Sunday, December 6, 2015

One year, four Thanksgivings

My week of Thanksgivings started with what I am hoping to make an annual tradition - Thanksgiving with my host family in Stockdorf. This year's menu excluded the sweet corn we ate last year and replaced last years chocolate mousse dessert with a pumpkin cake. Otherwise the menu was the same and we had a lovely time together. Afterwards we had a piano performance from Mimi and cuddled up on the couch to watch a movie. It was such a sweet evening and I'm so thankful to have them in my life even though my time as an au pair is over.

Feast number one
Pumpkin cake
Little reindeer and Chelsea ready to eat!
On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgivings at school. I was feeling a little sad in the morning, but celebrating and sharing the holiday with the children really brightened my day. We had spent the previous week and a half learning all about the holiday and on Thursday we put on our party hats (pilgrim hats and native American headbands), watched clips of the Macy's parade, made our own butter, and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner together. I was proud of the children being able to recite the story of the first Thanksgiving and when one mom came to pick up her son and declared, ''Oh look, you're an Indian!'' he promptly corrected, ''No mom, I'm a Native American!''. Love it! Given that it is a private school, the children in my group have everything they need in life and so much more. Therefore, I felt that it was especially important that they took the time to reflect on the things for which they are thankful and I hope that this day of giving thanks had an impact on their little hearts and minds. 

Native American Headband 1 craft
Here and here are the templates 
we used...easy, kid-friendly, and fun!
Pilgrim Hat Tutorial by Skip to My Lou for Alphamom.com #thanksgiving #craft



In the evening I met a group of expat friends consisting of four Americans, an Australian, a Hungarian, and a Bulgarian for a Thanksgiving dinner Hard Rock Cafe style. The dinner was good, but I have to say the dessert really took the cake. Pumpkin cheesecake with caramel sauce and whipped cream, that is. We left with extremely full bellies. I'm thankful for expat friends who make holidays far from home so much fun. When I got home I called my family on Skype and got to talk not only to my immediate family, but also to grandparents, niece and nephew, aunt and uncle, and cousins. Technology is a wonderful thing!

Fun times with friends

My final Thanksgiving dinner was shared with Mario. I spent the morning singing with the band and then enjoyed a Mimi and Chelsea day checking out the church's Christmas market, hanging out at my place, and exploring BMW World. It was so nice to have her around and spend time together. Seeing the world through a child's eyes is something really special and can always brighten my day. After I had returned little miss Mimi to her Papa I headed back home to start cooking up a Thanksgiving dinner for two.  On the menu were turkey legs, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, and banana bread for dessert. We talked about the things we are thankful for and my heart was happy. 

Inside the BMW Junior Campus
She was driving to Italy
Dinner!!!
This year I'm really feeling in the holiday spirit! Last Wednesday three of us from the band played a gig for the Christmas party of a political party here in Bavaria.  We've also got 3 Advent calendars to open each day and yesterday I helped Mario's mom decorate the Christmas tree at their house. Nikolaus came last night and put gifts in our shoes, a tradition which we don't have in America, but I find it cute. This coming week will be filled with work Christmas parties and the children putting on a Christmas musical for their parents.  December is a crazy month, but it's also just so much fun. Christmas will be here before we know it!

Two of our three calendars


Are you getting excited for Christmas?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Apartment Hunt

700 euros for a tiny one-room apartment with no kitchen? You can't be serious.  Two-room apartment, but sorry, it will only be rented to one person...are you kidding me right now? I recieved 700 e-mails about the apartment in 24 hours and now I've invited 50 of you here to view it. Yeah, that's Munich apartment hunting for you.  It has been a stressful, long, time-consuming process with something like a hundred e-mails sent and phone calls made (I swear I'm not even exaggerating) all to finally say...

WE'VE FOUND A NEW FLAT!!!!

Wait, what was wrong with your current flat? You might ask.  Absolutely nothing...well, maybe a few things - like how long it takes to clean, the crying baby upstairs, the fact that people walking on the outside stairs can see into our bathroom, but let's not get off topic. The apartment has been more than perfect for us for the past year, but sadly all good things must come to an end and our landlord is moving back to Germany in the new year and needs his place back. Of course, we knew this going in, but having a time limit on the apartment search wasn't always the best feeling. 

Now, I'm going to take just a moment to give myself a little pat on the back. You see, this apartment hunting process was more or less completely my job.  Mario simply has too much on his plate and looking for apartments is basically an additional part-time job.  Plus, when inquiring about a place it's much less likely that they will take a student than someone with a full-time job, so we put our best man (woman) forward and I set out on the hunt for an apartment. Oh, and did I mention that this all took place in German? Yeah, the advertisements, e-mails, phone calls, viewing appointments, documents, contracts - Deutsch, Deutsch, und mehr Deutsch.  I'm sure my accent or something that I said gave at least someone a good laugh, but hey, what can I say, at least I can be the foreign comic relief.  But in all seriousness, it feels like a big victory having hunted down an apartment in a foreign country and a foreign language in Munich of all places.  If you can do that, I think they should exempt you from an integration course and just give you the permanent residency. ;)

So, about the new place.  It's simply lovely! It's a little bit small, but it's cozy and well-kept, the price is reasonable, the neighborhood is quiet, yet we've still got a bus stop, ubahn, and grocery stores nearby, the landlady is nice, and the current renters are selling me their furniture. Really, it's exactly what I'd been searching for.

Today I signed the contract and I can't wait to start the new year in a cozy new home!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I'm coming HOME!

Just a quick post to say....

AMERICA! I'm coming for you!!! In January I get to spend a glorious ten days at home, including my birthday! It's the first birthday I will have celebrated in America in four years and I'm looking forward to my favorite cake from mommy :)

It also seems that the timing has turned out just right to be able to see my sister and her family before they move down to Texas in January. 

Overall it's going to be just wonderful and I can hardly wait! 

Yep, that's how I feel about going home!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Suchitoto Bound!

I guess if nothing goes wrong it's just not adventurous enough. At least, that's how it feels sometimes traveling. We woke up extra early in the morning to leave Copan, only to discover that we probably didn't have enough cash on us and NONE of the ATMs in town were functioning - some luck, eh? In the end the woman working in our hostel was able to exchange some money for us and, with a bit of a delay, we were on our way to Suchitoto, El Salvador. The trip was going quite smoothly at the beginning, although we still were rather on edge about whether or not we could make it to our destination before dark because believe me, we weren't keen on traveling anywhere in El Salvador at night.
Traveling by bus in Central America = AMAZING views!
On the road
Why yes, that man standing up on the bus does have a giant gun.
The panic didn't set in until on our second to last bus the other passengers began telling us that there wouldn't be anymore buses to Suchitoto that night. They said we could try to hitchhike, but I'm sure you can imagine how we felt about that option. The other passengers confirmed, however, that there was a hotel in the city where we were supposed to make our last bus transfer, so we resolved to sleep there for the night. That is, of course, until the nice old lady who got off the bus with us asked around on the streets only to find out that this supposed hotel actually doesn't exist at all. She also told us not to take a taxi. "Too dangerous!" she repeated. At this point she said something to Mario which he briefly hesitated before translating to me. "She says we can come home with her and sleep on her floor". As crazy as it sounds, at that point sleeping at a strangers house was the least risky of our options, so off we headed. And then suddenly, as we turned the corner, a bus was sitting there - destination Suchitoto. As we boarded the bus and waited impatiently for it to depart, we looked at the setting sun and began to wonder if taking the bus was our best decision after all.

At the border, before our second to last bus ride
By the time we got to Suchitoto it was pitch black, made worse by the heavy rains which had caused a power outage in the entire town. And since we had absolutely no idea where we were going, we were thankful yet again for the ever-helpful locals who showed us the way with one teenage boy even leading us directly to the hostel's doorstep.

At our hostel they welcomed us with smiles and showed us to our room by candlelight.  We were the only guests except for some volunteers who had rented out the private rooms, so we had the dorm room to ourselves, something we definitely weren't going to complain about.  Using Mario's flashlight we decided to take turns showering after the long day of stuffy, hot buses.  We had resolved to go to sleep with rumbly tummies since we hadn't eaten hardly anything and everything was closed down for the night, especially with the power outage. Just as Mario was getting back from his shower, however, the lights came back on! And the hostel owner (they also have a restaurant upstairs) offered to cook us something up! Let me just say that those giant nachos and strawberry milkshake was the best comfort food ever after such a long and, at times, anxiety-filled day.  As they say, all's well that ends well! :)

Yummmmmmm!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Long Bus Journeys and a Day in Honduras

Finally, some more tales from Central America!  To be honest I haven't been feeling too well lately and my days go something like this - wake up, go to work, go to an apartment viewing, study, sleep.  All of this while attempting not to ''toss my cookies'' to put it one way. And while most days I can't complain about the comprehensive healthcare which every resident of Germany enjoys, my primary care physician is proving to be a ''let me just give you these pills and write you off of work for a few days'' type.  Perhaps it's time for a new doctor! Anyhow, life isn't all bad news these days and I have a few exciting announcements coming up in the next months, but for now, onto stories of adventures past!

After our restless night in the Managua Tica Bus hotel, we boarded our 5:30 AM bus and set out on the all-day journey to San Salvador. Mario immediately hit it off with some of the El Salvadorians on the bus and had some nice, long chats. I enjoyed listening in on their conversations and chatted a bit with the only other gringos on the bus, a Canadian woman traveling with her young son. The border crossing through Honduras proved to be quite simple, although it was a good thing that we had gotten our yellow fever vaccinations, as Nicaragua wasn't going to let us out without them since we had been in Panama.
First signs of El Salvador

Walmart in El Salvador?
The journey ended up taking a bit longer than planned, so it was quite dark by the time we arrived in San Salvador. Thankfully we were once again staying at the Tica Bus hotel though and this one was much nicer than the one in Managua.  The temperatures in San Salvador were also much more bearable and we were glad to relax a bit after a long day on the road. 

In the morning we wanted to get to Santa Ana as early as possible to enjoy the city and hopefully climb the volcano. As it turned out, however, we woke up to a steady downpour of rain and knew that our chances of making it up the volcano were quite slim. Once we got to Santa Ana and our hostel the owner of the hostel told us that we could pretty much forget climbing the volcano for the next several days. Of course this was pretty disappointing and we also had no desire to sit around the hostel all day. So off we were again for a day filled with traveling in order to reach Copan, Honduras. In the hostel in Santa Ana a traveler had posted his experience making the journey by local bus, but unfortunately it turned out that most of his supposed connection times were rather unrealistic. You see, traveling by bus in Central America is actually quite uncomplicated. You get off the bus and immediately there are young men standing outside of your bus shouting out which destinations their buses are headed to.  You just follow whichever one of them you need (and the young man will usually take your bags for you), hop on the next bus, and wait for it to take off. Sometimes you might wait just a minute or two for departure, while other times you may sit around for a good half an hour. And while we had a couple of lucky connections, we had to wait a while for a couple of our connections and the border crossings definitely took longer than this traveler's advice led us to believe.  Another convenient thing about the buses in Central America is that there is always someone coming on the bus to sell anything from cold drinks to candies to complete lunches.  At least we didn't have to worry about being hungry during our travels.

Another day on the road!



We made it!

Mario definitely deserved that beer after our day of traveling
In the end, after a bit of a stressful day of travel, we made it Copan just a bit after dark.  Copan itself is quite quiet and safe and we treated ourselves to a nice dinner across the street from our hostel.  During our dinner in started raining, or should I say, the skies opened up and Copan's streets became rivers, the power went out, and we watched several cars attempted to drive up the flooded street, only to go sliding right back down.  

After that raining night of multiple power-outages we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. After an early-morning walk around the city we had breakfast and headed out to the Mayan ruins which make Copan so famous.

Mayan Ruins



These stairs contain inscriptions which helped researchers understand much more than previously known about the Mayans. Unfortunately, the public being allowed to walk on them until the 1970s as well as sun and weather damage has made research increasingly difficult. 



After our trip to the ruins, we still needed something to fill up our afternoon. So we joined in on a tour to some hot springs nearby and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of hot and cold pools, a steam bath, water-powered shoulder massages, and a mud bath. Because the van transporting us there has to drive through back roads and because of the remote location of the hot springs, two armed police officers accompanied our group on the trip, a practice which many tours in Central America have adopted in recent years. I find this very good and quite reasonable, as tourism brings a lot of money into the Central American economy, but tourists will only come if they feel safe.

I would definitely recommend it to any visitors to Copan
The neck and back massage waterfall
Perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon

Natural steam bath
Of course, local beers in the evening
Back at our hostel we cooked a yummy dinner and then called it a night, glad to have filled up our day in Copan and ready for the next adventure the following day - heading back to and finally staying in El Salvador.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nicaragua

To be honest, getting to Nicaragua was a little bit of a nightmare, with delayed flights, missing taxi drivers, and lack of sleep to wrap it all up. But since all's well that ends well, we were glad to find ourselves in Managua on a sunny Thursday morning. Now, Managua itself can only be described as a hell-hole of a city, so after a quick stop at the Tica Bus station to buy tickets to El Salvador, we were happily on our way out to the capital and headed towards Leon.

Leon is a quiet town about 90 kilometers northwest of Managua which was built up as the first capital of Nicaragua in colonial times. What makes Leon special is that most of that architecture is preserved and many of the churches especially are still in use.





The lovely hostel Casa Ivana in Leon, Nicaragua
During our meanderings around Leon, we especially enjoyed the raspadas sold on the streets, which are desserts of shaved ice with sweet milk and raspberry syrup - yum! 

The woman selling them even let us take a picture :)
While in Leon we took the opportunity to have our clothes properly washed at a laundromat. Since we were traveling with really the bare minimums, some of our things were really starting to stink. We wrapped up our evening in Leon by cooking a nice dinner and were on our way to Granada with our new Kiwi friend in the morning.

At least our clothes could get cleaned...
Can you see which city it is from?
The happy cook
To get to Granada we had to pass back through Managua, but thankfully we didn't have to change bus stations and could just hop on over to the Granada-bound departure zone.  On the way to Managua we had a nice chat with a young local who could speak fluent English due to having some British family ties and was just as crazy about rugby as our kiwi travel companion.

Our time in Granada didn't exactly get off to a great start, as it was brutally hot and I was suffering from a bit of a summer cold with sore throat, stuffy nose, and stopped-up ears.  Once we had relaxed a little bit and got some warm food in us, however, I was feeling up to adventure again.
Vegetarian Tacos

Our lunchtime view
While in Granada we decided to splurge on an evening tour. Granada is situated on the Lago Nicaragua and due to a volcano eruption thousands of years ago, the lake has 365 small islands.  Some of the islands are privately owned and are used as weekend getaways by some of the country's richest families. Our guide told us that one can buy an island for about $300,000 and Mario and I decided we'll just buy an island in Lake Nicaragua instead of a much more expensive flat in Munich ;)
Heading out on our adventure


This island can be rented out for private parties

Care to buy an island, anyone?

While visiting the monkey's and swimming in the lake were both great features of the tour, the very best part had to be the sunset view over the lake before our boat headed back to shore and our driver met us to take us back into the city.

Hungry monkies

Taking a swim in the lake

sunset on our way back to shore

Happy adventurers
Since Granada is a city with a vibrant night life, we took the opportunity to go out for a bit at night, as this isn't really an option in many of the cities which we visited due to safety concerns after the city dies down.

Traditional dancing in the city - a nice surprise!
The next morning we were up again early for breakfast and a quick walk around the city before heading to Masaya Volcano National Park, Now, let me tell you, this was a bit of a misadventure.  On the way there, we asked the bus conductor to stop at the entrance to the national park.  This is common practice in Central America, as there are very few official bus stops and every passenger simply let's the person on the bus collecting the money know when he or she wants to get off. Well, it seemed that our conductor was a bit forgetful and instead of admitting his mistake, simply let us off somewhere and told us that it was at the entrance to the national park. I was really angry that someone would be such a jerk to two tourists who obviously had no idea where they were, but in the end we made it to the national park on the next bus headed back towards Granada. 


The hike itself up to the volcano was rather brutal in the humidity and heat.  Which may have been the reason why we were the only ones making the treck by foot. Every single other tourist which we saw made the journey by car or bus. But we made it to the top by foot and the views were well worth it! 







In the afternoon it was back to Managua to stay in the Tica Bus hotel before our 5:30 AM bus to El Salvador the next morning. We knew that we needed to stay near the station because it's not safe to travel around the city before the sun comes up, but even the thought of walking from the hostel to the bus station creeped us out a bit too much, so we opted for the guarded hotel attached to the bus terminal.  To be honest, the hotel was rather depressing and almost unbearably hot, but at least it was safe. 

Right around dusk we ducked out of the hotel quickly in hopes of grabbing some food since there wasn't anything for sale inside of the hotel. The area around the bus station gave me the creeps like no where I have ever been before and even though we were just across the street from the hotel I wanted to get back inside as soon as possible. In the end we got some warm food in our bellies and drank our cokes in a bag, but I don't think either of us got much sleep that night. 
Dinner, coke in a bag, and a very weary traveler

Enjoying my own coke in a bag
In the morning, however, it was onward to El Salvador!