Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A picture

Just a picture of Luke and I together from Friday night at the Hail and Farewell.

Out on my own

Today is the day that I decided to get out and head to IKEA in Regensberg. We made it back home unscathed but that trip sure took a lot of out me. First of all, IKEA is HUGE. I know we have them in the states but they are only in a few large cities and I have never been to one. The store is 2 levels and completely overwhelming. And if that wasn't enough, it is all in a foreign language that I had to try to decipher. There are numerous "showroom" type areas, everything in that area has a tag on it telling you where you can find the rest of these items (don't take the display items!) and the quantity of items in IKEA is ridiculous. You don't realize how familiar everything is when you are in the states. When I go to CostCo back home, I can cruise through the aisles, glancing left and right to find what I am looking for or to see what grabs my attention. With am unfamiliar language, unfamiliar store signs and unfamiliar products, wow, it drained my brain. I tried to stick to what I was looking for - curtains, waste basket and storage containers. Thankfully Luke was really well behaved - he got into the cart easily with the promise that he could press the elevator buttons and I had a baggie full of animal crackers and M&Ms for him to munch on. He was totally flabbergasted everytime an announcement came on, probably announcing some special going on in the store, but it was loud and in German and he was amazed every time. After we finished the 5 mile treck through the store we found the checkout lanes only to have 2 open and about 20 people waiting to check out. And this was the beginning of the meltdown. Luke is getting antsy, figity and then downright difficult. He wants to get out, he wants a hug, he wants to hold everything, he wants the elevator. I want everyone to hurry up so I can check out and leave! I unload my items on the belt and the cashier quickly rings it up and I look at the screen for the total. I hand her my credit card and she says something very fast and in German but I have an idea of what she is telling me. I am guessing no credit cards, so I say Ah, sprechen sie englisch? And she says, "a little, no mastercard, just IKEA." Well humph, I don't have an IKEA credit card and I don't have enough Euros to pay so she points to my wallet and points to an ATM machine and says "can go get money." I am completely overwhelmed and not sure what I am supposed to do - will be cancel my transaction and ring up the next customer to keep the line going? Will she (and the millions of people behind me) be annoyed and start grumbling? I point to the machine and say I'll be right back and I apologize (in english) and quickly walk over to the machine, with Luke in the cart, saying "push the buttons, push the buttons!" I get my Euros as quickly as possible and pay her. And even though there were 8 people in line behind me (not the millions I claimed), they were all really nice and patient, which really kept my anxiety level down. She placed my change on the little shelf (I don't know why they don't hand it to you) and I hear Luke emptying the contents of the coin pocket of my wallet onto the floor. The lady beind me went and picked them up and smiled and handed them to me. I said "danke", wishing I could say something more, and I smiled and we headed on out. Altogether it wasn't too bad of an experience. I ignored my fear of going out by myself in a country where I do not understand the language, and although there were a few bumps along the way, everything turned out pretty well - I got what I came for (for the most part), I got it paid for and people were very patient with me. But man IKEA is crazy, with or without a toddler in tow.
Brian is coming home today from 3 days in Rothenburg for training. (FYI - I am dying to go to Rothenburg - it is supposedly one of the shopping meccas around Bavaria with the Kathe Wolfharts Christmas Store and Teddyland. Next time Brian heads up there Luke and I will too.) Tomorrow the movers come to drop off all our stuff! YAY!! I can't wait to make our house a home.
If you want to have a little fun - visit IKEA's German web site and see what you can decipher and translate.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday, Monday (ba-da, ba-da-da-da-da)

Brian left today for training for the next couple of days so that leaves Luke and I here at our house, just the two of us, fending for ourselves. It really isn't that big of a deal and this will be the way our life is for the duration of our time here, Brian will frequently be gone from a few days to a few weeks at a time. And that is why I am so anxious to get involved, with what I don't know, but I am searching. Luke and I dropped Brian off at work bright and early this morning - 6:45am and it was so strange driving home by myself. It is so easy to be the passenger but driving I really noticed all the street signs and the bizarre little white arrows in the blue circle signs that tell you which way to enter the road. The signs are so unlike the ones in the states and it is a little disconcerting at times. So I drive and hope that I don't do some kind of driving no-no and tick off a German or get thrown in prison. (You think I am kidding. Making a u-turn on an Autobahn is a felony.) Once we made it home (I'm so dramatic, it was a leisurely, uneventful 15 minute drive on a country road back to the house), and once I had my coffee, I tackled my to do list and ended up spending almost an entire hour on hold for the doctor's office to schedule a physical for Luke, all while being told by the nice electronic voice and I was the first one in line on hold. Really? Who was the person who called ahead of me who took 50 minutes to schedule an appointment? Then I called the daycare and reserved a chunk of timeslots for Luke, all in my methodical way, of course. I decided that we will start the month of March out with 1 day of daycare, Tuesday morning and on Thursday morning I will take him to Kids Club. (Do you really care about this? Well, continuing on...) The following week he will be in daycare for 2 hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. And the week after that I return to my Tuesday-daycare, Thursday-Kid's Club schedule. Rinse, repeat. However, I am thinking about attending PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) Tuesday morning Bible Studies. They are starting a series of studies based off the book Hope for the Homefront which is written by a Navy wife "with humor and honesty about the battles we face at home as military spouses, like burnout, fear, separation, frustration, etc." If I attend PWOC, then they offer free childcare at the chapel so Luke would just tag along with me and I can cancel my Tuesday morning slots at the daycare. The colonel's wife hopes to have a "coffee" (I put coffee in quotes because traditionally, holding a "coffee" with the spouses really meant having coffee. Now it usually means getting together in the evening for dinner and drinks and the husband's stay home with the children) sometime next month. Hopefully getting together as an FRG (Family Readiness Group, technically the spouses of the active duty soldier) will be a fairly regular occurrence. It would be nice to have a group of ladies I can hang out with and take shopping day trips with (I type this thinking of all the Christmas markets - I guess that gives me 7-10 months to find some friends! ha!)

In the meantime, I have been reading my 2 Germany books, Germany for Dummies that my Grandma and Grandpa gave us for Christmas and See It Germany. Brian told me that he doesn't want to plan any big trips any time soon but that doesn't mean that I can't plan small day trips (or weekend trips) within Southeastern Germany! There are a ton of cities to explore and hundreds of things to do - Stuttgart, Heidelburg, Gunzburg, Freibrug and Konstanz, just to name a few - with the Wilhelma Zoo, "Fairytale Paradise" recreational park, LegoLand, Europa Park, Sea Life aquarium to explore, in that order. Eventually we'll make it up to Berlin and over to Frankfort and even further up and over (pick your direction) to Poland, Czech Republic, France, Denmark, Switzerland or Belgium! There is so much to do here and so many places to travel it is completely overwhelming. Thank goodness we have a good 2 1/2 years to try to do it all.

Ooooo - I almost forgot a couple more details about living in Germany. We don't have garbage disposals. Nope, not a one. They give you little green buckets, called bio-buckets, that you are supposed to line with a little green bag, called a bio-bag, and throw all your bio -waste into. The bio-bags are then collected on Thursdays. We asked our neighbors about this and nobody ever uses their bio-buckets or bio-bags, everyone just throws the gunk into the trash. As of now, so are we. I feel kind of bad, like I am breaking the rules, but where does one keep the bio-bucket of rotting waste until Thursday? When we got the house the bucket was prominently displayed on the counter. Ick. Hopefully you don't think I'm killing the planet and I'll remind you that we recycle paper products (down to the tiniest scraps), plastic, aluminum and glass. We are recycling machines and in the course of 2 weeks (the trash collection is only twice a month), we have only 2 bags of trash. It really is amazing how much of the stuff we use is recyclable. Second, and how could I have forgotten to tell you this, the electrical outlets are different here. I don't know all the technical jargon but the voltage is 200 or 230 and in America our electronics and appliances are 110 and 120. Our house has both kinds of outlets, but not many. Each room has maybe two 110 outlets. In those outlets we can plug in any of the electronics we brought from home. They sell converters to be able to plug an American electronics into the 220 outlets - HOWEVER, you have to look at what you are plugging in and make sure that it says 100-240 or 110-230 volts (it is telling you that it can be plugged into an outlet that carried up to 230 or 240 volts) if you use the converter with an appliance or electronic that can not handle that high of a voltage you can say goodbye to that appliance or electronic because you just fried it (and potentially started a small fire) by plugging it in. Whew! Crazy isn't it? Not only do I have to deal with new surroundings, new language, new currency, I have to make sure that I don't inadvertently blow myself up by plugging my hairdryer into the wrong socket. ;)

At the request of Grandpa, I leave you with some pictures of Luke.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just a little bit of every day

Let me narrate the following pictures for you -
"Ohhhhh, look what I found! I can't believe you left this sitting around for me to find!!"
"I know what you do with this." (snip snip)

"Here mom, I'm all done and I don't think this thing even works."

I passed my German driver's test this week! First try, thank you very much. :) I had to go to a 2 hour class and then take the 100 question test. I think being a passenger for 2 weeks and having Brian translate the goofy signs and explain some of the rules helped a lot.

We also had a CYS orientation (Child/Youth Services) and took a tour of the hourly care childcare facility. It is great! When Luke goes to hourly care, he will be in a room for children 3 years and younger. It is set up so there is an infant section, an eating area and then a preschool area divided into sections (reading, make believe, building, creating, etc, etc). There are also child sized potties (in stalls) and kiddie sinks. They really stress trying to teach kids how to do everything themselves so when they eat lunch they eat family style so the kids serve themselves, feed themselves, drink from cups (not sippies), throw away their garbage, clean off their plate, wash their hands, all independently. The teacher in the room is German and speaks both English and German to the kids. There are also a few children in there who are bilingual and prefer German as their primary language. Luke enjoyed his time there so much during our tour that we let him stay there for an extra hour while Brian went to a meeting and I went to run a couple of errands. I have him signed up for 3 hours in the afternoon on Thursday while the movers are here. I hope he enjoys himself then as much as he did the first time. And speaking of Thursday, while Brian handles the movers at the house, Luke and I will be going on base to attend Kids Club. Kids Club is for children under 5 and it meets every Thursday at the SAS (School Age Services) gym. Parents and kids interact through gross motor play and the activities include climbing, crawling, manipulating obstacles and other fun activites. It is like taking Luke to a Gymboree play group but not having to pay the ridiculously high prices! It is our first time to attend so I'll be sure to let everyone know if we have a major catastrophe or if it is just awful but I'm sure we'll have a great time.

Last night we had our first Army function since being here. A hail and farewell held at a gasthaus in the town down the road from us. It was SO NICE to see familiar faces (the Burkes and the Barkers are here, they were both in Hawaii with us) and it was great to meet new people. Family was welcome and that included children so we brought Luke with us and he had a great time. Every time someone was welcomed, well, everyone clapped, so Luke would drop whatever it was that he was doing, stand up straight and clap his little heart out while shouting YAY!!!!!!! Brian, Luke and I were welcomed last night and we went up front while LTC Barker introduced us and welcomed me with a bouquet of flowers. Everyone started clapping and Luke stood up front with us, happy as can be, clapping the loudest. He was in a great mood but a little all over the place. Thankfully it was a really informal environment, there were other small children there, and most everyone was a parent and all were really sweet with Luke. The single soldiers though Luke was the entertainment for the night. :) We ended up getting home fairly late (10pm) and Luke went right to bed and slept until 8:45 this morning. (Shortly thereafter we headed to Kelheim, read entry below.)

Little tidbits about what we have noticed in Germany? Well, it is clean! Everyone recycles, it is the law. There is rarely garbage on the side of the road or around houses. Even lumber piles are perfectly cut and stacked. People take pride in their house, their neighborhood and their country and they really care about their environment.

Even when it is 35 degrees outside, people hang laundry out to dry. as long as there is a bit of sun poking out, the laundry is hung to dry. We noticed laundry hanging out to dry behind the houses along the Danube. It just struck me as funny that while I am walking with my puffy coat, thinking that my hands were turning into ice cubes, that someone was hanging their laundry out to dry.

Germans don't put ice in their drinks - ever. You have to ask for it and they rarely drink tap water. If you ask for water, they bring you mineral water (ick) so you have to ask for wasser stille (non carbonated water) and they bring you an expensive bottle of flat water. They think it is strange if you ask for tap water but they will bring it to you if you ask. I'm not sure why this is, maybe because of all the minerals in the water here.
I know there are more things that have amused me or confused me but I can't think of any more right now. I should really write these things down when they pop in my head.

I guess that is about it. What is more boring for you all? History lessons or the mundane details of our life? :) I enjoy writing it so I hope you enjoy reading it.

Kelheim and Weltenburg

Brian came home from work yesterday and asked if I wanted to take a little road trip tomorrow (today) to Kelheim. He was talking to some of the guys at work and they were giving him recommendation of neat places to explore. So this morning, after a big breakfast of farmer's omelets (yup, made by me) we headed off to Kelheim, which is only 40 minutes from where we live.

Kelheim is another quaint German city full of hidden history. We knew we were looking for a castle and a monastary along the river. As we entered the town limits, we looked up and saw this HUGE circular building in the sky so we decided to figure out how to get up there and explore.

That huge circular building is the Hall of Liberation. (Taken from the tourist brochure we got when we purchased tickets to enter)

"King Ludwig I commissioned the construction of this monument to commemorate both the victorious battles against Napolean during the Wars of Liberation 1813-1815 and the unification of all the German races...The Hall of Liberation is an 18 sided polygon. The massive supporting buttresses of the facade are crowned by 18 monumental statues (see picture below - each of these signs holds the name of a German nation)...The number 18 also stands for the date of the battle of the nations, 19 October 1813, when Napoleon's forces were crushed by the coalition near Leipzig. The interior is dominated by 34 Goddesses of Victory (which are AMAZING to see, and kind of intimidating, like they could come to life at any time), are made of white marble, mounted with linked hands on an encircling base. The statues symbolize the 34 German states of the German Confederation, which was founded in 1815. The coffered ceiling (see picture) of the 45 meter-high domed hall and the divisions created by the alcoves, arcades and galleries give the room extra-ordinary acoustics, which combine with the architecture and the light to create an appropriately ceremonious atmosphere."

The entire area is surrounded by nature-trails and pathways for walking and cycling. The Hall looks over the Danube river and has an amazing view of Kelheim (the city below). We parked the car in the gravel parking lot and since the area wasn't crowded at all (and no vehicles are allowed past a certain point), we kept the stroller in the car and let Luke walk and run free. He held daddy's hand while walking up the stairs to get into the Hall and as we were leaving, standing at the top of the stairs and looking at the long way down, Luke grabbed Brian's hand then turned around and said "Mommy's coming, hold hands, two hands" and reached out and grabbed my hand as well. Guess he was a little daunted by how high up we were. Anyway, all that walking worked to our advantage and he was exhausted by the time we went to the next city where he stayed in his stroller the entire time without a peep. Below are our pictures from Kelheim - you'll see the inside and outside of the Hall of Liberation, including the massive staircase we had to climb to enter the front doors. We took pictures from the lookout over the Danube River, down to the river and up to the Hall.

From Kelheim we decided to find the monastery that everyone was telling us about. The monaserty is known in Germany as Kloster Weltenburg, or Weltenburg Abbey, and is a Benedictine monastery in the town of Weltenburg (obviously, right?) The Kloster also has a brewery and it is the oldest monastery brewery in the world, having been in operation since 1050! (Is that why all the guys at work know about it?) :) The Kloster was founded in 620 by Scottish or Irish monks and is said to be the oldest monastery in Bavaria. We actually found the monastery fairly quickly but we were on the wrong side of the river and our GPS told us to wait for the ferry! We knew there had to be another way so after taking a couple of pictures from across the river we headed back down the mountain and went back through Kelheim crossed a bridge which took us right to the old monastery. (Pictures below - driving through Kelheim and the entry way into the monastery)

The highlight of the monastary is the abbey church, dedicated to St George.(below) We entered the the church and there was a big group with a German tour guide and everyone was sitting, listening to the guide and looking around at all the beautiful things he was pointing out (a lot of Baroque detail in the church). We waited to see if anyone had cameras and a few did but nobody was using a flash. Well I didn't want to be the obnoxious one flashing my camera all over the place and for all I know you aren't allowed to use a flash camera inside so we took a couple of pictures, without the flash, and they turned out okay, you can be the judge.

We walked from the church up to a small chapel at the top of the ledge overlooking the river. Along the walk are the Stations of the Cross. For all of you non-Catholics out there, the Stations of the Cross are images that depict the final hour of Jesus and is practiced most often during the season of Lent on Friday nights. The movie Passion of the Christ follows the Stations of the Cross. I took a picture of every station (there are 14) and here are pictures of stations 2 and 3.

The Weltonburg abbey was dissolved in 1803 but in 1842 it was re-founded and was raised to the status of independent abbey in 1913. Besides the traditional duties of hospitality (the abbey has a few restaurants and stores alongside the church), it has pastoral responsibilities over 4 parishes. (according to Wikipedia)

I can't believe we live this close to so much history! I love it! I love Germany and I love the road trips we get to take and the history lessons we get to learn. I still am a putz with the language but I am getting more and more comfortable asking if people speak English and I am enjoying myself more when we are in the restaurants and shops. When you first arrive in a foreign country and can not understand a word that is being said all around you, it can be a bit intimidating and can leave you feeling a little helpless. The more we explore and the more we try to learn small but essential phrases, the more comfortable I become.

(Oh, and seeing McDonalds makes me feel at home. We stopped at the Micky-D's in Kelheim before heading home)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Our Trip to Garmisch-Parkenkirchen - the end

Our final day in Garmisch was a short one - we had to check out of the lodge at 11am so we got our bags packed, headed down to breakfast and then headed out the door. We were ready to get home and it was a beautiful day to travel. Below are a few pictures including one of the front entrance of the resort.

All that traveling in the Bavarian Alps made me want to watch the Sound of Music! Maybe I'll do that sometime soon. I definitely want to go back to Garmisch and Mittenwald. I'm sure I'll enjoy it even more when I have a better understanding of, and a firmer grasp of, the German language. I would like to be able to order a coffee and streudel and browse the shops without feeling totally inept.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's here! It's here!

Our stuff is here! It is arrived! It is in Germany! Our dishes, couches, tables, rugs, beds, pictures, pillows, lamps, clothes, tools, toys, etc, etc, etc...are here! Oh my gosh I am so excited - all of it here - a little over 3 weeks early. I can not wait to unpack and set up our rooms, hang pictures and mirrors on the walls, put away clothes and load up the shelves in the closets! But alas, this is the Army, and although the contents of our entire house have arrived, they can not deliver everything until NEXT Thursday. sigh. Well, at least I have a week to try to arrange rooms in my head, and just think of all the cool things I will discover when we start unpacking! Our house has been packed up for over 2 months now and I can only imagine all of the things I forgot about. It will be like Christmas all over again. Followed by trips to the post thrift store or German Goodwill (hmm, do they have those?) to donate all the stuff I wonder why I sent over in the first place.
Anyways - next Thursday! Woohoo!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What's that you say? You want to know some more German?

For those of you itching to learn some more German...

Note: make sure you say these with a strong German accent! No twangs, drawls or any other American accent. Think Hanz and Franz - "Ve are going to PAMP (hits chest) you up!" (Old Saturday Night Live anyone? No, well nevermind then...)

English word/phrase - German word/phrase (pronounciation)
please - bitte (bit-a)
thanks - danke (donk-a)
good - gut (goot)
How much does that cost? - Wieviel kostet das? (Vee-vel cost-et das?)
I don't speak German - Ich spreche kein Deutch (Eek shrpreck-ay kine doy-ch)
Where is the bathroom? (Very important!) - Wo ist die Toilette? (Vo eest dee tolet-ay?)

Some words we learned while on our trip...
Dog - hund (hoond)
Mountain - berg (burg)
Cold - kalt (kalt)
One more - noch ein (knock eye-n)
Tea - tee (tay)

And the Sesame Street edition...
Red - rot (rote)
Blue - blau (blaw)
Green - grun (groon)
Yellow - gelb (gelb)
One - eins (eye-ns)
Two - zwei (zvy)
Three - drei (dry)

Our Trip to Garmisch-Parkenkirchen - part 4

We decided that we would travel into Innsbruck, Austria the following day. We woke up and it was overcast, cold and hazy outside and that followed us all day. The pictures aren't as bright, the city doesn't seem as pretty, and it just isn't as warm without the sun shining on you.

Here is a picture of a castle ruins on our way through Austria. I don't have a lot to say about Innsbruck although it is huge and chock full of history. We didn't really get a chance to explore and we definitely did not hit the tourist spots. We got out of the car and started to walk and Luke decided that he was through being well-behaved and sick of being a tourist and we had to make our visit very short. We we spent an hour or so in the car driving up and down through the streets of the hillside of Innsbruck. Maybe in the warmer months we'll go back but it is pretty miserable trying to explore in 20 degree weather. Here are a bunch of pictures of the city - including the riverfront, old downtown and the University.

Innsbruck has a ton of history, it should! The initial habitants of the area were from the Stone Age. Hitler annexed Austria during Nazi Germany and Innsbruck and a concentration camp was held there. The Olympics were held twice in Innsbruck and the city is filled with churches, museums, parks and historical sites. The Swarovski Crystal Museum is also in Innsbruck and someday I hope to go there to experience the "crystal worlds" throughout the museum.
Maybe it was the cold bitter day or the weariness from traveling so much but we thought Innsbruck was a little too big, too overwhelming, too chaotic and too much for us. But we are all about second chances and I'm sure we'll go again during our time here.