Sunday, September 26, 2010

Meet Aja!

We've adopted a dog!  Say hi to Aja.  She's a 6 year old Boston terrier/mini-pinscher mix. We adopted her from one of Amanda's new knitting buddies who found that while raising two young children, Aja (then Asia, but we changed the spelling to reflect Amanda's favorite Steely Dan album) wasn't getting the attention she deserved. Let me tell you, if attention is what Aja is after, she's come to the right place.

Aja is a ridiculously sweet little dog. She's very well behaved and loves going for walks in the Englischer Garten. There are generally a lot of other dogs in the Garten, and she eagerly greets each one we come across. She also enjoys chasing pigeons. 

She seems to be adjusting quite well to her new home.  She spent the first hour or so crying by the door when her previous owners dropped her off.  After we took her for a nice long walk she seemed to perk up a bit.  Today she has been much more curious and comfortable moving about the house.  She's found a few favorite spots to lay down already.  We were thrilled when she took to playing with one of her toy stuffed animals this morning.  She still hasn't eaten, which we hope she'll do soon.

Anyway, that's Aja.  I'm sure we'll have many more photos to share in the future.  For now, check out some of the others that we've taken over at our Picasa page.

Changing topics, I don't know what the weather is like in the U.S., but Fall has arrived here in M√ľnchen. The trees are afire, and the air is crisp and cool.  The smell of baked apple deserts has been filling our hallway, and one of these days I'm going to kick down someones door ready to plunder.

Our street is lined with hazelnut trees and over the past couple of weeks they have been showering the sidewalks with hazelnuts and the fuzzy green packages that they are wrapped in.  Just when Amanda and I were discussing harvesting some, we saw a couple with buckets full of nuts foraging along the side of the road.  Pretty cool.  We also found some trees down the road that must be some kind of cherry relative.  The fruit is cherry colored, but small and oblong.  Amanda said they tasted like sour Kirchen (cherries).  Maybe we'll have to harvest some of those as well.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Alpine Mountaineering...Now with More Cows!

On Sunday, Mike and I joined a work friend of his and assorted friends of friends  - eight of us total - at the central Munich train station at 8 am.  This was very much not in keeping with the whole Sabbath philosophy around here, but that's fine.  We hopped on a regional train down to Kochel am See, about 70 km south of Munich.
Kochel is ridiculously quaint and scenic in that "typisch Bayerisch" - typical Bavarian - way.  The "am See" refers to the large lake upon whose banks the village is situated.  Actual cow bells tinkle all around.  There are, you know, Alps in the backyard. 
Cutting between pastures, mere steps
from the train station.

The hiiilllls are aliiiive, etc
From there we began our climb.  If you like, Google Maps will kindly show you the beginning (Kochel) and end points of our hike.  If you draw a line that dips a little bit to the south between them and through the word "Benediktenwand" you can see our route.  (Pay no attention to the driving directions).
Basically, there was a friendly, gravel paved bit:

This included pretty trees.
Then a fairly steep climb alongside a big open would-be-snowfield:

You can see little light dots along the trees on far the left if
you squint.   Those are people.

The "snowfield" from the opposite perspective.  That little
hut is where the previous picture was taken.

Some more friendly terrain:

Chocolate and water pit-stop at the first
break in the tree line.  There are giant
crosses on all the peaks.   Don't know why.

Taking in the view.

Theeere's a cow.  On a mountain.  This
made us feel out of shape.
and then all-out slippery scrambling for the last hundred years hour or so before we reached the first summit.  We ate lunch, and Mike and I got made fun of for our obviously American peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  After a short time we were getting kind of cold in all the foggy wind, and headed out along the ridge line.  Turned out that we were only part of the way there.  What followed involved a lot of wind-sucking and gritting of teeth.  But the scenery was breathtaking.

We were really trying to push the whole way because we knew the gondola line that would hopefully carry us down to the town where we needed to catch our train only ran until 5:00.  And wonders never cease...we made it with only minutes to spare.  We passed the beer hut (and more cows) with a wistful sidelong glance as we hustled to catch a ride down the mountain.  It wouldn't have been quite the end of the world if we'd had to hike down - only an hour or so more...but man, it would have been a bitch.  
As we rode down, there were paragliders following the lift line.  They were pulling some pretty impressive maneuvers, including corkscrew dives.  I didn't get the camera out until we were on the ground, and we were hurrying to catch the train, so forgive the quality of this photo:

So there's one, in the upper left quadrant, and then the speck
 just above the trees in the right third is another one.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How I learned to stop worrying and love slow service

Amanda and I were eating out fairly often during our first couple of weeks in Germany and we both noticed pretty quickly that the service you get at a restaurant or cafe is, well, different. At first, I was inclined to say that it was bad, and I would complain about it often. 

The issue is that the servers are generally inattentive. Beyond the ordering and subsequent delivery of our meals, we would typically have no interaction with the waitstaff.  That is to say, no unsolicited interaction. You are not checked up on to see how the meal is, nor asked if you want refills. Even getting the check was difficult at first. We would sit around for a long time with our drinks empty and plates cleaned trying to make eye contact with the server, until finally we would succeed, or give up and just flag the person down.

We quickly learned that if we want something, we simply need to be a bit more forceful about it. This allowed us to get out of the restaurant a little bit more quickly, but I was still appalled by the lack of attention. 

After a couple of months, and some discussions with the natives, we have come to learn that the waitstaff are not (usually) negligent, but that there is a different philosophy behind table service here. The customer is left alone to enjoy their meal in peace. Dining is much more of a leisurely activity here than in America. It is a bother to be constantly asked "how is everything?"  I've been told by a friend that he even finds it annoying when an American waitperson refills your beverage without asking. Can you imagine? This is one of my basic criteria when assessing the quality of service. 

I've also heard that this effect may be due to the difference in pay/tip structure.  Here, waitstaff are paid a living wage regardless and do not depend on tips.  They don't have any incentive to rush customers along, or try to inflate their bills with more food and drink.

Either way, the plus side of all of this is that you can sit in a restaurant or coffee shop all day, having ordered nothing more than a cup of coffee, and no one will say a word. You are never asked "did anyone save room for desert?" You are also not really expected to tip nearly as much as in America. The biggest drawback, now that we've realized what to expect and what is expected of us, is that it is nearly impossible to go out for a quick dinner at a sit-down establishment. That has only made me slow down and appreciate my meals out more, and eat out less. Both are good things.

In conclusion, I've learned to accept and even appreciate the German attitude toward table service. That being said, I do not think that it is the optimal system.  The typical American service is not ideal either. I prefer a flexible waitstaff. Basically, I want the waitperson to wait on me, not to ignore me or rush me out the door.