Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The beginning of our European Journey 15.09.2009 - 23.09.2009

Hello family and friends... here's what our first week in Germany has been like:

This is the pizzeria right next door to our apartment in Neuenrade, Germany.
This is the view down our street in Germany. The white building sells eye-glasses.
The door that is open on the right with two bikes covered in front is our apartment. We have the bottom and top level that you see. To the left is a gelato (italian ice cream) shop.
Look what we found! Okay... so it's not really the same food you find at my favorite U.S. grocery chain, but the name excited me nonetheless. Yum.
This gelato place next door to us is SUPER popular. When it is open, no matter what day of the week, it's always busy!
This is the inside of our fridge, in case you were interested in seeing what we're eating/drinking here in Deutschland.
...and of course the freezer! Those Schoko (short for Schokolade=chocolate) splits are divine!
Our first mexican food meal in Germany. Yeah... how very authentic, we know... the funniest thing about the whole situation is that all of the ingredients you see were on clearance. Obviously not a popular food staple here.

Here's another picture of our home. It's actually a "duplex" because it's connected to another, almost identical 1732 house like ours.
American Style Bacon. Don't worry Mom and Dad... we've got you covered for when you come. American sliced bread (that Germans think is awful), Heinz ketchup, and American style bacon. You're all set.
Our upstairs half-bath.
Room #2 of 3 "bedrooms" in the house. I consider this a bedroom because it has a pull-out futon.
A staircase to the attic that we have no interest in exploring...
Our steep staircase that leads upstairs (obviously...)
Bedroom #3 (two twin beds perpendicular to one another... child's room it seems)
Bedroom #3, second twin bed.
This floor is original to the place built nearly 300 years ago!!!
Our living room we crash out in at the end of a long German session.
Washer/dryer-- we're SO thankful.
The kitchen table...
The rest of the kitchen...
Upstairs view from the master bedroom.
The place has really low ceilings and Ray bumps his head daily.
Our entrance
Hallway from the back of the house downstairs
Master Bedroom
Master Bedroom again...
Our large bathroom. Shower is in the right corner and quite small... but great water pressure and warm water! (TMI, possibly. Sorry)
Our welcome sign when we arrived at work on our first day (16.09.2009)
Word, yo.
MMM... Dinner in Koln (Cologne-- sorry, don't have special characters on this keyboard to put the two dots over the "o" in Koln).
Ray is very excited about his first "bretzel" in Koln.
Some of the 533 steps to the top of the Koln Cathedral. Gorgeous gothic cathedral and you can pay 2,50 Euro to walk the steps in a muggy, sweaty, and uncomfortable space with a bunch of strangers! Okay, so it was fun, but yes... stinky and sticky.
The Cathedral (began building in the 1300's and finished in the 1800's!) in Koln.
More Koln Cathedral...
Always undergoing construction because it's so old! This photo taken from the narrow staircase out one of the small windows.
Up close and personal with the construction sight.
The Rheine River from the narrow staircase in the Koln Cathedral.
Kind of artsy here... photo of the Rheine River from the Cathedral stairs.
"Ceiling" of the Cathedral tower.
A couple photos below of some gorgeous windows and architecture we saw at the Cathedral.

Our ride for our European adventures-- the car Ray learned to drive manual transmission on! Stats: Audi A4, S series, manual, blue, sedan, blue...
Here's the diary I've been keeping everyday (lots of information and mostly for us to record keep so we can remember the different things we're experiencing... enjoy if you wish!):
Dienstag 15.09.2009
We arrived at the airport in Chicago (O’Hare) and boarded our flight to Zurich, Switzerland at 7 p.m. The plane ride was pleasant and just under 9 hours of flight time. I watched a Sandra Bullock movie (the one where she convinces her assistant to marry her). When we arrived in Zurich, it was morning; around 9 o’clock.
Mittwoch 16.09.2009
We had 1.5 hours to kill and freshened up before boarding our flight to Frankfurt, Germany (directly north 1 hour). When we arrived, Lothar was there to pick us up for the 2 hour drive to Werdohl, Germany. We entered the Autoban for the first time and were quite surprised by the lack of speed limits. Well, we weren’t surprised, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for driving in a car at 150 mph deep in conversation. We visited the company, drove around the city when we arrived, headed to Lothar & Anya’s house for a drink, then to dinner at an Italian restaurant on a hill in Neuenrade, our home city for the next 6 months. After dinner (every dinner being more than 2 hours, easily), we went back to our apartment around 10 p.m. and slept until 8 a.m. the next morning.
Donnerstag 17.09.2009
This morning was a bit rough. Dealing with a 7-hour time difference, it’s like waking up in the middle of the night! But, there isn’t anything coffee can’t handle, right? Well, for me at least. I think my addictions to caffeine will not improve during our life here. The coffee machine in the break room is killer. I will be getting one at home eventually. We were introduced to the company and the many employees (maybe met 30 people). We even walked in to see a sign of Willkommen (welcome) with our names. At lunch time, we enjoyed a salad, schnitzel (of course I did not!), brot (bread), salat (salad), pastries, and more coffee. A few of the employees were celebrating birthdays and we were able to enjoy their homemade selections. After lunch, we met our tutor for the next six months, Sabine (Zah-bee-nuh). She’s a 26-year-old student at the university who responded to an advertisement to train two Americans in Deutsch. She spent the afternoon taking us around the city of Neuenrade, to the grocery store, the bakery, and finally to a Chinese food restaurant in her town (next to ours), Altena. Chinese was good and had lots of flavor! We departed and headed home in our car for our time here, an Audi A4 (just like at home!) S Series wagon, manual transmission, diesel. We couldn’t wait to sleep when we got home… full day #2 and we were quite tired. Up at 7 a.m. the next day.
Freitag 18.09.2009
Yay! Fridays are great here, just as they are at home. The weekend is ahead which means we get to sleep in… but not quite yet… we drove to work and arrived at 8:30 a.m. This is a good time to talk about our drive to work. We live on a hill that a few years ago suffered a tornado, wiping out some of the trees. There are great patches of lush green and then small pockets of desolation because the trees in that particular area were wiped out. We live in the center of town directly between a gelato restaurant (always busy!) and a pizzeria. We step out the door and we are facing a place that sells eyeglasses. The area has tons of parking, but in a very European way. All cars are small and most are manual transmission diesels. If you walk just 30 meters from our place, you are on the main road in the town which boasts bakeries, banks, restaurants, cafes, grocery markets, pharmacies, etc. The bakery is exactly 1.5 European blocks from our place. Did I mention a gelato place next door? Surely I will need to invest in larger pants while we’re here. Please don’t judge. Haha! Okay… back to work. We drive about 10 kilometers to work. We exit the center of town and head down a quite narrow and steep area with no traffic lights or stops for about 3 kilometers. There are no road lines on this stretch and the turns are as windy as San Francisco’s crazy road. It’s also a two-way street, but not quite wide enough… Then, once we reach the traffic light, we take a left and then another left in about 4 kilometers at the corner with the cigarette machine (they are everywhere!). I think we pass two traffic lights on the way there --- about 6 miles! Driving here is extremely different based on the lack of stops. They have less stop lights (and they go: red, yellow for a second, THEN green… so nice because you have time to prepare your gear into 1st from neutral), less stop signs, more yields, and speed limits are general through every city unless otherwise posted. It’s quite an experience while still on the same side of the road as the U.S.
We arrived at work around 8:30 and got to work on their new website. They wanted our advice on grammar/translation and design. I worked on grammar while Ray focused on the latter. We enjoyed lunch with Lothar and Carston, head of finance. After lunch we visited the drink store (they buy drinks in bottles that are in crates they return when purchasing more) and purchased beer, wasser (water), und (and) Coca Cola Light—way more delicious in Europe. We went back to work for a few hours and focused again on the website. Ray has some great ideas that will integrate both the Chicago company and the Deutschland company. We left around 4:30 and headed home for a rest before leaving again to Lothar’s home in Werdohl to meet for aperitifs before dinner. We were joined by his wife, Anya, and our tutor, Sabine. We enjoyed dinner and left for home around 11:30 p.m.—or 23:30—as it is spoken here.
Samstag 19.09.2009
We sure slept in today… and slowly crept out of our slumber to manage a car ride from Neuenrade to Koln (Cologne). The night before we had been advised differently from Lothar, Anya, and Sabine. Lothar told us to drive there, while Anya and Sabine suggested we drive a bit in the opposite direction (25 km) and park at a train station that would take us to the center of Koln. We hadn’t driven anywhere major yet, so we chose to drive ourselves. We heard parking at the train station and in the city would be hard… but had no such problem. All was well as we drove modestly in the slower lane of the Autoban while watching maniacs drive 150 mph alongside us… until… we hit… the traffic jam. Not just any traffic jam. This jam took us about 5 kilometers in 1.5 hours, making our 1.5 hour trip 3 hours. We arrived and parked just fine. Our first stop was to McDonalds (I know, how very authentic) and we ordered entirely in German… thankyouverymuch. After, we went to the ancient Cathedral built between 1300-1800’s. It took 500 years to complete without modern technology and it’s absolutely breathtaking and incredible that such an intricate design could be crafted. It’s a wonder as amazing as the ancient pyramids… my brain just cannot wrap around the idea. We paid 2.5 Euro for each of us to walk 533 steps to the top of one of the steeples where the bell tower is. It was SO hot and muggy in there with people panting and sweating and all breathing the same stale and muggy air. Eh. We found a Vodafone store that sells electronics and purchased a phone to use with our European phone chip (our phones are USA locked… ugh) and a blow dryer with European plug (I am currently borrowing Anya’s). We headed down and walked around the city and along the River Rheine. We walked to an area where they have sky gondolas that carry you across the river. It was closed, but we wanted to check it out regardless. We walked back in the direction of our car and found a delicious bakery and purchased our dinner—zwei bretzels (two pretzels), veir keine pizzas (four small pizzas), und zwei Coca Cola Lights. We went back to our car, paid the 7.5 Euro and drove off into the night (literally… no lights on the Autoban). Driving at night is not of my interest and there was plenty of it. We made it back and filled up on diesel gas (sold by the liter at 1.07 Euro) and headed back to Neuenrade. Ah, home.
Sonntag 20.09.2009
Today was a strange day that brought lots of realizations. We woke quite late (I’m too embarrassed to tell you) and headed out to Ludensheid, the closest large town to us (about 70,000). Koln is about 250,000… so not as big as that. We drove into Ludensheid and it was an absolute ghost town. We saw very few cars in motion and a few people walking about (mostly young men) and a few Muslim families. We know Europe is not too religious, but where were the people? We learned quite quickly and vividly that Europeans obviously take their rest quite seriously. Just about every shop aside from maybe 1 in 10 restaurants was closed and there was almost nowhere to go. We headed back to Neuenrade to have some lunch (cheese, crackers, cornichons—how so very European!) and walked around the town. Currently, the town is undergoing heavy construction right on the main road. We have been taking detours and they literally shut down the entire main street. No one is working—just complete desolation. Families are about and children are riding their bikes in the street yelling German phrases and sitting at cafes eating snacks. Lots of people are walking around and in parks. We walked by a school and saw writing on the board in German, chairs up, book boxes, children playing in nearby skate parks, soccer fields, and riding scooters. It’s really great to see people just… relaxing. We visited the bakery to order a baguette for tonight’s dinner – our first official meal made in our new apartment, spaghetti. We asked, “Ein Baguette bitte… Danke” and off we went, baguette in hand, munching as we headed back to our cute apartment. We walked up the street and past the gelato café PACKED with people. We went into our apartment and opened the window. As I sit here on our little red couch, I can hear people chattering in Deutsch and Ray sitting at the kitchen table practicing his Deutsch to Rosetta Stone. It’s more real now and we’re taking it more seriously. Our apartment… cute and quaint to say the least. Built in 1732 and looks very “old” German-style. It has speckled white paint and brown on the front and every doorway and the roof is particularly short. I fit just fine standing at 5’3” tall, while Ray needs to duck while entering rooms. There isn’t a day so far that he hasn’t bumped his head. I must go now to practice my German, crack open a beer, and relax, clearly like the rest of Europe is doing. I think America has something to learn…
Montag 21.09.2009
Our alarm was set this morning, and the nicest thing about living on “military time” is that you cannot accidentally press 7:20 p.m. when you meant to select a.m. (since there is only one 7:30 in the day) This morning, Ray drove us to work. He’s becoming quite the professional at the manual transmission. No stalling… simply excellent. I only wish I managed to learn things that easily. He had even more practice when he left (solo!) to go back home because we forgot our Internet USB that we’re hoping to get working today. Around 9:00 (that’s midnight for my parents!), we were greeted by our tutor and we spent the majority of today working on German lessons (around 6 hours). She’s very nice and reminds Ray of our friend in America, Dana. During our hour lunch break, we visited the grocery store, Netto Marken Discount. We bought microwaveable lunches and basic necessities like soap and laundry detergent. We also managed to find some beans, tortillas, hot sauce, and taco seasoning in an area that was obviously items they don’t want to carry any longer. Oh… isn’t it true that one man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure. Our afternoon German lessons were brutal. My head is crammed tightly and I have homework to do. I think at age 26—almost 27 unfortunately—my brain is over capacitated. When we arrived home, we stepped out again to another grocery store and then came back home to make dinner… Mexican food! That’s right. We found very small tortillas, beans, cheese, and salsa. It was delicious. All in all, it was a very good and full day that we are glad to be done with. Tomorrow is day #2 of intensive German. Guten Abend!
Dienstag 22.09.2009
Today… today is Tuesday; a day after one of the hardest days of German instruction (and the first real day). We stopped off at the market to buy our lunches and some more Mexican food for future meals. What an obsession I have. We discussed peanut butter with Sabine, who told me she once tasted it and hated it. Since we cannot find peanut butter anywhere here, we must wait until we can visit Andy at the Air Force base. Surely they will have some delicious PB to go with our J. We have full intentions of also picking up large quantities of Mexican food items (refried beans, salsa, chips, tortillas) and making lunch for the office of employees who eat sausage just about every day for lunch. That is no joke! Every day we walk into the kitchen to sausages in boiling water. Our German lessons were again, brutal. I think we practiced the same sentences about 10 times and still, I struggle. We learned the alphabet and we’re pretty good with our numbers… but forming sentences is another story. We bought plan stamps today—but since everything closes before 7:00 p.m., we needed to be speedy. We had pizza for dinner and more of the delicious mineral water we’re both growing quite fond of. Exciting news is that we’ll have our first visitors on October 3rd—my best friend and her husband, Nic and Alison. She’s pregnant and I’m excited to see them! We planned originally to visit Munich together for Oktoberfest but may choose Interlaken, Switzerland instead. Andy, Ray’s Academy friend, is also coming back to live at the AF base here which is about 2 hours away. That’s exciting to have a friend in somewhat close proximity (and one we can call on our only-Europe phone and actually share the same time zone with!). Until then… off to rest and listen to our favorite radio station, eins live! (translation: ones’ life—plays about 80% pop-rock from America. Haha!)
Mittwoch 23.09.2009
We wake every morning at 7 a.m. (though our alarm is set for 7:20) to the sound of the church bell about 1 block away. Sabine said that there is a special reason and we live in a heavy Catholic area in our town. The reminder we have only 20 minutes left of sleep is a small portion of torture. Maybe we should just get up at 7. We arrived at work and settled before our German lessons from 9-12 today—not bad. Only 3 hours and we had a break and an afternoon free to do other work. We learned how to conjugate verbs. Let’s just say that wasn’t ever my strong area in learning Spanish in high school and I still struggle with concept (in every language!). We did not break open the Diet Coke and Advil today as we usually do since lessons were only 3 hours rather than 6. We spoke more of the alphabet, learned some geography in German, and interviewed (and were interviewees) Lothar… or Herr Gadtke (in proper German). We visited our favorite grocery store for lunch and I picked up soup and Ray selected a pasta dish. We bought some orange juice and it is AMAZING! We tried another kind and were disappointed. This one is fresh-squeezed and questionably better than our beloved Tropicana. When we arrived back, Lothar invited us for a sausage stand lunch—I passed, Ray went. He said it was delicious and the french fries were awesome. My minestrone was quite nice as well. After lunch I helped another employee correct the grammar/English on their new website soon to be launched. We did not finish the entire editing process, but will continue in a few days. Ray researched some of our future travel trips—this weekend we will visit Dresden (25-27th) and the following weekend we’ll visit Munich and meet up with my friend Alison and her husband Nic for Oktoberfest and general fun! We’re also considering another trip to see Nic & Alison in Paris at the end of their trip in Europe before they head back to the states (somewhere around the 10th of October). Again, it’s nice to arrive home and wind down. We love Germany so far and really enjoy learning… but the language does make us quite exhausted!
Tomorrow we work again and have German lessons and then off to Dresden for 3 days of a long weekend! Until next time!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Day of School... err... Work.

So... Ray's mom had this idea to photograph Ray on the first day of his new job-- since it is September and all and schools are just getting started again. We have no kids yet, so why not?

Might I add that Ray knew the drill quite well. Stand in front of the door (sans backpack though for this bigshot) and smile R-E-A-L big for the camera (except lighting was bad near the door so we moved locations). Cheese is in full effect here, folks.
Doesn't he just look so handsome though? My adorable husband all excited. I cannot forget to also mention that he was so excited when he got home still that he sat up for 5 hours working on work-related (totally optional homework, to compare) Powerpoints.

I'm a little jealous he is working and thus contributing to the greater good of something. It's great watching him just love and embrace his new experiences... the husband is back in action!