Friday, July 30, 2010

The joys of my job

This summer seems to be constantly keeping me on my toes. The good news is that I've been meeting all kinds of hilarious characters from all around the world. The bad news is I haven't had too much time to write here, finishing editing photos from our trip, or have much of a life.

That being said I love my job. I know I've said it before, but the world is filled with so many amazing people. Each day I learn something new about dealing with various cultures, how they interact, and how to manage 20+ people who may speak English as a second language.

All of this has been similar to what I experienced in my German course except on a more global level. Everyone has a story and I love listening to whatever they want to tell me - whether it's their view on the state of the world or customs and their favorite things to do in their home lands.

Some days I can't believe a Midwest American girl like myself has the opportunity to chat with people from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and far away lands. I've been called naïve before, but I do believe in the kindness of strangers and that regardless of religion or political beliefs people can unite as humans. (As a result I loved the book The Kindness of Strangers by Don George. It's great to read if you're sick of doom and gloom.)

Here are some of the people I've met the past few weeks:
- A Turkish couple from Istanbul with the husband having learned his English from American police shows like NCIS and CSI. He would go through his repertoire saying, "Drop your weapon - NOW!" or "I'm going to break the door down." I love that he was trying and laughing hysterically at my reaction.

- A single mother from Brazil who kept asking her son and niece "Do you love me?" She said telling people you love them is essential, even if it meant embarrassing two teenagers.

- A wonderful Saudi family, from Jeddah, who I shared the afternoon laughing with. They also loved to give hugs. At the end of the day the father told me he felt the people we spent the day with were people that he knew better than friends he'd known for a long time. The mother then started to embarrass her teenage daughter by saying "Do you love me?"

- A Greek couple who was concerned about sustainability and believed the world will revert to going local again. They talked about wanting to grow their own food, but not having enough time to do so.

- A couple from Malta that talked about their foods and traditions. Pastizzi pastries filled with peas or ricotta are something I have to try when I visit.

- An Australian woman who swore to me that Louis Vuitton stores have different prices around the globe, although they say they don't. She compares a certain purse in each country she goes to and has seen it differ up to 100€. She said the cheapest place to buy is in Frankfurt. (If you like 'luxury' items I'd recommend Deluxe by Dana Thomas, which I recently read - very fascinating.)

- A young American/Senegalese guy that now worked in Cairo as a children's advocate. He does speaking engagements around the world and had some pretty humbling facts. In 1998 the US spent $8 Billion on cosmetics + Europe spent $11 Billion on ice cream. He reasoned if people purchased from more ethical companies that money could easily give sewage sanitation and clean water to everyone in the world.

- A Canadian film maker that takes photos to create 3D images. He uses a wooden stereoscopic viewer with images he takes on his holidays to combine modern technology with some old fashioned depth perception tricks. Pretty cool!

There were plenty more that I could go on and on about.

I also had my foray into leaving tourists behind. I have honestly dreaded this day and even slightly prided myself on never having it happen. I gave everyone a marked map with the meeting location and time, I announced the meeting point when we passed it, and I waited an extra 15 minutes. Unfortunately there was no sight of the couple. I later found out they chose to stay behind, but didn't inform me, which made me feel marginally better.

The rest of the group tried to keep my spirits up. They were humorous about it too, saying 'maybe they already went to the train station'. Then it was 'maybe they are on the train'... 'maybe they are back in Munich'.

One said on another tour the guide said a 10% loss is acceptable. Then a man said I could now tell people I've left people behind to instill a bit of fear in them. With 18 other people we had to get back to Munich.

Hopefully the rest of my tours this summer will be as much fun as the past few weeks - even despite the rain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

blueberry season

It's that time of year again. We've nearly plowed through our 3 kilos of blueberries.

I didn't even make anything with them, so it looks like we'll have to pick more so I can make muffins at least.

I'm not sure how long the berries will be in season, because we've had odd weather. First, it was super hot and now it's chilly and rainy. I just don't want to be disappointed like last year when we went and they were packing up for the season. That was a disappointment I don't want to relive.

It's impressive how long the berries stay fresh when you pick them yourself. It really makes me see how long food really takes to ship.

I will love the day when I can grow my own - I need a garden.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kuala Lumpur

(This post is a follow up from our trip around the world. I will be writing a recap for each place we visited during our 4 month trip. Prior to Malaysia we also visited India, Nepal, and Thailand).

When we initially talked to friends about places we would be going on our trip we were sometimes met with surprise. Malaysia was one of those countries that some told us to forgo. Instead, we thought it would be nice to take the train through Thailand all the way down to Kuala Lumpur and then make our way to Singapore.

If we were to go back to Malaysia I think I would do things a little bit differently, but our visit worked for us at the time. The difficult aspect of planning an extended trip is that it's not easy to figure out the details of every city, let alone country, especially since our time was limited.

Truthfully I didn't have many expectations for it Kuala Lumpur. I knew it would be tropical temperatures and an Islamic city / country, so the less skin the better. Looking back at my before we left travel journal I wrote, 'I didn't have a lot of expectations, because I can't think of a specific tourist site or anything particular that I look forward to.'

What really surprised me was the American feeling I got from the city, which was nice on some levels. It has a lot of greenery, many beautiful landscaped plants, plenty of skyscrapers and many familiar restaurants and stores (California Pizza Kitchen, Ohio's own Wendy's, Papa Johns, the Gap). It is slightly different from America in that it has lots of smoking and great public transportation that is easy to navigate. It also surprised us how inexpensive things seemed. Slowly the façade was waning.

One of our first stops was the Petronas Towers and Suria Mall. If you happen to visit KL definitely try to visit the Petronas Towers bridge. Each day they give away a certain number of free tickets, which requires standing in line, but it's worth the visit.

I don't get the feeling that people spend much time outside, which can make being a tourist rather difficult. We decided to do the 'hop on hop off' bus to see some of the city while remaining slightly cooler in the air conditioning. Definitely not how I like to experience a city, but we simply had to in order to be somewhat comfortable.

We ended up visiting the aquarium, which was really nice. The fish and marine life seemed well cared for and the tanks were impressive.

Out of all of the attractions the the aquarium was definitely our favorite.

There weren't many visitors so it was easy to walk through as opposed to being herded through on their conveyor belt style floor.

We also tried out the garra rufa fish pedicure, which is the rage throughout Asia - or at least they market it that way. It's a very strange sensation to have these small fish feasting on our dead skin, but it was an experience.

We tried to brave the temperatures and humidity by visiting the orchid garden and butterfly park. The butterfly park especially was stifling. Some of the butterflies resembled birds, because they were so enormous.

The nearby orchid garden was pretty, but not what we expected.

Unfortunately there weren't too many orchids blooming, but the ones that were around were definitely beautiful.

The path ways were scattered with plumeria blossoms that had fallen from the trees. Tropical flowers everywhere are one of the benefits for the tropical temperatures.

Some of that American feeling in the city can also be related to people using shopping as a hobby. It was about that point that I decided I should buy some new clothes. It turns out this is both the perfect and most imperfect place to do just that. Things weren't horribly expensive, but that didn't mean they were always accessible.

After days in Kuala Lumpur we began to feel it's a very 'look, but don't touch' culture. Books at the book store - shrink wrapped, clothes at the mall had signs saying 'no trying'. When I finally found a shop that would allow me to try a shirt on I quickly also learned that Asian sizes run very small. I'm not one to care what size the tag says provided the clothing fits, however it was even a struggle to find anything that didn't make me feel like an ogre. The arms would be too tight or the buttons wouldn't come close to closing. Fortunately we found some cool watches for about 2€ each.

Everything seems to be indoors in KL - including an enormous roller coaster inside one of the malls. It was definitely a unique city.

If and when I make it back to Malaysia I would like to see some of the tea plantations and the Kuala Selangor firefly forrest. Although I'm glad that I went I'd most likely forgo visiting their capital city again.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


It's that time of year again. The Au neighborhood of Munich puts on its traditional festival, this one in late summer being the Jakobidult. What makes it special this time around is this is the 700th year.

I'm not entirely certain what is the decisive factor in figuring out what can be sold there, because as always there is a large array of the most bizarre things. Case in point - tiny bits to build your own doll.

We also saw a soap box race before heading up to the nearby Nockherberg biergarten. There were so many interesting cars - including one that was a motorized beer case to with enough power to drag cars back up to the top of the hill.

It really was the perfect Munich Sunday.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Train to Malaysia

(This post is a follow up from our trip around the world. I will be writing a recap for each place we visited during our 4 month trip. Prior to Malaysia we also visited India, Nepal, and Thailand).

The train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is a seriously long journey. Thankfully we had a sleeper train and packed plenty of food, although I don't know that I'd do that route again.

Our romantic notions of watching the country side pass by as a more scenic way to travel quickly ended. The first train wasn't so bad, but the luxury cars that we pre-booked for the other two journeys turned out to be not so luxurious - as in one didn't even have a functioning toilet! We are definitely spoiled by our fantastic transport system here in Germany.

Thankfully there was a stop in the middle. Going through Malaysian customs was painless compared to what we went through in Kathmandu.

We had to change trains in Penang / Butterworth, Malaysia, so we opted to store our bags for the day and take the ferry to Georgetown on Penang island.

The ferry ride to the city was nice - it looked rather impressive with a hill backdrop and many skyscrapers. We didn’t realize until we arrived that it’s a UNESCO world heritage site… and we passed many of their big landmarks along the way as we searched for a warm meal.

The 'Little India' area of the island is cute with good, yet inexpensive food. We both ordered a main dish, nan, water, and dessert for Stefan all for the low price of $5. That’s something we could get used to!

It was a brief introduction to Malaysia, which was very different from what we experienced in Kuala Lumpur.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Ever since I read about Japanfest a couple years ago I wanted to go. This year we were fortunate not to miss it.

I can't exactly say the festival was what I expected. There were performances, many beautiful kimonos, adorable children, and various demonstrations, which we enjoyed.

A lot of the German youth seemed to treat it as Halloween as they dressed up as their favorite manga character or dressed in bizarre costumes. We were amazed that so many owned such elaborate outfits and oddly colored contact lenses.

It was also fantastic to have some of our favorite dishes from when we visited Japan - taiyaki, sushi, and matcha ice cream.

We also recently went to a restaurant in Haidhausen called Nomiya, which is an interesting mix of Bavarian + Japanese if you're looking for something slightly offbeat.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


My parents gave me and Stefan a Zoku ice pop maker when we were in Ohio. It's a great way to make a quick refreshing treat - especially when we are dealing with a sweltering summer and no air conditioning. We can make 9 ice pops before refreezing the unit.

The Zoku is pretty neat, but I will pass my own trial and errors along, so there aren't any frustrating experiences for anyone else.

- Don't attempt to make your own ice cream or sorbet with it. What will happen is it won't freeze properly and the stick will slide out leaving your tasty treat stuck behind until the whole thing melts.

- Don't twist the little orange lifter too tight or your stick will break entirely when you try to get it out. (Thankfully we bought extra sticks)

- Whatever you make must have a bit of sugar so it freezes properly, but fresh juices seem to work alright, so they can also be healthy.

There's another ice cream shop I'm looking forward to checking out near Rosenheim and they have really funky and obscure flavors like: asparagus, roquefort, weißbeer, eel, and mustard. We had a manchego ice cream in Tokyo and it was divine. I am planning to make Radler pops (beer with lemon soda), lemon basil, and blueberry.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Heat Wave

We are currently having a sweltering heat wave over here. I'm really not one for heat - unless of course I'm lounging on a beautiful beach with crystal clear turquoise water, but the closest I've been to any water ways lately is the Isar here in Munich or the Salzach in Salzburg.

For some reason I think I have a mental block on how miserable Europe can be in the summer - who decided that air conditioning is overrated anyway?

I've also been working nonstop now that the tourist season is in full swing. Some days it's amazing and other days I feel like I am herding cats. None the less it's usually fun to interact with people from other cultures and to have interesting conversations. Yesterday we talked about traditional dishes from our home lands and how people celebrate festive occasions.

I'm convinced I need to make a trip to Malta. I had a tour last month and one of the women actually makes the Air Malta uniforms for the flight crew by hand. This week I had another couple that was affiliated with Air Malta and they were just as delightful as the couple from last month. They both gave me their email addresses to get in touch once I make it over.

Working in the crazy sun can be very exhausting, but last week I came home to flowers, a tiny cake, and a delicious fruit salad courtesy of Stefan and a sweet package with a beautiful and delicious bar of chocolate from a faraway friend.

I also was able to check out the Roman ruins / excavations under the Salzburg Cathedral. They are only open during the months of July and August, so if you are in the area it's definitely worth checking out. (These images definitely do the place justice - just trust me on this one.)

As much as I'd love to update more often sitting anywhere near this inferno of a computer is just not happening. I probably seem like a hermit when I'm not working, because all of our blinds are closed in hopes to keep the sun from heating this place even more.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4th of July

We took full advantage of being in the US last month and even bought some sparklers to have some fun with once the fireflies had disappeared for the evening. I always buy extras when they have them in Germany - at my other favorite holiday - New Years.

I love uniting holidays. I think it's a combination of the fire works, cook out foods, and the fact that people gather with the community that make me love it so much.

There are several events going on in Munich today -

The Amerika Haus has a cookout with live music.

The International neighborhood festival in Haidhausen at Johannisplatz starts at 14:00.

There is also the Thai themed Khao-Pansah-Fest at Westpark.

It looks like there are plenty of options to enjoy the day for those that want to celebrate.

We'll head to one of them until the heat becomes too much and then it's time to come home for more American foods.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back to Work

We're back in Germany now and trying to fight a bit of jet lag. I read that eating a handful of cherries before bed is supposed to help naturally regulate melatonin, so I went with that method.

My tours are back in full effect and a few new stores are popping up around Salzburg. I wanted to see the new movie 'Knight and Day' while I was in Ohio, because it has scenes filmed in Salzburg, but it looks like I'll wait for it to come to DVD.

This past week I noticed they were packing up Jaume Plensa's 'We' sculpture from the Residenz. I'm curious where it's heading.