jeudi, juin 28, 2007

Bye Bye Stuttgart

Stuttgart's Mascot
We start moving today. Start, because the packing will apparently take 3 days. In all my moving experience, this is the first time that I have movers needing 3 days to do the job. But there's always a first, of course. They came in a really BIG lorry. I sincerely doubt if I have enough to fill up even half of it. And am currently tempted to make a quick trip down to Rieger, Toys r Us and a few antiques shops to help fill up the other half.

The Truck

Last evening, Pris came over with her Hubby (1st time meeting him) and he looked every bit just like his photos on her blog. And they also came along with - curries from Ganesha! Just when I was asking myself how I would be able to eat one last meal from the restaurant.

The idea was to say good bye and pass on some of my frozen stuff to them. But they stayed on to pray for my move and new life in Italy - which was really sweet and kind of them. Thank you so much once again for your thoughtfulness. Praying for others require the patience and willingness to listen and at the same time be interested in what the other is hoping for/needing. So it took us some time and we were still up at midnight. In the meantime Eldest Son had taken the opportunity to surf the Net and help himself to whatever Dragon Ball Z videos he could download...!!! Sacré enfant!

And thanks Pris and Stefan for agreeing to carry some stuff back to Singapore for my sis and friend in August.

I never thought that I would ever say this, but I'm gonna miss Stuttgart. When I left Paris, I looked forward to the move - because I knew that I would return to Paris. But once I leave Stuttgart, I suspect that I may never return to the city again. And I am going to leave behind so many friends, my favourite shops, my very nice and comfortable house (and maybe even the singing birds), the greenery, German efficiency and transparency, Ganesha...

So bye bye Stuttgart and thank you very much for a pleasant 22 months.

samedi, juin 23, 2007

Lama Lama

8-month old Lama

Before I leave Germany, I felt that I just had to do one last thing : visit my penpal Steffen.

2-year old Lama (no, this is not Steffen)

Hubby did not return home this weekend as Ferrari was celebrating its 60th Anniversary (big event, he had to make a speech etc). And as usual, when he isn't around, I refuse to hang around and mope. And funny enough, I always feel more adventurous when I'm on my own - like in the good ole days.

So I gave Steffen a ring a few days before and tried to find out what he would be up to on Saturday. Got myself invited to a BBQ.

We started writing to each other when I was 14 and Steffen 15. So we go a long way back. He knew even then what he wanted to be and in 1999, I was in the Cathedral in Speyer to watch him become a Canon. I wasn't there when he was finally ordained a Priest though. I think I was in the States then. He specialises in Canon Law and currently sits on annulation etc demands. Who knows, maybe one day he'll be at the Vatican :-). Fancy me the Agnostic telling the whole world that I know this Catholic Hotshot (haha).

View of House from Lamas' Den

It took me only 1h30 mins to drive to his place in Herxheim bei Landau. Honestly, I sucked. I should have visited him before and more often.

I was greeted at the door by an enormous black dog, Edi. He's very friendly actually and has toys everywhere lying in wait for him. Steffen showed his collection of rabbits, guinea pigs...and two (South American) LAMAS to the kids. They were thrilled. Extra-thrilled when they dug into the pile of chocolate and sweets he got them.

Playground for Adults

We went on a tour of the grounds. There is a huge home for the handicapped. A real sanctuary, there are more workers than residents there. The playground was built for adults and I couldn't help playing in it as well. And of course there's also a church. Steffen gives Mess every morning in it.

His Dad Working at the "Stove"
And then we watched Edi chase the Lamas (he accidentally got let in) as Steffen's dad screamed his head off for him to stop. God, I've not seen his parents in 8 years. They are really gentle and kind folks, the kind (don't tell it to my MIL) that you wouldn't mind having for your in-laws.

His mom's the one in Blue

We had a BBQ as planned, though inside the house as it was drizzling. He had other guests - neighbours who had helped him set up home for the lamas.

My contribution

I couldn't understand anything of course, since I suspect that they didn't converse in German but in some Pfalz dialect. Even if they had spoken German I probably wouldn't have understood anyway.

I started to leave at 10pm. Only that my car wouldn't start since I've left the headlights on all this while.

Luckily his dad and neighbour were typical DIY-apt German men who opened up my car boot, started speaking Greek to me, but got the job done. I just smiled, nodded my head from time to time and occasionally looked lost and helpless. I was told when the car finally started thanks to some juice from his dad's engine, that I must keep running for at least 30 minutes and must not stop. Kids, no toilet stop, ok?

And of course 15 minutes into the journey back I had to run out of petrol.

vendredi, juin 22, 2007

Happy Kids at the Beach

View from UV Tent
It rained almost every day when we were in Maranello.
And on our last weekend there, Hubby said that we would go to the beach rain or shine. Such bravado.

He was lucky the skies were kind to him and gave us pretty good weather the Saturday in question.

We had to drive hours though to get to the beach. This time around we went to the Mediterranean coast. You park along the road, walk through a nature reserve and then you are at the beach.

What I like about this beach is the lack of up-for-rent parasols and loud music. You basically choose your spot and just settle down and that's just the way I like it. OK, so I'm a cheapskate, but honestly it breaks my heart to pay a few dozen euros for a parasol and 2 chairs.

I turned up with a UV tent for the kids (but I was the one who spent time inside), a baby water melon and lots of newspapers (Le Monde). Sand and sea water do not really appeal to me. A pain trying to eat watermelon and not chew sand at the same time.

Busy busy

I will write on our other beach outing to Rimini (great seafood restaurant) and our short visit to this charming town just after the Med Coast beach outing another day. Have to get back to the washing and horrible administrative details (newsflash : just discovered that Eldest Son's passport has expired since March and so much for my plans to send him back to Singapore for his Summer hols in July!)

mercredi, juin 20, 2007

Rieflé, Pfaffenheim, Alsace, France

Another reason to regret leaving Stuttgart would be losing proximity to France and especially to Alsace. Strasbourg is a truly wonderful city, Alsatian, French and European all at the same time. I've often wondered how it could be so close to Germany and yet be so different.

Last Saturday, we made a quick trip to Pffaffenheim in Alsace - our last chance to buy wine from Rieflé.

Foie Gras au Tokay

We stopped at Fegersheim on our way there and lunched at the Auberge du Bruchrhein. Mmm, how I've missed a simple but good French meal. Hubby and I both had their home-made Duck Liver with Tokay (also known as Pinot Gris). Then he continued with Veal Kidneys while I had Mixed Fish baked in Foil. Eldest Son had a marvelous Mushroom Salad followed by a Grilled Rumpsteak (ah, the cut of the meat!) and a Red Berry Crumble. The Babies had a grilled Beef Filet each with Spätzle and French Fries.

Papillote du Marin

I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the little village of Pfaffenheim. It was so pretty and charming! There was a busload of German tourists on a wine-buying spree and we were just getting a little nervous about having to wait a long time to taste our wine - when a round French guy with an artificial arm came up to us and advised us to go directly to the Rieflé cellar near the vineyards. He was Mr Rieflé himself.

His daughter-in-law served us. She came from a wine-making family herself and it was a real pleasure tasting wine and listening to her talk at the same time. We started with the dry wines (e.g. Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurzstraminer, Pinot Noir...) and worked our way to what we really went to Rieflé for - their Gewurzstraminer Vendange Tardive...

A few years back, Hubby attended a wine exhibition in Paris and fell in love with Rieflé's Vendange Tardive. When we knew that we would be moving to Stuttgart, we were happy as it would mean - visit to Rieflé!

We ended up buying 3 dozen bottles of white wine (of which 6 were VT) and a bottle of Eau-de-vie. Madame Rieflé also brought us on a tour of the wine-making facilities.
Au revoir l'Alsace!

Auberge du Bruchrhein
24 route de Lyon
Tel : 00 33 3 88 64 17 77

7 rue du Drotfeld
68250 Pfaffenheim
Tel : 00 33 3 89 78 52 21

dimanche, juin 17, 2007

Baby Girl can ride a Bicycle!

On this clear and sunny day, Baby Girl told her father that she was ready to learn how to cycle without the little wheels.

He spent a few minutes explaining to her what she should do e.g. look ahead of her etc.

She listened attentively, carried out his instructions and believe it or not, got it right on her first try!

Just like Eldest Son at her age.

I'm the only one in the family who needed weeks to learn how to cycle. So paiseh*.


vendredi, juin 15, 2007

The House

Our new (farm)house in Modena, Italy

I've forgotten to take pictures of the house when I was there as we were too busy measuring walls for our wardrobe, bookshelves etc. So I took a few from afar on another occasion. They do not do justice to the house as it has a lovely arcade in the middle which can only be seen from the other side.

I must have mentioned that it's in the middle of a field which can be quite smelly at certain times of the year. We're going to inhabit only half of this former farmhouse. Our part is about 450 m2, is divided into 3 floors and has 6 bedrooms.

View from the main gate

Apparently hares, pigeons and other wildlife hang out in these fields. Not to mention spiders, wasps and all kinds of grisly insect life. Now, what have I gotten myself into?

Final German Shopping Sprint

There is nothing like knowing that you're going to leave a country to spur you on to yet another shopping spree. I call it the Final German Shopping Sprint. Just had to leave Germany with a few typically German stuff (or what Germans like to buy).

So I've been busy the past week shopping everywhere, from Stuttgart Mitte to Ebay Germany to other towns like Reutlingen, Metzingen, Heidelberg etc.

To date, I have purchased 2 children's beds of which one is in the form of a racing car and the other comes with a slide (Flexa Morton - Danish though). I've also bought a wooden Kaufladen (Grocery stand) complete with marquise and a few hundred bucks' worth of mini wooden, paper and plastic groceries. They are so cute. You wonder of course if I didn't buy them for me rather...:-)

A German mother mentioned the Bavarian German costume Dirndl (the one where waitresses in the Biergarten wear with their boobs almost falling out of it) and believe it or not, I went to get myself one, though the one I liked is a little too small for me and I'll need to lose at least 5 kgs to be able to squeeze into it.

Then I also bought a Die Wilden Kerle football goal post for Eldest Son, a Smoby Jura Lodge Playhouse, tonnes of costumes (Disney Princesses, Pirate, Knight etc) for the babies, a 6m water slide and an inflatable airblown pirate ship. As you can imagine, I'm already trying to fill up the field surrounding my new house.

Last but not least, I got myself 3 pairs of shoes from Hugo Boss, telling myself that I will probably not see the shop again once I leave Stuttgart. And besides, we've been invited to dinner by Hubby's CEO in August...

Otherwise I've also been really busy with all the administrative details to finalise. The other morning I also had to wake up at 6am just to make crepes for Eldest Son's class charity crepe sale. And I've been ferrying the kids to all sorts of playgrounds including the Jolos Kinderwelt in Sindelfingen. I've still the French and German taxes to file...The movers arrive on Thursday the 27th and will pack through Saturday!

I'm really behind in my blogging and unfortunately it'll have to wait till we settle down in Italy.

jeudi, juin 07, 2007

A Few Impressions

Italy is a weird First World country. I am surprised that even up here in the Northern part of the country things still work so much through relations - if you ask me, so Third World.

To illustrate my point, eating at La Brace in Maranello. This restaurant is extremely popular with Ferrari staff. When Hubby eats there (which is often as he lives alone here in the week), he gets served huge portions and receives discounts on his bill. When he turns up to order a pizza to take away, they even try to offer it to him (I say try as he would never let them). So maybe he is somebody in Ferrari, and maybe they are trying to suck up to him for that.

Though I always say Never a Borrower nor a Lender be and if you don't accept favours chances are that you wouldn't have to return them.

And how do they balance their accounts? By ripping off nobodies like me. Madame turned up with her 3 kids one afternoon last week to have lunch at said restaurant. She was served a small plate of mainly fried sotong and a few miserly prawns in what was supposed to be a mixed fried seafood dish. And the total bill turned out to be at least 10 Euros over what she was supposed to pay. And since the bill was incomprehensible and since she couldn't speak Italian yet, she had to let it go.

When mention of above incident was made to the Hubby, he laughed and said that that's Italy for you. Together with the new bosses of the Group, he has been trying to change mentalities and work practices - but to no avail for the moment. Corruption, inertia, confusion, inefficiency and underhand practices are a way of life here. Yucks.

Kudos must be given to Singapore. I think that if somebody gives you a tip, you'd probably think twice before accepting it. And great that vendors who try to rip off tourists have a blacklist into which they may belong. Life is so much more pleasant and sure when we all try to do things only above the board, don't you agree?

Another preoccupation that we have nowadays is the fact that burglaries abound in Italy. There is almost no doubt that you will be burglared at some point in time. The only question is whether it would be done with or without violence.

We are supposed to be comforted by the fact that most burglaries where we are often take place without violence. Apparently you often get tied up and tortured in Milan whereas in Naples you could get killed. Great.

Like everybody else with a house we'll have to buy an alarm and wire it to the Police. Except that with a million households linked to them and with a million burglaries happening at the same time, you can almost be sure that they wouldn't bother to act when they hear yours ring. I was even told by a few Italians that each time they stopped their subscriptions to the alarm companies they would be burglared. I leave you to add 2 and 2 together...One has to live with some fatalism in this land.

Otherwise I've spent 3 days and many many hours in IKEA last week and have finally bought a few thousand Euros' worth of stuff to furnish the new house. I'll still need to return to the shop in July as we'll still lack quite a bit of cupboard etc space, the farmhouse being really quite big and empty. I wish that we could buy furniture elsewhere (e.g. somewhere more chic), but unfortunately between the size of our purse and the burglars IKEA does seem like the best compromise.

It has been raining non-stop for a week now. So much for the reputation for hot weather in Italy.

I'll be back in Stuttgart in 3 days. Hallelujah.