27 August 2009

Time to Head South

TODAY IS OUR last day in Strasbourg. This will be brief -- with more later.

We have had another excellent summer in a new part of France. The Alsace region is absolutely wonderful with a little bit of everything to offer. We've done out best to take advantage of our time here while at the same time spending a lot of 'down' time at the house. Of course, having such a nice house for nearly two months has helped. Leif and Keira -- the owners -- spent nearly two months traveling around Africa with their two children. Last night we got to hear all about their adventures over a very nice dinner (I talk about that in the next post) and when they get their blog up and running I'll be sure to link to it. Some of their stories are amazing. But it was because they were going to be away that they decided to rent out their home while they were gone and we were lucky enough to find it on the internet. We're thankful we found a place that was so great for the kids -- and us. We're also happy that we got so spend a lot of time with Kerri's parents during their visit. On top of that we were able to catch-up with friends in Frankfurt and (kind of) Copenhagen. All this can be found in the July/August posts if you keep scrolling down (I'm sure you will!).

A big THANK YOU to everyone who played a part in our adventures this summer. It was a summer we'll remember for a long, long time. Now it's time to head back South!

It's All About the Flammekueche

LAST EVENING WE finally tried a Alsatian specialty: flammekueche. Or, if you prefer the French way of saying it: tarte flambée.

We went to dinner with the family that owns the house that we stayed in this summer. We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Lauth-et-Fils in the beautiful village of -- and I'm not making this up -- Scharrachbergheim. The village is just outside Strasbourg near the top of the Alsace Wine Route. Lauth-et-Fils specializes in tarte flambée and they do their specialty very, very well. I can't remember the names of all the flambées we tried, but suffice it to say they were loaded with creme fraiche, various French cheeses (the meunster was my favorite) and lots of onions. The Edel was good as well (good luck finding that in the US, people tell us).

So what is tarte flambée/flammenkueche? Here's Wikipedia:
It is an Alsatian dish composed of thin bread dough rolled out in a circle or a rectangle, which is covered by crème fraîche, onions and meat. It is one of the most famous gastronomical specialties of the region. Depending on the region, this dish can be called in Alsatian flammekueche, in German Flammkuchen, or in French tarte flambée. The name itself comes from this method of baking, the English translation of the original Alsatian name being "baked in the flames."

One of the best parts of the meal was the sweet apple flammekueche that came out for dessert. But the added bonus was that out waitress added the apple liquor at the table and then lit it so that the entire tarte was in flames for about 5 or 6 seconds. I took a photo right at this moment, but as you can see it is poor quality and the flames don't really show up. You may be able to barely see evidence of fire in the top-left corner.
It was a great night of Alsatian dining with our new friends Leif and Keira (and Dina, of course). In typical French fashion, the meal lasted most of the night. Our reservations were for 7:00 and we left at about 11:00.

Free Reading Time

WE DID A lot of reading this summer -- something Kerri and both feel we haven't done in a long time. When I say reading, I mean un-directed, for-no-specific-purpose, whatever-we-want reading. One of the reasons we could do this is because the house where we stayed all summer is FULL OF BOOKS. (I put that in caps because just writing 'full of books' wouldn't explain adequately how many books there are). And great books, at that; of bit of everything. Even the kids had more books than they could handle. Patrick got through a couple Harry Potter books; Julia read a few of the Goosebumps books and a biography of Helen Keller; and Henry looked at some books about airplanes and animals. Just before our trip to Amsterdam we even found and English version of 'The Diary of Anne Frank' at a local shop -- so Kerri and kids read that too. We kept all the books we read in a pile so we could take a picture:

There are a couple missing, but most of them are there (although I wish I could get a better quality photo when I upload using blogger. Ideas?) We'll be hard pressed to keep-up our summer pace once school/work starts next week. But it was a lot of fun to get into the 'habit' of reading again.

26 August 2009

Dining Out Advice

FRANK BRUNI WROTE his final column as food critic for the New York Times today. That doesn't really have anything to do with our lives, except that he offers some advice about eating-out in New York and I can't help but wonder if the advice would work in Paris, Lyon, or Bordeaux. Here's his suggestion for ordering at a nice, well-respected restaurant:

Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.

Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.

Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.

Choose among the remaining dishes.

Sounds over-simplified at first reading, but after thinking about it -- probably pretty good advice.

24 August 2009

German Drive-Thru

WE WERE KIND of in a hurry. We were hungry. The Burger King loomed in front of us. The choice we now had was this: go inside to order or give the Drive-Thru a try. Normally this would be a no-brainer; drive-thru all the way. I mean, if we're planning to eat in the car anyway, why go inside? But this time there was a slight wrinkle: we were in Germany and going to the Drive-Thru could present a bit of a language problem. If we went inside we could at least point and gesture if we got into difficulty.

"Drive Thru! Drive Thru!" the kids chanted in the backseat. "Oh yes," Kerri added with a hint of amusement in her voice. "Let's try the Drive-Thru."

This was clearly a set-up and I knew it. Everyone in the car knew that if we opted for the Drive-Thru I would have to order and everyone knew that if I had to order there would be ample opportunity to make fun of me when I was done. I knew that's what they all wanted -- to laugh at me as I tried to order in a language I don't speak. What I didn't know (at the time) was that Kerri planned to videotape my efforts.

If I had known I would have parked the car and ordered inside.


23 August 2009

Really, He's our Son

THE KIDS GOT a bit bored in the back of the car on Saturday afternoon so they had some fun with Henry's hair. Yes, this is our son Henry!!

German Signs

THERE ARE OTHERS that are funny, but this one was a family favorite. It's posted just as you leave a Burger King 'food plaza' on the A5 motorway. We saw this one on our return trip from Basel, Switzerland on Saturday afternoon.

I don't speak the language, but my gut tells me that 'fahrt' means something else in German.


Chilling Chart

AS YOU KNOW, from time to time I like to post things that have little to do with France and more to do with things that interest...me (OK, sometimes 'us', but mostly me). You'll see an example of this in chart that is shown below. I found it while looking around the web this morning and it caught my attention for a couple of reasons: first, it is -- as I say in the post title -- chilling, 2) I've just read a couple books about Afghanistan so I've been reading a lot about man/woman roles in different societies. I think I looked at this chart for about 5 straight minutes while I let some of the figures set in. Take a close look at the title. This chart was produced by UNICEF and I have no information about any of the particulars so take it at face value.

Clearer version here if it's too small to read.

22 August 2009


WE SPENT A full day in Heidleberg, Germany -- with it's incredible castle, charming city center, and beautiful river valley -- but Patrick and I were most excited about the Whopper we ate on the way there. First Whopper in more than 18 months.

Pathetic? A bit, yes.


20 August 2009

Turn Up the Fans

LIFE WITHOUT CENTRAL air-conditioning will be something I may never get used to. I hate to sound so American, but when you are sitting in your living room and sweat is beading-up on your forehead it makes you yearn for a thermostate that you can control. Even with fans on full blast and windows open for cross winds, cooling down was difficult (although the 1.5 hour bike ride I did this evening probably got my internal thermostate to a point where I can't really cool down properly).

It has actually been a beautiful summer so far with very few days that were uncomfortable. In fact, yesterday and today were probably the only two days where the heat was strong enough to make the inside of the house a bit uncomfortable. We got out of the house yesterday and explored Heidleberg, Germany for the afternoon and today we beat the heat by eating an early dinner at...IKEA! The good news is that relief is coming...Friday. Friday's high temperature is forecast to be 68 F (20 C). That's quite a swing for 24 hours. I sense thunderstorms.


19 August 2009

Racing Club de Strasbourg

SPENT AN EVENING watching mediocre French 2nd division soccer. Doesn't get much better than that, does it? Strasbourg played Arles-Avignon to a 1-1 draw and the home fans weren't too happy. Strasbourg is a club in a bit of crisis at the moment. After decades in the highest French league thay have been floundering in Ligue 2 for the past few years and the start of this year has not gone well. As you'll see from the photos below, the fans are making their frustrations known: the most vocal fans (all from the same section of the stadium) are protesting by not entering the stands for the first 15 minutes of each home match (you'll see the signs they have posted -- and the empty seats).

Up close during warm-ups

This entire section filled up at the 15:00 mark; but it was empty at the start. Rough translation: '15 minutes of absence because of years of incompentence by players and management.' We need this at FedEx Field in Washington, DC

Sporting the team colors on his new scarf.

View from our seats.

Coming Out

THE DAYS OF 'secret Swiss Bank accounts' may be coming to an end. In a deal reached between the US government and the Swiss Bank UBS, names of people suspected of hiding large sums of money in the bank in order to avoid taxes in the US could be revealed as early as today.

This is a little awkward, but we should probably just get it out there before the bank releases the information: we're probably on this list. Our millions are sitting in a bank in Zurich and it's probably better to reveal that information on our own terms rather than waiting for the BBC to out us later today.

There. That feels like a weight being lifted from our shoulders.

(How do you think we paid for our 2001 Renault Scenic?)

17 August 2009

What Do We Do When It's Time to Shop?

WE DO WHAT the French do...we go to Germany.

One of the first things the 'locals' told us when we moved to Strasbourg for the summer was to do all our shopping across the border in Germany. C'est moins cher! And it's true. Prices just across the border in the town of Kehl are (sometimes, not always) up to 30% cheaper than in France. And that goes for just about any kind of product you can think of: clothes, food, household goods, ice cream cones, shoes. One particular store that the French love is called DM (yes, just DM -- but it actually stands for Drogerie Markt) and it specializes in 'personal' items such as hair products, perfumes, soaps, make-up; but it also has a wide selection of organic products like cereals, coffee and juices. At DM you can find these kinds of products at 1/2 the price in France.

But normal food is cheaper as well. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. This afternoon Julia and I strolled into Aldi's (a store we can find in France) and filled our cart with 45 items -- standard items like tomatoes, red peppers, fruit, juice, canned foods, bread, milk, eggs, cheeses, chips -- and proceeded to the checkout area. Not a huge shopping trip, but stocking-up on some of the essentials. As the lady was scanning our food I was trying to guess what the total would be (come on, you do it too!) and was preparing for a bill around 50 or 60 Euros -- not too bad for what we were buying. But the total came it quite a bit under my estimate: €34.60. Now, I don't do math very often, but a quick bit of figuring tells me that we averaged about 0.75 per item. And I'm telling you, I was buying 'regular' stuff and we had four very full bags when we left. A close look at my receipt revealed that the most expensive item I purchased was some French cheese for €1.99.

I'm trying to figure out why a store in Strasbourg (France) and the same store across the Rhine in Kehl (Germany) can have such a variance in price. Some of it is surely the product itself (I was buying German butter not French butter; Germany potato chips not French potato chips, etc.) but there must be more to it -- something more, shall we say, institutional. I'll have to get to the bottom of it. Perhaps some of you know.

Meanwhile, we find ourselves wishing the South of France was a little closer to Germany.

Oh, and by the way, the people in front of us and behind us in the checkout line?: French.

16 August 2009

How Fast is 30km/hour?

IT'S ABOUT HOW fast world class sprinters can run at top speed. And that is incredibly fast.

The kids and I are getting ready to watch the 100m men's finals at the Athletics World Championships (being held in Berlin this year). We don't normally sit down and watch track and field together, but this race should be a huge race -- with Olympic Champion Usain Bolt and American Tyson Gay fighting it out.

But during the preliminary rounds I couldn't help but notice that the sprinters were reaching nearly 30 km/hr. I knew that was pretty fast, but just to make sure I knew how fast I hopped on my road bike and got myself up to 30km/hr. That's a pretty good cruising speed on a bike and these guys hit it on foot? Incredible.

The race will last less than 10 seconds, but the highlights tomorrow will go on and on and on.

Late Update: Well, that was incredible. 9.58 seconds? That is simply stunning. Patrick and Julia were pretty excited to see that race.

14 August 2009

I Can't Do This

I'VE SEEN GUYS who can juggle soccer balls before. But no one as good as this guy. An never standing on a 1 meter by 1 meter platform 1 meter above the ground. And never at the Sacré-Coeur. And never with all of Paris in the background. So I took a bit of video.

Do the French Really Sleep Better?

ACCORDING TO A recent survey, the answer is Yes! The survey indicated that the French sleep an average of nearly 9 hours per night (insert joke here), quite a bit more than the average American. Mireille Guiliano (you may remember her from French Women Don't Get Fat) has recently written about the topic for an on-line journal and has created a list titled: 10 Ways to Sleep Like a French Woman. Her theory -- backed by several medical publications -- is that it is sleep (not so much wine!) that most heavily contributes to the higher than average life expectancy of French women.

So how can you sleep like a French woman? Mireille Guiliano explains:
  1. Move, move, move during the day.
  2. Stay away from stimulants such as coffee, nicotine or alcohol.
  3. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  4. Reserve the bedroom for sleeping only. (Get the TV out of the bedroom! And the desk!)
  5. Herbal teas work magic.
  6. Turn off the lights earlier; your body needs to wind down.
  7. Turn off computers and TVs at least 30 minutes (1 hour is better) before bed; your brain needs to wind down
  8. If you can't get to sleep in 30 minutes, get up and read a book.
  9. No big meals right before bed.
  10. Create an environment that is conducive to sleep (dark, well ventilated, etc.)

If you'd like a more detailed description of each number on the list you can find it here.


13 August 2009

French Economic News

NOT THE MOST gripping post title but it'll do. Just keep reading.

Now that we're back from Paris I've had a chance to 1) watch some news on TV, 2) read some news on the internet. This morning two things caught my attention since they both relate to our lives in France.

  • The first item is kind of 'macro' in the sense that it has to do with our lives in very general terms: France and Germany are officially out of the receission after both countries posted GDP growth in the last quarter. That's simplifiying things quite a bit, but the growth was unexpected since most analysts were predicting a 2-3% downturn this year. The 0.03% growth in France was welcome news for Christine Lagarde, France's Minister of Economic Affairs. (Namedrop Alert/Full Disclosure: Christine Lagarde's neice is a student of mine.)
  • Now for something a bit more 'micro' -- in other words, something that will actually impact our lives: France's parliament has given final approval to a law allowing more businesses to stay open Sundays. Wahoo! I know this is a touchy issue for some in France, but for greedy, gruby Americans like us, this is welcome news. I mean, all we really want to do is contribute to the global economic recovery by buying some crap we probably don't need...on Sundays. Is that so wrong?

I probably shouldn't be so light-hearted in my discussion of France's Sunday labor laws; it really is a big issue here. You'll find another perspective here, which is worth a read if your interested (or if you live here). Many in France value the idea of 'rest' on one day of the week (indeed, the original law passed over 100 years ago established Sunday as a 'day of rest'). For them the idea of running around shopping on Sunday is in-and-of-itself an assult on the French way of life. Consider this paragraph:

Dissenters, meanwhile, denounce the law as a threat to an array of social and cultural traditions rooted in one day being a day of rest. They warn that family gatherings, leisure activities and even church attendance will suffer greatly as people are forced to don the dominical yoke of labor. Where will the next Renoir get his inspiration for another Bal du Moulin de la Galette? What would Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte be without the Sunday bit? And how to defend the colors against the neighborhood rival if your goalkeeper and best center forward are down at the mall selling garden furniture?

Of course, this is all really just a matter of nuance since many shops and businesses are already open on Sundays (cafes, shops, restaurants). All this law really means is that all businesses will now have the option to treat Sunday like any other day.

Mais non!

Mais oui!


Paris Photos

WE'VE JUST PUT up some photos of Paris. It will be mostly family and friends who are interested, but anyone can see the online album here. It's best if viewed in a slideshow -- just click 'slideshow' in the album.

Kerri's Parents Are Gone!

DON'T LET THE exclamation point fool you, we're actually quite sad to see Poppop and Gigi go. We had a terrific time exploring the area, riding bikes, eating good food, and just hanging around. It's always fun to have grandparents around -- especially when you live thousands of miles away and can't just pop over to their house like you used to. For many years we lived within 20 minutes of both Kerri's parents and my parents. Not quite the same now, so any and all visits are special.

Thanks for a great visit! And Happy Anniversary -- hope that McDonald's lunch was just what you wanted. At least the McDonald's was in...Paris.

11 August 2009

Missed One

MISSED A BIG one two posts down. My brother scolded me and I added an update.

09 August 2009


KERRI'S PARENTS LEAVE fly back to DC from Paris on Wednesday so we're heading over with them a bit early to spend a couple days visiting the city. We'll spend Monday-Wednesday in Paris before catching a train back to Strasbourg.

Giving Up What?

A FRIEND RECENTLY asked what I've had to give-up by moving with my family to France. The context of the conversation made it clear that he was not looking for me to rattle of a list of 'goods' I can't get in France, so things like Root Beer, Starbucks, and beef hot-dogs were not acceptable answers. Nor were 'friends and family' kind of answers allowed (too easy). He was hoping I'd give it a bit more thought. 'What's the top 5?' he asked. Without a lot of time to think I came up with these five things -- in no particular order:
  • golf (haven't played once since I've been here).
  • 6:30am Friday morning breakfasts with best buddies at the Tastee Diner (my favorite part of the work week).
  • 30 minutes with a newspaper each morning (I love the Washington Post).
  • ties (sounds crazy, but I used to wear a jacket and tie virtually every day and I kind of miss it. Since we moved to France I've worn a tie exactly once! And that includes church).
  • talk radio (yes, that's what I used to listen to in the car -- mostly sports talk radio. iTunes has allowed for a little relief in this area)

I'm sure I could come up with a more pretentious sounding list -- you know, one with more depth and intellect -- but that would just be silly.

Late Update: my brother wants to know why I didn't mention perhaps the biggest thing I've given up: ice hockey. I can watch (tv/internet) and I can see games live (Allez Nice), but I can't play! I have no good reason for this oversight -- probably should be number 1.


Friends in Frankfurt

A COUPLE WEEKS ago I wrote about meeting up with some friends from the DC area who now live in Denmark (out kids went to school together in Maryland). This week we visited another set of friends from the DC area, bu this set lives in Frankfurt (again, our kids went to school together in Maryland).

What fun! Thanks for the hospitality guys. We had a wonderful time seeing the city and visiting with you. We'll get together again soon. Here's just a few photos (sorry, Thomas -- you and I didn't make the cut this time).

The 'dudes' in front of the European Central Bank

Kerri and the kids sitting in a classroom at the University of Goethe, Frankfurt
We were having so much fun (and so much great food) that we didn't even leave their place until after 10:00pm on Saturday night, which wouldn't have been so bad if not for the fact that we were heading back to Strasbourg -- a nice 2 1/2 hour drive away. Lucky for me (it was my turn to drive) the roads were completely empty and I was able to 'do as the Germans do': cruise along at about 150km/h most of the way home. If not for a closed bridge over to France we would have made great time. But we still managed to get into bed by 1:00am.
À la prochaine.

A Campaign Poster for France?

IT TOOK ABOUT 4 minutes to create this poster here (I doubt Shephard Fairey is getting royalties). Is the slogan appropriate for France? My french teacher (Barbara!) thinks so -- she's the one who came up with the slogan. It's not so much a hit on Sarkozy as the mentality of some people she knows in France.

07 August 2009

Cycling Through Vineyards

WHAT A DAY. I've been on some beautiful rides before (Cote d'Azur, Provence, DC), but the Alsace Wine Route is flat-out stunning. What made the day even better was that Patrick decided he wanted to join my father-in-law and me on the ride. Taking a 10-year old on a 90+km ride didn't seem like a great idea so we cut the route...but just a bit. In the end we started in a town just south of Obernai and ended in the spectacular village of Eguisheim -- giving us a total of about 62 km for the day (which Patrick handled like a pro!) We passed through some of the most important wine villages in the region -- places like Ribeauville, Riquewihr, Chatenois, and the list goes on and on. I can't begin to describe it so the short video and the end of this post will have to suffice.

Les and Patrick were a bit nervous about what they were getting in to when, just 2k into the ride, we hit a nice climb at a 13% grade (that's a lot -- especially for a kid on a heavy mountain bike and a guy on my wife's hybrid).But after the bitter start things settled down and we rolled over the vineyard hills for the next few hours, taking lots of breaks for water, snacks, cokes, and...
[Note: it occurs to me that it was probably a good thing that I had the camera all day. Right now my son and father-in-law are probably trying to figure out how this photo of them has hit the world wide web. They better hope this post doesn't go viral!]

It was a terrific day and one that I'm sure all three of us will remember for a long time. And if we forget, we'll just watch this video:

Late Update: a reader ponits out that I may have the name of the Chateau wrong. There are dozens along the route so it's quite possible I'm off by one or two, but I'm too lazy to look it up now.

06 August 2009

A World Record I Don't Want to Participate In

I'M AFRAID OF hot-air balloons. You know, in that 'I've got to do that sometime' kind of way. But I'm not sure I'd want to participate in the world record that took place this week in Chambley, France -- where 329 balloons launched at the same time. I'm not keen on the idea of being hundreds of feet in the air without a) wings, or b) a parachute. But it sure makes for a great photo. You can see a timelapse photo of the launch here.


Late Update: Appears as if the story above in inaccurate. 329 isn't even close to the record for balloon launches according to several reports in other newspapers (and at least one emailer!) Oh well, sorry Chambley.

05 August 2009

Love from the Washington Post

ONE OF THE popular blogs in France is written by David Lebovitz -- a writer/cook living in Paris who writes about food (mostly dessert!). Today my hometown paper (The Washington Post) did a feature story on Lebovitz and his blog.

04 August 2009

Best Playground Ever?

DURING A QUICK visit to Luxembourg we came across this playground near the city center. We took a quick video to remember how much fun it was for the kids. Now we just need to know if it's one of the greatest city playgrounds ever (standard city playgrounds). You decide -- it's just a short two minute video.

03 August 2009

A Romance Built on Coffee

TO A LARGE degree I owe my marriage to Douwe-Egberts coffee. Without it, Kerri and I may have never started dating. It certainly wouldn't have lasted. I was reminded of this when I walked into a supermarket in Amsterdam this weekend and saw the shelves stocked from top to bottom with all-conceivable varieties of the brand.

When Kerri and I were attending university in England back in the early 90s we found ourselves at a school with no good source of coffee on campus. In fact, the nearest place to procure a decent cup was a good 20 minute walk away -- and that just wasn't good enough. So we took matters into our own hands. I told Kerri to meet me in the dormitory lounge the next morning when we both had a break. Meanwhile, I went to the store in search of coffee to brew in the old coffee-maker I had in my room. I chose Douwe-Ebgerts mainly because several of my Dutch friends (Alex, Ithamar, Frank) had convinced me that the Dutch brand of coffee was absolutely 'the best.' I also bought 4 mugs.

The next morning Kerri made her way to Keough House and I came down from my room with two hot mugs of coffee. Very, very, strong, black coffee -- you know, the kind where you obviously got the measurements wrong. But it was good. Bitter and virtually undrinkable, but good. Good because we could now make coffee ourselves and good because we now had a solution to our 'there's no coffee on campus' problem.

The coffee got better as I learned the perfect coffee-to-water ratios. For most of the year we had a hot cup of coffee in the dormitory lounge a couple of times each week. Sometimes other friends would join us (Jamie, Roland, Rein, Amy), sometimes it would be just us. Sometimes we'd spend the time studying, sometimes we'd just talk and laugh about silly things. But one thing remained constant the entire year: the coffee was always Douwe-Egberts.

We bought a package in Amsterdam the other day-- the first time we've purchased Douwe-Egberts since about 1992. If nothing else, it brings back good memories.

02 August 2009

German Autoroutes

THERE IS SOMETHING quite enjoyable about cruising down an autoroute at 160 km/hour. I've never done that in long stretches before. I've certainly never done it in the right lane with cars passing me on the left.