Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Northern Germany + Hamburg

Lothar and his wife, Anya, had been planning to take us with them to Hamburg before we left Germany on March 15th. With only one weekend left remaining, we planned the trip. It had been beautiful and spring-like including temperatures in the lower 50's for the past week! Until... it snowed Friday night. Three inches and considerably lower temperatures. We made it out of the house and off north regardless. But, my first stop was the ground as I slipped on ice for the 247th time this winter. Bruise, check.

Our first stop was for lunch in a city called Bremen. It's a charming city and we walked through a farmer's market in the marketplace center and down the famous Böttcherstraße. It translates into "Cooper Street" though I'm still not sure what that really means. The city itself was beautiful though.
Left: Town Musicians of Bremen statue (Brother's Grimm Fairy Tales)
Right: Roland statue signifying freedom, civil rights, and independence. Stay tuned for the rest of Roland...
Left: Here's the rest of Roland!
Right: Böttcherstraße famous street of cute shops and restaurants
Just across from our (lunch) restaurant on Böttcherstraße. As we passed by, hundreds of people were standing with cameras out as the bells (upper right) chimed and the rounded wall pillar (center) rotated.
On Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Hamburg. Our first stop was our hotel at Le Royal Meridian and our second stop was the Miniatur Wunderland (miniature wonderland). Here's one photo from our visit:
After a night of driving the town and dining at a great Italian restaurant, we walked the streets the following day. Here are photos of the Rathaus.
Not bad shots for a cheap $80 camera, right?
Lothar, Anya, myself & Ray in front of the Hamburg Rathaus
On our way home, we stopped off in a town called Münster. Something incredibly special about this town is that one of its world sister cities is Fresno, California. Yes... sarcasm at its finest. Wow. How to compare a place with this killer cathedral to Fresno, the armpit of California. I guess it's because they still have a Woolworth?! Woolworth, haven't seen that place since I was a child!
Münster was actually a really nice college town with lots of charm in the old center. We enjoyed our stop there for espresso and America's finest, McDonald's.

I'm almost done journaling! Only one more week...

Mittwoch 03.03.2010 (day 170)
I had some nightmares this morning, which should’ve been a good sign to get out of bed. I decided to sleep some more and “cover up” those nightmares with dreams instead. Okay, so that’s just an excuse for being a girl who loves to sleep in. Oh, and a girl who is lazy. Haha. When I did finally wake up, I made myself a bowl of oatmeal (per usual) and became acquainted with the world and all the news it had in store for me—including California teacher layoffs. As if it wasn’t bad enough last year… now I have friends who are tenured and have taught for 5 years that are now getting the boot. It’s just horrendous. I’m thankful that we are able to live off of one salary, though my dream is obviously to get back into the classroom. But if that cannot happen anytime soon (in Illinois where I’m unsure about jobs), at least we’ll be okay financially. We may not be banking a ton like we were last year with two salaries, but at least we’ll be provided for. I just wish great things for all my lovely teacher friends and those students who will be crammed into classes of 30 (for K-3!!!). I made a random lunch of a bunch of things that surely added variety to our day. I think my favorite addition to our lunch were the peanut butter-covered English muffins. Yum! At work, Ray had a board meeting with the Chicago folks and the board (obviously). I was finally able to watch the Bachelor finale and was disappointed as I expected to be. I blogged about our recent trip to Switzerland and we headed home quite late—around 6:30. At home, we had spaghetti and I finished watching the rest of the Bachelor episodes… and have nothing else to report! Tomorrow we’ll be watching American Idol! Normally we watch it the next day, but the website we usually download episodes from has been slow to upload lately. We also thought that we’d be leaving for the North tomorrow, but I guess we had the dates wrong and we’re actually leaving Saturday. I’m still confused about the whole thing, honestly, but we’ll get there and have a great time.

Donnerstag 04.03.2010 (day 171)
We’re so excited to go back home. While it’s been incredible here and Germany is a lovely place, we’re ready. It’s the same way we felt when we packed up our things just a week or two before leaving California. It’s a bandaid you need to pull off and you’re just waiting for the right day…but you know it’s coming. This morning was uneventful until Ray came home for lunch. We jetted off to work after that and I watched both episodes of American Idol from Tuesday & Wednesday. I usually download them and watch them with Ray, but unfortunately the website only had them available for viewing, not downloading. We can’t watch full episodes at home on our Vodafone sticks because the bandwidth cannot support the content in a video as long as those. I pulled Ray in to watch the good performances, though. We headed out of the office around 5:30 and made plans to be available at 8 a.m. for Lothar & Anya to come pick us up for our trip up north. We won’t be going to Denmark, sadly, but we will have a chance to visit the north near the North Sea! We’re pretty excited about that because it’s just about the only region in Germany we haven’t visited yet. We left work and headed to Iserlohn to hit up our favorite grocery store in all of Deutschland, Kaufland. It’s almost as nice as Toom, but offers better prices. It’s about the same size as a Toom, also. Unfortunately, it’s about 30 kilometers away from our place. Visits are infrequent because of the distance. It was our last time visiting that store before we leave since we’re leaving in 1.5 weeks! We dropped off our crate of bottles we’ve had in our pantry since we moved here and visited our first “Getranke” store. They have separate stores for drinks and food. Because Germany is so “green”, glass bottles are used and stores in crates that are taken back to the store and a deposit is reimbursed to the buyer when they are returned. Glass bottles produce less waste because they are able to be sterilized and reused. Plastic bottles purchased outside of a case are worth .25 Euro cents! It’s definitely worth it to recycle your bottles here and everyone does. This drastically reduces the waste products and contributes to their green mentality. We got back 12.50 Euro and took our voucher with us to shop. We handed the voucher in to the cashier and she deducted that price from our purchase. It’s a pretty good and fast system. We headed back home and cooked dinner. While we waited, I checked my email and found out that the sellers reduced the price of our house by $5,000! Our attorney requested this action (on our behalf) because we needed it to match our appraisal price. Considering the appraisal doesn’t include the interior upgrades and only verifies square footage (ridiculous considering one of the main reasons in purchasing this house was because of the amazing upgrades… but I guess $90,000 in upgrades doesn’t contribute to the value of a home. Silly, right?), we were disappointed that the appraisal came back $10,000 lower than the selling price. We agreed to meet in the middle with the sellers and pay $425,000—what we consider a very reasonable price for the house and all the upgrades in the neighborhood it’s in. That was a huge blessing and we’re so thankful that God keeps blessing us. We cannot wait to move in and sleep in our house!!!

Freitag 05.03.2010 (day 172)
I went in to work with Ray this morning because we were so excited about signing the latest addendum to our house agreement at $5,000 cheaper! Woo hoo! We arrived and had an overall quiet day. I did my usual thing and was able to watch the American Idol results show while Ray did some real work. It snowed off and on today and at lunch we headed to Netto to pick up some food for lunch, a couple boxes of tea, and a couple jars of pesto. We left a bit early from work today and headed to Kaufpark to pick up some Blood Orange tea we wanted to bring back to the States. We love this tea brand, Milford, and we want to have a stash back in Chicago. We also plan to bring more back to Lovejoy because we already brought 3 different boxes and they loved them. Milford tea is not sold in the U.S. so it was an obvious choice to purchase it before we left. We tried the first Kaufpark in Neuenrade (located on one end of the 2 mile stretch) and they didn’t sell the blood orange variety. We drove behind the houses to the other Kaufpark and were exploring the amazing charm of the area. It really is gorgeous and we’re super lucky to have lived in a charming town that is hundreds and hundreds of years established. We noticed little crests on personal homes and just beautiful intricacies that we never noticed before---because it’s usually dark! Since the days are getting longer, we’re able to explore more and appreciate more with the daylight. Next week we plan to drive through Altena and take some photos of the amazing castle adorned with beautiful German architecture surrounding it. I mean… we lived about 8 miles from a real castle for 6 months! How amazingly cool is that? We headed home after our third market visit of the day and had dinner and packed for our short trip up north with Lothar and Anya. They’re picking us up tomorrow morning at 8. I opened our front door and there’s at least an inch of snow on the ground. Really? Ugh. I totally want spring in a bad way. I was thinking I’d be eased into this whole winter thing… but it’s not going as planned. Ha!

Samstag 06.03.2010 (day 173)
Lothar & Anya came to pick us up in their new SUV and head north at 8 a.m. As soon as I got near the car, I completely slipped on the pile of ice lining the streets! Yeah… it was like a cartoon. At one point I’m standing, and the next I’m slipping with my feet in the air, landing on my side. Ouch. I have a bruise for sure. Bummer. Aside from the minor embarrassment, I survived. Wasn’t I just talking about spring and the snow being completely gone? Well, it’s not. It came back with a vengeance last night and everything is covered with at least 3 inches. We set off and stopped off to get some coffee along the way to Bremen. When we arrived at Bremen, we parked at the Hilton and walked around a famous street, Böttcherstraße, saw some famous statues of a knight and a children’s fairy tale statue, and stopped in for lunch as a small restaurant on the street. I had a curry vegetable meal and the others had pork chops and a fish plate. We headed back into the car and headed further north to Hamburg. On the way, I saw 5 deer and one windmill! That was the first wildlife I’ve seen in all of Germany so far. I guess they all live in the north. When we arrived in Hamburg, we parked at the hotel, rested a bit, then headed back out to an exhibit. The exhibit is called Miniatur Wunderland (Miniature Wonderland) and it features very small exhibits of famous places in the world—bust mostly Europe and the Americas. There was a miniature Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Miami Beach, and lots of places in Europe & Germany. It was pretty intense and really engineered well. There were trains going throughout the exhibits making them all cohesive and there were cars that were run by programming and magnetism. Cars & trucks would even stop at certain points, put on their turn signals, wait in traffic, etc. They knew exactly when to make these moves. We saw an exhibit area that is in the process of being built and the amount of programming and intense miniature architecture that goes into each piece was amazing. We left there and drove around Hamburg during dusk and were able to see a lot of the latest buildings and drove by to see a huge cruise shipped docked here. The city is gorgeous. It reminds me of a mixture of San Francisco, New York City, and San Diego all in one. It has San Francisco’s brick loft charm, New York’s big city life with great restaurants and shopping, and San Diego’s water port area with lively nightlife. It doesn’t feel like any other place we’ve visited in Germany. Lothar and Anya love this city and wanted to show us around—which is why we came with them. After the driving, we parked the car at the hotel, relaxed in our rooms for a bit before heading downstairs for drinks before dinner. After drinks, we walked about 3 blocks to an Italian restaurant. Dinner was excellent. We probably spent 3 hours in that place eating so much. We had an antipasti starter and they came out with this amazing platter of all things delicious for us to taste. We could’ve been done with dinner right there! We waited a bit for dinner because we had just eaten so much and had the rest of our dinner arrive later. The chef, waiters, and all the people there were really great. We headed back to Le Meridian and headed to our rooms 30 minutes before midnight. It was a great day and we’re exploring a little more of Hamburg tomorrow before heading back to Neuenrade.

Sonntag 07.03.2010 (day 174)
We started the day off right. First of all, the shower in this place has to be the best we’ve ever experienced. I’m sure every second wastes about a gallon of water considering the buckets that are poured every second. Magical! Breakfast was fabulous, too. We headed upstairs to the 9th floor and saw a ridiculous view of the water and city. I guess they can actually walk out on the ice during the full winter. At this point in March, it’s starting to melt. We ate from a great breakfast buffet before heading out to walk around the city before heading back in the car for our drive home. We walked down to the Rathaus about 7 blocks from out hotel and walked down many of the streets. This part reminded us of Michigan Avenue in Chicago! There are so many great cities that this area is a mesh of… very nice. We headed back to the hotel after about an hour and packed our things before heading to Muenster. We’d never been there either. We stopped for espressos and walked around the old street (Altstrasse), saw some gorgeous buildings and churches, and stopped in at McDonald’s for a quick bite. They are now selling vegetarian sandwiches in Germany, too! I’m thrilled that they’re offering something for me (finally), but now we’re heading back to the states. It was good. I thought it was better than Burger King’s version at 1/3 the price. We left this college town and headed back home. It was a long day of driving, but we saw at least another 3 dozen deer on the way home! Where have they been our entire visit? Since it was sunny today and snow was covering the farm fields, they stuck out like sore thumbs. I love wildlife. When we arrived home, we made some food for dinner—Hamburger Helper & potato/corn soup. It was a good weekend and we only have 8 more sleeps until we’re home in the U.S. permanently and nearly home owners!!!

Montag 08.03.2010 (day 175)
With this very post, I will make it to my 100th page of journal writing. With one week left, it was certainly more than I bargained for! Originally I planned to only write a few sentences for each day, but then I realized that I’d miss out on the richness of our learning experiences and the culture we’ve been immersed in had I only dedicated a small amount. Ray went to work and I stayed, per usual. This is the last week of that schedule! When I got up, I answered some email and did my usual Internet update before having lunch and making a few items in the kitchen. Since I’m trying to use up all of our food before we leave, I’ve been making some items ahead of time so that it’s convenient just to heat up and serve. Way back when we started, I bought 11 cans of salsa. We’re down to 2 cans and I’m sad to say I may not finish them! If you know my Mexican/salsa obsession, you’d know how big of a deal this is for me. Haha. After lunch, I did some organizing and cleaning. I was putting things back where they were when we first moved into Zweite Strasse 18 in Neuenrade. I was collecting items that needed to be packed so that we wouldn’t forget them. I even brought out the suitcases—but haven’t inserted anything into them yet. That may happen tomorrow. I worked out for about 40 minutes on my own routine of about 15 different actions, showered and did laundry. Today, Ray went with Karston to Ludenscheid to check out a prospective building that RL may consider moving into. Lothar was feeling under the weather yesterday and had intentions to go, but ended up staying home instead. I didn’t go into work with Ray today because I usually like to stay home on Mondays and because he was going to be out and about for the majority of the day and couldn’t come get me. I haven’t had my own car since June 2009. It’s been 9 months since I sold my beloved Honda Civic. I absolutely still miss that car. It was so reliable and very comfortable to drive. Since we are moving into a relatively empty house and have all kinds of things to consider financially now, we are looking into getting me a Honda Accord when we get back into the States. I may actually have my own car again! It was fine here in Europe, but in the States, it’s not going to work. Ray came home at 6:15 and we had leftovers for dinner before entering in to an all-night cookout. We had plans to make lunch for the company (around 40 people) tomorrow and that requires some work! We started chopping all of the veggies I had started earlier in the day—broccoli, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, sundried tomatoes… and I cooked and diced the chicken. We started making the pea soup and it took hours. It normally takes a couple hours to make one batch, but we quadrupled the recipe! A 1-2 hour soups takes over double the time to cook. As I type at 10:20 p.m., the soup is still a-cookin’. The rest of the items are ready for the pasta and all I’ll have to do tomorrow is boil pasta and mix the ingredients all together (pesto, chicken, pasta, lemon juice, parmesean cheese, chili flakes, sundried tomatoes, broccoli bits, salt, pepper, and garlic). The big issue is creating this feast in a small European kitchen. The burners are so small that I have to use two burners to heat one pan! We’re also planning to buy baguettes tomorrow and slice them for the pea soup and pasta luncheon. Normal German pea soup is made with sausages and lots of bacon. So much bacon and sausage that the normal serving size (generally equivalent to one cup) is about 31 grams of fat! Can you even imagine? Since there are a couple veggies other than me, I decided to make the soup veggie by omitting the bacon/sausages, but adding chicken to the pasta (and setting some aside without chicken for the few of us). While I’m sure they would much prefer the sausage and bacon… I just couldn’t bring myself to creating something so unhealthy. I may as well have served cake for lunch. Other than that, there isn’t much else we had time to do tonight!


Nikki said... [Reply to comment]

Wow!!! What an awesome adventure to be experiencing together. so cool that you guys get to do that!!! I've never been to germany, but we've traveled to england, ireland and scotland a few years back. we really want to go to france and germany and maybe china too!! reading about your journals is so cool, it feels like I'm there too and not inside on this gorgeous day! I'm following you back!