Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Still Internetless

I feel as if I'm going on Day 1,000 without Internet at home. I have so many photos to share and no way to upload them until we have our connection here.

When we began the process we were asked if we needed a modem. My husband said no since we already have one. Turns out, you actually do need the modem from this company. I'm not sure why we weren't told up front. It took about four days for us to realize our mistake and now we are waiting for the correct modem to arrive by mail. It was supposed to be here yesterday.

Hopefully it will come today and all of the roadblocks will be gone. To date, setting up Internet in our home has been the most frustrating task we've encountered.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving (or just a normal Thursday if you're German)

Plans to have the Internet at home were foiled once again. Now the expected date is Monday. I was hoping to be able to Skype with my family for the holiday but I will have to settle for a phone call instead.

I obviously know Thanksgiving is an American-only holiday but I guess I didn’t realize how different it would feel being here instead of back home. Even leading up to today, there were no turkey sales or cranberry sauce displays, no cartoon turkeys hung around the grocery stores. It’s just another day.

Last Thanksgiving we were newly-engaged and our moms were meeting for the first time in Florida. His mom flew down from Minnesota and my mom picked her up at the airport a day before we arrived.  They got along like old friends and we were all very happy to be spending the holiday together. It was very relaxing sitting on the back porch sipping wine, sharing stories, and becoming a family. We certainly didn’t know then that we would be so far apart during the next Thanksgiving.

Any other year, delightful aromas emanating from the kitchen would cause me to wake up and begin the countdown to lunchtime. This year my husband went to work and I am meeting him for lunch. Then I will return home to begin cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time on my own. I never imagined I would be undertaking this without guidance from my mom. I’m also missing the noise and laughter from my brother and sister and the occasional drop-ins from extended family members throughout the day.

Of course, making Thanksgiving dinner in Germany is accompanied by other unique challenges. The ovens here are very small compared to the ones in America. My roaster won’t even fit into the oven completely unless I turn it at an angle. Because of this, we are just having a small turkey this year and I guess that makes sense anyway since there are only two of us.

Since we’re on the topic of kitchen appliances, I promised to tell you about my first time using the dishwasher. I used Google Translate in order to read the settings. The rough translations are: Normal with Fast Forward, Normal without Fast Forward, Fast Program, and Short Coils. Coils?

Trying my best to understand, I decided to go with Normal without Fast Forward. Each of the settings is accompanied by a letter (Normal with Fast Forward- A; Normal without Fast Forward- B; and so on). I turned the dial to ‘B’ and pressed the power button. Nothing happened. I cranked the dial all the way around and back to ‘B’ and pressed the button once more. Again, nothing happened. I made sure the door was entirely closed and tried the button one more time. This resulted in silence. I called my husband into the kitchen for reinforcement.

“Okay,” I said. “I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.” I went through the whole process, this time with my husband supervising. He agreed that it seemed like I was doing what makes sense.

He proceeded to open and close the door a few more times, applying different amounts of force each time and ending every try with a press of the button. We were perplexed.

Frustrated, I exclaimed, “Great! I’m just going to have to call Arndt again and when he comes over he’s going to stand here in the kitchen and stare at the dishwasher with me, just like we did with the washing machine last week. Why can’t this just be easy?!”

With that last desperate question, I shoved the door closed, pressed the button, and the dishwasher miraculously lurched to life!

We turned to each other, shrugged, and then left the kitchen. All of the dishes came out clean and spotless. Perhaps the trick is getting angry, yelling, and punching the door. I guess I’ll find out later today when I wash the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner.

 I hope your Thanksgiving is happy and wonderful, filled with football and family and lots of great food.

Today (and every day) I am thankful that we can still communicate despite the distance separating us. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Furniture Follies

*Note: We still do not have Internet access at home officially, but my crafty husband has temporarily used his phone to give us a wireless connection. I will be catching up on my posts!

I am so glad to finally have all of our furniture. We have been sleeping in the guest room since we moved in because we were waiting to purchase a king-sized bed. We thought it would be easier to purchase our bed and some other pieces when we got here. In retrospect, we should have bought them in America and had them shipped.

First of all, a European king-sized bed is not the same as an American king-sized bed. This means that we will probably not ship this bed back home. We have two separate mattresses put together to form one large bed. All in all, it doesn’t really make too much of a difference unless you happen to roll into the crack while sleeping.

We also needed shelves, a television stand, and some butcher blocks for the kitchen to maximize space. For now, we decided to buy all of these items from IKEA in order to save some money and to be able to get everything all at once. The drive to the IKEA in Dusseldorf takes almost an hour one-way. We go to that one instead of the closer one in the Netherlands because we have the advantage of purchasing high-dollar items without paying the 19% tax that is standard in Europe. But since we are residents of Germany, we may only purchase tax-free in this country.

We went to IKEA twice before our serious purchase day (last Friday). We were confident that we knew the ropes: 1.) IKEA accepts only cash or the IKEA Family Card, 2.) You must bring all of the cash with you because the ATMs inside the store will not recognize our American debit cards, 3.) You must purchase all of the items and then wait in line at customer service in order to re-coop the 19% tax money. Armed with a wad of cash and our lengthy item list, we set out for Dusseldorf with high hopes and visions of Swedish meatballs.

We had a relaxing lunch at the cafeteria, blissfully unaware of the afternoon that loomed ahead. Since we’d already been to the store, we knew the layout and it only took us an hour-and-a-half to gather our furniture. We took our list to the nearest Information Desk and the employee gave us a sheet of paper with a barcode. Paying was straightforward. Our total was exactly as expected based on pre-calculations and we were excited to know that we would be receiving a couple hundred Euro back once we visited customer service.

Conveniently, the customer service area is the same as the warehouse (where we picked up our items) and it also houses the van rental area. We already knew we were going to need to rent one of the IKEA vans in order to transport our hefty load back home. You may rent a van at 9 Euro per hour and the only condition is that it must be returned to the store by closing time of 9pm.

I waited in the customer service line while my husband took care of the rental. I finished before him and when I approached, I knew something was wrong because of the distressed expression on his face.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“No. Apparently they need a passport. Do you have yours?”
“Well, I don’t have mine either.”
“Well. What are we going to do?”

Another employee heard our conversation and told the person helping us that it would be okay to rent to us as long as IKEA had copies of all of my husband’s identification. We do have German and also International driver’s licenses so we were relieved to find that these were sufficient for the rental.

After the paperwork was completed we went to the parking lot to do the walk-around of the van. The IKEA employee was a young man—we’ll call him Frederich. Frederich’s English was impeccable. He explained the rental procedure in detail and sent us on our way with a friendly, “Tschuse! See you in a few hours!”

Frederich went back inside and we spent 20 minutes loading the van with our wares. Satisfied that everything was packed tightly and ready for transport, we hopped into the cab. My husband turned the key in the ignition and the van immediately lurched forward, halfway onto the sidewalk. As soon as he reached to put the van back into the park position, he yelled, “This isn’t automatic!”

Normally this wouldn’t be a very big ordeal. Although I have never learned to drive a manual vehicle, my husband has had experience (years ago) and if we had been starting off on a journey through the streets of Atlanta or Chicago we would have just taken a deep breath and placed the van back in ‘drive.’

As you already know from previous posts, driving in Germany is no easy task. We were not prepared to possibly cause an accident on the Autobahn. Frederich had already told us that if we were to cause significant damage to the van, we would automatically be responsible for paying 650 Euro (including the 19% tax, I’m sure).

My husband decided to go back inside and ask Frederich if they offered any cars with an automatic transmission. I waited in the van, hopeful that we would just be able to switch to another and be on our way. He emerged from the store, shaking his head and then he got back into the van.

“So I guess they only have manual vans?” I quietly asked.
“Yeah. When I told them we weren’t comfortable driving it all the way back home, Frederich said, ‘Sorry, good luck!’ and then helped the next customer.”

We stared at each other for a few long moments and then we began to laugh hysterically. What luck! First, we almost had to walk away without renting the van since neither of us had our passports. Now we were so close to driving away and the only thing standing between us was a gear shift.

Beaten and broken but not yet defeated, we decided to see if anything would fit into my car. We retrieved Greta from the parking garage and pulled up behind the van to begin the transfer. We were elated to discover that everything would fit! We would have to come back the next day to pick up some of the boxes, but it was all going to fit!

We walked back inside to return the van keys and to store what we had to leave behind until Saturday. Frederich was surprised to see us.

“What happened? I saw you loading something in your car.”
Sheepishly we replied, “Yes. Unfortunately neither one of us wants to risk a 650 Euro bill if we get into an accident. It looks like everything will fit into our cars so we’ll take what we can tonight and come back tomorrow for the rest.”

Good ole’ Freddy gave us a refund and sent us on our way.

The drive home was uncomfortable. My seat was pushed almost up to the windshield so some of the boxes could fit. I was positioned like a question mark for the entire hour.

We made it safely and my husband was able to construct the butcher block that night.

We woke early Saturday morning to go back to Dusseldorf for the last trip. We both drove because we knew that the remaining boxes would not fit inside just one of our cars. I was following my husband and we had almost reached the highway when he pulled into a gas station. I thought he was just filling up so I stayed inside my car. He approached and asked me if I had the receipt so we could retrieve everything from storage. I did not. Incredibly, we both left the house without even thinking of taking the one piece of paper that stood between us and our remaining furniture.

We decided that it would be futile for both of us to spend 25 minutes driving back home. Based upon whose car gets better gas mileage (Greta wins easily), I was elected to go home, get the receipt, and meet him at IKEA. This task should have been simple and direct but of course I immediately became stuck behind a tractor I couldn’t pass. After the driver turned into a field, I was significantly slowed down by two more tractors. I had to wait behind a line of cars in the next village because a large semi-truck was attempting to parallel-park between two houses on a narrow cobblestone road.

After an hour’s delay (on top of an hour’s drive), I finally arrived at IKEA. Thankfully, the rest of the day was uneventful. We had lunch at the cafeteria again. I can safely say that I have had my fill of seeing signs of Swedish meatballs everywhere I turn.

Kudos to my husband for putting together all of the furniture in just two days! I don’t think we will be making a trip to IKEA again any time soon. This experience has caused me to have nightmares. Instead of dreaming in black and white, I’m seeing blue and yellow.

The moral of the story is that we are persistent in the face of setbacks. After several attempts, we have finally conquered IKEA. I think our hardiness will be one of our best qualities during our life in Europe.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blog Blackout

We expected to have Internet in our home today. It was installed late this afternoon but we have discovered that we need a modem in addition to the router we already purchased.

I am very eager to share photos and anecdotes but both must wait until I can communicate without typing on a tiny mobile phone screen.

I'm ready for this adjustment period to pass! Until then, imagine the stories I'll tell you about our most recent trip to IKEA and the trouble I had using the dishwasher for the first time.

It's all worth the wait.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

German Appliance Repair: Lesson 1

We have now been in our home for almost a week. Internet is scheduled to be installed next Monday and our oil will be delivered Tuesday. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping everything goes smoothly but it seems like all of these tasks are accompanied by unexpected complications.

Our washer and dryer arrived two days ago. The men who brought them told me that the piping for the water was incorrect and I would need to call the landlord. Arndt said he would have a plumber look at the piping Wednesday (yesterday). The morning came and went. At 11:30 the doorbell rang and I was surprised to see Arndt waiting. I opened the door and he informed me that the plumber was busy so he would take a look at the dishwasher. I didn't bother correcting him and saying, "I think you mean the washer" since he pointed down toward the basement instead of the kitchen.

We headed downstairs and Arndt asked me to explain what I was told about the pipes. I tried my best but speaking about plumbing hardware is not exactly my forte. As soon as Arndt saw the piping he exclaimed, "Who did this like this!"
"I don't know," I replied.
Looking directly at me, he asked, "But who did this?"
I quickly glanced behind me, thinking surely there must be someone else in the room. "I have no idea... we have only lived here five days."

He assumed the position of The Thinker (standing upright) and muttered, "I have never seen something like this. Why do someone do something like this?"
Gently, I said, "The person who delivered told me that the former tenants might have had an American washer. So would that explain the piping?"
Arndt's eyes suddenly brightened. "Yes... YES!! That is the reason why! Okay! So how do we fix?"

Again, I was dumbfounded. Obviously if I knew how to correct the problem I would have done it myself. We both stared at the pipes along the wall for a few minutes. Every 20 or 30 seconds, Arndt would tug one of the pipes and say, "Hmmm..." Finally he exclaimed, "Bring a screwdriver to me!"

I retrieved a toolkit and he found the correct screwdriver. He disconnected one pipe and then stuck another down a tube. He told me to turn on the machine so we could test it. We both stood back and watched as the water sloshed around inside. After a minute, Arndt declared the repair a success and as he walked back upstairs to leave he said, "Just be careful when it rains a lot."

I still don't know what he meant by that but it isn't raining so I've been washing clothes.

Things with the house are improving but it will take some more time before it begins to feel like a home.

As soon as we are officially settled, I'm going to really buckle down and learn German. I have aspirations to be completely fluent but I'll take it one lesson at a time. It will be helpful to order confidently in a restaurant, exchange pleasantries with others, and understand grocery store lingo.

My husband has learned how to say goodbye in German. It's actually very funny. Since that is one of the only things he can say with assuredness, he makes a point to say it at the end of every interaction. At the grocery store, he always says farewell to the cashier, even if she is already scanning the next customer's items. "Tschus!" (sounds like Schooosss)

At a restaurant, he always tells the waiter and any other staff we see upon exit, "Tschus! Tschus!"

If we are buying bread at the bakery, he waits until the opportune moment to tell the baker, "Tschus!!!!!!!!"

After each of these interactions he will turn to me and say, "See babe? You just have to learn the language! It makes things so much easier."

With the benefit of these tutorials, I will certainly know German in no time. Or at least how to say goodbye if I need to end an awkward conversation.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I can now say that I have been to three countries in a month-and-a-half! Our new friends who sold us the desks offered to take us to Belgium to look at antiques and drink some great Belgian beer. The weather was extremely foggy yesterday (Sunday). We were hoping it would eventually lift but since it did not, our view of everything we passed looked as if it were rising out of the mist. It was also incredibly cold.

Our destination was only an hour away and we passed through Holland quickly. We spent a couple hours at a market in Tongeren. I was amazed by how many vendors and shoppers were out-and-about despite the weather. I suppose they are accustomed to these murky winter days.

After browsing for a while we stopped at a pub to have beer and pommes frites. As usual, I was not disappointed by my beer and the french fries were amazing. They are cut like our steak fries but aren't greasy, soggy, or too crispy.

Our friends took us to another great source for antiques after our snack. We spent almost an hour there. The pieces of furniture were so great. They are like nothing I've ever seen at an American antique shop. Some of the items for sale were from monasteries and Spanish villas; incredible!

We were hungry for a real lunch by the time we were finished with our second stop. We went back to the market and enjoyed the most savory mussels I've had! And of course, more beer. A self-guided tour of a breathtaking Catholic church was the icing on the cake for our perfect first visit to Belgium.

I took lots of photos but will unfortunately have to share them with you later since I'm on a public computer until we have Internet at home.

Today was my first time driving alone. The GPS coordinates for the base were input incorrectly. This led to me to listening to Blanche say, "Turn right on... road." This "road" took me to a defunct gate in the middle of nowhere. I pulled off the road and navigated to the address of our guest house since I know how to get to the base from there. 15 minutes later, I arrived at the guest house and proceeded to the base gate.

While living at the guest house, the route we took to base was officially for only bicycles and pedestrians. But if you are a resident who lives off the path, it is my understanding that you can use that path to go to main roads (driving slowly, obviously). We saw many other people (Germans) doing this in the month we were at the guest house and were never once told we could not.

Today I approached the main road from the bicycle path and was confronted with construction. I decided to turn around and go back to the guest house and try to navigate a different way. As soon as I backed up, a man walking his dog pointed at the sign, glared at me, and yelled something in German. Probably something to the effect of, "You idiot! The sign forbids cars!"

Almost to the point of tears, I turned back around to face the construction. I inched forward and suddenly one of the trucks moved and I realized the road wasn't closed after all. The construction workers gestured for me to move forward onto the road and I was so grateful I almost blew them kisses.

I finally reached the familiar fortified gates of the base and was thrilled to see things I know. My happiness was quelled when I had to drive around for 10 minutes in order to find the family readiness center. At one point I was driving through the Italian portion of the base, but I finally made it here.

Hopefully I will arrive safely back in Tuddern before the day is finished. It is only 11am. I can't imagine what other adventures await.

Moving Day

We are officially in our new house! I'm excited to finally be in our own space with our own things but there is still so much to do before we can truly relax and feel at home. We do not have Internet yet so I drive all the way to the base in order to catch up on emails and keep my connection to the outside world.

Moving day (Friday) was smooth. The movers arrived promptly at 8am. They were efficient and had everything inside our house by 11:30. We also received three schranks (wardrobes) to get us started. They aren't the most beautiful pieces of furniture but we are grateful to have them since this is our first time living somewhere without closets.

We were also expecting a washer/dryer and refrigerator delivery. They had not arrived by noon so we thought they must be having lunch and we decided to follow suit. We were gone for only 30 minutes and we came back home to find a note from them stating that our order had been canceled because they came at 12:15 and we were not there. Now those deliveries are re-scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday). I imagine I will be spending most of tomorrow doing laundry.

We spent the rest of the day unpacking boxes and wondering how we acquired so much. Items I was sure I'd gotten rid of mysteriously transported themselves to Germany and now they are well on their way to collecting dust in the basement.

We live very close to a shopping center so we went to stock up on some essential groceries and cleaning supplies. Absurdly, I decided I wanted to cook a real dinner for our first night in the house. That was a silly undertaking considering our kitchen is 3x smaller than any I've ever had, and the lack of space is even more pronounced when the counters are piled with various pots, pans, plates, and glasses.

We decided to first try a discount grocery store called Lidl. It was very similar to an Aldi so we thought we knew the drill. As soon as we walked in I realized I'd left my grocery bags in the car so I asked my husband to go outside and get them. Five minutes later I was perusing the produce selection and he approached me, empty-handed.
"Where are the bags?" I asked.
"You can't get out of here unless you buy something," he breathlessly replied.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you have to go through one of the cashier lines to exit and the lines are so long. I would literally have to buy something to get back to the parking lot. Do you want me to get a shopping basket so we can grab some things?"
"Sure, I guess we don't have a choice," I said.

A minute later he came back without a basket and said, "The baskets are outside. We'll just have to buy a couple things so we can leave."

After this little adventure we decided to just go to the Rewe, a "normal" grocery store that doesn't trap you inside.

I had big dreams about the kind of meal I was going to prepare but we ended up with spaghetti because I was too confused about types of meat and German instructions on products. At least I know how to boil water and make spaghetti sauce.

We had a lovely dinner and decided to call it a night. While showering I noticed the water never really got hot and was getting cooler and cooler. I supposed that maybe this is how things would always be at our house so I didn't think too much of it. Stepping out of the shower, the air around me was also colder than I would've imagined. Again, I chalked it up to being in a new place.

Later, I was getting dressed in the bedroom while my husband was taking his shower. I kept hearing him exclaim things like, "Whew!! Woweee!! Ooooohhh!!! Yikes!!" I vaguely wondered what was going on, but he's an adult. I figured if something were truly wrong, he'd take care of it.

When he came into the bedroom he was almost delirious. "The water was freezing!! FREEZING!!!! I think all of our oil is gone!"

Immediately I went into a panic. I can handle the air around me being cold but I do not ever want to take a freezing cold shower and then step out into a freezing cold room. I'm from Florida. I have no basis of knowledge for these types of situations.

My husband reassured me and said we'd take care of getting oil the next day. I reminded him that it would be Saturday and I doubted anyone would care about our oil problem. We went to sleep, shivering.

The next day, we decided to make another run to IKEA for some little odds and ends. We were heading out the door when our landlord's son, Arndt, stopped by to give us something for the dishwasher. My husband mentioned to him that we ran out of oil the night before.
"No way! Not possible!" he incredulously replied.
"Yes," my husband said, "I'm afraid so."

They went down to the basement to investigate. Apparently the switch for the heater looks very much like a normal light switch. Someone had turned it off accidentally. Arndt left and I said, "Geez, I wonder who did that?"

Sheepishly my husband told me he was sure he was the culprit.

I wonder how much more trial-and-error is in store for us.

We set out for Dusseldorf and our driving experience there was the same as all the others. We were scared on the Autobahn, found ourselves in lots of roundabouts, drove in the streetcar lane, and parked illegally.

The biggest mishap of Saturday is that we forgot to take out cash before we left. We tried several banks in Dusseldorf and none would take our cards because they don't have European chips. Slightly upset but not completely defeated, we took the little cash we had and determined to spend it on something. The first few euros went toward meatballs and beer in the cafe, and the remnants of our money were spent on some useful items.

We were on the way home by 5pm and it was already getting dark. Having no cooking ambitions on this night, we walked to a local Greek restaurant and had a very pleasant evening eating good food and drinking good wine. Tzatziki sauce and Ouzo will cure just about anything.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Goodbye, Guesthouse!

Tonight is our final night in the guesthouse! Two and a half months after bidding adieu to our apartment and most of our belongings, we are now only hours away from finally sleeping on our own bed. The day began with us thinking that only our small shipment would arrive tomorrow. Luckily we received an e-mail mid-morning informing us of the arrival of the rest of our household goods. We are ecstatic! 

Our walk-through of the house was scheduled for 3pm today so we decided to pass some at a secondhand furniture store in Sittard. Our driving adventures in Holland are never-ending. The first store we visited was closed-- permanently. We input a second address into the GPS and arrived at another store, but not before driving through one of the ubiquitous roundabouts. I must admit I'm already tired of these junctions. Today, we managed to drive around a roundabout twice before exiting. I felt like Clark Griswold in European Vacation. "I cannot get left!!!!"

After perusing the furniture store, we decided it was time for lunch. At this point it was only around 12:30 so we knew we had more than enough time to eat lunch and then drive to our new home for the walk-through. Lunch was great. I definitely think we're having better luck with restaurants in Holland. We have yet to be served by a waiter or waitress who does not speak close-to-perfect English and of course that is very appealing to us. 

On the return trip, my husband decided he wanted to try to navigate without the aid of the GPS. His innate sense of direction is much better than mine and before I knew it, we were on the highway and headed to Tuddern. I was very impressed! We may not be the best at roundabouts, but at least we know a landmark when we see it!

Our cheerful landlord's son greeted us when we arrived. We performed the walk-through and were very pleased with everything. Tomorrow will be a long day for us but I'm so excited that we will be settled into our home for the next few years. 

Although I'm very happy, we are still not in the clear. Our home is heated by oil and it is our responsibility to fill the oil tanks. When we originally saw the house, we thought the oil was over 80% full. We commented about this during the walk-through today and were informed that the tanks are almost empty. They looked full because of a strategic shadow. Yikes. This was an expense we had not officially planned for so it was a big surprise. Oil can be quite expensive here and we obviously aren't planning on freezing during our first winter.

We also don't know if our television is dual-voltage. This means that we might have shipped a TV here needlessly. We can always use a transformer but that pulls a lot of electricity so we are just hoping that it works for Europe as well as America. If not, we will probably just end up purchasing a new one at some point. 

And then there is the panic that sets in when you walk through a new space and begin to wonder if all of your furniture is really going to fit in the way you originally imagined. We thought we were going to need a lot of new furniture and now we're worrying that we might have too much. In the end I think it will all turn out fine. Empty rooms have a way of looking smaller than they are.

I'll be very relieved when we're finished with all of this waiting! Hopefully we'll be settled just in time for our first Thanksgiving in Germany. We might be some of the only people in our neighborhood to celebrate, but we're going to find a way to fit a turkey inside our tiny European oven. Don't worry; I'll let you know how that turns out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Weekend Shenanigans

Our search for my husband's touring bike has been in vain. We've completed our own thorough research and visited several shops off the beaten path in the Netherlands. Saturday we ended up in Heerlen, a nice city with a very active shopping district. Our luck with driving in the Netherlands has been the same. While trying to park we drove down a one-way street. Twice.
My husband was making a left turn onto a tiny side street when he suddenly braked and said, "Oh wait! This has a Do Not Enter sign!"
"It's not a Do Not Enter sign," I replied. "It's a No Stopping... or Restricted No Stopping. Either way, you can drive down the street in this direction. Just don't stop."
He stopped and made a 3-point U-Turn Austin-Powers-style.
We eventually found a parking spot but we couldn't figure out how to add more than a half hour to the meter so we made a note of our time limit and set off to the bike shop.

The shop ended up being in a large shopping mall. It took a long time for us to find the actual store because we were confused by the information panel. Finally we found it but we were disappointed with the selection. Most of these bikes were of mediocre-quality and came without a lengthy warranty.

We decided to try one more shop in Heerlen. Once we got in the car, Blanche (our GPS) advised that the next shop was within walking distance of where we were. By that point we'd already left our parking spot and since we were having problems distinguishing one-way streets, we just continued forward. We approached a roundabout (no surprise there) and entered the circle. It is our understanding that once in the roundabout, you have right-of-way. Out of nowhere, a Playmobil-sized car zoomed into the circle in front of us. My husband slammed on the brakes as the other driver cheerfully waved.

After regaining composure, we proceeded to our exit. Another problem with being unseasoned drivers in the Netherlands is that we don't understand all of the rules well enough to know if someone else has broken them. At different intervals throughout the rest of the day we said, "I wonder... did that guy have right-of-way?" Perplexing.

We arrived to the location of the next shop and it was apparently located in another shopping mall. We walked around the mall for 10 minutes searching for the store with no luck. It was past lunchtime and we were hungry and confused so we decided to go to Sittard and try to locate a bike shop we've heard about there.

Having a Grimbergen in Sittard
Once we walked into the square, we realized that the day was beautiful and sunny and it would be a shame to continue our fruitless search. We plopped down at the nearest cafe and proceeded to people-watch for the next few hours. The pace here is so relaxing. Everyone seems to enjoy their food, drink, and socializing. I can definitely get accustomed to Saturdays like this.

We have also been searching for two desks. We were originally thinking of going to IKEA but we decided we'd rather have something less modern. I combed through the base's version of Craigslist and came across two perfect desks listed by the same seller. We had been playing cat-and-mouse all weekend but I finally touched base with her yesterday afternoon and she invited us over to take a look.

Their house was huge and filled with wonderful antique furniture they have collected throughout their time here and also when they were stationed in Italy. The age of these items was mind-blowing. They had some pieces from the 18th century! Also of note was their extensive scotch and wine collection. We all ended up in their basement cellar where we eventually ate dinner together and sampled some of the libations.

This enchanting couple offered us lots of invaluable advice about living in Europe and military life in general. Having been in the military for over twenty years, they have certainly experienced ups and downs but I think they are un-jaded and I find that very refreshing.

Toward the end of our 7-hour sojourn, I asked them to impart some advice for the newlyweds. Without hesitation, the husband said, "Don't ever think you're the one always giving in. When it gets to the point that you believe you're always the one settling, making a concession, indulging your partner; well, that's probably when you're giving in the right amount. You might think the grass is greener somewhere else but it isn't. Stick together."

I think that's solid advice from a couple who has been married thirty-one years.

Needless to say, we bought the desks and she will be delivering them at the end of the week!

I love finding treasures (people and desks) in unexpected places.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I miss you.

I've been really homesick this week. I know I'm beyond a tender age, but this is the first time I've lived further than 3 hours from my family. It's hard. I'm constantly looking at the time on the clock here and counting back to whatever time it is at home. Right now it's 4:30am at home and I'm wide awake, almost halfway through the morning. It still doesn't seem right.

I miss all of my friends. So many times throughout the day I think, "Oh I wish _____ was here! She/He would love this the most!" I know some of them will eventually visit, but who knows when that will be? Whenever it is, it seems far away.

We're tired of being in the guest house. After almost two months of being displaced, it's time for us to be back in our own space, surrounded by our own things. I can't wait until we can feel truly settled once again.

Daily life can be exasperating. It takes twice as long to accomplish simple tasks. Yesterday we were back in the Netherlands and we ended up in a chic shopping district. Back at home it's very simple to look down a street at the storefronts and immediately know which is a beauty shop, eye doctor, sports store, bookstore, etc. Here, we must walk all the way down the street and peer into windows in the hopes that we'll see something inside that indicates the type of shop. This gives a whole new meaning to window-shopping.

I know this will get easier when I learn more of the language and have been here long enough to understand how everything works, but it's still frustrating.

The good news is that I finally found a bike yesterday! We thought I would end up with something from the Netherlands, but we decided to purchase from the shop on base. I rode it yesterday and I love it! I can't wait to have some bicycling adventures. Maybe I'll find it easier riding a bike than trying to avoid bikers while driving.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I'm officially licensed to drive in Germany! The written test was definitely more difficult than I remember the U.S. counterpart. I crammed for three hours last night and arrived at the base early this morning to tryout my knowledge. First we watched a 50-minute video about driving in Germany. Our TV host was a gentleman who was dressed like an old-fashioned police constable (reminiscent of the one who rescued the Banks children in Mary Poppins). His strict German demeanor demanded immediate respect but it was difficult for me to find him dignified because all of his segments were accompanied by a techno-pop song trilling in the background. It was humorous instead of informative.

After Constable Corny's instruction, I was confronted with 100 questions, a mixture of multiple-choice and match-the-road-sign. I agonized over several distance questions. I made myself feel better by remembering that I was a Communication major so it was impossible for me to be expected to convert kilometers to miles with any kind of ease.

As a test-taker, I try not to second-guess myself too much. I put a little star by questions I'm unsure of and then move on. When I return to my uncertain answers, I'm either very certain of my original response or I realize anything I say will be a complete guess. I went over the test once and then announced to the room (2 other military spouses), "Well, that's as good as I'm going to get!" I then proceeded to the office next door and handed my exam over to one of the proctors.

He graded the exam with lightning speed and informed me that I passed with an 87%. What a relief! I received my temporary license and left the base with a sense of accomplishment and renewed hope that I can achieve anything in this country! Yes!!

I drove to Geilenkirchen so we could have lunch at a little sandwich shop. We ate here during our first week and I still think their baguette is the best I've had since being in Germany. The food was delicious again but we unfortunately sat beside two bratty teenage girls who obviously thought we were uncouth for ordering in English. I became so aware of their staring that I began to think I was cutting my sandwich wrong, holding my napkin incorrectly, blinking at the most inappropriate time. I don't blame this on us being American in a German sandwich shop. I'm pretty sure we just sat beside some bratty adolescents, and that translates in any language.

Feeling ambitious after my driving navigation to Geilenkirchen, I decided I would drive us to the Netherlands to take care of some more household tasks. We accomplished what we set out to do and a bike shop was next on our list. I thought, "Wow, I'll just keep driving! I'm doing so well for my first few hours being a European driver!"

Of course, I spoke too soon. I came within several inches of colliding with a bicyclist as we were leaving the Netherlands. Bicyclists don't always have the right-of-way in Germany, but they always have priority in the Netherlands. The conspicuous bike lanes aren't obvious to my untrained eye. I clearly terrified the poor biker. He didn't even have time to curse me because it happened so quickly. I suppose this is an extension of me getting side-swiped by the bicyclist yesterday. Today's incident has made me very reluctant to drive in the Netherlands. The Dutch are fearless!

We eventually made it to a bike shop and were chagrined to discover that bikes here are very expensive. We putzed around the used section for a few minutes and then decided to call it a day since it was getting late and the time change has caused the sun to set much sooner than we're accustomed.

We'll be trying another furniture store tomorrow in our quest for the perfect king-sized bed. If we can't find one, we'll have to bite the IKEA bullet and go back to Dusseldorf in order to fully-stock our new home.

With the driving test behind me, I feel like I can accomplish so much more, maybe even learn the German language! I'm less hopeful about speaking Dutch. One day at a time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Afternoon in Sittard

Nothing was open today in our area due to it being All Saints' Day. We're in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen where this public holiday is widely observed. We heard the pealing of church bells and saw many people visiting graveyards, tending to their loved ones' burial sites. All of the villages were very quiet and the mood was reverent.

We thought this would be a good time to go back to the Netherlands and search for bikes. We were slightly worried that shops on the Dutch side would also be closed. We realized this was not the case when we entered our trusty parking garage and saw that it was full.

We quickly abandoned our quest for bikes when we arrived at the square in Sittard. The sun was shining and the atmosphere was bustling so we found a cafe and ordered drinks. Belgian beer is quickly becoming my favorite, and I thoroughly enjoyed a La Chouffe. We relaxed for a couple hours and marveled at how nice it was to be drinking beer at an outdoor cafe in the middle of a Tuesday.

View from our seats at the cafe.

We took a walk after lunch and ended up at a chic boutique. The owner of the shop was very kind. When she realized we were American, she was excited to show my husband her stock of Levi jeans. I think he broke her heart when he told her those were not anything like the type we buy in America. 

She was eager to practice her English with us. She wanted to know where we were from and how we ended up here. It was so nice to be able to have a lengthy conversation with a stranger. She gave us lots of helpful suggestions for things to do and we're excited to follow her advice. We thanked her and felt like we made a new friend. After purchasing some small gifts for our families, we made our way back to the car.

I feel as if I'm talking a lot about bathroom situations but, let's face it, we all have to go every couple of hours. It's only natural for funny things to happen during an activity that occurs so frequently. So far I have noticed a lack of public restrooms. We generally go into a restaurant or cafe, purchase something, and then use the facilities. This time we decided to go to a coffee shop. My husband ordered while I searched for the restroom. I was faced with two doors, obviously for two genders. I couldn't decide which door was meant for me so I just chose the first one since I didn't see a urinal. Of course I later found out from my husband that this was the men's restroom, but thankfully no one else came in so I was saved from that embarrassment.

I've previously mentioned all of the bicyclists, especially in the Netherlands. Before crossing the street to the garage, I looked both directions for any cars and then stepped off the sidewalk. Suddenly my husband yelled, "Waaaaaaaaait!!!!!!!!" I looked back over my shoulder at him and felt a sudden rush of wind blow my hair. I looked to my right and saw a woman on a bike quickly fading away.
"You walked right into her! She almost hit you!" he exclaimed.
"Well, I didn't realize I was walking into her path," I said defensively.
"You need to be more careful! These people are going so fast! It's like walking out in front of a car!"

 guess he's right. She was moving at a very high speed. It wouldn't have been pretty if she had side-swiped me. 

Despite my brush with danger, we made it safely to the car and arrived home without further incident. 

I have taken quite a long time to write this entry because I'm actually supposed to be studying for my driving test tomorrow. Though we're very good friends, I'm not sure I'll tell you if I fail. Wish me luck!