Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fun with Bureaucracy!

Well, it's that time again- another year has gone by and yesterday we found ourselves back at the "Foreigners' Bureau" to renew our residency permits and pay Germany a bit more money to allow us to stay in the country. Last summer, we were in and out within 15 minutes so we figured it would be the same routine. But of course it wasn't or I wouldn't have the story to tell.

First we waited in the hall for 15 minutes. Then we went into the office and talked with the same woman we've worked with for two years. But she passed us off to a colleague who gave Aaron a 4-page form to fill out and sent us out in the hall. The form is the same one we filled out when we first arrived in the country (at which time we had someone translate it for us). This time, alone and without a dictionary, we were stumped on a few questions. It took us another 15 minutes for the form.

Then we were back in the office working with someone new. Since Aaron's passport expires next April, Herr Foreign-Office-Worker cannot issue a residency permit beyond that time. Since my residency is dependent on Aaron's employment and residency, I am in the same boat. But the issue made sense and we were okay with it. We'd just have to come back in the spring with Aaron's new passport and get new stickers. So Herr FOW printed out the stickers that go into our passports, only to discover, horror of horrors, that Aaron's book is full! Well, not really full. There are still pages left but apparently they are not the right kind of pages for a residency permit. Of course, Aaron was thinking, "Just put the stickers on a blank page and I'll deal with the U.S. if they don't like the placement. Besides, I'm getting a new passport in less than a year." Our new government friend just kept muttering, "Your passport is almost full. It's full." He went into another office and came back, confirming with other staff members that the book was indeed full.

We were sent to the basement to pay for the privilege of this experience, while he mulled over how to handle the situation. When we came back, suddenly I had to fill out a form, similar to the one Aaron had just filled out. I think he was stalling for time. By this point, we'd been there an hour. Finally, FOW came out to the hallway with our passports and a separate piece of paper for each of us. Since Aaron's passport expires in April and since there is no appropriate place to put his residency sticker in the current passport, we have a temporary three-month permit, in which time Aaron has to get a new passport and we have to report back to the Foreigner's Bureau for an extension.

Now we have to deal with the U.S. Embassy Consular Office to get Aaron's new passport. He'll have to go in person since he cannot give up his passport for 4-6 weeks (we're traveling to England and Puerto Rico in August). The office is open for a total of 16 hours a week, you can't make an appointment and it's a three-hour drive from here. Round Two, let the fun begin!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sisi- still the queen of Austria

The royal legacy left in Austria is impressive- over 600 years of rule within one grand family, the Habsburgs. I've often thought I'd like to study European royalty but every time I get a glimpse of the complex and frighteningly intertwining family trees, I give up. But in Vienna there is no avoiding the presence of this royal family, even nearly a century after their empire fell at the end of WWI.

There are several "larger than life" figures among the rulers but none who image is as pervasive as Empress Elizabeth, known as "Sisi." The young emperor Franz Josef bailed out on his arranged marriage to Sisi's sister when he fell in love with her at first sight. She was married at age 16 and was known for her great beauty. She had a 20-inch waist, even after bearing several children, and obsessed about dieting and exercise. She was way ahead of her time in her daily regimen of exercise, keeping fitness equipment in her private suite. Her other great feature was her hair, which she kept at ankle-length. Washing it was an ordeal, requiring multiple servants and nearly a whole day. Her vanity was such that she refused to be painted or photographed after she turned 30.

But she was reclusive and moody from the beginning, avoiding royal court life and spending as little time in Vienna as possible. She was a poet and a romantic. Her husband was utterly devoted to her and indulged her wishes, though they were not popular with his family. Her first daughter died at the age of 2 and the Crown Prince died in a scandalous apparent suicide at the age of 30. She became even more reclusive. Sisi also met a tragic end, assassinated by an anarchist while traveling. After her death, she became more popular than she had been in life and now the legends and myths surrounding the beautiful empress are hard to separate from the truth.

You can read more about her and see her beauty for yourself here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_of_Bavaria

Friday, June 11, 2010

Judging a city by its dessert!

I should probably be ashamed of how many photos exist of me with ice cream, cake and chocolate- but I'm not! You have to have some decandence in life and well, as vices go, I guess this isn't so bad.

We were told that an absolute must in Vienna is the cafe experience. The city is known for its cafe culture- people meet and linger at all hours of the day and night. Of course I was anxious to try Viennese coffee and the city's signature cake- Sacher torte. We found a fancy little place known for all their dizzying array of cakes and their fancy confections. As you can see, Mom and I took advantage! The cake was delicious and the atmosphere made it a great experience. It was an old building in the center of the city. As we entered, we could see the massive Hofburg Palace just a block away. The ceilings inside were tall, there was an old cafe counter, little marble-topped tables and lots of old ladies enjoying coffee and gossip.

So Vienna gets high marks for its cake and chocolate- maybe not quite as good as Belgium but way ahead of Korea where dessert is practically non-existent.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day along the Danube

On our first full day in Vienna, we left the city for the country. We had good weather so we took the opportunity for a train ride into the Danube River valley and a scenic river cruise. Our destination was Melk, a small town that has a huge golden Benedictine abbey perched above it. The abbey was beautiful- impressive library, amazing ceiling frescoes and breath-taking Baroque church in which almost everything was gilded. The village was quaint and we sat outside and ate a traditional Austrian lunch. In the afternoon we boarded a boat that took us downriver. We sipped local white wine as we floated past castle ruins, picturesque churchs, lovely forests and more quaint villages tucked between the river and steep vineyard-covered hills. We landed in Krems, where we happened upon a local festival that included music, food, beer and wine, and lots of traditional costumes. It was an unexpected delight. We wandered the narrow winding streets, noting homes built in the 1500s, and found a place to eat dinner al fresco. By the time we boarded the train back to Vienna at 9:00 PM we were exhausted but happy. A very good first day!

And hooray for family!

Time is FLYING by and I feel like I'm barely keeping up! Obviously, I'm not keeping up with everything since it's been over three weeks since I last wrote. But I've been busy making memories with my parents. They came at the end of May and stayed two weeks. We spent several days here at home and fit a six-day trip to Vienna in the middle. In the picture above, we are sitting facing the Danube River waiting to board a boat cruise. It's one of the few pics we got of all four of us but not very scenic. Maybe I can use Photoshop to at least get rid of the car in the background...

During our time in S├Ârup we celebrated my mom's birthday with a dinner cooked by Aaron and topped it off with chocolate cake! Yum! Another night we had dinner overlooking the sea. Mom and I spent an afternoon shopping in Flensburg while Dad and Aaron took a 20-mile bike ride to the beach and back. But mostly our days were pretty low-key- reading, bike-riding, taking walks, playing games, talking. That allowed us to rest up for and recover from our days packed full of sight-seeing in Austria. More to come on our adventures there.

I feel so fortunate to have parents who are able and willing to make such a big trip to visit us in Germany. Our experiences here have made a big impact on Aaron and me and not all of the them can be conveyed with words. It is so nice to be able to share some of it with family and feel like we all know each other better for the time spent together. This was their third visit and most likely the last since the calendar for the next year is already filling up and we'll be planning our move back to the States next summer. Time really does fly by but I guess that's okay as long as you spend your time really living.