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Boxes and suitcases everywhere. This is my current reality. Those boxes we’re not shipping to Canada are full of stuff for charity. It’s a minefield.
The clutter makes me anxious. It’s a combination of excitement and being totally overwhelmed, so every now and then I find myself disengaging to regain some semblance of focus. I do this sometimes. Browse the internet, read a book (and I’m beta reading a FANTASTIC ONE at the moment), or do a watercolour. Or, in today’s reality, write a blog post.
Fair warning – this is a long post.
After Friday’s big news, we’ve had a lot of good wishes, emails and questions. I thought I’d address some of those today.
Most people were surprised that we’re so unhappy in Germany, especially considering how happy all of our photo diary posts look. I talked about this briefly on Friday, but one of the main things I’ve learned while living abroad is that you can’t judge people’s lives on an hour Skype session every now and then, or on the photos or blog entries they post online.
As a teenager, I dreamed of moving to Hollywood. At first, I wanted to act. Who doesn’t? But then, one fateful day, I saw the work of my first idol, Steven Spielberg. More than anything, I wanted to follow in his footsteps and make films. I wrote many brilliant screenplays (they were Oscar winners one and all 😛 ) and the lands over the ocean beckoned.
Little did I know back then that I would end up immigrating, but to a totally different part of the world. Germany. And today is the two-year anniversary of that move.
Life is full of little firsts. A while ago, one of these came up for Kayla, when we took her bowling for the first time.
Jan and I used to love bowling back in SA, but haven’t played in about 5 years. Thinking about it now, that puts the last time we played at before my pregnancy. Sad, but true. Anyway, we thought we’d turn a gloomy, rainy Saturday into one of those ‘remember the time when’ memories and headed out to the Rhein-Ruhr Zentrum to bowl.
There’s a feeling that fills your chest when you round that corner, or take that step out of the train station in Cologne. The first and most undeniable structure in the heart of the city is the Cologne Cathedral – majestic, impossible and awe-inspiring. It claims your every thought and emotion with its sheer size, then slams its hooks into your heart with its gothic spires, stained-glass windows and grotesque gargoyles. You’ll always kind of shiver when you recall this place, never fully capable of wording what it is you felt in the cathedral’s shadow. And an enormous shadow it is.
Well, I’m back.
This vacation was one for the record books. Having friends over was seriously special, and more so because we experienced so many new things together. It was an honour to have them fly half-way around the globe to visit us. All the warm and fuzzies were felt. Having said that, I’ll try to keep the emotions contained while I write this. You know me, a big old softie. 😛 I cry at McDonald’s commercials.
Last week, I bombarded you with images of snow. This week, it’s ice. You see a theme here? This winter has been more than a smidge colder than last, but the weather brings many new experiences for those of us originally from warmer parts.
We live close to the River Ruhr, but we also have other water in our area – fountains galore. Having said that, all of these fountains are usually turned off to dry when the daylight savings kick in and the cold starts. This means we’ve never seen water freeze over in the winter. Until this weekend, that is.
Yes, this is a German Chronicles post on a Friday. My week has been kind of topsy-turvy.
For the first time in a long time, I have a FAQ that I want to answer. Why isn’t Kayla in a preschool/nursery school/kindergarten?
The short answer is because Germany. I’m guessing that’s not what you want, though.
We’ve been ogling this castle for a looooong time. You know how I feel about castles to begin with, but this one was kind of special, and not just because it’s the template for the Disney castle. Imagine this place, with its majestic spires and pristine white bricks, keeping its vigil on the side of a snow-covered mountain, rising above a thin veil of mist. It’s the kind of thing fairytales are born of.
Even if you ignore the incredible imagery that the area has to offer, the history of Neuschwanstein is really interesting – a fairytale backstory in itself. The castle was commissioned by a mad king, who was so indebted to his people because of his obsession with building this castle, that he was taken into custody. While under arrest, he was mysteriously killed while strolling with his psychiatrist, and both bodies were found in a lake. To this day, nobody knows what happened or who killed them. Read more on Wiki.
We spent Kayla’s first two Christmases in South Africa, but for the one she was 6 weeks old and for the other, just over a year. So I doubt she remembers much. Last year, we didn’t want to make too much of a fuss, because our apartment was still temporary and we didn’t want to buy too much stuff to have to move with. That meant we had no tree. Still, I think she was too young to really appreciate all of the Christmassy stuff.
This year though, Kayla demanded that we buy and decorate a tree.
My kid will turn three in under a week, can you believe it? I struggle to.
Kayla is a happy, sweet little person. She loves to cuddle and kiss and say ‘I love you, Mama’, which obviously melts my heart. She and I have a blast together, and that’s a good thing, considering she’s home with me all the time. Honestly, I adore her and being her mom.
First of all, I apologise for missing yet another blog post on Friday. I went to my German lesson as always, then received the bad news that one of our doggies in South Africa passed away. I was really sad and shocked by the news, which really just jumbled my mind, I accomplished nothing for the day.
Along with that, Kayla is almost three and Kayla approves of nothing because she is almost three. Good grief, sometimes motherhood is difficult.
Anyway, this weekend went in much the same fashion as our weekends tend to go lately. We met with Mario and Plamena for coffee on Friday afternoon. I totally had ice cream, because, reasons.
So, Oberhausen has a schloss (this word can be used to describe anything from a castle to a manor house – in this case, it’s a manor house) and a park, but we’ve been putting off going there. First of all, the schloss is not that impressive (in our opinions) and we had no idea that Kaiser Park existed, because it doesn’t have a website. Secondly, when we have so many cool places to visit in and around Germany, why would we go to the local spots?
Yeah. We were idiots.
Kaiser Park is amazing and Schloss Oberhausen is quaint. Yes, that’s the word I’m going with. The locals call it the schweinchen schloss – schweinchen being ‘piglet’ – because the schloss is pink. Oink. OK, fine, ‘whimsical’ may have been the better word choice.
Kaiser Park has a free petting farm (we’ve been finding these all over), beautiful river views and hiking trails, and a nice kiosk next to the schloss. There’s also a restaurant and beer garden, if that would tickle your fancy. We’ll go visit the schloss art gallery sometime.
We had a lot of fun here, but nobody loves seeing and feeding the animals as much as Kayla. And then riding in a fire truck trumps all.
I’ve always had pretty good eyesight, but recently it’s been a mission to read the signs at the station, or the subtitles when I watch anime. Plus, the headaches. I knew it was time to have my eyes tested looong before I actually had them tested, but, you know, anxiety. You can guess by the way this story is going that I finally had the test about two weeks ago.
It’s the weirdest thing, getting glasses. For a few minutes after they put the glasses on me, I struggled to focus on anything. Don’t worry, it worked out eventually. High Definition has a new definition to me now. 😛
I said this last week somewhere and I’ll say it again – I feel as if a train ran over my head, realised it was on the wrong course and then reversed. I’ve been unable to stay fully awake at any given time for about 8 days solid. Hello, Monday.
This weekend was a pretty packed one.
My German lessons usually fall on Friday late mornings, but my teacher was on vacation last week, so I had the day off. This meant getting acrylics up to our elbows. Kayla and I both adore art and painting, so this change in schedule fit both our needs perfectly.
This title is probably a little misleading, because everyday is ‘girl’s day’ in my house. You know, because I stay at home with Kayla and all that. The difference is that we don’t usually have girl’s days on weekends when Jan is home.
Last week from Thursday to Sunday was Gamescom in Cologne and, being the calibre of geek that we are, Jan and I really wanted to go. Unfortunately, they don’t allow kids under the age of three, so Jan went on Saturday, leaving me and the Kayster to our own devices.
And… as always, I’m getting ahead of myself.
This second instalment of castle hopping reached over two countries. So exciting. 🙂 You can see day one here, if you haven’t yet.
Maastricht in the Netherlands was our first destination. This is a pretty amazing place, with cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings. You must be getting tired of the words ‘cobbled streets’ and ‘old buildings’. I’m sorry, but I absolutely live for the architecture (specifically Baroque and Gothic, but all of antique Europe makes me hyperventilate). And then, castles and or churches / cathedrals. But you already know that and I’m getting ahead of myself again.
This is what happens when I tell Jan he never smiles for selfies:
Friends – castles. Over the weekend, we saw three of them. OK, fine, we saw one castle and two palaces, but you get the general idea. We also visited some monuments, a small fort with an actual moat and drove between two countries. It was amazing.
Here’s how it went down.
It’s much different from zoos in South Africa, but it was still a pretty cool experience. In SA, the zoos are bigger and tend to have a greater variety of animals. It makes sense, because a lot of the animals are native to Africa.
Don’t get me wrong, Duisburg zoo still had a good variety of animals. What I liked most is that the enclosures tend to be more open, so you can see the animals easily. The lemur enclosure is completely open, so the animals can run in the trees over your head. Instead of fences, the predatory animals are kept behind glass panels, so you don’t have to strain to see through wire.
These photos are actually from my Mother’s Day weekend. It’s late, I know, but I was writing a novel! Yes, the keyword in that sentence is ‘was’. More on that soon. 😀
With the amazing spring weather, we’ve been sightseeing a lot lately. There are some pretty awesome sights to see right in our back yard, a fact we didn’t know until recently. You can’t blame us for sticking to indoor activities in our first European winter!
But anyway, sightseeing is how we came across Schloss Broich. It’s like 4 km from our apartment and is adjacent to one of the most beautiful garden parks we’ve been to so far.
Inside the Schloss itself is a mini museum with some treasures from the area in olden days. In fact, as far as we understand, they’re still excavating antiquities on the site, while restoring the tower.
You know how I feel about castles by now, otherwise you must be new here. Welcome! As always when faced with a castle, I was pretty giddy with excitement. Add to it the fact that there’s a museum inside, FREE OF CHARGE, with chainmail and all the old weaponry you can think of, and all my weaknesses were exploited. 🙂
Japan Day is a big thing in Düsseldorf every year. Massive crowds of people dressed as their favourite anime / manga characters (or even some characters that don’t fall into that category), good food, fireworks and a lot of fun is to be expected. It’s a highlight on the calendar! But then, going out to Düsseldorf is a highlight on its own. You know how I feel about that city if you’ve been around my blog before.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The most of my weekend was spent writing. Yes, I’m still not done, but I’m getting there. If all goes according to plan (and it had better), I should be done by the end of next week at the latest. So then stuff on the blog should go back to normal again, I promise.
On Ascension Day, we hopped a train to Werden. This picturesque place is a suburb of Essen and is seriously gorgeous. The buildings are still in the old style and there’s almost a fantasy-type vibe to the old taverns turned cafés. Walking through those cobblestone ways certainly piqued my creative flow.
Then, there’s the parks and greenery. I could tell you how brilliantly green the grass is, or how amazing the trees look. I could tell you how warm the sun was and how tranquil the flow of the river made me feel. But then, I’ve recently been instructed to ‘show, don’t tell’, and you know what they say about pictures and words. 🙂 So, have a look!
We’ve been living in Germany for seven months. Can you believe that?
It’s been interesting. We’ve been adapting. There are still better days and worse days, but overall, we’re finding our feet. Jan is starting with German classes soon, and our landlady has undertaken to teach me too. Once he learns, I’m sure my own learning will accelerate. Honestly, I’ve been so caught up in my book, that I haven’t focussed on learning German like I used to. It’s my fault, I know. I just have divided priorities between my kid and hubs, my writing and keeping house. Being a work at home mom is difficult enough without adding learning a language to that. 😛 But as soon as the book is in for round two of edits, I’ll throw myself at learning German again.
OK. Obligatory update out of the way. (If you want a more detailed update, let me know.)
So spring in Germany. I mean, WOW.
This weekend was a sunny one. After the rainiest two months of my life, we’ve been extra thankful for every ray of sunlight coming our way. Hopefully, that statement didn’t jinx it…
Anyway, all of the sunshine means a lot of outdoors activities, even if it’s still chilly out. This weekend, we went walking a lot and we went to Carnival.
Now Carnival, or ‘Karneval’, is usually around Rosenmontag in February. Of course, I mentioned the rain in the first paragraph, and that meant that the main event for Karneval had to be postponed. Sunday was the big day for the carnival to take place, and we headed to Düsseldorf with some friends to see it unfold.
Coming from Johannesburg, I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t seen real snow before in my life. Sure, there were two occasions, but I’ve never seen enough of it to cover the ground. This is why moving to Europe had me hopeful for some snow this winter.
Of course, it doesn’t really snow in our part of Germany. According to all of the people we know who have lived here all of their lives, it only snows here once every three or four years, and then never for more than three days at a time. This year, the forecasts for snow were few and far between, and the locals never believed it would really snow.
Until one fateful morning.
We used to live in a country where fireworks are illegal. So imagine our surprise when we first saw different kinds of fireworks for sale in basically any shop you can imagine in Germany. Here, it’s a massive tradition to shoot fireworks on New Year’s eve (more than anywhere else I’ve ever heard of). The people believe that they’re shooting all the bad stuff from the last year away, so they can start the New Year on a clean slate. This means that millions of Euro’s are shot into the air, in one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I’ve seen in my life.
Being as crazy about animals as I am, it did freak me out more than a little that they were firing so many crackers and fireworks, while so many people have pets here. I bet they pay just as much in animal sedatives as they spend on the actual fireworks.
Before Kayla went to bed, we took her outside and lit some sparklers for her. She slept through the firework display by some miracle. I still have no idea how.
Everybody who knows me is aware of my absolute fascination and obsession with castles. There is something mystical and magical about castles and the age they were constructed in. I often find myself at the base of one of these structures and I wonder how it’s even possible that they exist. How did those people with their ancient technology manage to build these massive, MASSIVE buildings and have them survive the passing of time.
Schloss (German word for castle) Burg was the first castle I’ve seen in its particular style. Unfortunately, the larger part of the castle was destroyed in a siege and was left to decay for a long time after that. It was restored in the 1920’s and is now a museum and tourist attraction. More on the history of it here.
We chose one of the coldest days of the vacation to visit this incredible place, but though our fingers were freezing, we had a blast. Painted ceilings, suits of armour, potsherds and ancient weapons fill the interior spaces. And once we were done exploring, we had a lovely waffle at the Wafflehouse.
While my folks were here, we spent a day in Amsterdam. The last time I was there, the place absolutely stole my heart. I mean, it’s not only beautiful, but the people were incredibly warm towards us and understood when we spoke Afrikaans. I loved the sights there.
This time was no different. I still love the vibe in Amsterdam, the amazing beauty of the place and the friendly people. What got me down was the sheer amount of people. 😛 With the holidays around the corner at that stage, Amsterdam was packed to overflowing. In fact, I remarked on more than one occasion that the entire population of Amsterdam (almost 800 000 people) were in the city plain at the exact same moment. It felt that way for sure.
The other difference between my first and second visits to Amsterdam was the weather. The last time we were there it was all sunshine and warmth. This time it was pretty much freezing. Did that take away from the experience? No.
Aachen is a beautiful town in Germany on the border with Belgium. It’s one of those typical European places, with the most beautiful building style and cobbled streets. The Aachener Dom is a picturesque cathedral, though not nearly as magnificent as the Cologne Cathedral. It’s still pretty though. It was being renovated on our visit, so we hope to go back one day when the renovations are complete.
Aachen is famous for the printen biscuits. It’s a type of soft Lebkuchen (gingerbread), sweetened with honey or syrup and often covered in chocolate or marzipan. Some varieties are decorated with various fruits and nuts. This stuff? Amazing. Like seriously, amazing. I’m not a gingerbread fan overall, except where my mother in law’s gingerbread cookies are concerned, and then I only want them on a good day. But the printen biscuits are seriously yummy. We got ours from the prettiest bakery you’ll every lay your eyes on, the Nobis Bakery near the cathedral.
To round off our visit in Aachen, we made a stop at the Lindt factory.
Am I addicted to great architecture and lead-glass installations? Why, yes, I sure am.
That statement means cathedral and church-hopping is on my A-list of things to do and sights to see. The Cologne Cathedral (Or Kölner Dom, as the Germans call it) is AH-MAZE-ING. It is, without any trace of a doubt, the biggest structure I have seen in my life.
The Gothic style has always been one of my favourites. The detail, arches, gargoyles and just everything about it screams to me, and I feel a deep affinity with it. The Kölner Dom does not disappoint. The structure took over 600 years to build (with a time of rest included in that period) and was only complete for a short time before the Second World War, which saw it heavily damaged by bombings. The tall peaks of the cathedral were easy targets in the war, so it was often attacked. This tragedy means that a lot of the structure as it now stands is the work of modern repair, clearly distinguishing the original stones from the new ones.
Having said that, the building is still absolutely majestic and unbelievable. The sheer mass of it is mind-blowing and has already inspired magical stories in the back of my mind. I would recommend it to any lover of architecture and anyone else who wants to be awed. It’s absolutely worth the trip.
The title should probably have read ‘all the same places’, because that’s where we went. But we wanted to show my parents the places we like to go, so that means Christmas markets. We had some delicious gluhwein and gluhbeer, some traditional food and sausages, and just enjoyed the sights. The only difference is the vast amount of people that showed up since we saw the same sights with Willem. If you thought it was busy then, you were wrong. It’s like an anthill now.
My mom brought Kayla a variety of home made gifts (great fun for the kiddies!!) and Kayla adores it. Her favourite is a felt fishing pond and fish. I’ll do a post on this specifically if you want it, but it’s so simple to make and it keeps her busy for long stretches of time. Thanks Mom!
Yeah, I know. ‘Yesterday‘ ended up being a week. Humblest apologies. Our pictures with Willem from the Christmas market at Dortmund will feature today.
Can I just say that I love Christmas markets? One thing we’ve noticed fairly quickly here is that Christmas celebrations in South Africa pail in comparison to those in Germany. Goodness, the people here go all out. I love the lights, the vibe, the gluhwein and the general feeling in the streets. Not even the rain can bring the people down from their reindeer-driven Christmas sleds. It’s awesome! We’re taking my folks to see it for sure.
The Christmas tree in the market is made up of 1700 individual fir trees and is 45m high. It has about 48000 lights!
Continuing from yesterday, I’m going to share more pics with you from my brother in law’s visit.
On Sunday we went to CentrO’s Christmas Market and on Monday we visited an amazing indoor kid’s playground in Oberhausen. Kayla had a blast, but I have to admit that we ‘adults’ had just as much fun. I know a few people who would love it there too (AKA Franco and Lorenzo). We’ll definitely be going back there when my folks arrive.
We had some yummy treats at the Christmas Market and I bought my first gifts for my loved ones back in SA. Here are some shots of that.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a visit from my brother in law. It’s been amazing to catch up and explore Germany together, with the added bonus that Jan’s taken a few days off to spend with us. We’ve done all kinds of awesome things, and before we head out again for the day, I want to share some of the things we got up to over the weekend.
Today’s post will share photos from Friday and Saturday. We spent some time in a playground on Friday and went to Essen’s Christmas market on Saturday. Limbecker Platz has the coolest Christmas décor, with a massive Christmas ball made up of balls hanging from the ceiling. I also had my first gingerbread latte from Starbucks on Saturday. Can you say ah-may-zing!?
It’s probably about time I give you an update on how things have been here in Germany. It’s been almost three months now (we’ll reach the official 3 mark month on the 25th of November) and a lot has happened in that time.
First of all, we’re going to stay in the furnished short-term rental for a while longer. I’ve mentioned that finding a permanent place has been a struggle and this is still the case. But at this point in time, I don’t mind. We’ve settled in here and we like it. The neighbours are amazing people, we’re close to shops and the train station, and there are some pretty great parks in the area too. With the idea that we’re staying here, the knot in my stomach has loosened. It’s less stressful when you’re not constantly worrying about where you’re going to move to next.
Overall, we’re adapting.
Wow. Here we are, aren’t we? Last week this time, I was getting ready to get on a plane. I was a bundle of nerves mixed with insane excitement. Since then, a lot of people have asked how we are and if we’re adapting.
The answer is good and yes. But I’ll get there.
The flight was interesting. First of all, Kayla apparently likes flying about as much as I do. This means not a bit. It also means she was crying and moaning basically constantly, didn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time and was soaked with sweat for the entire flight. Also, a lot of things went wrong.
For example, I had to handle Kayla and two hand luggage bags, as well as Barney (where could any parent of a toddler possibly dare to go without a Barney toy?) on my own at all of the airports where we landed. Both of us were airsick, so I skipped breakfast. Not a smart move, as I’d later discover. At Frankfurt airport, I had to be patted down at passport control, because Kayla refused to let go of me for an instant to be scanned. This meant stripping down and having my shoes and things scanned too. It also made me late for my flight.
Now, at this point, both Kay and I were exhausted. Neither of us had slept on the flight and I was still nauseous. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Jan had taken a train to meet us at Frankfurt and fly the last part with us to Dusseldorf. I clung to this, knowing everything would be OK once we were together again. I promised Kayla over and over again that she’d see her daddy there.