Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My New Bike

I finally received my fahrrad(bike) today! Herr Konrad Huff drove right up to our apartment and unloaded the bike from his large transport truck. His daughter lives near to us, so he went this route, rather than putting it in the post. Fine with me, since I did not have to do put it together at all...it was ready to ride. 

Some bike specs...61cm frame, 28" tires, fenders, 3 gear internal hub shifting, light that is generated by the front hub, disc brakes front and rear (no more calipers! yay!), chain guard, made in Holland, double tube frame, integrated rear wheel lock, rear kick stand...classic dutch bike. I would like to get a new seat eventually, and a better back light, and the rear kick stand is wobbly, so maybe a regular kick stand.

I immedietly set off for a 3 hour bike ride while Mayzie and Jenna were with our friend Annett. Seperated bike paths, signs everywhere....ahhh the pleasures of riding a bike in Germany. The bike infrastucture is not quite Holland, but it is much better than back home. I had the paths all to myself on this cold and rainy day and had a pleasant ride along the river Neckar. There were some pretty heady hills, which proved too much for my 3 gears. I guess my legs will get stronger. Cant wait until the weather is better and we are all out there....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fasching (aka Karneval)

Journeyed out to a little town called Weil der Stadt for our first taste of German Fasching, aka Karneval. All of Germany welcomes the coming of spring with this leftover pagan holiday. The kids have a whole week off of school for this, with the apex of celebrations occuring in Cologne, up north. If you are interested, this website, sums up the history behind the holiday nicely. Basically, everyone dresses up as witches, ghouls, medeival peasants, cavemen, gladiators, cowboys, or clowns and parades down main streets throughout Germany, tossing candy and scaring children as they proceed. One of the largest in our area is in Weil der Stadt (east of Stuttgart), which happens to be home to the von Heydebreck family, old friends of our work mate, Bettina. She suggested we meetup and spend the day with them (they have 3 young children...Katerina is 11, Johannes is 7 and Niklaus is 4). Jorg and Simone are the parents. Jorg speaks great English, and we discovered that Simone does too, although she was shy at the start, I completely understand that. We had a nice lunch with them and the kids all dressed up to attend the parade. Mayzie was a ladybug and there was a clown, a pirate, and a cowboy in the group:

Their house is just outside of the town, so we walked down into the action. This town was very pretty--a walled city, where Johannes Kepler was born, the gateway into the Black Forest. A classic hamlet, you just want to gobble it up. Mayzie immedietly got on well with the kids--she was holding hands with Katarina and romping and rough housing with the boys. It was great to see and really re-emphisized how we need to get her in some kind of kindergarten soon. The Karneval was awesome....lots of crazy, semi drunk people tryting to scare the older kids, and handing out candy to the younger ones. 

It's like a mixture between a medieval Halloween, Oktoberfest and the Rose Parade. It was noisy, rowdy, and everyone was very happy. A very cool scene. The ghouls and witches would move very eerily and creep up and scare the kids. The masks are all wood and very intricate. We learned later that they are as much as 2000 euros and are typically passed down through families. I was surprised how well Mayzie did....no crying at all..there were some 11 year old in front of me cuddling with their mommy for protection. I think the possibility of candy takes precedent over being scared by some strange dude in a goats mask. 

Again, it was this kind of day that really makes being in Germany special. We met some more great people after the karnaval, and many pretzels and berliners(jelly donuts) were consumed over some good conversation in the warmth of their beautiful home. Our new friends were understanding of our situation and made us feel more optomistic about everything working out. 

Holy crap, its our neighbor lady!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mental Update

I feel that I could write funny things or little tibits about life over here, but someone reading would still not know the reality of how we are coping and know that just like at home, of course, there are multiple struggles. I also am a natural optomist and believe that even bad situations end up working out OK in the end. So, I often have a hard time admitting when things are going wrong, or I am blinded when I am on the wrong path. You never really know if the path is wrong, unless you take it, right?

Well, we are going down a path which I know is the right one, I am just in an unusual circumstance, in that I do not know where it is leading. If it was just me, fine, it doesnt matter where it ends up, but when I have Jenna and Mayzie and a silly little dog to worry about, it feels more real. 

I am still in limbo about a job. I am getting paid, of course, but until I am actually sitting at a desk working, it all feels very temporary. There has been no news lately. Soon we will need to start looking for a new place to live, since the agreement was that my company would only pay for 2 months of accomadation (they actually have us in this apartment until the end of March, so thats good).  Our place is too expensive, so we will need to move. There are multiple problems with this...one is that furnished apartments are few around here and they are too expensive for us. So that would mean finding and renting an unfurnished apartment and having to buy furniture, pots pans, silverware, and maybe a kitchen. That will be expensive. Also, most places want a year lease at least, so how can we do that if they end up not finding me any work? Then we are stuck with furniture and a leased apartment. Another problem is location. I would hate to sign a lease on a place and then it ends up that my work is in a distant town, creating a gruelling commute. This makes us all uneasy. There is pressure to find a more permanent place to live because once we are more settled, we can begin langauge courses in our area, and start finding a place for Mayzie to go to school. How long do we wait for them to find me a job? Or the better question is, how long will they pay me without working? Who knows. I hate not being in control of the situation, and it is important for us to anticipate the next move, so we are figuring out what plan B is. It would not be going home. Priority is staying in Germany, then Europe, then we can look to New Zealand, which would be easy for us, but not ideal at this point. 

I am peeved about travel costs around here. Yeah, we are in the center of Europe, close to so many amazing sights and history, yet we can barely afford to get to any of them. When we were in London from 2000-2002, budget flights were numerous and cheap. They are numerous here, too, going everywhere we want to....but are no longer cheap. Taxes and surcharges are often 3-4 times the amount of the flight! For example, a flight to Birmingham, England (where our friends the Tomlinsons live...we need some proper Indian food!) from Stuttgart, for the 3 of us, on a random weekend in late March, is 550 euro! That is on "budget" airline Flybe. Who can afford that? That is like a 1.5 hour flight. Train prices are not much better. You really have to search around to find a good deal on trains. There are many many types of discount train tickets, but wading through them all is a pain, and they seem to change daily. And when you do get a good deal, they force you to travel on the slow trains, so it takes forever to get anywhere. Imagine 8 hours on a slow train with Mayzie? No way. It would take 4 on a fast train...so we end up paying more. And then we have to find a place to put Oskar when we travel. It's ok when we are driving, but we cant take him on the plane; the train would be ok, I suppose. We found a doggy daycare place that was recommended to us, and it is rather close, but no busses go out to it, so we would need a car. I was very adament about not having a car over here ("public transport in europe is amazing", I would say. It is, but its not amazing when you have a kid and a dog!), but its becoming more and more likely that we will get one. Thats OK, it will make life easier in many respects. Just more money to spend. Whats more important--seeing the world, or being broke? Much easier question to answer for a single guy, or a guy with a girl like Jenna....we've been broke multiple times.

Many things are cheaper here---groceries, beer, doing kid stuff... but the main thing that we want to be doing when we have all this time off, traveling, is not so cheap. So the money is dwindeling ...we are still living off of our savings, since I have not been paid as of yet (once a month). I am thankful that our house is rented out and that I am getting paid, but living for 2 months on our savings has been tough.

It still feels really great being here, and I guess I am frustrated that I do not know how long it will last--I was hoping 2 years at least. The castles, the cobblestones, the scenery, the little forest at the end of our road, the smell of the city at night--all of this stuff is still fun and fresh for me. I am eager to have bikes and we can explore with much greater ease. I want to learn the culture, learn the language, see as much as we can, and expose Mayzie to all the crazy things that we are experiencing. This is what its all about. Can't let money and jobs get in the way of that haha.


There is an indoor playground in Ludwigsburg called Kikolino. We went to it last week with our friends Annett and her kid, but today I took Mayzie out there, while Jenna stayed home to knit and have some alone time. Germans do not put emphasis on curb appeal like we do in the US. This isnt the first time we have walked into an industrial area, with just an address, not seeing any signs, walking in the front door and being blown away that there is a business inside. It's very strange. We went to a bike store once that was deserted. No one around. There were paint fumes in the air and lots of construction going on. Since we trekked like a mile up hill to get there, we had to see if it was open, and the lone man in the building, says "Yes, of course we are open." Wow. But, I digress. 
Kikolino is awesome once you get past the un-kidness of the exterior. Its a kids paradise. 7 euros for the both of us and the kids go nuts. We're talking ball pits, trampolines, a huge slide play structure, with air cannons, a gian inflated aligator that eats kids up, a volcano slide, bikes and trikes to ride, and a little race car track. Everything is padded and safe. My nephews Tommy and Chase, especially Chase, would be kings of this place. Mayzie focuses in on the trampoline and the Pit o' Balls. And they have weisswurst and beer if you need a snack!

That's a kid who will sleep good tonight. Gute Nacht Mayzie!

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

(I had to Google for that one). My first birthday in Germany was a good one. 33 years old! Damn! Here is a picture essay of my day:

flower and a pancake breakfast

English speaking kid's group in Stuttgart. It's Carnival season, so they did face painting and one kid dressed up like a snowman.

Mayzie got a ladybug on her cheek. Classic choice, Mayzie!

Dinner and German cuisine at the Rossknecht brewery in Ludwigsburg. That is Jenna's huge Pork bone feast. It also came with saurkraut. Of course.

I had a sausage, potato, kraut, and mustard dish. Big portions. mmm. Mayzie had spatzle (egg noodle pasta dish with gravy on top)--free for kids under 6! Nice.

the beer list. Had the winter bock and the hefeweizen. Great local beers.

Jenna cooked me a cake. Double chocolate. From scratch. Hard to do over here when you don't know the words for baking powder and baking soda and cocoa powder. Good job Jenna. Thanks for a great day.

German Grammar

If you notice, now that I am better at German, I must update the title of the blog from "zie" to "sie" to be proper in my germanic ways. I was aware of the discrepancy, but figured I would get around to changing it someday. Today I got an email from my friend Scott:

BTW, now that you are becoming more adept at Deutsch, are you going to correct the spelling error in your blog title?  I've given you leeway until now, dude, but no more.  The Germans would call you a disgrace.
So I had to change it. Thanks, Scott, and I am sure you appreciate everyone seeing what you write in your emails...this is a warning to all of you--I may post anything you send! haha

Monday, February 16, 2009

English Speaking Mom's Group

We hit an english speaking mom's group last wednesday in Stuttgart. It was interesting. There were 4 moms there, 3 British, and 1 German mom. 5 kids. All the kids were younger than Mayzie, from 15 months to almost 3. All kids above 3 in Germany go to school, so this kind of class is not needed for older kids like Mayzie, but she still had fun. The group was held in a room that is part of a commune of sorts, a very Euro idea of having a community center on the ground floor, a kindergarten on the second floor, and an old folks home on the topfloor. The idea is that everyone would mingle, but the ladies at the group said they had never seen any old people around. It's a really cool building though, with cafe and lots of toys and lots of kids running around. They have trikes and little bikes that the kids can ride around wherever they want. Anyways, we awkwardly found these 4 moms in this small room in the community center portion. They were all very nice, albeit a bit quiet. The German lady took us under her wing and talked and talked about kids and life in Germany and about how she will find out information on this and this and this and that. She was a bit out of control, mother hennish, but it was some good info. The other British moms kinda didnt say much, but we were too trapped by the German lady to talk with them. They were young and more mellow, so if we go again, maybe we can chat more. Got some good info about Stuttgart and some encouraging words about learning the language. One thing we found out was that kindergartens don't start until september, so it looks like Mayzie will not attend any school until then. Mayzie played with some new toys and some new kids, so it was worth it. All these ladies spoke perfect (to my ears) German, so if they can do  it, there is hope! They all had German spouses, though. The group meets every wedensday.

Lost in Translation...

...is on TV right now, over dubbed in German...IRONY?????

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Burg, Bikes, and a Schloss

Found a smoking rental car deal on the web, so we hit the road for a mini-road trip. The amazing Rhine valley is about 2 hours North from us, so we headed up there. I always wanted to tour this area, home to steep cliffs, the windy Rhine, grape growing on all slopes, and of course, the castles. The castles! Every bend has a castle perched way up high, the former residence of Lords who would collect tolls from all those who passed their Burg, as they call them (castles, with a town underneath). I read that some of the toll collectors would stretch chains across the Rhine to ensure a toll collection. It truly is beautiful, even on a cold, wintery day like the one we encountered. One good thing about this season is that the area is all ours! Hardly any tourists...it gets crazy here in the summer. There are like 20 castles in a 20 mile stretch. Most of the castles have been restored and developed in to hotels and restaurants for tourists. One of them, Burg Stahlek in Bacharach, is a youth hostel, and for the equivalent of $50 a night for all three of us (no dogs, so Oskar slept in the car), a bargain even for a cheap ass like me.

We had a 9-bed room all to ourselves, with amazing views of the Rhine. There were some school kids at the Burg practicing classical music (a good place for that), and one other guy, and thats it. The place was ours. The receptionist was very helpful and after she explained how the hostels work in Germany and I realized how many castles and amazing buildings had been converted to hostels, we signed up for a year. This allows even cheaper stays in these places. Anyways, the Burg was magical, eerie, and majestic. Perched up on the hill, the views along the Rhine were fabulous. I took Oskar for a walk before bed and the clouds were rolling in over the turrets and towers.... it was a sight. The school kids played their music until 10pm, and it added to the beauty of the place, echoing through the halls, classical music. Awesome. We had dinner(cheap! yay!)and a local beer and a wine form the grapes that the castle overlooks. This was a great intro to hostels in Germany. There was even a kids play room, which Mayzie greatly appreciated. I imagine this place is insane with people in the summer. We were worried about Oskar sleeping in the car, but we provided that little guy with blankets and he did just fine...all 3 nights he was fine, but I think he was on high alert alot of the time and didnt sleep too good. We were expecting an Oskar-popcicle with these temps, but he was warm enough, I guess.

We were sad to depart our Burg, but we had plans to travel on to Maastricht, Holland....another 2 hour drive North-west. We were not prepared for Maastricht, or for being in Holland again. We knew nothing of the city previously, and did not have many expectations except to look at some bikes, but after speding 1 night here, it has become one of our favorite places in Europe, and Jenna puts it ahead of Prague! I will not go that far haha. But it is awesome. After we checked into our riverside hostel (another cheap night, this time $60 for all of us, right in downtown Maastricht, on the water, with water views...hostelling is the way to go...no TV or towels or soap, or other luxuries, but thats all filler), we walked around with Oskar. What? Smiling, happy people? Gleeful squeels on bikes? Lots of dogs around? This was definitly not Germany. Me and Mayzie stepped into a beer cafe (mmmm, how I miss you, Belgian beer!) for a drink while Jenna took Oskar to the car, and a guy winked at me, as if to say, welcome, thanks for coming. The vibes hit us very hard...there were no scowls from old grannies, the place was mellow and sophisticated. That felt great and made us wish we lived there. Having English spoken freely and easily was also a relief. We browsed a most amazing bike shop at Maastricht train station. They rent bikes (dutch upright bikes, and bakfiets, cargo bikes), sell bikes, repair bikes, and store bikes for people getting on the trains. For a monthly fee, bikers roll in, show the attandant their card, hand over the bike, and walk directly out onto the platform to get on their train. Cool to see. This place was dutch bike wonderland. We were in heaven. Jenna found one she liked (I had ordered mine on the web last week, so we were shopping for her). It's a dutch brand bike, designed for carrying loads in front and rear. Called the Montego Mover:
Disc brakes, internal hub gearing, sturdy...the perfect bike. Only available in Holland. There was no way we can get that bike home in our little car, so we asked to put a deposit down and we will find a way to get back to Maastricht to pick it up. As I write, we are not sure when we will be going back, but it will have to be by train so we can bring it home. Thats a 5 hour train ride, so at least one more night in Maastricht will be necessary. NO PROBLEM haha. Probobly after next weekend--there is Karnival happening next weekend, so the hotels and hostels will be packed. Anyways, we were both excited to find Jenna a bike she wanted, and it was on sale, so we got a good price. Now we just have to bring it to Germany.

Maastricht is beautiful....walled city, weaving little cobblestone lanes, packed with hip stores and cafes. A "coffeeshop" here and there for those in need of herbal relief. Bikes and kids everywhere, living in harmony. Felt like a mini-Amsterdam, or a mini-Brugge....cobblestone and medeival paradise. We found ourselves wishing we had moved here, but we are not going to give up on Germany yet! haha. I tell you what, if an opportunity ever arises to move to Holland, I would do it in a heartbeat. Half a heartbeat. 

Back into Germany the next day, we wanted to stay in another castle-hostel. We found one about 2.5 hours from Maastricht, near Frankfurt, called Schloss Diaz.

I did not take that pic, but thats it up there on the hill.

Small little hamlet of a town, medieval streets, along a small river. Besides the very un-informed receptionist, we had a good time. Had our own bunkbed room overlooking the town. Being a saturday night, there were more people here, lots of kids, so Mayzie ran around a little bit, and played in the toy area. We had dinner and breakfast, plus the room, all for $60. Great deal. Our mood was a little sour, I think, we were tired and still thinking about Holland.

We still don't think of our apartment as "home", but it is for now, and it felt good to be back, and spread our stuff out again. We are still adjusting to the way we travel now with Oskar and Mayzie, so this 3 day trip felt about right.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smoking Kills (but isnt it fun and easy?)

...in Germany it is! You will find these machines on every busier-ish street. All you gotta do is insert your euros and some ciggies are yours. EASY and Fun!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Social Weekend!

We were social butterflies (german word: schmetterlings) this weekend. Today (sunday) was awesome. We spent it with a German family...a typical german sunday. It really felt good to be in Germany today. We met some great people, saw how a real german family lives, and Mayzie played with a girl her own age. Oh, and I drove a Smart Car!What a great car. I had actually driven one in England back in 2002, and today re-inforced my love for them and my dream of owning one someday. Not now (we have a kid and no job haha). It's as close to biking as you can get while driving legally. Anyways, this morning we took the train south to Zuffenhausen, only two stops (HQ of Porsche, the factory is hard to miss). The mission: to have brunch with Bettina's friends Matthias and Annette, who have a 3 year old daughter named Lara-Joy. Matthias picked us up from the station and we arrived to their beautiful little German house. We arrived to a feast....pretzels, salads, sausages, breads, meats, cheeses, fresh OJ, amazing mustards, hard boiled eggs, and even cake (Lara-Joy's birthday was january 28, so she re-celebrated with us). We had awoken at 9 and walked the 30 minutes to the train stop and then trained it to their stop, got there by 11....we were worried about being hungry. No need for this was a feast fit for kings.

We ate and ate and talked. Mathias and Annettte had lived in China for 3 years, so their English is good. That sounds funny, I know, but that is the case. We talked all about kids and they answered so many of our questions about where to go, and what to do with Mayzie...it felt really good to talk with somone who understands our situation and can give us advice. We connected with them on the kid level and the travelling level, so thats pretty good. They were dissapointed in my blase attitude about baseball--they love the Yankees, who else. We learned a bunch of new German words, and I have a new plan of attack when I need to converse over here. Lately I had been asking straight up if they spoke english, but that is not a good way to go about learning the language. I feel I know enough small, key words now that I can just start speaking German--they will figure out very quickly that I am not fluent, will switch to English, or will use sign language. That is the best way. By asking right away "Sprechen Sie English?", I am putting them in an uncomfartable position and I am not learning anything new. So we'll see how that goes.

After the feast (we ate liek half of the spread that was prepared), we talked and had some sparkling wine, while the kids played and played. Mayzie and Lara Joy got along very well, and seem to be able to play despite the language barrier. LJ has an awesome room and Mayzie was in heaven with all the new toys. 

She towered over this kid...I think LJ is small. Or else Mayzie is just GOLIATH haha.

So me and Jenna are not small people, right? Well we were completly stuffed after the brunch feast and were about to request a ride back to the train, so we can go home and veg out the rest of the evening. But our hosts insisted we go and eat some more at a local restaurant that they frequent. Insane. It was cool being in public with them so that we can ask what the menu says and see how to act like a German in public (civil and polite, like us haha). We all had schnitzel (it was their specialty!). Mine Bombay Schnitzel (schnitzel with curry), Jenna's was Kase Schinitzel (cheese schnitzel) and Mayzie had plain old schnitzel. It was heavy after the brunch, but we forced it down. A nice, local dunkel weizen helped mine go down better, for sure. By the end of the evening, we had spent 7 hours with them. Car, train, bus, walk, and we were home. We have plans to meet at the zoo on tuesday so that the girls can see eachother again. We will be seeing alot of these people, I hope....it was a good experience and I know Jenna felt good being able to talk with people that relate.

On saturday, Jenna met up with a gaggle of knitters at a small knitting shop in Backnang, like 40 mins on the train away. They loved having her and were very nice to her...they were all Germans, but one, and only a few spoke good enough english to talk with Jenna, but she is invited back next time (first saturday of every month), and a lady that lives near us in the group will even give her a ride out there. I guess when she arrived, they rearranged all the seating so that she can sit and knit next to some english speakers. Funny. Me and Mayzie walked around the town and played in the park while mommy knitted...its a beautiful, quiet little hamlet. We stopped in at one point and all the ladies stopped the clicking of the whatchamacallits and looked up at us, it was a bit unnerving but I didnt cry. Jenna was the youngest in the group for sure....I think she had a good time....Jenna, did you? Maybe you can post something on here sometime!?!?!?

Not much going on tomorrow--probably hang out, maybe go to the pool. Take Osky for a walk, poor guy was stuck in all day.

I gotta sit to pee? No Way, Bro!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

House has been rented out!

Yay! Got word from Portland that our house has been rented out and the new tenants will be in within two weeks. No other details yet, not sure if its a family or what....that is a financial relief, let me tell you. Hopefully not a bunch of frat boys haha


Friday, February 6, 2009

Taste Test: Radler (Alcoholic Sport Drink)

Do you drink water after your bike ride? Or maybe Gatorade? YOU ARE A BIG WIMP. You gotta drink a Radler:

For those needing an alcoholic head buzz, but also the refreshing taste of Lemonade, this is the drink for you. At 2.5% alcohol, it is nice and mellow (chick drink perhaps? or maybe for the under 10 crowd?) and is basically a standard Lager mixed with some fizzy lemon drink. Kinda tart, kinda sweet, but with a nice familiar beer taste. Strange, but good. Available at your local bike track. I bet they have these at the German equivalent of 24 hour fitness--no juice bar, a Radler bar! MAN UP. 

Mellow Days

Been pretty chill the last few days. Found some fields nearby us to wander around and throw the ball for Oskar--he likes that. There are walking and bike paths everywhere--through fields and towns, along rivers and over hills...very cool to be able to get places that cars do not. We have toured some nearby towns recently by train (Backnang, Bietgiheim). Mayzie likes being on the train and seeing the trains whizz by her window. She always asks "whats the name of this train?" Or "What number we going on, Nick?" We bought a new stroller a few days ago, and we are all loving that. We just had a crappy umbrella stroller--I could barely push it because I had to bend down so far, and it's wheels were all messed up. At the rate we are using the stroller, we may as well have a good one. So we trekked out to a superstore called BabyOne in Stuttgart. We were surprised at the selection and found a decent one for 100 euros. Afterwards, we were desperate for food and could only see one restaurant around us...McDonalds. So, Mayzie had her first Happy Meal...she loved it of course, and was very happy. This MickeyD's was very well decorated and seemd to be a hip, fashionable place to go--exact opposite of home. I had this sandwich called the Big Rosti--schnitzel, bacon, and a hamburger all in one. Classic. Felt lame speaking english to the lady at the counter at a McDonalds in Germany, like its the only place we want to go here or something. I felt much more self concious, but reality was, it was no big deal. We were fed and happy thats all that mattered at that point! Hit the Towers Irish Pub in Ludwigsburg...had some fish and chips and a true pint of Guiness. That was nice. Also, hit a couple local breweries for some more German delicacies. Today we went to one in Stuttgart called Mash and I had no idea what I was ordering, just pointed, and she brought me out a pizza. That was weird. I thought pizza was an international word...didnt see that on the menu at all haha. It was good. We found an English shop in Stuttgart today, too. They had a bunch of postings on a board at the entrance for moms groups so we will have to get a hold of those people. Mayzie needs some interaction, for sure. 

We have a social event booked for sunday. Bettina has a friend who speaks great english and has a three year old (thats all we require to be your friend over here), so she set us up with them to have brunch. Should be fun to meet some new people and see how they live and have Mayzie have someone to play with. On saturday, there is a knit shop in a town not too far (Backnang) that is having a get together of english speaking knitters, so Jenna is going to go to that.

I am obsessed with obtaining a bike ASAP. These trails are taunting me, beckoning me...I need to be on them NOW. A little ray of sunshine peeks through the clouds and I need to be on a bike. I am yearning. I am specific about the type of bike I want, and unfortunetly, they are not easily available in this area...the Dutch Bike:
Seems weird to be so close to Holland, yet it is difficult to find the bikes here. We have found plenty online, so I think I will have to go that route, although it's a bit risky because of not being able to ride it, etc. We are thinking of going to Holland on a bike mission...kinda spendy for train or renting a car(would have to buy a bike rack), so not too sure if that will happen or not. We have the time! I have dreamt about owning a dutch bike for a long long time--one that will last me forever and be comfy, low maintenance... all the great things about this type of bike. I will pass it down to further generations of Big Kids. A mission will soon ensue, or some ordering will occur from the comfort of our apartment.

All else is good...no neighbor issues for awhile. No word on jobs or anything--everyday at 5, I say to Jenna--"well that was a hard day at the office" hahaha. Laughing all the way to the bank. We'll see how long this lasts...one way or the other.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Damn Germans! (Part 2)...The Clean Seat

Found this in a public toilet in Rottweil.

Paid Vacation

Getting paid to live in a new country and not have to work? I have had some cushy jobs in my day, but this takes the cake. I got word from the guy who hired me (Mathias) that they do not have a position for me right now, that I should continue to "use the time to learn a little bit about Germany, find some new friends, develop your language skills and so on......" I have been getting paid since Jan 28, and will continue to do so. Of course, I wonder how long they will wait until they give up on finding me something, but here is some excerpts from his email, which helped re-assure my insecurities:

"Finding a job is indeed not so easy at the moment but we have you offered several customers and we are hopeful to find a job. The decision to cancel a contract belongs just to me and this decision will not be made within weeks. I am responsible that you and your family are here, so I promise that I will cover you as long as I can (I talk about months in this case). We invested in you and our highest priority is to keep you in the company. What could help is to know how flexible you and your family are, because to find a job in southern Germany is maybe easier, than just to look in Stuttgart (but this is still our first target)."

"I know that you feel not really comfortable at the moment, but use the time to learn a little bit about Germany, find some new friends, develop your language skills and so on......
We will find a job, I am really sure, the question is not that we find one, it is just when we find one."
So, what the hell, I can travel and play and sleep in and enjoy Germany, all while getting paid. That sounds like a dream! It does make me feel weird about it all, but I hope something comes through soon so that they feel they are getting their moneys worth from me. In the meantime, we will take advantage of my time off.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

German TV, last friday night, 11:35pm

This was on normal TV. Every 14 year olds dream. Overdubbed in german, of course, even the moans...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Taste Test: Blutwurst (Blood Sausage)

I had the honor of trying a timeless German classic delicacy at a local brew pub in Ludwigsburg the other day. Blutwurst. I actually didnt even know that I ordered it. Our waitress spoke great English (she was half American, she said) and I asked her for the most local dish they had. She insisted that I would not like it, that I should not order it, but I brushed her off. Aftreall, we are here to live like the locals! 

It was a carnivorous' dream:
Thats the blutwurst, another wurst above, a bunch of saurkraut, and a slab of fat/pork/fat/pork/fat. Oh and some salad thrown in for good measure. 

As I started to cut up the blutwurst, I realized the skin was just packaging, not to be eaten, for the treasure lies inside:

I was not expecting the consistency. Jenna almost hurled right there, and I must admit that my stomach seized up a bit at the sight of this.  The taste was not too surprising--warm, blood mixed with moist pork chunks. Kinda like dog food, I guess.  Actually reminded me of the infamous scottish dish, Haggis. Mixed with the sourkraut and put on some bread, it was not bad, and I managed to eat the whole meal. That fatty pork think was fatty and porky, and the other wurst popped out of its skin at the slightest touch of my dull knife. After 2 beers and this dish, my stomach was churning, at one point I did feel nauseous. Not sure why--I was thinking about it alot, I think. You cannot think about what you are eating around here. Just don't do it.

I had to throw this picture in of Mayzie drinking her apfel juice at this meal like a true Swabian. Next year there will be beer in there:

Taste Test: Saurkrautsaft (Sour Kraut Juice)

I can't believe that this stuff exists...here goes.

Pour/Appearance: smooth, clear, looks like lemonade.
Aroma: like sour kraut.
Flavor: tangy, slightly carbonated, strong kraut flavor. SOUR.
Pallatte: terrible
Overall Impression: Disgusting. Wild. Do people actually drink this? I must find out. I could only take on sip...it's going down the drain. I like sour kraut, but in juice form? Who thought of this?

My declaration: if any of you come and visit and can drink a whole glass of this, I will buy you multiple southern german delicacies of unlimited value.

Damn Germans!!! (Part 1)

This will be an on-going series exploring the crazy, unusual, and ingenuitive things we see while we are over here. The first installment is something I had never ever seen before:

It's a wheelchair swing! There is a ramp leading to the swing, and the wheelchair fits snugly into the carrier. Once the chair is in place, the user lowers those bars, which disengages the break and the swing is free to swing. So awesome.

Neighbors suck!...Jan 29

ok...this catches me up now....

We are unfortunate to have a  very nosy, bored old lady for a downstairs neighbor. She informed our landlady that Oskar was dirtying the precious stairwell (how could he when we carry him up and down the stairs?). There is a problem around here of people taking things way too seriously(the German way?). Bettina said that it’s a Southern Germany thing---where people will try and find anything to complain about, snooping and peering at those around them. It really makes us feel as though we do not have our own space. We feel very considerate of our neighbors feelings—cleaning the stairwell weekly when we have to, being quite coming and going down the stairs, and carrying the damn dog up and down so he doesn’t dirty the stairs with his paws. People’s shoes bring a lot more dirt to the stairs than this little dogs paws do. And she still told on us. LAME. While Oskar was playing in the courtyard park the other day, another peering, spying old lady came out to tell us that he couldn’t be there. This was at like 11am on a Tuesday morning—nobody around. Pisses me off. We try not to let them bother us, but it really makes me feel like being loud in the stairwell and stomping my muddy shoes in front of their door, just to make them mad. Guess its my aversion to authority. Its not Big Brother we are worried about over here—it’s Grumpy Old Lady Watching. You Cant Bring Me Down! 

Took Mayzie to the public pool just down the road. We had a good time, once we were in the water. Learning the locker system and the uni-sex changing room system proved difficult with my limited German skills, but we made it in. In a society that seems to be very rules driven, there was a surprising lack of them at the pool. No lifeguards on the big water slide, no barriers to stay behind where the kids come pouring out of the slide. No signs, or guards outside in the spa area…felt nice to wander through the different pools and not feel watched. Mayzie loves the water and we splashed for a couple hours. 

I stopped in at a pizza place on the way home and got a reall Italian style Hawaiian pizza to go. All in broken German and sign language. My  confidence is building. You really have to not be worried about feeling like an ass every time you step into a store. 

I received my work permissions, so all is set for starting work next Wednesday.  First thing I did after I got my papers was go back to the internet store and try to get that going—of course they needed to wait for permission from HQ, so we will know tomorrow morning. I will be surprised if it all goes smoothly. Walking 20 mins to the library just to check email is getting annoying. 

The local library deserves its own dedicated blog posting—its a very cool, well laid out space and has 2 beer gardens right outside its doors. The gardens open up in mid April, cant wait for that. Jenna is tired of me pointing out all the beer gardens and bike paths. Cant wait for some warm weather!

Another Day, Another Schloss….Jan 25

The beamer has been treating us good. It certainly doesn’t take much to see beautiful, classic German scenery around here. On Friday, we were planning on driving south towards Munich to drive around the castles near the Austrian border, but we were thwarted by snow and turned back. Our little car would not do well on ice, so we didn’t want to risk it. Never mind, we headed west towards the French border and wound up in a town called Karlsrue. We were desperate to get out of the car, and luckily we found a break in the rain to enjoy the zoo. We had the place to ourselves, basically and Mayzie enjoyed the camels and polar bears and gorillas. Its so much fun getting off the Autobahn and driving through small villages and towns…so many beautiful, timbered houses and castles around every corner. We found a medieval monastery called Kloster Maulbronn and also had the place to ourselves. It was dark, medieval, cold, and the twilight light cast some beautiful shadows and the eerie silence of the place was enchanting. 

Saturday was spent south in the Black Forest. Imagine heavily forested land like those in fairy tales, with small little hamlets tucked amid the twists and turns of the road. So amazing and indescribable.Mayzie only lasts so long in the car, so we did some small walks and wound up in another old medieval town called Rottweil, where the dogs come from. Jungle gyms out here are all custom made and smart. I can think of a few back in Oregon, but these places are dime a dozen out here. Seems like back home, most parks over use plastic for the slides and climbing stuff. Lots of wood out here. I think Mayzie appreciates it. After the park we hit this castle that can be seen 10 miles away. We have been to a bunch of castles in our day, but this rivals for the best we have ever seen. It’s called Burg Hohenzollern. The weather was clear and the light was near twilight. We toured the grounds and had a meatloaf, sausage, and beer dinner inside one of the wings.

Just as we are figuring out how long we can push Mayzie, we will be returning the car. Hopefully we remember for next time. It definitely takes some planning to make sure she is entertained as we are being tourists. She starts hitting the wall by 5pm or so and then it really is miserable for everyone. She thrives on a routine and we are pushing her to her limts by taking her out of a routine, but in situations like this, we need to find the balance. Sunday was better for that. We went south again to a small, medieval college town on the river Neckar, Tubingen., They have a beautiful walkway along the river so we drove the 45 mins down there and just meandered and walked. The weather was perfect. We had a falafel sandwich there (kinda burned out on the BRATS! Haha) and continued driving along the small wooded roads around there, getting home by 5:30pm. Mayzie was much better on that kind of schedule.

Returning the beamer tomorrow. Back on our feet again. I have 10 more days of no working so plenty of time to see some more. It feels really good to know that we will be here for an extended amount of time  and will be able to explore this area, it truly is beautiful. 

Missed my moms 60th birthday, feel kinda sad about that. Hope she knows we were there in spirit. We love you mom!