Round Up: Five Months in Europe

Seeing as I’ve been home for several months, it might be time to do a little round-up of my trip through Europe. Probably.

Spain

(Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, Almería, Granada, Cádiz, Seville, Madrid)

How long? Four weeks.

Favorite Memory: The moment I discovered that space heaters underneath tall, round and tableclothed tables was a thing. My feet were overjoyed and warm.

Another Favorite Memory: Becoming best friends forever with my Couchsurfing hosts in Madrid. I love it when you just click with strangers.

Notable Blog Post: Photoessay: Carneval and Cádiz

If I could go back to Spain, I’d… see what Northern Spain is all about and embark on a Camino de Santiago.

My favorite photograph:When you're driving somewhere and the road is blocked... goat figure.

When you’re driving somewhere and the road is blocked… goat figure.

Ireland

(Dublin, Galway, Aran Islands)

How long? One week in Dublin, one day in Galway, two weeks on Inishmore.

Strangest Moment: Um, that moment I woke up and had a buzzcut? Or maybe the time I became best friends with a donkey. Or maybe the time a sheepdog actually guided me to one of the old forts on Inishmore, by leading the way. A lot of strange things happened in Ireland and I liked it.

Notable Blog Post: The Ridiculous Story of My Buzzcut

If I could go back to Ireland, I’d… just road trip around the entire coastline, since I’m obsessed with coastlines and rock beaches, and then end with some time in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

My favorite photograph:

UK

(London)

How long? Four days.

Favorite Place: I really loved the cafe at the top of Tate Modern Museum (and the Afternoon Tea that came with it!).

Notable Blog Post: On Falling in Love With London

If I could go back to the UK, I’d… probably still spend the entire time in London despite any efforts not to.

My favorite photograph:
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France

(Paris)

How long? Four days.

Favorite Memory: My friend and I snuck into a long-term Catholic hostel, stealthily climbed five or six flights of stairs and sat on the roof. We watched the sun set over the city and Eiffel Tower. Fo free ninety nine.

Notable Blog Post: Photoessay: Paris in Spring

If I could go back to France, I’d… not have a fever and maybe budget a million times more money so I could enjoy all those expensive things the city has to offer.

My favorite photograph:Poor Oscar Wilde.

Poor Oscar Wilde.

Germany

(Berlin, Dresden, Halle an der Saale, Leipzig, Munich, Nuremberg, Weimar, Munich)

How long? A week in February, three weeks in April, one week in July.

Strangest Moment: Seeing my mom speak German was pretty strange. Seeing my dad jump on a street car. Basically just the whole thing with my parents being expats was strange at first. (Now it’s gloriously wonderful!)

Notable Blog Post: True Life: My Parents Are Expats

If I could go back to Germany, I’d… I AM! Over Christmas. Bring on the frozen cobblestone streets. I plan to wear a lot of scarves. It just feels kind of German to me.

Also: One of the most interesting tours I’ve ever taken happened in Nuremberg. I toured the secret tunnels underneath the castle walls, where soldiers hid out in case of attack, and as a bonus to my pride, understood the entirely-in-German tour.

My favorite photograph:
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Poland

(Szczecin)

How long? One glorious, pierogi-filled weekend.

Favorite Food: Pierogis.

Second-favorite Food: Umm… Pierogies.

My favorite photograph:
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Switzerland

(Geneva, Lucerne, Basil, Brienz, Interlaken, Thun)

How long? One week.

My favorite photograph:
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Austria

(Graz, Bad Radkersburg)

How long? Not nearly enough. One week.

Favorite Memory: All of the old friends I was reunited with and the hugs that came with them. I know those are technically multiple memories. But they all lump together into a big happy feeling for me.

Notable Blog Post: My Austrian Homecoming

If I could go back to Austria, I’d… stay there longer.

Also: If you get the chance, go to the Zotter Museum outside of Graz. Best. (Most Chocolaty.) Tour. Ever.

My favorite photograph:
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Croatia

(Zagred, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik)

How long? Ten days.

Favorite Place: A certain beach on the island of Hvar, between Split and Dubrovnik, comes to mind. I biked down the coast and found a beautiful, quiet place to lay out by myself and fall asleep to the sound of waves rushing over the rocks.

Notable Blog Post: Photoessay: Ugly Beautiful Zagreb

If I could go back to Croatia, I’d… pick an island and stay there for a while. And eat less pizza. I ate way too much pizza.

Also: When I got off the bus to Dubrovnik, I listened to the first old man trying to sell me accommodation and got into his car to see the rooms. They were perfect. I ended up staying another two nights, making friends and enjoying the incredibly beautiful back patio area when I wasn’t in the city. Trust.

My favorite photograph:
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Montenegro

(Budva)

How long? One limp-tastic day. (Got sea urchin in my foot while swimming in Dubrovnik.)

Strangest Moment: Relying on a German guy I’d just met to help me limp to and from the restaurant. He told me about the time he biked from Germany to India. It was strange in a cool way.

If I could go back to Montenegro, I’d… visit Kotor. We drove through it on the way to Budva and it looked breathtakingly beautiful.

My favorite photograph:
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Albania

(Tirana, Saranda, Girocaster, Dürres)

How long? One month.

Favorite Memory: It took me a while to get used to the cold water (which warmed up later in the season and wasn’t actually that cold, I’m a wimp) but once I did, swimming in the ocean felt amazing, especially once I built up a little strength and could stay out for a while.

Notable Blog Post: Photoessay: Albania Blooms

If I could go back to Albania, I’d… try to volunteer somewhere. I’d love to hang with Albanians more.

My favorite photograph:
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Italy

(Bari, Rome)

How long? Barely a day in Bari, five days in Rome.

Favorite Food: Gelato. I was skeptical of everyone saying the gelato in Italy was soooo good, but my first cone turned me into a believer.

Notable Blog Post: iPhone Photoessay: Giovanni’s Mother’s Cooking

If I could go back to Italy, I’d… take my time seeing more cities and spend time in the heel and the toe.

My favorite photograph:

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Whatcha think?

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Photoessay: Paris in Spring

Oh, Paris. I didn’t have the most wonderful time. It took me three tries to find a croissant worthy of bragging about. I spent more time lost than found, and not in the good way. And maybe worth mentioning is the borderline dangerous fever I had for a few days while there. It all worked out in the end, though; I got some beautiful photographs and much-needed antibiotics in Germany the following week.

I’ve been playing around with isolating select colors in Photoshop, so these photographs are a little different from the usual.

 

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You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in your inbox, if that’s what you’d like.

Photoessay: Albania Blooms

I have yet to write about Albania, but it was one of the countries that stuck with me most. While I loved the friendly people, little bits of chaos that infiltrated everyday life and the gorgeous Adriatic sea on my doorstep, the flowers are what immediately come to mind when I picture the country. It seemed like everywhere I looked, another new kind of flower peeked out between a fence or two buildings, brightening my day.

So I tried to make it a habit to stop and smell the roses. In other words, I photographed the shit out of those flowers.

Enjoy!

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Which flowers are your favorite? Have you ever seen any of these where you live or while traveling?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Ugly Beautiful Zagreb

I’m back home now and beginning the immense project of processing my photographs from a long five months of travel through Europe. I visited what felt like city after city, and while many were somewhat like the others, blending into the background of extended travel, Zagreb, Croatia is one city that really stood out to me. I liked the contrasts of Upper and Lower Zagreb; the lower area felt like the metropolis you’d expect from Croatia’s capital, while the upper town stretched over hills and held beautiful green space. In fifteen minutes you could walk from a busy downtown to what felt like a secluded residential street and just as easily make your way back to the buzzing hum below.

When asked to describe the architecture of Zagreb to a friend shortly after leaving, I said this: It’s the weirdest mix of ugly and beautiful I’d ever seen in one place. And I like it. While I didn’t walk away with many photographs (just enough!), I did pick up some lovely memories of a city I’d be delighted to revisit.

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Have you ever been to Zagreb, Croatia and what did you think? Would you like to go? How ’bout that retro passenger van? (I want one!)

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iPhone Photoessay: Giovanni’s Mother’s Cooking

Somehow, someway, I ended up on the fourth floor of an old European apartment, walls clad with twenty-year-old wallpaper and the living room desk covered in small, framed family photographs. An older Italian lady stood in the kitchen, preparing pasta for me and my Couchsurfing host. I was at Giovanni’s mother’s home, in Rome, Italy, and she was cooking us lunch.

I guess I’m the kind of girl you can bring home to your momma. Even if your momma doesn’t speak English and we’ve known each other for two days, and we’re just friends. Now that I think about it, this isn’t the first time I’ve been invited along with the parents.

I’m not complaining… certainly not on a full stomach.

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Om nom nom?

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My Austrian Homecoming

Some readers may already know this, but when I was seventeen, I moved abroad for the first time. It was in Austria, as an exchange student (through AFS, a fantastic organization, might I add!), that I first got a taste of a world outside of my own. I lived with a family who, ironically, was Croatian in origin but spoke German while I was around and went to a Gymnasium (high school) during the day. It was the first time I created a world completely outside of my own. I had friends, a family, old teachers and even some dirty laundry in Bad Radkersburg, Austria, a small city on the border of Slovenia. (You haven’t lived in a place until you’ve got dirty laundry there, amiright?)

Leaving was heartbreaking, but I visited twice in the next two years; once, for my host sister and classmates’ graduation party (called Maturaball) in 2008 and another time in 2009, when I got to see the big city of Vienna and spend some time with old friends in the nearby city of Graz. Shortly after, University swung into full effect, I joined a sorority (goodbye money, but hello friends!) and began blazing a trail in other, new parts of the world. I studied abroad in Argentina, graduated and moved to South Korea to teach English, and suddenly it had been nearly five years since I’d visited with my other life in Austria.

So when I planned five months in Europe, and my parents moved to Germany, there was absolutely no question about it. I was headed back to Styria, Austria, where my travel feet were first grown. I was going home.

 Cue music: I’m coming home, I’m coming home. Tell the world I’m coming home.

Seventeen-year-old American on the loose in Austria... beer in hand. Sounds about right.
Seventeen-year-old American on the loose in Austria… beer in hand. Sounds about right.

I arrived in Graz, Austria in a rather tumultuous emotional state. I’d just spent the past week with my boyfriend in Switzerland, who’d flown in from South Korea to see me for the first time in four months. In a week I won’t be writing much about, we swung from fight to hugs to fights to tears to a strange, mellow last few days of peace. It all sounded like a romantic love story: girl meets boy in a foreign country, they endure long distance for a time and have a romantic week in one of the most beautiful countries on earth, sitting together, talking while staring out onto a lake surrounded by towering mountains. But life isn’t a storybook and I left that week confused, because it didn’t feel right and I couldn’t pinpoint why.

Walking out of the train station in Graz, I found my way to Claudia‘s apartment, who had offered to put me up while I was in town. It was a strange feeling; I’d been in Graz before, but I had no orientation whatsoever as to where certain things were or where I was. Grabbing a map first thing from the tourism stand seemed a bit odd to me, but I was lost without it. In the first few days, I wandered around, map in hand, and saw corners or streets that suddenly hit me in the face with a memory.

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Most unfortunately, I didn’t rediscover this delicious schnitzel restaurant.

Ah, that’s where Hjördis and I took the bus home at 6 am, that first time I ever stayed out bar-hopping an entire night!

My two host sisters live and study in Graz, and seeing them was one of the highlights of my time there. (My third host sister has moved to Vienna to be a big-shot singer! Yay!) We met for drinks, caught up on the last five years of our respective lives, and then settled into laughing and group meals as if we’d been living together all along. I’d later move myself to Nika’s couch for my last few days, so I had time to catch up on blogging and a shorter walk to the center of the city. Seeing them was everything I’d hoped, with a little extra joy sprinkled in. It was also exactly what I needed; talking through my then-current boyfriend situation helped me see clearly that it didn’t matter if I could pinpoint it or not, something didn’t fit. (I made the difficult Skype call sometime later, once I was alone in Croatia.)

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Circa 2007.

Yes, I remember now! That weird organ-like building I kept picturing as Vienna is actually here, in Graz, and it’s an art museum!

I also got to reconnect with ancient friends, some of the few I have from my teenage years. Mona, who’s since grown dreads, spent significant time in India and is as sweet and intelligent as ever, introduced me to pumpkin seed oil ice cream (only in Styria…) and we spent a few hours laying out in the sun on some of the city’s green. Sigi took me on an amazing tour of Zotter’s Chocolate Factory which included so much tasting, my stomach rebelled for several hours afterwards. I also met another friend whom I haven’t kept in touch with, but who remembered not only me but most of my horrible, drunken shenanigans from that semester abroad seven years ago. (It wouldn’t be a visit home without more of that dirty laundry coming out of the woodwork, amiright, amiright?) In a lucky turn of events, I also caught up with my host dad and we took a nice selfie together to commemorate.

SELFIE WITH MARIO!
SELFIE WITH MARIO!

Graz, Austria is where most of my friends now live, but it isn’t the city I studied in all those years ago. I took one day to stroll down memory lane and visit the small border town where I went to school: Bad Radkersburg.

There’s a very special family that lives in Bad Radkersburg, and I’m not talking about my first (unsuccessful) host family. It’s the family that saw me through it all; the uncomfortable beginning, my host family transition and the ever-too-soon end of my time. We passed so many evenings with dinner and a bottle of wine, talking late into the night on the outdoor porch. When I get a package of chocolate from Austria in the mail over Christmastime, I can guarantee it’s from the lovely family who watched me grow up in Bad Radkersburg: Claudia, her mom and sister, and when he’s in town, Uncle Edmond. (Plus the endless kitties!) They met me at the train station and I was able to spend one night in the good old way, with wine and real conversation and chicken and stars soup, minus the chicken. It was hard to tear myself away the next afternoon; those 24 hours were a visit long overdue, much enjoyed and over much, much too quickly.

Just as my slightly longer visit in Styria was also over much, much too quickly.

The Hauptplatz in Bad Radkersburg, Austria where I spent 5 months in high school.
The Hauptplatz in Bad Radkersburg, Austria where I spent 5 months in high school.

I remember this H&M! Sara and I went shopping here, one time, and I bought that awful striped purple tank top.

A lot of hugs and new (but just as beautiful) memories with old friends later, I gathered my belongings into my little blue suitcase and made my way to the train station. Just like I did in Berlin, in Geneva and as I would again do in Zagreb, I turned my head up to locate the correct track for my train. Coming to Graz, I’d been home for a moment. But it was once again time to move.

I settled into my window seat. The train rolled on.

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Do you have another life in another country that feels like home when you visit? Was this super depressing? (Sorry!) Have you ever tried delicious pumpkin seed oil ice cream or does it freak you out a little bit?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

The Truth About Couchsurfing

Does the thought of contacting a stranger to sleep on their couch or spare bed freak you out? You’re not the only one. That’s about how most of my relatives react, with a bit of fear in their voice, when they hear I’ve been Couchsurfing. The first time I used it, traveling through Argentina three years ago, I didn’t even tell my parents what I was doing until after the fact. It sounds scary, and for some people it can be. It took me all of thirty seconds to find four different articles about how to Couchsurf safely, most of them centered on the idea that some people have ulterior sexual motives. But there’s more to it than that.

So what’s the point of Couchsurfing, anyways? Here’s the mission statement, straight from the website:

We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.

It sounds great and when it works, it is. But before you plan to travel several months without budgeting for accommodation, there are some things you need to know about Couchsurfing.

My very first Couchsurfing host, back in 2011.
My very first Couchsurfing host, back in 2011 in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

Reading is Required

When you find someone on the website, you have to read their profile. Then you have to read through their references. Then you need to read about their couch, apartment location and any rules they have concerning staying there. It’s not an option, it’s a requirement. If you send a request to someone who’s profile you haven’t read, it shows, and you’ll either be denied or end up somewhere you’re not prepared to be. Either way, it’s much better to just read a potential host’s profile thoroughly before contacting them. You’re staying with a probably really awesome stranger, but even so, do your research.

It’s an Exchange

How would you feel if someone walked into your house, used your toilet paper, slept on your couch, ignored you throughout the morning and then left? Couchsurfing is not a free hotel. While money is off the table, you’re still expected to give something to your host in exchange for their time and hospitality. Think a small magnet from your last destination, a recipe from your home country, a note of appreciation or just a willingness to always wash the dishes are often well-accepted. Couchsurfing has a “Teach, Learn, Share” section of their profile that asks you to describe what you could teach or share with someone hosting you, and what you’re interested in learning. For most people, good conversation and some stories are enough, though in truth it’s just about the effort. I personally like to keep notecards with a photograph of Pittsburgh on them and write small thank-yous on the day I leave, or bring a bottle of wine from the region I’m coming from. Intangible or otherwise, you need to give something back to your host.

What You Save in Money, You Spend in Time

Going to Hostel World, picking out a hostel and making a reservation usually takes somewhere between five to ten minutes for me, depending on how lost my credit card is in the depths of my purse. It’s easy and your bed is guaranteed the second you click ” confirm”. When you Couchsurf, the opposite is true. While I wholeheartedly believe that the experience is worth every minute you put into it, dear golly, I have put a whole lot of minutes into finding hosts on Couchsurfing. First there’s the reading, then there’s more reading of more profiles just to be sure you found a good one. Then comes the writing of a good couch request or two. Then you wait for a response, which could come immediately or never (check those response rates before you choose someone!), and when you’re trying to surf in Europe in the middle of July, for example, you’re bound to get several rejections before finding a suitable place to stay.

All in all, sometimes Couchsurfing takes forever. And if you’re traveling on a more fast-paced trip, one or two days in each city, it may not be worth it to you to spend an hour or two daily on the Internet, trying to find your next place to stay, when you could be out soaking up your current destination. Whatever your circumstances, it’s important to know that Couchsurfing is going to take you a lot of time and weigh that into your decision.

You Will Live Like a Local

On one hand, this can be an amazing experience to see what people really live like in cities all over the world. On the other hand, they may not live as well as you’re accustomed to and this may mean grungy bathrooms, tiny kitchens and less than beautiful apartment complexes with way too many stairs. One time my host didn’t have air conditioning, and I sweat buckets in a windowless room and in the heat of summer for two nights straight. But I didn’t complain because she was sleeping in the same house with the same temperature, and it was part of her everyday life. Just know that when someone welcomes you into their home, it’s not always roses, but it will be authentic.

Some People Want Sex

I know, I know. Nobody wants to hear about this, least of all my mother. But it’s been talked about before, and it’s a fact of life that some people use Couchsurfing as a way to have exotic one night stands. I can firmly say that I’ve encountered no such unsolicited situations myself, over three years and about 30 different hosts, a third of them men. But it’s something women and men alike have to watch out for, and some Couchsurfers have even deleted their profile over. This usually happens more in man-centric cultures, though that’s not to say you shouldn’t keep an eye out for it surfing in the West as well. You can easily tell what someone’s intentions are, though. Just read through reviews people have left for one another and you’ll quickly find real people who are in it for the cultural exchange of ideas, not fluids.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

You gotta have it. You’ll need to respect not only your host’s home by keeping clean and not going through their things (duh!), but you’ll more importantly need to respect their rules and boundaries. If they only have one key and need you to get up in the morning at the same time they do, you’ll need to do it with a smile, 8 AM and all. If your host is vegetarian, it would be respectful to not cook hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day or offer them a casserole with meat hidden in the folds. If they need to work or study during the day, you’ll need to respect that they can’t show you around and be independent, sightseeing on your own. Because Couchsurfing is a mutual agreement based on trust, respect is huge. HUGE!

The Kindness and Trust of Strangers is Real

I’ve had so many hosts go out of their way to make sure I’m having a great experience; everything from cooking me specific foods I wanted to try, calling their history-buff friends to give me an impromptu city tour, to bringing me out with their friends or to their work and even going so far as paying for my meal, when I’m the one sleeping in their space. I can’t even count the number of times my host has met me and immediately given me a spare key, so I could come and go at my leisure. If nothing else, Couchsurfing will give you a deep and life-long conviction that people are kind and good at heart, and then create in you the desire to be just as kind and good to the strangers you meet.

 

Just a few of the many, many faces from my Couchsurfing experiences.
Just a few of the many beautiful souls from my Couchsurfing experiences.

 

If you do it wrong, you could end up in an uncomfortable, or worse, compromising situation. But if you do it right, it may change not just the way you travel but the way you live and think about humanity.  And that’s the real truth about Couchsurfing.

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What have your Couchsurfing experiences been like? Any other truths you think I’ve missed? Completely disagree?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe for email updates, if you’d like!

 

True Life: My Parents Are Expats

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There they stood, lurking in their small town’s daily market, among stalls of horse sausage, cheese-galore and asparagus, acting like they fit in. They walked like the others, but they did not talk like the others. These two adults were different. They were expats.

And so might begin the saga of my parents, who’ve just begun a brand new chapter in their married lives: expating. In Germany. I think the empty-nest syndrome must be a real thing, because why else would two perfectly happy people pick up and move somewhere that doesn’t have bagels?

Yeah, no idea.

My Dad’s job sent him to a new position outside of Halle an der Saale, Germany, a city which I explored for a few days (and found quite charming) when I first began this five-month trip around Europe. When I first arrived in Halle with him, he was going solo; my mom had been left behind to tie up loose ends around Pittsburgh before heading over herself. He was still living out of a hotel room when I left and the house they’d agreed to rent wasn’t quite ready for them.

But when April rolled around, I rushed into town as well. And by “rushed”, I mean stumbled in with baggage… I came down with a fever in Paris a few days earlier (plus a lingering chest cough, yuck) and had to spoil my poor parents’ fun with sickness. But I got better. And I wasn’t completely useless the entire time, in fact I was almost always up for eating cake.

Almost always = always.

We also spent a lot of time shopping, which is what happens when your parents sign a two-year lease for a house with literally nothing in it. My poor father spent several weeks building basic furniture – beds, tables, chairs – after work each day before my mom arrived, so they would at least have something to sleep on. In the three weeks I was there, the furniture grew by four patio chairs and an outside table (co-opted to be a dining room set in the interim), a large area rug, a grill and a very comfortable, if I do say so myself, corner couch.

When we weren’t shopping for furniture, we were outfitting the kitchen. Cutting boards and spatulas and a blender (Mom’s smoothies, hurray!) and the proper knifes and the list goes on. Then there were the actual food items that one needs in a kitchen; cinnamon and other assorted spices, almond butter, olive oil, Greek yogurt and where is the spinach? Are these sweet onions or normal? I’d almost forgotten about all those small details that can drive an expat mad before they’ve gotten into the swing of things. Bless my mama’s heart, she doesn’t even speak German and she strolled down those grocery store aisles and pointed to the cheese she wanted with confidence, and succeeded.

During my last week there, she even strolled down the street to the meat shop and got extra bratwurst for dinner, all by herself. Boom. She does a lot of strolling.

In between the shopping madness, my parents got to try some new foods.

Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad's consumed since arriving in Germany. Nom.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad has consumed since arriving in Germany.

And me? Well… I also ate. I ate so much, so well, so many different great foods while I was with my parents, that I’m going to have to put together a separate post on that once my final week in Germany is over in the beginning of July. Prepare to drool. Unhelpful Hint: Cake.

But, like any expat adventure, it’s not an adventure until hilarious and uncomfortable things happen.

Here’s an except from an email my father sent me sometime in early March:

I had a great Sunday morning here in Halle. At Jon’s behest I did 25 minutes of intense exercise outside. Maybe 42degF.  While in push-up position after about 10 reps I heard someone coming and maybe a pet in tow. I kept to my business of doing my reps but could not ignore the presence of an animal right next to me who was not going anywhere. I turned my head towards the presence and was dutifully licked in the face by a large dog twice as big as Finn with a face like Finn. The dog was not on a leash but was with the owner– a 30ish eastern euro looking man who didn’t care or wasn’t alarmed at his unleashed dog licking the face of a defenseless and vulnerable man on the ground. He said nothing to me, just calmly called his dog to keep going. I finished my push-ups and stood up to see what was going on. I guess dogs are irresistibly drawn to me.

As for my mom, she’s just had to try a lot of different ways of ordering a decaf latte, because what they have on most menus isn’t quite right. And she would also dropkick me from across the continent if I posted any actually embarrassing moments on the entire Internet, and so I will stay mostly silent on that.

The biggest challenge for my parents during the three weeks I was there was undoubtedly attempting to get Internet. Every single morning, my mother and I would wake up and head to a local cafe with our computers in tow and use up our daily allotted two hours on their network. We struggled to find a better cafe with unlimited WiFi and enough outlets for us, and both of us had high hopes that the Internet conundrum would be solved before each week was up. But each day and week passed, and the kind-of-crappy satellite still wouldn’t pick up a good signal and the software was outdated, to boot. Dad’s work friends came over, the landlord came over, the company was called and complained to, the local experts were asked how much they might charge to fix it. For three long weeks (and more), Internet was illusive. When I left to continue my trip, it was still unresolved.

Turns out, the router just needed a good restart. They finally got Internet in the house about a week after I left: mission successful.

Now that they’ve settled into the house, gotten a long-term rental car and set themselves up with Internet, the news is that my parents are very happy at the moment indeed. And I’m very excited for them; these are going to be two years to remember.

And so they laughed over a cup of coffee as my father eyed up a strawberry shortcake on display a few feet from him, wasting away a lazy Saturday in a place they now called home.

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Have your parents or family ever lived abroad? What do you think of my parents living in Germany? Do you need recommendations for restaurants in Halle an der Saale? (My dad can help you out!)

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Photoessay: A Day in Bray

I haven’t written about it yet, but I didn’t really enjoy Dublin, Ireland very much. So one beautiful day I decided that instead of commuting north into the downtown again, I’d instead head south and see what the ocean side had to offer. After all, people don’t travel to Ireland to see Trinity College once and then head home. They come for the green. So 13 miles down the coast from Dublin, I traveled, looking for some green.

My oh my, what I found exceeded my expectations. Not so much the green, but the way the green contrasted with everything around it. It seemed almost neon. And the small mountain the lay south of Bray bordered right up against the ocean, and included what I later learned was the most expensive-to-maintain stretch of railroad tracks in Ireland and is still used to this day. The views are probably incredible on that train, judging from my own incredible views a few feet above.

Near that railroad track, winding its own way around the mountain, is a six kilometer stretch of trail that reaches the next nearest town, Greystones. The stretch of trail overlooks the ocean for its entirety and I felt jealous of the joggers and runners I saw along the way; they would be able to complete and see the entire stretch today, while I could only walk part before it was time to go home.

In the end, it was a wonderful day in Bray.

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Have you ever visited Bray or rode down this stretch of the railway? What did you think? Would you ever run this trail?

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