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)...next 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, www.fgzn.de, 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 http://www.dekathedraal.be/en/index.htm.  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!