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First night, last night

Dec

04

Posted by on Dec 4, 2012 | 10 comments

I remember our first night in Germany.

I can still smell the cold.

Taste the new.

Feel equal measure of exhiliaration and intimidation.

Hear the wonder.

See adventure 'round every bend.

That first sleep was met after eyes had been wide and ravenous for near 40 hours, when exhaustion had been exiled and adrenaline was in control.  

I was a foreigner in a foreign land and everything was a shadowy reflection of what I knew it to be.  

We didn't understand the bedding.  


German bedding in wardrobe

Weeks earlier, we had crated a pile of stuff we thought we'd need, comforts that fill a home.  

Pictures to dress the walls.  

Clothes (too many) to dress ourselves.

My favorite Swiss Diamond frying pan, the one that cost a bundle but delivered what it promised.  It doesn't cook food, it conjures magic (and I'd buy the whole bloomin' set
if I could afford/justify it….).

Towels and washcloths, because we're particular about our linens…

And despite being told "German beds are sized differently than American beds," we sent along our coziest sheets, featherbed, my theraputic neck pillow and an old king-sized comforter.  

The crate wasn't due for a week, so in the meantime we were to use the towels and linens provided by our landlord.

* * * * * * *

To stave off jetlag, we refused to nap.  We went a thousand miles per hour throughout the day, acclimating to our new hometown, touring the grocery stores, visiting the butcher shop and learning the hard way that the Apotheke isn't the same thing as a CVS.  Another story.

That evening, we met up with our fellow expats for dinner at one of the two Greek restaurants in town–oh, the amusement of trying to direct people when we didn't even know where we were ourselves, couldn't pronounce the street names, and the GPS spoke only in German.  By the end of that meal (which remains a mystery to this day) I welcomed the complimentary shot of schnapps offered by the tavern owner "for digestive purposes," a custom for which I'm beginning to believe is, in fact, to aid digestion.  But that's yet another story.

It's late when we arrive back to our apartment, and it's only then we beginning sorting through a mountain of linens in the Ikea-inspired wardrobe, and either due to exhaustion or American blinders we just. don't. get. it.

German beds and bedding are different from their American counterpart.

A German king-size bed is actually two singles within one large frame.  Two, separate mattresses.  

The bedding isn't for the entire king-size area, bottom sheets are for each single AND THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A TOP SHEET.

German beddingBut, see, we don't know this at the time and we're trying to find what we know; we keep looking and looking and I'm telling you, my landlord passed along A LOT of bedding and it's STILL not dawning on us THAT GERMAN BEDDING IS DIFFERENT!

And, its' not just the bottom sheets and lack of top sheets–they only use duvets with covers, AND THOSE DON'T EXIST IN KING-SIZE!  

Also, you know those Euro shams we use for decorative pillows?  THOSE you sleep on here.  I think.  Maybe not.  Suddenly I'm confused and worried my landlord will find this post and say "YOU SLEPT ON THE SHAM PILLOWS?  **THAT'S AGAINST THE GERMAN LINEN LAWS AND WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO EVICT THE IGNORANT AMERICANS**" except they don't speak great English and they probably would've stopped reading by now.  

German pillowsThere are sleeping pillows, too, but not a single pillow case that fits them.  They're rectanglier than American sleeping pillows and I have yet to discover cases that fit them.  Even when I've looked in homegoods stores THAT SELL THE SLEEPING PILLOWS, I've only seen Euro shams.  

Are you following me?  Am I explaining this okay?

We do the best we can, a pitiful attempt at figuring out this new German Way (the first of many instances), bottom-sheeting the mattress, and picking out two duvets and some pillows.  I should also mention the heat hadn't been turned on in our apartments until the day we arrived, and it was cold–below freezing outside and inside not much warmer.  

So I stacked a few more duvets on top of me, acting out some Deutschland version of the Princess and the Pea but without the pea.  

S o m e h o w soul and spirit finally settled down and we survived the night.

When our crate arrived the next week, I kissed my king-size feather mattress topper and king sheets and king comforter, worried not a bit that they were larger than the two single mattresses they covered.

That was then, ten months ago almost to the day, and there was snow on the ground like there is now.

* * * * * * *

Ten months have overflowed time and space and tonight is my last night in my German apartment.  

My featherbed and cozy sheets and therapeutic pillow and king comforter were crated yesterday, on their way home ahead of us.  

We knew how to make up the beds with our landlord's linens this time, but we held onto two pillow cases for the German rectanglier sleeping pillows.  

It's freezing outside but toasty inside.  God, I'm going to miss radiant floor heating.  Once it cranks up, it's goooood.

I've been saying my good-byes all week, never knowing when someone would jerk the tears right out of my heart.  

I never saw this coming.  Real friendship.  Strong community.  And though I'm ready to go home and regain some sense of normalcy, I'm astounded that it's this hard for me to go.

Our common bond is twofold: sharing the expat experience and a language.  If you've lived in another country, you'll understand; if not, I don't think you can.

* * * * *

I can smell change.

Taste the quiet.

Feel equal measure of anticipation and hesitation.

Hear the beauty through tears.

See everything but the future.

And I keep finding myself humming I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

 

 

* * * * * *

 

Dedicated with affection to those who've made all the difference in my Year of Living Dangerously.  

 

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…hymn of grateful praise…

Dec

02

Posted by on Dec 2, 2012 | 3 comments

For the beauty of the earth,

cross on rocky cliff, blue skies and clouds

A beautiful remembrance

 

for the glory of the skies,

Paragliding on blue skies

Paragliding near Erlangen, Bavaria

 

for the love which from our birth

Pink and fuschia geraniums

Floral beauty in Dresden

over and around us lies;

Untitled

A chapel in the middle of the Alps, somewhere in Austria

 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

Bamberg Cathedral

Bamberger Dom St. Peter und St. Georg, Bamberg Cathedral, Bamberg, Germany

 

this our hymn of grateful praise.

Organ in St. Stephan's Cathedral, Passau

The largest cathedral organ in the world, St. Stephan's Cathedral, Passau

 

A fond remembrance of my childhood, learning this hymn in my public elementary school.  It's a lovely inspiration for sharing some of my favorite photos during the past ten months, so my goal is to continue this "series" on Sundays during December, in lyrics and pictures.


* * * * * * 

 

The-Sunday-Community-4ORPrompted, in part, by Deidra Rigg's lovely Sunday Community, a quietly inspiring collection of people and posts.

 

 

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25 Years and Fanciful London Doors

Nov

17

Posted by on Nov 17, 2012 | 6 comments

Based on how old I feel, to be celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary I must've gotten married when I was 13.  In fact, if it wasn't the case the year following my silver anniversary I'll be celebrating my golden birthiversary, I'd swear it.

In lieu of exchanging gifts (and to take advantage of the closeish proximity of living in Germany), my husband and I decided to make memories.  In London.

I had no idea how much I'd love it.

London Door Collage

I know for many people, London is at the top of their Travel Wish List; but for some reason, it wasn't on mine.  I'm not a Royal watcher, I didn't get up at dark-thirty for Kate and William's wedding (though I have to admit I watched Di's and Charles' back in the day), and I couldn't have cared less about seeing Big Ben or Westminster Abbey or the Tower Bridge.

What the heck was wrong with me?  It was frickinfrackin spectacular!

It only took a walk a few hundred yards from our hotel and I was smitten–London's Natural History Museum was ~that close~ followed by the Victoria and Albert then Hyde Park and Harrod's and Piccadilly Circus AND OHMYWORD WHYohWHY had I not been doing everything I could to get there?!

Ignorance, in this case, was not so bliss.  It was kinda stupid.

Anyways, in upcoming posts I'll share more of our sights, but for now a series of doors on a solitary street, somewhere between King's Cross Station (where Harry Potter would crash through Platform 9¾ to catch his train to Hogwarts) and the British Museum.  I was drawn to their color and whimsey, not just in the painting of wood but also in the patterned tiles leading to entry.  

 

Black door in London

Sometimes basic black isn't basic at all.

 

Coral door in London

I absolutely LOVE the tile in this one, complimenting the coral door and avocado trim. And the yellow leaves need to remain there all year!

Federal blue door in London

Gray blue door in London

Checkerboard tile makes me wanna sit and play. Simple and striking.

Red door in london

Isn't it amazing how a subtle rotation of the squares turns this from checkerboard to houndstooth? J'adore!

Sage green door in London

Understated color; overstated tile or just right?

 

Yellow Door in London

They've got sunshine…on a cloudy day…

 

Green Door in London

Silver door in london

This one conjured thoughts of Tin Man. It almost scared me as much as flying monkeys.

black double door in london

Again, basic and black and OH so beautiful!

Thanks to my friend Lisa for inspiring me to share something as simple as this.  The doors she photographed are much more diverse, likely because they weren't all located on the same street!  

If you have a favorite, shout it out in comments!

I'm curious if one is more popular than the others.

Wanna guess what mine is? 

 

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Recipe for a killer hot toddy

Oct

27

Posted by on Oct 27, 2012 | 1 comment

31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEWhy not a recipe for 31 Days?  This one is perfect with winter on the way!  In words and pictures, a drink that'll warm you from the inside out.

 

Until today, I never knew a hot toddy was anything other than any ol' generic hot drink on a cold day.  And I also didn't know Germans were well acquainted with the Southern gent, Jack Daniels.

Sometimes it's good to be ignorant.

Here, in my Mayberryesque Bavarian hometown, I ride my bike to get places; most are within 10 minutes or so, but Margarete lives a little further out.  Invited over for an afternoon cake date, and because the weather has taken a fast turn towards winter, I wanted to drive.  But my son had other ideas; joining us for a bite of dessert, he and Margarete's son were meeting a group for soccer after.  He wanted to ride bikes, and because this was actually a going-away party for him, it was pointless for me to argue.  Once again, I was shamed into two wheels from the child I carried for nine months on two legs.  

I shoulda reminded him of that.

When the sun sets, the temperatures drop quickly.  It was about this time Margarete's husband arrived home from work, and he knew I'd be leaving shortly.  "It's freezing out there!" he declared, and he asked if I'd like a hot toddy to warm me up before heading home.  

Not wanting to create work for him when he had just left work, and because I wasn't yet cold, I graciously declined the offer. But he was insistent and persuasive and I can only say no so many times before it borders on rude.  Right?

Well.

I had as much fun watching him at work as I did sipping this curiously affecting libation, a mixture of sweet and spice and citrus and fire, and though my pictures aren't the best, I'd like to jot down the recipe before I forget.  Why keep a good thing to myself when it's so easy to share?

 

Killer Hot Toddy

Photo 1
1.  Slice lemons 1/4" thin and pierce through with five cloves.

Photo 3

2.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of your favorite mug and drop the cloved lemon on top.

 

Photo 3
3.  Pour a shot of Jack Daniels over the lemon and sugar.  This is where my friend says, "Experiement!  Try different whiskeys!  Use more alcohol. Use less alcohol.  Play with it to see what you like best."  I'm thinkin' it's all good.

 

Photo 5
4.  Slowly pour boiling water over the mixture.  Add a splash of cold to cool it down for immediate consumption.  That last tip is important if you're eager to try it NOW.

That's it–simple and quick. The hot water quickly melds all those flavors together into a memorable, spicy, sweet concoction.  And it warms you from the back of your throat to the tips of your toes.

Let's just say during my bike ride home I barely noticed the sub-Arctic tundra my wicked son forced me to endure.

Hot toddy for the win!

 

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Ten helpful travel tips

Oct

21

Posted by on Oct 21, 2012 | 5 comments

31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVEAfter you've researched your destination, the next step is planning your stay.  I'm a big subscriber to 

If you don't know where you're going,
how do you know you've arrived?

and in travel I've learned the hard way– 

better plans make for better trips.

I'm not saying a daily, detailed itinerary with all time accounted for is necessary; rather, that you've evaluated the information gathered during your research and you have a good idea in advance how you'll spend your time.  

Five Tips for Planning Your Trip


Studying map in Berlin1.  Involve your co-travelers in making decisions.

The people you're traveling with, be it children, spouse or friends, will better enjoy their time if they're actively involved in the planning.  I've been surprised to discover the things I've most wanted to see or do don't always line up with my husband and/or kids.

2.  Take advantage of Trip Advisor, Viator and Booking.com.

These sites have reliable information and ratings by other customers JUST LIKE YOU; plus, it's also possible the sites will save you money.  We've used them in choosing specific hotels, buying tickets and narrowing down what to do.  

For example, when we've located a great hotel deal on booking.com, we cross reference it with Trip Advisor reviews; what people have to say–good or bad–will impact our choice.

3.  Familiarize yourself with public transportation.

Especially in larger cities, public transit really is manageable. Reviewing subways and bus lines in advance minimizes the intimidation factor.  A quick google search will provide this information (or if you've purchased guidebooks, they're likely to have a small one).  You'll save money over taxis and time over walking.

4.  As soon as you arrive and drop off your bags, if it's available, invest in a hop-on/hop-off bus ticket.

A friend recommended this to us in Paris, and I strongly recommend you do this first thing; making the complete bus loop helps tremendously in orienting yourself to a larger city. To me, the benefits far outweigh the cost.  Often, it's very cheap to add the second day and if the stops are where you want to go anyway, it's win-win.  

5.  When possible, buy advance tickets.

Have we done this?  No.  Have I wished we done this?  Time and again. 

Buying advance tickets will save you time and money if the destination is at the top of your list (be sure to check Viator.com for discounts).  Lines are often long at top tourist sites and no one wants to waste valuable time. Also, if the place doesn't take e-verification and your hotel doesn't have printing services, you'll be glad to have tickets in hand when you arrive.

Be careful buying advance Theater ticket through "discount" agencies; often, they offer no savings at all.  When possible, buy those directly from the box office.

6.  Remember the downside of travel guides.

If Rick Steves, Fodor's, Frommer's or DK Eyewitness Travel Guides suggest it, everyone else and their brother will be doing it, too.  The tips are typically sound and good advice, but you aren't the only one taking it.  Don't be afraid to take the off-beaten path; little known secrets will be treasures from your trip.

7.  Pack your suitcase.  Then take half the stuff out.

Mercy.  Someone teach me this one!  You will NOT need most of what you want to bring; this goes for backpack contents when flying, too.  LESS is always the better choice.  

I was most impressed with my sister and brother-in-law who came for a two-week visit this summer; both of them brought only a carry on bag and backpack!  Their light load made it much easier to navigate their three-city trek through Italy after their visit with us; if only I had that gene.

8.  Always, always, always bring at least a light-weight rain jacket with you!

I'm convinced all of Europe likes to make fun of tourists by tricking us constantly with weather changes.  The forecast rarely matches the actual weather; and, I kid you not, on multiple days where sun was forecast with ZERO PERCENT CHANCE OF RAIN…it rained.  Even if your morning is bright and sunny, take rain gear or be prepared to buy it.  

Mark my words…this point will be the most important travel tip you'll take away from my series.  You'll be thinking, "I can't believe I didn't take Robin's advice," when you're sloshing though that unexpected rain shower.  

 

Caught in the rain with a polka-dotted umbrella

One of my favorite pictures from Paris–my daughter was sneaky with this one!

9.  Money

Though we have a local bank account while living in Germany, we've found the easiest and CHEAPEST way to get Euros is by using our American debit card at most any local European ATM machine.  When you arrive at your destination airport, you're going to need the local currency of the place you're visiting if they don't use U.S. dollars (snacks, taxis, shuttle services, bathroom, etc.).  Before you leave home, the least expensive way of doing this is through your local bank (beware–not all branches will be able to accommodate your request), but there'll be a fee.  If you wait until you arrive in country and exchange dollars at the airport, you're going to pay a higher fee.  

We've visited France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic and have always been able to withdraw cash from their local ATMs.  

IMPORTANT:  Many restaurants and smaller hotels will take ONLY CASH; but for those times you'd prefer using a credit card, be sure to call before you leave home to have it released for International use!!

10.  Electronics and appliances

At a minimum, you're going to need adapters; if you use rollers or a flat iron, you'll likely need a transformer.  You can't count on your hotel to have either (though many will).  Remember, too, that if you're traveling with family, you'll need several adapters; otherwise, you'll have to take shifts during the night to plug in chargers :).

Make sure you bring along battery chargers for phone (did you get a temporary International plan?), camera, laptops and tablets; bring extra memory cards.  

Your turn:  Questions?  What tips am I leaving off?  Your suggestions might be fodder for an upcoming post!  

And thank you, always for sharing and Facebook likes–it lets me know you're reading (and I'm grateful).

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Five (more) great things to do in Berlin

Oct

20

Posted by on Oct 20, 2012 |

31-Days-of-Travel-in-Europe-PENSIEVE(Continued from Why I loved Berlin (and why you should add it to your Travel Bucket List) ~ Click to see more great ideas and pictures!)

6.  Jüdisches Museum
(Berlin Jewish Museum)

Jüdisches Museum, Berlin

See the red logo at the top of the sign?  My word, if you look at an aerial view of the Jewish Museum, you’ll discover the logo IS the museum!  Brilliant, zig-zag design from architect Daniel Libeskind; the museum’s exterior, interior and flow from room to room are all art themselves.  Remarkable.  

Housed in two buildings, Libeskind’s and the original Berlin Museum, 2,000 years of Jewish history fills 161,000 sf.  Entering through Berlin Museum’s baroque wing, visitors can only access the new section through an underground passageway.

We toured for a few hours; too long for my teenage children, not near long enough for me.  

 

Torah, Jewish Museum, Berlin

The Torah

 

Circumcision 2,000 years ago

 

Circumcision bench and tools at Jewish Museum, Berlin

Circumcision bench and tools of the trade…

 

Circumcision tools, Jewish Museum, Berlin

O u c h…

8053391632_d566e95b6e_c

Prejudices against Jews

Waaaaay before Hitler……

The Jüdisches Museum is huge and interesting and educational and amazing; go for a few hours or for the day, but GO if you’re in Berlin.  

 

7.  The DDR Museum

8053320019_30cc32e136_c
Billing itself as “One of the most interesting museums in the world,” I’d have to agree.  Hands-on, interactive, and accessible to young and old, the privately-funded DDR Museum provides a glimpse into the daily life of a former East German (Deutsche Demokratische Republik=DDR).  You’ll open cabinets and drawers, listen to recordings, and handle vintage artifacts during your visit, truly causing you to enter the exhibit.  The DDR Museum would be a WONDERFUL learning opportunity for school-age children, but I was absolutely fascinated.  Another plus?  It’s small compared to most museums.

DDR Museum, school children exhibit, Berlin

Contents of one of the drawers that explained toys for young children

8053320823_7a9d3410b6_c
Nude volleyball, DDR Museum
8053325902_f16ce35270_c

 

8.  Reichstag Building

Reichstag Building, Berlin
Reichstag Building
First opened in 1894, the building suffered a fire in 1933 and fell into further disrepair post-WWII.  After Reunification, the Reichstag was renovated and re-opened in 1999 to house Germany’s parliament.  A large glass dome was added that offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape, but you have to register to visit.  We didn’t; here’s the link so you can!  I think it’s probably worth it.

 

9.  Berlin Cathedral

It was pouring rain when we arrived at Berliner Dom AND there was a service going on; so we saw it, appreciated it, and moved on quickly.  The building has seen several incarnations both in denomination and architecture, but it’s impressive and beautiful and worth your time to explore.  And on a sunny day, I bet the pictures turn out better :).

8053314449_38e22fd815_c

Ceiling under front arch of Berliner Dom
Beautiful architectural detail
Back view Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)
The rear view is as love as Berlin Cathedral’s front view.
Berlin Cathedral
We’re SMILING because the rain finally stopped!! Perfect photo op with Berliner Dom in the distance.

10.  Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz

Sony Center Berlin
Sony Center @ Potsdamer Platz
Retail and restaurants in a modern setting, the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz was within walking distance of our hotel.  We didn’t spend a lot of time there because we were interested in a more historical tour of Berlin, but it was nice to find a spot to grab morning coffee and it gave us our last meal heading out of town at Billy Wilder’s.  If we had a few more days, I’m sure we would’ve learned it inside out.

________________

A future Berlin post will include street scenes that didn’t fit my top ten and the top places I’d like to visit if we ever have opportunity to return.  But next up, I think we’ll take a look at more travel tips, and then……I’m in the mood for love.  Paris anyone??

 

 

 

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