Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dorothy, Meet Oz...

“Never give up. No one knows what is going to happen next.”
-L. Frank Baum, author of
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Well, I may not be skipping down a yellow brick road in a land populated by Munchkins and flying moneys, but I am most definitely not in Kansas (or Minnesota) anymore…

Stade City Center
Instead, I find myself in a land of crooked cobblestone streets and dozens of little bread shops where the words I hear are foreign and, more often that I care to admit, unrecognizable to my pitifully untrained ear. In this land, shops close promptly at 6:30pm, trains are never late and no one jaywalks (even when there are no cars in sight). The people are friendly, but distant and, I begrudgingly admit, I am homesick.

The Altstadt (old part of the city)

I miss the ease of walking into a post office and buying stamps without needing to rehearse every word I am about to say. I miss driving my car. I miss being able to read the buttons on my appliances. I miss the ability to call a friend or talk to my parents whenever I feel like it. I miss my dog.

But, in the midst of missing my old life, I am also learning to appreciate (and maybe someday to love) a new life in a new country. The family I work for is very kind and has gone out of their way to help me get settled in. The kids keep me so busy I barely have time to breath when I am with them (I am literally sweating by the time we finish our morning routine). The food is different but very good. And on my day off I was even able to go into Hamburg and meet another American au pair who is very nice and willing to be my travel buddy this year J

So it isn’t all bad, in fact, it isn’t even mostly bad. It’s just different. But don’t be fooled because, no matter what anyone tells you, different is hard. It can be something as small as learning to use a scale instead of measuring cups when baking, or something as large as trying to register yourself with the local police, but either way, “different” will eventually catch up to you. And, late at night when you’re all alone, different might just kick you in square in the face and then run away laughing. At this point it is your job to find a really sturdy helmet and a mouth guard because, let me tell you, “different” just got started…

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Too Tired To Be Witty

Hello everyone!
Jetlag is currently kicking my butt in all sorts of weird directions so this post probably won’t win the award for “Wittiest Travel Blog 2011,” (please don’t stop reading, I promise to do better next time!) but I wanted to give you a little update on my travels and new life here in Germany.

The three international flights (Minnesota to Iceland, Iceland to Denmark, Denmark to Germany) I took to get here were, for the most part, uneventful, but there were a few things worth mentioning…

Flying Highlights:
  • Seeing the sun rise and the moon set at the same time
  •  Flying into Iceland and seeing what an incredible land it is. I am SO going to visit there
  • Watching people gather around the windows to see Iron Maiden’s tour plane take off in Reykjavik

Flying Lowlights:
  •  The airline losing my luggage (but I got it back today so no real worries, though the bag they lost contained all of my pajamas so last night I slept in a pair of long underwear and a zip-up sweatshirt…Germany is already teaching me to improvise!)
  •  The short but memorable airplane ride from Copenhagen to Hamburg—think Captain Kangaroo in a windstorm
  • Not sleeping or brushing my teeth for far too long

After leaving Minnesota at 7:20pm on Thursday (August 18th)I finally arrived in Hamburg at 3:05pm on Friday (August 19th), where I was picked up at the airport by the “au pair dad” and driven to Stade, a small town about 50km from Hamburg’s city center.

Even though I have only been in Germany for 24 hours I have already had several noteworthy experiences:
  • Visiting a bakery where they sold at least two dozen different types of bread and nothing else (The Germans love bread like Jerry Springer loves a fistfight)
  • Having dinner outside at a real German restaurant and ordering dinner off a menu that I didn’t really understand. Luckily, I ordered something really good… now if I could only remember what it was called
  • Having my first conversation in German (don’t be too impressed, it mainly consisted of me telling the store clerk that I didn’t need any help and then apologizing for my poor German)
  •  Learning to communicate with a host dad whose first language is Dutch, a host mom whose first language is German and children who are being raised tri-lingual (Dutch, German, English). We do a lot of pointing and start many sentences with “How do you say…” (Admittedly, they’re all doing MUCH better than me!)

I also moved into my apartment, which is over the garage. When I walk inside the main building, if I go up a half flight of stairs there is a small landing and that is where my apartment is located. If I go up the rest of the staircase the family's apartment is there (they have an entire floor).

 My apartment consists of a bathroom with a washing machine that I cannot figure out, a small kitchen (fully stocked!), an office area and a bedroom. It is very nice and I’m thrilled to have somewhere to call my own. 

In future posts I promise to tell you all about my work, the town where I’m living and the life of an au pair. 

For now I am going to continue my valiant fight against jetlag and homesickness-- sometimes they win, sometimes I do. But, as Helen Keller famously said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." And no one said adventures were easy J

Miss you millions!

P.S. Thanks for all the comments-- love it!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Packing Isn't for Sissies

There comes a moment in every traveler’s life when you are forced to play a high-stakes game of Tetris with a pile of clothing and two suitcases. Now, if you’re in the midst of packing for a week-long trip to the Caribbean, you’ll probably be okay as long as you remember your bathing suit and a pair of sandals. But when you’re in the midst of moving to another country and you find yourself suddenly forced to choose between leaving behind your favorite pair of blue jeans or the old hiking boots that once saved your life in the slippery Scottish highlands, packing becomes a new form of torture.

As the suitcases fill up all too quickly you find yourself asking questions like, “Do I really need a winter jacket? I mean, come on, how cold can it get in the Alps?” and “Would it be so bad if I only brought one pair of pants? Do I need pants at all?”

 Of course, the frustration of trying to shoehorn everything into those little rolling bags is nothing compared to the pain of the dreaded 50lb weight limit. There is nothing worse than finally making everything fit only to discover that your bag is five pounds overweight… and the only solution for those of us who don’t have the money or the inclination to pay even more to check our bags, is to haul it all out and start over again (this time sans a few pairs of shoes and that paperweight that held so much sentimental value you couldn’t live without it just five minutes earlier).

By this time, of course, you’re sweating profusely. The sweat is caused in part by physical exertion and in part by the fact that you are freaking out… and the longer this goes on, the crazier you will get. Soon, as you try desperately to shove that picture of your grandma in between your socks and your deodorant, you will start to wonder why you ever wanted to travel in the first place. After all, who in their right mind makes the voluntary decision to exchange a perfectly good life filled with friends and family for a stint in a foreign country where you don’t know a soul (or even speak the language)?

“I’ve really lost it this time,” you think, even as you squeeze the air out of those space-saver bags and cram another sweater into an empty corner. “I’ve lost my mind and it’s never coming back.” In goes another picture and a tube of toothpaste. “What was I thinking?!”

But never fear, my travel-minded friends, because as soon as that last zipper is zipped, it will all come flooding back to the you: the energy of the airport, the excitement of landing in a city where no one knows your name, the exhaustion of jetlag, the fear of the unknown, the smell of somewhere you’ve never been before, the sound of a language that isn’t your own… And you will remember that, sometimes, the beauty of travel is the chaos.

Sending Much Love,


Monday, August 8, 2011

The Story in Five Acts (Or, The Obligatory First Post)

For those of you who have not been following the happenings of my post-college life and are currently wondering how I ended up with a one-way ticket to Germany (or perhaps you just need a refresher, it’s been a hell of a ride), I have decided to give you all the important details Shakespeare-style. Please see my (brief) five-act play below. J

Act I
Scene I:
Christina graduates from college. She is the class speaker, has finished her bachelor’s degree in 3 ½ years and receives highest academic honors.
Scene II: Christina is accepted to graduate school and is feeling pretty invincible.
Scene III: Christina moves back in with her parents and begins to have serious doubts about where her life is going and whether or not she wants to continue to graduate school.
Scene IV: At 2AM on a cold February night, after weeks of agonizing, Christina decides not to go to graduate school.
Scene V: Christina no longer has a plan.

Act II:
Scene I:
Christina, heartbroken over her fall from the proverbial high horse, stops getting dressed and spends all day applying for jobs for which she is either vastly over-qualified or pitifully under-qualified.
Scene II: After 8 weeks of searching Christina finally lands a job. Joy ensues.
Scene III: Joy stops ensuing when Christina realizes that her new job sucks. A lot.
Scene IV: Christina’s new job slowly drains the life out of her.
Scene V: Christina realizes that she is much too young to be so bitter and begins applying for new jobs.

Act III:
Scene I: Christina applies for AmeriCorps VISTA (a federally funded national service program often referred to as the domestic version of the Peace Corps).
Scene II: Christina accepts a VISTA position in St. Paul, MN and spends a year working hard, learning lots and generally enjoying herself immensely.
Scene III: Christina’s year of service begins to wind down and her travel bug kicks in like nobody’s business.
Scene IV: Christina applies to, and is accepted at a British university offering a master’s program that is right up her alley. Christina is joyous.
Scene V: Financial aid falls through. Christina’s butt has officially been kicked by higher education systems on two continents. Christina decides that advanced degrees are not for the weak at heart.

Act IV:
Scene I: Christina is in a pickle.
Scene II: Wanderlust takes over once again and Christina, who has been studying German for the last year, decides to improve her language skills.
Scene III: Christina, who loves children almost as much as she loves travel, decides to become an au pair (nanny) in Germany.
Scene IV: Christina applies to an au pair agency, is accepted and is placed with a family just outside Hamburg.
Scene V:
Christina buys a one-way ticket, packs her bags and starts a blog. She will leave for Germany on August 18, 2011.

Act V:
Currently Unwritten—but stay tuned.