Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gluhwein Is Hot Wine

      Lately we've been attempting to get out and about as much as we possibly can. At this point it's slightly difficult because we don't have a car. But Steven's sponsor has been helping us out. He and his family have been really great to us. We really appreciate them.

(Side note: Apparently, I wasn't completely off about our American license being good in Germany--it is. We could rent a car, and drive around--legally. HOWEVER, because we will be residents here we need European license plates on our cars, and we can't get those without a license. Hence the test we must take. )

     Through our sponsor and his family we have also met a few other couples. One of those couples is in a similar situation as us, (they arrived a week before us) and we've joined them on a few excursions. We are really lucky to have a Sponsor like we do; some people do not have as good of an experience--and I imagine that would really put a sour taste in your mouth about where you are stationed.

     Thanksgiving was different for us this year; it didn't happen. But don't cry for us Argentina, because we had an early Thanksgiving with Steven's family before we left for Germany.

(Side note: Germans do not celebrate Thanksgiving....Thanksgiving is an American holiday...just a reminder).

      The neat thing about being stationed in Europe is Steven gets BOTH American holidays AND European holidays off--so that translates to us having a four day weekend about once a month! Excellent.  This Thanksgiving holiday was no exception; the whole base was shut down for four days. So we took a cab in to Vilseck. Let me just take this time to address a myth about Europeans, (or at least our area of Germany anyway):

Myth No.1: "No one drives in Germany. Everyone rides their bike, or walks, or takes the train." Well this is kind of true. Inside the little villages, everyone walks--or rides their bikes. But to get from one village to the next is usually done by train, or car. The train isn't always the best bet either. The train leaves every thirty minutes, (or every hour in some places) and makes several stops. Sometimes driving is the fastest/most convenient way to get around--and it appears plenty of people do it; especially in winter.

        We took a cab to Vilseck because the little village is actually a couple of miles from base. We probably could have walked it, but--it's just really cold out there.

            Vilseck is adorable. We stopped at a cafe/bakery, and had coffee (the coffee here in Germany is fantastic by the way!) and sandwiches

        We were joined by a German man, who asked to sit down next to us. They seem to do that here. If you are sitting with someone at a table fit for four, someone will likely come and ask to sit in the vacant seat next to you. They wont necessarily want to have a discussion though. To me this is funny because in America, we would not only leave those chairs empty--we would attempt to place a whole a extra table worth of distance between us and the next party. We had a great little conversation with this local German man. I use the term "we" extremely loosely, because really Steven did all the talking. Steven assures me that to Germans he sounds like a three year old when he's talking; to me he sounds fluent. I'm glad he can speak what he does though because it makes getting around and functioning so much easier. Which brings me to myth number two:

Myth No.2: Everyone speaks English in Germany! No. No they don't. It is true that many people speak a little english, particularly in larger, more urban and "touristy" areas. However, do not count on it. We had quite an embarrassing moment in a shop when we asked for the bathroom. Apparently, "bathroom" doesn't exactly translate. They had no idea what we were asking for. Eventually, after much trial and error, a german woman, (who did NOT speak any english) said, "Oh!!! toilette!!!"  Needless to say, not being able to speak the language here is completely embarrassing, and limiting. So I'm on Rosetta Stone, and I will also probably enroll in the German class they offer on base.

Steven's sponsor, (remember--this is the guy who is helping us get settled in, and acquainted with and acclimated to Germany)  took us to the Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas Market) in Nurnberg. We went with with him and his son, a couple with two children, a couple with one child, a girl a little younger than me, (who's husband is deployed) and a man (who's wife is deployed) with two children. It was quite a crowd to say the least, but we still had a lot of fun. I thought I'd mention the crowd because it's the reason I didn't take great pictures. Here are a few:

 Here are some lovely buildings and cathedrals:

 We ate what is basically the german hot dog; only a lot better:

      We had a special, and very popular drink here called, "Gluhwein." Gluwein is hot wine that they serve around Christmas, and it's pretty tasty. Nobody freak out--I had the children's version, a "kinder punch."This brings me to another myth:

Myth No.3: "Everyone drinks in Germany, including the kids!" Nope. This is not true.

        We really can't get enough of this place. It's amazing. I'll try to take some better, more focused and intentional pictures for future posts. 

On the train to Nurnberg Christmas Market

After the Christmas Market

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Wish I Spoke German

 We're here! It's so bizarre. Like a whole other country.

This post is long, dear reader. You should either grab a snack, or go back to Facebooking. Might I suggest a brief nap in the middle?

Before I begin, I would just like to say that I wish I spoke German. While a lot of people here speak at least SOME English, all of the signs, TV stations, printed Materials, etc. are in German...I know you're probably thinking, "Duh?! It's Germany." Before I thought learning the language would simply be a bonus, It's now looking like learning the language may become more like a necessity.

The flight here was pretty terrible. And when I say terrible, I just mean 8 hours. Being seven months pregnant on a long flight is stupid. Just stupid. I thought, "Hey--I am feeling exceptionally comfortable these days. This flight will not phase me." I get a good chuckle when I think back on saying that. However, I did do everything in my power to ease the pain of jet lag; including: drinking tons of water (I got up to use the bathroom at least ten or eleven times..at least), eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding caffeine, and attempting to stay awake during the day, and sleep on the plane (well that sleep part didn't happen--you can't have everything).

When we got to the airport in Germany it was almost overwhelming. To be truthful, I think we were too tired to be completely overwhelmed by anything. But we got off the plane, started walking inside to baggage claim, before we realized: "Oh wait......where are we going?" No one told us. Why would they? So, we stopped to use the bathroom first so we could think straight. The toilets here are different. They all look like this:

We quickly realized we weren't going to be able to find baggage claim on our own without having to traverse the airport. So we asked for help. I want to take this moment to tell you that not everyone in Germany is happy about speaking english to Americans. Eventually we found the right direction, and sign overhead toward "baggage claim" but when we got close we found this:

Alright, who's with me here: in America, if you saw that in an airport you might think, "Oh wait a second...I don't think I can go through here--this must be blocked," not in Germany. So we stood there baffled, (soooo American....so so American looking) for a few seconds before finding a customs agent to ask where the baggage claim area was. She instructed us to go through the forbidden barrier. When we did we met a man who was not happy to see us. When he asked where we were going, (to STAMP OUR PASSPORTS! YAY!!!) he laughed a "stupid Americans"  laugh. Who could care. Who could even care? Not us.

When we got to baggage claim an Army guy (I'm not going to do ranks here---does anyone even know them? Probably not, so let's just make this blog easier from now on--ARMY GUY) was waiting for us, and a few other soldiers, (all going different places in Germany). We loaded up our tons and tons of luggage, (so American...so so American) on to these weird (but helpful) carts, and headed up to this waiting area, where we waited for a few hours for everyone else who was being stationed in Germany to arrive. Then we got our buses, (which was interesting because I THOUGHT we were taking trains, oh well) and headed our separate ways.

Our bus driver, by the way, was fabulous. I don't his name---I was too tired to ask. But he wore skinny jeans, very trendy--a plaid vest, (which he made LOOK trendy) and an oxford shirt. His was a little man, probably 5'8, 135 pounds--and in his later fifties, (He also smoked a cigarette that did not appear to have any odor?) his English was pretty good, but he also spoke in short sentences, "We drive all the way through to Vilseck, or we break?" He was very enthusiastic too--I think he LOVES bus driving. So, that's nice.

Anyway, the Autobahn is not insane. Forget what you were thinking. It's just like I-40, or any of the other highways you've been on. The only difference is that the people in the very far left lane can go whatever speed they want. The only problem is that there are other people on the road going the speed they want, so it's not like these drivers can just floor their Mercedes--they have to slow down and wait to find a way to get around someone. Most people are driving in probably the 90-110 mph range though; but does that really feel any different than 75? No. Not really:

(SIDE NOTE: Germans drive on the right side of the road, enter the highway on the right side, pass on the left, exit on the right, etc. They drive the same way we do. Apparently we DO have to take a test to get a German drivers license. Google really steered me wrong. However, I'm not sure if the Army is making us take that test, or if Germany is making us take that test. I'll let you know.)

We stopped at McDonalds.

Our bus driver must have thought, "Americans love McDonalds! We break here!" The McDonalds was beautiful, and clean. You know how in American McDonalds is usually relatively disgusting? At even the cleanest McDonalds there is usually ketchup on the table, or trash sticking out of an overflowing trashcan, or at the very the least there is very unkempt sweaty looking man flipping your burger, or taking your order--NOT IN GERMANY. I have not seen ALL of Germany, (obviously) but what I have seen is IMMACULATE. How?! HOW do they do it!!? I think Germans in general might just be a cleaner bunch of people. A cleaner bunch of luxury vehicle driving people.

Every car in the McDonalds parking lot was a Mercedes, BMW, or Audi--with the exception of the Volkswagon, (that must be owned the German Clampetts family). The Autobahn was no different. The majority of the cars driving looked brand new, and expensive--and small. I didn't see any Ford F-150s  (So American...so so American) for example. I know you think I'm exaggerating. So I brought proof:

Apparently these cars just aren't considered "luxury vehicles" here. I don't know if that means they are less expensive here, compared with American though--I will DEFINITELY let you know! ;)

We finally got to Vilseck, where we met Steven's "sponsor" this "Army guy," (remember I'm leaving out the ranks unless it's pertinent to the story) is like our welcome wagon. He drove us around the base, and told Steven a lot of important information. He was really nice. I'm glad to know him.

The base here is different than I expected. It's cute--the buildings have that gingerbread cottage influence to them. It's very small, (which I'm okay with)--and is a lot more German than I anticipated. It's not exactly "America" like I thought. The street signs are German, German is written is everywhere, they use German products, European outlets, the people who work here are German---it's almost like we are IN Germany? ;)

Now, for some FAQ

- It will be here in several weeks I think. We shipped the Ford Focus from Virginia before we left. But we are going to buy another car for the following reasons:
     1. We are going to live off base--and I don't want to drive Steven to base at 4:30a.m. with a newborn baby (when that time comes).
     2. We are going to live off base--and if there is an emergency, I'd like to be able to get to where I need to go.
     3. We HATE the environment, and want to pollute it as much as possible--so we need at least two cars to do that.
     4. If think I was serious about number 3, please stop reading my blog.

--Right now we are in the Army hotel, (which is very nice). We will be getting a realtor soon, who will help us find a place to live OFF BASE. Apparently they are giving the left over on-base housing to the enlisted army guys. But apparently (according to Steven's sponsor, who also lives off base) that is a good thing, because on base housing is terrible, (here anyway). But we wanted to live off base anyway.

---Anytime between tomorrow, and June-ish. But somehow this information keeps morphing, and subtly changing, but I would appreciate if you would pray that he does not deploy before the baby is born. Thank you.

It's very beautiful here. So beautiful. I'm not even going to attempt to explain it, I'll just post pictures when I take some good ones. I apologize for the lengthy-ness. And congratulations if you read all of it--that's quite an accomplishment! I would have stopped in the middle. I hope to make the next posts more brief.