Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Schützenfest Party & Fall Colors! 21.10.2009 - 26.10.2009

This was a fun week, despite sticking around for the weekend. We had great fun meeting some German locals and celebrating one of their triennial traditions with them.

First, I want to mention that I am proudly experiencing my first real fall. The colors are in full-effect here and it's just beautiful. We live in an area with rolling hills that are tree-covered. While they aren't as extremely bright as Colorado Aspens are, they are close. Here's a little taste of the leaves we've been graced to have falling everywhere:
This photo turned out a bit foggy-looking, but you get the idea of the variety of colors and trees. This picture is taken through the window of our office. They are considerably brighter than they appear.
On Saturday, we took a small trip to our neighbor city, Altena. Our German tutor, Sabine, grew up there and currently resides with her family there. She wanted to give us a real-life culture lesson and took us to a place she has visited a few times as a kid- Burg Altena. This castle was popular during the middle ages and this area was known for a great deal of wire production and armour construction.
Inside the Burg hostel. This is the location of the very first hostel in the world-- inside this castle. The bed behind us is super short and much of the armour we saw was built for men around 5 feet tall! It's amazing how things change over the years and humans change... we're definitely a bit taller now!
Here are Sabine and myself in front of that same bed.
A few views of the castle...

Inside one of the rooms that was used during hostel years.
Ray is such a trooper. He managed to put on these extremely heavy armour pieces. I couldn't even lift the metal shirt with one hand-- it was that heavy.
Now he's really sporting the look. :)
While not as fun, I came in for the attack anyway.
After visiting the Burg with Sabine, we headed back to her house located in a small village community suburb of Altena (but still technically located in the city). She made a delicious zucchini soup that I've been raving about ever since. After dinner, we headed to a celebration party that she invited us to. It was a reunion party for a celebration that took place here in Germany (and also takes place in Switzerland, a couple cities in the U.S., Brazil, and Australia). This festival is called Schützenfest. Every year (but in this region, every 3 years), locals get together and attempt to crown another "king" after shooting at a wooden eagle target. Well, this took place in June and they gathered a slide show together as a reunion gathering. We went. It was great fun experiencing something completely unique to their culture.

Here's Sabine and I about to say, "Prost!" -- (cheers)
I wasn't interested in having more to drink, but this local insisted I have one more, so he returned back to our table with a "klein" bier. It was definitely small!
We had such a great time talking with the locals. The old Schützenfest king stopped to talk with us about our experience. He spoke fantastic English. It turns out he owns a successful business that produces wire. He made a similar "learning experience" temporary move to another country-- Africa. He said those 6 months were the best years of his life. He made a point to remind us (as not to take full advantage and appreciate this situation) that this experience is unique, doesn't happen to everyone, and we should be very appreciative and embrace every moment. It comes at a good time. We've been here for 1.5 months already and it's to the point where we are no longer on "vacation" mode. We have begun to miss some "comfort" items from the U.S. that we cannot find here. BUT, and that's a big BUT, we're also experiencing some great things we also can't get in the U.S. Ice cream is one of those things I just can't speak enough about. Beyond that, we're learning so much about other cultures and appreciating the little things we can try, experience, and see. It was a great reminder... Carpe diem!
We also spoke with other locals besides that businessman... and they happen to be a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old (in addition to a couple others in the conversation). They learned English in school and were excited to use their knowledge! We were excited that others were taking interest to include us and could speak about their culture with us. They were so great... and so mature for their ages, it seemed. We talked until past 1 in the morning and had so much to learn.

Directly next to us was this spread of food. We were instructed to take a ticket from anyone who came to grab a food item. Click on this photo if you want a better look. (cheese on bread, salami on bread, raw ground pork on bread, cured ham on bread... and in the blue crate were what looked like hamburgers... but instead, mince-meat-pork hamburgers).
Here's a close up of that raw pork on bread in the center. How can that be okay to eat? I was just sick for almost a week from a chestnut... and people were throwing these back like candy. Cultural differences, for sure!
And, here's my crazy husband trying that raw ground pork bread! Yes, he ate it and never got sick.
We went for a hike on the hill above our house in Neuenrade. It's such a great time to relax on Sundays here. You have to. You have no choice. No stores are open and few restaurants are willing to open their doors, either. So, you find families relaxing at gelato shops, at parks, and walking on trails. We joined them and took a detour on our hike to a hay field. You cannot see it well (as it blends), but on the hill in the distance, there is a wind mill. Germans are VERY energy conscious.
Here's a photo of our office since I don't believe we've shown one of these.
Here's the delicious chili I made last night. Chili is so easy to make... and it just gets better as leftovers!
Here's Ray making an apple pie. We just bought some apples and managed to find something that would suffice as a pie tin. It wasn't really a pie tin, but a cake pan for children bakers. Germans don't make pies, so they don't have pie tins. We went to about 5 stores to find something... anything that would work!
Here's the small tin. A butter knife is placed to show how small the tin really is.
Here's Ray cutting the apples. He is the master at apple pies. And I am pretty good at slathering vanilla ice cream all over it and eating it. :)

Tomorrow we head to Frankfurt for a few days, then off to Cologne and on to a plane taking us to Budapest! Next week we'll be back in Frankfurt and the following weekend we're going to Amsterdam (The Netherlands)... then to Maryland for a wedding! Fun filled couple weeks!

And here's the week in writing:

Mittwoch 21.10.2009 (day 37)
I made the effort this morning… although my body still isn’t up to par. It’s just so frustrating and I want to be better! I hate sitting around in bed all day. Despite still feeling ill, we made it to work. I had a great call with my parents using the webcam and Skype and it was really nice. My dad even wore a top hat. Haha. He’s so funny. They stayed up so late to talk with us, too. It was almost 1 in the morning before they headed to bed. Thanks Mom & Dad. After the phonecall, I wanted to upload photos online and to the blog for the family to check out. It would’ve been done Monday if I felt better. I also hoped that forcing myself to get out and interact would distract me enough to feel better. Not true. So, I went home at 1. Not too bad… I lasted 4.5 hours. Anyhow, no more complaining. I need to knock this and I’m just going to stop complaining right now. I will get better. I headed home and slept a bit while Ray grabbed some lunch and headed back. Ray got home pretty late around 6:30 (we normally leave at 4:30), but it’s because he was having a German lesson. I guess there was no way to cancel. Again, it seems like I’m feeling a bit better and who knows what tomorrow will bring. Off to bed and hoping for a great day tomorrow!

Donnerstag 22.10.2009 (day 38)
Much better day today. I knew the power of positive thinking (and 5 days of sickness that had to be eventually subsiding) would do the trick. Still, I chose to stay home for half the day and head into work with Ray after lunch. Frankly, there just isn’t much for me to do there, and I can sit on the couch more comfortably and inhaling less second-hand smoke if I take a breather at home. A leisurely morning and I made pasta salad for lunch. Ray was kind enough to grab some fresh veggies at the store—cucumber, carrots (a whole pack), and bananas costing just over ONE Euro. What a steal. I’m scared of food right now and trying to stay away from milk products. Whenever I’m sick, that’s the first thing to go. I’m a bit scared of non-pasteurized cheeses and milk that isn’t refrigerated like they sell here. My body is just not strong enough for that battle. So, I’m eating less of it and still taking my vitamin supplements. Ray spent the morning planning fun adventures for the week both sets of parents will be here with us in December for six days. The plans are made and some reservations are set… but I’m not telling! We’ll see if we can keep this a surprise for 2 whole months. We’ll see. At work, our tutor arrived around 2 p.m. and we were leisurely at getting started… which meant we would be working a bit later… we did end up starting for real around 3 p.m. We worked until almost 6 and then called an end to our day. We made some plans to see Sabine this weekend and visit the Burg in Altena, her hometown. We also plan to visit a celebration with her town friends as a look back on a festival they had a couple months ago. I’ll explain more on the Saturday journal. Ray and I visited the grocery store again… we are living like the Germans! Since refrigerators are small, you visit the grocer more. So, we do too. We also can’t make up our minds, have no other real errands to run or things to accomplish, so the grocery store is actually pretty fun. I also found a popsicle! I had been craving a Jamba Juice smoothie while I was sick and since smoothies are not at all the rage here as they are in the US, there was no chance of that. They also don’t have blenders and fruits are scarce in comparison. So, needless to say, I was able to snag a single popsicle (not sold in bulk). Heavenly. We also grabbed some other items for dinner and came home to make it. Ray had chicken, rice, and veggies. I had breakfast foods for dinner. Basically, whatever I feel like eating and can stomach wins the race. I must say, it was a painful sickness… but the finish line is so close to me, I can smell it. Lesson learned. NO street vendor food and inspect food carefully.

Freitag 23.10.2009 (day 39)
Ray and I decided that after a month of this… I shouldn’t go to work every single morning at 8:30, but instead he would pick me up at lunch time and we’d head back after we have lunch for our German lesson. That way, I can have a leisurely morning, he can sleep in a bit later also since he isn’t waiting on me, we can have better lunches, I’m not bored at work surfing the Internet all day, and he could get some serious work done without worrying about me having something to do. Originally, it was planned to find me a “job” at the company so that I’m wasn’t bored… but I’d much prefer to have a relaxing morning, maybe go for a jog, and possibly get a little reading in (on the couch). So, we start a new plan. I’m also waiting on an email/phonecall from the school in Ludenscheid so that I can come in a do a little teaching. I don’t anticipate it being a job so much as a temporary experience. I see myself visiting a few classes and then making my exit. I learn a bit, and they learn a bit. Relationship over. We’ll see… but it isn’t a job. While Ray was working this morning, I tested out one of the recipes in my new German cookbook. It’s not a big deal, but it’s one of the few recipes that doesn’t include meat—so I can eat it. Well, it actually does include bacon fat as an ingredient, but I’m improvising with some olive oil. Anyhow, it’s a simple potato salad made with a vinegar-based sauce. We had it at a restaurant in Bavaria and it was delicious. It took awhile to boil the potatoes, peel, and cut them. They had to soak and also be cooked for a bit. It wasn’t as simple as it should’ve been, but I enjoyed making it. When Ray picked me up, we headed back to work immediately and met with Sabine for our German lesson at 3 p.m. When we left work, we headed to the store because I wanted another popsicle. We ended up buying this killer lemon sorbet. It’s French-made and heaven on a plate. I am a sucker for a good sorbet and they sure know what they are doing with their frozen desserts over here in Europe. Back home to finish my potato salad and relax with pizza and The Simpsons dubbed in German. Today we felt good about our German acquisition. Like… we sort of get it sometimes. That’s such a nice thing.

Sonntag 24.10.2009 (day 40)
Great day! We woke up so late, but it was so enjoyable. We slowly got ourselves together and headed out the hardware store that reminds us so much of Home Depot—called OBI. At this store, they are also fans of the color orange and large displays. They also sell pet food, pets, etc. What really separates OBI from Home Depot though, is the attached bakery and sausage stand. Of course, they’re Germans! Anyhow, we successfully ordered and purchased (although at first, Ray said, “Ich möchte zwei teller”—meaning plates. Oops… we meant schlüssel, not teller. There, all better) We got our keys, and headed out. Almost 11 Euro! Ouch. That’s about $15 U.S. dollars for two keys. On we went to Ludenscheid for a visit to Toom market. We had a list of a few groceries to purchase, and were hoping to find a gift for Sabine as she was inviting us over for dinner. We went through ideas of wine (ordinary) and cake (hard to find a whole cake)… to finally, flowers. We grabbed our food and headed back to OBI. They had some really nice orchids there to choose from. We bought a beautiful white orchid and a pot. It was relatively similar to U.S. prices for the same item. Great! We bolted to the city of Altena and were planning to meet Sabine. We met her just on time and we all walked up to the Burg Altena (their city castle) and took a tour. It was really nice and well kept. We stayed there until closing at 6 p.m. and headed to another Toom market down the hill in Altena. We found black beans in a can! What a great find. We followed Sabine to her house in Altena and she had dinner waiting for us there. She home-made zucchini soup for us. It was delicious! I will be replicating this soup. After, we had a hot cherry dessert with vanilla bean ice cream. Have I mentioned how amazing ice cream is here in Europe compared to the U.S.? There is no comparison. We were able to meet Sabine’s sister as well and had a fantastic time visiting her home. Around 9 p.m., we headed to a “club” room similar to an Elk’s Club or Moose Lodge in the U.S. Here’s the reason: Every 3 years, there is a celebration called the Schützenfest. It’s a pointless, but fun tradition that the people of Germany in many regions has kept alive. It’s expected that every 3 years, there are preparations that last a couple months long to prepare for a festival week (lasting from Wed. to Sun.) that crowns a new “king”—they become king by 1. Having money, and 2. Shooting a small eagle statue. It’s a bit silly, but it’s tradition and the locals love it. We went there because Sabine wanted to share this experience with us. We saw a picture slideshow and thought it was great for community building. We met a former Schützenfest king and spoke to him for about 30 minutes. His name was Klaus and he owned a wire production company. Wire in this region of Germany is, and has been a popular industry in the area. He had some great advice for us in exceptional English—“Enjoy this time because you will not have this again”… and we appreciated the conversation. He was quite insightful and had a similar experience to live in another country for 6 months, when he stayed in Johannesburg, South Africa. We also spent a good amount of time drinking with the locals—but not as much as them! It’s an act of welcoming someone to give them shots… although not too strong. Yikes! As we sat and spoke with the old king, other younger people (Klaus was maybe 40) heard us speaking English and joined. We ended up talking with 2 students –16 and 19 about all things travel, Europe, U.S., etc. They were amazed that we came all the way from Los Angeles to such a small area as Neuenrade. They also told us all their ideas of Baywatch, Los Angeles, and the like. It was such a great experience talking with them… we talked until after 1 in the morning. We’re such old folks lately and feel we don’t stay up very late, but ended up staying out until almost 2 in the morning! I took some photos of the local foods they had there—sausage, breads, cheeses, mustard, pickles, raw ground pork on bread (which Ray tasted!)… It was quite the sight. What a great evening. We felt so excited to be hanging out with some locals, experiencing their culture, and were proud they took interest in talking with us. We’re going to need a restful day tomorrow, but overall, today was incredible. We sure hope Ray doesn’t get ill from that raw swine…

Sonntag 25.10.2009 (day 41)
I guess since we got to bed at almost 3 a.m. last night, we should sleep in. Yes, yes we did that. Luckily, we were told by some people at the schützenfest party that tonight was daylight savings! So did I say 3 a.m… I really meant 2. This morning was scheduled for us to clean! Since we told our landlords we wouldn’t mind cleaning (of course), we got to it. We cleaned the house and cleaned out the car before we had lunch and headed out for a hike. It’s just such a welcome change here in Germany to see families outside walking and having fun with one another. While we’re still Americans transplanted here in a cute German town, we do appreciate how many active people there are here. They take their days off seriously and family time is important. It’s still difficult to manage the idea of nothing being open, but we’re slowly getting used to it. Germans are so efficient, less stressed, and they manage to produce great things! Our hike was fun. There’s an area about 5 kilometers from our place on a hill overlooking our town—that’s already quite high compared to Werdohl which is located in a valley. We saw a small ski hill that is possibly running in the winter? It’s really peaceful to walk around here. Just when you think there aren’t many people in this town, you’re mind is changed when you take a Sunday walk. People come out of the woodwork and it’s really great. Back home for dinner, laundry, and hanging out! Great Sunday, indeed!

Montag 26.10.2009 (day 42)
This morning was great. I’m loving my mornings free to explore and relax. While I love being able to spend so much time with Ray, it’s also nice to have a few hours a day to ourselves. This morning I wanted to get a head start on our dinner. I was planning to make chili and I like it to sit throughout the day and marinade. Since we’ve scored just about all of the ingredients I normally use to make chili, I figured it was as good a time as any to get cookin’! It’s also perfect fall weather to break out the soups. I’ve also been inspired by that delicious soup Sabine made for us this weekend. So excited that I emailed a recipe for zucchini soup to many of my friends! We just got a second key made for our apartment, so I am actually able to leave in the morning and be able to get back in. I walked down the street to Lidl first. There are 5 grocers we visit. In the following order, here are the favorites: Toom, Kaufpark, Netto, Lidl, and Aldi. Each have their benefits… Lidl is the closest to us at about 1.5 walking blocks. I needed to pick up some supplies for the chili. I headed back home and started cooking. Onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes (a bag of 8+ tomatoes, perfectly ripe = 1 Euro!), beans, corn, seasonings, tomato sauce… so delicious. I realized we also needed lunch, so I headed out again to another grocery store (Aldi, 2.5 blocks away) to grab some lunch meat for sandwiches. Ray came home and we had a nice lunch before heading back to work. We spent some time working on our homework we were assigned on Friday—yeah, due just hours later! Emailing, etc. and before we knew it, the day was almost up. Sabine was supposed to meet us for a 2 hour German lesson at 4:00, but she missed her train and showed up at 5:00 instead. We were the last few in the office—everyone leaves work around 4:30/5 here. Since we changed the clocks yesterday (earlier than the U.S. changes their clocks… so we’re actually only 5 hours off of the eastern time zone for the time being…), it gets dark so early. It’s dark by 5 p.m. and pitch black by 6! We left work after an hour of German and went to Netto grocery store. We needed some ice cream for our apple pie tonight and picked up a small pie tin. They don’t have real pie tins here… but we managed to find something that would work. At home, we finalized the chili and made an apple pie! Dinner and dessert were delicious. The most important thing about dessert was the ice cream. I can’t wait to share this goodness with our family when they come out. It’s truly the most delicious I’ve ever had! There is no real comparison in the U.S. We’re looking forward to leftovers tomorrow.