Wednesday, March 30, 2011

World Tour - Germany

On the third day of visiting in New York, I returned to Philadelphia. The city of my birth and the city where I have spent most of my life.

With Philadelphia, either you get it or you don't. I get it.

After living in spotless Germany, I can see the dirt. I never really thought the city was as dirty as natives who call it Filthadelphia. Now I do. But I love the dirt. I love the sunflower seeds that people spit all over the subway floor. I love the crumbling houses in my old neighborhood. I love the smelly elevators in train stations. I love it all.

In addition to scrapple, I wolfed down all the food and drinks unique to Philadelphia. I had Tahitian Treat soda. This soda is allegedly available in America and Canada but I have only seen it in Philadelphia. I had a cheesesteak from Pagano's and a soft pretzel with mustard.

My mom made this visit special. She hung out with us, instead of retreating to her room; made breakfast almost every day; and played games at Dave & Buster's. My birthday celebration started a day early on Sunday, March 13. My mom made a big dinner.

My older sister, Lorie, came up from Maryland. We spent two days watching television and a few hours arguing. But the argument is normal. My younger sister came over for the Sunday dinner. We have a strained relationship but this visit was quite pleasant.

My nephew, Christian, stayed at my mother's house the entire time. It is always a pleasure hanging out with him. He made me a cool video documenting my visit. It was a little long and included not one but two sessions of him dancing alone. It is video gold.

Parting was such sweet sorrow.

Giraffe statutes at a cafe at Heathrow's Terminal 5,
where we stopped while we waited to go from Heathrow to Hamburg.

When we got to Hamburg, Shurea was waiting at our apartment. Shurea and I were friends in high school. We struck up a Internet friendship about a year ago. She put me on her agenda during her European vacation. Two days after I touched down in Hamburg, we left for Croatia.

World Tour - New York

I had not been to New York, since I left September 10, 2008. I hated it when I lived there but I HAD to renew my drivers license. If I did not do it now, I would have to retake the written and road test. It took me too long to pass those the first time, so I was not going to repeat that.

Asmus decided we should stay overnight, so we wouldn't have to rush. All our trips to Meridien hotels resulted in a nice chunk of frequent visitor points. Because Asmus loves a swimming pool, I had two options for hotels and we settled for the Parker Meridien. Uptown, not uptight for $90. Our room was a great and the pool was crazy. When you come out of the pool, some poor college student awaited you with a towel. The only annoying thing about the hotel. It took more than an our to get a price list for the minibar. Asmus could not wait, so we ended up paying $39 for a 8-ounce bottle of Grey Goose.

As we walked from the subway to the hotel, I started to feel the familiarity and I fell in love. Ugh! Asmus noticed me relax and put up the idea of staying an extra night. I said, Yes, please. There we were!

Of course, we had massages.

One of my two favorite restaurants in New York is Cafe Boulud. I decided to take a chance with Daniel Boulud's newest outpost, Bar Boulud. After a day of email tag, I wrangled Tom into dinner at 7:45.

Of course, it was fabulous to see Tom. We just jump into this rhythm. At times, I worry whether Asmus and Tim, Tom's husband, feel left out, so I started directing topics at people. Not very elegant but it is the thought that counts.

Our patient server let us sit there until 11:45. The classic French food and French wine was divine. I like the fact that you get the price of specials in the little specials spiel. I was on such a high after that evening.

That kept me going when I showed up 20 minutes before the Department of Motor Vehicles opened and I discovered I was about the 60th person in line. We waited on the street until the office opened. When the office opened, the crowd was divided and the visit went quickly. I am now legal to drive. Look out world.

During our three days in New York, Asmus and I saw the movies, Adjustment Bureau and HappyThankYouMorePlease. I had movie theater hot dogs, movie theater popcorn with fake butter and two good movies. Life was good.

Of course, there was shopping and television. I almost tore my hair out trying to get two rings I bought for Christmas enlarged. After almost an hour with a saleswoman, I was told I could do it, then I couldn't for both but I could for one, and then finally, I could not do it for either ring. I seethed about that until I met up with my friend Jennifer.

Jennifer had just lost her job. That was much more important than my ring heartache. Her resolve and energy were amazing. We ate and drank and drank and drank.

Good times.

World Tour - Pennsylvania

I finally got home this month.

I have not been in the U.S. of A. since 2009.

In June 2009, I had a little party with friends from various parts and times of my life -- Ginger and Elisa from high school; Jennifer from undergrad study abroad in London and her then-boyfriend; Marie from graduate school; and Tom from Hearst and his husband, Tim. It was a joyous time.

For Christmas 2009, Asmus and I got money to go to Russia. It was burning a hole in our pockets so we used it as soon as possible. We would spend our spring vacation in St. Petersburg and the autumn vacation in America. Unfortunately, my father-in-law got sick, so we stayed in Hamburg when we had planned to be sitting in front of the television watching Judge Mathis.

I got my chance to lap up lots of Judge Mathis, yards of Bob Evans breakfast sausage with sage, pounds of scrapple [For the uninitiated, scrapple is a southeastern Pennsylvania delicacy -- a gray loaf of various meats, spices and grains that is eaten for breakast.], miles of Italian sausage and lots of American television on a television and not on a computer monitor. It was a dream come true.

Plus, there was shopping. Lots of shopping. My fashion tastes are much different than what is sold in Germany. I love color. I like black pants with a cool top. In the summer, I like color everywhere. Here, the range of colors go from black to gray to navy blue. In addition, all my appendages are too big. I got some shoes.

I also hit the supermarket. I returned to Germany with cake mixes and the appropriate icing, grits, vanilla extract [It took me weeks to find vanilla extract in Germany. What I found was expensive. A small bottle costs 10 euros.], and salad dressing. The food purchases required the purchase of a suitcase and paying a extra bag fee. It was worth every penny.

I got to visit Marie and her family in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Along the way to visit Yuengling brewery, we ate at Boston Market. I haven't eaten at this fast food establishment since the 20th century. I don't know if they are all like this but this Boston Market near Dorney Park was marvelous. We ate off real plates and used real flatware. When we done with our roasted chicken, someone from the restaurant cleared the table.

Yuengling, America's oldest brewery, was not as streamlined as most of the breweries Asmus and I had visited in Europe. But, like Holsten, which was the least sophisticated tours of the European breweries, we got see the beer put in bottles. Bottling is the action-packed part of beer making. Even better, at Yuengling we got to walk through the work area during bottling. I could put my hand out and like Shirley Feeney, take a bottle off the line and take a sip. That was the cool part. Despite the constant giggling from our pubescent tour guide, Yuengling was pretty cool. The tour was free, you get two free samples of beer, and you visit the cave where they used to store the beer -- the same thing that was done at the Paulaner brewery in Munich.

It was cool to visit Marie, her husband and children. I hear Evan and Olivia in the background during telephone calls. It was nice to experience the entire package. Olivia was sitting on the floor and then she would get up to get one potato chip, sit down, eat the chip, and then repeat the process until the bowl was empty.

We went from Allentown to New York.

Happy Birthday to Me!

I just got back from a short world tour. Along the way I celebrated my birthday. My first birthday in the U.S. of A. in three years.

There was Food, Folks and Fun!
Mom made a big Sunday dinner the day before my birthday. Both sisters came. Beloved nephew was there. Favorite cousin Louise showed. Louise was a groovy surprise. She called to say that she was in too much pain to come. An hour after we started eating stuffed pork chops, the doorbell rang. Surprise, it was Louise!

After the great food, there was a marathon Taboo session. My German husband and I almost beat a bunch of native Americans.

On my actual birthday, Asmus and I hit a day spa in the Chestnut Hills section of Philadelphia. I had a facial and the best massage that I have ever had. Then Mom picked us up and we headed to Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania for the second-happiest place on Earth -- Dave & Buster's. There was ridiculous amounts of food, video shooting games, and, best of all, air hockey.

A good time was had by all.

I was a bit worried about Asmus. My birthday is the same day as my father-in-law. It was the first birthday since Friedrich's death. Asmus said he was fine. It did feel a bit weird having the spotlight to myself but I did enjoy being with my family and friends in my hometown on my birthday.

Oddly enough, I got congratulations from people in Germany. I am not sure why. For the two birthdays I celebrated here, no one said, Happy Birthday, to me. Apparently, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Coincidentally, I got tired of wrangling friends to celebrate for my birthday when I was living in New York and I started taking vacations. Life is a circle. It was nice that people in Germany thought well of me.