Sunday, October 31, 2010

Frankenstein Castle

I hope that everyone enjoyed the holiday weekend.

Halloween is a holiday that Germany is slowly embracing. The idea of trick or treating for children started to catch on about 5 years ago. Although we did not receive any small children ringing our doorbell, we had friends that had two or three little visitors. We were later told that the few children that do go door to door will only approach a home that has a large pumpkin on the doorstep. We will be more prepared next year.

Here is what we did this weekend....

On Friday we decided to head to Frankfurt to visit friends and travel together up to Frankenstein castle. Every year around halloween the people of the town of Darmstadt dress up and put on ellaborate monster-themed plays inside the castle walls. Frankenstein castle is a castle that was built in the 13th century. In the 18th century it became the home of Lord Konrad Dippel Von Frankenstein. The castle is also said to be the setting of Mary Shelly's book, Frankenstein. We heard several stories about how Mary Shelly actually spent time in the castle while she wrote parts of the book.

The best part of the entire evening was when all of the characters got together and performed the thriller dance.

As we crossed the first bridge we ran into a familiar character.

Although you can not see it in this picture, the castle is on the top of a very large hill and there is a beautiful view of the city behind us.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I would be LOST without you.

This weekend we had our Lost Series Finale party. Phil and I, along with another couple, have been watching the Lost dvds since we arrived in Germany. We all really enjoyed swapping theories and discussing characters throughout the series. We decided to watch the two episode finale together dressed in Lost inspired costume and nibbling on island food.

Although not all of our questions were answered, we had a great time watching, playing games and discussing the outcome.

This is part of the spread. Complete with island fruit, Black Rock cookies, Hurleys chicken and Indian food from Sayid.

Our party hosts. A polar bear and working man.

The four of us. Working man, Polar Bear, Bad Robot (the production company), and Sayid

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A few things I wish I had known 8 months ago.

Last week an article was published in Bloomberg Business week entitled, How Not to Embarrass Yourself in Germany. This article was spot on and would have been very helpful information to have when we first arrived.

1. Titles: Always use titles like Frau, Herr, Doctor and Professor. Do not use first names unless invited. Germans will often correct you right away if you forget to follow this rule.

2. Birthdays: When it is your birthday it is your responsibility to provide food and drinks. We were actually given this information as soon as we arrived. We were also warned not invite a large group of people to dinner for your birthday unless you are willing to pick up the tab.

3. Punctuality: Always be on time. Be direct and detail oriented. This is true in conversation as well. State what you need and move on.

4. Smoking: Never light a cigarette off of a candle. A common superstition says that doing so kills a sailor. Not much to say about that one.

5. Bathrooms: It commonly costs about 30 cents to use a public restroom. We have found that the cost actually ranges from 30 cents to 1.50 euro. Another than in restaurants just about all public restrooms are not free. I was shocked when I did not have any change on me and had to use the restroom at a gas station.

6. Meetings: Expect business meetings to be longer than in other countries. Phil has experienced this first hand. Germans believe that it is important to have long meetings to discuss every possible outcome of a task. This way they are prepared for everything and do not have to have a meeting later when something goes wrong.

7. Dress: Make sure to dress in business casual attire. Khakis are thought of as sloppy. I find it strange that here jeans are considered more dressy than khaki pants. This brings up another point. Germans are vocal about what they think of your clothing. About two months ago I was laughed at in line at the grocery store for wearing flip flops. Americans can be spotted a mile a way. They are the only ones wearing Khakis, polos or flip flops.

8. Jaywalking: Never jaywalk, even if there is no traffic anywhere to be seen. They are very searious about this one. The fine is usually around 40 euro.

9. Hands: Keep your hands on the table when eating. To sit them in your lap is considered rude. Growing up in a home that practiced, "no elbows on the table", I commonly keep one hand on my lap. Phil and I have both been called out by other Germans for eating, "American style."

10. Water: Expect to pay for water at all restaurants. Ordering tap water is impolite. When I was home visiting family it was so nice to have free water whenever we went out. I was also amazed at how large the glasses are in the States. In Germany you pay about $3 for each tiny glass that you drink. For this reason Phil and I usually travel with a water bottle. We actually made the mistake of requesting tap water on several occassions when we first arrived. We were denied water each time and were given some pretty strange looks. Now we know why.

Although some things have been challenging it has also been a lot of fun to learn about another culture and how they interpret life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Last Days of Fall

Fall is quickly coming to an end here in Germany. The weather center actually called for a 30% chance of snow today.

While walking to the market I took a picture of one of the last patches of colored leaves. I also love all of the bicycles, which is a common site in Erlangen.

Phil and I are trying to enjoy this season to its fullest. We have been warned that we will really miss these days in two months when we only have 5 hours of day light.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another trip booked

One of our goals while we are in Germany is to see as much of Europe as we can in two+ years. Since I am not able to work one of my jobs is to search for the best vacation deals to our top 16 locations. We came up with a list of some of our favorites to make sure that we do not leave all of our traveling until the end our time in Europe.

Our List:
1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Turkish Riviera
3. Madrid, Spain
4. Rome, Italy
5. Vienna, Austria
6. London, England
7. Ireland
8. Scotland
9. Prague (check)
10. Canary Islands
11. Lisbon, Portugal
12. Berlin, Germany (check)
13. Paris, France
14. Switzerland (check)
15. Amsterdam
16. Denmark

When I am not cleaning, working on German and my graduate classes or running errands, I love searching for deals and take this task very seriously. :)

After a lot of thought we decided to plan a trip to the Canary Islands. We came to this decision for a couple of reasons. The first was that we all wanted to go somewhere warm in late November. We have been told by several Germans that November is very cold, very gloomy, and the perfect time to travel......away from Germany. Another reason for choosing the Canary Islands is because it is very inexpensive right now. Since most Germans travel in August and September many of the all inclusive resorts drop their rates during the months of November and December. All of this led to our decision to cross off the Canary Islands from our list this November and enjoy the 75-80 degree temperature.

On Friday, Barb and I (my fellow bargain seeking expat) took the train down to the Nuremberg airport to hunt for deals. We have been told that the airport offers the best last minute (traveling within 45 days) packages. We walked from booth to booth asking about deals for travel to the Canary Islands. We finally reached one booth that looked promising and starting asking questions. We had done a lot of research via Trip Advisor concerning the various hotels and resorts on the islands. We had also decided that we wanted to stay on the island of Gran Canaria. Being able tell the travel agent exaclty what we were looking for really sped up the process. After searching for awhile the agent came back with a price that was about 100 euro less than the cheapest package that we had come across. This package included airfare and 7 days at a nice 4 star resort. We quickly jumped on the phone with our husbands and another couple that was also planning on joining us for the trip, and booked it.

We will be traveling to the islands at the end of November and will be returning on the first day of the German Christmas market season.

Can't wait!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Living in the land of Westies

This is what I would like for Christmas....

This is what the owner of our flat will allow us to have...

Something to look forward to for when we return home.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Christmas in October

Yesterday, as I was walking around town, I noticed something that surprised me. Christmas has begun......and it is only October 7th. Store windows were filled with wreaths and tinsel and St. Nicholas was displayed every where. It seems like Christmas comes earlier every year but it is not even Halloween.

The first display that I came across at one of my favorite shops:

This is getting us really excited for the upcoming Christmas markets that will pop up in all German towns.

Since we will be flying home before Christmas I am going to follow the german way by starting the process of decorating our flat on November 1st. Counting down the days............

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A fantastic week as we return to Prague

Phil and I experienced the joy of having two friends from home stay with us this week. They were in the middle of a 15 day tour of Europe and decided to stop in for a day or two before we all went to Prague. It was a lot of fun showing off our little town and taking them to our favorite spots. The weather cooperated and they were able to see Erlangen at its best. The leaves were changing colors and most of the flowers were still in bloom.

After spending time going to festivals, eating at our favorite restaurants and touring Nuremberg we got on a bus and headed to Prague. Phil and I had been to Prague in April of this year and we were excited to return. It was a quick trip, we were only there for two full days, but still had a great time. I would highly recommend our hotel. We stayed at the Arcadia Residence and it was one of the best hotel experiences that we have had so far in Europe. It is an older apartment building that was bought and refurnished by two men from Italy. The four us were very comfortable in a two bedroom apartment and also enjoyed being able to split the cost of the room between the two couples. Max, one of the gentleman that owns the apartment complex is very helpful and full of information. Everything that he recommended from the food to the tours was spot on. The hotel also offers a very large free breakfast that they bring to your room in the morning. There was so much food that we all easily had enough for breakfast and lunch.

Now onto our time in Prague....

When we arrived at the main train station we noticed that there were a lot of people dressed up in clothing from the early 1900's. We also noticed that all of the windows into the transtation were covered up. As we got closer we realized that they were filming a movie. Immediatly we all began scanning for actors as we had a pretty good view of the set. We later found out that Tom Cruise was in town and that they were filming Mission Impossible 4 in Prague and Vancouver. Although we did not get to see Tom, Katie or Suri, it was a lot of fun to see the set and film crew.

Here is a picture of the the train station where they were filming. It is a beautiful building and they did very little to change its appearance when filming.

I am excited to see the movie when it comes out so that we can try to spot the various locations.

Back to our trip...
The weather was a little chilly and overcast but that did not stop us from being able to see all of the beautiful architecture and attend a very interesting history tour. We enjoyed several Czech meals, spent time on St. Charles bridge and walked into several beautiful churches.

We learned a lot while on our history tour. I never new that Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world. Although it is hard to tell in this picture the castle is over 570 meters long and 130 meters wide.