Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Home again, home again

After two weeks in the U.S., we are back in Germany. Aaron's work in Cincinnati went well and when he was finished, we drove 5 hours to South Haven, Michigan. We were happy to have a few days to spend at the Loft and relax on the beach. For us, there is something special about that place and we have missed it. Aaron has yet to have a full week of real vacation since he started work at Atec and most of his time off has been busy with family visits or travel adventures in Europe so it was nice to have a few days of down time. Everyone was complaining about the cool summer but it still felt warm to us compared to here, where we are still barely topping 70 degrees in the "heat" of the day.

During the trip, Aaron's parents met us in Cincy for the weekend. We had such a great time with them, exploring the city and eating well- including some good ol' American barbeque ribs (seen in photo)! Yum! We went to the zoo, which we can highly recommend. It lived up to its great reputation! Mostly it was just nice to be with them- there's no substitute for family and our last visit at Christmas seemed like a long time ago.

We also had the delight of attending the wedding of our friends, Nick and Andi. It was a lovely ceremony and a fun reception, held at a museum. It was also a reunion of our friends from Aaron's old workplace in Kalamazoo. We laughed so much and danced the night away, between rides on the museum's carousel.

Now we are back to the routine for the month of August with more American adventures to come in September!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The adventure continues- in Cincinnati!

This time I'm writing from an extended-stay hotel smack dab in the middle of suburbia. Aaron has been working here since Wednesday supervising the installation of equipment on his first project at Atec. I've been taking advantage of the exercise facilities, swimming pool and cable TV here at the hotel. I can't complain but this really doesn't seem like my life. Accompanying my husband on business trips? I'm nuch more comfortable being the one going on business trips.

Anyway, we've been struck by how ridicuoulsy friendly Americans are! It started with our Delta flight crew on the 9 hour flight from Paris. They were all so happy, like they really enjoyed their jobs (imagine that). One guy even gave us extra cookies because we really liked them! As soon as we got here we went to Best Buy to get cheap cell phones and the manager who helped us even set up and activated the phones for us before we left. Then we were off to dinner, where our server sent us home with "To Go"cups of our free refills (a completely American phenomenon) of lemonade! We didn't even ask for it. Who does that? I went to the grocery store early Wednesday morning and the cashier struck up a conversation with me and had all kinds of questions about living in Germany. We talked for ten minutes! As I was leaving she asked how long we're staying in town and said she hoped she'd see me again. Last night we were swimming in the pool at the hotel and a woman came over and asked if we'd like some cupcakes- it was her daughter's birthday and they had plenty.

As I've said before, it's not that Germans are mean or rude. It's just that people seem much more private and reserved. Strangers are strangers. Neighbors are neighbors. People don't extend such overt friendliness. We didn't realize how different it was until we came back and felt so grateful for someone just being extra nice. It's always the little things that make a big difference.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Flying on the cheap

There are a couple of super-discount airlines in Europe so we decided to try one out for our short trip to Sweden. Two round trip tickets on RyanAir cost around $40! Can you believe it?

We figured that it had to at least be safe since they have to meet all the same regulations as other airlines, but beyond that we weren't expecting a lot. We had to check in online or pay extra to check in at the terminal. We opted not to check bags, as that would have also cost extra and we only had a short trip. The dimensions of the allowed carry-on luggage seemed unreasonably small but we did our best to comply, worrying that they would measure and weigh everything. They didn't, and we saw other people with roll-alongs!

We had to drive an extra half hour to a different airport but for the savings we thought it was worth it. We happened to be traveling on one of the hottest days I've yet experienced in northern Europe- it was well over 80 degrees. I know it doesn't sound impressive but it was enough to keep us sweating through our 2 hour un-airconditioned drive and the quarter mile hike from the parking lot to the terminal. As we stepped inside, the expected rush of cool air failed to greet us. No A/C in the discount airport! The building itself was nothing more than a huge enclosed tent, with no fans or air circulation of any kind! But, more importantly the drinks were cold so we kicked off our vacation with a refreshing adult beverage!

RyanAir does not assign seats on its flights. As they announced boarding people started jockeying for position in line to get on the plane. I feared the worst but it was actually pretty civilized. And wouldn't you know- everyone got a seat and people traveling together even got to sit together. AND the plane had A/C! Yippee! No free half a can of soda or one ounce of pretzels (which you're lucky to get anymore even on the regular airlines) but that was okay with us. Because of the timing of our flight we decided to buy sandwiches on the plane so we could hit the ground running in Stockholm. I can only recommend the food as an alternative to starvation, though they did also have packaged snacks. Next time I'll go with the M&M's.

The flight attendants were courteous and professional, the cabin was comparable to all others I've been in and the flights were on time, even early! We determined that it was a successful experiment and that we should fly everywhere that RyanAir goes! What's next- Dublin, Milan, Mallorca?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Short vacation in Stockholm

A basement cafe in the old town, Gamla Stan

Standing on the waterfront, Strandvagen, with
the city behind me

Aaron and I had a great trip to Stockholm. We left last Wednesday, July 1 and arrived home last night. As in Copenhagen, everyone speaks English. Even the cab driver struck up a conversation and recommended some sights to us. Our rented room was in a pretty good location and had the advantage of having a small fridge, microwave, coffee maker and toaster. We picked up groceries at a nearby market and enjoyed breakfast in our room each morning before venturing out.

We saw so many great sights and loved the waterfront feel everywhere since the city is situated on several islands. It was very crowded with tourists- even several cruise ships! The weather was fantastic- it got up to 84 degrees in Stockholm- dare I say it was almost too hot?!
On two mornings,we ran on a great trail around an island that is almost exclusively given over to museums and recreation (after the king gave it up as his hunting grounds). It had parks and trails and even an amusement park. And we walked and walked and walked all over the city! It is very pedestrian and bicycle friendly, at least in the summer!

We ate a real Scandinavian smorgasbord! Once is probably enough though! They do love their herring in all the Baltic countries and prepare it in about a dozen ways. The first two courses of the meal were fish! I had great Swedish meatballs with lignonberries at two different places and Aaron got to try a reindeer steak. The coffee break specialty is a cinnamon bun and we sampled that just before we left town- yum!

On Saturday we took a ferry boat out through the archipelago- there are about 30, 000 islands on the east coast of Sweden. Some are no bigger than a good-sized American yard but still have a cottage on them! It is rocky and heavily forested- really beautiful but also heavily populated. Most islands can only be reached by boat- no bridges! So they have an extensive scheduled ferry service and there are water taxis as well. We ended up on an island that was about one mile from end to end. There is a hotel and three restaurants/cafes, a youth hostel, a small goat farm and campground. We walked trails until it looked like rain and then found a dry spot to sit and have a drink while we looked out over the sea. We were really on the go a lot so it was a nice quiet moment to realize where we were sitting- on a remote island in the Baltic sea off the coast of Sweden! Wow!

Our return trip was fairly uneventful except for terrible traffic on the Autobahn. It took us an extra hour to get home and we discovered that the air conditioning in our car doesn’t work. We felt hot and parched by the time we made it home but it was definitely worth it. Another great adventure!
For more pictures of our trip, visit Flickr: