Saturday, 24 December 2011

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Christmas will be here tomorrow and I’ve been doing my best to get into the holiday spirit and celebrate in Germany.
Here’s What We’ve Done:
Step One: Set up little 10 Inch Christmas Tree that Matt’s parents sent us.
Step Two: Hang Christmas window decoration.
Step Three: Buy a poinsettia, baking pans and track down Canadian equivalent ingredients (this also included e-mailing home to get additional Christmas recipes and looking them up on the internet).
Step Four: Bake lot’s of delicious treats
Step Five: Go to the Nürnberg and Bamberg Christmas Markets
Step Six: Make a gigantic Christmas grocery shopping list
Step Seven: Figure out how to cook a Chicken
….By this time it was still 3-4 days before Christmas and I still forget that it’s even December.
Step Eight: Put wrapped Christmas presents around little tree and clean up apartment.
..It looks a little more festive in here now. But one thing is still missing. Besides the fact it’s just the two of us, the SNOW is missing! It looks like November outside. It was so mild yesterday, I didn’t need to wear mittens and was getting too warm in a fall leather jacket. We had snow once this month! It came, it covered the ground, it rained, it melted. To be fair, it sounds as though Canada isn’t having a white Christmas either, or maybe they are. I can’t keep track with all the “It Snowed! Looks like it will be a white Christmas after all!” followed by the “We got rain and it was washed away”
The Nürnberg weather forcast is calling for mixed Snow and Rain or Snow followed by Rain so it doesn’t sound very promising.

However, I must say the Christmas Markets have been helping. Over 150 carts selling Christmas Ornaments, Gingerbread Cookies and Glühwein! I’ve decided I am going to try and collect Christmas ornaments from every country I visit. So far, I haven’t been able to just pick one. From Ireland, I brought home two leprechaun’s, one holding a pot of gold and the other holding a pint of Guinness. From Germany, I bought a Nutcracker, a cuckoo clock, and a little German girl wearing a dirndl. I also bought a Santa on Skies which has nothing to do with Germany but I was walking past 1000’s of Christmas ornaments and couldn’t help it.

Glühwein: one cup is never enough!
You cannot go to a German Christmas Market without getting a cup of Glühwein (mulled red wine, served warm and in a mug). I paid the fond and kept the Nürnberg Christmas mug. I purchased a second cup in Bamberg solely for the mug with the detailed Bamberg Rathaus and I purchased a bottle to bring home and drink over the holidays!

Matt and I are planning to have a proper Christmas dinner. We bought everything to cook a small chicken, stuffing, broccoli salad, and mashed potatoes. Neither of us have cooked a chicken before, but the Christmas baking turned out so there is hope! Hopefully it won’t turn out like that scene from the movie The Santa Claus when Tim Allen’s turkey sets on fire.

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas! If you are cooking your first Christmas Dinner as well, Good Luck!!!

Monday, 19 December 2011


Are your appliances old? Do you own appliances that are half broken and should be replaced but still manage to do the trick so you plan on keeping them until they actually kick?
If you answered yes, and said appliance is a toaster that doesn’t automatically pop anymore or any other appliance that may cause accident, please do everyone a favour and get rid of them.

As you have likely already read, I am a nanny for a family here in Germany. I go into their home to look after the kids. This means, I have to get use to and figure out how all of their appliances work, what foods they like and how they like them prepared. This morning, I put a piece of bread in the toaster for one of the little girls and then continued washing up the dishes. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a light I hadn’t noticed before and looked over… FIRE! IN THE TOASTER!

“AHH” I yelled. I ran over and began blowing out the fairly large flame on the piece of toast. I pulled up the lever and once the fire was out, took the piece of bread and threw it out onto the metal part of the balcony. I did my best to waft the smoke out the door afraid it would set the fire alarm off. I went to get another piece of bread and noted to the mom that the toaster wasn’t automatically popping. They already NEW that but had forgotten to tell me. Luckily, the cupboards above the toaster are high enough that the flame had not reached them and no harm was done. I put a second piece of bread into the toaster and watched it as I began drying a few dishes. Watching a toaster is like watching paint dry.

It occurred to me while I was waiting for the second piece to toast that the mother had previously told me that German homes/apartments don’t have fire alarms….and that if you smell smoke, take that as your cue to get out! What is this, the stone age? What building wouldn’t be equipped with fire alarms? What if I had gone to the bathroom or decided to clean up the dining room while I was waiting instead of cleaning the dishes? This is not the first time this has happened to me. Two years ago, at my aunt’s house, I put a piece of bread in the toaster and went back into my room to finish getting ready. Not too long after, the fire alarm went off. It was very effective. It wasn’t just the standard beeping fire alarm. Not only did it beep, but it yelled FIRE!!! HALT!! On a continuous loop until my aunt shut off the breaker. No harm done to her home or toaster, but the toaster immediately went into the garbage after that.

When I got back home to my German apartment, I noted that our apartment did not have a fire alarm either. I am curious as to what the statistics are of deaths related to fires in the home or in a building. I am sure they are much higher than those in Canada or the United States.

The lesson learned here is to never leave your kitchen when there is a toaster involved and if the toaster looks like it’s from the 90’s, don’t let it out of your sight when the lever is down..especially if you live in Germany.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

No better time for a morning jog than when you're wearing knee high leather boots, a leather jacket and pulling a carry-on wheelie suitcase

Time: Approximately 9:08am
Location: Dublin Airport, about to board my Ryan Air flight back to Memmingen, Germany departing at 9:30am
when this happened:
Girl at the Gate: "You havent got your passport check done" "You can't board this plane without getting it done" "You have to go back to the check-in"
Me: "WHAT! I got pulled out of the check-in line by Airport staff and sent straight through security, she looked at my ticket!"
Girl at the Gate "It's not their responsibility" "You have to go back"
Me: "Am I going to be able to make this plane?"
Girl at the Gate: "I dont know, it's at least 10 minutes back just to security"

The story. It clearly states on my boarding pass that all persons that are not members of the EU must have their passport checked prior to entering security. This is literally having someone look at your passport for 30 seconds and putting a stamp on your boarding pass.
I had it done when I left Memmingen on Friday, along with an official checking and stamping my passport after going through Memmingen security, and again when I arrived in Dublin.
I was dropped off at the airport at least 2 hours before my flight departed. I stood in the line, only to reach the lady trying to assist people print their boarding passes. I had already done the check-in and printing online. I told her I already had mine, she LOOKED AT IT and despite it saying, requires passport check, says no this is everything you need, you can just step out of line here and go straight to security. You can get your gate number at security.
Through security, boarding pass looked at, bought a bottle of Jameson Whiskey, boarding pass looked at, made the 10 minute walk to my gate only to discover there were no good shops down there and I had lots of time so I actually made the 10 minute walk back to purchase a hoodie, boarding pass checked, and get a coffee and muffin from Starbucks.

Finally the flight is boarding. I did think, its really strange that no one has looked at my passport today. I mean, I kept trying to show people and no one wanted it. But I figured they would look at it before I got on the plane and I had so many friggin stamps on the way to Dublin that maybe that was enough.  Nope. Here's where that fun little interaction occured.

So here I go, making my trek back to check-in. Thinking to myself, will I make this plane? This is ridiculous. Then it hit me... that the next flight may not have been for another few days and that I had to one, work the next day and two, was not about to be shelling out more money for a new ticket. Time Check: 9:11am. Shit. Start full out running, back towards security. I had on jeans and a 3/4 jacket, knee high leather boots, a leather jacket, a heavy purse, and a carry-on wheelie suitcase dragging behind me. Run, run, run. I should mention that I am no runner. I swim for work and exercise, but I never run, and the breathing is not nearly the same.Get to security and spot someone who isnt doing anything. My throat feels like its on fire but I manage to yell out and ask for help, "My flight is leaving in just over 10 minutes, I need a passport check and I now have a bottle of whiskey in my bag". He was very friendly and escorted me through the back door and I explained how I had been pulled out of line. "I dont know why they do this" he said. Clearly this has happened before. Within minutes, he had someone stamp my boarding pass and have the flight held. He escorted me back through security ignoring the beeping that my belt, coat and everything was now causing and I high tailed it back to the gate.
Time check: 9:25am
Girl at the Gate: "Oh, you made it"
Luckily, there were still a few people on the tarmac waiting to board the plane. Ready to jump on, but oh wait!! The other girl at the counter says, "excuse me, you have to put your purse in your luggage"
I didnt have to do this on the way there, and I threw my souvenirs in my bag not really leaving room. On top of trying to figure this out, I am dying of heat exhaustion and lack of hydration. Finally, one of the airport men stood in front of her blocking her view and told me to forget it and go. Thanks Sir!!!!
Finally on the plane, soaked in sweat, and throat on fire. It was an excellent plane ride home and drinks were not free.

Luckily, everything went well after that. I figured out the bus and all the trains to get home and was home by 6pm.

This post was really just a rant, although I think I really earned it.
The moral of the story, if your boarding pass says, passport check required, you better make sure you get it BEFORE you go through security and argue when you are told otherwise.


The streets and houses don't look too different than everything else, but only Ireland can get away with naming all of their bars, shops, and funeral homes after their family name and have it sound so great. Vaughn's, Murphy's, Fanigans, Whelan's are just a few places that line the streets.

Friday evening, we made a trip to the cinema. You may can do that at home...but living in Germany, finding a decent movie playing in English is not an easy task. It's almost a novelty to be able to see a film. And I did get to see the sites at night, the christmas decorations and make 4 trips over the Ha' Penny Bridge in one evening trying to figure out the evening public transportation schedule.

Saturday was a successful day of sightseeing. Grafton Street, Photos with Leprechauns, Stephens Green, Trinity College, the Spire, Ha' Penny Bridge (again), O'Connell Bridge, major statues including Molly Malone, Leprechaun Museum, Guinness Storehouse, just to name a few. A certificate in hand to state that I poured a perfect pint of Guinness, although I'll be honest and tell you, apparently I didn't pour the top correctly.
Eggs, toast, and bacon rashers for breakfast, fish and chips for lunch, and a deep fried burger and chips for dinner. That is, a beef patty covered with deep dry batter and eaten with a fork. I was assured that this was just a coincidence to have it twice in one day and that the Irish don't eat like that everyday :)

A night out in Dublin with Julie and her friends where I saw firsthand, just how dressed up the Irish get, even just to go to the bar; fancy dresses, platform heals, and blown out/teased hair.

I came home having had my first ever Guinness, am a hoodie, some christmas decorations, and a bottle of 12 year old Jameson Whiskey richer, and owing the Dublin 6 cents for all the crossing I did over the Ha' Penny Bridge.

A Big THANKS to Julie for letting me stay in her home, introducing me to her family and friends, and taking time off work to show me around the city! Ive got two new passport stamps, lots of memories, pictures and souvenirs, and another country to add to my list. You are a great friend!

Guinness Mustache!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Getting to Dublin

When Matt told me he was going to Munich for the weekend to visit some of his friends, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to visit my friend Julie in Ireland.
Excited to visit Julie and step foot into a new country loaded with sexy accents, I started researching my trip plan.
I figured I would just fly out of Nürnberg or at least, fly out of Nürnberg and into a city that flew to Dublin, but no such luck. It seemed that any of the airlines that flew out of Nürnberg would not connect up with others that would fly to Dublin, not unless I wanted to pay €800. So I researched the flights out of other cities and trains out of Nürnberg looking for the cheapest and most efficient way there.

Now as you already know, I grew up in the Ottawa Valley. Here's how we get places at home:
1) You drive
2) You take the train or the plane*
*When you take the plane or the train...someone will drive you in either their car or in one shuttle to said train station or airport. Even when the airport is a 2-4 hour drive.

Here's how you get to Dublin when you don't live with or near family, don't have a car, and can't just take one little shuttle to the airport:
Walk to underground subway, ride to main railway station, take 3 different regional trains(yes it was faster to take 3 than 1), take 1 bus, finally arrive at Airport......Fly to Dublin, take shuttle bus to Julie's work, ride home to Julie's house in the car.
Fortunately, I just had a purse and a small carry-on wheelie bag, so it was easy to make all the necessary transfers. It still blew my mind though.

Next to blow my mind:
Memmingen Airport in Munich.
You walk through the front door, check in on left, restaurant straight ahead, security on the right. I could see clearly out the windows on either end. After I went through security, I had to go to gate 5 of 7. One - three were downstairs, and the rest were upstairs. I mean literally up the stairs. No escalator. There was an elevator but I always find that escalator's are more common in airports. Anyways, up the stairs, grabbed a drink and bagel for the plane at the only other restaurant in the airport. Sat down and waited to board. I realized that the only people in the airport either worked there, or were flying to Dublin.
The flight boards and we walk back down a set of stairs on the opposite wall and out onto the tarmac.

Ryan Air:
Not assigned seats, sit anywhere, pay for in flight food and drinks and hear announcements every few minutes advertising their calender and scratch card sales, along with cigarettes and whatever else they sell.

Overall, it was an easy trip, I had row to myself on the plane, two new passport stamps, and a lot of learning about travelling. The ride back was not as easy, but that deserves it's own post.

Employed!! Katie the Nanny

Its finally happened. After leaving home almost two months ago and job searching for a total of 6 weeks after my job searching orientation, I have finally found something!
Position: Nanny/House Help for two children of a German and English speaking family
Salary: €12/hour
When:Monday-Friday 7:45am-2-3 from now until January
          Tuesday-Thursday 7:45am-2 or 2:30pm from January - May

I finally have something to fill my time, pay my bills, and fund all of my fun and travels.

I think the job is going to be pretty great. I've spent a number of years working with children, the difference being, those children were fed, dressed and brought to me and I was teaching them to swim. Now I'm the one getting them dressed, fed, and out the door. Luckily, I have some babysitting experience and a brother who is enough younger than I am to prepare me for changing diapers, dressing them up in coats and shoes, and spending hours sitting on the floor playing whatever. Although, that was a few years ago so when dressing the 16 month old this morning, I had to re-figure out, what arms go in when and try and not get her stuck with her dress half over her head. I'll admit, it got a little stuck...but she was fine.

I was a little nervous on the first day. What on earth do 16 month olds like to eat for breakfast, lunch, and snack? At least a four and a half year old will tell you exactly what they want and how they want it. Fortunately, the mother is not back at work yet and had planned a transition period of getting the children use to me. It kind of like job shadowing. I accompany her to take the children to school, and run errands, learning where everything is located. She tells me what she wants me to cook or prepare and I can get the housework done in the meantime while the children are at school. So plenty of time to see what they like to eat and how the like it prepared.

And in addition, I will now be taking the under ground train and a street car on a regular basis to get to their house so I have finally been forced to figure out the how these train things work. Matt did help to map out my route, but I had to go it alone. It was a successful journey and prepared me mentally for all of the trains and buses I would be taking on my upcoming trip.


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Cooking and Baking in a New Country

I love wandering down the aisles in the grocery stores here because each time I go, I discover something new. I was aware that when I moved to Germany, they wouldn’t have all the foods that we do at home, for example sliced bacon. For the most part, I have learned to accept this and am happy to find new alternatives. However, there are just a few things that I am failing to understand, and without proper internet (which is another story) I cannot look up various stories that may sell them.

The first item is bread crumbs. I figure this would be one of those things that are in every grocery store, one of those things that are always kept in stock, considering the popularity of schnitzel. I have yet to find pre-crushed bread crumbs. We have taken to leaving a few slices of bread out over night to let them dry out, breaking them up by hand, and then crushing them with a potato masher, which usually takes 3 different goes. But what happened to modern day conveniences? I just want some bread crumbs that are sold pre spiced because I just cannot get the right flavor, something is missing. Any suggestions on either the location of the bread crumbs or good schnitzel spices?

The second is measuring spoons and measuring cups. I have literally searched almost every store; Real, Euro store, grocery stores, a number of kitchen stores and none of them sell measuring spoons or 1/4 , 1/3, and 1/2 measuring cups. They do however all sell various flour sifters. I mentioned this to my mom and she had them in the mail the next day, unfortunately they haven’t arrived yet and it feels like it’s been a while. She reminded me I could have checked IKEA, but I had forgotten it was here. I guess I’ll find out if the German IKEA sells them if these ones never arrive. In the meantime, I have taken to buying muffin mixes. Not that I have anything against mixes, it’s just that, the last two I bought (Chocolate Chip and then Plain Chocolate…the only options) both tasted the same and lacked distinctive flavor. I did not find a cookie mix, at least not in Edeka. So I am anxiously waiting for these measuring tools to arrive. In the meantime with our limited internet, I tried to do a search of German recipes and instead was directed to other European recipes where they measure in spoons and cups as well.
HOW do the Germans bake? Clearly from the variety of flour sifters available, it’s popular but...HOW?

As I am only here for 7 more months, I guess I can do without the casserole and Pyrex dishes and the loaf pan. Our land lady mentioned that if there is anything else we want or need, she would reimburse us for the cost but I just can’t ask for them for just 7 months considering the cost. The German pans are all €10 and up and I realize this is because they’re better quality but I miss being able to buy baking pans in the dollar store.

And lastly, while this has not been 100% confirmed yet as I have only looked in one store, no Ziploc bags? Just bags and chip clips. Does that keep it fresh? Does it keep everything from spilling out? To be safe, I asked for some Ziploc bags for Christmas.
I think I will see if I can find a German cooking class in English and learn how they do things over here.


A week after writing this, we found sliced Bacon in the grocery store. Things are looking up!

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Coffee is Black and the Milk is Expensive

I have noticed in Germany that you cannot just order a “Coffee with Milk”. A cup of coffee, when purchased in a porcelain cup is always served with a packet of sugar, an amazing Ginger cookie and sometimes a creamer on the side. Getting a little container of milk is not an option. I once tried to order a coffee with milk “Kaffee mit Milch” in Köln and while the lady repeated it back to me, a black coffee is what I got.
I have started to take a closer look at the menus when I want coffee now and have found that if you want milk, you have to order a café au lait or Milchkaffee. While I am not sure that café au lait is the same as a bit of milk, the real kicker is that it’s at least 30 cents more expensive!! I don’t even think you can buy little milkers that I could carry around in my purse, but that’s probably for the best as I’m sure letting milk sit in my purse would lead to bigger problems later in the day than spending 30 cents.

I by no means, mean to complain about Germany when I say I can’t get milk in a little container and they don’t have hot water in their bathroom sinks, I am just pointing out the differences. Canada provided me with a lot of little luxuries (except those ginger cookies) and I am just struggling to get use to some of these changes.

You may notice I keep mentioning these Ginger cookies. What are they? They’re little pieces of deliciousness that melt with the warmth of your coffee and make your day complete. I am completely enamored with them. The two brands I’ve come across are Lotus and Maitre and according to the package, you can buy them in the store!! I’ve checked my grocery store 5 times now and even the bigger Real, but no such luck yet. Perhaps when I have proper internet next week, I can actually look them up and find out where they are sold. But in the meantime, if you know where to find them, it would be helpful if you would comment.

And while I have sometimes just had to settle and drink the plain black coffee, I just prefer it with milk.


This post does not really include any advice but instead is to sum up one of the places I have been visiting, as my friends and family are reading this as well.

I’ve been to Bamberg twice so far with Matt and I am sure there will be many more.
He did a year abroad in Bamberg so this trip included my own personal tour. It’s one of the few cities that was not affected by the war and still has many beautiful buildings and sights. We’ve eaten at Café Express twice and it has easily become one of my favourite restaurants. It’s one of those places where you can have 5 different favourites on the menu because there are so many different things. Each time, I had an amazing meal plus a 0.5l beer for €10 or less. Which shows that you can have a meal, for the price of one cocktail which I still think is ridiculous.
Most to all of the buildings seem to have some sort of Jesus or Mary or another religious figure either carved or just on the top of the stone walls. Matt tells me you can go on a Brewery crawl as there are so many within a short distance although I have not yet taken a tour. I will definitely be taking one eventually and likely in Bamberg as with all the wineries and Breweries in Germany, we’ve managed to live in the city that does not have any...come on Nürnberg!

I went again last week with Matt’s Bamberg friends and we went to Fässla which I understand is the best place to get drinks, especially on a Monday. While we were drinking our beers, one of the locals had noticed we were all speaking English and came over to ask where we were all from and if he could join us for a bit. He had been drawn over by Guillaume’s accent because he said it was exactly how he remembered his own grandfather speaking, turns out, his grandfather had also been from France, like Guillaume. He sat with us while we finished our beers and told us of how he had joined the U.S army when he was younger and how he had been stationed in Germany. While he was terrified to come over here, to a new country where he did not know the language, he ended up loving it. Even though he left the army years ago (he’s currently in his late 50’s I think) he decided to stay in Germany. As Matt missed this trip to Fässla, we told him all about this man and he said he had ran into and talked to him on many occasions. He was an excellent story teller so if you ever find yourself in Bamberg, should probably stop by Fässla and see if he’s around. He’ll be the one reading his book by the bar.

Oh and the beer was delicious and they had a few Halloween inspired drinks. We went for the jello shot which they call a “pudding shot”

Job Hunting

So the job hunt has been going pretty slow.
As previously mentioned, I did not choose to stay in Berlin and a few of the suggested places to look for work are not available in Nürnberg. For example, Berlin has a magazine called Tipp Berlin that comes out every two weeks and can often be found for free in local cafes. I have googled all of the Nürnberg magazines, sorted through the piles in café’s or bars and checked the local News stands and none of these magazines have job postings. Another suggestion was the local tabloids, you know, the ones with the half naked girls on the bottom? I bought one and did not find a single job posting, except for the Astrological signs that I had initially mistaken for job postings.
The Saturday/Sunday Newspapers do have pages of listings, but sadly, no return calls from that.

 I have posted my resume on a few sites now, including Monster. Last Friday morning, I received an e-mail asking me to contact them by phone. I thought this might be promising, but sadly, the lady did not speak English and I could not understand her German. Needless to say, it was an awkward phone conversation followed by a German e-mail from her explaining that most companies require a good amount of German and she would not be able to help me, followed by an exclamation mark! This makes me wonder what employers interpret the line that reads”German language level-Basic” as, on my resume.

You may want to try The Local, Germany’s news in English which has a jobs section easily accessible from the main page. While I check this site regularly, sadly again, most of the jobs are not in Nürnberg.
You may also want to try a temporary staffing agency, but if your level of German is like mine, you should probably inquire in your letter whether it is possible to communicate in English.

Cautionary notes on using Google Translate. While it has been extremely helpful navigating the sites and translating job descriptions for me, I have started to notice that it even translates people’s names!!!! For example, Frau Schuh becomes Mrs. Shoe. So, while I am certainly not the one to be telling anyone “don’t use it, it sucks” because I don’t know what I would do without it, just remember that tidbit before you go and address your cover letter to a perspective employer. 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

197 Channels and nothing to watch

We were fortunate to be provided with a TV loaded with 197 channels and we don’t pay any extra rent for it. However, 6 or 7 of them are the only ones in English. They consist or news, religion, and religion rock. The rest of them are majority German of course some French, Turkish, Russian and maybe even some Polish stations. I’ve watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother in German which are okay because if watched each of the episodes enough times in English to know exactly what’s happening. But I wouldn’t say I am unwinding while I do it. There’s a zoo channel dedicated to the Berlin zoo and while it is in German, I am fascinated by the entire little baby animals rolling around. I catch parts of the News when Matt watches it and had the great opportunity to watch Turkish Running on TV. Two people had to run 80 laps around a small round ring and the first of the two to finish, won.

Not that I am spending my working holiday watching TV all the time, but it’s nice when Matt’s not home for lunch or to watch a few episodes on a Sunday when nothings open or a few to wind down before bed. I have almost all of the seasons of 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother on my hard drive and a few other series, and Matt and I have managed to re-watch every single one of them. We even went and bought a new series on DVD at the store (Cougar Town…really funny) to keep us occupied until our internet arrives in another 8 days. Oh and because these are all American T.V shows or movies, even though you buy them in Germany, you can choose English as the playing language when it starts.

We have a lot of catching up to do on our favourite shows once the internet arrives considering they started end of September and its moving into the second week of November.

So if you don’t mind watching TV or movies on your laptop…consider you may not have internet for a while and load up an external with your favourite or a new season. Or plan to buy them once you arrive.

Why are the Cocktails so Expensive? And where is the Hot Water?

While I did not study abroad, Matt did, and I am fortunate to meet new friends and participate in these events with him. Matt’s Bamberg friends came to Nürnberg this weekend to reunite. It was full of good times, amazing people, lots of beer and too much Polish Vodka.

One of the most important phrases you can learn in German is how to ask politely for a Beer. Seriously. This is not a bad phrase. Anyone doing a European exchange, should be the age of majority when you arrive. If you don’t like Beer, you should probably learn to like it soon because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu. €2 or 3 or less if you’re lucky for a 0.5l glass...and yes that’s more than you get in Canada. You’re looking at €3-4 for a glass of bottled water, Coke, Fanta, or the two mixed together. If you want tap water, you can get that for free, but you better specify tap or else you’re getting bottled and you’re paying for it. Oh and no, you aren’t getting free refills for that price.

While I do enjoy beer, I enjoy the girly cocktails on some nights as well. Unfortunately, that’s a very limited or expensive option here. I feel as though some of the places I’ve been so far have a limited selection of Cocktails, Sex on the Beach is delicious, it’s everywhere, but it’s not always made the same and sometimes you want something different. I decided I wanted a change and went to the bar with a big cocktail menu. How much did I pay for the Swimming Pool and Chococoloda (both Pina Colada type drinks)??? €7 and 8!!! The current exchange rate is 1.4 so in Canada, those cocktails would cost…$10-11!! Looks like I’m not in Waterloo or Ottawa anymore… I read over the entire menu and there wasn’t a cheaper cocktail. I guess I got a bargain when I paid €6.50 for a Pina Colada at another bar.

On another note, don’t expect when you enter the bathroom in a bar or even just a restaurant or public washroom to be able to wash your hands with hot water or even warm water. If you’re reading this from Canada, consider yourselves privileged. Apparently hot water is expensive so you will often just find a tap labeled cold water. Letting it run longer will not make it turn warm. Apparently, hand soap is even a bit of a luxury? I was surprised when I went into the bathroom at the Munich train station that the bathroom didn’t even have a soap dispenser. At least that’s less common. So be prepared. Expect the water in the bathroom sink will always be cold and if it happens to have warm water, you will be pleasantly surprised. It may also be a good idea to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times. 

Tired of Google Translating? How to find everything you need

When you don’t speak the local language, there are two things you should do upon arriving. First, start learning the language and second, find an English expat group.

Matt and I found a local English expat group on Facebook (keywords: English Stammtisch) and decided to check it out. I was surprised to find that it was not only foreigner travelers/workers but local Germans who wanted to keep up/improve their English. There were approximately 70-80 people overtaking this bar all speaking English which is generally something I have not been seeing. Besides the obvious opportunity to go out and meet new people, these people had great tips and stories. Job wise, a few of them offered to pass my resume along to the HR manager or see if their company had any open positions for me. One of them happens to work for a staffing agency and I have an appointment with her tomorrow.

It was a lot of fun and we discovered a new bar/area of the city and some other bars along the walk.

They are scheduled to meet up once a month at the same bar but often have other random events throughout the month, including: English book swaps, Halloween parties, or just extra mid month meet ups.

If that’s not your seen, Toytown Germany is an English website that offers many resources including job listings on forums. I took a browse through a few of the forums for the Nürnberg area to see what people were asking and offering. There were threads about apartment listings, where to find the best restaurants for a good price, where to find an English speaking hairdresser, etc.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Berlin, travellers cheques and Visa

On Monday, I took the train to Berlin for my orientation to finding work.
Matt took me to the train station and I marked down the subway line, directions and stops along the way as I would have to get back to the apartment on Tuesday, by myself. I find figuring out the metro to be complicated and stressful. I think I took the Toronto metro by myself twice in my entire life.
I spend most of my time deciding to go places I can walk to so I can avoid the metro, at least if I am by myself. Sooner or later, I am going to have to get over this. just not quite yet.

Sadly, I did not see much of Berlin. After my orientation, which was all of 1.5 hours I had the afternoon and evening to explore. It poured rain the entire time and only get windier as the night went on.
The orientation itself was okay. I learned a number of valuable tips but job search tips did not all apply to Nürnberg and I am struggling to find the Nürnberg equivalents.

Travellers Cheques and Visa
After spending almost all of my cash the Friday I moved into my apartment on rent and the kaution, I needed to find a place to cash my travellers cheques. I spent 3 and a half days with $30 in my wallet and no place to cash the cheques. The banks didnt open until Monday and I spent most of Monday on the train. I was able to use my Visa card at the Walmart equiv when I wanted to get a clothes dry rack and laundry basket...but not at the grocery store. We had to rely on what cash Matt had to tie us over. When I finally got to a bank, the teller told me that regular banks will not cash travellers cheques in Germany. This meant I had to wait until Tuesday to go to a travel bank (at the train stations) to finally cash them.
So when travelling, be mindful of this. Get your travellers cheques cashed at the train station and make sure you always have cash on you...because your Visa card which is suppose to be so international, may be useless.

We moved in!

We moved into our apartment in Nürnberg about a week and a half ago.
Our land lady provided us with almost everything we could possibly need.
Dishes, pots and pans, serving bowls, and linens. On top of the necessities, there were tones of chocolates, juice, sparkling wine, coffee and tea and a bowl of fresh fruit.
There are 4 grocery stores within walking distance so we were able to get everything else we needed.
The apartment has a ton of closest space, we dont even need the second one. The kitchen is spacious as well. For the most part there is a lot of space in the dressing area and around the bed. Its a bit tight to get around the couch, but thats just something well have to get use to.

Day two: the search for internet.
Finding an internet cafe without internet to look it up is quite challenging. We walked around town for hours only spotting banks, restaurants and lotto retailers. We grew hungry and it bagan to rain so we decided to head back. When we were 5 minutes from our apartment, we found the internet cafe. Somehow we had managed to miss that corner. Within minutes, we located the closest mall, another 5 minute walk down the road where we could buy internet and just about anything else we wanted. Unfortunately, we could not order internet or purchase an internet stick until at least one of us had registered our address with the city and opened a bank account. Matt did that on the Monday (two days later).

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Köln (and an important point about the ISIC card)

We are one day away from going to Nürnberg and moving into our apartment! Tomorrow will be the last train ride with the BIG suitcases, at least for a while anyway. But of course, life stuck us with two transfers, just to mock me and watch me try and carry that stupid suitcase.

Anyways, Matt and I both went to Köln for 3 days, Matt to complete his job orientation and me to tour around by myself.
Overall, it was a good experience.

I learned how to not only read and follow a map, but to plan my own excursions as well based on their location on the map. Fortunately for me, everything I wanted to see in Köln was within walking distance and I did not need to attempt the metro on my own.

I noticed that the German drivers are much kinder than those in Canada. Traffic always yield to pedestrians. You step out a crosswalk only indicated by the lines on the street, the cars stop. You're on a green traffic light/ cross walk, traffic turning in your direction will always pause mid turn so you can walk across.

I learned my student card (valid until 2014) is also valid in Germany, at least for museums and the like so I managed to grab a few discounts, which brings me to an important point, the ISIC: International Student Identity Card. If you are still a student when you intend on going abroad..and by still I mean even in your last semester as long as you are full time, get an ISIC card. You need to provide your tuition receipt as proof to get it. I missed out on getting this, but Matt was able to get one before he left and he is able to by a half price card in order to get 50 percent off all train tickets! Still with me? Yes he had to purchase a card to get 50 percent off, but if I want a 50 percent off train card...I have to pay double what he did. Think about it.

I learned that I need to practice speaking and listening to German much much more. When the menu was in German or I wanted something simple like coffee with milk, I could attempt to speak proper German, but when the menu is in English and the cashier only speaks German, how do you go about translating those items for them? All I wanted was a mcflurry..

Köln has probably the coolest museums ever, or at least that I have come across so far. They don't just have art museums and history museums which I could personally do without, but a chocolate, a wine, and an olympic museum! Very cool and worth every penny. The chocolate museum also held the Lindt factory and sold Lindt products. I also did the triangle tower to get a panoramic view of the city, a cable car ride across the rhein, the zoo and some cool sight seeing, but many cities will offer things like those.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Düsseldorf !

The worst part about traveling, is the traveling itself. While I can pull suitcases on wheels all at once, I cannot lift them up and down the stairs in the subways. On Friday, Matt and I got up really early and took our small suitcases to the train station and put them in a locker. We came back to the hotel, checked out and went to the train station with our big suitcases. Almost all downstairs which was managable. There was one set of stairs heading up, no elevator. I am really not sure I could have managed this on my own. Fortunately, a random noticed I was struggling and came and lift the back end of my suitcase and we walked it up together. He never looked up or said anything. He read his newspaper as we walked up the stairs. I thanked him but I'm not sure he noticed, I felt like this was a normal habit for him. The train attendant helped me lift it onto the train and Matt lifted it on and off the luggage rack. His friends came to pick us up in their car :)

They toured us around Düsseldorf and we went to the Düsseldorf Oktoberfest! The average age was around 50 years old! But a good time was definitely had! It was different then the one in Kitchener-Waterloo. No one was selling bavarian one was really wearing bavarian hats. People wore traditional dirndl's and lederhosen and there was not a lot of polka music, instead a band that played both German and English songs. Also, people smoke IN the arena, instead of going outside to a smoking section.

Tomorrow we move onto Köln (Cologne) and Matt and I will separate. Matt will attend a 4 day orientation for his job and I will stay in a hotel and do some sight seeing. Looking forward to it for the most part, just not the traveling part.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Arrived in Paris

I arrived in Paris on Tuesday afternoon. Its ridiculously hot right now, hotter than when I was last here in July, 8 years ago. Ive had to dig out my summer clothes that I had packed for next year. Successfully used the subway and toured around Paris without getting lost yet but Matt gets full credit for that. I have yet to plan a route or follow the map. Tomorrow we move onto Dusseldorf; Germany. I am excited to see new things but I am dreading transporting my very large suitcase on and off the subway and up and down the stairs. Tip, if you are planning to travel around like I did, maybe take a smaller suitcase. The medium of a luggage set, not the largest.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Packing for the year

Packing for an entire year with 4 seasons in 55 ibs checked and 22 ibs carry on is not an easy task, especially when you have no idea what kind of job you will have to dress for once you get over there.
I’ve packed items that can be worn with a variety of things and left those things I rarely wear out and this is where I’m at…
Round 1: the majority of the clothes fit, but there were still a number of other important items that were not able to fit. And ive definitely compromised on pretty shoes.
Round 2: Removed a few more clothing items and tried to re-arrange the suitcases, not having much luck.
Round 3: Purchased more vacuum seal bags (can be found in the storage solutions aisle at Walmart) to compress my clothes, but it was still pretty tight.
Round 4: Eliminated a few more tops, a light hoodie and two wool sweaters which consumed a fair amount of space. Finally managed to fit almost everything in the suitcase except for the makeup case, a journal and a few other products and documents. While I had left some space for them to slide in, I weighed the suitcase at this point…only 6 more pounds of free weight left. I agonized over what I could possibly do without for another hour and sat on the contents of my suitcase for a while hoping they would compress. They didn’t.
Final Solution: Ive come to the conclusion that what still has to go in, should only put me over by a couple of pounds. My mom and my aunt couldn’t watch this any longer and have told me straight out that for an entire year, if I have to pay $30 extra for my bag, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

…. It seemed like the end of the world. They agreed to cover the costs if it would get me out of sitting in my suitcase. It did. Now I just have to figure out the carry on suitcase and my backpack and getting all of the electronics in.

Tips for anyone travelling: The vacuum sealed bags help save a lot of room in the suitcase. The only problem is that they do not reduce weight and you may need to ensure that coming home, you’ll have access to a vacuum to reseal the bags. Matt and I don’t have carpet in our apartment so I’m hoping maybe a neighbor will own a vacuum cleaner. And my fingers are crossed that immigration doesn’t try and open the bags, because I am fairly positive…they will not be lending me a vacuum cleaner.

As for determining what to take and what to leave……….
I’ve already advised you about the hair straightener, but as for the rest…I am clearly not the right person to be advising. And Matt…he met the free weight restrictions, but he forgot some clothes at my house, and his laptop power cord…didn’t make the trip either (<3 ) Fortunately, its not that expensive to ship something like that and his parents are able to do so.

Where would we be, without them? Up the creek probably.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tips for travelling abroad, for longer periods of time

For any SWAPPERS (or people travelling abroad) reading this blog:

My advice and recommendations for you:

- Read through the welcome package very carefully. Do everything it suggests you do or look into. For example, you must notify your government health office if you will be out of the country for longer than 6 months and sign a form to this extent.
- If something is very unclear to you, ask.
Ask either your travel counselor or write to college council with the e-mail address provided. I wrote to them a couple times and always had prompt and helpful responses within a day or two.
- Check the expiry dates on your: Debit Card, Visa Card, Health Card, and Driver’s License. SWAP does not list this as something to do and I fortunately (or unfortunately) decided to check 6 weeks before my departure date. My debit, health, and driver’s license ALL expire on my birthday while I am away. The debit card was easy to replace, the health card required I go into the OHIP office and ask for an extension, they sent me a card with a new expiry 5 weeks later. The driver’s license is a bit trickier. If it expires within 6 months, you can have it renewed. But if you are leaving 7 months before it expires, you have to write them a letter, explaining where you are and why you are away and when you will be returning to Canada. Provide a copy of your license and they will issue a one-time temporary 6 month extension and mail it to you in whichever country you are now currently living. What a pain!
- Get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) issued by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). They are valid for up to a year and provide a translation of what your class of driver’s license means in their country. Also, your driver’s license is only valid in their country for up to 6 months without it.
-Notify your bank and visa company that you will be away and where you are going. The last thing you need is for them to put a hold on your card while you’re away due to “foreign charges”.
- Consider how you will be travelling and the things you personally need to take on your trip before following others packing guides. The large backpack isn’t for everyone. I personally have one and have gone on a few backpacking trips. While it does leave your hands free, it’s also a lot of weight on your back. The last time I wore it, I was on the subway in Paris when I was 15. The subway charged ahead and the weight caused me to fall over onto an older lady!! For this trip, I’m lending the backpack to my cousin and taking my suitcase on wheels, leaving my back free for a normal sized backpack.
-Only ONE nice outfit for interviews??:  my thoughts?: what happens after you get the job? While you may not be getting glamorous jobs, even pubs and stores require some level of dress and often want employees to wear black dress pants. Why not bring a couple? After meeting with friends and family members who have previously or currently LIVE in Europe, many will tell you that clothes over there are much more expensive than here. And then if you have to get them tailored.... So, when you are deciding what to pack and someone tells you that you can just get it over there, consider at what cost can you get it once you’re over there?
-When deciding what to pack, ask everyone you know who has already lived abroad what you need to take (and leave behind) and tread lightly on the advice from those who have only vacationed for a short period of time…and always over pack..
…and here’s a tip you can throw out the window..
-Wear your winter coat on the plane (in September), people always say you should pack the lightest and wear the heaviest” While the latter part might be true, for example wearing your hiking boots instead of light shoes, on what universe would it be a good idea to wear your winter jacket, while travelling, in September?!?! It’s still warm enough that I am not even wearing a thin BENCH jacket on a consistent basis so why would I put on my winter coat? “Because once you check your luggage, you can just carry it over your arm”. Yes but, what happens after you pick up your luggage, have to commute by trains, buses and subways and because you are carrying your luggage, you have to wear your winter sweat, overheat and then pass out from heat exhaustion, that’s what the lifeguard in me is sure will happen. Maybe you will open your suitcase in the middle of the airport and pack your winter coat once you’re off the plane and have cleared the weight restriction, or maybe not. But you count the number of people who make this recommendation to you in the summer or early fall...
-Invest in a luggage scale. You can pack and unpack a million times to get it right. This way, you won’t have to unpack your suitcase in the middle of the airport or risk paying the extra weight fee.
-Bring a set of sheets. This goes back to my comment, at what cost are you willing to get it for over there. I’ve talked to many friends and my boyfriend who has already spent a year abroad about this and they’ve all commented that trying to find sheets on a low budget is not an easy task. If you do find sheets that aren’t too expensive, the quality is quite crappy, so consider pricing out sheets before you leave and watch for the deals here.
-Talk to your financial advisor about ALL of the ways you can get money while overseas. Your advisor will know which banks your bank is affiliated with and whether that means you get a discounted rate to withdraw money, they can also advise you of other ways to obtain cash if needed.
-Make a packing list. Don’t just say toiletries, list everything you want to take with you, that way, you can check it off as you pack it and don’t risk forgetting something that might have been important.
-The hair straightener, to pack or not to pack. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that my expensive straightener, will be staying at home. The reason? It’s NOT dual voltage. The sales associate at the Source pointed out on the converter packaging that it specifically notes NOT to use with hair straighteners, why? Because the unit itself will overheat in just 5 minutes. And if I’ve learned anything from watching Jersey Shore, it’s to leave it at home. In the second episode, season 4, Deena comments that the straightener smells like it’s burning, but continues using it..a few minutes later, it literally burned the strand of hair off of her head. I will not be losing my hair in Germany. I’ll take my mini straightener that is one, dual voltage and two, was free anyways and use on my bangs, we’ll see if it lasts.
-Budget for an extra week’s worth of travelling. After booking my flight and determining my orientation date in Berlin, I e-mailed college council to advise them of my arrival date and which orientation session I intended to attend. Two days later, I found out this orientation session had been moved 5 days later!! Luckily I had not yet booked my flight into Berlin from Düsseldorf. Instead I will have an extra day of travelling and site seeing, will move to my apartment with Matt before even attending the orientation session and then fly to Berlin. This will cost me an extra flight or train and set me back 2 or 3 days in my search for work. Be prepared for the unexpected.
-SWAP with 2 night’s accommodation option.. don’t plan to fly into your country of choice 2 days ahead of the scheduled orientation and expect to be accommodated by SWAP. I found out when I booked my flight that SWAPs accommodation does not begin until the day OF your orientation. Not that is concerned me, but it might be helpful for you to know ahead of time. Plan for this.
-Wear a money belt. I am dreading putting this on, but it’s a safe place to keep your passport or other cash. After hearing about two acquaintances who had their hotel room broken into, their passports stolen, and then had to pay $300 each to have their passports expedited from Canada..I will not be taking that chance.

My next to actually pack my own suitcases, using the valuable advice I have received so far.

Getting my Visa

The process:
Having decided the end of May I was moving to Germany, I made it a little more official the middle of June. I filled out my registration form and took my reference letter and $480 registration fee to the closest travel cuts, as outlined on the SWAP website. I was a little nervous but I sat down with the first available travel agent and told him I wanted to register for SWAP. This agent became my “travel counsellor”. Due to the nature of the program, I spent very little time with my travel counsellor. I handed him my forms and I paid my registration fee and that was it.

My mom couldn’t believe it when I told her how much I had just paid for the registration, “WHAT DOES THAT GET YOU?!” She was right, I didn’t really know what that got me and $480 was starting to sound like more and more money. Within the next week as outlined on the site, I received my Welcome Package (EXCITING!). At the second step of the process, was it worth the money?? ...YES, YES, and YES! The Visa application form was in 4 different languages, the printing was small and I didn’t even know what some of the questions were referring to. Luckily it came with a sample form where someone had demonstrated all of the necessary information I should be including. The package also included a very detailed list of everything I would need to submit to my travel counsellor in order to get a visa. Anything else? Yep, it included a handbook specifically
y geared to working and living in Germany, where to look, and a sample Resume and Cover Letter template (because they are very different from those in Canada).

I took my time throughout the rest of June and July and didn’t submit my forms until Mid August. The package itself didn’t take too long to compose, I just couldn’t decide on when I wanted to leave! In order for your visa to be processed, you had to book a flight and purchase medical insurance. I was also saving up my work money for the support funds suggested as necessary for the trip as I would have to submit a letter from the bank with my visa application.

I submitted my application to my travel counselor and within 3 weeks, had reached part three. I received my visa, my boarding pass, and a package full of maps and Germany guide books.

As mentioned in my last post, I am moving with Matt. His job is pre-arranged and his orientation is set so my leave date revolved around that and whether we would travel or not first. The verdict: Were meeting in Paris, France a week before his orientation and spending a few days in Paris and a few days in Düsseldorf, Germany before moving into our apartment. And so September 26, 2011 (just 4 days now) is the big day when I depart from Montreal and head out on this journey!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

I’m moving to Germany!

The Decision:
After finishing school in December, I moved home; broke and without a job. I spent two and a half months looking and not finding anything. I eventually returned to work for the city as a lifeguard and instructor in March. While I would love to work in the Aquatics environment, coordinating and supervising programs, getting there is a process. Full-time hours aren’t offered during the year and with low seniority, I was not guaranteed a position throughout the summer. Fortunately, I was able to return to my previous summer job as an Aquatic Supervisor with a military facility, although this contract would end the end of August. When my Boyfriend Matt was offered a teaching position in Germany (to begin in October) and asked me to go with him, I couldn’t think of a better time to go!

This decision however, was not made without prior research. I spent a lot of time goggling search words such as: ‘working abroad’ and ‘Germany work visa’. The first few sites looked like Government sites and were not all the user friendly or encouraging. I finally came across SWAP. It provided me with statistics and all of the information I needed to make my decision and easily obtain a visa. I am a little bit worried about the lack of German I know (I took an elementary course this summer) and my ability to find a job in this country, however, I am told there are jobs out there. I will soon find out!

SWAP Shout Out:
For anyone who has ever considered working abroad, definitely take a look at this site.
Pick your destination and on one page, it tells you all of the information you need to know. Who can apply, when to apply, how to apply, and the funds necessary to do so successfully based on your country of choice. Easily find links to their blog and facebook pages where people who are participating in the program currently lend their advice, answer your questions and offer their friendship. While the last part sounds a bit cheesy, it’s true; you will meet people who plan on attending the same orientation sessions as you and those are great people to share resources with.

I intend on writing more about my positive experience with SWAP and give you an eye into how it works as the process continues. And of course, my adventures to and throughout Germany!