30 November 2011

Things you don't really consider until you are in another country--Toilets

.50 Euro?
Ah you made it to the gas station just in time!  And you have found the signs for the toilets--downstairs of course!  As you rush to do your business in an urgent manner, you come around the corner and find a turnstyle with a change box on it requesting a fee of .50 Euro!  Yikes.  Frantically you search through your purse for the correct change (remember of course this is Euros and not our US coins)...well you get the picture.  Some toilets, or toiletten or water closets as they are called here, charge you a fee to get in.  Just remember this when you are in a hurry!  You will probably find these in the bahnhoff (train station) and the bus stations as well.

Small toilet area
Toilets are something we take for granted in America--they are just there in some form or another.  And while I don't have extensive research on the subject from across the world, I will just address what I have found here in Germany thusfar.  The public bathrooms we have found thusfar have been very clean and orderly, albeit small at times.  Last night at an Indian restaurant, we found the toiletten down a spiral staircase, stuck tidily into two corners--one for the Herrs and one for the Fraus.  I will try to include a picture if I can get it off my phone.  In the space of what we would call a closet lay two individual stalls and a wash area.  To take the picture, I had to step outside the room because it was too small otherwise.  I took a peek into the men's room too, which was also small and had to include the urinals (or pissoirs) as well.  Flush handles are in a variety of places but the most typical today are rectangular pad above the toilet.  The bowls are configured different too, but that's too much detail!

At the Christmas Market in Kaiserslautern, I was impressed.  At fairs and festivals in the States, I am used to see a line of porta-potties ready to be used.  Not in Kaiserslautern.  They had a very clean and tidy bathroom stuck in a central location that you could use for a donation.  Inside there were flush toilets and sinks to wash up--and these were only temporary bathrooms for the Market.  None of these toilets have the look of typical public American toilets with paper and debris strewn on the floor--these are clean and swept.  Of course when I think of my Mom getting around to some of these (she is in her 70s and can't climb stairs), I wonder how the disabled and elderly fair finding some of these toilets.  Because of the age of the buildings they have been put into, they have had to adapt to the space they have and that means up or down stairs.  Usually narrow stairs.

In more typical mall settings, they have the typical bathrooms we are used to with areas for families, changing tables and handicap stalls.  And then there is always McDonald's (upstairs of course), but you can get a glass of wine or an espresso too so it is worth the stop!  I'm waiting to see one of those public toilets that look like a phone booth on a busy public street--but not here in K-Town!

22 November 2011

Laundry date night

So when you live in a hotel with access to washers, you accumulate laundry.  And still being carless, we have a hard time getting somewhere to do our laundry.  As I said before, the military laundry mats are a little further away.  So once again we ventured forth on the taxi dragging our laundry bag with us.  But there was a special benefit we weren't expecting.

We spoke to the Vietnamese taxi driver who had been in the country for over 25 years.  He was a boat person and came over at the time of the war.  He came alone when he was only 14 years old.  He said one of his first experiences was to go to school not understanding a word of German.  He spoke about how lonely he was and how scared he was when he first came over.  I think he said that some of his family followed a year later, but that first year must have been stressful indeed.  Now 25 years later, he has a family and children of his own, speaks Vietnamese, Germany, and English.  He was very interesting.  He dropped us at the laundromat or waschsalon where we discovered that the will do your laundry for you.  Hmmm!  Hard decision; we left it behind after an conversation with the non-English speaking laundry lady about how we wanted it done and at what temperatures, we walked to the bahnhoff looking for bus schedules--logical right?  Do you too wonder what our laundry will look like when we get it?  Faith!

So we decided to walk down to the Spinrraeker again for dinner but to my surprise appeared but a miniature sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer and all of the festivities that go with.  The Christmas Market had opened!  I was dazzled by all the lights and booths and people!   Good wine, beer, brats and much more. Lots of people too. Wood smoke from a bin fire and from the pizza ovens. A good and unexpected night.  I'm ready for more surprises of this sort!

Nov 20--Church and Sunday

Just made it to our first mass at St. Martin's. It was good to make it to church. The church is very old, has war wounds in its side. It was very cold too, I'm thinking there is no heat and wonder about it when it gets colder. I didn't see any heating elements like would be in Minnesota... No knee pads and barely padded wooden benches. The service was, of course, in German, but it had a familiar rhythm. But it was great to be back again. I lite candles for Anna and Dewey while we were there. I did say "peace be with you" as I forgot to look it up before I went!

We also at at a Chinese restaurant this afternoon for a chance of pace. It was great too! We had dinner for two which included ginormous egg roll, Peking soup, and four entrees of sweet & sour chicken, crispy duck, beet with mushrooms, and Schezwan chicken. We had hot tea and were suppose to get dessert after, but both of us were tooooo full to eat any, so the waiter brought us plum wine instead. It was a nice place.

After lunch, we explored a little more and looked at the progress for the Christmas Market which I think opens next weekend (the stores are open too). We stopped and had espresso and gelato at a corner shop. All in all a nice day and a good finish to the weekend!

Haunted places

So we found on that John's office is on a list of haunted places in Germany!  Haunted places in Germany--Kaiserslautern - Panzer Kaserne - Heavy Footsteps, stair climbing footstep sounds, and paper crumbling can be heard in the halls at night when all lights are off. A feeling of dread and multiple cold spots inhabit this building that is still used through the day as an office. Specifically the third floor seems to have the most sounds. John's office is on this floor.

Nov 17--Passed the driver's test!

Today was a great day. Did the test, looked at cars and placed a bid, looked at houses are are really excited about seeing one tomorrow night that we creeped on today... Finished the day with Shepard's Pie and a Hot Toddy at the Irish House restaurant which was excellent! http://www.irishhouse.de/

Exploring town on my own

Well today I went in a grocery store, a pet store (we needed more poop bags), and a drugstore (well I didn't see a pharmacy but it had everything else). I walked quite a while by myself and wondered what kind of neighborhood I was in.  Later found out that it was the "ghetto" part of K-Town.  LOL

Then after looking at two houses today, John and I went to dinner at a place we like in downtown K-Town. There wasn't any extra tables so we ended sitting with another lady at her table. She didn't speak English; we don't speak much German... It was an interesting hour, but tiring balancing all the mental stress and trying to eat. At least the Glühwein helped! :) Between two dictionaries and my BB app, we actually carried on a conversation. Lord knows what we said though! No house though--one was in a not so good neighborhood next to the RR tracks; the other was toooooo big--it had six balconies! Well to bed early tonight so we can take our driver's written test at 7:30 am! Yeah. Did I say I hate tests?

Typical day

Nov 15--John went to work and I stayed with the dogs and did some computer work on finding homes and cars. I took the dogs for a mid-day walk and they did pretty well until a tractor almost ran us down and then I had a dog fight on my hands (between Bella and Phoebe). Luckily I am bigger than all of them put together!

This evening we went back into town after work and ate at the Spinnaeker in downtown Kaiserslautern. The Spinnrädl is a historical building in Kaiserslautern. The 1742 for the first time mentioned in the plan book building is the oldest surviving timber-framed house in town. It is located in the inner city, not far from pen space and Schillerplatz. We had some sort of meat platter for an appetizer, and I had goulash and John had Jagerschnitzl (sp?). It was a nice evening out and then back to the room to study for the driving test.

Nov 14--Paperwork

So yesterday wasn't so exciting. We did paperwork and budgeting! Not my favorite day in Germany, but something that has to be done. The weather has been pretty cloudy since we got here. Last night it was so foggy, you could hardly see across the street! We ate lunch at the hotel--they served Goose Butter (goose is in season now here) for an appetizer (this is the hardened fat drippings from the bottom of a pan after you roast the goose) used to spread on bread. Not bad just weird to think about it. 

We ate dinner at the Irish House--beer and brats. I asked the owner if he knew how to make a Hot Toddy (typically it is hard to find someone who does--whiskey, lemon, honey, and hot tea) and he replied "Hot whiskey Ja! And I know how to drink them too!" He spoke German with an Irish accent so I am sure I will get a good Toddy next time I am there!

We have looked at once place to rent twice. We like it, but worry about our older dog getting up and down the spiral staircase to go outside--not to mention the furniture (but really that is the mover's problem). Oh well we have only been here one week.. Back to studying for the driver's test!

Nov 12 Updates--the Bauernmarket!

Well today was another adventure. We skipped breakfast and headed for the Bauernmarkt (or Farmer's Market) which was loaded with beautiful vegetables and fruits, cheeses, spices, plants, flowers, and meats/fish. We really don't have a place to put stuff but we did sample a breakfast (eggs and brochen and pastries) there. Got some fruit too.

After that we wandered through a grocery store to check out products and prices. Since we were at the beginning of the pedestrian mall, we continued our stroll going in a shop where I bought the outfit below and a bookstore. The streets were filled with people which was a different feeling than that of downtown Brainerd! LOL.

Our adventure continued with a bus ride back to our hotel. We were patting ourselves on the back about figuring it out, when everyone got off and the bus stopped. Hmmmm. We were on the right number, wrong destination. The driver said we could ride back to the next stop and get off there and walk to the right route. We tried that, but Google maps wasn't doing its thing and we ended up at Mobel Martin, which is a big store (actually bigger and better than IKEA--sort of a cross between IKEA and Crate and Barrel).

But we really needed to get back to the dogs, so we only ate lunch there--roasted turkey leg, dumpling, red cabbage, salad and wine--for about 13 euros (about $17). Oh and to use the carts here, you insert one euro; after you are done, you get the euro back. Sort of a neat trick. Any hoo, we caught a taxi back to the hotel and took the dogs for a walk.

Then we took another cab and met a real estate guy at a possible rental. He dropped us back downtown where we finished the day with dinner at an Italian restaurant. And yes, there was a dog at someone's feet in the restaurant. The owner even gave the doggie a treat! Phoebe probably could do that if no one sneezed... So we are back in our room for the evening and are very tired. But very happy!


November 11--Today was laundry day... We decided it was to far to go to the Army post by cab so ventured to a German waschsalon. Actually it was fine and I liked it alot better than the US ones I have been to in the past. There was one machine to put your money into for washers and dryers; then you just entered your machine's number. 

While it was going, we went to the bahnhoff (train station) and checked on tickets for Sarah and her possible trip to visit her Hungarian friend over Christmas. Then we found a brat stand went back and put the wash in the dryer and ventured back out for espresso and pastry (see St. Martin below). All-in-all, a good simple day. Caught up on some paperwork as well so the kids could come and see us for the holidays. 

No agents called about houses today which is a bummer. Oh well we've only been here for almost a week! We do need a car though, but first the license... It's always another step. And we have decided since we didn't have a big dinner, we might have to have a cocktail!

We have to take a Driver's Test????

Nov 10--Well I have been driving for over 35 years and the thought of a test was intimidating to say the least.  First step--orientation.  Driver's training today so we can get our driver's license here. Almost fell asleep. But I have a lot of signs to memorize (150), especially the ones that look almost exactly alike but have different meanings! 

Also looked at a couple of houses--they go really fast here and you have to make snap decisions. We liked one, but for the stairs (for the dog); liked another but it also had too many stairs for the dog and the neighborhood was mixed industrial/housing?

First Days there--in a fog

I'm doing a little catching up on my blog to get us to where we are today.  

November 9--Hmmm. It is day 4 in Kaiserslautern. I didn't do much today, but John had to get his work computer going. He also signed us up for housing so now we can go look at houses and apartments. Yesterday we got our ID cards, looked at some cars, and some houses. We have been told that houses go fast around here and you have to act fast if you want one. The weather is mild and it is nice to talk the dogs for a walk. Oh and we got cells phones--German cells phones. If it is not hard enough figuring out how to get them going English, can you guess how easy that has been in German? :-) Had some good food though and some good beer and wine! Now to take some pics.

How did we get here?

We have traveled from our home in northern Minnesota, where we have lived for the past four years.  My husband and I have three children--William, Emily, and Sarah, who are off to college and beginning their respective lives.  After 25 years in the Minnesota National Guard as a military family, it seemed a good time for us to experience some of our lifelong dreams and thus we have landed in Germany.  I am really unemployed and have been for the most part of four years since we moved to the Brainerd MN area.  My background is nonprofit management and early childhood education--not in high demand up north, particularly with up to 19% unemployment.

While my husband still works for the US Army, he does so as a civilian.  For those of you who have been lifers in the military, this takes a slight readjustment.  While it is not a lot different (being employed by the military or the government), there are some things that are different.  Clear as mud, right?  Any hoo, we began applying for positions over a year ago in various parts of Europe.  It is not a short process--it took us at least 6 months from the beginning of the application to boots on the ground in Germany.  A lot of nail biting as well.  The most distressful part was having about 4-5 weeks notice to pack up the house and put it on the market!  That was a full time job for me and it was lucky I wasn't working at the time.  We are not optimistic that this nice 5-bedroom home will sell fast in this dead housing market.  But with a few prayers and fingers crossed, it will sell.

Did I mention that we have three dogs?  Two Yorkshire Terriers (Nacho and Bella) and one Shetland Sheepdog (Phoebe).  The Yorkies are really our daughters' dogs, but they are in college and not able to care for them.  Phoebe is an older dog (about 11).  So with all that was on our plates, we had to add getting the dogs "passport papers," shots, kennels/carriers, and official signatures on their documents.  We had kennels, but do you think these would be acceptable now?  No way!  We had to purchase three new carriers/kennels that were acceptable for airline travel (at least on United Airlines)--don't get me started on that subject (another time).

The move--the government moved us--Yeah!  But that doesn't mean we were off the hook for getting some work done.  We had to declutter and downsize.  We had to decide what was going where--to the kids, to charities, to long-term storage (which is officially called not temporary storage), baggage, unaccompanied baggage, or in the household goods shipment.  Oh and we needed new carpet in some areas of the house and the rest of it had to be cleaned--after the movers had been there.  I rescheduled the cleaners at least three times!  That was my job!  And I thought it would never get done, but it did.  During the last ten days, we had two kid/friend truck hauls to Minneapolis, one truckload delivery to Goodwill in St. Cloud (do you really want to know about the Goodwill/Salvation Army policies in a too small town?), 2 days of long term storage packing and loading, 2 days of household goods packing and loading (10 crates), and then the 600 pounds of unaccompanied baggage.  Finally we loaded 7 suitcases and dufflebags, 2 Yorkie carriers, and 1 large kennel into the poor old minivan and headed to Minneapolis International Airport.  We stayed overnight in the Twin Cities and got to the airport three hours prior to departure--which was barely enough time.  Checking bag and dog, getting through security, buying some Euros, and grabbing a cup of coffee took all of that time and when we were done, we raced across the airport to our gate (which was on the other side from the Euro place).  I told John I was going on when they let those who need assistance on and that's what we did.

After a 3 hour layover in Chicago, finding a place for the Yorkies to do what they needed, we loaded back on a plane and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on Saturday, November 5.  And the dogs were great--not a peep.  We were so worried about them whining or needing to go to the potty, that I was completely stressed out by the time we were on the plane.  But everyone made it alive.  More later...  FitzDew