Silence

Sorry for the lack of posts. We’ve moved out of our hotel and into our new apartment. It’s taking awhile to set up an internet connection. I’ll be back with more stories and photos next week when our WiFi gear arrives in the mail.

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Dinosaur Day

We’ve been having a bit of morning rain here in Ulm lately. So we decided to try something new and ride the bus to the local shopping mall for some indoor walking. It’s very nice at the Blautal Center, actually, and I’m sure I’ll be back to do some shopping for the kids and for our apartment. Sam loved the fact that they had a temporary dinosaur exhibit with life-size models.

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We loved the diagonal moving walkways — a cross between moving sidewalks at the airport and an escalator; great for use with strollers!  We comforted in the similarity with American shopping malls (lots of cell phone kiosks, jewelry stores, and a food court). The food court was a bit different, offering Turkish, Scandinavian seafood, and traditional German fare along with the ubiquitous Chinese and Italian.

And we had fun with some of the stores that displayed English names or signs. One advertized their “Freaky Sale!”. [Sorry that some of these pics are a bit blurry…]

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“Schmitt Foxy Food”

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“Mister Lady”

All-in-all a fun rainy-day outing in our new hometown.

Train tales

We rode a high-speed train from the airport in Frankfurt to our new hometown of Ulm.  In theory, riding a train through the German countryside sounds like a beautiful, relaxing way to travel. It didn’t turn out that way for us, however.

No one is at their best after flying for 9 hours. We were dirty and tired and hungry. The kids had slept a bit on the plane, but not much, and to them it felt like we were dragging them around an airport and train station at midnight. We had our giant luggage cart piled high with suitcases and carseats like we were Dust Bowl migrants heading to California.

On board the train, Joe started to feel sick and was trying to take care of himself and the cranky kids. All of us dozed on and off. Sleep was fitful and served only the purpose of causing us to miss most of Germany’s scenic vistas.

And then the worst part of all: Joe got stuck on the train! He and I carried as much off as we could in one load along with the kids, and then he went back and forth grabbing bags and tossing them out to me on the platform, where I was focusing on keeping Lucy from running away. We had suitcases stashed near our seats, in the overhead space, and in the aisles near the exit doors. We counted all 6 bags, 2 carseats, and 4 carry-ons, when I remembered our expensive SLR camera.  Joe jumped back in the train to check for it in the overhead where we’d stashed it, just as the doors closed behind him.

Cut to: me standing on the platform, pressing the green open button next to the doors in vain and banging on the window to try to get the attention of the conductor or other staff.  Joe, inside, doing the same. Both kids crying upon seeing us act this way. Sam was truly in hysterics. It’s 90+ degrees outside. And all we can think is that Joe is going to have to ride the train to the next stop in Munich and then catch a later train back.

It was agony, at least momentarily. Joe told me after the ordeal that he had been pressing the same buttons to open the train door inside. When that failed, he pressed hard on a different button, breaking glass that surrounded it. Turns out it was an emergency stop button.

So, out of the distant parts of the station start streaming different DeutscheBahn workers on their walkie-talkies. None of them calmed us or spoke to us at all – we were still banging away at the door and panicking. Eventually, they managed to open a different door – the door we were using was not operating correctly, it turns out.

It took about an hour to calm poor Sam down. No wonder all of us have been so sick in this first week.  At least, after having such a terrible train experience the first time, it can only get better from here!

German Asian food

We’ve been relying a lot on the convenience foods around our train station & shopping district where we live (when anybody has an appetite, that is). But that means a lot of sandwiches and chicken nuggets. We decided to venture out to a restaurant for our first sit-down dinner in Germany. We liked the look of “Asia Wok”, and the menu featured some Indonesdian dishes, so Joe was happy to try it. Here’s what we received:

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Bahmi goreng with krupuk. Very bad. Tasted like oily noodles that had been sprinkled with raw curry powder. Krupuk tasted a few days old. We were very disappointed.

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Sweet & sour chicken? Not so much. Breaded chicken fillet laid over top of a very odd pineapple sauce that had some okay flavors but it wasn’t what our kids expected. Paprika, maybe?

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Lucy chose to take some notes about our bad meal rather than eat it. I guess we’ll be sticking with chicken nuggets for a bit longer. Can’t wait to have my own kitchen again!

Staying in

Well, the kids have caught the tummy bug. So, we’ve spent a few more afternoons sleeping at our hotel to help them get better. We’ve witnessed some freakish wind/rain/lightning storms in the afternoons. And Joe has enjoyed watching dubbed versions of American superhero movies on the hotel TV.

We’ve received some correspondence from the international school regarding Sam’s preschool supply list. It’s a little bit different from what we’re used to seeing in America! Here’s some examples of what we parents must gather before his first day on August 20th:

  •  House shoes or slippers (to be worn indoors at all times)
  • Toothbrush and towel with a hook
  • 2 Undershirts
  • Rain pants
  • Sport shoes
  • Snack box (no sweets allowed)

We parents can pack a lunch for them or order online in advance. Sam’s class lunch is ordered by the teacher and eaten family style, but for the older kids they can choose from 4 choices: daily special, healthy choice, small weekly special, or salad bar.

We also must sign release forms for photos, swimming lessons, community outings, and religious/ethics education. It’s all a little overwhelming since we’re still waiting to set up or bank accounts, visas, and housing permits and have yet to move into our apartment. Joe must start his back-to-school prep work on Thursday and so I’ll be alone with the kids most weekdays while he tries to get ready to welcome his 2nd graders. I’m not sure how we’ll manage to pull together what we need for Sam without a car to take us shopping.

It all feels very rushed and chaotic right now. Looking forward to October or November when we’re a bit more used to our new routine and new hometown.

Wir sind gekommen — We have arrived

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The journey was exhausting. We expected it to be rough, but it’s been three days and we’re still trying to feel normal-ish. There’s the jet-lag, and the heatwave, and the fact that we packed far too many bags and forgot our stroller.

Then, a tummy bug knocked out several of us, leading to even more exhaustion as we both try to adjust to normal daylight hours but are unable to sleep at night. Joe & Lucy had a long walk through the empty train station the first night, and we’ve all been napping through “housekeeping” at the hotel during mid-day.

We are reveling in the foreignness, enjoying the walking experience and all of the yummy foods we have been able to try. Sam, our grumpy 4-year old, isn’t making for a very positive travel companion, but we’re trying to work on that. He’s expressed homesickness more than once, and has yet to find any food he really likes, poor kid. Other than gummy bears, of course.

It took us two days to find enough travel adapters to charge our electronic devices, making us feel even more isolated from our friends & family back home. Our hotel is the InterCityHotel, which is actually built as part of the train station complex, putting us right at the heart of the loudest part of the city. And since it’s been dreadfully hot, we leave our window open at all hours. So we’re all becoming very familiar with the sounds of police sirens, drunken people after midnight, and drag-races taking place just outside.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  •  5 bags, 2 carseats, and 5 carry-on items is FAR too much for two adults to handle. German flight stewardesses are (for the most part) quite rude.
  • German public bathrooms have toilet paper MUCH rougher than America, and paper towels by the sinks that are soft and velvety.
  • Carbs are easy to come by (and delicious), but good luck locating any vegetables! The only we’ve found so far are the occasional bit of lettuce on a sandwich or some creamed carrots as part of a cafeteria buffet.
  • Sam loves escalators and will hunt them out in every department store and train station.
  • It’s interesting to be out around 8pm in this smallish European city – there’s the families with kids wearily heading home and the scantily-dressed youth heading out for a night of partying. Venture out at 6am and see the reverse – my kids, skipping over the cobblestones as the hungover masses do the walk-of-shame back home.

More soon!