Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Belgium Trip

Yes, the 4-day Belgium trip is over. Much to share from that trip, but I can heartily recommend a trip to Brugge, Ghent, and the Flanders Field area. Posts forthcoming with lots of photos... but let me leave you with one thought for now, as shared by a work colleague in Belgium.

We have a famous commercial on Belgian chocolates. In the commercial, the cook says : "Belgium! We have the best chocolates in the world, but…we are really sorry about the weather".

So true! With the exception of the actual Holy Blood Procession in Brugge, it rained, rained, rained.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

From the files of "the truth is stranger than fiction"...

From CNN, this report....

Pandemonium broke out in Taiwan's parliament Tuesday when deputies attacked a woman colleague for snatching and trying to eat a proposal (literally) on opening direct transport links with China in a bid to stop a vote on the issue.

Amid the chaos, DPP deputy Wang Shu-hui snatched the written proposal from an opposition legislator and shoved it into her mouth. Wang later spat out the document and tore it up after opposition lawmakers failed to get her to cough it up by pulling her hair. During the melee, another DPP woman legislator, Chuang Ho-tzu, spat at an opposition colleague.

Ah, these are the things I miss from Asia....

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Belgium Bound

Tomorrow is Ascension Day, and most of continental Europe has the day off. Including Germany. So, the Budman and I have decided to parlay this into a four-day weekend, and are headed to Brugge and Gent, Belgium.

Many of you are aware of these cities as the “canal cities of Belgium”. Apparently, they were also the wealthiest cities in Belgium during the Renaissance period, cities of great industry, culture, and art.

With that said, the PC is staying home and blog posts to return early next week. Happy Memorial Day to those in the US!


I love Heidelberg…not sure why. Maybe it was the first quaint German town I visited after moving to Düsseldorf and so it holds a fond memory for me. Not that the town is really all that small, since 30,000 university students attend college here, but somehow the "quaintness" has been maintained.

Maybe it is the fact that it is “tourist-friendly”, with shops and restaurants often open on Sunday; let’s just say that there is a low degree of difficulty when travelling here. Two, the townspeople are so nice and friendly. Three, we've met some nice BU friends in this city. Whatever, the reason, a “lovely time” is always had in Heidelberg.

Interestingly enough, a few Heidelberg anecdotes for you trivia-ists out there:

* Legend has it that Queen Victoria was conceived in Heidelberg while her parents, the King and Queen of England summered here.

* Mark Twain apparently loved this city, having visited several times; every hotel claims the fame that “Mark Twain slept here”, including the one we stayed at this time.

* Germany’s first university was located in Heidelberg in 1386.

* Heidelberg citizens successfully handed Heidelberg over to the Allies during WWII; city became the main military administration offices for the American Armed Forces in Europe. End result: Heidelberg escaped damage during WWII.

Now, for some photos….

Buddy and Holly standing on Alte Brucke with Schloss Heidelberg in the background.

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Heidelberg’s old bridge, Alte Brucke.

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Views of the Neckar River from the terrace of Schloss Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg’ Marktplatz.

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Cornmarkt in Heidelberg, with Schloss Heidelberg in the background.

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Heidelberg at night.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Diadeloso Zwei

Hard to believe a year has come and gone since we attended our first Baylor Alumni Diadeloso event in Heidelberg. We can now say we’re veterans of this Germany BU activity….

By way of background, the Baylor International Network and Baylor University Alumni Association host a number of BU Diadeloso events around the globe. Translated from “Baylor speak”, Diadeloso (in Spanish), is known as the “Day of the Bear”. It is a campus-wide event that was even in existence when the Budman and I were at Baylor, which usually resulted in a day off from classes and involved a gorgeous spring day and a huge mudfight.

Thus, the Budman and I decided to make a repeat visit to BU Diadeloso Germany. Once again set in Heidelberg, we shared a meal of fried chicken, baked beans, biscuits, and Dr. Pepper (hey, don’t knock it until you can't get it) with fellow grads. And although the event was a bit smaller this year, it was still fun to reminiscence with other grads, and trade Baylor stories as well as “living abroad” anecdotes.

Not sure that BU would be too impressed that our group photo which was made in front of “a saloon and jail”. (just kidding – it was the kids blow-up play area)

Sic ‘em Bears!

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Now that's a sales tax

Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, has voted in favour of the government's plan to increase the VAT sales tax from the current 16 percent to 19 percent. The measure takes effect at the start of next year. Chancellor Merkel's grand coalition government hopes to use the additional revenue to reduce the deficit and lower non-wage labour costs for employers. Opponents of the plan say it breaks a key campaign promise by the staging the “biggest tax hike” in German history. Business leaders and economists say it would hurt Germany's economy.

The 3 percent sales tax increase didn't come as a surprise to anyone, since it was technically part of Merkel's campaign platform.

The tax increase leaves Germany just below the EU's average standard VAT rate of 19.34 percent, about halfway between Cyprus and Luxembourg's 15 percent and Denmark and Sweden's 25 percent. I guess I can’t really complain to my EU buddies…still, it is a far cry from Ellis County 8.75% (or whatever it is these days). Texans, now don’t complain!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

All work and no play makes the Hachie Girl a very dull girl…

You’d think that with the recent traveling we’ve been doing that there is no way things would be dull in the Hachie Gal and Budman’s life. And I suppose they’re not. It’s just been mainly work-focused: the 13-14 hour long work days have made for really boring news days from a blog perspective. Both the Budman and I have had our share of long days and pressurized deadlines which have made “Hachie Gal a very dull girl” as the title of today’s post suggests.

Let’s hope that is going to change soon. “Why?”, do you ask:

(1) Well, summer is almost upon us. Yes, my most favorite season of all. Longer days that allow for a lot more flexibility for “going and doing” during the week and weekend, and better weather all around (even without A/C). Already, I am seeing a bit of daylight even at 10 pm.

(2) April, May, and June are the months for a majority of the German national holidays. Lots of short trip options since these three months have a multitude of three and four day weekends. I know, it seem to the uninformed blog reader that all we do is have national holidays in Germany. Just to put it into perspective, there are only 10. We won’t have another national holiday until November, though. Best be enjoying them while we can.

(3) And finally, it is nearly mid year, and I have taken only a fraction of my allotted vacation time. To be accurate, I still have almost 5 weeks still left to take….I am already counting the days till vacation….Ah…where to go…what to do….

Let’s hope so, anyway….

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Happy Birthday, Hachie Gal

Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Travels of a Hachie Gal, Happy Birthday to you!

Yes, the blog is officially one year old! Hard to believe the Budman and I have been in Germany for over a year, let alone that I’ve been posting stories that long from our time here in Europe. Thanks to all the blog readers and friends for your faithful patronage to the site, your comments, and interest

Published Photographer

The first time I thought it was just a fluke…some Polish tourist agency had seen a night-time photo of Warsaw’s old town on the blog after a trip to Warsaw and wanted to use the photo in a travel brochure. I was flattered so, sure… why not?

Well, it's happened again! This time, an author of a book on global architecture liked one of my photos of Aachen’s Palatine Cathedral and wanted permission to use the photo in his upcoming book. Th publisher is Wiley & Sons, so it’s legitimate. I was even asked to sign a photo release so I can get a credit in the book.

Not that I really thought the photo was all that great, but hey, I am now officially published.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

World Cup Fever

World Cup fever is definitely starting to hit! As the Budman and I strolled through Düsseldorf’s Altstadt on Saturday, there were several groups of young men (ages 18-25) wearing the jerseys of their country’s “football” team (i.e. soccer for us Yanks). The Finns, Italians, Brits, and of course, the Germans were out in full force, cheering/yelling for their teams and imbibing in the local brew that only made them louder and more raucous. Yes, perhaps only a pre-cursor to the mania known as World Cup Soccer. And since Germany is the host country this year, think “Super Bowl extravaganza x 10” and you will start to get the picture.

The Budman and I have lived a city/country that hosted World Cup Soccer before…4 years ago, in fact, when it was Korea’s turn to host the games. I can assure you that while there was still a lot of hype, enthusiasm, and later on, sheer madness as the Koreans battled for third place in the overall games, it was an organized chaos. None of these soccer stampedes in Seoul…no, just polite but enthusiastic fans chanting, waiving their Korean flags, beating their spirit sticks, and basically clogging up traffic while people orderly camped out in the middle of intersections to watch the big screens on all the buildings…all 10-20 million of them!

I am starting to realize that things may be different this time around. I suspect that the Europeans feel slightly stronger about football than their Asian counterparts…so, maybe it’s time to take a few weekend trips out of Germany while the melee is underway?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Harry Potter needs to stick to quidditch

We’ve now officially met Harry Potter. He is a checker at the Real Supermarket in Düsseldorf. Either that, or it is his “separated at birth” twin who is working there.

The Budman and I have now been through his checkout line twice where he has officially scanned our groceries. The first time was a week ago Saturday where we failed to notice the very significant Harry Potter resemblance: hair cut and color, glasses, facial features, eye color. We were simply too preoccupied by the fact that this was apparently Harry’s first day as a checker. His register jammed, the receipt printer was out of paper and he was totally at a loss what to do about it, he could not get the conveyor belt to work and was thereby unable to move the items down for scanning, nor could he get his register open. Even his scanner was not cooperating. It was then that a “prefect” (a.k.a. supermarket supervisor) came to the rescue. We were so humoured by his classic “first day on the job” travails that we did not really focus on the HP similarities.

Thus, upon checkout again yesterday, we decided to give this new checker another shot and proceed to his register. This time, the Harry Potter resemblance hit us fill force. And once again, he had issues during the check-out process; namely requiring me to go back to the produce area and get another package of apples since the bar code was damaged on the first set. Much to the chagrin of the patrons behind us in line, I might add.

We surmised that perhaps “Harry” might be better off if he just stuck to his game of quidditch.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Do you know Flat Taryn?

Yes, we’ve been inducted into the “Flat Stanley” club, or in our case, the “Flat Taryn” club. Apparently, this is a very popular class project in elementary schools in Texas. Anyone I talk to with friends, children, or grandchildren in the first or second grades seem to know exactly what I am referring to.

This is the gest: The elementary school child will make a little paper doll of themselves (hence our neighbor, Taryn), and sends this paper doll along with a journal to willing participants who in turn take pictures of Flat Taryn around the US or in our case, Europe. So, Taryn got a bit of an international journey. We've been encouraged to drop postcards to the class as well as write of Taryn's travels in the journal provided. We’ve loved participating, and feel as if there are 3 people are on our trips these days…

So, in case you curious to what I refer…and yes, Flat Taryn has returned home to Texas.

Holly and "Flat Taryn" touring castles in North Rhein Westphalia

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Buddy, Holly, and "Flat Taryn" in Bern Kastel Kues.

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Holly and "Flat Taryn" in Hanau in front of the monument to the Brothers Grimm.

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Buddy and "Flat Taryn" in Dusseldorf along the Rhine.

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Holly and Flat Taryn in Paris along the Champs Elysees.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Wonders Never Cease

A very recent late night (due to work deadlines) allowed me to make a wonderful discovery. As I was taking a break at 12:15 AM for a snack, before resuming the work deliverable I was slaving over, I paused in front of the TV for a mindless 5 minutes of channel surfing.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear? Late Night with David Letterman.

Granted, it is indeed a "late night" with Letterman if I watch too many episodes of his program on regular basis. Still, it's nice to know he's there.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Fairy Tale Road - Observation #3

For those cities where the connection to a Grimms’ fairy tale was rather loose, various towns have “adopted” a story as their own. Sure, Bremen has the Bremen Town Musicians and Hameln has the Pied Piper. Then, there are those towns whose primary connection to the Brothers Grimm is solely based on a birthplace (Hanau), childhood home (Steinau), or a university town where the duo taught (Marburg or Gottingen). What happens the rest of those quaint little German towns that find themselves peppered along this route?

Answer: you adopt a fairy tale and put up a monument that references this fairy tale. (Reminds me of the Texas walnut bowl factory, snake farm, giant ball of twine, or candle factory). Still, thumbs up to the marketing gurus who conceived the notion and put the tourist route together. After all, I am proof porsitive that the marketing worked….

The tale of the “little boy who lost his sock” and monument in Lauterbach.

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Pied Piper in Hameln, although this tale is legitimately connected to this town.

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The “little girl and the goose” story and her monument in Gottingen.

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While technically not a fairy tale, Bodenwerder, home of Baron von Munchhausen, the teller of great whoppers. This monument tells of one of this stories…the horse that was cut in two.

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Fairy Tale Road - Observation #2

So besides quaint little German houses, what else does a good German Fairy Tale have? Of course, some sort of castle. Sleeping Beauty had her castle, Rapunzel was locked in the tower of her castle, and of course, there is always the marriage of the poor but beautiful heroine to the charming prince (a.k.a Cinderella and Snow White) who is whisked off to her new home, the local castle.

Yes, the Fairy Tale Road makes good use of this element. And although there is a castle almost in every small village or town in central Germany, I must confess that the marketing gurus who conceived of the Fairy Tale Road may have taken some liberties when stating that this or that one is THE CASTLE that a certain Grimms’ fairy tale was based on. Still, what would a fairy tale be without this essential component?

So, as we trekked through fairy tale land, the following castles were “loosely” connected to one of these childhood tales.

The castle in Trendelberg that inspired the story of Rapunzel…note the tower on the left with no doors.

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Steinau Castle: Steinau was the home of the Brothers’ Grimm for the first 12 years or so of their lives. This prominent castle was just a few steps away from their childhood home.

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The “Sleeping Beauty” Castle in Sababurg; this castle is the one that the fairy tale is supposedly based upon. Sidenote: we actually spent the night in the “castle turned hotel”….

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The Castle in Marburg, city where the Brothers’ Grimm served as professors for a period of time.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fairy Tale Road - Observation #1

If I walk away with nothing else from the weekend trip along the Fairy Tale Road, it is that the region is covered in half-timber houses and buildings. So much so, that you stop noticing them and just expect to see them. Sure, there are the regional differences, but this is, after all, the land of Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White. There were times, though, that I felt like I was at Disneyland….

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Springtime along the Fairy Tale Road

Spring has finally arrived, as can be seen from the many blooming trees and flowers but the weather was still a bit cold. As we began our journey along what is known as the Fairy Tale Road, we were greeted by a cold snap (right at freezing – 32 degrees) and a couple of batches of sleet on Saturday - go figure! However, Sunday and Monday were picture perfect.

I would say that this trip was not so much a trip for seeing famous sights, monuments, or museums such as in our previous trips, but rather one for experiencing the feel of a place or region. We saw lots of small castles, just like the ones of Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, the woods of the Grimms' Brothers' fairies tales such as Snow White and Red Riding Hood (bonus feature: a huge boar that darted right in front of our car), and the city of Hameln...of Pied Piper Fame. Every city (except one) was filled with half timber houses, charming squares, some connection to a Grimm's fairy tale (Puss in Poots, Cinderella, Bremen Town Musicians, the little girl and the goose, etc.) and wonderful little nooks and crannies. We travelled about 700 miles in 3 days, but it was at such a leisurely pace. We really never drove more than 20-30 miles between any one town before stopping for a bit of food or exploration.