Friday, June 28, 2013

No Love For Germany (Or For The Ex-pat)

We are off exploring Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, and Russia right now. Enjoy this post in my absence. See you back on July 8th when I can tell you about it. (I am currently interested in finding bloggers who would like to post on my blog when I am off exploring every country in Europe. Are you an ex-pat or travel blogger? Would you like to guest post every now and then while I am gone? Email me or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!)

I am feeling quite frustrated right now. I had no idea when I moved to Germany what I would be missing out on. Things that I totally took for granted when I lived on American soil.

Let's start with the television show The Office. I LOVE this show. My brother is exactly like Jim. Looks like him, talks like him, makes the same funny faces as him. And Jim is a pretty funny guy. I used to DVR the show and look forward to Thursday night when I could put my kids to bed and stay up with a pint of pear flavored ice cream (it's delicious) and watch The Office. Can't do that here. First, I don't have a DVR. Second, I can't find any stinking NBC to watch in the mix of German channels we get. Then I saw that NBC had an app for the iPad where you could watch your shows. I shouted in glee. Downloaded the app. Sat waiting in pure anticipation. And then this popped up on my screen.

What? Why can't I watch The Office in Germany? Why is Jim's humor, Pam's wit, and Dwight's schemes available only to people in the States? Don't they know that the writing of The Office could unite the world into a more peaceful and loving place? But NO. The Office has been placed in an unreachable nirvana to me. And now I have some crappy, useless NBC app on my iPad that mocks me every day.

But it doesn't end there. I read MSN and NBC news quite often, and I really enjoy funny clips that are usually attached to these articles. Guess what? Can't watch those either.


My friend emailed me and told me that I had to watch this hysterical video of sailors dancing to this Gangnam Style song. We weren't listening to German radio at the time (too many F words) so we had no idea what this song was. We pulled up You Tube and searched for it. And this is what we saw.

Yeah, right you're sorry. Now I'm just feeling picked on and left out. It's like there is this cool kids club that has all these inside jokes and neat places they go. And I catch snippets about how funny these things and awesome these places are. I try to follow these cool kids, but I get lost in the woods. Or in Germany's dang GEMA rights blahblahblah stuff. Doesn't anybody out there realize how unfunny the German people are? These people need sailors dancing to Gangnam Style. They need Jerry Seinfeld. Desperately!
It doesn't end there. My two teenaged children live and die by the clothes they wear. So obviously Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch are staples around my house. They can be really expensive clothes. These brands are available to people here in Germany, but at full price in Euros at the mall. I snickered to myself. I had a way around that full price monster. I am on the email list to get 30% off coupons sent to me every couple of weeks. I would get that coupon, go to the website clearance section, and load up on these name-brand clothes for my kids. At least that is what I used to do. Imagine my surprise the first time I tried to enter the coupon at the check out and this is what I saw.


Are you kidding me?! All I want to do is buy my kids some stupid trendy clothes at discount prices and now I can't! Doesn't anybody know how expensive stuff is in Europe? We have to have discounts. We have to have coupons! For the love of all that is good, will someone please come to their senses and make these things available in Germany!

And just to add insult to injury, ever since I put my current city on Facebook as Heidelberg, I am besieged by ads in German. Slutty, lingerie ads a lot of the time. I get that Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company and they want to keep it free for their users so they have to put ads on there. But with all the things that Facebook is trying to do to make it easier for their customers, don't you think they could look at the language I post in and, I don't know, maybe put ads in that same freaking language? Hmmm? Just a suggestion from me to you, Facebook. If you ever want me to click on the those annoying side bar ads, make sure I can read them first.

Thank you for reading my mini-tantrum.
Peace out,

What things have you found worked differently for you since moving abroad?
PS Even if you are not an expat or travel blogger, but you can write a post that is relatable to my content, I would love to have a guest post from you. After all the discrimination I wrote about above, I really can't be discriminating myself, can I?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Speak An International Language

With all the traveling we have done around Europe this past year (12 countries in 10 months) I have learned a couple things.

1 - You can almost always find someone who can speak English. And...
2 - Even if you can't find someone who speaks English, there are words you can say that are understood by everyone.

Here is a list of words that have migrated into all languages in Europe.

The word okay has become ubiquitous across Europe. I had no idea that people in Germany used it. Then we went to France. They used it there. Then we went to Italy. Okay was there, too. I've heard it said in conversations from Greece to Belgium. So if you want to answer in the affirmative to someone who speaks a different language, answer okay. It's their language too.

I've mentioned before how surprised I was when we came here and stop signs said, well, Stop. I asked Matt why they didn't say halt. All the other signs that tell you to "Stop here on red," say "Halt heir auf rot." It got me thinking. Maybe there is just one company in the whole world who manufactures stop signs and instead of making the signs in individual languages, they just taught the whole world the word stop, there by reducing their manufacturing costs by millions! We've never had to use the word stop when we've been out and about. But I can imagine that it would come in very handy say in a bar or nightclub. "Hey! Stop!"

Yep. The word for an informal good-bye in Italian is heard everywhere. I really prided myself on learning the sing-song way Germans said tschüss. Imagine my surprise when it's answered with a ciao! instead of a tschüss back. I can't bring myself to use ciao anywhere but in Italy. I remember back home in the States, people who prided themselves on being "international" would always say good-bye by saying "Ciao, baby." It was always met by eye-rolling from everyone else.

The word for excuse me in German is a mouth full. Entschuldigung. Matt and I went to the crowded local Ikea store one day and I kept bumping into people. I kept having to lean over to Matt and whisper, "How do you say excuse me again?"

"Entshuldigung." I had to ask him no less than seven times how to properly say this word. Just last week, after months of feeling like I had mastered it, he pulled me aside and said I was dropping the D sound. Back to work. If I had only known then that most people here know the word pardon, said with a long O sound, like the French say it. And not just in Germany. Pardon is said in Romance languages and Slavic languages. So the next time you are in a crowded Ikea anywhere in Europe, just save yourself the trouble and say, "Oh! Pardon!"

Everyone, no matter what language they speak, knows this one. Say with a firm shake of the head and you'll get your message across.

Do you feel prepared to visit Europe now?

But I have some advice. Even if you travel to somewhere where everyone speaks English (like Sweden) I recommend learning the words thank you and please in the native language of the place you are visiting. You wouldn't believe the smiles we get when we say thank you to someone in their language, even if they speak English fluently. When you travel abroad, most of the people you will deal with work in the service industry. Hotel staff, waiters, cashiers at small stores. Trust me, you will get much better service and maybe even a smile (a rare thing in Europe) when you break out that dekuji (thank you in Czech) or tack så mycket (thank you in Swedish). It also helps you connect to the people and that culture just the tiniest bit more.

Happy travels my friends!


We leave for Stockholm, Sweden, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia in 3 days! Have you been there? What should we see?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ceský Krumlov Love - Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

I had to start out this post with a photo. Cesky Krumlov was so unexpectedly beautiful. So quaint. So perfect after a hot, crowded day in Prague.

Cesky Krumlov is located about 160 kilometers south of Prague in the Czech Republic, not far from the Austrian border. When we did our reading about Prague, my good friend Rick Steves informed us via his book that close to 90% of visitors to the Czech Republic see only Prague and never venture out into the countryside. Wanting to break the "tourist mold," we got in our car and drove the two hours to see this village on the Vltava River in the rolling hills of the Czech Republic.

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

During our time in the Czech Republic, I kept slipping up and saying Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists. Czechoslovakia was a country that I learned about in high school. It's strange to travel Europe with the map of my childhood in my head, a map of areas that go by different names now.

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov is known for being a picturesque town built on a bend in the Vltava River. The town also has a large castle, a fact that is unusual for a town as small as Cesky Krumlov. Cesky Krumlov has been settled since the late 13th century. It was an important stop in the trade routes of southern Bohemia.

Castle at Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

I love history. When we go places like this, I love seeing the sights, but also knowing the "why" behind the sights. Why was this place special? What caused people to settle here? I was especially fascinated with the history of the Czech Republic and former Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was formed from the remains of the fallen Austro-Hungarian Empire that collapsed at the end of WWI.

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov (pronounced Ches-key Kroom-luv) was full of little cobblestone streets and alleys like this one. Even though it's a small town, we spent hours wandering its winding streets that climb towards the castle on the hill.

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

The exterior of the castle. The Cesky Krumlov castle is highly decorated with paintings and murals. Some of the exterior artwork is actually carved into the different layers of the stucco like cement that cover the castle.

Castle at Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

Many people have remarked to me how lucky we are to travel and what a great experience this is for us and for my children. A fact that I won't dispute. In our pictures we are all usually smiling and happy and the sun is shining. That's because I don't usually take pictures of the bad moments. Take this photo here. At this exact moment we are all happy. But what you don't see is that about five minutes after this photo one of my children threw a major tantrum (read tired, hungry, and sick of waiting for the castle tour to start). To save this child embarrassment I won't name them, but this child was acting like a complete butthead (they were probably calling me some choice names in their head too) and I wanted them to go sit in the chairs off to the left to separate them and let them cool down. They didn't want to sit in the chairs and they let me know it. What followed was a scene where this child and I had a battle of wills. It was great fun. I was mad and the child thought I was "The meanest mom in the whole wide world." Which at that moment, may be true.

Castle at Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

But then I started thinking. Would the meanest mom in the world take their child to such a beautiful place? I don't think so. I'm not saying that I'm not mean, but meanest in the world? I believe that's up for debate.

Castle at Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic - Vltava River

The castle tour is offered in Czech and English. For some reason the English tour is almost twice as much as the Czech tour. I guess English demands a higher rate because it's harder to speak or something. Rick Steves recommended if you take the tour, just take the Czech one and get the English brochure. So that is what we did. We met at the tour starting place and the tour guide started rattling facts off in Czech. After about three minutes the other family leaned over and asked "Excuse me, but do you guys speak Czech?"

"No," we answered. "But it's okay. We just want to see the inside of the castle."

"We don't speak Czech either!" She went on to convince our tour guide to give us the tour in English. So we got an English speaking tour for the price of a Czech tour. Not a bad deal. I felt bad for the guide though. His English was good, but you could tell he was extremely nervous speaking English to us. We kept reassuring him, "Your English is really good!" Really good may have been a stretch, but it was a heck of a lot better than our Czech.

Here Aidan is trying lift this stone sphere off of the wall. Good luck son.

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

View of Cesky Krumlov from the castle.

The willingness of our tour guide to give us our tour in English was just another example of the friendliness of the Czech people that I felt we experienced while we were here. Everywhere we went, from the apartment we rented in Prague to this little hilly town, we were impressed by their kindness.

Castle at Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

Interior of the castle courtyard.

Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

The Czech people have always been a peaceful people it would seem. They rejoiced when the Nazis left in 1945 and had one day of their own government before a government influenced by communist Soviet Union came into power. They existed as a satellite state of the Soviet Union. On November 17, 1989 a student demonstration in Prague started what is known as the Velvet Revolution. With the collapse of other Warsaw Pact nations and increasing protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced that they would relinquish power. It was called the Velvet Revolution because it went so smoothly. So smoothly that not one Czechoslovakian died or was injured during the coop. Not even a broken window to speak of. I think that is just a testament to the attitudes of peace that the Czechoslovakian people have.

Bears at Cesky Krumlov castle

Outside the castle in the moat area, there are bears kept in pits. The bears are said to be directly descended from bears put there by the ruling families of ancient Bohemia.

Vltava River Cesky Krumlov castle

Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the separate nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1,1993. The Slovakian areas which had a different language (Slovak) and demographics than the rest of the country, felt that they would be better served and represented by their own government. The country divided itself along language and cultural lines.

Vltava River Cesky Krumlov castle

The breezeway on the castle grounds. 

After walking up hills, and touring the castle we ate ice cream on the banks of the Vltava river, cooling our feet (and my temper) in the cold water. Andre really got into the ice cream eating, as you can see.

We finished out our day by having a traditional Czech dinner in restaurant built in old catacombs under the town square.

Catacomb restaurant Cesky Krumlov

They cooked the food right in front of us at this rustic little kitchen complete with open fire pit. It however wasn't complete with the bodies that used to be entombed here. I asked our server what was done with them, but my question was only met with nervous laughter and the word, "Yes." Having had my own foreign language struggles, I knew that he had no idea what I asked so I let it drop. I guess the missing body mystery will stay just that. A mystery.

Catacomb restaurant Cesky Krumlov

The restaurant, called Katakomby, was clean and the food was great. Plus, there was the added benefit of wondering if a ghost would sit down next to us. We left disappointed that no non-earthly specters joined us, but not disappointed that we had spent our time in this unique and tasty restaurant.

The door down to the restaurant was tiny and led to a small, stone stair way leading down to the catacombs. Matt stands here showing how small it was. 

Catacomb restaurant Cesky Krumlov

The entrance for the restaurant is hidden. If you want to eat here, you have to work for it. The restaurant is located on the west side of the main town square underneath a Chinese restaurant.

It was starting to get dark when we drove out of Cesky Krumlov. But there was just enough twilight to enjoy the hills of the Czech Republic as we drove back to Prague. We had such a great time (except for the scene in the castle grounds) that this trip has been elevated to one of my favorites. If you have the chance, you should definitely Czech it out.

Na shledanou,*


*Czech for good bye.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Old Prague - Czech Republic, Part 2

Our trip around Prague continues...

Click here on Prague, Castles And Cathedrals to read about the first part of our Czech adventure.

Prague is a gorgeous city in ancient Bohemia and in the current Czech Republic. Every corner we walked around we were so excited for the surprise that awaited us.

Prague, Czech Republic

Streets like this, with little gas-lit lamps and flower boxes on the windows.

Prague, Czech Republic

And streets like this, where the buildings have meticulous works of art on them.

The biggest must see of Prague is the Old Town Square. And located in the Old Town Square is the Prague Astronomical Clock, or Prazský orloj. The clock was first put up in 1410 and it is the oldest astronomical clock still working.

Prague Astronomical Clock, Czech Republic

We decided that was something we really wanted to see, so we headed over to the clock at noon to watch it chime.

Prague Astronomical Clock, Czech Republic

It was a little bit of a let down. These doors open up and statues of dower apostles file past. And then the doors shut. Matt and I looked at each other and we said at the exact same time, "That was it?" Oh how I love that we are both unimpressed by the same things.

Prague Astronomical Clock, Czech Republic

The clock was made even less impressive by the fact that at least half of Europe and a third of America was visiting Prague this weekend. I stood in the square and more than once uttered, "Who in the heck are all these people?!"

I may have also thought, "What made them think they could come to Prague the same time I did?" I'm kind of a snot, huh?

You see, I feel like Europe is mine. Like mine personally. Like I'm the first American to come to Europe and to fall in love with it. We've lived in Germany for 10 months now and other than our first trip to Paris in August, 2012, we've done all our traveling off season. With the arrival of June and higher temperatures and sunshine, tourist season is upon us. Prague had also flooded the week before so Matt and I were sure that people would have cancelled their trips and we would have Prague to ourselves. Nope. Maybe all these people thought the same thing. Boy, we were all in for a surprise. I guess I'm going to have to learn to share Europe with the rest of the world.

Jan Hus Memorial, Old Town Square, Prague

At the center of the Old Town Square is a memorial to Jan Hus, a Czech priest who lived between 1349-1415. He thought all the same things as Martin Luther did, only a century earlier. He was burned at the stake for heresy against the Catholic Church. He is considered the first church reformer. Why was Jan Hus burned at the stake and Martin Luther heralded as a reformer? Mostly because Jan Hus was Czech and Martin Luther was a German. The Catholic Church thought it was a lot easier to make an example of Hus. Burning a German at the stake would have caused much more of an uprising. 

Old Town Square Prague

Every which way you turn in the Old Town Square gives you glimpses of the true beauty of Prague.

St. Nicholas Church Old Town Square Prague

St. Nicholas church.

Old Town Square Prague

Prague can trace it's beginnings to a Celtic settlement that started in 6th century AD. Prague flourished during the 1300's as capital of Bohemia. It was an important city for the Habsburgs (those guys in charge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The city became an economic powerhouse in 1771 and rich merchants filled the city with churches and palaces. They gave Prague the Baroque architecture that it is known for around the world. 

Týn Church Old Town Square Prague

This church looming like a specter from behind the jaunty pink and yellow buildings is the Týn Church, or Church of Our Lady before Týn. It was built in the 14th century. It gave my husband, Matt, the willies. He said it looked just like that place in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where the guy with the big nose took the children. He kept giving the church sideways glances. I think he was having memories surface about nightmares he had as a child about being stolen away by a man with a big nose. I stroked his arm and told him that nobody was going to steal him away now.

Charles Bridge Prague

We followed the crowds over to the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge connects the two halves of Prague over the Vltava river. It is the oldest stone bridge surviving and still in use in Europe today. 

Charles Bridge Prague

Here we are walking over the bridge with all the other tourists. It wasn't just the fact the Prague was crowded that we were having a hard time with. It was also really warm and we were totally unprepared. We brought shorts and T-shirts so clothes weren't the problem. We just really weren't ready mentally to battle that kind of heat. After the cold temps and rain we had just had on our trip to Berlin, the heat and sunshine were a shock.

Charles Bridge Prague

This is King Charles who laid the first stone on July 9,1357 for the bridge. Prague is really into statues. They are in the squares. They are on the bridges.

Charles Bridge Prague

They put statues on the tops of their buildings. 

Prague Czech Republic

They even stick them on the sides of buildings. Heck, if you hold still long enough they might put a statue on you.

Old Town Prague Czech Republic

Not that I'm complaining. Prague is a breathtakingly beautiful city. One of the reasons that Prague is so beautiful is because it suffered relatively low bombing damage during World War II. Hitler entered Prague in 1939 and claimed it to be part of Germany. Prague was liberated from Nazi Germany by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.

Old Town Prague Czech Republic

After seeing the main sights and attractions in Prague, I just aimlessly wandered around the Old Town. Aimless wandering is one of my favorite things to do in a new city. You never know what you are going to come across or discover when you turn the corner.

Old Town Prague Czech Republic

I love walking along the streets, mixing with the locals, finding little shops and eateries. And mostly just seeing the city. Marveling at the architecture. Unfortunately, my children tire quickly of aimless wandering in crowded hot cities so there often has to be promises of ice cream to be eaten in the shade.

But after all the aimless wandering and scoops of ice cream and pastries eaten, what I'm really hoping is that these trips, this time in Europe changes them. Like it's changed me. I hope they realize how big the world is, yet small at the same time. How beautiful it is. I hope they learn that you don't need to be scared of cultures or people that are different from you. How beauty is in the differences. I hope they learn to act local, but think global. I hope they learn that with all the history out there that they are a part of it. No matter how small, we are all a part of it.  I hope as adults they will sit around in some cafe in Paris or Madrid and have a sibling reunion and remember their childhood in Europe. I hope that after all the hot car rides and miles walked and shoes worn out and strange beds slept in, that they will still have a love of new places, languages, and stories. I guess I hope that by showing them the world they will want to make it a better place.

Na shledanou,


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