Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wander in the Woods

As a small town girl who loves the outdoors, I must admit that city living is a great experience that unfortunately leaves me a little homesick for the woods and wild.  So I was extremely pleased when I first learned about the German tradition of Familien Sonntagsspaziergang which translates to family walk on Sunday.  Reading about it is one thing, but seeing the woods on a Sunday or holiday is astonishing.

When my in-laws visited back in October we had our first encounter with this concept.  First, it's important to note that in Germany most places are closed on Sundays, with the exception of restaurants and loud noises (i.e. cutting the grass, loud music, etc) are not allowed.  All work is done on Saturdays leaving Sundays strictly for leisure.  I love this custom!

So without map or any real idea where we were headed the four of us piled into the car, punched in a location on the GPS and headed up to the Taunus mountain region to go for a hike.  Since it was a holiday, the number of cars we saw was not that surprising, we found a parking spot and headed up the trail soaking up the sunshine.  After walking the trail about 40 minutes we came to a plateau with a few buildings and lots of people...hmmm...interesting we thought as we approached.  Then as the signs were visible - we realized that these little places were restaurants selling beer, brots, and kuchen (cake).  We felt as though we were in heaven....a nice walk in the woods and stumbling upon food and refreshments, which was perfect as we had not yet had lunch.

After fueling up our bellies we headed back down to the car.  Again not exactly knowing where we were going once in the car, we decided to keep driving up the hill.  The higher we ascended the more cars we saw.  Eventually there were cars along both sides of the road and once we reached the top of the Feldberg (highest mountain in the Taunus at 878 meters) there were literally people and cars covering every open surface making it difficult to maneuver a vehicle.  The number of people was simply jaw dropping.  Back home people generally are just not this active.  Well, that was our first experience of a wander in the woods here.

Last Sunday I woke up with an urge to escape the city, to walk in the dirt not on cobblestones, to see towering trees not endless buildings, and to breath fresh clean air not the exhaust of thousands of cars.  So we went for a wander in the woods, thought we were lost for a bit and then after two hours found our way back to our car.  A perfect day!

Although, I had the need to get out of the city, I must at least say that Frankfurt is very livable city with many huge parks - a handful within walking distance from our flat - and lots of trees for a big city.  The Taunus mountains are only a 30 minute drive away and beautiful with great views of the region.  So far a great place to live and play.          

I love Familien Sonntagsspaziergang!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Driving & Transportation & Parking

When looking for an apartment one of the requirements we included within the search was an included parking spot.  Since my husband Travis has a 45 minute commute and parking is very difficult in the city he wanted a spot that will for sure be there once he makes it through Frankfurt's horrible traffic.  So we have the most intriguing parking set up like I've never seen before.

The haus next to us has an underground parking garage where our parking space is located.  Perfect no worries   or wasted hours spent trying to find a free spot.  First there is a remote activated post that goes done in order for a vehicle to pull into the driveway.  After pulling around to the back side there is a bat cave like entrance to the parking garage.  There are five elevator stalls that each hold four vehicles - small cars.

 Here one of the stalls with the bottom spots empty and below a picture taken while Travis raises the lift so that we can get to our car.  There really isn't that much space between upper and lower levels.  When we ordered our car we had to take measurements to make sure that whatever car we get will fit in the space.  A Porsche was not on his list of available options, but it would have fit perfectly!  We are just thankful to have a parking space - less stress - and a car that runs.

Most of the time the car stays parked except for going to work, on weekend road trips or hiking adventures into the Taunus - generally we use public transportation, which is extremely convenient.  Trips to the grocery store, going out to dinner, or shopping, and pretty much anywhere with in Frankfurt we walk, ride bikes, or take public transit, which I love.  I have a monthly pass for the public transportation within the city of Frankfurt, which is great.  For 75 euros a month, I can ride after 9am and someone can ride with me Monday thru Friday after 7pm for free and on the weekends & holidays for free.  Totally worth it!

I wish public transportation was as wide spread in the US.  I enjoy the freedom of not having to worry about filling up a gas tank, finding parking, or having a car to keep clean.  Not to mention there are millions of road signs in Germany I don't know how people remember what they all mean.  Luckily, some US states have reciprocity with Germany and they you don't have to take tests to get your German license.  Michigan is one of those states with full reciprocity so we don't have to do the written or driven tests in order to get our licenses.  Thank goodness!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Knödel Time

My first attempt at making German food....Knödel dinner success......

Knödels are German dumplings made of bread and potatoes with some herbs.  So was dinner especially healthy - not after I poured the mushroom gravy over them!  OK so the dumplings came from a box, but I made the delicious mushroom sauce and tossed in some window sill herbs too.  I really just like saying knödel :)

Not a huge adventure into the land of the unknown, but I did have to translate packing - thank you Google Translate.  Most importantly we enjoyed eating them!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Finally some rain arrived this weekend after the driest November in Germany....thank goodness!  However, the Michigander in me is anxious for the snow.  Soon enough hopefully.  Everyone has said that last year was really cold and snowy, but I imagine it's nothing compared to southwest Michigan.

I'm feeling rather grateful and even though I could list my gratitude's here - I will spare least a little....

Last night we were listening to music - String Cheese Incident - and our little love "Nugget" was bouncing around and jamming to the music.  We sat and watched my baby bump moving - what an extraordinary feeling - I will never forget that moment.  I am grateful for a healthy pregnancy.

Another gratitude I must share is for sunsets.  It may sound strange as Lake Michigan is one of the best places to catch a sunset, but in the evening the sky here in Frankfurt can be brilliantly colorful especially with all the contrails.  So Frankfurt sunsets are not on the same breathtaking level as back home, but they are beautiful in there own way and I am grateful for catching a glimpse each night.

 Sunset from our balcony.

Today I am grateful to have found so many gently used and much needed baby items to buy from others through Mother's Corner an extension of the American Women's Club and through the web forum Toy Town Germany a great resource to us for all things an expat living in Germany might need. 

A final gratitude....I'm grateful you took a moment to read my blog.  I hope that we can all find a few things to be grateful for each day.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Prague is beautiful, old, and enchanting - a city built on seven hills.  My amateur pictures do not do justice.  This photo is from the top of one of the hills overlooking the city on a rather foggy and freezing cold day.

The group trip through the American Women's Club of the Taunus was a great experience.  First of all, we met   people that we might not have otherwise and we all had a wonderful time together "running" around seeing as much as possible.  Secondly, we didn't have to plan anything, which was a freeing experience because we didn't have to think about any details just show up to the airport with a suitcase.  This was the first trip that we did through the AWCT, but definitely not the last as we had a great time.

After walking all over the city for three days, I felt the definite urge to watch Mission Impossible again as many  scenes were shot there and I couldn't remember that far back.  There is so much history and so much to see and with a guided tour you learn so much.  The architecture is grand and diverse with buildings from the Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance periods and so on.  Once you drive outside the main city center you can see the imprint the communism left on the city with the large, spartan, and window deficient apartment buildings.

We walked non-stop for two and half days touring the city - seeing so much that I had to look through all my pictures once home to fully absorb it all again.  My eyes were definitely stimulated taking in all that there was to see.  The St. Charles Bridge was one of my favorite places.  From this vantage point you can so much of the city on each side of the river and the bridge is decorated with statues on each side depicting different saints.

The food was delicious and the sip of Pilsner Urquell that I had was refreshing - it seems best to drink a beer in it's home country.  With the cold temperatures most restaurants and cafes were serving Gluhwein (hot spiced red wine) at little tables set up at the entrances - based on the honor system.

This past weekend was also the opening of the Christmas market in the old city center, which also meant tons of people.  We were told to be cautious of pick pockets and it was crowded.  The market was quaint and festive, but mostly full of tacky items with no artistic or even homemade quality - more mass produced stuff than anything.  The back drop of the old town square was very picturesque and the atmosphere was certainly spirited.

Two intriguing facts: 1) The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union, but not on the Euro currency, but almost everywhere we went accepted Euros (not the best exchange rate, but still convenient) and 2) Almost everyone spoke English and it was super easy to get around - surprisingly it seemed easier to get around using English than it does in Frankfurt.

A great experience and I'd go again!

Thanksgiving Abroad

Where to start...Finding a Turkey (for my husband and guests, of course) was surprisingly easy - thank goodness.  The Rewe grocery stores were stocking the birds, but astonishingly no cranberries.  Originally we had scheduled a trip to Prague in order to be away and busy on the favorite holiday and to avoid being at our flat thinking about the family & friends back home.  However, the trip changed from a Thursday departure to a Friday departure.

So we invited some American friends over and celebrated the holiday with much to be thankful for this year.  We had turkey, mashed potatoes, veggie stuffing and all the fixings - missing the cranberries we made due with a pomegranate & orange salad.  We even watched part of the hopeless Lions game.

Waking up Thanksgiving morning I felt giddy as I always do around the holiday and instead of thinking about how much I miss my family, my focus shifted to all that I have to be thankful for and how fortunate we were to be able to call and Skype with our families.  Not to mention the countless other blessing in my life.  We spent the morning relaxing and anticipating the aromas that would soon pervade the flat.  The day was wonderful!

Cheers - to having so much to be thankful for in our lives!!!

The holiday season is officially here....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Before moving to Germany we researched what goods and items are hard or impossible to find in this foreign land.  So I prepared properly, at least I thought so.....

Rewind four and half months, I made sure to pack vanilla extract, baking powder, peanut butter, a variety hot sauces, products we particularly like and our whole spice cupboard because it was extensive and I was unsure what I would find here.  Fast forward to October, shipment arrives (YEAH!!!) and with all the goodies it felt like  Christmas, but I forgot the baking soda - always something, right.

How hard can it be to find baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, it is used to clean, bake, brush teeth, get out stains, and so much more.  There are no big boxes of Arm & Hammer baking soda to speak of and my search began about a week ago.  I was not going to be defeated.  Why?  Well, the motivational hormones in my fifth month of pregnancy driving my cravings for homemade cookies and muffins was all the energy I needed.

In Germany baking soda is called Natron and I searched the shelves of the four main grocery stores I shop at and with no success.  Something had to give....I need cookies and any of my old coworkers can attest to this fact.  Finally, a random attempt at a third nearby Rewe grocery store resulted in discovering the treasure, the secret ingredient, something I've always taken for granted back home.

Behold, Kaiser Natron, about 0,69 euro for a mere 50 grams.  No more searching for recipes that excluded the baking soda.  Cookies, muffins, bread, and baked goods are in my future.  I was so elated to finally find the Natron that I also bought a package of cookies to celebrate with on the walk home.  Not nearly as good as homemade.

Needless to say my afternoon then consisted of baking...cookies.  A new recipe from my favorite vegan cook books, How It All Vegan.  So, Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies have been squelching my cookie cravings this week.  These would be great with a bowl of chili (vegetarian that is) time!

What's up next....

German Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prenatal Courses

It's hard enough to move to a new country, but it's another story when you move to a foreign country while you are pregnant.  Thankfully....Germans have babies too!  And surprisingly so do many other expats, many of which speak English.  Therefore, finding a prenatal prep course given in English was not that difficult.

We are very lucky, as one of the courses we found is not even a block from our flat in our great neighborhood filled with kids, trees, and parks.  Familien GesunheitsZentrum,, offers several different course, but most importantly for us they offer a prenatal course in English.  At first I was worried that the course would all be about breathing & relaxing during birth and since I know that I must have a Cesarean that would not be helpful for me.  However, when I called the instructor, Gabriele, she reassured me that the course covers more information and so I enrolled us in the seven week course.

The class meets once a week and is very informative.  Gabriele is a wealth of information and such a peaceful soul.  I am so glad that our paths have crossed and to have such a kind person offering you help and guidance during such a transitional time is comforting.  Now we have tons of information on having a baby in Germany and the differences between German practices verses other countries.  The class is populated by couples from all over the world and at different stages in their pregnancies.  A great experience so far!

One of the biggest differences about German healthcare is that generally practitioners are more knowledgeable and accepting of holistic medicines, which is awesome.  Also, for pregnancy & birth, the focus is relaxation not just breathing, although breathing is plays a big role in relaxation.  So far, I like the differences that I've noticed in German health care & insurance.

Now we just have to tour a couple of the hospitals - there are many in Frankfurt - and decide where we want to have the baby.  So much information and so many decisions.  Not to mention, all the necessities that we must purchase before the baby arrives.  There are so many products and options out there it makes my head spin.  So I've decided on a process of elimination to evaluate if we really need something - I just think about carrying it up our five flights of stairs!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Antwerp In A Weekend

Living in Europe there are so many places to visit that are only a few hours away by car or train.  Finally, as our unofficial trip planner, I just had to pick a destination and plan a weekend trip.  So Antwerp it was this past weekend....

Friday afternoon we threw our bags in the car and we were off - hoping that traffic would not be too brutal.  Four hours later we arrived in Antwerp.  For the day and a half that we were there my eyes felt like they were at an all you can eat buffet...I'm surprised that I didn't trip in fall considering my gaze was constantly focused on the buildings and architecture that we wandered past.

The architecture is amazing and the city feels older than Frankfurt, but I assume this is because Antwerp was not nearly as heavily bombed during the war.  I'm not sure about the historical facts.   The Barbo Fountain above sat in the middle of the Old City plaza, which seemed to be teeming with people at all hours of the day.  One of the most spectacular buildings in this plaza is the Our Lady's Cathedral  The Gothic cathedral is open to visitors for 5 euros and I could not resist, especially considering the Peter Paul Rubens special exhibition going on inside as well.  Not only was I walking through a incredible and giant cathedral, but it also felt like a art museum and cemetery as well. There are frescoes all over the walls and ceilings, there are antique robes, statues, and amazing wood work, as well as hundreds of paintings as part of the permanent collection and then the Rubens paintings on loan.  The floor is a checker-board of old graves, which was interesting as they were everywhere and impossible not to step on - so not exactly like a cemetery.

We did not have enough time to see everything on our short list, but we were able to walk over to the Steen Castle and - my favorite building that I saw - the Central Train Antwerp Train Station.  Yes, the train station.  We saw it from far away one night walking back to the hotel and it looked wonderful all lit up.  So Sunday morning we walked from our hotel to the station and it was breathtaking.  When I walked in the doors, I felt as though I was taken back in time.  I do not have the words to describe this space accurately or how it made me feel, but it is amazingly grand.  No trip to Antwerp is complete without seeing the Central Station - in my opinion.

The food was delicious - especially at Appelmans and at Dock's Cafe and I'd highly recommend either restaurant.  Dock's Cafe was a bit more fancy & expensive than I anticipated, but worth it, plus the atmosphere and decor are interesting.

So my first attempt at trip planner/tour guide turned out well.  We found delicious beer - yes, Non-Alcohol for me - and several flavors and varieties for my husband.  Of course, I also found the delectable world famous Belgian chocolate - a bag of which I am still nursing!  I never had the chance to enjoy Belgian waffles so I guess this means we have three years to make it back to Belgium, maybe Brussels or Bruge next time...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Learning Deutsch

So here I am living in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language....Well, except "Eine bier, bitte" which can only get one so far.  Frankfurt is such an international city that I could theoretically live here for three years without really having to learn the language.  Actually, I am surprised by how many expats living here do not speak Deutsch or even try to learn.  I can not imagine living here and not speaking Deutsch - there is a whole part of life that you miss out on, at least it seems like you do.  How does one make friends or at least acquaintances and communicate with neighbors who know no English???  Although, it is difficult to make German friends as they are much more private than Americans - more on cultural differences later.

I have been taking Deutsch lessons now for about a month.  Class is twice a week at Deutsch Partner in Kronberg.  Learning the language is not so easy, but so far I'm enjoying the classes.  Now I catch myself listening to passing conversations hoping to pick up words that I might know and when I finally do hear familiar words my internal cheer is explosive.  Slowly, I am picking up words, phrases, and retaining the basics.  I admit that I need to study more...never was great at patiently studying.

The craziest thing about learning a new language so far is the fact that when I can't think of what I want to say I think of the word or response in Spanish.  Why my brain picks up the leftover remnants of high school Spanish is beyond me, but it is interesting and a couple of my class mates do the same with second languages that they know.  Confusing!  

When I am out grocery shopping or at a restaurant I seem to freeze up - all my good intentions of speaking in Deutsch melt away as the person speaking to me talks so fast I feel that I've been swept up into a whirlwind.  Plus, on the occasions that I manage to rattle off my answer in Deutsch they realize I am not German and begin speaking to me in English.  Argh!!!  My trips to the market are getting to be more successful, which is encouraging - especially considering the frequency of trips to the market.  I think my husband had a point, when we talk about new languages being easier for children to learn, he believes it is because they are not afraid to make mistakes - so true.  

So, cheers to making mistakes because I am going to learn this language!    
Auf Wiedersehen!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Street Markets Everywhere

Street of my favorite things about Germany so far.  There is always a market going on somewhere, except Sundays.  The markets are social gathering places that include venodrs selling wine, hard apple cider (Rauscher), and a Hessen favorite - Apfel Wien (apple wine), which is usually mixed with mineral water or orange Fanta and is quite refreshing in the warmer summer.  Then there are the vendors selling various wurst, currywurst, Frankfurters, and Pommes (french fries).

Pommes mit ketchup & Currywurst mit brot
(French Fries with ketchup & Currywurst with bread)

Yesterday's snack at the Bergerstrasse Market, pommes for me & wurst for my husband.  It's wonderful to see so many people out, shopping for fresh produce, fresh meats, natural honey, olives, teas, candies, bread, homemade egg noodles, etc - not typical in many American cities, although it is growing.  

I must mention that the Saturday markets are packed with people shopping for the weekend because everything, except restaurants are closed on Sundays.  So people are out stocking up for the weekend.  At first it took some getting use too - shopping every few days and stores being closed on Sundays, but I really enjoy both differences now.  Sundays are a true day of rest here...loud noise is not allowed (so no cutting grass, recycling glass, or loud music) and it is a day to be spent with family & friends.  Many Germans go on a family walk on Sundays - more on that later.  I love Sundays!

My friend Amanda was so right...I love the markets!  There is one market two blocks from our flat on Wednesdays and people stay in the park drinking wine, talking with friends, and shopping until almost eight o'clock in the evening.  A great way to spend the evening - unfortunately that wine is out the question for me right now!

More market pictures later this week...   

Friday, October 28, 2011

Leaving Home

Leaving Home...something that I've always wanted to do since my debut as a rebellious teenager.  I love my small home town, but I need to wander, to discover the world and myself and in the end find a new appreciation for the magic of my small lakeshore town on the coast of Lake Michigan.  Since meeting my husband nearly seven years ago we've always discussed world travel and the possiblities of a short term expartriot contract in various places all over the world.  An adventure that we both wanted to undertake and experience.

Last February the opportunity for a three year contract presented itself and by June we were traveling to find a flat and I was traveling to Europe for the first time in my life.  Now here we are, over 4,000 miles and an 8 hour flight from home, living in Frankfurt, Germany.  There have been numerous happenings, situations, and decisions made since February that have led me to believe in that old saying "everything happens for a reason".

On September 6, 2011 we set out for the adventure of our lives.  The plane lifted into the sky at Chicago O'hare Airport - I was leaving home, my family & friends, everything known and familiar to me for the last 27 years of my life.  A dream coming true so exciting and bittersweet.  It wasn't until we arrived at our flat jet lagged and feeling foreign that it all started to settle in me; the excitement, adventure, anxiety, loneliness, and the finality of all the decisions that we'd made in the last few months.  I was uprooted and so far from all that I had ever known, but then it hit me - I may be living in foreign country, on another continent, but the world is such a small place and I am only an 8 hour flight from home.  So many thoughts and emotions were swirling about my exhausted being and what I really needed was a cat nap.  The soothing comfort of sleep finally set in as I extinguished the anxiety from me with the affirmation of how small the world really is today.

Now Here...Almost two months have passed since our arrival and life is falling into place and the taproots of a new existence are starting to form.  I still have yet to call this flat and this place in the world "home", but I know that I will get there.  We love our little neighborhood and have had several little adventures so far.  One big change - we went from a town of 5,000 with a handful of restaurants to a city of over 680,000 with endless options for restaurants.  We are enjoying the adventures.

In a year full of surprises and changes we have yet to face the biggest change....You may wonder how since moving across the world is a giant leap, but in March we will welcome the arrival of our first child!  My life sometimes feels like the cliche - when it rains it pours - but I chose to throw down the umbrella and soak up all the raindrops.  The purpose of this blog is to share these adventures and all the dancing in the rain.