Challenges Insights and More

Sinterklaas, Zwarte Pieter, and Christmas in the Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten

I know it’s New Year and past Christmas but I’ve been really bad with my travel blogging so we’re going to go back a couple of weeks to Christmas and you’re all going to like it! So there!

Well, where do I begin? First of all, here in the Netherlands they still celebrate Christmas on December 25th like the rest of the Christian world but they also celebrate what is known as ‘Packet Evening’ which is a children’s party basically. On the evening of December 5th Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten (‘Black Peter’) come and leave something for the kids.

Now Sinterklaas is a really big thing and his arrival here in the Netherlands (they also celebrate it in Belgium, Luxembourg, some parts of Germany, and a few other Dutch colonies) is met with much fanfare. Children eagerly await the first glimpse of him and his helpers, Zwarte Pieten, when he arrives during the second week of November. Unlike Santa Claus and his reindeer, Sinterklaas rides on a white horse on to rooftops and his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, listen down chimneys to find out which children are bad or good and then report back to Sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas waves to everyone at the I-Center (Apple store), Alphen aan den Rijn

Sinterklaas waves to everyone at the I-Center (Apple store), Alphen aan den Rijn

Sinterklaas, his horse, and helpers arrive here via boat coming down the canals. It is said that he is coming from Spain and Dutch people have told me that the story is that the kids are told if they are good they will get presents. If they are bad they will go back to Spain with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieter. Now that’s the kind of incentive I think we should give kids…seriously, how much better would kids be if they knew that if they were bad they were being ‘shipped out’ so to speak to another country? Brilliant!! I almost regret not having children now because I would love to use that on them. LOL!

Now the history of Sinterklaas seems to be directly related to Saint Nicholas who was a Bishop. He is also known as De Goedheiligman (The Good Holy Man), Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas) or simply as De Sint (The Saint). He is the patron saint of children, sailors, philatelists, and the city of Amsterdam, among others. The reason that it is said that Sinterklaas comes from Spain is because the remains of Saint Nicolaas are buried there. Also being Saint Nicolaas is the patron saint of sailors that is why he arrives via boat in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Sinterklaas and his helpers arrive in the Netherlands

Sinterklaas and his helpers arrive in the Netherlands

One of the things that was a bit strange for me when I first saw it was the Zwarte Pieten (‘Black Peters’). Coming from the States where everything is considered ‘politically incorrect’ and people always find something to complain and sue about my brain had trouble processing the multitudes of people running around in Moorish costumes and black face. It didn’t bother me but I definitely was feeling like someone was going to yell or protest or something…but no one did much to my joy (although in the past there have been a few protests). I knew there was a story why these Zwarte Pieten were black faced so I had to look it up.

The arrival in Alphen!

The arrival in Alphen!

You see there are stories of Saint Nicolaas or Sinterklaas where it was stated that he had a page or servant who was a Moor. This helper or helpers were also considered mischievous. However, in the Middle Ages the term Zwarte Piet was a name for evil and this holiday is all about good and evil, black and white, right and wrong. Good children are rewarded and bad children are punished. Therefore the reference to Zwarte Pieter shouldn’t really be taken so literally as someone who is black or a servant. It’s more a symbol rather than a literal interpretation. Throughout history black has always been representative of evil and white of good and angelic.

Apparently our neighbors know Sinterklaas personally!

Apparently our neighbors know Sinterklaas personally!

Anyway, there are other stories of the history of Sinterklaas too but it would make this blog way too long (I think it already might be…but oh well) so you can do a search and see what you come up with too. Feel free to post your findings in the comments below too. Enlighten us!

Check out our neighbor's kid in the window watching Sinterklaas! Priceless!

Check out our neighbor’s kid in the window watching Sinterklaas! Priceless!

So in the two weeks or so that lead up to Sinterklaas leaving presents or taking children back to Spain with him you’ll find him and his helpers marching around town playing music and handing out candy to the kids. It’s quite fun and festive. In one of our walks into the center of town here in Alphen aan den Rijn we were delighted to run into them doing just that. You can see the video below.

At the end of the video you’ll see me point the camera down because out of the blue one of the Zwarte Pieten was standing beside me so that Matt could take a picture of us together.

Me and Zwarte Pieter, Alphen aan den Rijn, NL

Me and Zwarte Pieter, Alphen aan den Rijn, NL

So it was a great cultural experience and now we know so much more about the traditions of other countries for Christmas! These are the things that make traveling to new places exciting and mind expanding! Love it!

Categories: Alphen aan den Rijn, Challenges Insights and More, Holidays In Other Countries, Netherlands | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

New Year’s Eve In The Netherlands

Fireworks Outside Our Window

Fireworks Outside Our Window

When I arrived here at the end of October I kept hearing what seemed like explosions throughout the town at strange times of the day. Matt didn’t know what they were and said he’d been hearing them all along. We came up with theories that it could be a transformer blowing or maybe something to do with the windmills that are located down the street and various other situations that we felt might produce a noise like that.

We even asked our landlord’s dad who told us he hadn’t been hearing anything but maybe it was fireworks. He stated that they’re not legal in the Netherlands with the exception of about 3 days, December 31 – January 2, but he said sometimes people try to get away with it at other times. B-I-N-G-O! After that we were looking to see who it was every time we heard a loud boom and eventually our persistence paid off. Teenagers!

They roamed around the neighborhood looking all innocent (actually they looked like they were up to something but they thought they looked innocent) and they would discreetly light  something, throw it, and run like hell. Now as clever as they thought they were they would always backtrack to the same area, usually laughing, but if they saw you looking at them they would slink off like they knew nothing.

The Neighborhood Comes Alive!

The Neighborhood Comes Alive!

Anyway, long story short (probably too late for that actually…but I digress) New Year’s Eve morning at 8 a.m. we are awoken but what sounds like a mortar round. Are we being invaded again? After all that’s not unknown in Europe and certainly the Netherlands has had their share of invasions. No! Apparently because it’s New Year’s Eve Day it’s legal and bands of teenagers with backpacks full of fireworks are roaming the streets seeing who can make the loudest explosion! Oh joy! It’s going to be a long day!

By 8 p.m. the firework explosions had been consistent for 12-hours and the novelty was worn off. There were no ‘pretty’ fireworks all day, just the loud bangs of your basic explosives, and I stated that there better be some pretty fireworks at midnight or this whole display of affection for fireworks will have been for naught. Don’t disappoint me Dutch people! Show me what you’ve really got!


First of all, I should say tell you our town is so quiet that you hardly see anyone during the day except when they are taking their kids to school (the school yard is across the street from our apartment) or picking them up. At night, it’s like a ghost town with the exception of those few wandering teens that really should be home.

But New Year’s Eve at 11:59 p.m. it began! It was amazing! Like clockwork the town all came out of their homes and started lighting off fireworks, the booming kind and much to my delight lots of the ‘pretty’ kind too! This wasn’t the fireworks show of some organized state agency. This was private citizens who had apparently been buying and saving up for New Year’s for some time and the effort was fantastic!

We were delighted by the neighborhood display and figured that it would last a half hour at most because after all these were private citizens. How long could they possibly sustain this massive display? Well let me tell you that growing up on Long Island I remember the greatest fireworks displays were done by the Grimaldi’s. They usually were the ones doing the shows over the Harbor in New York City on July 4th and New Year’s Eve but even their shows only lasted about a half hour or so.

Kind of looks like an Angel to me! What do you think?

Kind of looks like an Angel to me! What do you think?

The show here lasted until about 2:30 – 3:00 a.m. pretty much full tilt! I found myself smiling and laughing like a kid because it was just so awesome and unexpected. Over the last few years in the States fireworks displays have been really measly and unimpressive so I just figured it was like that everywhere. I was wrong. Matt and I have already discussed the possibility of coming back to the Netherlands sometime in the future to experience New Year’s Eve by taking a canal tour in Amsterdam during the fireworks. I can only imagine that would be insanely beautiful!

Well without yammering on any more here is a video of our neighborhood letting loose on New Year’s Eve. There’s even an unconfirmed UFO sighting in there so make sure you watch the whole thing. 🙂 I hope you all enjoy it. We certainly did!

Categories: Alphen aan den Rijn, Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, Netherlands, New Year's In New Places, Video Tours | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

They’re REALLY Going To Stop For ME? Wow! That’s Weird!

One of the things that’s really nice about Victoria and is also kind of unnerving is their politeness when it comes to the pedestrian crosswalks. I am a native New Yorker who knows you NEVER, EVER just ASSUME that the cars are going to ACTUALLY stop for you in those crosswalks and if you live in Florida like I now do you also know that even though the law says you have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks people take is as more of a suggestion rather than an actual law.

Well, here in Canada it is also the law that they have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks but the weird thing is that they ACTUALLY do it! EVERY TIME! Without being prodded or made to feel guilty in to doing it. They just see you and STOP! They actually smile at you too and wave you to cross like some friendly neighbor or family member like ‘Go on Johnny. It’s okay. I am stopping just for you!’ It’s freaking amazing!

The reason it’s unnerving is because I am actually afraid that I am going to get used to this and start taking it for granted that it’s just something that happens naturally because it’s the law and then I’ll go home or to some other city and without thinking walk into the pedestrian crosswalk and get run over as I am being flipped the bird and cursed at.

Oh well I’ve got another week and a half here and until I leave I’ll enjoy the moment and just keep reminding myself that this is some sort of alternative reality and that back home I have to really be on my guard again. 🙂

Categories: Canada, Challenges Insights and More, Strange Ways and Customs, Victoria, BC | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barb’s Famous Fish And Chips And More…

Beautiful Architecture!

Today we set out on another beautifully sunny day in Victoria, B.C. to see the city on foot (which is really the only way to do it) and enjoy the beautiful weather. We left our friend’s condo and head across the bridge to the city center taking some pictures on the way.

Talk about strength…check this little one out!

Down by the harbor we found that there was a protest going on at the Parliament building (I guess more of the Wall Street protests spreading everywhere) but there’ll be more photos of that later on in this blog.

The Empress Hotel in all it’s spendor, Victoria, B.C.

The Empress Hotel was beautiful in the sunshine with the red vines crawling up it and then we decided that it was a little too warm for the clothes we were wearing and caught a water taxi to take us across Victoria Harbor back to the condo to change. When you come to Victoria you really have to take the water taxis even if it’s just to take the complete circuit of the harbor. So much of Victoria is about being on the water – the water taxis, the seaplane strip that is the harbor, the fishermen that go out every day to supply the city with fresh caught, wild salmon, haddock, etc, etc. to go to Victoria and not experience that life would be a shame.

Check out the video of our water taxi ride and the seaplane that was right next to us:

If you notice in that video we’re on the water taxi and have to slow down for a seaplane to get to the terminal in the harbor. Our friend informed us that Victoria Harbor Airport is the third largest airport in Canada and the biggest seaplane airport anywhere. They take that very seriously here. This harbor is alive with action from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. when seaplanes, ferries to Port Washington, Seattle, and Vancouver come in and out, as well as kayakers, fishermen, whale watchers and more take to the harbor to have a look.

Barb’s Place, Fisherman’s Wharf

After we changed into more appropriate clothing for the glorious weather we were having we decided to once again take the water taxi but this time from the dock in back of the condo across to Fisherman’s Wharf to finally taste the famous fish and chips from Barb’s Place.

Now due to the fact that both Matt and I have gained a bit more weight lately than we’d like to admit we abstained from having the ‘chips’ with our ‘fish’. I know it’s blasphemous but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Instead we opted for a nice green salad with it.

Barb’s Famous Fish and…errr…Salad?

This place is on Fisherman’s Wharf and it’s an area where people live in floating houses. It’s like a little tiny (really tiny) village in itself. Seagulls are flying overhead and the occasional seal can be seen next to the docks hoping for some left overs to come his or her way. We didn’t see any seals today but I overheard someone say that there was one there just a few minutes before.

Our meal was very flaky, moist, and greasy just like you hope your fish and chips will be. I still think I’ve had better than this in Victoria the last time we were here at a pub that I can’t remember the name of (but I do remember how to get back there) so I might have to revisit that place and do a comparison.

After our nice leisurely meal dockside we decided to walk along the docks and see what else there was to see. Our friend, Jurg, had told us about a coffee shop here that he said was really good and gave us a frequent customer card to take advantage of so, of course, I had to oblige and check them out. 🙂

Chilly after our nice lunch on the docks, a coffee was in order!

I went in and ordered a nice, hot, decaf Carmel Latte with soy milk and it was heavenly.

It was a nice little place too and the staff was friendly and had a great sense of humor as well. The apparently have performers there from time to time and the atmosphere was really relaxing. It seemed to be a great place to chill out and enjoy your coffee and scone.

I think I may just have to visit this coffee house a few more times while I am here. I LIKED it!

Armed with our hot, delicious caramel lattes Matt and I set out to see the city and walk all the way home.

Floating homes on Fisherman’s Wharf

You see, Fisherman’s Wharf is directly across the water from where we are staying. The only way to get back there is to take the water taxi or walk all the way around. We opted for the walk all the way around option because of the aforementioned weight that we need to lose and the fact that it’s a beautiful city and a beautiful day.

I have a fascination with the floating houses here. I think it’s really cool but I don’t think I would be able to live in one. I think the constant rocking might really mess up my already messed up ear. Heck, I start rocking when I am on land. I can’t imagine what it would be like if that was a regular thing with my house! Geez!

Nautical Delights!

Solar Powered Trash Compactor

Some of the boats here are gorgeous as well. As we walked along the waterside trail we found things that I’ve never seen before like have you ever seen a solar powered trash compactor? Well, I can now officially say that I have. Quite a great idea too in my opinion!

In town we noticed that the few protesters mentioned earlier had apparently recruited some of their friends and were marching down the main thorough fare to the Parliament building.

Protestors in Victoria, BC – Oct. 15th, 2011

More Protestors, Victoria BC – Oct. 15th, 2011

Police had a few roads blocked off for their safety and all in all it was a peaceful protest.

I can’t say that I completely GET what all these protesters are trying to accomplish but I will give them an A for doing something…what that is exactly I am not sure but it’s something I guess.

We gawked with the rest of the tourists and snapped photos and video reading the signs that they carried. Some I have to admit didn’t make much sense really but I am not really into politics so maybe I just don’t get it. I am okay with that so no need to teach me a history lesson or give me any political opinions here. It’s my blog and I am just saying what went through my mind in my own space. It’s all good. I am all about peace and I was glad that everyone was allowed to express themselves freely, safely, and without violence.

We continued our leisurely walk back to our friend’s condo with a brief stop off at the local Stop & Save to gather some groceries for some recipes I want to make for all of us this coming week.

Upon arrival back to the condo we decided that we probably should work out in the gym BEFORE we got too comfortable.

So down to the gym we went and put in a nice hour long workout complete with some weight lifting.

Having completed a great day of exercise and fresh air I decided to make some granola tonight which was a request from our host. His supply was running low and his wife was out of town. So here’s a picture of the finished granola.

Crunchy, Vanilla-Cranberry Granola

Well after that day there was nothing left to do but make dinner, pour a glass of wine, and watch several episodes of the fourth season of Boston Legal! Ah…what a nice day!

Stay tuned for more adventures in Victoria!

Categories: Canada, Canada, Challenges Insights and More, Food and Other Stuff, Recycling and the Energy Crisis, Victoria, BC, Victoria, BC, Video Tours | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do I Have The Kinks Song Victoria In My Head Again?

Our View Of Victoria Harbor in British Columbia

Well that’s easy, because I find myself in Victoria, B.C. again thanks to a good friend of ours who lives there. His wife was away and he wanted company so he sent Matt and I tickets to come visit him again. A very nice surprise indeed.

Our journey there was an interesting one too. Having only found out about the journey to Victoria four days prior Matt and I found ourselves at Miami Airport VERY, VERY early in the morning only to find out that our flight to Victoria (you know, the ONLY flight to Victoria that only involved one stop in Seattle and only flew ONCE a day AND caused us to have to get up at 3 a.m. to get to the airport in time…yeah, that flight) was cancelled due to a sick crew member. Later they decided to fly a special flight for us at 7 p.m. So we got to peruse Miami Airport for about 11 hours but I digress.

Short of that the rest of the trip was good. Because the flight had so few people on it (most had rescheduled for the next day or had taken other airlines to get where they were going) we all got a whole row of seats on the plane to ourselves. I actually for the first time got to sleep on the flight because I could actually lay down. Oh it was wonderful! Other amenities we received for our troubles were a free glass of wine (I got two…Matt doesn’t really drink…it also helped the aforementioned sleeping on the plane bit too), a free sandwich (if you were a meat eater but still a good gesture), and free use of the portable Digiplayer with all the movies, games, music videos, etc plus they had to put us up in a hotel in Seattle being our arrival came at a time where no planes were flying to Victoria until the morning.

Here’s a video of our flight from Seattle to Victoria, B.C.:

And here’s a video of us landing at Victoria International Airport:

Once we arrived in Victoria we were greeted by our friend, Jurg, and we proceeded to make us a nice homemade dinner of pasta, wine, and appetizers.

A Canoe!

Outside The Canoe Club, Victoria B.C.

Home Brewed At The Canoe Club

Where all the magic happens!

Quinoa and Chickpea Veggie Burger with Butternut Squash Soup

The next day was our first full day in Victoria and we headed to the Canoe Club for lunch where I had a really great Quinoa and Chickpea veggie burger and a bowl of Butternut Squash soup. I washed it all down with a Canoe Club in house made Ale that was wonderful.

Wild Caught Local Sockeye Salmon!

In the evening we all strolled back into town for a wonderful meal at Nautical Nellie’s where I indulged in my first piece of Wild Sockeye Salmon in over a year. I am totally vegetarian but make certain exceptions (such as certain fish mostly…I am not interested in other meat things) when traveling in order to experience the local foods. This salmon was local and wild caught in British Columbia and it was the best salmon I believe I’ve ever had. Matt and Jurg had surf and turf.

Next up is a visit to one of the ‘famous’ local places to eat called Barb’s. They are known for their fish and chips and I’ve heard they are the best in Victoria. I’ll report back soon.

Categories: Canada, Canada, Food and Other Stuff, Victoria, BC, Victoria, BC, Video Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Great Irish Ditty and Those 50p Cheap Flights

Categories: Challenges Insights and More, County Cork, England, Food and Other Stuff, Glasgow, Ireland, Ireland, London, Scotland, Video Tours | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Challenges and Growth In Germany


Challenges And Growth

Me And Matt With Waterfall

We all know that life is constantly giving us challenges and through dealing with these challenges we grow whether we want to or not. That is our Creator’s design because some of us (not mentioning any names or looking in any mirrors) need a bit of a nudge from time to time or we just wouldn’t evolve.

And although I do believe that all challenges help us to grow I also believe that sometimes we are given so many challenges because we might not be heading in the direction that is really serving us and we are so thick headed that we aren’t getting it. One example of this from my past is my marriage to my ex-husband. From the outset there were so many challenges and signs that I believe my Creator stopped just short of sending in locusts and that was probably only because I FINALLY GOT IT!! God only knows what would have happened next had I not been so horribly and slowly astute.

So here it is the end of August and I’ve been here in Germany now for 40 days or so. Matt’s been here three weeks longer than that and we found ourselves yesterday at a place where we had to decide what we wanted to do…stay or go home.

I know what a lot of you are probably saying ‘You just got there. Why would you come home so soon?’ Well, you see, there have been quite a lot of challenges from the second Matt stepped off the plane up to this very moment as I am writing this and all of them left us thinking ‘what is our Creator trying to tell us?’

When I arrived over a month ago I landed at Koeln/Bonn Airport to find that Matt and his fellow chiropractic colleague had quit their jobs the day before. I come to find out that the organization that had painted this beautiful picture of what it was like to work with them had been doing everything illegally (i.e. no working permits for their American chiropractors, among many, many, many, many….did I mention many…other things that we found out after Matt left) and…oh yeah…they hadn’t paid Matt a cent!

So at the end of the third week of working there and having asked them nicely yet again to pay him and being yelled at not so nicely yet again by the owner (I kid you not! This lady was and is a loose cannon!) Matt told them to have a nice weekend, smiled and never went back. His fellow chiropractor did the same.

I am not going to go in to every thing that went on after that regarding the lunatic owner of the chiropractic organization here in Koeln (located right on the Rhein river that hires American Chiropractors, if you are curious) after Matt and his fellow chiropractor quit but I will tell you that there have been very few days here where her name hasn’t been heard or her presence hasn’t been felt since I’ve been here. There have been days where I felt so uncomfortable and unsafe that I was ready to grab my luggage, passport, and a cab and head to the airport immediately.

But all of that aside, the last week or two have been relatively quiet with all that. Matt and I decided when I got here that we would explore as much of Europe as we could while we were here while at the same time explore any opportunities that might be here for us. Those explorations took us to Ireland, Scotland, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, The Netherlands, Switzerland and various other places. Many of which we would have never thought of going to before coming to Germany.

It’s not all challenging here in Germany. Many things are so much easier, greener, and healthier then at home in Florida. Things such as the wonderful mass transit which leaves you with no need or desire to have a car or car insurance; the fact that they love their walks and bike rides and in response there are walking and bike trails everywhere. You can just about get any where you want to go by foot or bike with no problem here (as well as most of Europe); and their dedication to being more and more green (a.k.a. just about every thing you buy in a plastic or glass bottle has a deposit on it to make sure you return it for recycling and you have to buy the bags at the check out counter when you are buying your groceries if you forget to bring a bag from home).

But many things here in Germany are more difficult especially if you don’t speak the language fluently. Daily things like checking your voicemail on your cell phone is a challenge if you don’t understand the instructions that are being spoken to you in German. Getting internet in our apartment is a challenge (at this writing we still don’t have internet). Also, it’s very challenging and mentally tiring when you don’t speak the language of the country you are in (I understand that even if you do speak the language but it’s not your native language it is tiring) and every second of the day you have to concentrate so hard to just pick out the one or two words that you’ve learned to figure out what is being said so you can order a simple cappuccino or loaf of bread. These are all little things that can be rectified but they are still very real challenges daily and they can wear you out in the best of times.

Now I will tell you that we didn’t have ‘the best of times’ though we had a lot of good times too (as evidenced by the blogs I’ve written) and the challenges I’ve mentioned above don’t even scratch the surface of what Matt and I faced while we have been here in Germany (Matt’s written a whole volume that may or may not be made available at a later date) but I don’t think it’s necessary to outline every thing that caused us to arrive at our conclusion yesterday that we are going home on Wednesday, September 3rd.

We did not arrive at this conclusion easily because we are the type people that keep working on something until it works but this project in Germany didn’t seem to be working no matter what we tried to do and we finally came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the time that we were meant to be here in Germany. Will we ever come back to Europe or Germany again and have it work? Maybe but next time we’ll do a lot of things much differently because we’ve learned a lot about ourselves individually and as a couple just from being here and the lessons were not lost on us.

What We’ve Learned

We’ve learned that spontaneity is a wonderful thing but when making a move like we just did a little more planning and follow up is needed first. We’ve also learned that moving across the pond is not really any harder then going on vacation or moving to Florida from New York. We’ve learned that despite their differences all people are generally the same. We all eat, sleep, and want to be loved and accepted. We’ve learned that with the proper map you can get anywhere you want to go without needing to know the language. We’ve learned that paying 50 cents to use the toilets in a public place is worth it because they are much cleaner than their free counterparts. We’ve learned that when Germans have a party it’s nothing for them to all break out in song when a favorite ditty comes on the radio (usually ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco for our neighbors for some reason). Why don’t American’s do that? Are we really so free if we don’t feel we can belt out a good song when we hear it?

We’ve learned that late night German T.V. puts America’s XX ratings to shame (and that’s the public T.V. God knows what’s on their Pay per View). We’ve learned that ‘Fleishschnitzle’ basically tells you nothing except you are getting some sort of meat product breaded and fried and they ‘schnitzle’ just about anything here. We’ve learned through observing the Germans’ love of glass architecture that there are either very few Germans with a fear of heights or there is a large part of the population that doesn’t get out much at all here. We’ve learned that with the exceptions of CNN and the BBC everything on T.V. is dubbed in to German and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sly Stallone or Billy Crystal ‘speaking’ in to German!!

As a couple I believe Matt and I are more closely in alignment with what we want now because of this experience then we were before. Matt is more apt to leap in to things, be unorganized, and more haphazard in doing things. I am more apt to want to plan things, be super organized, and weigh the options before doing anything (some people call it cautious. I call it thorough). I think from this experience we’ve kind of begun to meet more in the middle. I’ve learned to let go a little bit and not need to be totally in control of what happens and Matt has learned that a little planning and research can go a long way.

So…What’s Next?

So for the next four days we are going to explore and enjoy the rest of our time here in Germany then once we get back to the U.S. we’ll be visiting and staying with some friends and family for a few months while we both work and decide where our next abode will be.

I am glad to have been able to visit the place where my grandmother and grandfather are from (Heidelberg, Germany) and to have also had the opportunity to travel to Cork, Ireland where my mother’s family is from. There’s a certain kind of indescribable feeling to visiting a place where you know the history of your family was born. You can almost feel your ancestors smiling at your returning ‘home’ to visit even if it is only for a day.

So we aren’t upset or disappointed in having spent time here in Germany. We wished it would have been a more uplifting and fun experience the whole time but some times the best lessons are learned when the challenges are difficult and uncomfortable.

We’ve faced those challenges square in the face and have grown because of them. Isn’t that what life is all about?

Stay tuned for more travel, challenges, and insights coming very soon. Until then Matt and I send our love to you all.

Categories: Challenges Insights and More, Germany, Language | 2 Comments

The German Language Revealed

Insult or Praise?

Here are some interesting things to know about the German language. First of all, I’ve gone all my life hearing people calling each other ‘Schmucks’ and watching as people get offended by it and I know that there may be a derogatory reason for that but I found it interesting to find out that the word ‘Schmuck’ actually means ‘Jewelry; Ornament; Smart, or Neat’. I don’t know about you but I could think of some worse things to be called.

Would You Rather a Gift or a Present?

Next is the word ‘Gift’. You will never hear a German say they are giving you or anyone else a gift (and if you do then you better watch out) because the word ‘gift’ in German actually means ‘Poison’. I know that having been clued in on that I will be trying to always use the word ‘Present’ instead from now on. I have to admit that I use the word ‘Gift’ a lot in English and have to be very careful not to say that here from now on.

Fun with the German Language

Now for some fun words (for Americans at least). Currently our favorite world in German is Ausfarht (pronounced: Ows fart) which means ‘Exit’. There is also Einfarht which means ‘entrance’ and Matt found the word Wetfarht which is apparently the first lap that a race car makes around a race track or something like that. Yes, it is juvenile we know but it never fails to give us a giggle when we hear someone say any of those words. I guess we never grow up. J

Now Hear This!

I learned a new word the other day too. It’s the word Jetzt (pronounced: Yetz) which simply means ‘Now’. It’s not exciting but was a word that I was seeing everywhere particularly in display windows saying ‘Now ½ price’. It’s a good thing to know if you want to shop I thought.

Sentence of the Week

Now for my new sentence of the week….Ich mochte ein café mocha bitte. This means ‘I would like a café mocha please’. I am very proud to say that today I ordered my own coffee at the local Tchibo coffee shop all by myself and they actually understood what I was saying!!! Ahhh….there’s joy in the little things….and café mocha in the morning!

Categories: Germany, Language | 1 Comment

Koln, Koeln, Cologne? Where the Heck Do You Live Already??

Where The Heck Do You Live Already???

Many of you may be thinking ‘Okay already, every time you write where you live it is spelled a different way. What’s up with that?’ So let me explain that to you.

The name of the city I live in is Koln (with the two little dots or Umlauts over the O). That is the correct German way to spell the name of this city. It is pronounced Kooln with a bit of a throaty ‘r’ sound that is really not second nature to English speakers. It actually sounds like someone is clearing their throat, mumbling, or started to say something and then decided it wasn’t worth it after all and gave up.

The spelling Koeln is pronounced the same way but is an alternative way to spell the name of the city if you don’t have access to the double dots or umlauts or don’t know any better.

The spelling Cologne, which you will find when making reservations on an airline or various other places is the English way to spell the name of the city and is pronounced Cologne as in eau du cologne which, by the way, originated in this city. Apparently Napoleon used to stay here and the cologne 417 Eau du Cologne was made for him in this city. It can still be purchased here as well.

Categories: Challenges Insights and More, Germany, Koeln/Cologne, Language | Leave a comment

Recycling in Germany


Here in Germany they are very conscious of recycling and it is very refreshing to see. At the grocery store you can either bring your own bag from home (recommended) or buy a new bag (about 10 euro cents or 18 U.S. cents) every time you go shopping.

After forgetting your bags at home several times and having to buy new ones it really reinforces the habit of thinking about the environment in every thing that you do daily. Now we have bags that we just keep in our jacket pockets. This way on the way home from a day on the town if we decide we need something from the supermarket we are prepared and being environmentally conscious. It feels good to do that all the time and not have people look at you like you are strange when you proudly pull out your very own bag from home.

Other things that they do to recycle here are in our apartment building there is a room that we have a key to that houses several different garbage cans marked ‘Paper’ ‘Glass’ and ‘Regular garbage’ and you just put your garbage in the appropriate can and they take care of the rest.

The plastic bottles you take back to the grocery store and there is a machine in the back where you insert your plastic bottles and get your deposit back. We had these machines in New York too but I haven’t seen them since then. Apparently Florida doesn’t think recycling is that important.

Categories: Germany, Koeln/Cologne, Recycling and the Energy Crisis | Leave a comment

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