Monday, May 29, 2017

Museums, Turkish Lunch, and new friends !

Friday:  One thing I have learned from staying with our friends is that I definitely want to live for a while in another country.  Today we went to town to run some errands, just as if we actually lived here.  I learned so much from just going to the stores and picking up needed items. The children are out of school today (teacher work day) so we bicycled the 6 miles to downtown Cologne to go the the market and the pharmacy and the phone store (because my phone card was not working properly).  I learned so many things about Germany just from running these errands.  It appears that almost EVERYONE here owns a bicycle and uses it to go to the market and other small errands.  While my friends own cars, we instead used the bicycles (I love this) to get to the market.  The city has biking lanes and even the traffic lights have bicycle specific instructions.  Almost every bicycle I saw had a basket on it for carrying purchases.  There are also specific rules for how to conduct oneself when biking around pedestrians.  We went to the phone store first which took us much longer than anticipated, then we went to the 'drug store' which is comparable to going to CVS except that they do NOT carry prescription medication. Places that sell prescription medicines are found in what's called "pharmacies".  I needed to get something to put on the blisters on my feet.  I found a very interesting product which we do not have in NC.  Then we went to the market where you can purchase meats, vegetables, etc, AND not only wine and beer, but hard alcohol !  It's not even behind a counter or anything!  They also have cigarette machines which the U.S. outlawed more than 20 years ago.  I also noticed that smoking is still in fashion here unlike in the U.S., at least in Greensboro, NC.  Cologne also has an intricate public transportation system.  We have not used it yet, but soon will be!

Michel and Natascha live in what we would call a townhouse or row houses with 2-3 levels.  This seems to be the norm in this part of the city.  The Germans are very conscious of the environment and they not only recycle, but compost as well. There is bins for paper and another bin for food stuffs and other compost type materials.  Plastic bottles and glass bottles are recycled in containers that residents return to the stores.  I have had a lot of wine in the past few days, more that I would usually drink because it is so much a part of the culture.  I'm going to have to slow down on it, and all the awesome food because I feel heavier and I don't like it.  It is much warmer than I thought it would be.  As air condition is almost unheard of in homes, I am having flashbacks of my summer in Italy when I felt like I was always "melting".  The days here are also much longer than in NC, even in the summer.  Before I left home it was getting light around 7am and getting dark around 8:30pm.  Here the sun is up at about 5:30 and it's not dark until around 10pm at night ! 

Natascha and Michel have wonderful friends who have welcomed us here as well. From inviting us to dinner to helping us plan parts of our trip, to lending us their car --- I cannot even begin to express how grateful we are.  😁  We have had some very interesting conversations about politics, healthcare, and life in general.

Saturday: On Saturday, Rachael and I set our on our own on the bicycles to downtown Cologne.  We visited the Romisch-Germansches Museum which had a lot of historical artifacts. 

Then we went to the Ludwig Museum of Art.  I am so thankful for all my new artist friends who have shown me how to experience art.  To my surprise, Rachael was also quite knowledgeable !  I learned something new about my daughter !

After the museum we stopped in a little cafe to eat something as we had lost track of time.  After a hurried snack, we pedaled as quickly as possible back to the house and then to Michel and Natascha's friends' home for a barbecue.  I was so tired but the food and company were so good. It was a wonderful day !

Sunday: On Sunday everyone Natascha was not working so we went together to the National-Socialism Documentation Center which is a museum about events that transpired during the Nazi era in Cologne.  This was extremely interesting and I learned a lot about WWII that I did not know.  This building was used by the Nazis as an interrogation location. The walls have hundreds of messages scribbled by the prisoners.  It made my heart hurt.  After the museum, we went to a Turkish Restaurant for dinner.  

Today, Monday, I spent working on our plans for the next few days, relaxing, checking on my online students, and writing this blog !😊

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Cologne, biking, and the Rhine!
The first few days of our expedition have been AMAZING.  Our hosts Natascha and Michel have been so, so, kind.  Thursday was a festival in downtown Cologne.  It was Vatertag's Day.  When Michel first told me about it I first thought he was joking.  Apparently on this day all men go out drinking in groups without their wives/girlfriends and get drunk and walk around the town.  (It also coincides with Ascension Sunday?!, WTF?) This is an actual holiday where all the stores and businesses are closed.  We rode bikes to the downtown and we felt we were living in the "Sound of Music" where all the kids ride the bikes around Austria!  The country side was just like in the movie.  Our hosts were so kind, they borrowed bikes for Rachael and I from their group of friends that we can use the whole time we are here.  Sounds easy except when you remember that I am only 4'7" !  It was very crowded downtown but we were able to experience some 'local color'.  While biking there Natascha said to me, "do you want to take a coffee on the boat?"  What a question !  Do I want to have a coffee while sitting on the deck of a ship on the Rhine River in Germany???  HELL YES !  That evening their neighbors invited us for a cookout in their yard.  I think I'm in HEAVEN !  By the way, their dog Motte' is my friend now as I take her walking with me in the morning.  I hope Midas doesn't read this, he will be jealous !

Some time was spent in "ordinary things" like grocery shopping, getting a phone card, and other things like this, but in another country ALL THESE THINGS are an adventure !

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hello From Colonge, Germany -Summer 2017 !

May 23-25, 2017- Journey to Germany

We left our friends and home to drive to Charlotte, NC to go to the airport early on May 23rd.  Once we got to the airport and tried to check-in we found out that our flight to Detroit (we were supposed to fly Charlotte-> Detroit-> Amsterdam->Cologne) would be delayed for 4 hours which would make us miss our connecting flights.  The person at the Delta desk then began speaking with their supervisor and after about 5 minutes we had been completely been re-routed through Atlanta.  When we checked in at the gate I was happily AMAZED to find that we had been booked into "business class" instead of economy !  :)
After this our flights were smooth and comfortable.  The only drawback was that Rachael and I were not seated together on the 8 hour flight to Amsterdam.  We were just a few rows apart and it wasn't a problem as we were sleeping and watching movies most of that time.  I met some wonderful people who were sitting next to me.  They are from the U.S., but had moved to Belgium for work.  They invited us to visit them in a week or so in Belgium !  It was as if we were meant to have been seated together !

We arrived in Cologne happy but a bit sleep deprived.  Our friends Michel & Natascha were so welcoming and wonderful to us!  We met them in 2015 in Rome where we were staying at the same Airbnb.  I am truly blessed to have been welcomed in such a wonderful way.  They are fantastic hosts and I am sure I cannot thank them enough --(and we've only been here for 2 days!)

After something to eat and a 3 hour nap, we were ready to actually begin our adventure.  We started by going to the shops to get a few items we needed but didn't want to take on the plane, and WINE of course !  We also bought a SIM card so that we could use our phones across Europe.  We got back to their home around 6pm (Germany time) and their neighbors were arriving home from work and walked over to meet us.  They invited us over to cook-out at their home for dinner!  We had a wonderful time with great conversation, food, and wine/beer!  Again, we could not have asked for better.  My hear is overflowing with happiness and gratitude.  I went to bed and woke up around 6:45 which is only a bit earlier than my regular time of 7am so I think my jet-lag is getting better.  Today is a holiday in Germany so no one has to work.  We are going to bicycle over to the Cologne Cathedral for a festival later on today.  The weather is Terrific here at around 50 degrees(F) at night and around 75-80 degrees in the daytime!  I am sitting drinking coffee and typing this on their back patio.  The rest of the house is asleep. 
Ciao for now !