If you have a gas stove, there is an easier way: stick your whole tomato on the end of a fork and roast the tomato in a burner flame (medium high worked for me), turning it slowly to get most of the flesh in the flame for about 5 seconds (if the skin turns black, blisters or pops, you’re done – turn that thing!). Don’t burn yourself trying to get every square inch – as long as you get most of it, you’re fine. Then, quarter the tomatoes to seed them. If you roasted them well enough, you should notice the skin starting to pull away from the cut edges. You can pull the skin up from the loose edge and peel the tomatoes now.