Friday, May 17, 2013

The Autobahn

As a kid I would hear a lot about the Autobahn in Germany, the road with no speed limits. For a long time I thought it was one special stretch of road. I didn't realize it was actually just the name for the highway system in Germany. I certainly didn't imagine I would be driving on the autobahn almost every day. And yet, here I am.

Last week I decided to make the plunge and switch German classes from the class I had been taking downtown to one much closer to where we live. The stress of taking David on the train 45+ minutes both ways on the train 3 times a week, plus switching trains and waiting for 5-20 minutes each time on the crowded platform was just getting to be too much for me. It was a hard decision because I'm having to repeat a whole bunch of the material (a whole book actually) now that I've switched classes, but still I think it's worth it. Alone, I find riding the subway to be about 5x more relaxing than driving. However, with a (sometimes very grumpy) two year old in tow, I find driving to be at least 5x more relaxing! It's so nice to just be able to buckle him in and then more or less not worry about him the rest of the way home. He can't hurt or offend anyone, and he's unlikely to get hurt himself.

Now that I've switched courses, I drive to my course 3 times a week. It only takes about 15-20 minutes to get there, and it's a really easy drive. So far I really enjoy driving in Germany. The first day I drove further than supermarket, I noticed a few differences/adjustments I needed to make. I was honked at 3 times in my first half hour of driving around, and since have not been honked at once. Most of the honking was due to impatience. Now that I know that, I try to be skippier with my merging and turning, and I haven't had any more problems.

The drive to my German class doesn't include any "no speed limit" zones. But I have driven north and pretty quickly you're in one of those areas. I still only drive about 120-130 km's an hour. I've just never been very comfortable driving super fast. I do find it a bit odd when I'm going 130 km/hr (so like 80 miles/hour) in the middle lane and people are zipping past in the left lane going way, way faster. Not like one person either, everyone in that lane. That's not something I've experienced in the US!

I still haven't taken a picture of the car, but I have a good excuse. They've closed all the parking on our road, and we're having to park on a different block, so it's just not very easy to step out and snap a picture. Typically when I'm taking the car somewhere my arms are loaded full of things/children, I've just walked a few blocks carrying said things/children, and I'm just trying to get everything into the car as quickly as possible. So photos are not really the first thing on my mind. However, I still plan to try and get one as soon as possible ;-)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Random coffee shop conversations

Today I had a conversation with a quirky bavarian guy. I was sitting in a coffee shop drinking coffee and doing my meal planning for the week on my computer. The old man sitting next to me leaned over and said "hubbedy blobbedy bop?" To which I responded, "bitte" (excuse me) to which he responded, "wie bubbedy bloppity das?" To which I responded "noch ein mal, bittle" (one more time please) To which he finally said "Wie viel kostet das" (how much did that cost) pointing at my laptop. I responded and we went to on to have a sort of long funny conversation. My German has come a long way, but I still have a pretty hard time understanding the standard bavarian accent. Luckily, most people will at least try to speak "high German" when they realize you can't understand "Bayerish". I still had a difficult time understanding him, but he understood me ok, so it all kind of worked out. 

Our conversations went something like this:

me: "I'm not sure how much it would cost here, I bought it in America, for 1100$, so about 800€ or something, but of course all apple products are much cheaper in America"
him: "Oh, you're American, I thought maybe so from your accent"
me: Yep, I'm American.
him: "I was in America 2 years ago, in California, it was nice, but I think for living, here is much better"
me: "yeah, I can't really say, America is such a big place, and it's not all the same, here is very nice, but it's hard for me to say"
him: "no, I'm sure its nicer here, I will never forget the poor children on the bus in California (?), here is much better"
me: "maybe so, but American is not all the same, where I' come from is very different from California for example, when I visit California it all seems strange and different to me as well. But for me, living here is hard, because I don't speak the language very well, and my family is not here, and everything is new and different, so it's hard for me to say, we plan to go back to America in a few years though."
him: "Yeah, but you speak so well! And in a few years you will even speak perfect bavarian."
me: "haha, maybe, I learn German in the school, and the only teach us high german"
him: "yeah of course that's true, but you live here, in Garching?
me: "yes"
him: "then you will also learn bavarian."
him: a bunch of long stories and explanations that I only sort of understand
me: "yes, yes, I know what you mean, well I should get back to work"
him: "yes of course," gets up to leave, "well I wish you a very nice stay in Germany, bye bye"
me: "thank you, have a nice day, bye"

It's pretty simple looking back at it, but probably the longest conversation I've had in German with a complete stranger. As an American I can't imagine insisting to a foreigner that my country is way nicer to live in than there country, but it happens a lot here. People are just more blunt/honest I guess. In a weird way it doesn't feel impolite. It's not like their trying to start a fight with you or something, just, stating the facts the way they see them.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Croatia part 2

The time we spent in Croatia was really fun, and super relaxing compared to the trip getting there!! We spent the first day in Zagreb at the house of our friends, and then they drove us to the coast where their parents live, and we spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday there. Then Monday night we drove back to Zagreb, Tuesday Dylan gave a talk at Ticijana's lab, and on Wednesday we took the train back to Munich. We packed a lot of fun into those few days!!

Friday we walked all over Zagreb:

Chasing Pigeons in the square

Looking down at Zagreb

Eating "Zagreb's best cakes"(I swear James was there too!)

Saturday we drove to Fazana. On the way there we stopped for some frogs legs (delicious!) and after we arrived we played at a playground right at the seaside, ate a delicious lunch at Ticijana's parents house, and drove to Pula where we viewed a Roman colosseum, and stopped for beers in an awesome ancient square. It was all very cool.

Old Colosseum

Ice cream in an ancient square

and of course, beer!


Sunday we visited Brijuni Island, which is wear President Tito of the former Yugoslavia had his summer home. We took a big tourist boat to get there, and then did a little train ride tour of the island. There are a bunch of animals on the island both native to the area, and some that were gifts to president Tito like an elephant and some zebras. The boys really enjoyed seeing that! After Brijuni Island we ate an amazing lunch at Orejano's parents' house and then went to another nearby town with a really cool harbor where we watched the sunset, and then wandered up these steep cobblestones roads to a cool old church, and enjoyed ice-cream next to the harbor.

The boat we took to Brijuni Island

Looking at the animals



On Monday we headed back to Zagreb, but we stopped at this cool old Castle place with an amazing view, and enjoyed a delicious Croatian meal on the way.

Awesome view

Croatian food!

On Tuesday Dylan gave a talk at the institute in Zagreb, and the boys and I hung out at a really cool playground. All in all the trip was super fun, and we'd love to go back!!

Croatia part 1

Another reason for my lack of posting in April, was our first trip outside of Germany/Austria. We took the train to Croatia to visit some good friends that we had met back in Boulder. The trip was quite an adventure!

A few days before we were scheduled to leave for Croatia I lost my bank card (actually it was the second time I lost it, but who's counting). Of course I immediately went to the bank and put a freeze on the card and ordered up a new one, but beyond that I didn't put much though into it. Dylan and I have a shared account, and so he was able to get money for me, and I also still have my credit cards, etc. The morning we were supposed to leave for Croatia, I woke up and was preparing to print out our E-ticket, when it occurred to me that I had purchased the E-ticket with my bank card, and I was supposed to use my bank card as an ID with the ticket. As a matter of fact, the ticket clearly stated on it, that it would be invalid without the corresponding ID card listed (my bank card). This was a little stressful, but I figured it would be no problem to call up the train company, and have them issue me a new ticket, or change the required form of ID, or something. So I called up the German railway, I wasn't feeling particularly ambitious, so I asked for an English representative. They nicely transferred me, and then I heard this message in English "Thank you for your call, unfortunately no one is available to assist you at this time, please try back later... click". I tried this twice more before giving up on getting to speak to anyone in English. So now I'm trying to explain and resolve my problem in German (not that bad actually, my German skills are coming along!). The first person I speak to says that's no problem at all, but since it's an international trip, he'll transfer me to the international branch, after which, of course, the call gets dropped. The next person I spoke to basically told me I was completely out of luck and would need to buy a completely new train ticket. After such vastly different stories, I decided to try one more time. The third person I spoke to told me if I could get a letter from my bank saying that the card was lost, I should be fine, but she couldn't make any promises about that letter working outside of Germany. At this point I've spent over and hour making phone calls and am totally mentally exhausted. We decide to just get to the train station early, and try to find someone their who can give us a more concrete answer.

At this point I decided to finally go ahead and print out our ticket. Of course, our printer does not work. There is no ink or something, and while it will print a shadow of the ticket, it is not presentable. No problem. Dylan will ride down to work and print the ticket there. I search for "dbahn"(the German Rail company) in my emails, and forward the most recent email with an E-ticket attachment to Dylan to print off. When we get to train station Dylan spoke (in English) to one of the information attendants and she assures him that with the letter from the bank, all my other forms of ID and Dylan's bank card we will be fine, no problems! What a relief. Things just keep getting better as we get the train and realize that the "parent-child" seats that I have booked for us are a compartment of 6 seats with a sliding door that we have all to ourselves. We are finally able to start relaxing and enjoying our trip! After about a half hour the conductor comes by and we show her our ticket and explain to her the issue with our ID card. To which she responds that our ID card is no problem, however, the fact that our ticket is for Saturday (we were traveling on Thursday) was a very big problem, and if we can't produce a ticket for today, we will either have to buy a ticket to Salzburg, and then get out, or buy a new ticket to Croatia which will be very expensive since our initial ticket was a purchased with a special fare. The explanation for this predicament is quite simple, we had changed the dates of our ticket at some point, and had accidentally printed up the old, no longer valid ticket. Looking back on it it seems a little funny, and it's a good story. But at the time, you can not imagine how stressed I was. I was literally shaking and practically in tears. At first glance, I could think of no solution, but then it occurred to me that maybe if I could just show her the pdf of our legitimate ticket, she would give us some grace and allow us to stay on the train. Thankfully, we had purchased smart phones a few months earlier, and I was actually able to pull up the correct email and e-ticket on my phone. Once I zoomed in, she was able to scan the e-ticket off of my phone with her ticket scanner. Amazing! She warned us that this may not/probably would not be accepted as a valid ticket once we were out of Germany, but we had made it past the first hurdle, and decided to ride it out and see how the rest of the day would go.

The rest of the train ride was stressful, because I never knew exactly how things would go with our tickets, but it went about as well as could have been expected. In Austria, I explained the situation in German and showed him the pdf, he stared at the screen, and then us for a long time, mumbled something incomprehensible, and then left and didn't come back. In Slovenia the conductor spoke neither German nor English very well, but was very adamant that he needed a paper ticket to punch, and so our pdf was not sufficient. We finally offered him the invalid ticket for two days in the future, and he punched it and went away satisfied. In Croatia she barely glanced at our ticket, and told us everything was fine.

After 8.5 hours on the train we finally arrived in Zagreb, and right as we climbed out of the train there was Orejano, our friend from Boulder. What a relief to see a friendly face and know that we would not have to handle and more obstacles in the day! A few minutes later his wife, Ticijana came running up and swept us all into a big hug. You can't imagine how much it meant to finally be with friends, and just be able to relax and enjoy.

The boys in our train compartment. I'm so glad we had it, it made the ride much less stressful, and I don't think I could have handled one more stressful aspect on that particular day!

We have a car!

Yikes! My last post was over a month ago. I so did not mean to let it go that long. Thanks Lou for reminding me! We're not totally without excuses though, it's been a busy last month, and will probably require a few posts to describe.

In the beginning of April we finally got our drivers licenses back, which meant we could officially start our search for a used car. I assumed everything would get easier once we had the drivers licenses in hand, and just needed to find a suitable used car. Boy was I wrong!! We started our used car search at the local car dealership. We knew in general you would get a better deal from a private seller, but it sounded stressful to try and figure out everything on our own in a foreign country, so a dealer seemed like a better choice. Unfortunately, we did not have luck with dealerships. We went to a few dealerships in our town. The first one the guy was totally sleezy and dishonest seeming. We asked him about the warranty which dealerships are required to provide in Germany, and he told us it would cost a few hundred euro extra. That coupled with the fact that we found out we'd have to pay 20% extra than the listed price of the car for taxes, made the whole dealership option seem a lot less appealing. We still thought it might work out, and checked out a few other dealerships, but they were selling only very new used cars, and didn't have anything in our price range.

Once we gave up on buying a car at a dealership, we decided to try private seller. After a few scam emails, and tons of email inquiries that didn't receive a response, I started calling people up on the phone. I remember when we moved here people told us; "everyone in Germany speaks English" and "You'll have no trouble getting things done with limited knowledge of the language" Well, I have to say, that may be true as a tourist, or if you're willing to spend a lot of money on everything you do, but in day to day life, that is just not at all true! Not one person I called up about their used car spoke English. After a long run of frustrations and complications, we finally found a car that fit our specifications,was within our price range, and was being sold within Germany (for some reason a lot of people only wanted to sell their car for export). The seller of this car, while kind of sketchy seeming, was willing to deal with us in spite of our sub-par German.

At the end of the day, we ended up buying the car. But it was not easy! We dealt with all kinds of issues from the guy selling it, and then there was all the trouble of insuring and registering the car. However, in the end it has all been worth it. Dylan has gotten to work on the car which he's really enjoyed (from the get go it needed a new battery, oil change, and the drivers side window was not functional), and we have all really, really enjoyed driving it. We drove to bible study and church last weekend which made our Sunday about 100x more relaxing a pleasant. I got to drive to a friends house  yesterday that would have taken me over an hour by bus/train, but was only 13 minutes by car! We've also already made trips to Ikea and and grocery store. It's been so nice.

The car we ended up buying is a 2000 BMW 316 compact (when in Germany...) It's very sporty and cool, but still big enough for all four of us. All four of us are absolutely loving it!