Monday, October 23, 2017

Our first visitors

After officially moving over to Germany with our trunks of clothes and some other "must-haves" from home (and our cat, Allie) in April, we stayed in a hotel for three weeks while we bought furniture and household essentials for our rental. Houses in Germany are completely bare usually, but we paid extra to "rent" the kitchen that was in the house already...usually you have to buy and install the cabinets even for rentals! Bare means not even light fixtures are included so we had a lot of work to do to get settled. It was a pretty trying time because, like I mentioned in an earlier post, most places here do not accept credit cards. They take cash or German bank card (debit). We had some trouble getting our German registration at first, and we had to have that in order to get a bank account. Without a German bank account, all we had was cash (using our US debit card) which was limited to $500 (about 450€) withdrawal per day. Looking back, I think I could have called our bank and asked for an increase, but of course, hindsight is 20/20. It made it very difficult to buy sheets, towels, kitchen essentials, living room furniture/electronics, dining room furniture, bedroom furniture, kitchen appliances, washer, dryer, and wardrobes (they don't usually have closets here, they use wardrobes in each bedroom). It was quite frustrating, but we made it through eventually. :)

The day we finally moved into our house, Tyler's brother and sister-in-law arrived for a visit. We still didn't have real beds, so we all slept on air mattresses on the floor, and our internet also wasn't hooked up yet, but everything else was basically in the house (we did put some furniture together while they were here, which was a big help). When we have guests, we like to make sure we get as much crossed off their wish list as we can. They wanted to go on the Sound of Music tour and do a KTM motorcycle factory tour which are both near Salzburg, Austria. Hitler's Eagle's Nest is also very close by to Salzburg so we added that to the itinerary. A friend from my hometown in Kansas was also in Germany, and she met us in Salzburg and toured and stayed with us for a few days. We stayed at a nice hotel with free parking and a pretty good breakfast. Service was a little slow for refilling the bacon and eggs, but the room was nice and clean and modern. Five of us stayed in one room for 184 for a night total.

The Sound of Music tour was lively and fun (though I had never seen the movie!). We took a bus through Salzburg and saw a bunch of different sites where the movie was filmed. Some fun facts from the tour are: 1) The family did not escape from the Nazis on foot through the mountains to Switzerland, but instead took a train to Italy and then on to England and finally to the US. 2) The oldest daughter's real name was also Maria but to avoid confusion in the movie, they changed her name to Liesl. 3) Austrian people don't have a clue about the movie and most have never seen it. It's definitely more of an American thing, and they get hundreds of thousands of visitors each year just for Sound of Music.

The KTM tour was kind of a bust because the only one we could get tickets for was done in German. ;) They did give us a print out with some information in English, and it was cool to see the production processes, even if we couldn't understand what they were saying. We got a "free" mug at the end which was also nice.

Kehlsteinhause (Eagle's Nest) was an interesting experience. We had to park at the bottom of the mountain and take a bus up the rest of the way. The road up was very narrow and steep, and I was glad I wasn't driving. Though, being in a huge bus hanging over the side of the cliff at every switchback turn wasn't much more comforting. :) At the top, you take an elevator up through the middle of the mountain to a building, perched at the top of the peak. There is a restaurant inside that serves decent food, but there is no history or information about the war or about Hitler. It's literally just a restaurant at the top of a mountain. The views are good, but we went in May and there was still snow on the ground and it was cloudy, so we didn't get to experience the good views. Once you're back down at the bus drop-off, there is a small museum with some good information (all the permanent fixtures are in German, but they have print outs of everything translated to English and several other languages). It also includes admission into some bunkers and underground tunnels that Hitler and the Nazis built and used during the war. 

While we were near Salzburg, we went to Konigsee and hiked around a bit. It was a cute little town, and we were hoping to take the boat tour to a little island, but we didn't have time. The area was GORGEOUS though.

Once back at the house, we did some day trips to nearby sites. One was to Dachau Concentration Camp, which was very interesting. I was expecting it to be very emotional and difficult, but to me, it felt very clinical and factual instead. There was not a lot of emotion for me personally. It seemed like they just presented what happened with very little feeling. It was hard to imagine the horrors that happened there, and how those people must have lived and felt. Dachau was a work camp vs. an extermination camp, but many thousands of Jews and POWs still lost their lives from exhaustion and starvation. I'm glad I went, though, as I think that if we don't learn from history, we will repeat it. (We have also been to Auschwitz which I will cover in a later blog, and I felt much more emotional there than at Dachau.)

Another day trip was to see Neuschwanstein Castle. It was built by Mad King Ludwig as his "fairytale castle," and he basically bankrupted the country trying to get it finished. He died under mysterious circumstances before the castle was completed, and now it's a major tourist attraction. I think only 35 rooms are finished and you can see most of them on the guided tour. My favorite is the indoor Cave Grotto, but they don't let you take pictures inside so I can't show it to you :) This is the castle that Walt Disney based his "Cinderella" castle on. I absolutely recommend booking your tickets online before you go (must be done at least 2 days in advance). Otherwise, you can find yourself standing in line for hours just to get a ticket, then waiting for hours more for your actual tour time. We combined Neuschwanstein with a tour of Hohenschwangau, which was the royal family's "hunting cottage" during the summers. I enjoyed the tour of that castle more than Neuschwanstein actually. It was neat to walk through the "lived in" castle and picture the little princes running around the grounds, the king and queen entertaining notable people (including composer Richard Wagner) in their sitting areas, and wonder what they thought and how they felt. 

We had a really great time hanging out with these guys, and it was a nice excuse to get out and explore some new places. One nice thing about Europe is that you can cross borders without border control. It does make me a little sad to not have stamps in my passport from all the places we've been to, but the ease of travel and time-saving qualities easily outweigh that negative. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Big Move

Growing up in south-central Kansas, I seriously never imagined that God would take me away from my hometown.  I dreamed of getting married, buying a house in the same town I'd always lived, and raising kids in the same small-town atmosphere that I loved. Obviously, God had other plans, because just a year after getting married, Tyler got hired with Boeing, and we found ourselves on a plane headed for Seattle. After settling there and making it our home for years, I felt like we had it made, and, okay, God knew what He was doing after all. ;) Then came the news that Tyler's job was moving, and we would have to choose between relocating to Oklahoma City or taking an international assignment near Munich, Germany. It was a scary decision, but we chose Germany. Another change and more stretching out of my comfort zone...WAY out of my comfort zone. 

The process was fairly seamless as we neared the actual move. Boeing flew us over for a week to house hunt (I got to fly first class for the first time in my life!), which is when we found our wonderful rental house! We are living in a small village of 7000 people, a 17 minute drive to Manching which is where Tyler works (a wonderful change from his hour-plus commute in Seattle). Our house is in a very nice neighborhood with a lot of really friendly people. Our next-door neighbors speak great English, and we've really enjoyed getting to know them over coffee and cake. Our landlords have also been exceptional and always ask if things are okay at the house or if we need anything. Almost everyone seems to understand enough English that we can get our point across, and we can understand enough German to figure out the gist of what they're saying. :)

We had a little extra time on our house hunting visit so we decided to venture into Munich for an afternoon. We took the train (a mostly-fun experience, except we didn't realize we handed the conductor our receipt instead of our ticket and it took a bit of confusing dialog and lots of hand motions to figure out what was wrong). We saw the main square of Munich that day and the main pedestrian/shopping area. We also explored some of Ingolstadt on the house hunting trip. It's a city close to Manching where we stayed during the trip. It stands along the Danube River and is a cute place.

One of my take-away thoughts from this trip was how much eating is done differently in Germany (and Europe) than at home. Our first night's dinner started with me in tears, and they did not abate the entire time I was eating my pasta. I'm blaming most of that on stress and jet lag, but the dining etiquette is very different here ;) There are very few fast food places (only McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, and Subway are available here), and they are mostly found along the autobahn at rest stops, not in towns. Dining out here means walking into your chosen restaurant, checking the table for a "reserved" sign and if there isn't one, seating yourself. Your waitress will bring the menus and right away ask what you want to drink. Beer is cheaper than water here...yes, you pay for water, even tap! But nobody really drinks tap water in restaurants, just "still" or, more popularly, "sparkling" bottled water. After she returns with your drink, you  order your food (sometimes pointing is necessary when the language barrier is rearing it's ugly head). 

Some of the local flavors in our region are pork schnitzel (breaded and fried pork steak), schweinehaxen (crispy roasted pig leg), kase spatzle (homemade egg noodles with cheese), kn√∂del (flavorless rubbery potato/pasta dumpling/ball), and apple strudel (yum!). White asparagus also makes Germans lose their minds in the springtime.  EVERYTHING is spargel. All. The. Spargel. But I digress. Once you get your food, your server leaves you alone to finish your meal without interruption (usually not even checking if your food is tasting okay!). After you have finished, she will return to ask if you want to order dessert. At this point, you can say yes, and she will bring you some [hopefully] yummy goodness. You can also say no, but then you need to make sure you also ask for the bill RIGHT AWAY or you'll be stuck sitting at your table for a long time waiting to catch a glimpse of her again to try to ask for the bill. Germans work on the assumption that once you sit down at a table, that table is yours for the rest of the night. They never rush you or push you to leave, very unlike America where they bring the bill with your food and clear your plates before you've finished eating it. Germany's practice is certainly nice while you're eating, but when you're ready to leave, it can be a real pain sometimes. ;) Tips are not totally necessary in Germany, but we usually round up a few Euros anyway (no more than 10%). You always pay your waitress directly, and very few places accept credit cards, so make sure to bring cash. 

German food is definitely the most popular cuisine here, with Italian a very close second. There is nary a "real" Mexican restaurant to be found (Ingolstadt has 3 "Mexican" restaurants, but only one of them is kinda-sorta-passably-Mexican). Breakfast is another point docked from Germany...the closest pancake place is an hour away! The typical German breakfast consists of a roll or hearty slice of seeded bread with cheeses and thinly-sliced meats and tomatoes. They also really love soft- and hard-boiled eggs. I guess the pancake demand just isn't there. Dessert is also hit or miss here. They have sooo many cakes in the bakeries that LOOK so delicious, but when you actually try them, they aren't sweet and aren't flavorful. But they sure do look pretty :) Speaking of cake, for Germans the afternoon coffee and cake break is very popular. It seems almost everyone takes time out of their day to enjoy a latte macchiato or cappuccino with their chosen baked good. It's a nice idea, but coffee that late in the afternoon usually keeps me up too late that night :) I really do love the mindset of taking time to enjoy the day though. During the summers, cafes have outdoor tables that will be full of people enjoying their afternoon coffee and cake and chatting or just people-watching. It's a fun way to engage in the local culture. :)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Back up and running

As most of you know, we moved to Germany for Tyler's job last year. Since then, we've been to so many places and seen so many cool things! I've documented it to some extent on Facebook, but the other day, a friend asked for some recommendations regarding a place we'd been already, and it was so fun to look back through what we'd done and seen and experienced. It was nice to be able to remember what was good and what was bad. I decided I really needed to start blogging again to record for myself all those thoughts and ideas about each trip before I forget them. I really should have been doing this from the start, I suppose, but better late than never. My plan is start from the beginning (moving over here), and work my way forwards. Look for some new posts (with lots of pictures!) soon! I'm excited to document our adventures, if only to have them to look back on later for myself. :) In the mean time, here's proof that we're still kickin' it old school. ;)