29 June 2006

I'm Published

Most of my photographs that I put on Flickr are licensed with a creative commons license. There is an electronic travel guide maker that has selected some of my pictures to be in their Cologne and Munich guidebooks. I find the photos they selected are interesting, since I don't consider any of them my best work, and the photos in the Munich guidebook aren't even from Munich - quite far away, actually.

Unfortunately, the reader for these e-books works only with Windows, so Linux and Mac people can't see them yet (myself included) - though a mac version is planned for November. Still not sure why they didn't go with a PDF or something, but hey, that's their decision.

So, if you meet the requirements, download a copy and tell me how it is, since I can't do it yet. There's a little thingamajig that you can use to grab the guide books in the left sidebar of my blog, just under the random pictures from Flickr. It's called the "Schmapp!! Picker". For some reason, the code wouldn't work properly embedded in this blog post. Don't know if that's a blogger problem or a Schmap!! problem. Or, since I know I am far from perfect, an Allanimal problem.

26 June 2006


I forgot to mention that now I can update my countries visited map since I have been to Andorra.

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

24 June 2006

Principalities and Paleolithic Cave Art (Act II, Scene II)

Béziers was nice, but we had to move on. We had an appointment to keep: we had reservations for a tour of the Grotte de Niaux, a cave in the Pyrénées with some exquisite Paleolithic cave art. The cave is not that far from Béziers (especially by American standards), but there aren't a lot of good roads that go there, so we had to take smaller highways for at least half the trip, which always worries me, since the quality of such roads can never be determined by a mere map. And having the 13:00 deadline didn't help matters either. But we left Béziers early enough that we could make a couple stops on the way. The most memorable was the small town of Mirepoix.

Mirepoix has a couple of interesting things going for it. The first, the cathedral of St. Maurice (woot woo!), is not only studded with gargoyles (and you should know by now that I am a sucker for a good gargoyle), but it also has the widest nave of any gothic church in all of France. Entering the church is very interesting, because of the lack of columns inside the broad room. The local legend says that this was so that the clergy could see everyone and be sure they weren't taking part in forbidden Cathar rituals.

The main market square of Mirepoix is quite beautiful, as you can see from the pictures above. In addition to the pretty buildings, one particular building has faces carved into the ends of all of the wooden beams that date back to the 14th century. Some are in pretty bad shape, but many still look quite good, considering their age.

After poking around Mirepoix for a little while, we hit the road again for Niaux, the tiny town closest to the cave we were about to tour.

Because of our common compulsion with being overpunctual, we were more than an hour early for the tour. Luckily, we brought a picnic lunch along and hung out at the cave entrance for a while.

There was this large rusty metallic structure with a great balcony looking over the valley below, filled with information about the Paleolithic culture (the Magdalenian culture) from this particular cave and the nearby caves in France. It was quite educational, despite the lack of non-French words.

Cameras were not allowed inside the cave, except to this point. The actual cave art was about 1 km inside. The cave has been sealed off and is climate controlled, and no lights are installed. We were issued a flashlight and follwed the guide (who was lightless) who has been doing this tour for so long he could not only get to the important points in the cave in the dark, but he could point out the puddles on the ground as well. The first scribbles on the walls we saw were actually grafitti from modern man (back to the 16th century of so) who visited the cave. Eventually we made it to the first real prehistoric markings - strange clusters of lines and dots. Researchers have no idea what these marks mean, but they must be significant because most caves in the area have similar markings. A few minutes later, we reached the awesome chamber that contains the most paleolithic art. It was quite amazing stuff really. The guide was really great, too. Since I was not able to take my own pictures, I bought slides from the gift shop. Here are a couple of the best specimens.

Our guide informed us that nobody really knows what the symbols mean, but he also insisted that most of the theories that I heard as a kid in school about art like this from caves such as Lascaux were probably wrong. Amazing what 20 years of research will turn up.

After we left the cave, we considered what to do next. There were several other prehistoric caves nearby that didn't require reservations. But Andorra was close too. I have always had this secret desire to visit all the tiny little European countries that nobody ever talks about (namely Andorra, San Marino & Malta, but really I want to visit every country...), so I just couldn't resist and we pointed the car southward & westward. We had to be very precise, because Andorra is so small, if were off by a fraction of a degree, we would miss it and end up in Spain. But we made it. I have proof:

And this sign isn't from a border town either, but from a town smack-dab in the middle of Andorra. To be honest, Andorra wasn't as exciting as I had hoped. It really is a beautiful place, in the middle of the mountains and all, but one has to really work hard to look past the massive condo developments and shopping centers to see it.

Andorra's only industry is tourism relating to the mountains: Skiing in the winter, hiking & biking in the summer. We saw no castles perched on mountaintops or fancy palaces in the capital.

Only one delapidated church gave any indication that Andorra isn't just another resort in Colorado or something. I was so shocked to find out that my romantic misconceptions of the Principality of Andorra, that Jeannette had to take a picture of the look on my face:

We did find some lovely nature away from crazy shopping plazas & resorts and enjoyed the mountain views while we reminisced about Colorado.

After we filled up with tax-free gas (the main reason people come to Andorra outside of ski season), we drove the winding mountain road along the Têt Valley towards Perpignan, where we stayed for the night.


22 June 2006

Horseradish Heaven

A couple weekends ago, we went to Urloffen. Urloffen is a tiny little town of about 4000 people between Offenburg, Germany and Strasbourg, France. In fact, it is small enough that it (administratively) merged with the town of Appenweier, and together the share that name.

Anyway, the sign above announces to the world that Urloffen is a/the "Horseradish Town" (Meerrettich == Horesradish, Ort == Town / Location). The people of Urloffen will tell you how their town is famous for their horseradish, though, to be honest, nobody I have talked to outside of the Offenburg area has heard of Urloffen. (Though, to continue being honest, I may not be pronouncing it right, or they are confused by my American accent).

Jeannette's father comes from Urloffen, and his uncle told me a joke about Urloffen and the famous horseradish salesmen. I can't remember exactly how it goes, but it was something about how when Columbus stumbled upon America, the natives asked him "Did Franz from Urloffen send any Horseradish with you? We're getting a bit low."

Speaking of Jeannette's family, we were in Urloffen for Jeannette's grandmother's 80th birthday party. I got a couple of great pictures of Karl (the jokester mentioned above), Rosa and Jeannette.

20 June 2006

Béziers (aka Act II, Scene I)

Shortly after moving to Heilbronn, we wandered into the Marktplatz or Sülmerstraße or somewhere in the general vicinity of the Rathaus and Killianskirche. As happens quite often in this part of town, it was crammed full of stages and kiosks and kids playing violins or something along those lines. Well, it turns out that the event that weekend was designed to raise awareness of one of Heilbronn's sister cities, Béziers in southern France. The propaganda that they gave us made it look pretty nice. And it just so happened that, when we were back in the US for Brigitte's wedding, we picked up a guidebook at the Bettendorf Library's book sale that just happened to cover the region where Béziers is located, Languedoc-Roussillon. So, in case I lost you there, we picked up a cheap book for a random region of France and shortly after we found out that one of Heilbronn's sister cities is a major player in that particular region. So it was like our density [sic] to go and visit.

Of course it helped that the guidebook made Languedoc-Roussillon sound pretty interesting. (Though the author did have an annoying habit of saying things like "there is nothing to do in this town, don't bother" for several places - so the book was about 30% larger than it needed to be).

So, after we dropped my dad & steply ugmother off at the big airport in Frankfurt, we had to hustle on over to the other airport that claims to be in Frankfurt to catch our flight on one of them there bargain airlines. As it turns out, the Frankfurt Hahn airport is really more than a 90-minute bus ride from the real Frankfurt. What a pain. But we made it.

Our cheap flight to Montpellier was mostly uneventful. We did see a bunch of flamingos right before landing. The drive with the rental car was more or less uneventful (for me at least, Jeannette was driving on the French Autoroute), until we entered traffic circle hell trying to find our hotel. We eventually made it and after we checked in, we decided to take advantage of the remaining couple hours of daylight and check out town. Driving in a foreign country is always a bit nervewracking, and so is parking. Without causing any accidents and only driving the wrong way on a one-way once, I drove with excellent navigational assistance from Jeannette (GPS Betty had to stay in Frankfurt... We'll miss you!), we found a parking garage near (or under) the cultural center of Béziers. After a scrumptious meal at an Indian restaurant (yeah, Americans living in Germany eating Indian food in France - that's us), we saw a couple of the sights, like The Madeleine Church, where the citizens of Béziers were slaughtered during the Albigeois Crusade.

We spent the entire next day in Béziers as well, except for a short trip to the beach in the afternoon. It was an interesting day. One very interesting contrast between France & Germany that I noticed right away is that the buildings in Béziers, and the other French cities we visited, were much more tightly spaced than German cities, with much narrower streets. I am sure this is because so many German cities were bombed to rubble in WWII, and the cities were rebuilt with the needs of cars & trucks in mind. This made it hard to take pictures of the great architecture - it was hard to get far enough away to get the whole shot. I guess I need a wider angle lens.

Béziers' crown jewel is the St. Nazaire Fortress-Cathedral. One great thing about it is that you can climb to the top, and there is very little in the way of guard rails to keep children and dogs (not that you could get a dog into the church...) from falling to certain death. The good thing about this is that there are no obstructions to block my lens.

See what I mean about falling through?

The entire 12th century cathedral is covered with mold and other vegatation. It was quite amazing to see the flowers growing in cracks 100 or so feet in the air.

I had a lot of fun up there. I could get all creative.

It was quite interesting because so many of the gargoyles were headless. This church doesn't get the massive upkeep funds that Notre Dame in Paris gets, I am guessing.

Even without heads, they are still quite nice.

The side view of the cathedral.

Here's the cathedral from the front. Looks quite well fortified to me.

Like so many Mediterranean towns, there were lots of brightly colored doors. Why do they do that? (Not that I am complaining - I like it!)

Those French are amazing. Mothers bring their young children to the Titti Bars.


15 June 2006

Beer Garden Capitol of the World*

According to Biergardenhauptstadt.de, Heilbronn has the most beer garden capacity in Baden-Württemberg. There are nearly 30 beer garden seats for every 1000 inhabitants of Heilbronn (the web site above says 29, but my calculation comes up to 29.8 - I think we can round up here...) Interestingly enough, two thirds of the 3600 beer garden seats in Heilbronn are within a short walk from my house.

* OK, my statistics are for Baden-Württemberg only, not the entire world. It would be interesting to see how München stacks up.

11 June 2006

Act I, Scene VIII

OK, those last couple of posts were a misplaced intermission. Now I must get back on track with the final part of the first half of our most recent vacation.

The adventure for the last day that dad & steply ugmother were in Germany was a boat cruise on the Rhein river from Bacharach to St. Goar. There we explored the crumbling ruins of Burg Rheinfels, and evenually cruised back to Bacharach, where we had a wine tasting at the Bed & Breakfast (the best way to describe it in English), Zur Fledermaus.

The sign for Zur Fledermaus. Recommended! (Especially for fans of die Toten Hosen)

Along the stretch of the Rhein between Mainz and Koblenz is an amazing concentration of castles, most of which were originally medieval toll booths. My favorite has always been Pfalzgrafenstein - built right in the middle of the river. Behind, on the hill (a more proper place for a castle, I would think), is Burg Gutenfels.

Burg Schönberg - now a Youth Hostel!.

Burg Rheinfels was orginally built in 1245 and was, like so many of the Rhein castles, a very large toll booth. In 1794, French troops demolished the castle.

More of the ruins of Burg Rheinfels. There are lots of twisty & dark passages to get lost in.

Jeannette and the Rheinfels ruins.

Both of us & the Rheinfels ruins.

One of the many ferries across the Rhein, along with Burg Katz in the background.

I was quite surprised to see the brand-spankin' new barge "Stadt Heilbronn" (The City of Heilbronn) whizz by (as fast as barges whizz, that is) since I just read an article in our local paper about it a few days before our vacation. It is only slightly smaller than the size of the locks along the Neckar river, so it uses fancy-pants electronic gizmos to guide it through the cramped locks.

One last shot of St.Goarshausen & Burg Katz, as seen from the back of the boat.

Well, that's it for Act I: Germany. Stay tuned for Act II: Southern France.


08 June 2006

How to Win (or Lose) the World Cup

The 2006 Fußball Weltmeisterschaft (or "Soccer World Cup" for the English speakers) starts tomorrow, and it is a big deal here in Germany, the host country this time around (which is every 4 years). And I have a sure-fire method for making sure your team will win (actually, it is a sure-fire way to make a certain team lose, which can have the effect of making the other team win. I hope that makes sense).

Let me explain how this works: I am cursed. If I am rooting for a team, and I watch the game, the team I am rooting for loses. If I don't watch the game, my favoritism doesn't have much impact. So, for a small fee, I will intently watch and root for the team of your choice. And that team will surely lose.

Here are a few examples of where this has worked:
1) I had home game tickets for Iowa State University's football games in 1989 and 1990. I attended almost all of the games. Check their record. The ISU football team lost almost every home game. If they won any of them, it was because I wasn't in attendance for whatever reason.

2) Sometime in the mid-90's, there was a basketball game in Austin. University of Texas vs. Iowa State. Unlike ISU's football team, their basketball team has always been pretty good. But when I watched that game, and saw ISU in the lead until the last 3 seconds of the game, only to have UT score a 3-pointer in the last second (when their 3-point shooting for the previous xx minutes and 57 seconds was crap), I knew that my curse was with me to stay.

3) It doesn't just work for ISU games. During the last go-around of the World Cup, I woke up in the middle of the night to watch the final game of Brazil vs. Germany. I wanted Germany to win. Oliver Kahn had been like a brick wall thru the previous games (that I didn't watch). Nothing went by him. Until I watched the game. (Sorry about that, Deutschland.)

So, there's just a small sample of the proof. Almost every super bowl in the last 10 years applies here too.

I won't limit this service to the World Cup. You name the sport, and if it is on TV, and the money is right, I will watch it and the team you ask me to root for will surely lose. The only exceptions:
1) I don't have the patience for baseball games. Don't bother asking.
2) This doesn't seem to work for ice hockey.

07 June 2006


Today my Flickr Photostream reached 20 thousand views. Thanks everyone!

04 June 2006

Act I, Scene VII

I'm not in a really typey mood at the moment, so I will let the pictures (mostly) speak for themselves. Ask me if you have questions about anything.

Burg Eltz:


Hopefully I will be more typeative next time.