SJ on the Move

Friday, September 29, 2006

Federweiss und Zwiebelnkuchen

This is the time of year in the Rhine Valley when the traditional foods are Federweiss and Zwiebelnkuchen.

Federweiss is the wine from the first press of the grapes. It is extremely sweet, and as you can see from the picture, rather cloudy, almost like apple cider. We thought it was pretty good. I'm usually not a fan of white wine, but this wasn't bad at all.

The traditional food with Federweiss is Zwiebelnkuchen (onion cake). It's actually a lot like very oniony quiche, but with a slightly thicker crust. Zwiebelnkuchen was not as much of a hit as the Federweiss - but we were glad to try it nonetheless.

Interesting thing about the Federweiss is that it is sold open - no cork. The top of the bottle has a wrapper, but the wrapper has holes in it to allow the wine to continue to ferment. So, when unsuspecting visitors to Germany turn over a bottle to look for the price - the wine comes dripping out. "Well, I guess I'll take this one".

Happy Early Birthday!

Auntie Em brought SJ her birthday presents from her Gami and Papi.

Although it is almost a month early, we let her open her birthday presents early.

SJ enjoyed "reading" her birthday card quite a bit. She opens the card and says 'Gami-Papi-Gami-Papi-Gami-Papi-Gami-Papi- The End" and then closes the card.

She got a pair of Elmo pajamas, which were quite the hit. Elmo is SJ's favorite character, and she's now happy to put on her " 'jamas' " to get ready for bed. Of course, actually going to bed is another story...

Auntie Em

SJ's Auntie Em was able to cash in some frequent flyer miles and come visit us for a week for a well deserved vacation from her job as pediatric resident in Brooklyn.

SJ has been thrilled to have another friend around, as well as a roommate. It also didn't hurt that Auntie Em came laded with gifts - including a Mr. Potato Head set that SJ didn't put down for a good 6 hours (impressive for a not yet 2 year old).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Happy Birthday Mommy!

SJ helped her mom celebrate her birthday with the following itinerary:

9:30 a.m. - Trip to the Rheinaue park for breakfast with SJ's friend Tomas and his parents.

12:00 p.m. - Return to the homestead for nap

1:oo p.m. - Watch "Dirty Dancing" in German on television. One of SJ's mom's favorite films, only slightly less fun auf Deutsch. "Kein mensch putzen Baby auf der Ecke!"

3:00 p.m. - Head over to the cake shop across from our house, where we all picked out pieces of cake to eat. Ordering food in a foreign language is sometimes an interesting experience, sometimes not so interesting. SJ did well with her standard Apfelkuchen (apple cake). I ordered what I thought was chocolate mousse cake, but it ended up being rum mixed with marzipan. I looked up the literal translation of the German word for this type of cake and it is "nasty". Just kidding. But, I couldn't even eat it - it was so awful.

5:00 p.m. - Trip to the Waldau nature preserve and playground. SJ had the chance to feed the deer, and try out about 5-6 different swing sets.

7:00 p.m. - Pick up dinner at Bagel Brothers, and then return home for an evening of Sesame Street.

Mainz - St. Martin's Cathedral

Mainz is home to St. Martin's Cathedral, which is the second most important Catholic cathedral in Germany (after the one in Cologne).

Interestingly, there were several kings of Germany that were crowned in this cathedral, as at one point in time Mainz was the seat of Roman power in Germany. As I have mentioned before, it seems like every place we go to in Germany was at one point in time the capital of one kingdom or another.

As soon as SJ fell asleep, we made a mad dash for the cathedral hoping that a) we'd get to explore the cathedral at our leisure, and b) that the dark, quiet space would enable her to take a long nap. We were successful with the former, but not the latter. We saw as much of the cathedral as we needed to, but SJ awoke after only about a half-hour nap - which made our later trip to the ruins of St. Christophe's Church that much more welcome.

Mainz - Carnival Fountain

One of the things that Mainz is famous for is its carnnival festival (Mardi Gras). They even have a carnival museum in Mainz.

On that theme, they have a huge carnival fountain (Fastnachtsbrunnen) with over 200 carnival figures. Unfortunately, the impressive features are somewhat obscured by the ubiquitous coating of moss that is all over the fountain. Sunshine plus lots of water plus lots of intricate surfaces equals lots of moss.

SJ didn't seem too interested, however. Her favorite pastime was collecting leaves and throwing them into the fountain to watch them float (an activity from one of her Sesame Street videos).

Mainz - St. Christophe's Church

In Mainz, the church where Gutenberg was baptized was pretty much destroyed in WWII. It wasn't rebuilt, and instead they left the ruins as a war memorial.

This ended up being a really nice place to hang out in Mainz. It was on a quiet street, and it was basically an enclosed space with no way for SJ to get herself in trouble. She could run around the columns, play with the rocks, and do whatever she liked while Mom and Dad had a few moments of peace.

Who the heck is that guy?

I stopped to get a quick picture of the marketplace outside the cathedral in Mainz. Unfortunately, some random Mainzer stepped right into my picture. I didn't notice at the time, but when we were reviewing our pictures from the day Jill asked me "Why did you take a picture of that guy?"

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Today we took a train ride down to the city of Mainz. Mainz is a pretty ancient city, originally built by the Romans back in 38 B.C.

It was an interesting trip, although Mainz pretty much seemed like a "Super Sized" Bonn. Both cities are on the Rhine. Both have a cathedral at the town center, both have a pedestrian shopping area, both have a favorite son (Beethoven for Bonn, Gutenberg for Mainz), both have a farmer's market, etc.

The experience of the day, however, came at the end. Outside the train station they had set up picnic tables, and there was a live Oom-pah band playing German folk music, accordion and all. I bought a 2 foot long sausage from a street vendor and we sat and ate our huge sausage while listening to Oom-pah music. It was like something straight out of a Rick Steve's program.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Caveat Emptor!

This past week I needed to make a very quick trip back to the U.S. I flew out on Monday, had a meeting on Tuesday morning, and then caught a flight back to Germany on Tuesday afternoon. Total time in the U. S. of A - 29 hours.

The interesting thing about this trip is that I orginally booked my flight through Then, one of my co-workers suggested looking at the prices on - which is the German language site of Expedia because the prices are sometimes cheaper.

I didn't believe him, but I checked it out anyway. Lo and behold, a BUSINESS class ticket on the same exact flight, was hundreds of dollars cheaper on than the COACH class ticket I had booked on Thankfully, my tickets were refundable so I quickly cancelled my ticket from and booked a flight through

I don't normally get the opportunity to fly business class, but on transatlantic flights it sure makes the trip a lot more pleasant. Especially if you are going to spend about 20 hours on the plane and only 29 hours on the ground.

An artist at work

Funny story about our trip to the Rheinaue. On the way back, we got off at University/Markt station which is the U-Bahn stop closest to our house.

SJ was in her stroller, since she was pretty tired, so we looked around the station for quite a while trying to find an elevator or ramp. Apparently, in what is rare for Germany, there isn't one - so we had to carry SJ up the stairs in her stroller.

Later that evening, I was watching the German equivalent of Saturday Night Live or MadTV. They had a comedy skit about a woman who was frustrated about trying to get her baby stroller down the stairs of the U-Bahn station.

Wouldn't you know, the skit was actually filmed on location at University/Markt station in Bonn! What a coincidence!

Disappointment and Surprise

This past Saturday we headed down to the Rheinaue public park as the 3rd Saturday of every month is the Flohmarkt (flea market).

We had been told it was a huge event, and huge it was. There must have been hundreds of vendors there selling...well...junk. The supposed "charm" of the Rheinaue Flohmarkt is that you are not allowed to sell anything new. So, basically, it is the biggest yard sale you've ever seen - with a bunch of junk that you'd never have any interest in buying.

So that was a bit of a disappointment. In the afternoon, we decided to take a walk to Poppelsdorf, since the weather was very pleasant. When we got there, we were greeted with quite a nice surprise.

It just so happens that Poppelsdorf was holding their annual street festival. The street was closed off, and they had all kinds of food vendors, three music venues with live bands, rides for the kids, and a parade. Keep in mind that Poppelsdorf is a rather small little neighborhood in Bonn. All of this was crammed into basically three blocks. But it was really a lot of fun.

(P.S. Above picture is from Berlin. We didn't bring our camera with us, as we weren't expecting anything exciting)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Berlin : A tale of two restaurants

Our first evening in Berlin we looked for an "authentic" German restaurant for dinner. There was a pub not too far from our hotel that seemed to serve German fare, so we gave it a shot.

Now, as I've mentioned before, the service industry in Germany is not one of the country's strongpoints. When we came into the restaurant, we were exiled upstairs to the non-smoking area. When I asked the waitress if they had children's high chairs, she siad "Yes, downstairs". I thought this meant, that they have the high chairs and they would bring one up. However, after no high chair materialized after quite some time, I deducted that she meant that if I wanted a high chair, I was free to go downstairs and get one. Why they would keep the high chairs downstairs in the smoking area is another question.

The waitress seemed rather harried, and we soon realized why. Although it was a rather large restaurant, she appeared to be the only waitress. After finding our seats we waited, and we waited, and we waited. After about 15 minutes with no contact from our waitress, we looked around the area we were sitting. Not one table had food. Every single table was waiting either to be served, or to place their order. We decided this was a bad omen, and decided to seek another establishment.

We went across the street to the Italian restaurant, and were treated to the typical experience in an Italian restaurant - polite waiters, prompty cooked food, etc. So, although we didn't get to fully enjoy the authentic German restaurant experience, in many ways we did.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Berlin - the Wall

Very little of the wall still remains in Berlin. 99% of it was quickly demolished after East Germany fell. However, there are a few isolated sections where you can look at some of the history.

Here SJ rejoices at the wall's demise.

Berlin - Checkpoint Charlie

I realize this blog could become harder to follow than "Memento" - but I feel I need to try and catch up before I move on. So, back to Berlin.

Our first stop in Berlin was the famous 'Checkpoint Charlie' and the only slightly less famous 'SnackPoint Charlie".

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War was something that took place in my lifetime, it was really interesting to see many of the historic sites in Berlin.

Back from London

After just a few nights "home", we were off again for the weekend to London. I had a business meeting on Friday afternoon in the UK, so it was a good opportunity for a quick getaway.

We had an enjoyable time, but our trip was bookended by fairly stressful travel.

While waiting for the bus to the airport I realized that I had left my cellphone in the apartment. So, I ran back to our building, up to the 4th floor, grabbed my cellphone (thankfully I knew right where it was), back down again, and then back to the bus stop. Not a great way to get a trip started.

Then, after boarding the bus, SJ proceeded to have - undeniably - the worst temper tantrum of her entire life. It's really pleasant trying to hold a writhing child while she screams at the top of her lungs while confined in a small space with a bunch of other people. She was absolutely inconsolable.

Bear? No!
Paci? No!
Sit down? No!
Stand up? No!

The "crime" committed by her poor parents that brought on this tirade? We would not let her run up and down the aisles of the bus while it jostled down the highway at 70 mph. What cruel parents we are!

After about 10 minutes of incessant screaming (trust me, it only seems like a short time in the abstract) she switched out of tantrum mode and sat quietly for the rest of the trip. However, everyone's nerves were quite frazzled by the ordeal. Not exactly the best start to the weekend.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Berlin - A Berliner in Berlin

As has been mentioned in a previous post, SJ is a big fan of "Berliners" - which in Germany is a jelly donut.

So, what could be more appropriate than enjoying a Berliner in the very city where JFK once demonstrated the West's solidarity with Germany by declaring that he, like all free men, was a jelly donut?

Off to Berlin!

When you are an international internet phenomenon, it is necessary to travel incognito - hence the oversized sunglasses.

St. Goar

After the tour of Castle Rheinfels and a ride down the mountain on a miniature train - much to SJ's delight - we settled down into an outdoor cafe for dinner.

Strangely enough, St. Goar seemed incredibly deserted for a Saturday night. Maybe it was a function of the fact that the last cruise boats had already left, we don't know, but it was very nice.

On this particular evening, we were treated to quite exceptional service. Exceptional for Germany, that is. Our waitress was polite, took our order, delivered our food, and even came back to check that everything was in order (this is pretty rare in Germany). Service in Germany is very minimal, because tipping in Germany is very minimal. It's a pretty basic lesson in economic incentives.

I don't have a very good sense of exactly how much you are supposed to tip in Germany. For a meal less than 10 Euros, I know that most people tip at most a Euro, or just round up their bill to the nearest Euro. On this particular evening, I think I was in a bit of culture shock from my recent return to the U.S. and tipped somewhere around 4 Euros. This resulted in quite a ribbing from my family for my "excessive" tipping. It's funny, because when I was in the U.S., I got a ribbing from one of my colleagues that I had "been in Germany too long" because of my minimalist tipping.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Castle Rheinfels

After Bacharach, we took a short train ride up to St. Goar, which is another quaint little town along the Rhine.

St. Goar boasts the ruins of Castle Rheinfels, which at one time was the largest fortress along the Rhine River.

Unfortunately, the French blew it up quite some time ago, so now it is mostly just ruins, and more than half of it is gone completely. However, there were still a number of tunnels, much to the delight of SJ.

Bacharach - Take 2

A few Saturdays ago we took the train down to Bacharach so that SJ could show her Gami and Papi the sights.

Bacharach is a sleepy little town that used to be a major center for wine trading. Now its existence is mainly driven by tourism, but it's one of those off-the-tourbus-route types of places that Rick Steves loves so much.

Bacharach still has several intact watchtowers from the old city walls, and you can climb up and see the Reisling grapes growing on the vines.


The first week Gami and Papi were here, SJ led them on a tour of all the fun places to visit around Bonn.

On this particular day, SJ took them up to Cologne and showed them her favorite currywurst stand outside the Chocolate Museum.

Gami and Papi

On my way back from the U.S. two weeks ago, I brought along SJ's Gami and Papi.

SJ was very, very, very glad to see them. It was really cute. When we first told her that they were coming she jumped off the couch and start running around in circles saying "Gami-Papi-Gami-Papi-Gami-Papi". When they actually showed up, she was positively giddy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Rhine River Castles

The Rhine River from Bacharach to Koblenz is dotted with dozens of castles. Some refer to these castles as "robber barons" while some refer to them as "independent city states". Regardless, they were small kingdoms that basically existed for the purpose of taxing all the trade as it came down the river.

Some of the castles are still in fairly good shape, and have since been turned into hotels or restaurants. Some are nothing more than a few ruins.

It's really amazing how many there are, though. As you cruise up the Rhine River seeing castle after castle after castle, it almost becomes a little "ho-hum". Which is amazing, because each of these castles is a tourist attraction in and of itself.

Rhine River Cruise

A few weeks ago, a friend of ours from work arranged a Rhine River cruise for SJ and Tomas (and their parents). I think I heard that the Rhine River is the busiest river in the world, with some 300 ships passing Koblenz each day.

On this particular Sunday, we all took the train from Bonn up river to Bacharach. You can take a round trip cruise, but it takes quite a while. The train ride was enjoyable, and SJ and Tomas had a good time playing on the train.

At Bacharach, we boarded the boat which was a rather large, steam ship inspired ferry. Surprisingly, much of the boat was devoted to restaurants, and there was not a lot of outside seating where one could actually enjoy the scenery. It seemed that most of the people on the ferry were content to sit at a table and eat dinner - which to me seems like something you could do in any restaurant, for far less money.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Yes, we know we have been rather delinquent with our blog for the past few weeks. Once you start to fall behind with posting pictures, it becomes rather difficult to catch up.

We're near the end of a rather intense period of family travel. We're home for just a couple of days from a tour of Berlin and Salzburg before we head off to London on Thursday. I'll try and get some pictures up over the next few days.

Unfortunately, I still have pictures from our travels to Bacharach, Koblenz, St. Goar, and Cologne (second trip). Of course, there are also plenty of pictures of SJ just being cute. More to come....