Sunday, August 8, 2010

Where to shop online?

If you haven't already bought clothes online, now is the time to start!  Below is a list of my favorite online clothes stores. 

Zappos - The gold standard of online shopping. And the best shoe store ever. Zappos sells shoes all shoes from every brand, and recently began selling clothing. It offers items for women, men, and children.  The search function is quick and easy-to-use.   The website has "wish list" and favorites" sections where customers can add items the like, then come back later to review price changes and decide about purchases.  If you find an item that is out-of-stock or full price, Zappos will notify you via email if it comes back in stock or goes on-sale.  The customer reviews are the best of any online store, filled with input to help shoppers better pick a size (Ex: "fits true to size" or "fits a half size smaller").  Zappos offers free shipping on all orders and returns.  The return process is hassle free, requiring ~5 mouse clicks (UPS will even pick-up returns directly from your house).  The customer service is the best part.  The service team, available 24/7, goes above and beyond to help you (this includes overnight shipping for free to ensure that you have your purchase for an important event).  Zappos prices are frequently much lower than other stores.

ShopStyle - The focus of this website is everything fashionable. It  consolidates clothes, shoes, accessories, beauty products and home stuff from all major designers into a single-platform for shoppers to search. It offers items for women, men, kids, and the home.  Users are encouraged to sign-up (for free), and create "stylebooks," where they put together an entire look or pick designs from their favorite designers, to share with other users.  The search function is easy-to-use.  This website has the "wish list" and "favorites" sections where shoppers can add items they like, and come back later to review prices and decide about.  Shoppers can also sign-up to be notified when items are back in stock or going on sale.  Shoppers can also sign-up to follow other users fashion ideas (when they post a new look or stylebook, you'll be notified) And if looking like a celebrity is your thing, the website shows who's wearing what and where to purchase it (this includes items seen on celebrities which are not yet in stores).  Items are not actually sold via this website, instead you will be forwarded to the applicable online store for purchase. 

Gilt Group - This is a hidden gem in the US shopping world. When designers and up-and-coming designers need to clear out their showrooms quickly (usually to make way for new items), they send the items to the Gilt Group. The Gilt Group consolidates them, takes new pics of them, and then has a 2-3 day sale where the items are discounted 50-80% (think $500 Coach purse for $75). To participate in these sales, you need to subscribe to the Gilt Goup (click here to subscribe - membership is free). All Gilt Group subscribers are notified via email of sales 5 min before they start (or you can check on the website each week to see what sales will happen in the upcoming week). There are usually 3-4 designers on sale per week. Word to the wise: when you receive this emails, open immediately, browse, and order. With the stellar prices, items sell-out quickly.  As a bonus: some Gilt Group sales include delas on travel (like 50-80% off for amazing boutique hotels or cruises).

Asos - This is a UK website selling chic clothing at reasonable rates. Shipping is free only within the UK (however, I've heard that Asos will soon set-up in the US and will offer free shipping within the US).  It offers items for women, men, and kids.  Asos only exists as an online store.  And only Asos-brand items are sold via the Asos website (this is actually a huge inventory, especially compared to brick & mortar stores who also sell their clothes online).   Asos has a philosophy similar to Forever 21 or H&M, but produces higher quality items.  The Asos designers take ideas from the runways, change them to fit the mainstream population (and add a very "London/Euro" vibe to the items), then produce the items at lower costs. 

Ebay - No introduction should be needed for ebay.  eBay is especially great for finding items which are no longer sold at stores or are speciality clothing items.  Items are often sold here at the lowest prices you'll find (however to obtain the lower price, you'll need to participate in an auction where you risk not winning the item in the end).

Tips for online clothes shopping:
1. Sign-up for an account on each website. These are usually free and will keep a record of your preferences.
2. Add items to your "favorites" or "wish list" (to do this, you usually must be a member). This will enable to you to come back at a later point, check if the items are on sale, and order the items.
3. Wait a couple days/weeks before purchasing. There is a good chance the price will be reduced.
4. Click on "suggested items." The website tracks your preferences and will suggests other items which you might like.
5. Order 2 sizes in each item you purchase.  With free and easy returns, you can keep the size that fits and send back the other size.
6. Read the customer reviews - these will often provide a good indication of how the items fits.
7. Suggest items for friends (and ask them to do the same for you). You'll end up looking at clothes which you wouldn't normally pick, but which look great.
8. Sign-up for email notifications regarding sales of your favorite brands or to notify you if something is back in stock.

Hop on the train: online shopping

Online clothes shopping is one of my favorite hobbies.  At night, I often relax at night by shopping online.  I even for clothes & shoes my friends (although I fail miserably at accessories).

Online shopping is great for many reasons... it's quick and easy to find an endless list anything you want, including vintage items.  You can shop from anywhere.  Often online retailors provide free shipping for purchases & returns.  Online shoppers bypass the crowds and long check-out lines at malls.  Returns are much simpler online than at a store.  Online items are often cheaper than those in stores.  It's easier to do price comparisons and to be notified of sales.  If you're not sure about a purchase (or want to wait until it's cheaper), you can add it to your "wish list" or "favorites" and decide later to purchase it.  Lastly, your friends can easily send purchase suggestions to you (or you can easiy create a list of which friends can purchase items for you). 

Those against online clothes shopping state 2 reasons for not doing it: 1) the inability to feel the fabric or see the quality of the item and 2) the inability to know if the item will fit and which size to purchase.   However, both of these concerns are negligable nowadays.  All websites provide a list of body measurements and their size equivalents and they publish customer reviews stating how customer's have found the item to fit.  With free/easy shipping, a shopper can purchase 2 sizes, try both on, and send the wrong size or both items back.  There is the option to try-on the item in a brick & mortar store and then order it online (because it's cheaper).  After a while, online shoppers know the quality of their favorite brands and they know their size in the brand anway.

Online clothes shopping has been most quickly adopted in the UK & US (I've heard that Japan, Singapore, S. Korea, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are close behind).  This is largely because the online shopping is so price and consumer-friendly in the UK & US, compared to other countries.  Items sold in the UK & US are usually cheaper than the same item sold in another country (i.e. "capitism vs. socialism" and also price-sensitive consumers).  Additionally, the UK & US stores can offer sales whenever they want.  Stores in other European countries can only offer sales at certain times of the year, as governed by law.    The US & UK online stores tend to offer free shipping to individuals in the UK & US.  While consumers in other countries have to pay for expensive shipping (even when shipping from a store within their country).  The UK & US charge minimal tax on shipments from another country.  Wheras other countries pay a huge tax on these if ordering from a country outside your residence.*  Lastly, customer service is usually much better at the online stores in the UK & US - it's clear that they want your repeat business. 

As I'll be visiting the US soon, I've spent the last months adding items to "favorites" list online, waiting for the price to drop, then ordering the item and shipping it to the US address.  This allows me to get many different items of good quality at good prices.  I'm looking forward to coming home and spending the first afternoon trying on items.  If you haven't already tried online shopping, I highly encourage it. 

*In Germany, this tax can be as high as 100% the price of the item.  Because of the tax, a huge item delivery service has been established at my work. When UK & US colleagues come to Germany on a business trip, they often "volunteer" (bless them) to bring over items for us which we've ordered online and had shipped to their houses. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Destination: Madrid

In early June, a friend and I travelled to Madrid.  I was very excited for the trip as I had never been to Madrid (yes I know, that's weird considering where else I've visited) and I was travelling there with an old friend (who made an excellent tour guide as he lived in the city for 1 year during undergrad).   Highlights included:

1. Taking the double-decker bus tour around the city. 
Growing up, my family would always take the double-decker bus tour when visiting new cities.  It's a great way to see the highlights of the city and figure out parts to visit later. Bonus if the bus is a hop-on, hop-off bus. This remains my favorite thing to do in new cities.  The Madrid bus tour was great, as it allowed us to see all the sites without over heating (the temperature made it miserable to be walking outside during the day). 

2. Seeing pictures on buildings. Many buildings in Madrid are covered in pictures.  Usually these are painted on the building or created from tile mosaic, however some are more unique and of wood carving, etc.  Even the street signs have pictures on them (and not graffiti).  Word to the wise: if you're not constantly looking up, it's easy to miss the pics.   

3. Visiting the Mercado de San Miguel.  
The Mercado de San Miguel is an indoors, up-scale farmer's market with small booths selling the speciality foods and drinks of Spain.  People meet here after work to snack on tapas from the different stalls and drink good wine. The few bar tables in the center of the building are always packed.  This is a good place to make Madrid friends and share a table. 

 4. Watching the Sunset on the Calle de Bailen (near the Jardins de Sabatini). 
Madrid locals make an event of the sunset viewing.  Around 8:30pm, groups of friends go to the park next to the Royal Palace, eat tapas and drink Spanish wine, enjoy the company of friends, and watch the sunset.  Madrid locals definitely know how to enjoy life.


5. Window shopping on the Calle de Claudio Coello.
The southern most part of the street is crowded with the stores of many designers. I like the the northern part of the street better which had stores of up-and-coming designers selling things at reasonable prices. This area is great for people watching. It's also interesting to see the reaction of sales people when you walk into their store (I looked very unglamourous on my afternoon visit as I spent the entire morning walking around and sweating in 100 degree temps). Madrid has great fashion.

All in all, it was a very good trip.  On my next trip, I'll stay out later.  Madrid is a town that comes alive at night and should be seen then.  Also, I'd like to go to a club where locals are dancing modern flamenco.  And I'd like to visit the Museum of the Americas, which I've heard provides a great history of Spain and showcases it's relics.

Restaurant & Hotel Review. (for all who wanted to know my thoughts on where to stay and eat)

Restaurant: El Estragon (Plaza de la Paja 10, 28005 Madrid). Great vegetarian restaurant in a non-veggie town.  Thie dishes were flavorful and contained large amounts of the essential nutrients which vegetarians have a tough time getting (protein, calcium, iron). The service & location were great - I wanted to sit there for hourse and people watch.

Restaurant: Teatriz (Hermosilla 15, 28001 Madrid). This has an amazing set-up as it's in an old theatre.  Tables are located in all audience sections, including the box seats.  On stage was a bar with huge mirrors around it.  And the food was amazing (my descriptions of food only go far). 

Hotel: Suites 33.  This was a good hotel at a good rate (I stayed here the 1st night when I was by myself).  It was located 2 min from the Plaza de Espana, but it was on a quiet street.  The hotel room & bathroom were large and clean (by American standards).  The A/C worked.  And there was free wi-fi for all guests.  The concierge was very helpful.

Hotel: Westin Palace.  Fabulous is the only way to describe the Westin (my friend and I stayed here the rest of the trip by using friequent flier points). The room, bathroom, and service was all fabulous.  The highlight was the breakfast buffet. It included every breakfast food possible, including champagne, and was served in a gorgeous atrium.  On weekends, a piano player and opera singer serenade everyone.  Bon Jovi was also staying at the hotel while we were there.  Groupies camped out 24/7 to catch a glimpse of the band.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

All girls should play football (or some team sport)

When my older brother joined a football team in Kindergarten, I was jealous that he got to play and that I had to wait 2 more years to join an official team (1st grade was when the girls teams started in my hometown).  Much of my time growing up was spent on a football field.  Playing football taught me about teamwork and not quitting, gave me confidence, and introduced me to many friends. Iwould like to say that I also developed superstar skills, however I was okay - which I'm very happy with. 

About 6 months after moving to German, I started playing football again.  And again, the sport helped me in many ways...  improving my German language skills, making friends, meeting very cute guys, and staying in shape.*  Playing football also helped me establish myself as an equal amongst the guys in the "old boys network" at work, which still very much exists in Germany (football in Germany is the equivalent to golfing in the US).

Arriving in Germany, I was surprised to learn that very few German females play (or like) football or any team sport.**  However, German females are a group which could benefit most from the lessons of football.  In the German workplace, the stereotype of a female is someone who is delicate, emotional, and unable to make competent decisions. Few females in Germany advance to management because of this stereotype.  Of the female managers, the majority (at my company) are ex-pats who present themselves as feminine, yet tough, and capable of competent decision making.  They understand how to get along with men and women, and foster teamwork... All skills learned in football.  Ironically, almost all grew up playing team sports and still participate in our company's annual football competition.  These female managers are often very respected.

While growing up, there were many times I didn't appreciate football... times when my parents had to drag me kicking to practices.  Now looking back, I'm very appreciative that my parents let/made me play football. All kids, especially little girls, should play football.  This will better set them up for success later in life.

*Running for 2 hours x 2-3 times/week does wonders for the figure.  And there is no chance to be lazy and miss a work-out as your teammates will force you to attend the next practice (or guilt trip you into it).

**The typical German female deeply dislikes football and other team sports.  If their is a spoting event on TV, they will often criticize it (and those watching it) and then ask that the channel be changed. Many only watch a football match during the EuroCup or World Cup.  Artsy things are promoted more amongst females in Germany.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Paul was right again...

Paul, a German octopus, has predicted the results of every World Cup match. While his forecasting techniques may be questionable, he has been 100% correct. And unfortunately, he correctly predicted that Spain (ES) would beat Germany (DE). Needless to say, the atmosphere in DE is now very somber. Gone are all the flags, loud football songs, and streets packed with cars honking their horns. Instead, all the Germans are sitting at the doner kebab stand to eat away their sorrows.*

Video: DE fans cheering at the match start (the song in the video is the most famous German football song which basically says "shoot a goal, shoot a goal...")

Video: ES fans cheering after the goal

Note: These videos were taken at the Heidelberg University Mensa public viewing.
*Doner kebab stands are the equivalent to 24/7 Mexican & Pizza places in the US. They provide the late night food in Germany (unfortunately, there are no shops selling vegetarian kebabs).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And the rain came pouring down for the DE v. AR football match

Bad decision to watch the DE v. AR football match at the Zollhofgarten (an outdoor public viewing site) instead of opting to watch it inside at a friends house.   Having hot, humid morning weather, we were completely unprepared for the torrential downpour that happened midway through the 1st half.  Within 2 min, all of us were soaking wet. 

Note for future: when the weather forecast predicts an "80% chance of rain"... plan for rain (even if there are no clouds in the sky). 

1. And the rain starts.

2. Security guards tried to save the TV (and the film crew filmed the viewers escaping the downpour).

3. Moved to an indoor location across the street.

4. DE fans "boo" Diego Maradona.  Unfortunately, I don't have videos of this which happened a lot & loudly. (I like Maradona, he's a entertaining coach)

5. Celebration after DE won (please excuse the shakiness; this video was filmed while biking).

DE v. EN football match... feel the energy

The DE national anthem...

After the 1st goal (this video was shot 1 min after the 1st goal; note the dust rising... we were standing on sand which went into the air from everyone jumping up and down)

After the 2nd DE goal... (craziness)

After the 3rd DE goal... (even crazier)

DE fans booing the EN coach... (these were nice "boos" compared to those which Diego Maradona received during the DE v. AR match)

Note: videos were taken at the Schwimmbad public viewing in Heidelberg, Germany.

The World Cup has arrived in Germany!

Being in Germany (DE) for any football championship is an amazing experience.  The fans go all out supporting the DE team, which creates a great atmosphere.  The after-match celebration (assuming DE wins) is wild with people lighting fireworks in the streets, cars flooding the streets with horns blaring, and people standing on street corners waving the DE flag.  The noise is loud and the celebration goes on all night. 

The public expressing of support and enthusiasm for DE's football team only started in 2006 when DE hosted the World Cup.  Before 2006, all Germans were taught to restrain any pride for their nation.  As one friend put it "When you cause 2 world wars, you learn not to enter into any more wars and not to sing praises outloud about your country."  DE won the World Cup in 1954, 1974, and 1990. However, there were no public celebrations, cheering or flag waving after these wins.  Typical Germans support their local canton (i.e. state) teams, instead of the national team.

To show the world that DE could "put on a good party" for the 2006 World Cup, the government set-up public viewing sites in all cities.  At the public viewings, tourists and locals came together to watch the matches on huge screens.  The govenment also offered deals, like cheap rail tickets to matches, to inspire Germans to get out, spend money, and support their team.  The 2006 DE football team showcased 50% of the players from different ethnic backgrounds - a first for the DE national football team.  This acceptance of diversity prompted many German immigrants to support the DE team.  Additionally, many DE teachers used the World Cup to teach (ex: teaching foreign language by using football words). 

The 2008 EuroCup was great.  The 2010 WorldCup has also been amazing... Germans are still out in full force supporting their team. This evening, I'll watch the DE v. ES match at a public viewing and will be rooting for DE!

(Video footage shows the round-about in HD center after the DE v. AR match; normally there is no traffic here)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cupcakes in Different Countries

I'm not a "sugar" person. A bag of chocolate or sweets could sit unopened at my apt. for months (this requires no self-restraint). On my first birthday in Germany, everyone gave me sweets and chocolate. These remain unopened until 8 months later when I returned to the US and gave them to my family and friends. A bag of salty chips is a completely different story...*

With that said - on all recent trips, I somehow ended up at a cupcake shops. There is something about cupcakes that make them difficult to resist. The cupcakes (seen below) all received a 100% rating on the "yummy" scale.

From Candy Cakes in Covent Garden, London:

From Mercado de San Miguel, in Madrid:  

From The Hummingbird Bakery, Nottinghill, London:

*This is a huge joke amongst my friends in Germany.  A while ago, there was a dessert making contest between two German friends who both bragged that they were the better dessert maker.   They spent 3 days making 5 desserts each.  When the tasting happened - I ate the apples out the pie (leaving the crust), had a spoonful of something chocolatey, skipped the other desserts, and had some salty pretzels.  Because of my "torturing" of the apple pie and lack of appreciation for the other desserts, I'm no longer invited to dessert contests.  And whenever they hold dinner parties, they always bring out dessert for everyone else and a bag of something salty for me. :)  To my defense, I did mention to both of them not to make me a portion as I probably wouldn't eat it.  They are good chefs though!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Destination: London, England

London was my "city trip" of the summer.  As I live in a small town where there is suburbia and students (and not much in between), London is always a welcome change.  The goal of my weekend was to meet up with friends, to get away to a large city, and to have fun.  All were successfully accomplished.

Highlights from this trip:

1. Riding the London Eye at sunset. 
The London Eye is the gigantic (135m tall) ferris wheel on the River Thames.  Passengers ride in capsules. Sunset is my favorite time to go as you get to see London in daylight for the 1st half (15 min) and London lit-up by lights for the 1nd half (15 min).  If you're lucky, there is a gorgeous sunset. 
If you want to impress a date, take them here. But expect to share the capsule with many other people... this means waiting patiently for others to move so that you can take your pics, or elbowing them out of the way.

2. Visiting the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.   
This fountain is a small, circular stream with twists, twirls, and some small rapids.  On warm days, hundreds of kids run in the stream.  This is my favorite place to rest after a long day of walking.   The water is reasonably chilled, which feels wonderful on tired feet.

Beware: Prepare to get wet if you're anywhere near the stream. Kids are running and splashing everywhere. A friend and I tried to walk the entire circular loop of the fountain (with our pants rolled up). Being very dry, some little girls decided to splash my friend... then their friends joined in the splashing... then they got cups for water and super-soakers. Apparantely these little girls really liked him. And they showed it by ensuring that he was drenched in water when exiting the stream.

3. Visiting Camden (Camden St., Camden Market, & Camden Lock).
Camden is an up & coming, edgier neighborhood in London.  Day or night, this place is packed.  Camden is made-up of 3 parts: Camden St, Camden Market and Camden Lock. Camden St. has great shopping.  Small boutiques, featuring soon-to-be up & coming designers line the streets.  At night, the street is alive with restaurants and bars. 

If you like flee markets, Camden Market is the place to go.  It has stalls with cheaply made trendy clothes (think Forever 21) and mass produced items (like t-shirts).   Only clothing, jewlerly, and shoes are sold here. The clothing selection here is better than many other flee markets that I've seen.  If you don't like flee markets, avoid this place.  The stalls are tightly packed and can make anyone clusterphobic.

Camden Lock is my favorite part of Camden.  It used to be a horse stable (hence the horse statues everywhere).  Now it's home to up & coming designer boutiques (selling very edgy and very Indy clothing), boutiques selling random clothing (think great place to shop for Halloween costumes), and tons of food stands (with every type of food).  At lunch, you can wander around, sampling different foods.  When you decide where to eat, you can purchase a large box for £3-4 and fill it with all food that you want from that food stand. 

4. Watching a football match at Wembley Stadium. 
One of my favorite things to do in when visiting a country is to watch a local, sports match. The crowd atmosphere at these matches tells a lot about the people in the country.  Knowing that I love football, a good friend got us tickets to the England v. Mexico.  As this was a pre-World Cup practice match, the atmosphere was even louder than normal.  Everyone was decked out in England or Mexico colors. Almost everyone attending the match is a die-hard fan of their team... they attend both home and away matches of their team.
It was during this match that I learned "Our Country Tis of Thee" was written to the tune of "God Save the Queen" (the British national anthem).  Apparantely the British do not like the US lyrics and don't appreciate someone singing the US lyrics during the playing of their national anthem... they consider it butchering it. 

5. Visiting Hyde park.  When the weather gets warm, Londoners spend all day in parks. They're a great place to meet friends.  It's completely common to see many groups still in the park at 9pm (the sun is still out at 9pm in summer). On another note, it's also completely common to see (almost) naked people, specifically guys, in the parks during hot weather.   Many Londoners like to strip down when it's sunny with the purpose of getting a tan.   This can be a scary sight, depending on the person with their clothes off. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The blog where I explain why I have traveled so much lately...

May & early June is the perfect time to travel if you live in Germany.  Germany is cold & rainy at this time and every other weekend is a 3 or 4-day weekend (love those German holidays!) when stores/shops/restaurants are all closed.* 

My first year in Germany, I didn't know about all these holidays.  As a result, I was stuck inside (rain + cold + shops closed + friends all travelling home = me sitting inside all weekend) on perfectly good long-weekends.  Now I've learned my lesson and make plans in advance to travel on these weekends.   Additionally, summer has started in Europe.  And summer is the best time to travel.  Many ex-pats don't travel during the winter, thereby saving money & vacation days for summer travel.  Hence the reason for all the recent (and upcoming) travel posts.  Plus cheap (and quick) travel within Europe is one of the perks of being an ex-pat!

If you have any suggestions for places to visit (especially those off the beaten path) - I'm happy to hear them!

*Note to travellers planning trips to Germany in May/June - this is a bad time to visit Germany due to the rain & holidays.
*Note to recent transplants to Germany - plan trips in advance for the holiday weekends, or you'll be stuck inside wasting a great chance to travel.

Heidelberg's Witch Festival

The city of Heidelberg (HD) loves it's cult-related rituals.  In fall, there is a Vampire ball where people dress in extravagant Vampire costumes (think "Interview with a Vampire" outfits).  And in spring there is Walpurgisnächt, more commonly known as "witch night."

Witch night happens on the last night in April.  According to Wikipedia, this holiday originated by witches holding large celebrations with bonfires to celebrate the arrival of spring. Many in Heidelberg (HD) continue to celebrate the witch tradition.

On the top of the hill opposite of HD are monastery ruins and a Nazi amphitheatre.  These were all built on top of druid ruins.  On the last night in April, people (mostly hippies and students) hike the mountain - in darkness - and go to the ampitheatre.  Hiking at night to the ampitheatre is no problem... there is a constant stream of people walking up the forest trails to the mountain (as one friend put it "follow the dreadlocks, drum beats, and smell of pot"). 

At the top of the mountain (which we made without injury!), we encountered 2 parking lots with 30+ ambulances.  Seeing this was slightly alarming.

The ampitheatre (a short distance from the parking lot) was easy to find as there were loud drum noises coming from it.  In the ampitheatre, there were 3,000+ people, many bonfires (1 big bonfire, many small BBQs turned into bonfires), loud drums, people dancing (hippie style) everywhere, and random fireworks.   In the 30 min which we were there, 2 people were carried out of the ampitheatre by paramedics.  Many of the people in the ampitheatre were set to camp there overnight. 

The walk down was much easier than the walk up.  The path was filled with (drunk) people sitting and some (stupidely) attempting to walk in not-so-straight lines (this was done in a crooked path with frequent crashes into the trees and fences on either side of the path).  All in all, we hiked about 5km that night. 

Next year, we decided that we're going to have a cart next to the ampitheatre where we sell ice cream, water, and hamburgers/hot dogs.  None were there and we're sure many people would buy them.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

German BBQs are Baffling

A German friend is holding a BBQ tomorrow at which the Germany v. Australia World Cup match will be shown.  On the invite was the request "Please bring your own meat to cook + condiment/buns + $5.  We will provide drinks and salad for the $5."  Likewise, at a German-hosted BBQ in Silicon Valley, a group of us non-Germans showed up to the BBQ, and then had to leave, go to the grocery store and buy our dinner, before returning. 

At BBQs with Germans, normally everyone is expected to bring everything (meat, salad, chips, drinks) which they would want to consume.*  This completely baffles me.  BBQs are a chance to get together, share good food, and enjoy the companies of others.  I understand keeping the costs/expectations for each guest to a reasonable amount by having everyone bring "normal" BBQ foods/drinks. So anyone wanting something extravavagant - like Champagne, or expensive - like a steak, or out of the norm - like gluten free/veggie burgers needs to bring them themselves.  But otherwise, sharing is a good lesson to learn and a BBQ is a great place to practice sharing.  With that said, I'm not a fan of the German BBQ approach as it doesn't promote sharing. 

After my first German BBQ in Silicon Valley, my non-German friends and I made BBQ rules (for our BBQs) that everyone was expected to bring 1 drink or dish to share with the entire BBQ group.  It was met with resistance at first, but over time I've learned that everyone actually appreciates it.

*Some of my German friends (usually those who've lived outside of Germany) now prefer the sharing approach to a BBQ (or so I've been told) and hold sharing BBQs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And the winner of the ugliest flower parade float is...

With so many colors, textures, and types of flowers to choose from, a float dedicated to fashion could have been amazing.  Instead, the monstrosity (see pic below) was included in the 2010 Holland flower parade.  There are so many things wrong with this float inlcuding: a lop-sided chest, pastel colors which would have made a 1950's prom queen cringe, ruffles that are too excessive for even the 1980's, and a skirt with holes big enough to put Lindsay Lohen to shame (and to flash everyone else in the meantime).  The dresses on the girls sitting at the back aren't helping either.

Recommendation: Project Runway should create floats centered around fashion for the parade next year.  Then the parade should drive through the streets of Paris during Paris Fashion Week.  This wouldn't be a far stretch from some of the challenges which the designers already are asked to do.  And the results would be gorgeous to see and smell wonderful!  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Destination: Flower Parade, Holland

The highlight of the Holland trip was the flower parade.  On the last Saturday in April, all the flower growers from the region of Am Lisse, Holland create floats made of thousands of flowers.  The attention to detail is absolutely amazing.  Each float has a different theme.  And they all smell wonderful. 

There are between 15-20 floats each year.  They travel 40km throughout the day.  We caught the parade at the end of the day (hence the reason some of the flowers are drooping in the pics below).  Below are some of my favorite floats.  To make pics bigger, click on them.

Holland float - with windmills, cows, and dancing Dutchmen in clogs (both flower covered dutchman and actual dutchman dancing).

Train float - with engine & caboose.  The detailing on the side of the train is really pretty, as are the tulip box on the caboose.


Viking float - the detailing on the shields on the boat is amazing.  The use of veggies, sea shells and flowers together is nice.

Under the Sea float - this is my favorite.  The lobster is awesome!  It would be cool if there were blue and pink lobsters. 

Hiking in Holland float - the sheep are cool.  It would have been fun for them to add animanl noises (many floats had singers or dancers).

Dancing Dolls float - the red lily along the sides are pretty.

Finish Line of Bike Race float - this is really cool in that they made flowers out of flowers.  The sizing of the flowers and people is a lot like Alice & Wonderland... with spandex.