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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Surprise Trip! 14.10.2009 - 20.10.2009

Ray planned a surprise trip as a belated birthday present for me. He used blind booking on German Wings and took a chance. Well, I love surprises. So, I waited until we got to the airport to see where we were going for the weekend. I only knew a few things about the location: it was in Europe, and it wasn't anywhere either of us have ever been before (so it couldn't be the U.K., Switzerland, Spain, or Italy because Ray has been to those places-- and I didn't think it was France). I actually thought (totally random) that it would be Hungary. Well, I was wrong.

Here we are at the airport and I snapped a photo of the marquee. I had no idea where...

We had dinner, then finally went to our gate and as I peaked around the corner... I saw the location:

Vienna, Austria! I was quite excited. Even more exciting... as we waited to board our plane (1.5 hour flight), we went on German Wings again to book another flight for two weeks from then and assumed we'd get Prague since we've been wanting to go there and it's relatively close and a popular German Wings flight. To our shock... we got Budapest, Hungary!

I took some photos of the hotel we stayed at in Vienna because it was so charming. It's not usually like me to photograph hotels, but this was an apartment they rented daily for hotel use and it was just great.

Can you find the toilet? Nope... because it's not in here! We were scared for awhile because we couldn't find it.
no toilet here either...
and here? ... at the entrance?

View from our hotel to the Austrian street below.
Some goods we purchased from the local chocolatier, Manner. It's Vienna Austrian made and it is delicious!
We found a cute area in Austria that reminded us of something you'd find in New York. Carnival rides abound and plenty of kids on the rides in the rain.
Ray making me dinner for my birthday weekend!
After we visited some places (you'll see photos below), we were daring and decided to try some Maroni nuts (roasted chestnuts) from a street vendor and I've been sick with food poisoning ever since. I've learned my lesson. 1. Don't buy from a street vendor & 2. It would help if the vendor didn't smell like drugs and had teeth.
Here's Ray taking a bite of the sweet-tasting, not-so-good nuts. No sickness for him, though.
Here's the ad.
Yeah, I look all cheery and happy now... but later, I paid for that!
We took a train stop to the U.N. headquarters in Vienna. Watching the news on Monday, there were Iran Nuke talks held there. Pretty crazy!
Enjoying a Starbucks for my mom & Samantha.
The next few photos are from St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna.

Another train stop took us to a canal (there are a few) that feeds into the Danube River. This is called the "sunken city" and even has a walking bridge across that we imagine is heavily used in the nice summer months. Until then, they open the bridge for cargo.
Here are some photos below of Palace Schönbrunn. We walked to the top of another structure to take photos of the city behind us.
More at the palace...

These flowers were still intact, but the majority of them that were not on the perimeter were dug up. We weren't sure why... perhaps they were seasonal, or they had no chance in winter anyhow?

The front entrance of the palace. We actually took a self-guided palace tour complete with headsets through 20+ rooms. The story here is that two cousins were married, the man a workaholic, the woman hated marriage, 1 child died at age 2, the other committed suicide, and finally the woman was murdered. Not really the story of happiness. Tragic, actually. I wrote more in my journaling about details of others who visited, stayed, or lived here too.
The duck realized he'd better keep warm with a wind chill of -1! Brrrrr!
Another beautiful Dom in Vienna.
Here is the Belvedere Palace. There are quite a few famous pieces of art in there. I believe them.
The front of the Belvedere under winter construction. Water is already drained from the fountain and there is a fence around it to keep people out of the pond area. If you'd like to see what it really looks like in season, click here.
Another photo of that pretty Dom.
After being terribly sick for a day with no fresh air, we managed to take a 1-hour train ride from Vienna to Bratislava, Slovakia just to visit. New country... so close... why not?
Here's a photo of their "White House" equivalent. Their president lives here and it's actually used for meetings. I believe G.W. Bush met here in 2005 with the Slovak president. Kinda cool.
Cute walking street in Bratislava and a family with a European stroller. They all look like that here...
Castle we saw in Bratislava. It's actually closed for renovation right now.
Public transportation in Europe is exceptional. I just thought this bus was weird. It ran on cables but no tracks! I hope the bus driver is careful!
Here I am standing on the Danube River! That's a famous restaurant (bridge) behind me.
And of course... the journaling:
Mittwoch 14.10.2009 (day 30)
Woah… the weather is definitely starting to change. Not only is this my first real fall and real winter (living in So. Cal your entire life… the trees are confused and have “fall” all year, it seems), but it’s all happening on foreign soil! We walked to our car and the temperature in our car said -2 degrees Celcius… but it wasn’t accurate since it was sitting and remained cool from earlier in the night. It had to at some point hit freezing, I know, because our car iced over. Ray had to scrape the windows because the dew froze over (happens at 0 degrees Celcius). More accurately, it was about 4 degrees this morning = 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Our drive through Neuenrade showed frozen-over fields, icy windshields and fog. But, as we dropped elevation into Werdohl, there was no such sign of the ice… only a couple kilometers and everything changes! Still cold, but not frigid. It was nice getting to work and not starting with German right away. Our tutor started her University classes today and was taking the train from Bohn (about 1 hour) this afternoon to teach us for a few hours. That meant the entire morning was free. Ray actually worked, and since I am jobless (I’m not complaining… but still miss kids and productivity), I searched the web, read blogs, and wrote our blog for the week. It’s fun, especially when I have the time to just waste away with my thoughts. It also makes me miss home less and feel connected to family and friends inadvertently. Around 11:30, we headed to Lüdenscheid so Ray could get a haircut and we could grab some lunch. We took a long lunch… because nothing here in Germany is quick. No drive-through restaurants, very few “fast food” restaurants, and certainly not hair cuts. A man’s haircut consisted of two washings (actually quite awesome because Ray always complains about the little hairs left over that get on his clothes), a head massage, and both manual and razor cutting. That was all included! It was even more of a challenge to explain how to cut his hair in German. I wasn’t getting a haircut… and there were no chairs to sit down. I left a few times, walked around the adorable European farmer’s market (but with questionable meat selling with no refrigeration…) in the city center—Stadt Zentrum—walked into shops… and came back and his hair still wasn’t finished. I realize we’d been neglecting his hair and it was badly needed, but that was a long haircut. We grabbed some quick food in a local bakery and headed back to work. Our tutor arrived at 2 p.m. and Ray still had some work to get done before she came. Indeed, German lessons as planned… from 2:20-5:20. Correcting of our homework—hausaufgabe…literally translated “house tasks”—and we finally started the second chapter of our book! At this rate, we’re working on a chapter per month. We were the last ones at work and a bit around 5:30 we headed to downtown Werdohl for a business dinner with one of the employees of the subsidiary in Frankfurt. He was driving to have dinner with us. While we waited for him to arrive, we did our homework in the car with the heater on full blast… it was about 3 degrees Celcius outside around 6 p.m. It will indeed be another icy night. Dinner at the Chinese food restaurant, Jade, went well. We got home around 9 p.m. and I got to work packing, doing laundry, dishes, and all the fun things about life while Ray continued with phonecalls and work. He’s a busy man lately and since business hours back in the states are just getting started as we’re ending our day here, it makes for a long night of communication between Chicago and Germany. We have absolutely nothing to complain about though. Loving life here and enjoying all the European culture has to offer. Come visit us!!! Tomorrow is surprise trip! Yippee!

Donnerstag 15.10.2009 (day 31 … marks 1 month since leaving Chicago!)
We threw everything into the car that we needed for our weekend trip and headed down the hill to Werdohl after our breakfast of peanut butter toast, fresh orange juice, and bananas. A meeting was scheduled for 9 a.m. and we told our tutor to come in at 10 a.m…. but that schedule didn’t go as planned. The meeting was conveniently pushed to 10 a.m.—when Sabine arrived. It’s awkward wasting her time because we feel so bad about it. Finally, an hour later, our German lessons resumed until noon. Just about 1.5 hours today. When Sabine left, we had lunch and Ray worked for the duration of the day until 3 p.m. as I did my German homework and searched the Internet. Being in an office all day doing nothing is tiring. I just don’t think I could ever handle an office job and I respect all those who endure that everyday! Out the door at 3 p.m. and an hours drive to Cologne. We hit no traffic, thankfully, parked, and walked through the airport to our terminal area. An early dinner of mozzarella, tomato, and pesto on ciabatta, a pretzel (what will I do when we get back to the U.S.?) and diet cokes. Security was easy and when the women relayed to the man that we spoke Deutsch, Ray replied, “ein bisschen” – oh how proud I am of him! This is about the moment I said I would be fine knowing what the surprise location was. Keep in mind that I was carrying my boarding pass, we walked by several marquees, and I still did not know. Finally, we walked around the corner, and there it was; the mystery location: Wein…as in Vienna! We were headed to Vienna, Austria! I had no reason for thinking this, but since it’s over, I’ll tell you now: I thought it was Hungary. I was wrong, but not sad either way! We sat down at our terminal, popped open the laptop, and went back on www.germanwings.com to book another trip for the weekend of Halloween. We’re on schedule to travel every other weekend by plane. We again went to the “surprise blind booking” and expected for sure to get Prague. We actually wanted Prague for that weekend and then… we were shocked… not Prague but Budapest! We are going to Hungary after all! Actually we’ll spend 3 nights there in a couple weeks. We have such fun lives. Ahhh. Still can’t believe the blessings. As I write this, I am sitting in Austria and excited about everything! On the German Wings flight we went and sat in front of a wretched smelling man. Whew. He was ripe. The 1 hour 20 minute flight was fine and out we went into the cold air (a drizzling 3 degrees Celcius) headed for the train. We waited another 40 minutes for the train and were dropped about 5 blocks from our hotel—err apartment. We are so directionally challenged that we couldn’t find our hotel and had to ask someone for help. The streets are so hard to understand. Well, in front of the Renaissance Hotel were two Americans and they gave us directions. We had to punch in a code to get our keys from the lockbox and walk across the street to our apartment room. Up the stairs… about 40 of them and we were there: apartment #10. We walked in and were amazed! What a huge apartment with a full kitchen, bathroom, washing machine, dishwasher, vaulted ceilings, original hardwood floors, comfy pillows (pillows vary from Austria/Bavaria in the south to the Northern Germany… we prefer the south), two couches, cable, a spare bedroom… I don’t know what to say! There was only one problem: we couldn’t find the toilet. We searched everywhere and nothing! No toilet in the bathroom. Finally, after 5 minutes of two adults looking, we saw a small door next to the entrance door and low and behold… the toilet. Phew. It’s been a long post for today, but such an exciting day! More to come tomorrow. I’m for sure taking photos of this sweet apartment. I love it so much that I wish we were living here instead of in Neuenrade! That’s a cute place, but this is amazing! Oh happy day.

Samstag 16.10.2009 (day 32)
These boots are made for walking… and they sure did today! Except, tennis shoes for us. I haven’t bought my cute European boots yet and am stuck wearing my old running shoes all around town. At least they’re comfortable. And I digress… today was full of exploration and seeing basically everything Vienna has to offer. The day began early as we woke up in our amazing apartment. Did I mention the awesome pillows? Off we went around 9:30, had breakfast and more pretzels (of course) and walked some blocks to the Belvedere—a palace located in the neighborhood of our hotel apartment—conveniently with the same name. We poked around, took some photos, then headed off to a train station to head for the center of town. The trains here are much easier than those in New York. We really appreciate how simple they are! We set out to find another gorgeous church that reminded us a lot of the church Dom in Cologne—called the Stephan Cathedral. Mozart’s childhood house is apparently right next to it, but we didn’t realize until later and weren’t willing to go back. Around the Dom area, we headed into a Chocolatier (of course!) and bought some authentic Vienna chocolate – Manner – and wafers they’re known for. It’s fun to taste chocolate from everywhere because we love it so much. We also bought a fun oven mit that we’ll take to our new Chicago home and remind us of our first visit to Austria. The fun story though: we’re in line for purchasing our goods and the lady in front of us (clearly from the South… as in Atlanta) could only purchase her items with a minimum of 10 Euro on her CC. Well, she only had items for 3 Euro worth and insisted she wanted nothing more. We offered to give her money if she purchased our items (ironically totaling 7 Euro) and everyone was happy. How funny. Since it’s a big city, there are plenty of English speakers like ourselves… many from the States. We walked through an area that had a bunch of museums and headed to Starbucks—and yes, we are aware that there are tons of cute cafes everywhere, but we needed a restroom. We feel like we can always count on Starbucks to rip us off just a little, but provide consistency with a toilet, Chai tea lattes, and tea. And that it did. Nearly 7 Euro for two drinks, and we headed back out into the chilly, windy air. On that note, it’s officially winter weather. I’m pretty sure we skipped fall altogether because it’s almost cold enough to snow here. It was 5 degrees all day but the wind chill was at about -1. Speaking in Celcius, of course. We caught another train after and headed to another palace called the Schönbrunn Schloβ. We figured since we hadn’t paid like tourists much today, that we’d enter the palace this time. 19 Euro later and we were able to tour the palace, see the bedrooms, etc. and they provided us with audio tour devices. The palace was the home to many people and others also stayed there or visited. Napolean lived there at one point, Kennedy met there with his Russian counterpart we can’t spell, Mozart gave his first concert there at the age of 6, and most recently (until the late 1800’s), two cousins who married lived there (yes…cousins). The woman was nicknamed Sisi and was a bitter person. She was unhappily married off at 15, had one child that died at age 2 and the other committed suicide, had anorexia, and was stabbed to death for no reason—other than that she was royalty and the anarchist wanted to kill someone of royal blood. The husband was a workaholic and reigned for over 60 years. They’re famous, but their story is a sad one. We walked through the rooms and then toured the gardens and opposing palace statue behind this residence. We snapped some photos, headed back down the hill, and stopped off a small stand to try a local snack: call Maroni—they’re nuts that they roast over fire until they pop open. You eat the soft nut inside. Nine of them for 2 Euro from a sketchy stand. Fun, but odd! Another train took us to a carnival-like area called the Prater. Think Coney Island. It was like that, but rainy and cold… so only the crazy teenagers were riding the rides. Two ferris wheels and lots of rides. Another train took us to the United Nations Headquarters (we think?!) and they wouldn’t let us in past normal visiting hours. We snapped a photo from the train station and hopped on yet another train to check out the Rathaus (city hall). Just near there was another Dom and the University of Wein. We jumped on another train, headed to the grocery store and grabbed some food to cook for dinner. It was fun making dinner in our hotel apartment! Bruschetta, tortellini, delicious bread (seriously… the bread!!!). I think we only visited 3 bakeries today. That’s about average. What will we do when we aren’t visiting bakeries every 3 hours? We walked a ton today as well and we are feeling it. It’s a good thing… it’s a very good thing.

Samstag 17.10.2009 (day 33)
Today didn’t go quite as planned. Around 4:30 in the morning, I woke up with I’d say a medium case of food poisoning. I think it was those Maroni nuts we tried from a street vendor yesterday. I spent the entire day inside under covers, sick to my stomach, and bored. Bored in Vienna. Ray is of course amazing and took great care of me. He went off to many different stores to find things for me and came back to care for me. I felt pretty bad since we were stuck indoors all day—and what do you know, the weather was excellent—that I wanted him to still explore since we were here! He went off all around the Belvedere, walked the streets to check out the train schedule for a trip we hoped to take today but will have to go on tomorrow early before our plane. More purchases of chocolate (he is a Wilson, that’s certain) and a Christmas ornament from Austria. We planned to buy one for every country we visit and we’re on country #2! He also saw Mozart’s house and took a train around the town to search in shops for our ornament. I’m hoping tomorrow is a better day. Being sick is never any fun! As it is, I am barely managing to write this at 9:00 p.m. and I haven’t eaten a meal all day. Perhaps I should. Praying for a better tomorrow!

Sonntag 18.10.2009 (day 34)
What a great day! We set the alarm clock wrong (forgetting we’re on military time and set it for 19:45 instead of 7:45) but woke up just before 8:00 and had just enough time to throw on clothes and make it to the train station. We speed walked while eating our apples, purchased some donuts that tasted nothing like donuts from the bakery, and boarded a train to Bratislava—as in Slovakia! It took about an hour to get there by train. We had few options to return back and were conscious of our time crunch, so we only spent a couple hours there before heading back to Vienna. Immediately off of the train station, we weren’t too impressed. As it is for any train station hub, the scenery is usually more along the poverty line. But, as we walked further into the city towards the Danube River, we were pleasantly surprised. I was actually quite sad we didn’t have a whole day to spend there (like yesterday when we originally planned to visit except my battle with my stomach). The city had cute walking streets, TWO Mexican restaurants, and it was actually quite attractive. Unfortunately, I was still working at 75% normalcy (and at 9:00 p.m., I’m still not fully recovered… what a mean sickness!!!) and had to pace myself, eating very little. Consumption went up 100% from yesterday, though! We managed to purchase some fries at McDonalds in Slovakia… and the great thing about that is no matter where you are in the world, it tastes the same. I was happy to have salt. We took some photos of a castle, the Danube, fun walking streets, etc. and headed back to the train station. Our arrival back in Vienna was about noon and we had a plane to catch at 4:00. So, we had time. But, my belly wasn’t up for an adventure. We relaxed a bit in our amazing hotel apartment and headed to the airport. It took about 30 minutes and 8 or so stops. Maneuvering through the airport and finally a chance to rest. The flight was fine, except for the gentleman beside me who had no regard for personal space. Arriving in Cologne, we trekked to our car, paid the spicy 39 Euro it cost to park there for 3 days and 1 hour and headed on our 1-hour drive back to Neuenrade. The usual unpacking and settling and our day was complete. 3 countries, one day… not back for a Sunday! Very excited about our trip to Hungary in less than 2 weeks!

Montag 19.10.2009 (day 35)
Well, unfortunately I had a relapse. Just before midnight I became violently sick yet again. My poor stomach has been through a war and doesn’t know when it will call victory. Still, Ray is being such a kind husband and caregiver. He went off to work this morning and I slept… just about all day. He returned for lunch to check on me and I was still in the similar up and down roller coaster shape I was yesterday. Liquids and very little food consumption wraps up my day in addition to large quantities of CNN. It’s interesting here because we actually get the European (UK) version of CNN, so most of the U.S. shows aren’t shown as we’re used to. We’re just excited to stay up with news in English. Ray came home from work and began researching our future trips. Sadly, I have no interest in that discussion or thinking about going anywhere because of my illness. I know that will change, but right now is a struggle. I am hoping to be better tomorrow and able to post pictures from our trip to Vienna, but I’m not sure what my body has in store for me. While excited to experience Europe and so thankful for Ray being here with me, I just really want to be home in the U.S. when I’m sick, eat saltine crackers (they don’t have them here), and watch movies (also a problem here without a DVD player). There is no place like home—when you’re sick!

Dienstag 20.10.2009 (day 36)
Well, still sick. Although I feel the end is near. I had more energy altogether today and wasn’t in bed all day. I was in my PJ’s on the couch for the majority of the day, but at least I have upgraded. No “sick spells” today yet (and hopefully none), and I’ve eaten more. I still have sick urges, but I try and distract myself as much as possible when those occur. I have little to report for the day hours other than watching more TV, reading, searching the web… and eating soup, drinking water, and having a half piece of peanut butter toast! That’s quite the upgrade actually. Ray came home to check on me at lunch and found me eating a Godiva chocolate (mmm…thanks Sam!). I spent much of the afternoon mapquesting the closest Subway restaurant to our place which appears to be about 20 kilometers away in a town called Iserlohn. I also discovered there are no Taco Bells in Germany aside from on select military bases (which I have no access to and I read online they weren’t the same…). I know Subway is legitimate though, because Ray and I ate at one in Munich and thought it was heavenly. On another note, the television here is striking. We miss our television shows (The Office, Lie to Me, American Idol…) and the shows here are not bothered by showing more skin than American television. Ray describes it as Europeans being against violence (because of their war history) but approving of being “free” if you can read into my words. I’m careful not to use certain words as not to be picked up by strange people on the blogosphere. Another highlight of today: seeing Snoop Dogg on TV. Ha! We did drive to that town about 20 kilometers away just to have Subway tonight. I’m craving American food, especially when I haven’t eaten anything substantial in 4 days. Some restaurants advertise “American food” but it’s really trickery because it’s German food, American style… eh. The drive to Subway was quite winding and a little nauseating, but we made it! When we got back home, we enjoyed our sandwiches and relaxed. I’m really hoping this meal sits well with my stomach. Time will tell. I called my mom just after we ate and chatted for a bit. I plan to call back tomorrow morning (their late evening tonight) and talk with my dad as well. We previously arranged a phone date but I said I would call tomorrow (meaning MY tomorrow) and the times were all mixed up. Bummer. Well, there’s always tomorrow… I mean tonight… I mean tomorrow. Haha. Oh, the crazy time changes between Europe and the States! We settled in after the phone call with my mom and… the doorbell rang. We have no friends… so perhaps the landlords? Indeed it was! They came by to check and see how we were doing, if they could offer us any assistance, and brought a bottle of Spanish wine! How nice of them! They were really nice people and spoke enough English for us to carry on a 20-minute or so conversation. Today we also received a notice in the mail today about our “receptacle” being broken. We had no idea what that meant other than our trash outside… but it looked fine to us! They told us that there are scanners on the trash cans that they use to charge for trash pickup and our scanner has apparently retired itself and we needed a new scanner. Just the subtle differences… I’m off to distract myself from being sick and pray the sandwich I ate is staying as it should. Sweet Dreams!

Talk soon, B.