Friday, December 25, 2015

Why do Germans have a cold stereotype?

When Mihai found out that he'd be living in Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost region of Germany, he was a little bit nervous because everyone he had met through his exchange program, CBYX, said that north Germans are cold, closed and reserved. This stereotype is quite common; I had heard the same thing when in Italy. However, based on my experiences, this generalization could not be farther from the truth. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and generosity that I experienced with all of the Germans I met in the Kiel area.

He's not German but he's still pretty too cool

From the beginning, Silke, the owner of the hostel I worked/stayed at, had been more than generous with me. I had very little work and essentially a free place to stay. She often gave me rides to Kiel and back to Schwedeneck so I didn't have to take the hour long bus ride. She even left me a surprise birthday present of elderflower juice and chocolates. She cooked a traditional German dinner of raw, salted mackerel, apples and potato in a mayonnaise sauce for Mihai and I one evening. She even drove him to the bus stop that night so he didn't have to walk alone in the dark. She prepared breakfast for me one morning and invited me along with her and her 8-year-old daughter to play mini golf. She bought me a fish sandwich for lunch that day too. She let me take home a jar of the homemade elderberry jam we made together. She is an extremely kind-hearted woman and I'm so grateful to have met her!

The meal Silke made for us :)

Mini golf with Silke!!

Mathilda, Silke's 8-year-old daughter

Mihai's friends had a party and invited me to come too. As soon as I got there, everyone was so welcoming, friendly and talkative! A couple other times I hung out with Mihai and his friends and they were so nice. Mihai's one friend, Niklas, once waited two hours for us to finish eating dinner so we could all ride the train together. He also bought us subway cookies once!

New German friends!

By the last week in Germany, I got a decent amount of guests staying at the hostel in Schwedeneck. Nina and Frederike were two 16-year-old girls from Berlin staying in the countryside for a week during their fall vacation. And Johst was a 19-year-old guy from Hamburg who was staying in Scwedeneck for three weeks while he did an internship with a blacksmith. Nina, Frederike and Johst were all extremely talkative and were always hanging out together. Although, I was often busy cleaning and going to visit Mihai in Kiel, the three always invited me to join them in bike rides, meals or late night walks. Nina and Frederike even asked for my phone numbers and invited me to come visit them in Berlin sometime!

Midnight stroll in the middle of nowhere

Frederike, Johst and Nina

When Silke made dinner for Mihai and I at the hostel in Schwedeneck, it turned into a little mini party. Normally at night in the hostel it was just me, myself and I (hyperventilating in the dark from a nightmare about someone sneaking in and murdering me) but that evening there was Silke and her daughter, Mihai and I, Johst, Frederike and Nina and also two construction workers. Definitely a party compared to what I was used to! When I first welcomed the construction workers to the hostel, they kind of intimidated me. They were the typical construction workers: big, burly and gruff. As soon as they got into the kitchen they began unloading bottles of beer, vodka and whiskey. Silke had warned me they might be a little rambunctious. Oh boy. But that wasn't the case at all. The two men sat with the rest of us in the kitchen, sipping on their beers, talking and laughing. One guy offered us a piece of his own homemade salted eel (not my favorite food; super oily). He also pulled out his phone showing us picture of his wife and children. Shows you can't judge a book by it's cover! That tough guy construction worker was a  huge softie inside!

The two construction workers

Enjoying his alcohol haha

Barbara (Mihai's host mom), Jorn (host dad) and Merle (18-year old host sister) basically adopted me into their family as a second exchange student. After our first dinner together they invited me to come back anytime. I went over at least once a week for dinner and spent nearly every Friday and Saturday sleeping over. Jorn once joked that I only came over for the free food and was eating them out of house and home (not true!). Mihai and I were so happy that his host parents allowed me to sleepover! I couldn't believe it! These people had been strangers to Mihai less than a month ago and were now welcoming both him and his girlfriend into their homes as if we were family. I know that my old host family in Italy would never have permitted such a thing. Mihai is really lucky to have such an amazing host family. They're also a perfect fit for each other because the whole family eats healthy, Jorn and Merle do crossfit and Jorn always takes Mihai on long bike rides and runs.

For some weird reason, I don't have a picture of Merle but this is Barbara and Jorn!

Baltic sea!!!

Mihai's host family is also extremely family-oriented and slightly quirky (but in a good way). They eat dinner together every night and linger for at least an hour (sometimes two) afterwards in conversation. They have their own unique family words that they invented, for example schnabel is the word they invented for when they have a really small amount of food leftover. They eat a huge breakfast of bread with various toppings (similar to Danish smorrebrod but less fancy) such as pickled herring (fish), smoked salmon, sausage and other meats and a variety of cheeses and jams together every Saturday and Sunday morning at 10am. Then every weekend they take at least one outing all together as a family. I joined them too a few times! Once we went to a fall market in Surendorf (countryside) and another time we walked around the beach town of Eckenforde.

German breakfast mmmm

Hard candy factory

Flags from each district of Germany


Of course it was raining, what's new

The thing about German people, though, is that they are blunt, relatively private and don't talk if they don't feel like it. These are the only reasons I can think of that may explain why they're considered "cold". For example, Johst (the guy from Hamburg staying in the Schwedeneck with me) once saw my hairbrush and said, " You should really clean that..." Then when Mihai and I went to Hamburg, we asked this couple waiting in line if they'd take a picture of us. The couple was just standing in line, not doing anything, waiting for a bratwurst but they looked at us and flat out said "no". Not even "no thanks", just "no". Then they smiled and turned their backs on us. It was such an odd encounter. Germans don't really beat around the bush; if they don't want to take a picture of you, they're not going to do it just to be polite.

Oh and a random thing about Germans, they love contraptions for their boiled eggs. They use egg holders and have another thing for cracking a boiled egg and then two more devices for slicing their eggs. Totaling 5 thingamabobs just for boiled eggs. Back when I was in Italy, my German friend Christian even had egg holder in his camper. I guess he was munching on a lot of hard boiled eggs during his camping trips and, of course, being German, would never use anything besides the designated egg holder.

Egg holder! Don't have pictures of the other things though :(

But the good thing about Germans always telling the truth is that you know they mean what they say. I know Jorn and Barbara weren't just being polite when they said they didn't mind driving me and Mihai to a restaurant. They really just didn't mind. That's another thing, from what I experienced, German people are extremely laid back. I never once saw Jorn and Barbara stressed much less upset about anything (not even when I accidentally used salt instead of sugar in the apple pie). If I did something wrong at the hostel, Silke never got irritated either, she'd just calmly explain the right way to do it. Oh my gosh, quick side note, German bed sheets are SO WEIRD. It took me forever to figure out the right way to make a bed. Okay, so there's the normal bottom sheet that wraps around the bed (nothing different to the American one) but then things get strange. Germans don't use another bed sheet over the tops of their bodies and then a comforter. Instead, they just put a sheet around their comforters. Then they wash this comforter-wrapper sheet instead of the whole comforter. Typical efficient Germans. Why have a sheet and a comforter when you could just combine the two?? Except it makes making a bed a pretty difficult task because you have to shove the comforter inside of it's wrapper sheet.

The even weirder thing is that double sized sheets, comforters and mattresses simply don't exist. Germans simply put two single-sized mattresses side by side and each person has their own comforter. This is a prime example of how Germans value their privacy.

Found this pic on Gail Gaymer Martin's blog

Mihai told me that in the mornings before school he'd always eat breakfast with his host dad, Jorn. In the beginning, Mihai said he'd always try to make small talk with Jorn but Jorn would just reply half-heartedly and return to reading the newspaper. Mihai was worried that Jorn was angry with him or something because normally he was very sociable. Later, Jorn told Mihai that he simply didn't like talking in the morning. And that was that, Mihai never talked to Jorn again in the morning. Silke also told me that her boyfriend disliked talking in the morning. Maybe it's a common trend among German men to drink their coffee in peace and quiet?

I also took a day trip while Mihai was at German lessons to Lübeck, a city renowned for it's gothic architecture, about an hour south-east of Kiel. Definitely my favorite German city so far because it had so many historic buildings compared to Kiel (a lot of Kiel was destroyed during WWII).

One last thing before I end this post, if anyone is curious/interested in traveling the same way I do, don't hesitate to contact me! I love helping and giving advice :) Just leave a comment on this post or message me on Twitter or Facebook!

Holsten gate

Inside St. Mary's church

View from top of St. Mary's

Huge marzipan shop called 

In love with this townhouse

Monday, December 14, 2015

How to deal with bad luck while traveling

Ever gotten stuck in a traffic jam before? Or bit your lip while chewing? Spilled hot coffee all over your lap? Slipped on ice? Unless you're not human, you've probably had one of these experiences before. Bad luck. Almost everyone deals with it at least once in his or her life. But for some reason, me and my boyfriend, Mihai, were handed an extra dose of bad luck during my month visit to Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Maybe we walked under too many ladders? Or crossed too many black cats? Or maybe it's because our anniversary is on the 13th? Whatever the reason, I have a lot of funny stories to tell!

Mihai came to visit me in Schwedeneck and we cooked dinner together :)

During my first week, I decided to go visit Mihai in Kiel. It was my first time taking the bus from Schwedeneck to Kiel but Silke had showed me where the bus stop was and gave me the bus schedule booklet so I wasn't worried. However, knowing myself (I kinda suck at public transportation) I got to the bus stop 10 minutes early just to make sure I didn't miss it.

My bus was supposed to leave at 1:13 but even by 1:15, there was no bus in sight. Hmm... maybe it's just a little bit late?, I thought. I waited 5 more minutes then texted Mihai and asked him if he could use the DB Navigator app he had on his phone (I still hadn't downloaded it and had 0 wifi out in the middle of nowhere) to double check what time the bus was supposed to come. He told me that the app said that the bus had already passed my stop, Krusendorf, at 1:13. Uhh... no it didn't?? Crap, maybe I'm at the wrong bus stop... ? But Mihai had come to visit me just the night before and used the same exact bus stop so that wasn't the problem.

"Eh maybe that bus broke down or something, who knows, just wait for the next bus to come, the app says it'll come at 2:13!", Mihai told me. Thinking he was probably right, I just continued sitting on the bench reading for another 45 minutes or so. It was a nice sunny day out, no big deal. I could relax for a while.

At 2:13, once again, no bus showed up. Seriously... Now I was getting upset and worried. I called Silke and explained what had happened. She said that she wasn't sure what was going on because I was at the right bus stop and the bus should've come. She said that she hadn't heard of any bus strikes going on that day but she would double check online for me. I googled "bus streik Krusendorf" as well on my phone and found the same bus schedule Silke had given me but with almost all of the times crossed out. Yup, there definitely must be some type of strike going on. Silke called me back and said there was a strike, but only with my bus, #900. You've got to be kidding me. I was so disappointed because I was really looking forward to seeing Mihai that day.

I called Mihai and was about ready to give up and just go back to the hostel but he found an alternate route I could take instead. I had to take a different bus that would come at 3:53 and take me to another small town called Eckenforde, then from there I could take a train to the Kiel Hauptbahnhof (central station). Ugh. Back to sitting on the bench and reading.

Gelato ice cream with wild berry sauce mmm

3:53 rolled around and no bus in sight. I waited anyway. Any time I heard the faintest sound I looked up in hope of a bus but normally just a car or tractor drove by. A few minutes later, a white van drove by and the driver looked at me quizzically but I just shook my head no and he drove past. I was talking on the phone to Mihai when the same white van came back but this time the driver yelled something to me in German. I walked over to him and sheepishly said, "Ich sprechen kein Deutsch" (I don't speak any German). "Where do you go?", he asked me. Ah, this I knew! "Eckenforde!!", I answered. He signaled for me to get in the van and charged me 3 euros for a ticket. Woah woah, wait a second, this van was the bus?? Yeah, I really am in the middle of nowhere.

I made it to Eckenforde but had to rush to catch the train (or have to wait even longer). I frantically went to buy a ticket from the machine, only to find out that I had no change left and only a 100 euro note, which the machine didn't accept. Okay, I'll just use my credit card! Nope. The machine only accepts credit cards with the new microchip, which of course, I don't have. I ran inside the convenient store and bought a 1 euro donut with a 100 euro note. Using the change, I was finally able to purchase my train ticket from the machine! And you'll never guess how much that ticket cost. 8.70 euros. So much for making my budget today, I thought.

FINALLY, I made it to Kiel by 4:50. I had left the house at 12:50. A trip that only takes 30 minutes by car or 1 hour by bus #900 took me 4 hours. Not to mention, the normal bus only costs 4 euros as opposed to 11.70. Yeah. Mihai better not ever complain that I don't love him.

So happy to finally have made it to Kiel!

Mihai and I ate dinner with his host family that night in Flintbek (where Mihai lives; a small town about 10 minutes away from Kiel). It was my first time meeting them and they were super nice but I'm not going to talk much about them yet, saving it for my next post! After dinner Silke was kind enough to let me sleep at her other hostel in Kiel so I didn't have to worry about trying to figure out how the heck to get back to Schwedeneck again late at night.

The next afternoon, Mihai and I were sitting outside a restaurant eating lunch, him a currywurst (literally a sausage dipped in spicy curry sauce), me a smoked salmon fischbroetchen (fish sandwich). Suddenly Mihai looked up and all around him in confusion. "What's wrong??", I asked. "Did someone spray me with water or something?!", he exclaimed.  Uh, nope. No surprise attack water-gunners. He was touching the back of his head and neck in puzzlement. There was a white liquid on him. "It's bird poop!!", I shrieked as I looked up and saw a black crow perched on the tree branch right above us. Hahahaha I couldn't stop laughing. It was as if the bird aimed for him! I could almost recognize a smug look on that crow's face.

The next morning I went to catch the bus and surprise, surprise, it didn't show up again. There was another strike that day. But at least this time I knew the correct alternative route I had to take to get home!

German breakfast <3

Only an hour south of Kiel lies the 2nd most populous city in Germany: Hamburg, an important port city connected to the north sea by the Elbe river. Mihai and I decided to take a day-cation to Hamburg one Saturday. We wandered all around the city, drank some beer, strolled beside the port, ate fischbroetchen and lastly hung out in the notorious St. Pauli's district. The Reeperbahn in St. Pauli's is easily one of the most infamous streets in Germany, known for it's crazy nightlife, countless bars, clubs, liquor stores and the city's red light district.

Am I dating a 10 or 18 year old?

The Hamburg Rathaus (the city hall)

Rainbow over the Alster river

The calm waters of the Alster river

Some type of street performance with bottle caps, I didn't really understand it much though

Beautiful day at the Hamburg port!

Idk why he wanted me to take a picture of him with these random metal sticks but he was so happy about it

After a long night on the Reeperbahn, complete with Doner (huge Turkish kebab wraps, the ultimate late night food), we decided it was about time to head home at 2 am. We made our way back to the train station only to find that the train we needed to take wouldn't run for a few more hours. Great. We should really start double checking these types of things... So instead we decided to take a bus to Neumünster, where we could catch a train back to Mihai's house. There were 2 buses, both going to Neumünster. One left in 5 minutes and the other in 20. We, of course, took the first option. However, what we didn't know is that the bus we took stopped at every single station along the way. I kept falling in and out of sleep, asking Mihai if we were there yet. We'd be the type of people to miss our stop because we were passed out. As more people got off we kept switching seats to stretch out and get more comfortable until we were the only ones on the bus. Finally we made it to Neumünster, nearly two hours later (it should'v only taken 45 minutes). Next, we had to wait 20 minutes for our train. Then there was an announcement that the train would be delayed 20 more minutes. Just our luck.

Matching hats!!

Took us three tries to finally get a picture without Mihai blinking...

By this time it was 4:30 in the morning and we were both exhausted, cold and thirsty. We bought two hot teas from the convenient store in the train station. As we walked down the stairs back to the platform, I tripped, fell down and completely spilled my tea everywhere. Mihai couldn't stop laughing but I was so mad I just kept picking up the empty paper cup and throwing it back on the floor again to try and let my anger out. To make me feel better we went back to the store to buy another drink.

"1 euro and 30 cents", the cashier said as she scanned the bottle of flavored water. We fumbled with our wallets to collect up enough change to pay because, of course, we had both spent all of our euro notes at St. Pauli's. We realized that we were 15 cents short and awkwardly looked at the woman, expressing to her that this was the only money we had left. She waved her hand, clearly irritated, and just snatched up our measly coins and handed us the water bottle. Pretty sure she just wanted our grimy butts to leave her the heck alone. Oops.

We eventually made it home by 6 am. The sun was coming up as we walked back to Mihai's host family's house.

Neumünster train station after I spilled my tea

Ever since I mentioned to Mihai's host family that I'm good at making apple pies, they begged me to make one for them. So one evening, Mihai and I were in his family's kitchen working on an apple pie together. I poured the sugar on the cut up apples and tasted one to see if it was sweet enough. After taking a bite of the apple, I recoiled back in disgust. It wasn't sweet at all but extremely salty. What the heck?? "This is sugar right??", I asked Mihai and pointed to a jar full of white granules that I had just smothered the apples in. "Uh no.. that's salt", Mihai said. Nooooooo. We explained what I had done to Mihai's host family and everyone just started laughing. Oops. Thankfully, Mihai's family had more apples so we threw all of the salty slices away and began again. 

Our 1 year anniversary; October 13th (is that unlucky??)

Mmm delicious authentic German meal

The love lock Mihai got me <3

Last but not least, comes the unluckiest day yet in Germany. It was my last day before leaving for Japan. Mihai and I woke up at his home in Flintbek and ate breakfast before setting off to Schwedeneck because Silke needed me to be at the hostel to clean up and let some guests in. Except there was a train strike so we had to take a much slower bus. We thought we'd be clever and save some money on the bus by sneaking on using a cheaper ticket than required. Except, we got caught. The driver announced something in German and then when we arrived at our stop she asked to see our ticket and angrily told us that we were 'black riders' (meaning we hadn't paid the correct fare) and now we had to pay a 60 euro fine. "What?! We thought this was the right ticket? Sorry, we're (stupid) Americans", we replied. Thankfully the bus driver showed some sympathy and only made us pay the original, normal fare instead of 60 euros. Phew. Never going to try that again.

Next, on the bus, I realized that I had accidentally forgotten my suitcase at the other hostel in Kiel and had no key to go get it. I called the hostel in panic; I needed my suitcase, I was leaving tomorrow!! She said that there should be a guest there later that night to let me in so I could grab my suitcase. Thank goodness. I couldn't go to Ghana without my malaria pills later this year. 

Like usual, Mihai had also forgotten his wallet at home that day. We had spent my last cash on paying for the bus tickets and had no clue how we would pay for the bus ride back to Kiel because there were no ATMS in Schwedeneck at all (remember, in the middle of nowhere) and we definitely didn't want to get caught as 'black riders' again. We took a bike ride to the local grocery store to see if they'd give us cash back but they said we had to spend at least 20 euros in order to get cash back. Great. Short on time, Mihai and I frantically ran around that grocery store searching for stuff to buy. I picked out the most expensive chocolates I could find to bring to my family in Japan and bought expensive salmon and shrimp to make for dinner for me and Mihai. We went outside to unlock our bikes and head to the beach but, of course, the bike lock was stuck. I started freaking out. "What are we going to do!? Just leave the bikes here?!". Finally after a good 15 minutes, Mihai got the bikes unlocked and we pedaled to the beach. 

After all that stress, we eventually relaxed a bit and swam in the Baltic sea on the Surendorf beach. Okay, not really swam, more like quickly dipped our bodies in and ran back out, me screaming from the extreme cold. The water was also very shallow and there were sharp rocks, not sand, on the bottom making it not too enjoyable. We vowed that we'd return in the spring and take a real swim with flip flops so our feet wouldn't get cut up this time! After that we rode our bikes home in the darkness and made a yummy homemade dinner with our fancy seafood purchases. Although it wasn't the last day in Germany that I had imagined, it turned out being perfect, simply because I was with Mihai. Bad luck won't get us down ;) Being with someone you love is definitely the best way to deal with bad luck while traveling. But even if you're alone, whenever something bad happens, just remember that although at the moment it may not be funny, it'll make a great funny story or blog post one day!

Just like an old married couple, looking at our scrapbook together and eating our last breakfast of leftover apple pie (not salty) & cappuccinos

Before boarding my flight to Tokyo