Friday, 30 March 2012

It’s always a nice day on St. Patrick’s Day!

…Okay, so this post is a LITTLE delayed. I blame it on the gorgeous weather we’ve been having and my desire to spend every warm minute that I am not working, sitting outside on our balcony or on a patio eating lunch. But it could not last forever and 2 weeks later, the rain has come, forcing me to spend my afternoon inside.

But back to St. Patrick’s Day. What is it about St. Patrick’s Day that brings the hot air into what has otherwise been a cold week? Seriously, the past 4 years have been strangely warm and I have the statistics to prove it. According to the National Climate Data and Information Archive, the following temperatures have been noted for March 17 in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario:
2011: 12.8°C
On March 14, just 3 days earlier, the following temperatures have been noted:
2011: 2.2°C
2010: 4.1°C
2009: 7.5°C 

Nürnberg, Germany followed the same pattern in 2012. According to The Weather Channel, it was 7°C on March 14 and jumped up to 20°C on March 17.

Mother Nature must really dig the tradition of drinking green beer, celebrating the life of St. Patrick and really want us all to be outside, having a grand time while we do it! Well Mother Nature, I applaud your efforts and have been soaking up the sun every year.

In 2011, I was fortunate to have the day off, the whole month actually as I was unemployed at the time. I spent the week in Waterloo visiting my boyfriend and friends and spent St. Patrick’s Day at the Bomber with a true Irish girl. We even caught the end of some Irish dancing and got our picture taken with a leprechaun! It was the best St. Patrick’s Day I have ever had.
Irish Dancers at Bomber

Myself, the "Leprechaun", and my very own native Irish friend, Julie with her flag

I was looking forward to something exciting again this year. It was a Saturday so Matt and I both had the day off, we had warm weather, and we wore green shirts. We had everything we needed to have an excellent day. It was however, a bit of a disappointment. We sat outside on a patio for dinner which was a little premature because as soon as the sun went down, so did the heat. Fortunately, many of the restaurants in Nürnberg that offer outdoor seating also offer fleece blankets to wrap around your shoulders! The dinner was still enjoyable. Afterwards we made our way to O’Sheas’s Irish pub (one of the few Irish bars in Nürnberg). We got in, we found a spot to stand, and we each ordered a pint of Kilkenny. We were ready for the live band to start! By the time the band had started, O’Shea’s had become quite crowded. Too crowded. There was no one monitoring the number of people who came in or out, but mostly in; our standing room became invaded and we were constantly bumped by backpacks and Guinness hats; and at one point, there was a lady who expected to get back to her crew at the bar, forcing people to cram into what little space was left and Matt literally hugging the brick pillar in the middle of the room in order to create more space, where there wasn’t any. I was I had a picture of it but there was no place to set my beer or room to stand at an appropriate angle. By the time we finished our beer, there was no way to get another unless you were sitting directly at the bar or were the 6”5 guy beside us leaning OVER the people at the bar. We decided to leave and pick up some Guinness on the way home and listen to our own Celtic music. Unfortunately, the gas station was out of Guinness so we had to settle for shots of the Jameson Whiskey I had brought back from Ireland. It did however, do the trick. 

Lessons Learned: The German’s don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, so if you’re in Nürnberg and looking to find one of the few Irish bars that does celebrate this holiday, you should probably arrive early enough in the day to get a table, or else risk the chance that past 8pm, you will have someone pushed up against all of your sides. 

A week later, when the weather was still nice, Matt and I returned to O’Shea’s for lunch out on the patio and had the Guinness we should have had on March 17. 

Delicious Guinness

Sunday, 11 March 2012

10 Things I Miss from Canada

Besides obviously missing my family and friends, there are a number of things (or luxuries) I have at home in Canada that I really miss having. They are:

1.       A high quality, normal size hair straightener. The travel size straightener I have is barely good enough to straighten my bangs and if I do manage to get them straight with it, they curl right back up when I go to brush my teeth in the bathroom that lacks a fan and is still humid from my shower. The iron is heavy. I really didn’t want to waste the money on buying one to use over here when I have a perfectly good one at home.

2.       The deodorant selection. Even in the drugstores, there is a very poor selection of deodorant in Germany. A whole wall of every possible type of Nivea and Fa deodorants plus a selection of anti-perspirant sprays. I took a chance and bought a bottle of Nivea. This particular one is designed to prevent deodorant stains on your white and black clothing. I think that’s all it does. That and make me feel paranoid that it’s not giving me a good enough armpit coverage. I finally ordered some from Amazon. It took 3 weeks to get here and came in a large two-pack, but it’s much better and hopefully will last the duration of the trip. Make-up in general is difficult if you have some preferred brands. Germany doesn’t have any of mine. I also ordered some mineral powder online.

3.       Peanut Butter. The Edeka in Nürnberg has 3 different jars of peanut butter, crunchy, smooth, and a different brand that’s also smooth. I think it costs €3.30 for a small jar. It looks like peanut butter and it smells like peanut butter, but it doesn’t taste like the peanut butter at home. In fact, it tastes like half the peanuts were left out.

4.       Longer or double check-out lanes at the grocery store. And by check-out lanes, I mean the area between where your items are scanned and the place where you bag them. It’s bad enough in Canada that most grocery stores are no longer bagging your food for you, but at least your given enough time to bag your food and get it in your cart. In Nürnberg, they don’t bag your groceries, there is definitely not even enough room for all of your groceries to fit on the counter and if you aren’t finished bagging by the time they give you your change, the next persons items are being sent flying into yours or being handed to them one by one. It actually stresses me out each time I check-out, no matter how much I try to organize the items on the belt according to what goes in which bag and whether or not it goes on the bottom. You have to be ready and have your bags open for when your items start flying down. If you can’t move fast enough, you should probably just throw everything back in your cart and bag it elsewhere.

5.       ATM machines that allow you to deposit your money into them. There are very few ATM’s here that allow you to deposit money by sticking it into the machine. Matt says one of these ATM's exists in Bamberg but we are not taking an hour train just to deposit money outside of regular banking hours. The system is very old school. You go into the bank, fill out a form that has your bank account number and the amount you want to deposit, and then you stand in a line to reach the one teller that makes cash deposits, during regular 9-5 Monday-Friday bank hours of course.

6.       My blackberry. I got so use to having a keyboard that I no longer no how to use T9 and have resorted to punching the number 1-4 times to get the letter I want or up to 6 times to get the number. It’s also very small and plastic and difficult to hold. It looks like a child’s toy. In fact, most children have nicer looking cell phones in their toy boxes then I am currently using. The answering machine system is also in German…I do not know how to check my voicemail messages. ...I don’t miss the bill though. I’ve spent €40 to date on this phone and that is likely to last me at least another month before I run out of time. I might only need to add €5 more to get me through until the end of May.

7.       The ability to get milk for my coffee in a restaurant. Even if you ask for milk here, they give you a creamer. It curdles my stomach.

8.       Tim Hortons. $1.45 for a large coffee…$1.10 for a muffin. There are two German coffee shops beside the u-bahn station near my work. They are both expensive. It costs €2.20 for a small hot chocolate or cappuccino and almost as much for a muffin. I think even the German Starbucks list the same numbers as I would see at home, except here, the price is in Euros, so it’s actually 1.4x the amount. Needless to say, I don’t make going to any of these places a habit.

9.       12 Hour Clocks. My alarm clock is in 24 hour time. I never know what time it is once it hits 17:00.

10.   Regular sized shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. At home, regular bottles are 355ml, in Germany, the majority are only 250ml. So, not only are all the bottles that much smaller, but with two people using them, it feels as though a bottle only lasts 3 weeks. 

So, when I return to Canada, I will be sure to hit the Tim Hortons before I even leave the airport, either a half hot chocolate/half coffee or a coffee with milk if I so choose, I will pick a new blackberry as it will be time to renew my cell phone contract,  I will straighten my bangs effectively and they will still look fine 12 hours later and I will eat SOMETHING with real peanut butter on it. It doesn't even matter what it is.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Standing In Two Countries At One Time

Can one person really be in two places at one time? It’s every busy persons dream to be able to do so but in most cases, for example, being present at two events taking place at different locations, at one time, is just not possible. And no, commuting back and forth between two weddings like Katherine Heigl did in 27 Dresses is not the same. But the ability to be in exactly two places at one time, is not impossible, A Walk to Remember taught us that. 

The weekend that Matt and I were in Füssen, Germany we used our Sunday to go hiking around the city. Hiking isn’t something I generally make a habit of doing, but as I said, it was a Sunday and the only things open on Sundays in Germany are restaurants, some museums, and gas stations. 

We started off by hiking through the trail to get to the Lech Waterfall. It was worth the walk. The waterfall was very pretty, you could see the snowy mountains despite the fog, and it had ducks. 

Lech Waterfall

Matt loves the ducks! And no, they were not falling down the waterfall

But it was when we followed the trail on the other side of the waterfall that we came across this sign:

Republic of Austria
 So we decided to walk to Austria.

I was hoping for some sort of distinguished border, whether it be boarder control, a sign that said “you are now entering Austria” or even a line in the road. Sadly, there was nothing like that. In fact, we weren’t even sure if we wear near the border or not, we consulted our map and it indicated we should be near it if not on top of it but we had difficulty finding proof. Finally, we noticed a sign on the other side of the road facing the traffic driving towards us. I crossed the road the trudged through the snow bank to see what it said and this is what I saw:

Federal Republic of Germany
So if traffic is now entering the Federal Republic of Germany, then that must mean one side is Germany and the other side is Austria. Right? So I had Matt take a photo of me, where I am straddling either side of what I assumed to be the boarder. 

*Hallo Tyler, ich bin in Deutschland und Österreich

I realize the picture would have been better if you could have seen the FRONT of the sign indicating the Federal Republic of Germany, however, the road was busy and I was already standing in the snow bank. My feet were getting wet and I was not about to make Matt walk any further through the snow just to get the sign. But I am telling you, I AM standing in both Austria and Germany at the SAME TIME. I am standing in two places at once.

*I am also dedicating this post to my friend Tyler. He told me when he reached the border of Denmark and Germany, he would take a picture of himself holding up a sign that said, Hallo Katie! So when I reached a border, I felt it necessary to do the same, unfortunately, I had no sign making materials.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Getting a haircut in a foreign country

I have been dreading this haircut from the very moment I had my last haircut in Canada. My hairdresser told me I would at least need to get some sort of trim while I was away. Four months went by until it was starting to get bad. It had grown almost two inches and was knotted into some sort of rats nest every morning. I did the search online for hair dresser recommendations and found a recommendation from someone who also had long curly hair. According to this random, this hairdresser could cut, colour, and straighten curly hair very well. This is exactly what I needed. On top of that, the hair salon was just down the street from my work. I had put it off for another 5 weeks until I had finally had enough. I got up the courage and walked into the salon. The hairdresser was able to communicate with me in English, so I booked an appointment for the upcoming Saturday.

A number of people had posted on the Toytown English forum about wanting hair dresser recommendations and help translating various terms. A few of the replies contained the following unhelpful answer: “it’s just hair, if the hair dresser cuts it too short, it will just grow back”. While there is some truth to that statement, I am going to go ahead and assume those people don’t have curly hair. Because if they did, they would know that if you don’t cut it properly or cut it too short, you are going to end up with a gigantic puff around your face. Growing back the lost hair is a painful experience. 
I have had a number of bad hair cutting experiences in the past and I do my best now to rule them out. This has mostly been achieved by only using one hair dresser, even if that means only getting my hair cut in Ottawa. Here’s what constitutes a bad experience, as experienced by yours truly over the years:
-a hair dresser who decides to try their new ELECTRIC hair thinning contraption on your hair and do it small layer by layer despite your disagreement at how much hair they are taking out. I was 12 and this experience still haunts me.
-a hair dresser who has new highlighting caps (when caps were the popular method) and doesn’t compensate for the fact they have not yet been stretched out, therefore allowing the cap to slip up and your highlights to turn out spotted on the top like some sort of cheetah.
-a hair dresser who literally whines the whole time about how thick your hair is, then proceeds to dry it with some sort of wire bristly brush causing an 80’s look, then begins to straighten it with the flat iron and complains it MUST be taking so long because the flat iron she is using is only an inch wide and the flat iron the other hair dressers have is 2 inches wide. Yes, blame your lack of skill on the tools.
These are all signs that your hair dresser has no idea how to cut or style long curly hair and you should probably just leave immediately before it gets any worse. 

So the night before my appointment, I had Matt help me look up some German terms to help describe what I wanted as I wasn’t sure how much English she would be able to speak. I also downloaded a number of pictures onto my iPod to illustrate my descriptions. The more detail I could provide, the more likely I would be able to ward off any disasters.  

Saturday came and I didn’t need my translated list. The hair dresser understood exactly what I wanted and would double check throughout the cut to confirm my specifications. She cut it, layered it, and highlighted it very similar to my own hair dresser and I was happy with the end result. So here is the rule when finding a new hair dresser, find a good recommendation from someone who has similar hair to you, have a good idea of what it is you want, and take plenty of pictures to illustrate the cut and colour you are looking to achieve.

Here is the final result:

 This picture actually makes it look like there is a giant blonde chunk but it's just because it has all fallen over the brown low lights.