Vienna was awesome! Strange weather. We had rain, sun, rain, sun, so much heat and humidity we all wilted like flowers then a bit more rain. So we thought on Monday we would visit a local mall and find rain gear for all of us. We found jackets and rain boots for the kids. Their first pairs ever. It took us all day, but the mall was air-conditioned and we lingered.
Tuesday found us at Schonbrunn Palace. I have a picture of me on these very same steps when I was 20. I got to take the same picture with my daughter. It was so special! We took the kids to the “back yard” of the Palace. They had a really cool hedge labyrinth and a playground we really enjoyed. Then we went to the Children’s museum inside the east wing of the palace. I’ll be honest, I’ve taken several groups here and had no idea it had a children’s museum here. My friend who is from Vienna, said that was her first time there too. So there is that.
The kids really liked the museum. It was actually the children’s wing of the palace where the children had their rooms when they came stayed in the summer palace. The wing had been in use for children over 250 years! We got to dress up in period clothes, play with authentic toys from the era and learn about the rich vs poor. It was really well done. We left and made our way to a Heurige. This was a Viennese wine restaurant. Historically (not anymore), it was illegal to make large scale wine production, but the emperor declared that the locals could make their own and sell it in their own restaurants. Resulting in many different locals making their own house wine. Good wine for cheap. It’s usually a buffet, this one also had a playground for the kids and we really enjoyed seeing my friends Dad. He hasn’t changed a bit.
Wednesday we decided to go for a boat ride. There was a local nobility palace in Luxemburg (that was a town, not a country) with a small lake behind. We rented a little Joy boat for an hour and the kids enjoyed the water and the ducks.
Thursday we said our goodbyes. The kids were sad, they had so much fun playing together. We decided to push through and do the entire 12 hour drive all in one day. We made it home by 9 pm, with only a few stops. It was a long day, but little traffic so that was nice.
Friday found us doing the normal things. Laundry and sweating out the heat. The temperature is reaching in the high 90s here and we have no AC here. This is very common, most people don’t have AC. We camped out in the basement for a couple of nights just to sleep someplace cool. I went to the local OBI (similar to Home Depot) to see if I could get an extra fan, but everything is sold out. For 300, I could have purchased a room AC unit. Let me tell you how tempting that was. I did however find pillows for everyone. I will count that a solid win, as we really missed our pillows!
The next plan is to simply focus on getting our paperwork in order and finding a job or an apartment. Not sure what will happen first but I’m voting for buying a car first, with Air Conditioning. Priorities.
This is starting to blur together. I should probably write this daily instead of looking through the photos at the end of each week wondering what we actually accomplished and did.
On Monday we registered R at Ami-Maiwald Schule. She will start in 2nd grade with 28 other students. We met with the principal and got to see the classroom. It was so beautiful with a neighboring room where the students could spread out when they needed to do homework or just sit quietly away from the noise of the other class. R was finally a little bit excited about school. But she now has about 5 more weeks of summer vacation, starting up again August 29th. Provided we stay in the area, and find a place to live. You know, if… if…. if… Anyway, she’s at least registered.
Tuesday M went to the Augentur für Arbeit (employment office) and he was able to meet with his direct councilor. He is officially unemployed here. That means he qualifies for a lot of extra benefits. They want him employed. So they will pay for all his work related documents to be translated (mine we will have to pay for but that is a huge help). Then he has registered for a class that will help him learn how to interview and write German cover letters. The companies look for different things here, so it’ll be very helpful. The other class he is planning to register for will be the HOAI class. It basically is the German construction codes that he needs to know. The employment office pays for all of this. And if he gets an interview, he can also submit his train ticket for reimbursement – even if he has an interview on the other side of the country! So cool. I’m waiting to hear back if we are covered for insurance while we wait too. Don’t know yet.
Then on Wednesday, we finally were able to open our bank account. It still amazes me how much time it took, but it is all finished now. Then I decided to do a bit of shopping at Rewe in the afternoon. I took R. It’s just a 5 minute walk to get to the store, which is really nice. So we started looking for stuff to make Nachos. Getting a bit homesick for comfort Mexican food. Surprisingly, we found taco seasoning, corn chips and tortillas! We also found an entire row made up of hot dogs. I ask you, why are there so many varieties of hotdogs here?!
On Thursday I had my first bit of miscommunication. I thought we were going to meet our cousins at the pool around 9:30 am. So we get to the pool, no one shows up and we have a good time playing with the kids. R discovered the tunnel slide has neon lights inside and loved going down the slide repeatedly. We spent about 3 hours there, had lunch – because apparently every pool must sell French fries? (So I was told.) And went home with exhausted children and parents. Then I get a text from our cousin, shall we meet at 4:30 at the pool? Ok then, we go BACK to the pool and swim with the cousins for another hour and a half. Then we come back home even more exhausted and we put the kids to bed – they FINALLY sleep fast and we wander around in circles trying to pack our suitcases for our next trip. (We must have done well, we only forgot 1 charging cable.)
Friday we started our drive to Vienna. We had planned to be up by 5 and out by 6. Except each of us was so tired and thought the other had set the alarm. Our son is normally our alarm and he was up by 6ish. So… we had a bit later start then planned, but got on the road by 7 and didn’t run into too much rush hour traffic heading out of Düsseldorf. According to Google it’s about a 10 hour drive, and we decided to split it into 2 sections. We drove south to Passau, a little town on the boarder of Germany and Austria. We made it about 4:30 with only a few stops along the way. We stayed overnight out in the fields at this amazing resort hotel. We played in the pool (not as warm but enjoyable) and then walked over to an amusement area where we found a restaurant with a play area in the middle! We ate our dinner while the kids played and got their wiggles out while we got to enjoy live music and a beer /wine. We made one small mistake that night and gave the kids the bedroom with the more comfortable bed. We slept on the couch bed, which was only a ½ step softer then sleeping straight on the floor. We both debated on sleeping in the middle of the kids and who would get there first but we were so exhausted that we passed out in the middle of the argument. Lol. Woke up pretty stiff and sore though.
Saturday morning we enjoyed a good Bavarian breakfast and jumped in the pool one more time before we headed out of town. We needed to buy a Vinette, which is a sticker for the car, a tax to drive our German car on Austrian freeways. It wasn’t too bad, only 9 euros for 10 days and we were able to buy one at the local gas station. Then we stopped at the Media Markt in Wells to pick up a new cable so I could finally charge my Iphone and let everyone know we were on the way and still alive. We made it to my friend’s house and we all got to know each other. It was the first time our families had met. We have known each other for 25 years! She was a homework assignment in my Lakeside German class. I needed a pen friend from a German speaking country. So I received her address and we wrote to each other frequently. She came to Arizona in 1994 to visit me for 2 weeks and I spent a week in 1997 in Vienna. Then we continued to write until 6 years ago when Collette Vacations sent me to Vienna for an Alpine country tour. Since then I’ve been lucky to see her in ’14, ‘16 and now we are spending a week here!
Sunday was a real treat though. We drove west into the Australian alps and found a Little White Zoo in Kernhof where most of the animals are white. It was located on the side of a mountain and we stayed to see it all. Even though it misted rain all day. Even though I was totally unprepared and we had to borrow raincoats from my friend for everyone. It was AWESOME! They had a camel show where the camels put on a play. The trainers fed them a treat to make their lips move when they had a speaking part. We saw white kangaroos, watch white leopards eat their lunch, and the best part was the white Siberian Tigers! We saw the big male tiger and 3 baby tigers just born last month. After the zoo, we drove over to see the Mariazell Basilica, bought some lebkuchen for dessert and drove our way back home. Once again exhausted.
If you’ve been still on the fence about taking German Classes this fall, we have good news for you! We have extended our late fee date. You can still register all the way to Sunday night (June 22) at Midnight without a late fee. Here’s how to do it.
The beginning of the week found us still in Berlin. We had so much fun! On Monday I took the kids to the Labyrinth Museum, which was this super fun children’s Museum. It had a café where I could buy
coffee while the kids play. This is something American play-zones need to adopt – free wifi, coffee and happy children. I was in heaven!
M stayed behind at our apartment in Wedding to work on resumes and phone calls. He has a few leads this week that he has been keeping up with. We have had a small delay as he needs his tax id number and a separate retirement number to apply / get a job. Luckily, we were able to get the retirement number at the main office in Berlin. Fastest thing we’ve done so far.
Tuesday found us wandering around a cold Berlin. I really wanted to see the inside of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. So I dragged my family down to the touristy area again. It was really intense inside. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for kids in the future. My kids didn’t understand a lot. I had them find something interesting in each room. They liked the displays where people (mannequins) where hidden inside cars or suitcases as they tried to escape to West Germany. This created a lot of questions. Why would they want to leave? Why did they have to hide? Why was there a wall? When we left, I asked R what she learned about the museum. She told me we should make friends, not walls. SUPER proud mommy moment!! Love my kids.
Wednesday found us back on the train to Düsseldorf. We had several appointments that we needed to follow up with and it was best we didn’t continue on my “Grand European Tour” that I had imagined. Thursday morning we met with the Bank. Small town bank, they had no idea what to do with my American passport. She had no idea how to enter me into the computer, or if I’d need to pay taxes on any money I earned. So, we made another appointment for this coming Wednesday. And we still don’t have an account.
Then we went to visit the catholic school around the corner. Tante H works there and the cousins go there, so it was a good place to start. However, 2011 was a very good year around here and both classes were full with 31 children each. So around the corner to the public school we went and asked to register there. I know that you’re thinking the same thing as me. Why do we need to register so early? Apparently Germans always know where they are moving to and register before school ends. That and since the teachers get paid here properly, they are all on vacation through the summer and no one is at the school for registration. This town is especially popular because the mayor is young and has subsidized the afterschool program and the preschools and the cost ranges from free to very little a month. So, we are registered. Now to find a place to live around here, which is a LOT harder then I imagined. Think Tempe /Scottsdale pricing and no one moves out. Ugh.
On Friday Cousin R showed us where the local pool was. We loved it! It was heated, and K didn’t end up blue and shivering like he normally does. We played there until we got hungry and came home. Tante H’s house is the center of all the cousins around here, so there is always someone stopping by. She’s been here 50 years and knows almost everyone (very much to our benefit!!). And the kids made friends with some of the neighborhood children. It’s so safe around here, we’ve let them ride their bikes up and down the street and kick the ball around. It’s really the first time I’ve let them out of my sight (I am sitting in the backyard and they do come back into view so I’m not in a total panic.). We did find a bike for K on Sunday after church. It was a 12 inch tire and it fits him well. He’s a bit baffled about what to do with the pedals, but that will come fast enough. He was ready; he had already mastered the balance bike. So I get to run behind my child this week and teach him to ride a bike! Mommy goals. 😀
This has been a good week. Changes are already happening and we are making progress. First, I need to say that M has an amazing family. I thought my family was pretty awesome, but the welcome and help we’ve received so far is really huge. Tante H is letting us use her address to get a lot of the processes started. This means a lot because we need to register with so many different places and nothing gets started without an address.
So now that we’ve registered with the city saying we have an address, M made it to the employment office to register and upload his resume. He will be assigned a councilor and they will mail him an appointment time. (Yes, snail mail!) They already sent him a letter saying he needs his tax id number and retirement number. We happened to be in Berlin where the retirement main office is this week so we went down and got a number right away! (Fastest thing we’ve done so far). Tax id is theoretically on its way too. Hopefully we can still get an appointment with the councilor in the next week.
Then we decided we needed a local bank account. We tossed the kids in the stroller and walked to the bank. Yeah, we need an appointment for that. Their computers were down so they told us to call the main number. The main number transferred us back to the branch office. Whose computers were still down. We finally scheduled an appointment for this week Thursday.
I also have an appointment on Thursday with a local school principal to register R for 2nd grade. Schools are staggered with their summer breaks. Düsseldorf is one of the latest of them all and school ends this week on July 15. They have 6 weeks and then they’ll start up again beginning of September. I’m hoping that if I talk to the principal, I can get R set up for a tutor before school starts or at least after school every day for the first quarter.
Meanwhile, R is watching all these kids zoom by the house with their bikes. We never had a ton of kids in our last neighborhood and her bike was always a source of argument. Now she was begging for one. Someone told me of Ebay kleinanzeigen (little ebay), which is similar to craigslist. So I got online and found a purple bike with the intent to teach my daughter to ride. I admit, I had visions of me running along side of her and cheering as she got the hang of it. Nope. She got on and took off. Like she knew how to ride the whole time.
We celebrated the 4th of July by cooking our family an “American” dinner. We had sliders and hotdogs, cucumber salad and corn on the cob (which came cooked and vacuumed sealed). But everyone enjoyed it and we had a good time. Missed the fireworks though.
Now that we had all our appointments scheduled, we decided we should take off to Berlin and do some more exploring. We hoped on the ICE train on Wednesday and made it here in 4 hours. It was pretty cool. We quickly figured out the subway and are staying in a suburb called Wedding. It’s a nice little apartment with 2 bedrooms and an elevator (we’re on the 6th floor!).
We’ve really been enjoying Berlin. We went to the Zoo the first day. It was only 73! I freely admit it was the first day we’ve been cold. I enjoyed it for about an hour or so. Next day I started to pack all of our sweaters. The zoo was awesome; we saw hippos, elephants, zebras and lots of monkeys. The playground at the zoo was equally amazing and we spent quite a bit of time exploring that as well.
We’ve done a boat cruise on the River Spree (pronounced spray), checked out a huge park with playground. We walked around the Alexanderplatz and looked up at the TV tower. We found a section of the Berlin wall. I took pictures of the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and finally walked through the Holocaust memorial. Then we even ate Indian for lunch. I am certainly in my element with the amount of exploring we’ve done and am so excited I’ve been able to show my family so many of the places I’ve been to on tours.
This has been a great week. We have really focused on our kids this week and trying to learn new things. The majority of this week was in Russelsheim and exploring the surrounding area. We took the kids into Mainz on Tuesday. First things first, we bought a stroller knowing that Europe is A LOT more walking then our kids are use to. It’s got a nice little basket underneath it so we can carry all those extra things kids need – drinks, snacks, diapers…. I’m loving it, it’s green. 😀
I got to take my family to the Dom (Cathedral) in Mainz and lit candles with the kids. This was very special for me, as I have toured downtown Mainz all last year and lit candles for my children each time I was in the Dom. They prayed for all their cousins. R though the church was a little creepy, but had a great time exploring through the crypts and some the side areas. So it must not have been too bad.
Then I took them all through Gutenberg’s museum. We had prepared for this by reading Geronimo Stilton’s book “The Weird Book Machine”. I had taken several photos of the museum, so they excitedly wandered through the whole museum and were suitably impressed with the 500-year-old bibles. M liked it too!
I tried doing some grocery shopping for ourselves this week. There’s a learning curve to this too. I thought I would make schnitzel with gravy. Except I didn’t buy gravy, I bought gelatin to make gravy from drippings. Good thing it didn’t really have a taste, so I didn’t ruin dinner. Then M wanted to try different beers. So I grabbed a bottle to try. It’s ½ beer ½ lemonade. A tad on the sweet side, not really beer like. I figure there will be more mistakes in the future as we figure this all out!
Thursday found us in Frankfurt. We had aimed to go to the Children’s museum thinking it was like the one in Phoenix. It’s not. It’s more of an Activity center and there were no activities going on. So that part was a bit of a bust. But we found an awesome park along the river and a children’s carnival on the other bank. It was super cheap! Each ride was 1 euro, Rowan got her face painted and the kids each got a snack. Think I spent 12 euros total! And train rides there and back, which is its own exciting adventure.
Friday we rented a car and packed all of our stuff. It didn’t fit. Markus had to go a store and buy tie –downs so we could put the largest suitcases on top of the car. Even then, we all had luggage under our feet and between the kids and up to the ceiling in the trunk. We only drove a couple of hours north to Baumberg, a suburb of Düsseldorf. Here is some family from M and we were lucky to stay here last October for vacation too. All the cousins came over, we ate a huge Italian meal and sat outside enjoying the beautiful 80 degree weather and the late sun set at 10pm.
Saturday found us in Bochum visiting more family and parks. Sunday we went to the Jesus Haus, that M’s grandfather helped found. R did awesome in Sunday School. There was another little girl who spoke English and took her under her wing. K made it about half way through the service before realizing no one could understand him and panicked. We explored another huge park in the afternoon and topped the day off with gelato. It’s going to be hard to “settle down” after all this vacation lifestyle.