Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Visit to Amsterdam, North Holland, Zandvoort, Netherlands 03.11.2009 - 10.11.2009

We spent the past weekend exploring Amsterdam and a North Holland beach town, Zandvoort, in the Netherlands. While we thought Amsterdam was (overrated) and highly expensive with too many bikes, we loved the rest of the country that we spent Sunday driving through. It's was a lot of fun seeing the ocean for the first time since July!

We're standing here in front of a bridge. It seemed like a great "Amsterdam-ey" spot to snap a photo. And a very nice couple who spoke not a word of English snapped it for us. I do apologize for always wearing the same things in these photos... it's fall here and relatively cold-- so we wear jackets a lot. Plus, we only arrived here (for 6 months) with only 2 regular suitcases and a small carry on. We wear the same kinds of clothes week after week. When my mom mentioned that she already saw the sweater on me (while talking through webcam via Skype)... I figured I should clarify that we do clean our laundry... we just don't have a million options to choose from!

This sign is in the middle of a park in the museum district. At night, there aren't may tourists around... but during the day, the entire sign is flooded with people trying to take photos in the letters.

The view from our hotel...Hard Rock Amsterdam. I went inside and they were playing Bon Jovi-- and all was well in the world. :)

Views of Amsterdam bridges... the entire city looks like this. Streets are separated by buildings and canals.

The left is Anne Frank's house (from age 4 until taken to Auschwitz). It's obviously had a makeover. Visiting really made me want to grab a copy and re-read it. Her story is so compelling and tragic. To the right is just a crazy building with graffiti. There's also lots of "art" in this city.

Pretty church.

The outdoor flower market is popular for buying bulb plants in Amsterdam. There are a few streets lined with these tents and a bunch of tourists.

A soccer game in the center of the shopping district. I guess they use their space wisely!

A random beautiful church in the midst of shops on a very long shopping street.

Ray was taking my photo in front of that really long shopping street. See this photo and the photo below... what do you notice to be different?

Perhaps the girl posing for the photo with me? It was completely intentional (and hilarious).

Public restrooms (for males) aren't too hard to find and they don't cost you a dime!

There's a chain restaurant called Wok to Walk in various places of Europe and one in NYC. We had lunch there one day. It was delicious!

The tourist photo with the shoe. Of course.

Bird experts? I'm guessing these are swans? It's ironic because I consider these "beautiful" and "pure" birds. The irony, though, is that they hung out in the red light district which is considered to be disgusting. There were about 30 that I could see all in the same canal area of this wretched part of town.

Draw bridge. Our question was... what happens to the bicycles that are chained to the bridge when they put it into action?

Perhaps the water is affecting the foundation of the buildings, or they're so old that they're no longer level. See the difference in the two buildings?

I took this photo in stealth mode. I wanted to show families with their children + bicycles. It's a culture where families don't own cars, so they have such inventive ways to get around town. Parking is just too expensive and there's no where to park even if you had a car. So, families just live without them. Could you? I couldn't! Though, our friend Katie lives in NYC and hasn't had a car for like 4 or 5 years. I guess it can be done with the right public transportation-- and Amsterdam has it. They actually have car rental services in the city. We wondered... why? There is no where to park even if you rented one. Then, we realized it was probably for residents who are leaving Amsterdam on a trip. They simply rent a vehicle rather than owning their own and storing it for the year. Interesting.

This is only a small amount of bicycles compared to what we saw there. I wanted to capture just how intense this bike culture is in Amsterdam. It is highly regarded. Consider this mild.

While Ray wasn't feeling well on Saturday, I did some research on the computer to find a windmill in the area. It appears (according to various Internet blogs) that there are 8 windmills in the Amsterdam area (and others in Holland, of course), but that only 2 or 3 of those 8 are actually accessible to the public. Well, we didn't care to go inside, but to see them from afar. So, I found one nearby-- abou 2.2 km from our hotel. Ray was such a trooper and we headed out at dusk on Saturday evening to find one by foot. I drew some awful map directions, but it turns out they were pretty accurate. Thanks all to Google maps. I see so many great things because of them!

This one windmill is called De Otter. It was built in 1638 and is somewhat lodged between apartment buildings-- in turn causing it to lose ability to capture wind power. It used to be open to the public, but is now closed and there are considerations being taken to move this outside of Amsterdam where it can function again. According to the Simply Amsterdam website (I feel inclined to mention that I researched through them), this mill was used for wood sawing and the production of large ships in the 17th century. There are 3 photos below of the same mill. I liked it a lot. :)

You know you wanted to see what the fire station in Amsterdam looks like, right Nik? Our friend Nik in Los Angeles was a firefighter for awhile. We miss that family a lot. We hope there are people as great & welcoming to be around as Nik, Solange, and their adorable daughter Caitlin (in Illinois). I bet we can find some! :)

The left: Westertoren is the tallest church tower in Amsterdam
The right: We saw this random structure (obviously a windmill mock) on our way to see the Sloten windmill

This is the Sloten Windmill. More history of course: This mill is still in use to keep the surrounding area dry. It is open to the public and was open when we visited... but we didn't go in. Frankly, we just like to look at them. We didn't need a tour inside to appreciate it. This one was built in 1847, but has since been remodeled in 1997. We aren't sure how different it looked before them.

Left: Another view of the Stolen with Ray in the background.
Right: This is the view behind the lighthouse. People live in many of these canals in houseboats. There is water everywhere. Literally. People have moats surrounding their houses and have small bridges from the sidewalk to the house. I wish I captured a photo!

After planning those two detours on Sunday to view the windmills, we saw that the GPS had us really close to the water! So... we directed ourselves in that direction! The two windmills below were seen off the road and completely random on our detour. We don't know anything about them.

More bike stuff. Really, they are ALL about bikes in Amsterdam. Hence, the bike pedestrian button.

We made it to the beach! This is a beach resort town called Zandvoort. There were a bunch of nice hotels all over the place. We walked down to the water and touched it for credit, of course! Is this the Atlantic Ocean, or is it considered the English Channel? We weren't sure. We did see lots of shells that washed up on the shore and TONS of families walking all over the beach. As opposed to Los Angeles beaches, there isn't a "strand", so people walked all over the sand, instead. It was packed down well enough to do so. There wasn't a single person sitting on the beach, but we must have seen 300 people. It's a typical, relaxing Sunday here in Europe. People enjoying being outside together; so vastly different than the U.S.

I get credit!

Ray also gets credit!

Oh... Brandy's getting artsy with the Sephia...

And finally... a bit of discussion about grocery shopping here in Europe. Surprisingly, things that are quite expensive in the U.S. are pretty cheap here-- like almonds. A bag about 5-6 ounces of whole almonds cost a mere .65! While that's still in Euro, it only makes that about a buck in U.S. dollars. But, in the same sense, things like tortillas and canned black beans cost a lot! Supply and demand...

Here are some of the items from my last shopping trip:

And here is the receipt: (keep in mind, all prices are in Euro with a 1 to 1.50 exchange rate)
1. Weizenmehl = flour: 25 cents
2. Weizenbrotchen = frozen bread rolls 10 count: 79 cents
3. Passierte Tomat = tomato sauce (2 small cans worth per container): 35 cents each
4. Kidney Bohnen = kidney beans: 39 cents
5. Staudensellerie = Full large celery stalk: 99 cents
6. Knorr Chili seasoning: 75 cents per pack
7. Tortilla Chips: 99 cents
8. Romatomaten = 6 pack of Roma tomatoes: 88 cents
9. Bananen = Bananas (3 total): 69 cents

The total for all of that was less than 9 Euro!

Just thought I'd share an everyday life thing! I'm impressed with the prices (for the most part) on groceries... but other things are still super expensive (like anything that isn't a grocery item... haha!). We get a decent variety at grocery stores, but it's really inconsistent. I bought canned corn at Lidl market one day, and 5 days later, they no longer carried corn at all! It's like they carry whatever comes in. There aren't "shelves" like the U.S. but more like crates you just pull out of the packaging. It's still packaged from shipment! It's not as "attractive" as the U.S. grocery stores that are all about looking pretty and making products look nice. I highly doubt companies pay premium for shelf placement here in Germany at least!

By the way, today is Veteran's Day! Ray & I want to honor our favorite veteran, PAPA! We know you read this Papa, and we want you to feel special on this day. I wish I had a photo to put here! 

And... this week in writing...

Dienstag 03.11.2009 (day 50 baby!)

We spent the morning driving to Frankfurt after more peanut butter toast. I just can’t get enough. Just wait until I get my hands on the Laura Scudders. It’s on! I will be bringing some back to Deutschland to convince the Germans that peanut butter is delicious and nutritious. They’re currently not buying it (literally and figuratively). Nor have they ever had peanut butter cookies. Perhaps a sin. I’m just saying. So, as usual, the ride to Frankfurt is a sleepy one, and I always fall asleep. Something funny… there is no microwave at the Frankfurt office… so… we brought the one from our apartment with us in the car this time! You don’t even know how excited people were to find out we brought ein Microwelle! I definitely heard that thing beeping. They all confessed to buying sausages at the grocery store down the street or bringing non-heat items for lunch. This week will be different, I’m guessing. I spent hours updating the blog and facebook and all my social networking sites I love and hate all at the same time. It turns out Blogger has made it “easier” to post and allows for larger photos. It’s easy in some ways, but still has kinks that need to be worked out. For lunch, we used the microwave to heat up those meals we bought last Thursday for lunch that we couldn’t eat because there was no microwave. Veggie lasagna was surprisingly good. Our day ended around 4ish when we headed out to the hotel for some R&R before meeting a colleague for dinner. We walked a couple blocks down the road and found a great Chinese food restaurant. We’ll definitely be returning. It’s the best Chinese food we’ve had since we arrived in Germany. I love this hotel and I am excited we get to stay here (and have new scenery) for a few days before scooting off to Amsterdam. I used the German blowdryer in our hotel, though, and it was terrible. I don’t know if it was broken or what, but I have a serious mop and it just wasn’t working for me. Hotel dryers are never amazing anyway, I guess. But, that’s not a big deal. Last thing… I was reading one of my many blogs today from other strangers that intrigue me, and one of them posted that she uses hydrogen peroxide as a gargle in her mouth daily and it whitens her teeth! Not that I have a serious concern for such things, but I thought it was interesting. Of course it’s important to note that she is careful not to swallow any. It apparently is the “bleaching” agent in whitening kits (that are expensive), doesn’t make teeth sensitive (thank goodness because whiteners do!), and also makes for a good spray deodorant. Who would’ve thought? I learned something new today… even if it wasn’t in German. ;)

Mittwoch 04.11.2009 (day 51)

Happy Birthday Brittany Kinzie! My friend since her crib days… and now she’s legally able to order a martini. Of course I know she wouldn’t abuse such rights…  While I enjoy being in Frankfurt (new scenery, people), it’s always a really early morning wakeup. We were showered and ready to have breakfast at 7:00 and then head off to work. I had a long Skype session with Mom & Dad and that was really nice. It’s funny that I call them in the morning when it’s their night time in Los Angeles. Whatever works! We headed out to pick up another colleague from the Frankfurt airport around 10ish and headed back. It was really fun to watch all the people reunite with loved ones at the airport. I grabbed us some food from the local market, Aldi, and we were also presented with some authentic German kuchen called Stollen. It’s a bread-y cake with lots of raisins (which I dislike) with marzipan in the center (which I also dislike) with a sprinkling of regular and powdered sugars. An experience, yes. One I’ll continue to repeat… no. I’ll stick with the frozen desserts I love so much. The rest of the day was work and play for me. We left for our hotel at about 4:30 and headed back out for dinner around 6:00. We had some issues with the GPS and construction and it ended up taking about twice as long—but we made it. We headed to the German restaurant we visited last week that had the delicious French onion soup. Dinner there and back to our hotel “home” for the evening.

Donnerstag 05.11.2009 (day 52)

Great breakfast and off to work before 8. I remember those days when I was regularly at work before 8 when teaching. The difference is, that kids would keep me motivated and awake. The combination of German homework and down Internet in a manufacturing company sounds like an equation for sleep. I received an email from a former teaching colleague in Torrance about a teaching program for 4 weeks in Korea. I totally want to do this… but it’s in January… as in 2 months from now. We just booked a trip to Venice by plane and I’d be wasting a month of being in Europe—which isn’t something I want to do either. Perhaps the program will work out sometime in the summer for me… perhaps! I ended up getting the majority of my German homework done today (saving a page for tomorrow though) and spending the rest of the time on the Internet via our Vodafone USB access. Those things are gems… it’s been so nice just to pop open the laptop on drives and research. Our GPS here, Tom Tom isn’t the greatest. As a matter of fast, we dislike it very much. We have a Garmin at home and love it. We can search for restaurants close to us and hundreds pop up. When using Tom Tom, the only two restaurants that ever pop up are McDonalds and Burger King. If I punch in a restaurant or something large even like Ikea, it won’t show up… or even worse… it shows one that’s 50 kilometers away even when we’re just a kilometer away from a much closer one. It could be an updating issue… but whatever it is, we miss our Garmin. Enough of my advertising. Speaking of Ikea, that’s where we went for lunch. I think I’ve mentioned this before—the restaurants in these joints are enormous. They’re bigger than ANY restaurant I’ve seen in Europe so far (it’s not hard to beat considering most are 10 tables or less). There must be 300 seats and people come there just to eat. Elliot, myself, and a colleague headed to Ikea, got lost (as always), and had a great meal. Pasta, an amazing salad (beans, corn, carrots, sprouts, chickpeas, cucumber…), drink, and frozen yogurt. Happy girl. The others had duck, salads, various potatoes and meatballs. It’s the best thing that they’ve got as far as fast food here and we’re taking full advantage. Back to the office for a few more hours of work and Internet that finally started to work just an hour before we left. We headed back to the hotel and had dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street. It was delicious. It was also the first time I was served a pizza completely cut into slices since we’ve been in Europe. Okay, Pizza Hut did… but that doesn’t count. It’s an American chain. The serve olives whole on pizzas here—and usually they are pitted. Not on this occasion… oh no. It was like a day job extracting the pits… but I was successful. I watched the European MTV video music awards and was disappointed. The U.S. award shows are all about glitz, glam, and surprises. The quality was lower and there were considerably less awards. It was, however, 2 entire hours of English. One day until Amsterdam!

Freitag 06.11.2009 (day 53)

I got my Google Wave invite when I opened my email this morning! Yippee! I already have 8 friends… and strangely, I don’t even know 3 of them. I spent about an hour talking to a friend from high school, Chris on Google Wave. My first wave! I wrote some emails and got to work on that last page of German… and distracted myself with the shiny Internet (rather than shiny objects) which always seems to provide me endless entertainment. I headed out for a drive just before lunch to pick up some food for the guys and myself. Rather than attempting to find something to eat at a “faster” restaurant—it’s either sausage stand faster or two-hour meals in restaurants, I grabbed some microwave meals—which are not as easy to come by as in the U.S., and visited two grocery stores. The grocery stores were packed today for some reason. Perhaps because they lack the options we have… and because we’re in an industrial park with limited options for lunch. I also bought more PB and J materials for a successful lunch for myself. And delish it was. In the afternoon, we had to schlep our microwave back into the car along with the rest of our week-long luggage and head North… to the Netherlands. Our drive was pleasant with minimal traffic. We officially drove into Netherland territory around 7:00 p.m. and were surprised that there was no border crossing or stopping. There were two signs that displayed “The Netherlands” but it was pretty discreet. The highways felt much like driving in Irvine, CA. The roads around were pretty flat but lots of businesses and buildings lined the Autobahn. We were back into the land of speed limits… and Dutch. Yes, they speak Dutch in the Netherlands. For being such a small country, it is surprising that their native language isn’t just German. There are some obvious connections between the two languages, but they have great differences also. We stopped off and grabbed some dinner before heading straight for Amsterdam. We arrived in the city center after driving by a “red light district”—and yes, it’s really true. There were adorable canals, waterways, and walking areas as we drove towards our hotel. We got to the hotel around 8:30 and we parked. But… parking is 4 Euro/hour. So, I decided that I’d just stay in the car and wait while Ray went inside to ask where there was a parking garage close by (and to make sure we had the right hotel). Turns out the hotel was correct… but the attendant was really rude to Ray and stated that they were booked and he needed to leave even though we prepaid online, had a confirmation number, and emails to prove we had a reservation. Needless to say, I was sitting in the car for about an hour with no idea what was going on (we only have one international phone and one strictly for Germany… but we are in the Netherlands… we had no way to communicate). Finally, Ray reappeared and we drove about a kilometer down the street to pay 42.00 Euro a day rather than 4 Euro per hour. Man… expensive! We walked back to our hotel, baggage in tow, and set up shop for the evening. Ray’s not feeling so well. We think a bug was going around the office and he’s been feeling achy and couching all afternoon. We are excited to be in Amsterdam, we just wish our welcome would’ve been more pleasant. Hoping for a more pleasant and sick-free tomorrow so we can explore this new country!

Samstag 07.11.2009 (day 54)

So… Ray’s not feeling so well. But, he’s a trooped and headed out this morning with me to explore the city. Our first priority stop was the Anne Frank House. This was the very house she wrote the diary and lived while in hiding during the war. It was really well done and we enjoyed the learning experience. We were able to walk behind the secret bookshelf into the two rooms that all 8 of them spent their waking hours. We even saw the actual Anne Frank diary! After, we grabbed some delicious chocolate muffins, fruit, and juice at the café before heading out to explore more. The streets are separated by canals and bridges… which is beautiful. You can see some draw bridges that allow large boats to continue through the canals, old buildings whose foundations are compromised by the water (most likely the case of the crookedness), and lots of bikers. So many bikers, in fact, that they have more bike paths than walking paths. They are tied to about every metal post you can find in the city. They pride themselves on being so bike-friendly… and it’s obvious. They are also known for being the most expensive place to park in the world. At about 50 Euro a day average… spicy. Parking on the street is even that expensive. You can imagine the popularity of bikes and scooters—because there is no parking fee. We walked through the flower market and grabbed some free Fanta Zero from the street advertisers. Free things in a town this expensive is always good. The flower market was full of bulb plants of various sizes that were quite cheap. Most are not cleared to cross the border to the U.S. though. Some are, but there’s such a limited supply. We found a great place to eat lunch: Wok to Walk. It was like a Subway of stir-fry. It was delicious and spicy. We had a walk through many alleys and streets that had “coffee shops” which conveniently also sell marijuana. It can be smelled all around town, too (despite the fact it’s illegal to smoke in the streets). We were not approached for purchasing, thankfully. I’ve read horror stories of dangerous street sales, pickpockets, and violence. There are even street signs warning about pick pocketing. We walked through the tragic red-light-district of Amsterdam and were obviously horrified that women would exploit themselves in such ways. It’s a terrible thing to do and a terrible thing that is so mainstream. Watching children and their parents walk around as if it’s commonplace breaks your heart. These kids shouldn’t have to be exposed to such exploitation. While I know it’s the decision of the women, it’s also not something the innocent need to witness. But, I am not their parent… so I have no say. Except… not my children, not mine. There are many beautiful things about the city though, too. There’s also lots of shopping everywhere and a huge walking street where I think I saw 4 H&M stores. We headed back to the hotel after a complete rain downpour. It had been raining lightly throughout the entire day, but this one spell was brutal. We took captive under the tarp of a street vendor swap meet. Back to the hotel where Ray rested up a bit and then we headed back out to check out a windmill about 2.2 kilometers from out apartment. We snapped a few photos with just enough sunlight, and headed to the city center where we grabbed some dinner and visited a grocery store for a few things. This grocery store was amazing. I can only dream of having such a great store in Germany. They have so many fresh take-away options and tons of peanut butter, Doritos, tortillas… and all kinds of things I can’t find just a couple hours away in Germany. It’s amazing Amsterdam is only 3 hours from our home in Neuenrade. At times it feels like a different continent. I peeked my head into the Hard Rock Café across from our hotel and I swear it was a sign of God that I was there. Bon Jovi came on as we arrived and I made a choice not to leave the restaurant until it was over. Back at the hotel, Ray rested because he’s feeling quite sick, and I played on Google Wave and started cleaning up a bit. There must have been a tornado in our hotel room—really. Tomorrow we’re hoping to visit another (or some more) windmill and head back to Neuenrade. Back for a few days until we head to Maryland. Very exciting!!!

Sonntag 08.11.2009 (day 55)

We had a great day today. Even though it’s a Sunday and we had to drive all the way back home, we still managed to fit in some fun along the way. The morning was not so fun, though. The nightmares on Friday night from our hotel (Apollo Museum Hotel, Amsterdam) continued to haunt us, even though Ray already made a phone complaint to their corporation. We dropped off the key and told the attendant we were checking out and she quickly asked us to pay the “city tax” of about $9. City tax? This price was supposed to be all-inclusive and considering the rudeness on their behalf towards us just two days prior, we figured we’d get a free breakfast, apology letter, email, phonecall… or something. But, we received nothing and in addition were asked to pay more money. It was not a pleasant experience and one that ended up getting us a complimentary breakfast although they still required we sign the tax. The most unpleasant experience we’ve had at a hotel ever… but especially in Europe where we’re generally pleased with the incredible hospitality. Okay, so we shook that off and walked our luggage a few blocks to our car in the parking deck. We spent less than 48 hours parked in the city and it cost us 84 Euro. That translates to about $150. The city pull in the upwards of $150 million a year on parking alone. We forked it over to the man and headed home—err, maybe not. We actually set out to find another windmill—Sloten. You can walk up and touch this one while the one last night we couldn’t get close to (although close enough to grab some great photos). We snapped some photos and drove on… and we ended up seeing 2 other windmills (bringing our grand total to 4 and I have pictures of all of them!). After seeing the Sloten windmill, we noticed that the GPS location we were at was awfully close to the water… as in the Atlantic Ocean water! So, we found a beach resort area close and drove a half hour out of the way to touch the water. There is just no way we could’ve done that without the GPS technology. We’ve experienced so many spontaneous adventures both in the U.S. and Europe because of the flexibility GPS systems all you—get yourself lost looking at shiny object anywhere and it manages to find you back. Of course, the caveat is that I never remember my way anywhere because I rely on the system to help me. Sometimes with construction or road closures, that can be trouble. Anyway, our beach adventure was a blast. We arrived in a town called Zandvoort, which is also in the North Holland Region. I quickly wrote down the coordinates so I could look it up on Wikipedia later. Ray and I are both big fans of researching places we’ve been. He usually researches before, and I research when we get home after. I like to relate what I saw to the information I get online. That’s one of the millions of reasons why I love the Internet—such a collection of knowledge thrown together by people who live in all areas of the world. I’d say it’s the best display of sharing known to man. I grabbed some shells (normally I don’t… but when will I be back in the Netherlands!?) and we drove through the beach town and back onto the highway. Off we went… back to Deutschland. From Dutch to German in seconds as we crossed borders. I still can’t believe there are no border crossings. Nothing… just a small metal sign like you’re passing from state to state in the U.S. It’s almost anticlimactic in that way. We made it home in just over 3 hours from the beach town. Not bad! We were home at exactly 5 p.m. and I was able to make dinner while Ray rested. I sure hope I don’t get sick! We’re going to Maryland for early Thanksgiving and Erin’s wedding next weekend and I really want to be well enough to enjoy it and my Chipotle burrito. Cannot wait! After unpacking, I noticed we had mail—a package from Kay & Steve! I think it’s really funny that I just emailed them a couple days ago that I was hoping they could stop by the after-Halloween sales and grab me some candy corns. They don’t sell them in Germany and I love them… and thought it would be fun to bring some back for the Germans to try. She sent the package before I sent the email and it had candy corns inside! It also had a cute picture from Ray growing up during Halloween time, spooky socks, and Hershey’s chocolate caramel kisses. A fun surprise! Off now to get ready for bed. A long and fun day, indeed.

Montag 09.11.2009 (day 56)

Lucky me. I woke up at exactly 9 a.m. (yeah, pretty late…) and threw on my Ugg boots, grabbed the keys, and moved the car to an area we wouldn’t be ticketed. Because European streets are so small and many towns are quite old, there are businesses inside of little alley streets (like ours). The parking is strictly enforced during the weekdays and you’re only allowed to park 2 hours consecutively with your hourly tag set at your arrival time. I saved us from another ticket. Not that I can complain since the first one was only 5 Euro! I checked my email to find that the teacher at the Gymnasium (their equivalent to a high school) had written me about volunteering. I’m not sure what it will entail, but at the very least, I’ll have something to do, feel productive, and share in classrooms of students learning all about the English language and American culture. Thankfully, it feels good to feel like an expert in some areas of life… since you often feel defeated in another country being at the mercy of their language and ideals. It sets you back when in grocery stores, or anywhere. For example, today I was at the grocery store and I was trying to locate something I’d been searching for and I couldn’t ask where it was located. I bet I could’ve if I would’ve thought hard about it, but I’m slightly embarrassed to use my German in fear that others won’t understand me… or even worse… that they will understand me and respond with an answer I cannot understand! For the most part, I get along fine… but it’s cases like that where I feel a bit defeated and naïve. After the grocery store (and schlepping the heavy groceries in the rain home), I got to work with laundry while Ray sat miserably on the couch sniffling and sneezing as he has been for the past few days. Being sick is never any fun. Being sick in another country is even less fun because you’re without your “comforts” of home. I cooked up a pot of chili for dinner tonight because I figured Ray would really want something hot and hearty. We had lunch and stayed home until about 4:00 p.m. because we had to head out to meet Sabine for our German lesson. Normally we’d stay home in the case of sickness, but since we’ve had so few lessons lately, I’m nervous we’re stepping backwards in our language acquisition and that’s not good at all. What’s nice about cooking dinner early… is that it’s all ready for you when you get home. Well, we did drive down to work and Sabine wasn’t there yet. I went to grab the cell phone and give her a call and saw that she had already text messaged us that she wasn’t able to make it today. So, we left and went to Toom in Altena. I wanted to grab a pie crust and some other items. We headed home and I got to work peeling, cutting and baking another apple pie. Ray made one less than two weeks ago, but I needed to use the rest of the apples so they wouldn’t go to waste. Oh darn… another apple pie. I’m obviously not sad! There are two pie crust choices at Toom and we’ve tried them both now. The first was a bit like a cake and the second was flaky goodness and perfect. That’s the one I baked today. I also threw the chili back on the stove for a hot meal that was equally delicious. I’m really learning to channel my/our inner chef while we’ve been here. The Germans cook a lot. They don’t go to restaurants every night and frankly, there just aren’t many options to do so. Not affordably anyway. This will be good practice for our pocketbook too… especially getting me used to living in Chicago! Backtracking a bit… we also headed to the Apotheke (pharmacy) before we headed home. Ray needed to get some Dayquil/Nyquil because he is hoping to survive work tomorrow. In a socialist society, you cannot walk into a store and grab some over-the-counter medicine. Not unless you’re only expecting cough drops or vitamins. You must wait in line behind other sick folk to talk with a pharmacist about your ailments. They then prescribe you medicine that is extremely overpriced and items you would buy for cheap on the counter at your local Target in the U.S. The Vick’s brand of Dayquil/Nyquil cost us about $45 U.S. dollars! That one was hard to swallow. I’m excited to stock up this weekend when we head back to Maryland for Erin’s wedding. Happy 20-year anniversary of the Berlin wall fall! While we’re in Germany, we’re still 5 hours from Berlin and we see the same anyone in the world does—on the television. Off to get some rest for a hopefully less-sick tomorrow!

Dienstag 10.11.2009 (day 57)

Today was all about unexpected events. The usual happened in the morning, though. Ray left for work and I found things to do around the house until he came home for lunch. Sometimes I think these boring mornings aren’t worth writing about. But then I remember that this is a 6-month journal… start to finish. The mundane, boring or otherwise is to be documented so that when we’re retired and on a cruise somewhere exotic, I can pull out this manuscript and read away, reminiscing about our crazy adventures! So, we had leftover chili for lunch from last night. That’s my favorite thing about making a large pot of anything—I don’t have to cook for the next meal! I grabbed a bunch of stuff and headed out the door. We stopped by Netto to grab some vanilla ice cream and made it to work. While at Netto, I noticed that this salsa I’ve been eyeing for a few weeks now finally went on sale. It’s been 1 Euro per 1-cup jar for at least a month. I knew that if it sat for awhile and no one buys it (hence the reason it’s on clearance in the first place; because Germans don’t eat Mexican food!), they’d drop the price. While 1 Euro may not seem like a lot, it’s still the equivalent to $1.50 in U.S. dollars. It’s only one cup of salsa, and I wanted to get the best deal. So, it finally dropped to $.49 (Euro = $.75 U.S.) each! I knew if I was patient! I bought out the rest of their stock! They had 8 bottles left and I already had 3 at home that I paid full price for… so I think 11 bottles should do me fine for 4 months. At work, I set the apple pie I made in the kitchen with utensils and instructions in German about the ingredients of the pie (basics: dough, sugar, apples, cinnamon, flour) and where the ice cream was located so they could add a scoop to make it truly authentic. It really should’ve been hot from the oven, but that just wasn’t possible. I wanted the folks at work to have a taste of America… and the quintessential apple pie should do the trick (and the other reason was to get rid of all those apples we had left over in the house before they began to rot!). I also placed some of the candy corns for them to taste—that my fabulous mother-in-law sent over from Maryland. I am currently doing a nice job at eating the other bag. Ray may not dare put his hand in the bag in fear I may retaliate with force. Ha! I sat down at my computer and began sorting photos from our Amsterdam trip and Lothar walks in… he wanted to introduce us to some guys from Denmark who are visiting that the company does business with. Okay, so we meet, sit down for a bit… and that bit turns into 3 hours! Three hours of passing the breeze. I’m not even good at that for 30 minutes, let alone times 6. But, they were incredibly nice guys and I really enjoyed the conversation, but it was surprising how long we spoke. It turns out this whole global manufacturing business is really just a bunch of tangled webs of years of family relationships and deals. It’s amazing. We have a lot to learn, but we’re starting to understand the whole process. I headed back at close to 5 p.m. and noticed that almost all of the pie was gone! Yay! I guess that means it was a hit! Before we left, it was entirely gone. Ironically, the candy corns will about 80% full still. Haha! Probably not their idea of good eats. Cultures are so different! But, I haven’t tasted a single German candy/chocolate that I didn’t like yet. They have their candies and frozen desserts figured out. I finished sorting the Amsterdam photos that I hope to get on the web tomorrow. We headed home around 6:30 and cooked up some Mexican food—of course, complete with salsa. The night was complete. Tomorrow I hope to upload this to the web with photos from the weekend!

One last thing: I'm sure you noticed... I changed the blog and added a photo on top. If you have a slower Internet connection, it probably slows down your computer a bit, because it has to download the photo. Hopefully, the 2nd or 3rd time you visit the site, your computer will "cache" this photo and not take as long. If not, and it's too slow and bothersome, let me know. I can get rid of the photo. :)

Until next time, B.


Solange, Nik and Caitlin said... [Reply to comment]

I would totally buy some bananen and some romatomaten!!! How fun that they have brands like knorr that I recognize :) Thanks for posting all these great pictures and your daily diary that always keeps us entertained. It's like we're making the trip with you in spirit. We miss you guys tons and we hope you have a fabulous weekend! Going anywhere fun????