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Expat in Germany

Monday, January 10, 2011

4 Reasons to Turn a Holiday Romance Into the Real Thing

Exploring the Galapagos together and meeting some interesting characters like this 600 lb tortoise!
What do you think of when you think of a holiday romance?  I conjure up visions of walking hand in hand along a sandy beach while watching the most brilliant pink sunset I've ever seen with a hot guy with a sexy accent and winning smile.  If you are so inclined to imbibe in a holiday romance (and 58% of Brits are), enjoy the moment since ultimately 93% of holiday romances break up and 75% are over by the time the plane has landed back in your home country.  (all stats from TripAdvisor)

But what about the 7% that do make it?  I am happy to report that I am one of the 7%.  I met J.P. on a shark diving trip in Costa Rica.  The odds were against us, with 8000 km separating us - I'm Canadian, and he is German, both living in our respective countries,  but 2 1/2 years later, we're engaged and now happily living in Germany together.
Cocos Island - 300km from mainland Costa Rica, where hundreds of hammerhead sharks are found, not to mention  the start of a holiday romance turned real romance

Here are 4 Reasons to Turn a Holiday Romance Into the Real Thing:
1.  You've Spent Time Together During Your Holiday Romance:  In order to create a foundation for a real romance, you're going to need to spend time quality time together getting to know each other.  Whooping it up intoxicated on the dance floor, may be fun, but it doesn't count as spending quality time together, since you're not really getting to know each other.  Similarly if you meet someone on your last day of vacation, it will be more difficult to turn it into a lasting romance, since you just haven't had the time to get to know each other. On the other hand, if you meet someone near the beginning of your vacation, you will have time to get to know them, see if you share the same sense of humor, and see if you click, all while making for an even more memorable holiday.   I met J.P. on a dive boat in Cocos, an island 300km from mainland Costa Rica.  We dove 4 times a day, but had lots of free time in between.  It was during these times, that we talked and got to know each other.  After dinner we would go up to the upper deck of the boat and star watch for hours.  After doing this for 7 days on the boat, we got to know each other fairly well and then after enjoying each others company so much, decided to spent the last few days of our vacation exploring Costa Rica together.  I firmly believe that this time together provided us with a strong foundation to weather the currents of a long distance romance, plus it was fun and made for my most memorable vacation ever!

2.  You've Talked About Your Real Lives At Home:  People are often much different people on vacation than they are at home.  Someone in their regular life may be a workaholic who doesn't go out much, but becomes the life of the party on vacation.   It's important to ask questions and find out what that person is like at home.  For example, how do they spend their free time?  What does a  typical weekend look like?  What type of hours do they work?  Listen carefully and see if their lifestyle is one that would gel with yours.  It doesn't have to be identical to yours, but it should sound appealing to you.
We spent an afternoon kayaking and snorkeling in this lagoon in Palau
3.  You Have Holidays And Some Cash for Traveling:  Unfortunately this is the harsh reality, one of you, preferably both of you, has to have the money to travel to see each other and you need to do so.  If you only have 2 weeks vacation a year, and you've used it up on this holiday, it will be impossible to sustain a long distance relationship (unless it's somewhere close where you can see each on weekends), when  you don't see each other.  On the other hand, if you do have some time and money for traveling, you can get creative and have a lot of fun exploring the world together or finding creative ways to travel on the cheap.  J.P. and I were very fortunate in this regard.  We both had 6 weeks of holiday and good jobs.  We met up in Canada and Germany of course, (where you can considerably reduce costs by staying and eating at home instead of a hotel and restaurant), and explored each others countries, but we also used this time to explore diving destinations together.  Over the course of our long distance relationship, we met in the Galapagos to dive with hammerhead sharks, and also went diving in  the Red Sea and Palau.  We saw each other four times a year for two years, until I made the move to Germany.  I found it difficult only seeing him four times a year, and that was still a considerable amount,considering the distance, but we made each other a priority and invested both time and money (for traveling) in the relationship all while hitting our diving hot spots and creating memories together!
4.  You're in Love and Have Never Met Anyone Like This:  After the buzz has worn off a few weeks after the vacation, if you still find yourself thinking about the other person, you may be on to something and it may be worth pursuing.  Yes, long distance relationships are tough.  There will likely be times where you don't see each other for months at a time, different time zones making it difficult to talk, celebrating birthdays alone, etc..... but all the hassles may be worth it.  J.P. and I both knew within a couple of months that we loved each other.  He actually knew while we were on vacation!  I've never met anyone like J.P.  We are different enough but similar in many ways and share many of the same hobbies - traveling, diving, hiking,  which we love doing together and it enriches our relationship by doing these things together.  As difficult as the two years of long distance were, I wouldn't have changed it for the world, even if I had known we only had a 7% chance of making it work!

What do you think about holiday romances?


Friday, January 7, 2011

Food And Drink in Germany Vs. Canada

There are many similarities between food and drink in Germany and in Canada but the longer I stay in Germany, the more subtle differences I notice.  Here are my top ten food and drink differences that I've noticed after living in Germany for just over six months:

1.  Potato salad in Germany is really good.  In Canada, I could take it or leave it, but in Germany I've been known to eat half a plate of it at a time.

2.  A combination of Coke and Orange Fanta is a popular drink in Germany and even has a name "Spezi."  I was so excited to hear this as it's my favorite soda and I always get weird looks when I order it in Canada.

3.  Germans eat bread everyday, and delicious homemade cakes frequently and still manage to weigh less on average than an average person living in North America.  So much for the low carb theory of weight loss.

4.  Hard ice cream is really hard to come by in ice cream shops in Germany.  Delicious Italian gelato can be found everywhere, but I really miss tiger icecream, and have yet to meet anyone in Germany who has heard of it. Hard ice cream is available in the grocery store but only comes in a few flavors and besides, we don't have a freezer. 

5.  Normally in restaurants in Germany there is only one type of salad dressing - a yogurt type which I have yet to acquire a taste for.  I miss the days of being offered a variety of options, but as I'm not much of a salad person anyway, I'm sure I will survive.

6.  Germany has a much smaller selection of chocolate bars than found in North America.  No Caramel, Mirage, EatMore...I'm not much of a chocolate eater so this doesn't bother me but I have some friends who really miss this type of chocolate.  In fairness to Germany though, they do have a lot of very high quality chocolate that most Germans choose to eat over the cheap chocolate bars. 

7.  Snacking while watching t.v. is not popular in Germany.  In over 6 months of living with J.P. I have yet to see him snack while watching t.v.  The first time he saw me eating popcorn while watching t.v. he was truly confused and still shakes his head every time I do it.  Perhaps the absence of mindless snacking is how Germans eat so much bread without getting fat.

8.  A combination of apple juice and mineral water ("Apfelschorle"in German) is a popular drink in Germany, much more so than soda.  I frequently see my German friends ordering this for their children and themselves alike - so much healthier than soda and completely acceptable to do so even at dinner in a fancy restaurant.  Something you wouldn't likely see in North America.

9.  People in Germany eat much more in season than we do in North America.  When I first moved here I was shocked that I couldn't readily find produce such as spinach that I eat regularly in Canada.  It's being generous to say that my cooking certainly wouldn't have won any awards my first few months of living in Germany as I got creative with substitutes -  green beans for broccoli or cabbage for get the idea.  But I am slowly learning to eat more in season and am finding that by doing so the produce  tastes so much better and it's much better for the planet.  I'm not sure how excited J.P. was when in October we ate squash and pumpkin something or other for two weeks straight, but then again I'm sure it was an improvement over my previous improvisations.

10.  Beer and wine is available in movie theaters in Germany!  I love going to movies anyway, but this gives me another incentive - too bad the English movie theater in Stuttgart doesn't have butter for its popcorn.

What food and drink differences surprised you when traveling?

You may also be interested in:
Canadian Habits in Germany

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

All Aboard the German Emigration Centre

The German Emigration Centre (Deutsches Auswanderer Haus) in Bremerhaven in northern Germany is one of the most interesting museums I have ever been to anywhere in the world!  It simulates the journey taken in the late 1800s through the 1900s by German emigrants seeking a better life in America.  All aboard!
 Each person is given a German emigrant boarding pass of a real German emigrant who made the 8 day journey to the U.S (which got shorter as time went on).  I was given Martha Hüner, a young single woman who had relatives in the U.S. and big dreams of making it rich as a house keeper.  Many German emigrants who made the journey were poor, unemployed and were seeking a better life in the U.S.
The first stop is the enormous ship, where plasticized figures wait for the large looming boat.  Most impressive are the noises.  The port was a busy place and standing among all the figures and luggage with the boat in the background and all the noisy seagulls and people chattering that I actually felt like I was the one emigrating.  Here I learned that all of Martha's friends and families came to send her off on her journey. 
 Next visitors "board" the boat.
Then it's off to the third class cabin where most emigrants were based.  Conditions were tight.  Five people to two narrow mattresses, with often 100 people in a small room.  If passengers didn't have a family of five, they slept next to strangers.  There were no windows in third class and when conditions were rough, passengers had to stay in their rooms.  The stench from the sea sickness is said to have been wrenching and passengers were often forced to stay there for several days at a time in rough seas.
Second class was much nicer with each person getting their own bunk.  Unfortunately most German emigrants couldn't afford second class and the majority of them had to rough it in third class, where they were later joined by Irish immigrants who also normally stayed in third class.
In later years, the journey became shorter and conditions much more comfortable, with only 4 people in a room.
In this room, visitors swipe their German Emigrant boarding pass and learn more about their German emigrant.
After a long journey emigrants waited  here at the U.S. Immigration Office where their fate is decided.  First they had to see a doctor, and pass a several minute exam ensuring they weren't carrying infectious diseases.
Upon passing the physical inspection, emigrants faced bullet fired questions from U.S. Immigration Officials.  If an emigrant hesitated too long on any question, they would be pulled into a separate room for more intensive questioning.  Fortunately, most emigrants passed.  In the above photo,  visitors test their knowledge of their German emigrant and see if they are allowed entry into the U.S.  Fortunately I had paid attention and passed the test and was able to begin a new life in the U.S. 
Martha's father had predicted she would marry an American cowboy, instead she married another German emigrant.  They opened a bakery in New Jersey and ran a modest business in a Czechoslovakian neighborhood, but when WWII started the Czechs boycotted their store and they went bankrupt.  Soon after, Martha's husband died.  She then found work as a housekeeper for a well-to-do family, a position she held for ~20 years.  In her old age she had a stroke and decided she was homesick and came back to Germany to live with her sister.  She died in Germany.  The letter above is a sign of the times - note the "Russia Zone Germany" address.

The German Emigration Centre does a realistic job of showing visitors what the German emigrants faced and by having my "own" German emigrant, I felt very connected - something that I don't feel very often in most museums.  Along the way, I kept hoping that things would turn out OK for Martha and was silently rooting for her.  Americans with German ancestry would find the German Emigration Centre especially interesting.  I went with four other Germans and we all found it fascinating.  Unfortunately their German emigrants didn't fare as well as Martha did.  Unfortunately the American dream wasn't to be realized by all emigrants.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

12 Places to Visit in Germany

My New Year's Travel Resolution this year is to travel more closer to home.  All too often we overlook interesting places just because they are close and they don't feel like "real" travel.  As part of this resolution, I've come up with 12 places to visit in Germany (one for each month) that are a 3 hour drive or less from where I live in Stuttgart, Germany.

Places to Visit in Germany #1: Schweine Museum in Stuttgart (Pig Museum)
The world's largest pig museum is right in my own city of Stuttgart featuring over 40,000 pig exhibits from all over the world.  I'll admit, I'm intrigued but may have to go alone as my German friends seem less than enthusiastic about spending an afternoon learning about the history of pigs. 

Places to Visit in Germany #2:  Zugspite Region
The Zugspite Region is home to Germany's highest peak - The Zugspite (2963m), crystal clear lakes and gorges.  As an avid hiker, I can't wait to explore this area and I have a feeling, this is one place where I will keep coming back to.  It is just under a 3 hour drive from Stuttgart.

Places to Visit in Germany #3:  Regensburg
 Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a former European medieval trading center where Gothic and Romanesque building dating back to to 90 A.D. can still be found.  I'm curious to learn more about medieval times and Regensburg is a great place to do so and is ~ a 2 hour 40 minute drive from Stuttgart. 

Places to Visit in Germany #4:  Ludwigsburg Palace Tour
 I've been to Ludwigsburg Palace, only a 20km drive from Stuttgart, but only to the outside and the grounds.  The palace is impressive and is considered one of the most impressive baroque palaces in all of Europe, but the real draw surprisingly is the tour itself.  I've heard from quite a few German and expat friends alike that the tour is the best castle tour they've EVER been on in Germany.  Instead of just touring a few rooms, this extensive 3 hour tour takes you into secret places - including servant quarters and secret stairwells used by the king's mistresses, giving visitors an inside glimpse into what life in a castle was really like.

Places to Visit in Germany #5:  Dachau Concentration Camp
Not the happiest place on earth to visit, but as I'm living in Germany, I feel it is important to visit a concentration camp and learn more about German history, however tragic it may be.  Dachau was the first Nazi Concentration Camp and is located near Munich, ~ a 2 hour drive from Stuttgart.

Places to Visit in Germany #6:  Mercedes Museum
Another museum located right in Stuttgart, and also one of the most popular museums in Stuttgart, although the Porsche Museum gives it some healthy competition.  The museum has over 1500 exhibits and shows the history of Mercedes.  I'm not really into cars, but have been told that it is still interesting even if I'm not that interested in cars.  Mostly, I'm curious to see what makes this one of Stuttgart's most visited sights, but this is admittedly the place I'm least excited to visit on my list. 

Place to Visit in Germany  #7:  Frontiers of the Roman Empire
 I'll admit that I came across this sight via a road sign pointing out the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The "Roman Limes" marks the border of the Roman Empire when it was at its largest in 2nd century A.D.  Today, all that is left are walls, fortresses, towers and settlements, but I am curious to see such a historical border that is ~ a 90 minute drive from Stuttgart.

Places to Visit in Germany #8:  Feldburg Mountain, Black Forest
Feldburg Mountain is known as the highest peak in the Black Forest, even though it really is a big hill and not a peak.  I have hiked quite a bit in the middle and northern part of the Black Forest which is 200km long, but never in the south.  Feldburg Mountain would make a great day hike and the view is supposed to be one of the best in the Black Forest.  At just under a 2 hour drive from Stuttgart you could easily make it a day trip, but with so much to see in the region, I plan to make it a weekend trip.

Places to Visit in Germany #9:  Trier
 Trier is the oldest city in Germany dating back to 16 B.C.  2000 years later there is still evidence of the Romans, most notably in the archecture.  I love visitng places where you feel transported back in time and this one just barely slips under the 3 hour drive mark with 4 minutes to spare, according to my GPS.

Places to Visit in Germany #10:  The Kelten Museum (The Celtic Museum)
Located just outside of Stuttgart is an ancient Celtic settlement and the Celtic Museum who migrated to Germany from Ireland and Scotland.  To be honest I don't much about the rest of the story, which is precisely why this museum is on my list, especially since it is less than 16km from Stuttgart.

Places to Visit in Germany #11 - The Allgäu
 I've noticed that when I've asked my German friends where the most beautiful place is in Germany they most popular answer is "the Allgäu" a pristine mountainous region in the south of Germany.  While I have been to the eastern Allgäu where the famous Neuschwanstein Castle is(the famous white one which Disney based their castle on), I have yet to go deep into the Allgäu, where lies some of the best hiking in Germany.  This too just barely slips under the 3 hour drive mark.

Places to Visit in Germany #12 - ???
I will visit another place within a 3 hour drive from Stuttgart in the next year, but one of the great things about traveling is that you keep discovering new destinations, so I plan to keep this one open to whatever new and exciting place I discover in Germany.

So there you have it, my 12 New Year's Travel Resolutions, all within a 3 hour drive or less from Stuttgart, which was my travel resolution - to travel closer to home.  I have a feeling that unlike many New Year's Resolutions, this will be a fun one to keep!

Have you been to any of these 12 places to visit in Germany?  Where are your close to home travel destinations that you plan to visit this year?

For more Travel New Years Resolutions check out this post by Adventures with ben:  8 New Year's Resolutions for Aspiring Travelers

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons:
Places to Visit in Germany:  Black Forest
Places to Visit in Germany:  Zugspite,
Places to Visit in Germany:  Trier
Places to Visit in Germany:  Regensburg
Places to Visit in Germany:  Ludwigsburg Palace
Places to Visit in Germany:  Allgäu
Places to Visit in Germany:  Roman Limes


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Top 5 Travel Destinations of 2010

Storm watching, which I could do for hours, makes the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, Vancouver Island,makes it one of my top travel destinations
2010 was another great year for traveling for me and my top travel destinations easily could have been a list of 100 items long, but after much consideration, here are my top 5 travel destinations of 2010 in chronological order.

#1 Top Travel Destination of 2010 - Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, Canada
In the winter months the small towns of Ucluelet and Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island are known for storm watching and we were treated to quite the show throughout our late December/early January stay.  In Tofino we watched surfers brave the frigid waters, barely above freezing, but clearly enjoying the waves, which were in peak season.  I couldn't convince J.P. to take a surfing lesson with me so we settled for a nice hike on the Wild Pacific Trail which provided plenty of storm watching excitement - from land.  See the official Wild Pacific Trail for more info.

#2 Top Travel Destination of 2010 - Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada
Waterton National Park is ~ 3 hours south of it's more famous neighbor, Banff National Park, but it is THE place to go for wildlife sightings.  I'll admit I'm biased, growing up just minutes outside the park, but I've seen bears here on at least 10 occasions, far more than I've seen in Banff.  The mountains are not as grandiose as those in Banff, but for what it lacks in size it by far makes up for it with wildlife, red rocks and a welcoming village feel.  In two short days, we saw elk, big horn sheep, deer, a moose with young twins, a coyote and evidence of a very recent cougar.  For more info see the government site, Waterton National Park
The wildlife, like this large herd of elk  is why  Waterton National Park is one of my top travel destinations

And this big horn sheep, which along with others munches on resident's grass in the village of Waterton National Park

#3 Top Travel Destination of 2010 - Stuttgart, Germany
I moved to Stuttgart, Germany in July from Calgary, Canada and the city has been very good to me.  It's not as rich in architecture or history as more famous German cities like Berlin or Munich are, but it still has several castles, a famous opera house, notable museums -most famously the Mercedes and Porsche museums and lots of interesting parks and cafes to explore.  With a population of just over 600,000 it's not an overwhelming city to get acquainted with, but still has plenty to offer.  Plus it's just a short drive away to hiking trails in the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps which is a bonus for me since I love to hike.  Coming soon is an iPhone app of a Walking Tour of Stuttgart which I wrote.  In the meantime, see the Stuttgart Tourism site for more info. 
The Schloss Platz, a great place to have a picnic in front of the new castle in Stuttgart, which I pass everyday on my way to German class makes this a top travel destination for me.

#4 Top Travel Destination of 2010 - PalauMost people have never heard of Palau unless they are scuba divers.  It lies between the Philippines and Guam and is an independent South Pacific Island Nation.  We were drawn to Palau since it is the world's first and only shark sanctuary and we wanted to support this initiative with our tourism dollars, hoping that other countries will follow suit.  We were rewarded with unbelievable diving - coral reef walls that disappeared deep into the blue teaming with life on one side and reef sharks gliding by us on the other side was a typical dive.  And one can never forget snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake where you snorkel with millions of non-stinging jellyfish, truly a unique experience. See Sensual Snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake for more info and  Palau Visitors Authority for more info.
Superb diving and snorkeling with millions of jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake make Palau a top 5 travel destination.
#5 Top Travel Desintation of 2010 - Odense, Denmark
I was in Copenhagen for the TBEX Conference which is a lovely historic city in itself, but I really fell in love Odense, just over an hour train ride from Copenhagen and the birth place of Hans Christian Andersen.  What makes this city with a small town feel so special is the locals pride in Hans Christian Andersen and their work to keep his stories alive.  Hans Christian Andersen statues from his numerous stories are placed throughout the city, and trying to figure out which story the statue is from is half the fun.  Without Hans Christian Andersen, Odense would still be a historic city with tree lined streets, but the community spirit evidenced everywhere you look is what really makes it special. See Top 10 Things to See in Odense, Denmark for more info.
The statues from Hans Christian Andersen stories in Odense help make it a top travel destination.

What was your top travel destination of 2010?

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