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Monday, June 27

Day to day life observances

Germany is a dog friendly country. Many people running errands, taking walks or going out to eat have dogs with them.  With that, the restaurant owners have also adapted to the dog friendly culture.  Many places we’ve been to in the past 4 weeks we’ve noticed dogs in the restaurant patio with its owners as well as inside the restaurant.  It’s very common for guests that are dining in the restaurant to bring their dog inside.

Lucy the dog
After few biers so it's blurry
Another note about dogs here in Germany that’s different is most dogs aren’t on a leash.  There’s a sense of independence for dogs and the owners don’t feel it necessary to have them on a leash.  It makes me wonder if the dog will run away but then I realize dogs are very loyal and if they’ve been unleashed their entire life they’re trained this way.

I am sure the misbehaved dogs would try to run away and those select few are on a leash but most are not.

Also on the pet subject, there aren’t any outdoor cats.  Cats may not be of peak interest for pet owners here or if they are they’re indoor cats.

Speaking of independence, this also applies to children.  The other day when we were on the tram I saw a young girl, maybe 9, going somewhere alone.  The husband says that he regularly sees children as young as 7 years old on the tram by themselves or with few friends.   This illustrates that German parents have a hands off approach to parenting, in some ways.  This also teaches the kids how to be independent and responsible at a young age.  I know there may be parents like this in America as well as India, but majority of people would not feel comfortable sending their kid to school or the store alone on a tram or train.  The contrast is there’s the constant fear in America for something to go wrong where Germans don't live in fear in that regard.

And moving onto something that’s very unusual for Americans but common in India.  Staring.  Germans stare at people as much as Indians, I think they’d give Indians a run for their money.   So in that sense this makes me feel right at my Indian home.   However, having lived in America for so many years, it does feel uncomfortable.  The husband doesn’t mind and carries on but I find it intrusive.   People watching is very common here; this is what sidewalk cafes and biergartens are for- you drink, you socialize, you stare, and you drink some more.  I understand for us it may be a combination of factors: Nürnberg is a smaller city with less ethnic diversity (it’s a city of 500,000 people so not a small village), we are brown people that speak English and another foreign language, Gujarati, and we are not just doing the touristy things, we’re at a store or buying produce at the farmers markets so obviously we’re staying.

To give an example, we went to a Bierfest and a group of girls in their 20s stared at us the whole time we were in one spot.  So I stared at them back; that taught them a lesson, then they only stared at us when we were looking in the other direction.  I probably wouldn’t do that again because eventually I’ll get used to people staring at us. 

Wednesday, June 22

Hauptmarkt and a Meal

The Hauptmarkt is where all the farmers line up to sell fresh vegetables and fruits for the day. We learned that by the end of the day, they have many things that are half off because of low shelf life of fresh produce.

Here’s a before and after of the Hauptmarkt. On Sundays and holidays the entire city shuts down, including the farmers market; this is due to Nürnberg and most of Germany being very catholic. There are laws prohibiting vendors from operating on church day. So here’s how the Hauptmarkt looks on a Sunday.

And here’s how it looks on any other day.
Our first “homemade” meal had almost 100% of its ingredients from the farmers market.  We bought olive oil from a local vendor that sources all his oils from Italy and Spain.  He talks to his vendors in those countries regularly so although he isn’t growing the olives himself for making the olive oil, he’s very informed on how the olive oil is produced.   Everything except the red chili flakes (from America) are from the farmers market. 

Pasta with Garlic and Spinach

250 grams freshly-made-dried noodles (These were made in the last 2 weeks and dried)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup spinach, washed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a large pot, bring water to boil, stir in salt. Add pasta and cook about 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain pasta in a colander and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.  The reserved pasta water will help create the sauce.

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, add olive oil.  Then add the garlic and sauté until light brown and fragrant.  Don’t let the garlic burn otherwise it will taste bitter and bad.  Add the chopped spinach and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and mix until pasta is combined with spinach and garlic.  Add 1/4 cup (more if you want it saucy) of reserved pasta water and stir to combine. 

We bought 10 eggs (farmers markets and grocery stores sell eggs in 10 as opposed to a dozen) so the only thing missing from this meal is a fried egg.  I’ll be making this meal tonight with an addition of an egg. 

Sunday, June 19

The trials of apartment hunting... or Apartment Hunting Trials

We expected apartment hunting to be tough here but we didn’t realize how tough until now that we’re experiencing it. There are all sorts of barriers to getting a good apartment of your choice. Before we moved here we told our agent what we were looking for- unfurnished apartment with balcony, in or close to the city center and public transportation. Simple enough, right? Wrong! Unfurnished means, everything is removed from the home, including all personal furniture but especially kitchen cabinets and appliances. Those things are considered part of the tenant’s belongings so off they go with the tenant and everything else they owned. Same with closets and bathroom cabinets. Basically, an apartment includes the four walls (with rooms and a bathroom or two) to live in; everything else we have to provide until we’re ready to move and then we’d take it with us too.

So now we’re looking for unfurnished apartment with fitted kitchen. Then there’s the older building without lifts. This was to be expected for us and isn’t a big concern for myself or him however our parents would not appreciate 4 flights of stairs. In which case, they would never leave the apartment.

One of the biggest barriers to apartment search? Language. When the landlord or their agent sees that we aren’t native Germans or German speakers, they aren’t interested. Thanks to all those Americans that rented temporarily. Actually we’ll be one of them. When Germans move into a home, it’s permanent. Not 1 year or 3 years permanent, 15- 20 years permanent or even life permanent. While speaking with our agent she told us stories about grandparents renting from a landlord and passing the apartment down to their children and grandchildren when they’re adults. That’s the other big barrier to getting an apartment we want. We know we’ll be here for 3 years definitely but beyond that is anyone’s guess. Therefore landlords are hesitant about renting to us because we aren’t “permanent”.

A little about the tenant selection process; when apartments go on market for new renters, the potential tenants do a viewing with an agent present. If interested, the potential tenant completes a form that includes salary and job information and planned length of stay. Based on those answers, the landlord picks a tenant.

For example, we saw an apartment we loved that came with fitted kitchen, extra closet space, across from our (already) favorite Greek place, Delphi, in the city center and most importantly, the rent was remarkable. We didn’t get it because the landlord picked a local that didn’t work for Siemens. We saw another apartment that I would do anything for last night but it already looks like we won’t get it because of all the previously mentioned factors.

Obviously we haven’t been lucky enough be picked in the two apartments we’ve bid for; the second one is still a potential but from the sounds of it we better start looking for something else. And even though two apartments doesn’t seem like a lot, I'll put it in perspective; it’s rare that an apartment that meets our criteria goes on the market, according to our agent. That and we've been been here for 2 weeks, and if we sign the lease now we will move in August but the longer this takes, the longer we’re stuck in a hotel apartment. So the rental market for new tenants is a tough game here.

Of course there are plenty of apartments that have lifts, fitted kitchens and landlords that are ready for us to move in tomorrow, unfortunately those are not our top choice either because of the area or their surroundings or the lack of surroundings.

The good thing is…. Americans think space is a factor; there isn’t much space in Europe and everything’s tiny. Some of that is true however to our surprise when we asked for 85- 100 square meters, we’ve gotten in that range and every single apartment we’ve seen felt spacious. Ironic?

My favorite thing about apartment hunting so far has been a naked woman sighting through a balcony. We were looking at a decent sized apartment that had ton of space and a balcony the size of a small living room. As we were looking at the view from the balcony we spotted a woman on her terrace, gardening in the nude. Nudity is very common in Europe, which I am prepared for, I just wasn’t expecting to see it on a terrace, gardening. The downfall to that apartment was a very small kitchen; a kitchen big enough for 1 person to stand. Cooking being a passion of mine, that wasn’t a sacrifice I was willing to make. And a naked gardener wouldn’t be pleasing to our guests either.

Friday, June 17

The Nürnberg Castle

Entrance to the Castle

Part of the Castle wall
A very important monument in the city is of course the castle and its walls. The castle consists of three parts; Wikipedia
explains it really well. We took a tour and were amazed to see how well it’s been restored on the inside even after all the bombings from WWII. Nürnberg was rally grounds during Nazi Era; due to its geographic central location in Germany Hitler and the Nazis chose Nürnberg as one of the cities to host annual conventions. Because of that Nürnberg was heavily bombed and much of the city was destroyed due to the war. One of our big requests, before moving, was to have an apartment in a building that was built before the war; and now we’ve changed that requirement because it’s almost impossible to find a building from before the war that is open for rent. (Usually those apartments are snatched up within hours.)

View of the city
Of course it isn’t as elegant and grand as it would’ve been in its peak times but it’s still captivating to see a structure that was rebuilt to its original form from the 13th century.

While it’s hard to photograph the entire castle in one photograph, here are some pictures that were taken of the castle, its walls and views from the top.
Looking down onto houses from the Castle

Saturday, June 11

Day to day Observations

Few observations that I’ve made here since coming to Germany.
1. Many people smoke. 2. Many people sport a tattoo. What I consider to be an alternative lifestyle in America isn’t so unusual here. Nürnberg is perfect for people watching so anywhere we go there is something new to see. However after 13 days, smoking and tattooing seems to be the trend amongst many people, no matter age or nationality. And I write this because this isn’t something we experience in America so it'll take getting used to. With the smoking bans in many states or the warnings of health risks that are associated with smoking, Americans smoke less than Germans (or possibly Europeans, in general). 

I support the freedom of choice to do what one wants to their own body, we just aren't used to seeing a large population with a cigarette in their hand and/or ink on their body. (one isn’t mutually connected to the other; I am just lumping them together.)

3. Deutsch Bank doesn’t accept traveler’s checks. If you’re planning to visit us or visit Germany in general, don’t bring traveler’s checks with you. We brought some in hopes of converting them to euros. After opening our bank account with the bank we learned they don’t accept them. I don’t know why they don’t, but they don’t. We were shocked as well. 

4. Movie theater requires reservations. Like some restaurants in America, we have to reserve seats at the movie theater. We went to see Hangover 2 (in English) and had to make reservations the day before. According to the ticket booth office, if it’s a movie they expect a large turnout everyone must book their tickets.  There is even assigned seating. If you get there in advance, you can pick which seats you want but if it’s last minute, you’ll be sitting in the first row or in a bad seat.  We made reservations the previous day so we chose our seats.  Movie was good, but first one was better because of its originality, like Ocean's 11.  

These are all things we aren't used to from America and a learning curve. 

Wednesday, June 8

Thai, Mexican and Falafel

We ate dinner at Thai food 2 last Friday.  It is 4 blocks from our hotel and one of the highly reviewed and recommended Thai places in town.  It’s an unassuming little restaurant on the corner of a street (Straße, pronounced straase).  When we walked in, we didn’t know what to do; the story of our lives right now.  We’ve learned one thing as far as restaurants; in most German restaurants you seat yourselves.  If there’s an open table, it’s yours.  So at this restaurant we sat ourselves, outside and waited and waited for the server to take our order.  And then we realized this is the kind of restaurant where we order at the counter and then seat ourselves for the food to arrive.  We looked silly, I am sure, but it’s all a learning lesson.  I am sure we’re breaking all kinds of social rules these days, but the best part is we both just laugh at each other.  It’s fun discovering all this together. 

Onto the food.  I ordered Green Curry with Vegetables (Grün Curry mit Gemüse) and he ordered Panang Curry with Chicken (I can’t remember the name for Panang curry).   We ordered our 2 main entrees and a bottle of hefeweizen (to share) and the total was 20 Euros, reasonable price.  Within 5 minutes after seating our food was brought to us.  Both curries were served with white rice.  The first thing we both noted was the spice level, it was high!  In America, the server or host asks for a spice level on a scale of  1- 5 or 1- 10; here there wasn’t a scale and we thought it tasted like a 7 or 8.  It was delicious!  The green curry was gingery with coconut milk base and had peppers, carrots, and zucchini.  His panang curry was really good as well, the only vegetables he got with his chicken were red bell peppers and red chilies (that he decided to skip since the curry was already hot). 

As we were walking home, we concluded that they don’t ask for a number on a scale for heat because they probably serve it like it would be in Thailand.  I can safely say we’ve found a Thai place we will be going back to often. 

I went to Hot Taco for lunch, alone.  It’s in the Altstadt (old city) and close to all the shopping areas and touristy streets.  I found it online because I was searching for fast food that wasn’t KFC, Burger King or McDonald’s.  I had a hard time finding it because it’s a street that I haven’t ventured out to.  I went in, ordered a Putenfleisch (bird meat, I believe this can be either chicken or turkey) Taco.  I waited by the counter for my food until the cook said to me, “have a seat I’ll bring it to you” in Deutch.  I sat down on the bar stool nearest to the kitchen counter so I could watch him make my taco.  He made it rather quickly and how he assembled it was new to me.  He filled a flour tortilla with meat and cheese and grilled it for 3 minutes, then filled it with the extras: corn, lettuce, salsa, sour cream.  I tasted it without the habanero sacue and thought it was okay.  I added the habanero sauce and still thought it was okay.  I am just not a fan of flour tortillas so I guess that was the pitfall of this taco.  I noticed they make burritos from the same flour tortilla.  Hot Taco serves food on the go but I don’t think it’s my go-to place. 

After walking around the castle and being a tourist for 3 hours, we were starving for a late lunch on Saturday.  We’ve been to this Döner Kebab place for their Putenfleisch Döner.  And it's conveniently located in the Altstadt.  However, this time he suggested getting a Falafel to try something new.  The falafel is made to order, so we watched the cook fry the falafels, heat the pita, and fill it with lettuce, tomato, and chili sauce.  Their falafels are made with cilantro and chickpea base.  It was hot when we were eating it but tasted really delicious and it was just the right late lunch snack.   We had to eat it quickly before U1 arrived (No Food in the Train!).  I’ll be looking for the perfect falafel but for now this fills the falafel niche. 

About the restaurant names, Germans restaurant owners aren’t very creative when it comes to naming their place.  There is a Thai Food, Thai Food 2 and Thai food 3; it won’t be long before Thai food 4 comes along.  There’s also Stockholm that serves Swedish food.  Or remember, Kartofell?  My favorite name so far is Dim Sum and it serves Dim Sum.  (We haven’t tried Dim Sum yet but plan to sometime this week). 

Monday, June 6

Toys, made in Nürnberg

This past Sunday when we had a lot of time on our hands and nothing to do outside because of an overcast weather, we decided to check out the toy museum in old town. To give you a little background, toy manufacturing and trading has played an important role in Nürnberg’s economic development over the past 500+ years. At the height of its boom, metal toy manufacturing was synonymous with Nürnberg. Although after WWII the industry declined, in the last 30- 40 years, it has regained its momentum; today, 30% of toys manufactured in Germany are made by Nürnberg toy companies.

The museum has everything from its first dolls (made in 1500s) to current dolls to history of doll houses to trains to wooden puppets to metal toys (that grandfathers brought back home after fighting WWII- my grandfather did not have any metal puppet toys because he didn’t fight in any wars in his time in India. (He did travel to Iraq for work, when Iraq was a good place to work, back in the day). But I digress.

There was one room that exhibited kitchens (Kuchen), irons and ironing boards, and washing machines, all to children’s scale, to impersonate the day to day chores of an adult to teach the kids how to cook, wash clothes and iron their clothes. My favorite part of the entire museum was the kitchens. There were small kitchens and large doll house ones too. The kitchens, regardless of their size, were very elaborate and had every minor detail a chef would want in a professional kitchen today. To give an example, one dollhouse kitchen had a 6 burner stove, coffee & tea service sets, all the ladles, spoons and whisks to my heart’s content, intricate plateware sets, sauciers, skillets, saucepans; pretty much everything that I’d love to have in my real kitchen. Most of these were made by Bing. Bing was a German company that was founded in 1863 and at one point in early 1900s was the largest toy manufacturer in Nürnberg. During the wars, the toy industry was in trouble as was the Bing company; since the founders were Jewish they fled Germany for safer grounds.

Finally there was the Omaha train station, modeled from the original. The model had many railcars with tracks, and stations as well as post office, library, hotels, restaurants, private homes, all along the railroad tracks. Unfortunately the trains were at a standstill but I could imagine the entire town in action.

It’s definitely worth seeing the museum and how they’ve presented the history of toy making in Nürnberg and the rise, fall and revitalization of toy manufacturing market. We can't wait to take all the toy lovers or parents of toy-playing kids for a visit. 

Saturday, June 4

Food Reviews

There are few places that we've had meals at that's worth writing about.

Hotel Maxmilian This is our breakfast/brunch place in our hotel.  Although the service is wonderful, the food is dull.  German food mostly consists of bread (brot), sausages (wurst), and saurkraut, it's isn't a cuisine that people rave about however there's potential to make it taste good, especially for breakfast/brunch.  Our daily selection includes some type of sausage, deli meats of sorts (pastrami, salami, bologna), smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, variety of breads, cheese, jelly and a sweet cake/dessert (Kuchen) on most days.  On alternate days, they switch out the sausage with chicken wings and bagel bites (American version) or  mini pizzas.  That's where I have a problem with this place, I am okay with sausages but when they're switched out for a lesser tasting bagel bites pizza, that's not good.  Starting tomorrow, we plan to venture out to a new breakfast place down the street.

Sangam is an Indian restaurant we went to with an expat group.  The group meets at a different restaurant each week, it's my kind of group.  The restaurant itself is in a prime spot in old town, blocks from the u-bahn station.  We were part of a group of 8 so nothing unusual for a restaurant you would think, but the service was terribly slow.  The server that took our drink order, 30 minutes after we were seated (no exaggeration), said he couldn't take our dinner order.  Another 30 minutes later, the owner took our dinner order.  At 9:30, 2 hours after arriving at the restaurant we got our food.  He and I shared an appetizer, Chicken Tandoori, and the main course, Bhuna Ghost with Roti.  The chicken was well seasoned and tender, the bhuna ghost was rich in a creamy tomato sauce.  Others in the group got butter chicken and daal which they all liked.  However they said this was their 2nd or 3rd visit and each time got the same slow service.  Overall the food was good but definitely not worth going back due to their repetitive slow service.

Now onto the food places we've liked.  The first was a German restaurant in old town, Hütt'n.  I ordered Nuremberg wurst special with bread dumplings and he ordered pork loin roast with potato dumplings.  My wursts came in a thick brown sauce that was rich, flavorful and lemony at the same time.  And it paired fantastically with the bread dumplings, a Franconian local specialty.  His pork loin was braised to perfection with crunchy skin, like pork rinds.  The crunchy pork skin isn't for everyone but I tried it for the first time and loved it.  His potato dumplings were a tad bland but we can't expect too much from boiled potatoes formed into a ball.

The other German place that we enjoyed was Kartofell, literally translates to potato.  This restaurant is a block from where we're staying so it's a nice 2 minute walk.  It was recommended by someone so we were excited to try it.  It has an outdoor patio that everyone was drinking bier and having their dinner in so it was only fitting we sat there.  Everything on the menu has some sort of potato- fried, boiled, steamed, baked or shredded & fried.  I ordered the schweine schnitzel with boiled potato and white asparagus.  He ordered the chicken burger with green salad.  When we got our plates, we were both surprised to see that they created burger buns out of potato pancakes (Latkes).  The filling for the burger was marinated boneless chicken pieces.  Although unsure at first, he really liked his burger.  My schweine schnitzel was perfect, not overcooked or dry.  The asparagus was boiled and overdone but according to our server, 'this is the normal way of eating asparagus here'.  Side note: it's Asparagus season and many German restaurants are serving Asparagus like it's going out of season, pun intended.  My boiled potatoes were perfectly seasoned with salt, pepper and butter.   

Finally, a Greek restaurant, Delphi.  The food was exceptional and the service was exactly what you'd expect from a Greek restaurant, very friendly and accommodating.  We started with ouzo (anise flavored liquor); that'll get any customer to be a fan of a restaurant.  For the first course I ordered Bean Soup (Bohne Suppe) which was made with tomato base and tasted great.  For dinner I ordered Pork Gyro with Tomato Rice (Schweine Gyro mit Tomatenreise) and he ordered chicken in butter sauce with white rice (Hähnchen in Buttersauce mit weißer Reis).  Both of our meals were delicious; I could've used a little less salt on my gyro meat but overall a decent meal, especially with the impeccable service.   

You'll notice we haven't ordered desserts at any of these restaurants.  To our surprise, restaurant portion sizes are quite large so we never have room for dessert.  I, in fact, have brought home to-go boxes from restaurants because I don't finish my dinner. Speaking of to-go boxes, it is generally frowned upon to ask for boxes so I know I am breaking rules but I don't have the heart to throw out food so I kindly say "Alles war sehr gut, aber ich bin voll."  (everything was very good, but I am full) And then they offer a box.   

Thursday, June 2

Let's walk there...

Nürnberg or Nuremberg is a small sized city in the state of Bavaria in Germany.  It has an area in center of city called the old town that’s surrounded by city walls. The city walls were built and date back to Medieval times, when the kings needed protection from attacks.  The city itself sits on Pegnitz river.  Nuremberg is infamous for the Nuremberg Trials; however there are some other neat things to learn about the city.  One is its transportation system.

We arrived on Sunday and it’s been great weather ever since.  It's been mostly in the 60s and 70s with sun shining all day.  There was one day of rain in the middle but nothing too bad to keep us away from strolling in the city.  We’ve done all of our sightseeing on foot, by the u-bahn or tram.  U-Bahn is Germany’s metro system.  There are u-bahn stops encompassing nearly the entire city, extending into the suburbs.  On Monday, he and I were on a mission to find the quickest route to his work using the u-bahn, which we found took about 20- 30 minutes in commute.  As of today, he has found a direct route to work on a tram that takes him 7 minutes plus 8 minutes of walking. Munich is only 1 hour and 30 minutes from here on u-bahn, so hopefully we’ll make that trip soon. I am amazed at how efficient the public transportation system works here.

Another form of transportation is bicycles.  I’ve seen more bikes since we've been here than I have ever seen in America.  People of all age, size and color use bikes as their form of transportation.  After speaking with the locals, we’ve learned they prefer bicycle commuting over any other form of transportation.  There are also bike trails around the city and along the river that are great way to sight see the city.  With all this bike talk, we’re thinking about buying used bikes to commute and sightseeing in the weekends.  Of course, there are cars and roadways as well, however I believe those are mostly for shopping (for large amounts of groceries) or long distance trips.

Most of all, we're enjoying our strolls to many parts of the city.  In the few days since our arrival, I've mostly commuted by foot and found great bakeries (Bäckereien), ice cream (Eis) shops and restaurants (Restaurants). I am reluctant to use the train/tram unless I have to because the weather is so nice and walking lets me sight see and discover much more. Speaking of the great weather, it doesn't last long so we're taking as much of this in as possible before it gets cool in September.

Wednesday, June 1

New Adventure

As many of you know we're starting a new adventure in our life in Germany.  We've been asked by many of our friends to document our trip and travels within Europe therefore we started this blog: Pork Bier Belly.  Germany is known for its large consumption of pork and bier.  That's how the name was given and it was one of the only names we liked. 

He will be working full time and I will be learning German, initially, and now writing for the blog. 

I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures and follow along on our journey.  Feel free to leave your thoughts, comments or just say Hallo.