Saturday, March 5, 2016

Attempting to Warm Up to Chilly Germany

Hallo! What an amazing and busy month it's been! We started February in Gent, Belgium, then met Julie in Amsterdam, and together we traveled back to Belgium to tie up loose ends. Then, we and our stuff said "Daag!" (Goodbye) and flew to Madrid. Julie and I traveled southern Spain -Seville, Malaga, Granada - which was so much fun. 

After she left I spent a few days solo in Madrid before taking an epic journey (taxi, plane, train, bus x2) to Gréoux-les-Bains, a TINY village in the south of France, to spend time with Joel and pals, who were working their fusion-powered booties off at ITER. After he finished, we celebrated surviving the go-go-go by chillin' for three days on the coast of France (Côte d'Azur) in a great little town called Golfe Juan.

Here are a few pics from the travels: 

La Alhambra in Granada, Spain
Gréoux-les-Bains, France <3
Golfe Juan, France
It was an incredible journey that culminated on Leap Day, when we took our belongings (and a leap....I HAD TO) and boarded a plane to Munich, our new home.

When we arrived that night, Munich was COVERED in snow and still snowing. In the words of Gob, "I've made a huge mistake."

We did meet two incredibly nice people (separately) on the metro who offered to help with our bags and one guy lived in the same area and told us to stop by anytime if we needed anything. So kind. I thought, "Wow if this is a sign of things to come..."

It wasn't. 

My impression of Munich is that it's kind of like America in that it is very keen on efficiency and functionality, except if every American smile turned into a frown, every laugh was silence, and every pleasantry was gruff frightening German.

It doesn't help that our neighborhood is full of concrete and pretty much devoid of anything aesthetically-pleasing. It also doesn't help that I woke up my first day here with a knock-down cold and could hardly get out of bed. But still. I mean, Joel saw a bird house in the park that was literally a grey square made of concrete. Not even a bird house has whimsy!

To be fair, part of it is me. This is my last Euro stop since I'm going home in early April (Joel will be here until the end of July, when he GRADUATES!) and I'm over it. I'm over the novelty and magic of being like, "Wow what a cool word for 'spoon'!" I don't care. I want MY culture. I want to not feel like I'm starting from square one AGAIN. I'm really over being foreign and confused. I know I'm super fortunate to be able to experience this and blabla....I'm over it. I'll miss Joel desperately, but in all other respects, I'm SO ready to go home.

And what a climax, huh? I mean, the first year we had Nancy, France, which HELLO- pastries !! wine, cheese, French sass that made me sad inside but subsequently motivated to learn the language, so much inherent cuteness and romance. Then Gent, Belgium- beautiful castles, stunning canals and architecture, incredible commitment to cycling, stellar green spaces. And now we have Munich. 

Pretty sweet.

There are signs everywhere, but I don't know what any of them mean.

 Oh great, thank you, I was looking for green triangle!

The less-than-lovey feelings with Munich appear to be mutual. Within our first couple days here:

-Joel went to a pharmacy to get me meds for death cold and asked the pharmacist if she spoke English. She yelled, "No! Speak German!" and pointed at the door.
-We washed our clothes at a student laundromat and someone STOLE OUR CLOTHES from the washer. They weren't even dry! Such an irritating and bewildering crime! Especially since I had the bare minimum of clothes already.

*Edit on the clothes: Mystery solved! A woman put in her laundry, and then asked her boyfriend to put it in the dryer, and he picked the wrong stuff by mistake. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, we connected and he brought over our stuff, along with some Haribo and delish chocolate. So that's a positive development!

Why Munich, why. 

As for our housing, we rented what is called a "bungalow" from someone for the month, which sounds exotic and cozy, right? It really just means "tiny ass apartment."

Here's our bed, which is quite small, so we also got an air mattress:

Our bathroom. Am I a giant or is this outrageously small?

Our kitchen/living room combo. What is this, a center for ants?

Fun fact about these bungalows, of which there are hundreds for students, is that they were built for athletes participating in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Sooo we might be in the space of some epic shot-putter or ball-kicker or the like! (I'm very sporty.) We are very close to the Olympic stadium from that era as well.

Today the snow/ice rain finally stopped and I decided to go exploring, because surely this whole city can't be a soulless hellscape, right? It turns out, it's not. Very close to us is a giant, lovely park (Olympiapark), with hikes up to a nice panoramic viewpoint, which I used to look around for better parts of the city. (lol)

I've been feeling a bit depressed (winter blues and all that), so Joel is endeavoring to cheer me up. We are going to do a couple of outings- we're right by the BMW headquarters so we'll go there next weekend, as well as the Starkbier (strong beer) festival, a kind of Spring Oktoberfest where people drink dark beers in liederhosen.

To get in the mood, last night we ate Bavarian sausages with a local beer. The sausages were DELISH.

Munchner Hell - so they're aware then! : p
I'll try to shake off my funk to enjoy the last month of my European adventure as much as I can, although right now it seems that apathy is the most positive emotion I can muster.

On a higher note, I did lol at a sign I see here pretty regularly- it means exit:

What other kind of fahrt is there, amiright?
Fingers crossed that things improve here. Until next time!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Flashes from our last stretch of France

Bonjour mes amours! It's been a long time, how the heck are you?! We moved from Nancy, France to Ghent, Belgium at the end of August. I'll talk about Ghent (slash Gent, which is the Dutch spelling) in the next post, but it felt incomplete not so share highlights (and a theater performance lowlight) from our last months in France.
To begin, here's one of the many magical sunsets we were blessed with at our Nancy apartment. 

For Joel's 28th birthday in April, we made party hats and made vin chaud (hot wine with apples, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices, along with a splash of whiskey. Too delicious to reserve just for winter!). Hence the purple mouths :) 

For most of Joel's life, he has enjoyed the same "3 P's" birthday meal: pizza, prawns, and pumpkin cheesecake pie (which is actually a pie with a layer of pumpkin and a layer of cheesecake. Amazing.). Usually his master chef mama makes it for him, but this year was my debut! Mama Patti was kind enough to send canned pumpkin and the recipe, and we did a homemade pizza. Joel was a happy birthday boy.

I took a theater class in order to learn French. At the end of the semester was a "Spectacle" aka variety show. I was cast, with my partner Bablu, to perform a monologue from "Cid de Corneille," which is kind of the Hamlet of France. Bablu and I are both incredibly goofy people, but for some reason the teacher insisted we perform this piece, which describes Don Diegue's grief at being an old soldier who has been mistreated by the count. 

To give you a sense of the mood, the first lines are, "O Rage! O Desespoir!" I was nervous for weeks about the performance. You know how people say the nerves leading up are worse than the actual event? In this case, people are wrong. To borrow a line from Jackie Childs, "This is the most public of my many humiliations."

We made friends! I met Teddy (left of Joel) and Kelsey (right of Joel) after starting a writing group in Nancy. In addition to being outstanding writers, Kelsey and Teddy are superb people with wonderful partners. We all enjoyed a decadent evening of lovely food and drinks (yes, those are bloody marys made by yours truly) in Kelsey and Marc's outrageously gorgeous garden. Among us we've got two Americans, two French, one Englishman, and one Kiwi.

Up the street from our place was the Maxéville Strawberry Festival, which consisted of a giant flea market, games and activities, strawberry foods & beers, and an entertainment stage. You can imagine my surprise after seeing a group of French women line-dancing to country music, many of them looking nervous in front of the crow. I actually teared up watching them because they were doing this weird, totally out of context activity that made them happy! That's what life's about eh?

In June I met my cousin Aliza in Paris for five exciting days. I arrived an evening early to....PERFORM STAND-UP! I felt like such a baller, especially because we got to split the donations that came in- 13 euros, what up! I was VERY nervous because I hadn't done it in so long, but I think it went okay. My lovely friend from college, Hannah, and her girlfriend came to lend support. AND I got to eat a bagel sandwich. Great night all around :)

Aliza and I wandered around confused with a map attached to my face. We braved June heat, language barriers, a quirky Air Bnb rental, and a dangerously early flight home with pastries and the power of cousin love. You know we're related because when I asked her what she wanted to do in Paris, she replied without hesitation, "Eat."

One of the most amazing Paris eateries (if not the hands-down best) is L'as Du Falaffel in La Marais (a district aka arrondissement). You stand in line, pay the man like €5,50, and get a falaffel that will make you want to say dirty things to it and yell at anyone who doesn't have a falaffel that they are a dumb idiot. It's. That. Good.

Sacre Coeur = breathtaking. The big walk uphill is made much better with an ice cream cone from down the block.

As a former (and eternal) theatre nerd who got way into the film's soundtrack, I've always wanted to visit. The building is actually quite anti-climactic to swing by; the real action happens when you buy a ticket to their show. But the sight of the windmill still made me giddy!

Another cross of the Paris bucket list: Shakespeare and Company has been around since 1951, and has transcended "Anglophone bookstore" and become a literary institution. They have a wonderful program where writers can come stay there (in tiny beds in the little rooms where visitors peruse books during the day), with the requirement that these "Tumbleweeds" read a book a day, help out around the store, and create a brief autobiography for the archives. 

In addition to a brilliant collection of books, a piano, and visitors sleeping amongst the literature, there are walls filled with notes and wisdom from visitors.

After spending 4th of July celebrating on our own, we were happy to share Bastille Day with all of France! In the morning we went to the ceremony in Nancy, where the father of the kids I babysat for knighted soldiers! Super rad. Then we joined him in a beautiful historic building to hear the mayor speak.

Fabulous fireworks in Nancy! They were set to a perfectly matched soundtrack. I teared up, danced, and felt the love. Viva la France.

Nancy has a fabulous park, Parc Pépinère, that has a little free zoo featuring monkeys, deer, and this dope ass white peacock!

Joel and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on August 2nd. It was perfect. We completed an "Annual Love Contract," where we talked about what's working and what we appreciate about each other, as well as what could be improved. Then we created a plan our next year of marriage. Then we recommitted to our relationship, contract style. It's one of the best exercises we've done!

  You can get a free copy through Married With Luggage. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking, and being merry at a waterfront park.

Later in August, Joel's daddy Mario came with his selfie stick to visit us for a week!
It was Mario's first (and possibly last, ha ha) time in Europe, so we lived it up with amazing gluten-free meals every night, and plenty of Mario's famous vacation coffee (coffee + Jim Beam Black + Baileys/Creamer). Me being a dessert freak, we splurged on this gluten-free lemon cake with various flavored chocolates. Mmmm.

We took a trip to beautiful Strasbourg, which we Segway scootered all around! Fun fact: blasphemy is still a crime in the Alsace region, you can get years of jail time. Woof.


Back in Nancy, something meteorologically magical happened and our whole eye-line was covered in orange! I've never seen anything like it. Thus we end where we began, with the view that reminded me on a daily basis what an incredibly rich and fortunate adventure we are on. 

So there you have it my fine friends, our last few months in France. We came, we ate, we saw, we tried to speak, we cursed bureaucracy, we fell in love with the culture, and we grew ourselves and our marriage. 
Au revoir Lady France, until we meet again.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Unexpected Day in Paris that Sums Up Life in France

Joel and I started the process of applying for visas for our August move to Belgium. For those who were present during our visa process for France, you might recall that we experienced all the highs and lows of an exciting day at the fair followed by intense food poisoning. Acquiring those visas was nothing short of miraculous, and the grey hairs I now have that I singlehandedly blame on that experience are my constant reminder of that first horrendous brush with French bureaucracy.

We thought this time around would be less disorienting and painful. HA HA HA HA HA.......*starts sobbing* no. Case in point: A background check in every country we've lived for the past five years is required. So, we need to make a request with the FBI, which requires fingerprints. We read that the local “gendarme,” or police, offer this service. So we go, and they say to go to the prefecture (kind of a city hall). There, they tell us to go to the national gendarme. So we go, and they say, “No, you want the consulate,” the nearest one being over an hour away by train. So, we had our French friend call to ask the consulate. They say they don't do that, and we need to go to the police. *audible groans*

Nancy, France: So pretty, so devoid of fingerprinting services
Meanwhile, we paid a lady 80 euros to translate our birth and marriage certificates into French, another requirement. I asked her about the fingerprints, and she said that the police do them but you have to MAKE them, since they find it quite annoying (what??). Her friend basically did a sit-in to get them to do it.

So we went back, with a written request of what we wanted, including the phrase, “Nous sommes désespérés!” (We are desperate!). The officer investigated but concluded that they don't do it, and no one he knows of does it, and we should go to the consulate. OH MY GADDDDDDDDDDDD.

So we call a different consulate, in a city about two hours away. They say we have to go to the Paris embassy. Joel calls the Paris embassy, and asks the woman approximately five times to confirm that they in fact take fingerprints. She repeats that they do, and we reluctantly spend over 200 euros on train tickets to Paris for the crack o' dawn the next day.

We arrived in Paris early and watched people go around the insane roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe. The embassy opened, we went in, prepared to be relieved of this maddening search for someone to dip our fingers in ink in exchange for money. 

One of the most chaotic roundabouts in the world, with zero actual lanes, and cars, motorcycles, buses, and taxis all pushing through. We couldn't believe the courage of the bikers!! (Can you see one?)
Long yelling-filled story short, they didn't do it for us. They DO take fingerprints, but only for passports, not the FBI. The extremely obstinate man refused to take any responsibility for what we were told on the phone, and I yelled in broken French, and Joel yelled in better French, and the man yelled in broken English, but that was that.

I don't think I need to explain how we felt at this point. For the first time ever, I hated France. The money and time we spent on this process that still ended with nothing, not even an apology. We regrouped over tiny overpriced coffees and looked at our options. I found a blog about a guy in France who took his own fingerprints after a similar experience, so I left a message with the FBI to check if that would work.

At that point we had to just wait for the FBI to open and get back to us. Meanwhile, we had gone through all this trouble to get to Paris, and dammit we were going to enjoy it! I had fabulous suggestions from my friend Hannah on where to go, so we marked up our maps and set out.

We bought some strong underpriced “champagne” (really sparkling wine, but ya know) and walked down the Champs d'Elysses aka Rue de Baller Status. It is THE place to shop for fancy stuff, like the original Louis Vuitton and Fendi, as well as the usual suspects, like Gap, Disney, etc. You can follow the road past the palaces, gardens, museums, the Louvre, the Notre Dame, and the Seine.

The Seine!
Two lovebirds kickin' it on the Seine
"The locks" where lovers and others write their names on a lock and hang it up

A mama and her babies. We gave them some baguette :)
 The last time we spent any quality time in Paris was in December 2010. It was packed for Christmas, and I didn't make it up the Eiffel Tower or cover much ground. 

So we remedied that. I WENT UP THE EIFFEL TOWER! IT WAS SO AMAZING! Walking up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower (it's cheaper, healthier, and not that bad), the view was getting more and more amazing. And then (cliché alert), it was simply breathtaking. 

How cute is this man with the suspenders right here?!

Eiffel Tower view, April 2015
Eiffel Tower, December 2010
  The anger left both of us. The situation was still annoying, but holy crap this place is SO FREAKING BEAUTIFUL.
On the second stage of the Eiffel Tower
Selfie! We saw SO many selfie sticks, it was hilarious at first then I was kinda jealous

We talked about how countries are like women. France is old school. She is stubborn and can incite rage with her haphazard, nonsensical behavior, and refusal to ever (EVER) admit she’s wrong. Her answers to your practical questions are vague. There is an eternal mystery to her. Her favorite phrases are, “We’ll see,” and of course, “C’est la vie”. (A phrase one utters frequently, accompanied with a long sigh, while trying to check a seemingly minor task off the list.)

But for her eternal weaknesses, she is irresistible to anyone who is a sucker for spontaneity, aesthetics, and sheer pleasure. She is a proud artisan, a piece of art among the renowned collection she houses, and someone who embraces life as it is. She loves humans and their bodies and showing affection, and arguing. She knows what she likes, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Most of the time, she is just my type. And the rest of the time, well, we make up over pastries, champagne, and a magnificent view.

Kitty is sellin' that chair!
People were sprawled out in the garden, eating their sandwiches, soaking up rays