Just a note to let everyone know that we made it back from Greenland. We were kind of stunned on our first day there - we took a car, plane, helicopter, and a boat. This picture is from the helicopter.
Greenland is beyond beautiful and I don't think I will be able to adequately describe it - but of course I will try. And, as always, the pictures don't hurt. I have tons that I want to put up, but obviously not so much time... so I will leave you with these. Above is our view from our hotel room - yes, there was an iceberg in our 'front yard'. It moved a bit with the tides, but it was always close.
I woke up to the sun - and today caught the sunrise, which was spectacular. Our first night there I woke up through the night in hopes of catching the aurora borealis, but I guess we'll just have to come back.
I have plenty to write about in September when we return. Until then, we'll be traveling around Iceland and trying our hardest to soak all of this in just a little bit more.
Tonight we arrived at the Blue Lagoon clinic just in time for a nice dip in the private silica lagoon. I can honestly my skin has never felt better... and I probably won't ever want to leave.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Just a note to let everyone know that we made it back from Greenland. We were kind of stunned on our first day there - we took a car, plane, helicopter, and a boat. This picture is from the helicopter.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
We arrived safe and sound. I won't be writing much while we are gone, for obvious reasons, but I just wanted to say we're really enjoying the natural beauty of Iceland... even in their 'big' city of Reykjavik!
The geology here is just amazing and we're really looking forward to getting to see the rest of what Iceland has to offer.
Tomorrow we are going to Greenland for a few days - so please send us your thoughts for safe travels! After that, it's back to Iceland.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Stefan and I had a rainy, but wonderful day in town.
We stopped at the book store and I was elated with joy to find Philip Waechter has done it again. I had not seen his book 'Sohntage' (Son Day) -which would be wonderful for new parents.
Even though we're not new parents (or expecting), we had to add it to our collection. I love his illustrations and the stories are so delightful. I have not read his books in English, but they are great in German.
Despite the rain, there were so many bright details around town. I love seeing Munich's flower planters that can brighten up any day - rain or shine... and then there are the little hidden courtyards that are just cheery and serene.
We had planned to go to Saf' Zerwirk for lunch, only to find their website is incorrect - they open at 4pm on Saturdays. Instead we went to Cosomgrill, where I had a delicious wasabi tuna burger.
Autumn is surely arriving fast. I guess it's just preparing us for our trip on Tuesday.
My in-laws just got back this week from Iceland. They said the wind made things even colder. Here are a few of their photos...
They even were adventurous enough to try the kæstur hákarl (fermented shark). Don't expect that from me!
I'm already going to start packing - I can't wait!
Friday, August 22, 2008
Stefan and I are finally able to enjoy some cake and champagne.
I used the cake mix my family sent and added some Bavrarian creme so the blueberries would stick. I could use some work on cake decorating, but at least it tastes good!
And I love champagne! We always have bottles chilling in our fridge.
I'm not a sommelier, but I get really irritated when people called sekt or sparkling wines champagne. True champagne only comes from the champagne region of France. Since we visited Reims last year, it reminds me of our trip.
As Dave Matthews said, "Celebrate we will, for life is short but sweet for certain."
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I really wish they made a Mad Libs for occasions like this. You know - the children's fun game where you enter nouns, verbs, and adjectives to make a funny story.
Instead I wrote a hokey poem with delightful photos to accompany it in order to surprise Stefan when he comes home.
Hopefully after the 10 rhyming clues (11 if you count the last happy anniversary message) he'll be able to guess what I did while he was away and where I will be taking him.
It's probably difficult for Stefan to go away on business, because I always do something exciting while he is gone... movies, dinner, anything but moping around. Lucky for him, I don't forget him while he's away. As he would probably say, 'I'm just testing things out to make sure they're OK.'
And test I did!
I spent my anniversary at... Allianz Arena! Yes, the beautiful structure that also is home to Munich's soccer teams. Can you believe it can hold 69,000 spectators and it's typically sold out?!
Stefan loves the soccer, I love the architecture - and we both win! It just so happens they now offer tours, including a VIP tour. I went to purchase tickets, only to find out the women selling tickets were entirely aware of what I was talking about, but since I didn't want to book it as a group they couldn't help me.
After going all the way out there (OK - in Munich time a 15 minute subway ride is a long time), I was just in time for the everyday English tour. So I had to make sure I was giving a worthwhile gift.
So what does a VIP tour of the arena entail you might wonder... he (we) will get an up close behind the scenes look at the inner workings of his favorite soccer team - FC Bayern München.
Not only will he get to walk through the dressing rooms, but he will also get to sit in the coaching dug out, and hang out pitch side. He'll also get to check out the press room and feel what it's really like to walk out onto the field. Of course this isn't during a game, but it will be exciting for him nonetheless.
And because I love to share, I graciously took the honor of taking photos for those unable to be in Munich: This is where the players, practice, change, get massaged, and rinse off, before they get paid way too much money.
And wouldn't you know it... there I am on the field.
For more information you can read about tours and visits at Allianz Arena.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
It's a pretty fitting theme for this week. I just happened to put it on our Amango list and it arrived today.
Amango is for Germany what Netflix is for America. If that analogy still isn't working for you, it's a home DVD delivery service where you pick the movies you want on their handy website, walk to your post box and pick them up.
It's even more of a simple process in America, where you can put mail back in your box to get picked up. Germany would rather make it's residents hunt for yellow boxes.
The anticipation for a new movie ranges between picking up a roll of film and discovering the old photos you don't remember taking (who still uses film!?) and knowing someone has a wonderful surprise for you (right Stefan?). It depends who is picking the movie. Stefan and I both have access to our list, so I can always bump my movies to the top or if I'm feeling especially nice I'll add something he didn't even realize was out on DVD.
I have wanted to see 'P.S. I love you' since I first saw the trailer in at the theater - and then even more once I found out my very own cousin has a minor speaking roll in it.
So tonight is my night. Stefan will just have to watch it again this coming weekend, because he is a sucker for romantic movies... OK, usually comedies, but I'm sure he'll sit through it so I can scream out 'hey that's my cousin!' and because he loves me so much.
Isn't love sweet?
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Today I went on a little bit of an adventure. Some bits will have to wait until Thursday, so I don't ruin the surprise for Stefan, but let me just say he's going to be fantastically excited... I am too!
Last year, for our anniversary, I came up with the novel idea of going to Reims for the champagne tours. This year I kept it more local.
We're not really gifty - we'd prefer the time together or a trip somewhere, but I do love throwing a surprise into the equation! A surprise is always more exciting than the 2nd anniversary gift of cotton or china.
Outside of planning surprises my day was spent very productively, and entailed taking a lot of photos, reading on the subway, and buying some much needed chocolate.
What I can write about today is a great discovery - Obacht' ('watch out' in English), which is in the former space of servus heimat in the über touristy Platz'l. Both shops sell similar items, however Obacht' has the most precious Münchener Kindl Matrjoschka's (those sweet little Russian nesting dolls).
Marion, one of the shop's owners, also told me they are getting a dirndl version at the end of the month, which she had a sample of behind the counter. Now I face the dilemma of figuring out which one I just have to have. I also couldn't get enough of her dog that was lounging about the store and gave her some serious eye rolling when she asked him to move.
Happily enough, right across the street is Stolberg's chocolate shop. I tried not to over indulge, but every time I walk in I have to try something new. They always have a large assortment and new flavors... and chocolate makes me happy.
I can hardly contain my excitement, but I have such a fun surprise!
My family sure knows how to make me cry. While I was in the shower I heard the buzzer downstairs, so I quickly got dressed and knew if it was important they would make their way in and ring our bell. I still had my hair wrapped in a towel when I saw it was a delivery man with a package from America.
Inside the box were two cake mixes and a frosting, along with a happy anniversary card from my family. Sent for a ridiculous $36.88. How incredibly thoughtful. It really warms my little heart. And anyone that knows me, knows that I do love cake.
Fortunately I have some frozen blueberries from our blueberry picking expedition (we went again this weekend and they were sadly closed for the season) so I can attempt to make something similar to our wedding cake. Last year when we were home around that time, my family even had the top of our cake replicated for our first anniversary - how sweet are they?
It looks like I will be baking on Thursday so Stefan and I can celebrate with some cake and champagne when he returns.
Thanks Mom, Dad, and Meem! I miss you and love you so much. ♥
It’s amazing to think of all that we have accomplished in the five years of knowing each other and two years of marriage. We've been fortunate enough to see each other through many highs and a few lows. We've visited many places that most people only dream of. We've chased and caught many of our dreams, and best of all we've done it as a team. What's equally fantastic is this is only the beginning!
While it is unfortunate that we must spend our anniversary apart this year, one day is livable when I think back to our history. It simply comes with the territory. When you meet someone so unbelievable there isn't a question as to what you do to build a strong foundation together.
Before we were married we survived two years separated by an ocean and a 6 hour time difference.
Those two years were filled with so many visits, phone calls, letters, and reuniting airport hugs that they would be impossible to count. I believe it made our friendship, communication, and feelings stronger. We learned patience, trust, and what a blessing each and every day is.
There wasn't time to take things for granted, and now that we've been through so much we don't let a day pass without showing and telling each other that we are thankful and appreciative.
We made the conscious choice to stick through struggles and invest ourselves wholeheartedly in the relationship, while also taking the time to invest in ourselves and our futures.
Looking back I wouldn't have it any other way. I truly believe distance is a wonderful challenge for a relationship and if it can withstand that, there isn't much you can't make it through together.
Stefan's humor, charm, work ethic, and sincerity are just a few of the things that I admire about him.
I also appreciate that he loves me for being me, and never once asked me to give something up or change myself to fit his agenda. What would have been easiest was if one of us dropped everything and gave up a bit of ourselves to be together, but we gained so much more in the long term by taking the road less traveled. The unorthodox approach was a testament of our strength and dedication to each other, and now the reward of being together is that much sweeter.
Rather than wallowing about how unfortunate it is that we must be apart (after all, we have two weeks together as soon as he's back), my friend - the ever wise and eloquent Lane, made a fantastic suggestion. She said that I "should celebrate the fact that I'm still my own person, the person that Stefan loves so much".
That opens up a lot of exciting things... perhaps I want to cook something spectacular and enjoy a quiet evening with a great movie, or take myself to a museum. If the weather is nice I could head down to the Isar river banks and read, sketch, and simply enjoy the sun. It's rather exciting when I look at it like that. It's a wonderful day to celebrate life, love, and happiness - all for simply being myself and having found a wonderful person that loves me for who I am.
I am excited and blessed to have such a fantastic partner in the adventure of life.
Monday, August 18, 2008
I don’t know where the time has gone. 2 years ago we were sitting at rehearsal dinner (which was held at the suites of a baseball game), with wedding jitters, knowing the next day we’d be getting married.
We invited our friends and family to the game, which was a more laid back celebration - and a first for many of the Germans. It was nice to visit with everyone that traveled so far, and to squeeze a few extra moments out of the memorable weekend that was over before we knew it.
Since then we've laughed, we've cried, and I've realized that the sport seasons never end... they only roll over into something else.
I will save all of that sappy stuff for tomorrow, but I will say I wouldn't want to be married to anyone else!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Since autumn is quickly approaching I am very happy to enjoy the hearty foods that come with the brisk temperatures and changing leaves.
When I was home, my Mom and I were at the grocery and I noticed one of the little magazines at the check out that was all about cooking with beer. I flipped through the pages and then decided to buy one. I've since been intrigued by all of the possibilities considering I live in the hometown of beer and I'm constantly looking for new ways to incorporate it into cooking. There is even a recipe for a chocolate stout cake!
Last weekend we made a verde beer soup and this weekend I decided to make some beer bread (or in my case muffins). If the grocery not been closed I would have also made a beer cheese fondue to dip it in.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Only in Europe will you have the following experience... and I am sure plenty of ex-pats can attest to this. You get tired of the food that is native to the area you live in and you seldom venture out of your realm because it's often a disappointment.
When you have your guard down and you are traveling you wonder if things are different elsewhere. Next time you have that thought please think back to reading this - STICK WITH WHAT'S LOCAL! No matter how good something sounds you will leave thinking I could make something 50 times better at home and be 50€ richer in doing so.
Absolutely steer clear of a restaurant that serves Indian, Italian, and some third cuisine. Yes, we have restaurants that are 'jack of all trades - master of none'. I assume as long as they set up shop in tourist districts they know they are going to make a killing and the people will never be back.
I didn't heed my own advice and, once again, I left severely disappointed.
I can insert whatever ethnic food that is not common here or anywhere near by (Mexican, Caribbean, etc.) For this adventure we tried Caribbean and I had read online that someone recommended it. I should have known by the name (Papa Joe's), but even still, I try my very hardest not to be prejudice, but this has happened too many times...
As soon as our appetizer came I knew we were in for it and I was happy that I didn't order anything remotely Mexican. I also clearly understood why they had an enormous drink menu, which these places often do, probably because people get liquored up and think they had a good time. No joke, the nachos that Stefan ordered were round tortilla chips and three saucers containing: guacamole (from a jar), sour cream, and 'salsa' (which was actually sweet and sour sauce) - that was it.
Next was dinner. It was unfortunate that we had already placed orders because we should have left, but the conversation was nice so before we knew it dinner was served. Stefan ordered the Saffron seafood Jambalya and I ordered a coconut chicken dish. Mine was served with rice, which brought me back to school days in the cafeteria. If they can send that awful rice over here you would think they could send decent food along with it. The coconut aspect was as if they opened a can of some coagulated drink mix and poured it over the chicken. Stefan looked at his and said 'on the menu it showed prawns...' as he dug to the bottom looking for them.
The highlight of the meal was a small British boy coming in with his parents and waiting to be seated. Near the 'wait to be seated' sign is a chair that says 'Papa Joe's chair' and something about only Papa Joe sitting there. Without hesitation after his parents told him he couldn't sit there, he asked the host (think with the best British accent) 'Are you Papa Joe?' Then he said 'Can I shit (it's the accent mixed with a slight stutter)--sit...in your chair'. I could not stop laughing. The man didn't understand him and he politely asked again saying 'I wanna sit in your chair.' They were whisked away to the table and sadly his wish wasn't fulfilled.
Neither was mine... would it kill someone to have decent 'exotic' food over here?
It's been quite a while since I have wanted to go to Innsbruck, which is really not too far from Munich. Part of the reason I wanted to go was because Tord Boontje has a Winter Wonderland instillation at Swarovski, and because the nearby Kristallwelten.
I really am the last person that has an interest in crystals or Swarovski, but this piqued my interest. I guess it's different visiting a place like this rather that purchasing, as they call it here, 'schnick schnack'. We were surprised to find the Swarovski headquarters on our trip to little Liechtenstein, and it seems as though their stores dot every major European city - at least once.
We ventured to Austria in the afternoon and stopped at Kristallwelten first. Let me preface this by saying they have a great marketing team, because it was much different than I anticipated.
We bought our ticket to enter 'The Giant', a beautiful waterfall, and then walked around the grounds admiring the art works and the hedge maze.
Once it was two o'clock we were supposed to enter the Kristallwelten. You scan your ticket and the gate opens - simple enough... that is unless everyone with their entire family hasn't decided to wait in line for half an hour before they are supposed to enter, thus blocking the entrance for everyone else.
While I'd rather refrain from using this as an instance further proving no matter where you go you will encounter stupid people that's just what this is. After standing a line that wasn't moving, we decided to walk further up and ask people what time their ticket said. Big surprise, we were standing behind people that weren't supposed to enter for a while.
Once a large enough group of us gathered and complained we squeezed past people to the front and then were herded through the various exhibits. We didn't even wait for the tour because at this point I simply couldn't handle being around people. If that wasn't enough, everywhere we went people stunk to high heavens and it was a reasonably chilly day.
Much of Kristallwelten is very avant garde. For someone that studied art history, and appreciates modern things, this was just a bit too far fetched and I can't see that it appealed to the masses. But since art is supposed to evoke questions it served its purpose.
Surprisingly there weren't even many crystals in the exhibits and there was no information on how a crystal becomes a crystal. We were simply stuck in this avant garde fun land.
The highlights for me were the Dan Flavin-esque neon lights in the 'calligraphy' exhibit, a crystal tree by Tord Boontje, the world's largest kaleidoscope, and an enormous faceted dome with changing colors that you could walk into. I must also say I liked the ceiling of the gift shop, which in true museum fashion you are forced to enter as you leave.
After this strange experience we finished the drive to our intended destination - Innsbruck.
I instantly loved all of the bright colors and proximity to the mountains. It was stunning and so Austrian.
Since I spend a substantial amount of time in Salzburg I noticed the similarities - Mozart Kugeln being sold, a place to buy Sacher Torte, and the Tomeselli Cafe even had an ice cream shop there. All of the tourist wares were the same only Innsbruck had been substituted for Salzburg. The architecture being similar would be expected. One of the big attractions in Innsbruck is the 'Goldenes Dachl' - the golden roof.
We walked around and admired all of the details. Innsbruck wouldn't be nearly as beautiful without it's bright façades.
After venturing around town we went to yet another Swarovski shop to finally see Boontje's Winter wonderland. Stefan even commented that it was more of what he would have expected from the Kristallwelten. In true Boontje fashion it did not disappoint.
During our visit Innsbruck was celebrating it's annual Festwochen, which many cities in this area celebrate at this time of year. We walked through and enjoyed a krapfen (donut). I also found it odd that many of the shops were closed, but this could be due to their Festwoche.
As the evening came we decided to do something a bit different for dinner. I will write a separate post about that experience.
Friday, August 15, 2008
I don't know how it's possible, but Munich has had nonstop rain... we fall asleep to thunderstorms and wake up to more continual rain.
The cure all to a chilly and rainy day, is soup. So that's just what I made for Stefan. I even filled his spoon with hugs and kisses.
Ridiculous - I know.
Tomorrow we are hoping for better weather in Innsbruck, Austria.
Have a great weekend!
Thursday, August 14, 2008
When I'm home one of my favorite things to do is stock up on books. Ohio is fortunate enough to have a store called Half Price Books, which are always a mix of old and new, exotic, and somewhat commonplace, but there are plenty of treasures to be found. I'm always drawn to the Travel section (for obvious reasons), the non-fiction memoirs, and the pop culture books that tie into everyday life's seemingly mundane things.
Caitlin reminded me of a book that I picked up in college about off beat travel places in the US. It includes all of those small towns that are named after more international counterparts. It also contains many well known landmarks and art works that have been replicated, so people don't have to leave the US to experience all of the wonders the world has to offer. (Such as 'Touch down Jesus' as he is affectionately called - located between Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio.)
During college, Roger, my art history professor that I adored, shared my interest in provential art and ways that art came up in the news. He photocopied a map from my book that depicted these offbeat locations, and had it on his office door for the rest of the year. He also made sure everyone in the class had a copy. Pyramids, Stonehenge made of cars, and more... all can be found in good old America.
During my trip home, I picked up another odd travel themed book that has 'experiments' and travel ideas to be the antithesis of tourist. Among the suggestions are back packing your hometown and staying at a hostel where you can meet other people that are actual tourists, or going to a city and staying up all night investigating things to do until dawn.
Another idea was the yellow arrow project, which is a global public art project that enables people that find the yellow arrows to obtain messages from the people that left them and draw attention to details that people commonly overlook. The website looks like it is going under some changes, but you can still look up your hometown or many other cities. Innsbruck, Austria - once again has something that is beckoning me with over 400 arrows. Stefan and I are considering a trip this coming weekend.
I really enjoy things that are happened upon and suggested by others, so this fits perfectly. Finding willing counterparts to accompany me may be more of an obstacle.
Here are a few really interesting websites for strange destinations:
My mom is quite health conscious and always reads medical literature. While I prefer travel literature, I'm blessed that she passes her knowledge on to me, which is one of the reasons I started using probiotics.
My favorite is this little Japanese drink called Yakult. It's similar to a drinkable yogurt, although I compare the taste to key lime pie, and it has more healthy bacteria than yogurt. I prefer the sugar light variety, although I never had the regular one with the red packaging.
When my Mom visited, she was finally able to see what I was talking about and she also enjoyed it. The problem is it's not readily available in the US outside of heavily populated Asian communities, which Ohio is lacking. It looks like something Trader Joe's (which is surprisingly owned by, the German company, Aldi), should carry.
Until then, I think of my Mom every morning as I drink my tiny Yakult.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Munich is occasionally referred to as the most Northern city of Italy. For being close to Italy and having a bit of Baroque Italian architectural influences, I haven't been overly wowed by many of the Italian restaurants here. Germany doesn't have nearly as many pizza places or chain restaurants, which is a blessing, but it also means you have to do plenty of sampling until you find one you like... and they don't deliver.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not expecting Americanized Italian, à la Olive Garden. We do at least have authentic Italian waiters, waitresses, and I assume restaurant owners, so the food is as close as it can be without crossing the Dolomites. Having wood fired pizza is one of my criteria for a pizza restaurant I will return to.
What also astounds me is that it costs close to 45€ / $70 for a simple dinner out. I know that I am reverting to thinking in dollars since my last visit, but for once we have discovered a restaurant that has portions to match - even if the price is very European.
Last night we went to went to L'Angolo della Pizza, which has been hailed as the best pizza in all of Germany, according to Munich's prosieben TV station. So much for the bias, and the fact that it is in our delightful little neighborhood, we decided to check it out. For a quiet and drizzly evening they had quite a decent crowd.
I was amazed at the portions, but the food was also quite good... and they even had wood fired pizzas. I just wish they had more exotic toppings, but I know I can't have it all.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Our upcoming trips are right around the corner - just two weeks away. I'm still overwhelmed by all of the possibility and natural beauty, but I am trying to roughly figure out places we'd visit.
I just learned that Iceland is 40,000 square miles, or roughly the size of Ohio.
Some of the things on my list to do are :
- Reykjavik - the capitol city
- Þingvellir National Park - where you can see Earth's plates separating
- Geysir and Gullfoss - a geyser and a waterfall
- The Blue Lagoon - we are staying a couple days at the Blue Lagoon Clinic, which has it's own private lagoon as well.
- Reynisbrekka (Vík) - a pluvious area with black sand beaches.
- Jökulsárlón - also looks beautiful with ice floes and icy blue waters
On a far shot I wish we had time to get to the Westman Islands and see the Puffins. How sweet is it that the children of the village help the misguided Puffins? I would surely stay up late to help as well.
As for Greenland, there isn't a lot of tourist information regarding the small villages we will be visiting (Kulusuk and Tasiilaq). I'm looking forward to a relaxing visit, hopefully with a little bit of snow - we'll definitely be open to surprises there.
I already wish that we were staying longer!
Those of you that have been to Iceland or Greenland what did you enjoy the most? I'd love additional recommendations.
Thanks so much!
(Kulusuk village photo: courtesy of Wili_hybrid)
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Stefan and I will be attending a molecular cooking course / dinner in November. We've been planning to go for quite a while and now we have a date in sight. Stefan got everything organized while I was gone for a great surprise.
It looks like molecular cooking is gaining popularity.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Lately, when I am traveling on my own I seem to encounter unexpected adventures. My trip back to Munich took longer than I had anticipated because my flight to Atlanta was delayed, which caused me to miss my connection to Munich. I was rerouted to the city I love, and the airport I hate... Paris's Charles de Gaulle. At least this time there were restrooms on the other side of the security check point.
The only benefits of this side trip to Paris were that the plane was quite empty, Delta now offers margaritas, and I had a nice consolation in being able to get a couple of French pastries. 18 hours later I am back in Munich.
It always seems easier to fly West and right now I am trying to concentrate on the positive aspects of making another trip that way in just a little over two weeks when we make our way to Iceland and Greenland.
Everything I packed arrived safe and sound thanks to my sister who helped me pack. She is most definitely a master packer. She rolls everything and finds the smallest nook and cranny to maximize efficiency, including my oversized Moroccan lantern, which she filled with things.
I'm sure TSA enjoyed unpacking that. As predicted I found one of their notes and packing tape rewrapping it. They always check my things and I'm sure they dread repacking it all.
Thanks to Meem for helping me pack - and to my family for a wonderful visit.
The time always passes so fast, but I am happy to have little reminders of them here.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
I went to say goodbye to my Grandma before I head back to Munich. It was nice to see her and hang out in her garden. I saw the 4 o'clocks (flowers) that she has passed on to my mom. I am just amazed at how much everything is flourishing in her back yard too.
She also has a beautiful fish pond with enormous fish. I loved watching them swim around and the lily pads would shake as they passed underneath.
While I'm home I always take a lot of pictures and try to take it all in and remember the little things that make my visit special.
Monday, August 4, 2008
It never fails that when I arrive back in the United States I notice many differences. The people in the US seem to be louder and more casual, they communicate more with each other in passing - making small talk and excusing themselves when they enter personal space.
In Germany, it's a dead give away you're foreign if you offer up an 'entschuldigung' (excuse me) when reaching over someone or bumping into them. I can completely see how Americans are viewed as being friendly but not always following through with social appointments, however meeting people and establishing friendships is also very different. Germans are more reserved and have many 'bekannte' (acquaintances) for years. Their friendship circles are smaller, but more established. I attribute a lot of this to the amount of space in America - interactions are less, while in Germany people seem more concerned about what their neighbors are doing and make sure people are following the rules.
The shopping areas are landscaped and aesthetically pleasing enticing shoppers to spend, the toilets lack a 'shelf' and the toilet paper is, in my sister's comparison, 'less like a paper towel'.
Despite rising food prices, I'm still quite surprised how inexpensive food is and how much of a variety there is in the US. Everything is bulk even at a normal grocery store. Suddenly deciding on what kind of cereal to buy becomes a major decision. There are always new things and new varieties of even the most familiar products. In Germany we often have 'nur für kurzeit' (short time seasonal items). I do my best not to get attached to special soups, yogurts, or speciality flavors... or I do things the American way and stock up on things I really love.
Then there is the portion size. When I'm home I always hear how America is obese, which can be attributed to many things - driving everywhere, having over scheduled lives, having fast meals on the go, genetics, etc. I notice many of the fast food restaurants try to shape things up and promote healthier items.
It's interesting to me how I can be so out of the pop culture loop. There are plenty of television shows that I have never seen and hear people talk about, and new teen queens waiting to take over their predecessor's waning positions.
I hear people complain about gasoline costs, especially because the US does not have sophisticated public transportation and I wonder how this is going to impact their future. It makes me appreciate my subways so much more. In the US outside of large cities it still seems to be a status thing to not take public transportation. I'm intrigued to see how that will change.
I've also started to see ways that I have really adapted to the German way of life. I use a lot of ground almonds in baking and thickening sauces - they aren't so easy to find here. It's also not so simple to find single things, such as one pudding or carrot.
That's one of the most difficult aspects of being an international resident - you always miss foods, places, and people, and no place ever feels completely like home. I've learned home truly is where your heart is, which for me is spread through the United States and Germany.
Now I have to deal with bulging luggage as I attempt to take pieces of the US back to Germany with me.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
I really don't know how I had never heard of The Wilds before, but I hadn't, and neither had my family. I recently read about it and learned that it opened in 1994, and visitors are welcome. Over the last 14 years it has progressively added more animals to their menagerie, and grown to become the largest conservation site in the entire US, and one of the largest in the world... right here in Ohio!
The goal of The Wilds is to advance science and conservation through experience, so my parents and I decided to take part in that experience.
Our adventure took us to Cumberland, Ohio - home of the 10,000 acre conservation site. We weren't entirely sure of what to expect, but I was like a giddy child. We decided to go on the open air safari rather than the closed air conditioned one, which was a great pick, minus the dust from the roads... but I guess that's part of the safari experience.
As the two and a half hour tour weaved around the landscape there were points in time where I wondered if I was even in Ohio. The land was spectacular and the animals were well tended to and seemed content. The hills rolled and it was speckled with lakes as well as various species in separated enclosures.
The first animals we spotted were deer at a lake and then we saw some Persian onager, which look like donkeys. They are threatened due to hunting in their native lands and have fortunately found a lovely new home. Unfortunately they are also one of two animals at the center that are branded because they will rip out each other's ear tags.
The safari ride was very informative. Our guide told us about the struggles that the animals face and what they were doing to help them repopulate. Many of the animals are from zoos and being studied for various reasons or are working to be reintroduced to their homelands.
Here are a few other interesting things that I learned:
- Przewalski's wild horses are the only true wild horses that have never been domesticated. There are less than 250 in the wild. They were very beautiful to watch and I especially loved seeing them groom each other, which looked so affectionate.
- Some rhinos will sharpen their horn using trees and rocks to form it the way they like. They also mark their paths with dung to know where they have been and often go in the same place.
- Many of the giraffes above didn't have to travel too far because two have died from urinary infections at the Columbus zoo, so they are currently being evaluated.
- The African dogs will work in teams of two chasing their prey until they are tired and then another pair will take over the job. This continues until the animal is tired and then it is repeatedly bitten and disemboweled while still alive. Our guide said a human would not last 10 minutes in their inclosure.
- The female cheetahs pick their mates. There is a female that will soon be choosing out of 6 suitors. As of now they have three females and two males. The other four males are going through their quarantine and preparation.
- Some of the beautiful Scimitar-horned oryx have been reintroduced to their native Tunisia. If they lose their horns they do not grow back. One oryx had lost both of its horns, while another only had one.
- There hasn't been a definitive study as to whether zebra stripes are white and black or actually a dark brown. Some people say they are white with black stripes since their stomachs are white.
- Scientists from around the world come to The Wilds to work without pay.
- Osprey and the Trumpeter swan have been introduced. The Osprey return to the place where they learn to fly, while the swans came from Alaska and have since made friends and brought them to The Wilds.