This Page

has been moved to new address

Expat in Germany

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
Expat in Germany: November 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Does Hiking in Germany Have in Common With German Christmas Markets?

What do hiking in Germany and German Christmas markets have to do with each other?  I asked myself the same question as we pulled into a parking place next to the Calw Christmas Market.  Clearly we were in the wrong place, J.P. and I were the only hikers in sight!
I must say that Calw is a beautiful setting for a Christmas market though - even the half timber houses seem festive with their painted red wood and green shutters!
It was a cold day and J.P. suggested we start our 12km  hike with a mug of mulled wine since we were here anyway.  I thought he was kidding - he wasn't.   Despite my initial reluctance I have to admit that it did warm me up and the mulled wine salesman did point us in the right direction for our hike.  It turns out that the Christmas Market was the start of our hike! 
Before long, we had hiked up a hill in the Black Forest and were peering out at Calw through the trees.
Fortunately after we hiked up the hill, the rest of the trail was flat - that mulled wine was starting to kick in!  We were fortunate to have the trail almost all to ourselves only seeing two other people and the trees were gorgeous lightly crusted in white snow.

 Hiking in Germany is full of surprises though!  Before long we went from a tranquil snow covered path to a henker sight (beheading sight), where a famous German lady (but not famous to me) was beheaded for suspected witchcraft.  The sign (in German) went on to describe the sight saying it had been in use from as early as 1818 and was where the Henker went about his daily work of beheading people.  It seemed rather casual given the history, but perhaps that was just my elementary German interpretation and J.P.'s rush to translate the whole sign for me, which I naturally insisted that he do.  Who knows when I will come across a beheading sight again?
Needless to say, we couldn't resist a photo opp!  And suddenly we became extremely grateful for our jobs which don't involve beheading people.  Enough talk about beheading people!  Off to the next stop - Ruins!
Unfortunately we didn't make it to the ruins - perhaps the mulled wine slowed us down?  We were running out of day light so headed back to Calw where we were warmly greeted by the above sign which translates as "Christmas in Calw."  A hike that started and ended with a Christmas market - definitely a first for me.
And where there's a Christmas market, you know there will be mulled wine.  We enjoyed a cup and then saw a special white mulled wine which the shop owner said was her own original brew.  How could we resist?   Our defenses were weak after all that hiking.  And this time we had earned it - well sort of.  Perhaps hiking in Germany and German Christmas markets do belong together!

More on German Christmas Markets:

You may also be interested in:

Labels: ,

Friday, November 26, 2010

5 Ways to Celebrate the First Snowfall in Stuttgart, Germany

Today was the first snowfall of winter in Stuttgart Germany.  My Guatemalan friend Janett was especially pleased since this marked the first time she had ever seen snow - ever!  Janett is 50 years old and well educated so I found this surprising, but then again I am from Canada and frankly take snow for granted and wish it would go away when we have snow for 5 months  of the year(or longer) .   The first snowfall is to be celebrated,  so in honor of Janett's first snowfall EVER, here are the top 5 things to do to celebrate the first snowfall, which I personally try and repeat as often as possible since they're so much fun.
(Photo above is of the first snowfall in Stuttgart near my apartment - in Canada we would hardly call this a snowfall, but Stuttgart doesn't get a lot of snow, but the surrounding areas do).
 #1 Way to Celebrate the First Snowfall - Make Snow Angels
 It's almost impossible to feel anything but giddy when you're flapping your arms and legs around in the snow.  The trick is to find a fresh patch of snow, then just fall back and be careful getting up that you don't step in your snow angel.  J.P. (my German fiance) had never made an snow angel either, until he came to Canada and we did it in tons of snow and couldn't stop giggling since we just looked so ridiculous.  The only problem was there was so much snow so it was tough to get up and we kept falling back into our snow angel, but we couldn't stop laughing.  It's one of my favorite memories of us being goofy together (we had also just gotten engaged, so perhaps that  helped too :). 
 #2 Way to Celebrate the First Snowfall - Have a Snowball Fight
 This  only works if the snow is sticky, but is a lot of fun.  There are just 2 rules, don't throw too hard and don't aim at the head.  Every kid I know in Canada has gotten at least one goose egg (bump on the head) from a mis-aimed snowball which kinda ends the fun in a hurry.

#3 Way to Celebrate the First Snowfall - Make a Snow Fort (much easier than making an igloo) Just pile up a lot of snow, pack it down, then start digging a hole.  It will likely cave in on you several times and you will end up with snow down your back, but that's half the fun!  Reward yourself with a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine in your new "home." 
 #4 Way to Celebrate the First Snowfall - Stick Out Your Tongue and Catch Snowflakes
Way harder than it looks, especially if you're thirsty after a fierce snow ball fight or some serious snow fort building.  I also like snowflake catching competitions, where you count how many land on your tongue and see who can get the most.
J.P. and I snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, his first time.  This wasn't the first snowfall of the year, but I go snowshoeing any chance I get
#5 Way to Celebrate the First Snowfall - Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is my favorite winter sport.  I love snowshoeing since it's basically like hiking, but only with bigger shoes.  If you can walk, you can snowshoe.  The other great thing about snowshoeing is that you're able to go to places you normally wouldn't be able to because of deep snow.  Also, since snowshoeing is not a super popular sport, you may have the trail all to yourself, as has been the case many times while snowshoeing in Canada.  Also, like hiking, you can make it easier or harder by choosing steep vs flat slopes and deep vs packed snow.  J.P. had never been snowshoeing until he visited me in Canada and after his first time, he was hooked and from there on was always asking when we would go snowshoeing.  I've yet to go snowshoeing in Germany, but brought my snowshoes with me and have a trip planned in December.  I also plan to take Janett in January (sorry Janett if this is the first time you are hearing about this :)

How do you celebrate the first snowfall?

You may also be interested in:
German Solutions for the Heavy Snowfall in Germany

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Online Advent Calendars - Perfect for Travelers

Not to date myself, but when I was growing up there was no such thing as an Online Advent Calendar.  I did have regular advent calendars though growing up in Canada, and loved them.  I remember racing out of bed each morning to open the next door of my advent calendar to see what that day would bring.  My favorite advent calendars were the ones that contained chocolate.  It was the only time we were allowed to eat chocolate before breakfast.  I haven't had an Advent Calendar in years, but plan to this year since I'm living in Germany and advent calendars were first invented by Germans. 

An online advent calendar is a modern twist on an old tradition and while there's no chocolate in an online advent calendar (...sigh), you do get other treats that may include short films, games, trivia, art work or acoustical treats, depending on the calendar you choose!  I love the idea of an online advent calendar, especially for travelers who are spending Christmas away from family and friends.  An online advent calendar can be a great way to stay connected through the holidays - you can agree on an online advent calendar, then "open" the same door each day, thinking of the other person as you do so.  I think an online advent calendar would work especially well for travelers wanting to  keep in touch with nieces/nephews, or kids of friends back home as well.

Here are a few interesting ones that I've found:
 The holidays can be tough on travelers who may be missing family and friends more than usual.  I know that one of my favorite things about the holidays is seeing my friends more often and reconnecting with people I haven't seen for a while.  Spending the holidays in a different country, where Christmas may not even be celebrated can be tough, especially if you are traveling alone or haven't made any friends yet.  An online advent calendar is one way that may help you to feel connected with those you are missing!  I know that I certainly plan to try it this year!

Please share any links to good online advent calendars that you have found.

You may also be interested in:
How to Celebrate Christmas While Living Abroad
Elf Yourself - Great for Travelers
5 Facts About Christmas in Germany
5 Tips for Going to a Christmas Market in Germany

Labels: ,

Monday, November 22, 2010

Top 10 Experiences in Denmark

For me it's what you experience while visiting a place that makes travel so exciting, and sometimes more so than the actual sites themselves.  Here are my top 10 experiences while in Denmark for the TBEX Conference.
 #1.  All the Statues in Odense from Hans Christian Andersen Stories
It's fun to try and figure out which story they're from, plus it keeps Hans Christian Andersen's stories alive!  Any idea which story the photo above is from?  I confess that I had to ask my guide.
#2.   Unique Environmental Initiatives in Denmark
From my short time in Denmark, it appeared to me that the Danish think outside the box.  Above is a carbon-neutral skating rink in Odense.  Denmark is also home to the world's only carbon neutral beer, Global Ale, by Nørrebro Bryghus and the world's greenest hotel, Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers to name but a few of the unique environmental initiatives currently found in Denmark. 
#3.  The Copenhagen Cocktail
Another example of innovative Danish thinking, a cocktail named after the capital.  It's tasty, but potent with: 
5 cl. Bols Genever, 2 cl. Cherry Heering Liqueur, 2 cl. fresh pressed lime juice, 2 cl. sugar syrup (Monin)
1 dash Angostura Bitters.  Find out more about The Copenhagen Cocktail and where you can order it.
#4  Bike Rush Hour in Copenhagen
Biking in Copenhagen rush hour was so much fun but not for the faint of heart with almost 40% of the city commuting by bike!  The Danes are in good shape and kept whizzing by us.  It didn't help that we didn't know the right hand signals either.  Fortunately, we all remained unscathed.  For more info see:  5 Things You Should Know Before Cycling in Denmark.

#5.  Meeting Locals
Meeting locals is always one of my favorite things about traveling and I found the Danes exceptionally friendly.  At a kebab shop I was struggling to find the right coins and explained to the cashier that I had only been in Denmark a couple of hours and hadn't figured out the money yet.  He took a few minutes to show me all the different coins and the value of each one.  Talk about making a good first impression for Denmark!  We also had the unique opportunity for a Q&A with circus performers at the TBEX Conference!  I've always wondered how circus performers become circus performers so it was great to hear the stories of two performers, both who gave an impromto performance, as seen above.   I also had the opportunity to meet many local entrepreneurs who were passionate about their businesses and their country.  I don't know the stats on entrepreneurship in Denmark, but it appears to be a very entrepreneurial country.
#6.  Walking Around the Lakes in Copenhagen
I confess, the lakes in Copenhagen look more like rivers to me, but regardless they're beautiful and a popular place to go for a run, or if you're feeling less energetic to do some bird watching - I couldn't believe all the swans!  I spent several hours just wandering around taking in the ambiance.
#7.  J Day in Denmark
J-Day in Denmark marks the first day that Christmas beer is available for sale and its celebration rivals that of New Years Eve.  I had so much fun walking the streets and looking for free beer being handed out by guys in blue Santa Clause suits (see above photo) and was lucky enough to score a light-up blue Santa Clause hat, which now sits on my desk as a reminder of this unique Danish celebration.

#8 The Tinderbox in Odense
I may have mentioned once or twice in previous posts how much I love, love The Tinderbox!  It's a place where children choose from a variety of costumes, based on Hans Christian Andersen's stories and then bring them to life on life-size sets.  It's one of the coolest things I've ever seen for kids!
#9 Train Ride from Copenhagen to Odense
I always think the landscape is the most interesting part of any country and while I'd heard that Denmark is flat, I didn't realize how flat - the highest elevation is 173m!  Nonetheless, I enjoyed seeing a bit of the country side.

#10  Travel Writers and Travel Bloggers I Met at TBEX
A special shout out to my Narrative Travel Blogging Workshop Leaders, Lola Akinmade and Andrew Evans who I learned so much from.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity for them to critique my work thinking "like a mean editor"   I met so many other wonderful travel bloggers and really wherever you go, isn't it really all about the people you meet?

You may also be interested in:
 Top 10 Things to Experience in Odense Denmark
The Tinderbox, Where Children's Dreams Come to Life in Denmark

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Top 10 Things to See in Odense Denmark

I had never heard of Odense until a recent trip to Denmark, but I became almost immediately enchanted with Denmark's third largest city and home to Hans Christian Andersen, Odense's claim to fame.  Odense has a welcoming feeling, but its more than that.  Perhaps its the local pride of Odense citizens at keeping the stories of Hans Christian Andersen alive that permeates life in Odense.  Regardless, I didn't stop smiling during my visit. 
 #1.  Probably the only place in the world, where in the tourist areas, the traffic lights feature a walking figure of Hans Christian Andersen, and likely the last photo I will ever take of a traffic light.
#2.  The Hans Christian Andersen Museum is worth a visit and you can even visit the house he grew up in.  The photo above is the view from the room where Hans Christian Andersen was thought to be born.  Hans Christian Andersen became famous while he was still alive so many of his personal belongings are on display at the museum, including intricate paper cuttings that he used to do. 
#3.  Right beside the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, is The Tinderbox, a children's cultural center where children's own stories come to life.  I can't recommend The Tinderbox enough if you have children.  Creativity in numerous forms is encouraged and judging by the enthusiastic children we saw, kids love it!
#4.   In summer this park is home to three plays a day centering around Hans Christian Andersen.  It is also a popular outing with locals who will bring along a picnic lunch.
#5.  If you're lucky enough you may just happen to run into Torben, who is out of costumer here, but has played Hans Christian Andersen over 6000 times all over the world.  He's quite the character and his love of Hans Christian Andersen is evident.  We ran into him on a Sunday afternoon.  Talk about meeting the locals!
#6.  While public access is not allowed into this historic building, I included it because it is a seniors home where additional care is provided to those who can no longer live on their own.  It is in the heart of Odense.  I loved how central it was and think it says a lot about a community that devotes prime real estate to some of its oldest citizens.
#7.  This street is right across the street from where Hans Christian Andersen grew up.  It's in the central part of Odense and with its cobblestone streets and well cared for historic houses it's hard to imagine that at one time this was one of the poorest areas of town.  Today, it's quite the opposite.  I could have wandered these streets for hours!
#8.   Biking the river in Odense, past parks and historic rambling houses with well maintained gardens is a great way to see a part of the city enjoyed by locals.  Bike rentals are readily available in Odense and its a very bike friendly town, with 50% of its citizens biking to school or work everyday.
#9.  There are a couple of very old historic churches in Odense which are beautiful and reminds you that Odense is rich in history.

#10.  Statues of characters from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are everywhere.  Our guides said that locals feel it is their responsibility to keep the memory of Hans Christian Andersen alive.  I must say they do a good job of it and it's fun to try and figure out which fairy tale the statues are from.  Any guesses on the second photo?  I admit I had to ask our guide.

From my observations, I think its safe to say that the citizens of Odense would have made Hans Christian Andersen proud. 

You may also be interested in:

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Tinderbox, Where Children's Dreams Come to Life in Denmark

As I open the door to The Tinderbox, I find myself finding in a new world, with my years magically disappearing.  I am a child again!  Magic is everywhere, cows sword fight with princesses and kings engage in a game of chase across a swinging bridge.  This is The Tinderbox, a children's cultural center beside the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense Denmark where children bring their own stories to life.
It all starts here, in the dressing room of The Tinderbox, the dressing room of all dressing rooms.  Many of the costumes found in The Tinderbox are those from characters in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales and many I don't recognize, perhaps from fairy tales long forgotten, or never read.  Hans Christian Anderson wrote over 120 fairy tales, among those:  The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, and the Snow Queen, to name a few of his more popular works.
A knight puts on his finishing touches before engaging in a sword fight with a swan or perhaps a nice cup of tea with a pea pod.  Anything is possible at The Tinderbox, including inadvertently getting in the middle of sword fights or games of chase as I discovered.  Fortunately I was unscathed.
Even Hans Christian Andersen himself takes on a new persona at The Tinderbox with exaggerated features, namely his height and large nose for which he was often described as odd looking. 
The Tinderbox has life size sets in which children can bring their own stories to life.  Here some princesses are enjoying a nice cup of tea, resting, before they engage in a rowdy game of chase with two cows almost knocking us over!
The Tinderbox also has a stage where families can enjoy an interactive play.  Unfortunately we missed it, but I have no doubt it would be in the keeping of the creative spirit of The Tinderbox.
Another part of the life size set, although I couldn't figure out what the building was on the right.  Any ideas?  I also loved the hanging clouds.               
As we made our way to the second level of The Tinderbox we were treated to an impromptu puppet show.  Unfortunately, it was in Danish so I didn't understand the play, but still enthusiastically clapped when it was finished.
The Tinderbox also has a wood carving room.  It is from an old Danish story that is famous among Danish children.  I had never heard of it before, but observed a boy intently whittling a piece of wood.  This was one of the quieter rooms in The Tinderbox, but provided another creative outlet.
The Tinderbox also has a large art studio which seemed especially popular with older children.  Our guides said that families often spend hours at The Tinderbox.  Fortunately there is also a restaurant and cafe.
Just a few of the creations that came out of the art studio at The Tinderbox.

All to soon, it is time to leave The Tinderbox and I quickly return to my 30-something self again, but The Tinderbox has sparked something in me.  On the plane ride home, I read four Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, something I haven't done in a long time.  I am, for a short time, brought back to my childhood self again.  I think Hans Christian Andersen would approve.

For more information on The Tinderbox see:

For more information on Visiting Denmark see:
 Top 10 Things to Experience in Odense Denmark

My Top 10 Experiences of Denmark

Please note this tour was complimentary of the Odense Turist Bureau as part of the TBEX Conference

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 12, 2010

Competition for Germany

My Dear German Friends,

I am writing this letter with some rather shocking news. Despite your outstanding reputation for punctuality and being noted as one of the most time sensitive cultures in the world, it appears you have competition. No, it`s not from the Swiss, but from the Danes! Note the evidence in the photo above - 1/ 2 minute countdown for a train in Copenhagen. I am sorry to report that I have I`ve never seen this in Germany, or at least not in Stuttgart, where I take the train twice a day. As you can see, I`ve collected the "evidence" on your behalf and have promptly brought this to your attention, should you wish to rectify the matter, which if left unattended, could compromise you international reputation as being (along with Switzerland) the most punctual country in the world. 

Respectfully yours,
Laurel, an Expat in Germany

P.S.  Just to be clear, since I know English is not everyone`s first language, the above letter is written entirely in jest.  I just found the1/ 2 minute countdown amusing and am surprised I haven`t seen it in Germany yet.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

5 Things You Should Know Before Cycling in Denmark

Cyclist counter showing how many cyclists have passed through at any given time.  These are found all over Denmark and really demonstrate the popularity of cycling in Denmark
Cycling in Denmark is a great way to see this incredibly bike friendly country, but there's a few things you should know before you go.

1) Cycling in Denmark:  Hand Signals May Be Different
I found this one out by accident while cycling in Copenhagen rush hour.  Instead of putting the left hand up to indicate a right turn, most cyclists in Denmark just stick their right hand straight out as indicated below.   Also, to indicate "stopping", we saw many cyclists, including our guide, raise his right hand in a stopping gesture.  I also saw some cyclists indicate they were stopping as indicated below, so there seems to be a variety of hand signals at play, but worth knowing since...

2)  Cycling in Denmark:  There are a lot of Cyclists
43% of people living in Copenhagen and the city's goal is to increase this to 50% by 2015.  In Odense, Denmark's third largest city, 50% of people cycle.  While cycling in the Copenhagen rush hour, it wasn't uncommon for there to be 30 cyclists waiting at a stop light.  With so many cyclists, knowing the correct hand signals is essential for safety.  Which brings us to #3...
The bike parking lot in front of the Main Train Station in Copenhagen

3) Cycling in Denmark:  Danes are Fast Cyclists
Many Danes use cycling as a mode of transport to get to work, school, etc... and often they're in a hurry since they're not just cycling for leisure as is more common in North America.  You don't need to worry about keeping up, just stay to the right side of the road, so that faster cyclists can pass you on the left.  This also means, that suddenly stopping and pulling out a tourist map in the middle of the bike lane is not a good idea.  One local, said that Danes are notorious for yelling at tourists who do this, but then said with a wry grin that it's usually in Danish so they can't understand.  I was fortunate enough to make it through cycling in Denmark without getting yelled at, but they have a point.   It is the equivalent of stopping your car in the middle of the street to pull out a map, without pulling over, which I wouldn't be so happy about either.

4) Cycling in Denmark:  Bikes are Allowed on The Trains
Denmark does an exceptional job of encouraging people to cycle so it's no surprise that bikes are allowed on the trains.  As of January 2010 there is no charge to bring your bike on the train around Copenhagen as there previously was, but bikes are only not allowed on trains during peak times.  See:  Cycling in Denmark:  Free to Bring Bike on Train for current info.
These brand new bikes are available for short term rentals in Odense

5) Cycling in Denmark:  Free Bikes in Copenhagen
A small deposit will get you a free bike in central Copenhagen.  Pick up/drop off is at over 100 locations in the city.  The free bike service in Copenhagen is available mid April to November.  See:  Cycling in Denmark:  Free City Bikes for more info.  Bike rentals are also another option and are usually reasonably priced.  The City of Odense provides two bike rental options.  One for just a couple of hours of use with numerous pick up/drop off locations and another one for multiple days use.  Bike rentals can easily be found throughout Denmark, including many tourist offices, private companies and hotels.  See:  Cycling in Denmark:  Bike Rentals for a partial list.

You may also be interested in:
My Top Ten Experiences in Denmark
 Top 10 Things to Experience in Odense Denmark
The Tinderbox, Where Children's Dreams Come to Life in Denmark

For more information on cycling in Denmark see:

Labels: ,