Sunday, June 30, 2013

Auf Wiedersehen, Leipzig

This, the final entry in the countdown, is being posted from Pennsylvania, USA. This morning we bade farewell to Leipzig, our home for the past four years. It was hard to feel like we were not coming back, that we aren't going to be returning to our apartment at the end of another holiday. That was it. We have some great memories from Leipzig. Our time there wasn't perfect and we had our share of ups and downs. What matters are all the good memories we're taking away with us. And above all, the most significant thing about our time is this:

We moved into Leipzig as a family of two and left as a family of three.

And that, my friends, tops the list.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dear Norah

Dear Norah Grace,

  Tomorrow we're getting on a plane and leaving Leipzig, the place you were born and your first home. After four years here your mommy and daddy need a break for a bit and some time to feel comfortable with what we've known most of our lives. We're looking forward to getting back to loved ones and good food. Our loved ones are looking forward to our return and especially to the opportunity to spend more time with you, the first grandchild, great grand child, and niece. Your grandparents are particulary enthusiastic and have already planned outings for you and are more than ready to spoil you rotten.

  As excited as we are to get back to the US, there is a certain bit of sadness in leaving Leipzig. This is where your mommy and I moved after just ten days of marriage. It was our home base to more than a dozen trips to foreign countries and the place where we made friends from all over the world. But, more than anything, Leipzig is where you joined our little family and made our lives that much brighter.

  Leipzig was the first place you knew. You were born in the Universitätsklinikum and came home to our apartment on Rödelstrasse 18. You met your puppy dogs here and had a lot of firsts here. You took your first steps in our apartment and went for long walks in the park down the street. The Käferhaus was your first daycare and your teachers Angelica and Veronica adored you as if you were their own grandchild.  In your short time here you've managed to visit a half dozen countries. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who isn't even 18 months old yet.

  And now we head out. The travelling life isn't over. We'll still need those passports. It's just that our time here in Germany has come to an end. Maybe some day we'll come back and show you around. It's up to you.

If you want to be a traveller, just let us know. I'll buy you a backpack and whichever guide book you'd like and go where ever you want.



Friday, June 28, 2013

By Train on the Cheap

Whether it be by plane, train, or automobile, we love to travel. After all the trips we've taken, plus the travelling back and forth from the US, we know what works best for us.

Travelling by plane is okay. It gets us where we need to go the fastest, but we're confined to a tube a few miles up in the air, can hardly move around and have to first go through security. We've found there's a wide range of how seriously some airports take security. In Turkey we had to get our bags scanned before we even entered the building. In London-Heathrow they made me open up Norah's baby food and give it a taste. Don't even get me started on the TSA. In a small airport somewhere near Rome no one actually looked at our passports before we boarded the plane back to Germany. Needless to say, that one was a smooth process.

Travelling by car is nice enough in the US. In Germany, though, where people may be passing you at 150 miles per hour, it's a bit more stressful. But you get to listen to your own music, stop when you want to stop, and not have to deal with sharing a space with strangers. You can also usually take the most stuff with you when you hit the road. And now, with a toddler, we don't have to worry about bothering anyone else with Norah's near-inability to sit still for more than 30 seconds. Going by car is by far the easiest with a toddler.

A beautiful train ride through the swiss alps.
When it was just Amy and I, nothing beat getting from point A to point B by rail. We loved strapping on our packs and taking the train out of Leipzig. When you ride a train, all you have to pay attention to is which stop you're coming up on. No focusing on the road, no filling up a gas tank, and you can get up and walk around whenever you want. You can also get a better look at the countryside. When I'm driving along at Autobahn speeds, I can hardly glance away from the road ahead for a fraction of a second to look at the speedometer, let alone admire a castle perched on a cliff until it's out of sight.

Put everything you need into a hiking pack, hop on a train and travel from here to there while taking the time to admire everything in between.

That's backpacking. I love it. I love travelling on the cheap: taking the trains, getting our meals from street vendors or grocery stores, and sleeping at a hostel or campground.

Norah Grace camping for the very first time in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

Some of my favorite trips were ones where breakfast was a mini box of cereal and lunch a cold cut sandwich. After those first few trips we realized that with proper planning we could take the comfortable trains and stay in hotels and be within budget.

Still, though, I do get a certain amount of enjoyment in taking the rougher route. Maybe we'll give her a few years and let Norah decide what sort of travelers we'll be.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Good Friends

In our four years here we've met quite a few people. Out of all those people we managed to find ourselves some good friends. As is the international scene, most of them headed on out before long and left us looking for others to fill the void. We found that the people who left were irreplaceable and hold a special spot in our hearts. They were people we went out with, people we stayed in with, and people we celebrated holidays with. A few of them are friends that were around when we really needed support and they stepped up to the occasion. 

I've only got a few pictures below. When I was trying to find some photos for this post, memories kept coming into my head and I found myself wishing I had taken more pictures. So, if you read this and think to yourself "Hey, why isn't there a picture of me?" don't worry. Picture or no picture, we won't forget you. 

Some friends came over for Thanksgiving dinner. From left to right: Holly, Katherine, Amy, me, Nicole, and Kat. 

Nicole and Kieran rented a paddle boat with us one nice summer day.

Kieran and Nicole again with Andrew as well. A bunch of us got together for some grilling and beer in the park.

Thanksgiving buffet dinner. Left to right: Heather, Mariana, Romy, and Jo. (I'm sitting on the floor watching football.)

Still more Thanksgiving fun. From left to right: Tom, Christian, Holly, Jo, Sie Mei, me, and Bryony.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Next Chapter

Today was the last day of school for the kids. They were all really excited and sad to see some of their teachers leave. They sang us a song and a few of them brought gifts. I got a couple more letters for the "Why I Do This" folder, something every counselor should have. It was all very touching.

The school year ended, just as our time here in Europe is coming to a close. As they have in school, I'm looking at this series of blog posts as a bit of a yearbook of our lives for the past four years, something we can open up years from now and say to ourselves "Aw, I remember that!"

A yearbook also represents the closing of one chapter in a person's life and the opening of another. Even though all of the particulars haven't all been figured out yet, we're looking forward to being back and starting that next chapter. We're really happy about being closer to family, to having that support less than an ocean away.

We're looking forward to buying a house, having a yard, and making some new friends.

We can hardly wait to get our hands on some good American food and celebrate American holidays with all the other Americans.

I'm excited to watch football on an actual TV and not just trying to see if someone happens to post a stream of the game online that may or may not work.

We long for the comfort of the familiar for a while. We've gotten pretty comfortable here, but there's still a strong language and cultural barrier that exists.

Like I said, these posts are to celebrate things we'll remember fondly from our time in Europe. But make no mistake, we're really, really excited to get back to the US. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Thanks to the wonders of our connected world, Amy and I could have gotten our master's degrees anywhere. We just happened to be living here in Germany. Amy is leaving the country with an M.A. Ed. as a reading and writing specialist and I now have an M.A. in school counseling. 

When it came to the schedule, I was the lucky one. By this I mean that I had a live class I had to sign into once per week during my last few semesters. I was lucky in that the classes were offered in the morning where the school is, Colorado, which made it a decent time here--eight hours ahead. Only one of my three or so classes during those terms required a live class. I lucked out. 

Amy's diploma came in the mail the same day Norah Grace came home from the hospital.

Amy, though, had a live class she had to sign in to for each course. This meant up to two or three times per week she would have to log in, listen to a lecture, and take part in discussion. It gets worse. Her program was aimed at working teachers, people that would be able to log in after dinner. Amy had to attend class at 2:00 am Leipzig time. That's rough. Oh yeah, she was pregnant for most of her studies. 

She's a trooper.

I lucked out in that I was able to have a paid practicum and internship at the international school where we work. This meant I could finish my studies here in Leipzig and we could keep travelling. That was another plus to the online program--I could travel and not miss classes. As long as there was internet connection I could do schoolwork and sign into classes. 

And now we leave Germany two master's degrees richer. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Beer, Round Two

My first beer post focused on a general "Dang, German beer is really good" theme. Now, though, there's something else really important to mention about the beer.

It's cheap. The beer you see just below is one of my favorite dark beers here and a bottle of it costs, I believe, 65 cents plus an 8 cent deposit. That's 73 cents per beer.

Germany produces some really great dark beers.

There's something else. It's bigger than your typical American beer. It's a half liter compared to the .33 liters you get from Sam Adams or any other US company for that matter. To put that in different terms, four German beers (2.92 euros) is the same as 6 American beers (8.00+ dollars for a six pack of comparable quality beer). 

I'm a guy who likes a beer with his dinner and I will miss getting such good beer for so cheap. I know we've got some great microbreweries in the US, but the price here can't be beat.

A glass of Radeberger pils, brewed in a neighboring town and one of the top
10 beers in Germany. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Cheap Seats

Train, plane, or automobile. Which is the cheapest way to get around Europe?

Surprisingly enough, getting around by airplane is sometimes the least expensive choice. True, you don't get the experience of crossing a country by rail and seeing all there is to see, but you can get there quicker and sometimes for less than 30 euros one way, depending on the route, the day, and any promotions. A current promotion from easyJet could get me from Berlin to Athens for 29.99 in October. 

easyJet: my favorite of the two. Compare travel dates on their website,
Flying just a few days earlier or later could save you loads. 
That's cheap.  

Ryanair is the other big name in the cheap airfare business. Super cheap flights can be had with them as well,  but you have to be extra careful with these guys. Read the fine print. For example, forgetting to print out your boarding pass at home could cost you an extra 40 euros at the airport. They have a lot of fees to be aware of, so make sure you read through everything. You also need to take a second look at the name of the airport you're flying into and where it really is. Their "Barcelona" airport is actually 90 kilometers or so away from the city.

Ryanair: super cheap, just make sure you read everything.

Now, IF you aren't checking any bags and have actually measured your carry on to make sure it fits requirements and IF you've read the fine print and made sure you covered all your bases and know where you're going, then easyJet and Ryanair make for cheap, quick ways to get from point A to point B. 

Boarding often includes taking a bus to the far reaches of an airfield, followed
closely by a mad sprint to the stairs by people who so desperately want
their very special most favorite seat on the plane.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moving House

As we're getting ready to make the big move back to America I thought it would be good to remind ourselves that this isn't the first time we've moved since setting foot in Germany. 

In late spring of 2011 we had a realization.

We were going to need another bedroom.

So the apartment search began. In the end we ended up moving from our first apartment at Brockhausstrasse 4 down the street and around the corner to Rödelstrasse 18. It's going to be really nice to move back to the states where I can pronounce my own address.

Our balcony on Brockhausstrasse, a place where many a meal was eaten.

The view from the balcony. Notice the lovely courtyard. We discovered
after the first winter that the grass is quite sensitive to dog urine. When the
snow finally melted away, all the times that the dogs had taken advantage
of the courtyard on a dark, cold evening were obvious. You could have
played connect the dots with yellow circles of dead grass. It regrew.

The main bedroom at our second apartment had a door to the back balcony.
Note the view through the window. I love being able to live in the city
and wake up to nothing but green leaves outside my bedroom window.

The view from the back balcony. Despite the buildings to the side, we had
no buildings directly behind us. Just trees.

This is our back courtyard at our Rödelstrasse apartment.
The dogs never went back there. 
This is the right side view off our front balcony. I wrote about this before.
Having a grocery store across the street was great. And although we're on a
busy street, we have extra thick windows that keep the road noise down to almost nothing. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Day Like Today

This past winter was the longest Leipzig had seen in forty or fifty years, and that's saying something. Usually the clouds come and the sun hides from November to March and the temperature rarely climbs above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. But this time around it was a little different. It lasted a bit longer than that...

Today is June 21st and I stopped wearing a sweatshirt each day about two weeks ago.

Then it hit 94 degrees three days ago and, call me hard to please, that's just miserable. Air conditioning is nowhere near as widespread here as in the US. Here, we can't escape the heat. In that weather I feel like a blob, oozing from one place to another.

Then, yesterday, we had one of the best storms I've seen in four years of living here. Lightning turned the night sky bright as day and the thunder had me getting up to check on Norah Grace to make sure she wasn't afraid (she slept through the whole thing). Once the driving rain, gusting wind and black clouds left us in peace we found ourselves enjoying a much more pleasurable temperature.

This brings us to today. Blue skies, sunny, maybe 75 degrees. Pretty breezy most of the day, so the ground was pretty dry by dinner time. This evening, the start of our last full weekend living in Leipzig, Norah, Amy and I had a picnic in the park.

We went to this new-ish restaurant near the university that's trying really hard to be an American diner. The food was actually really good. I got myself a decent pastrami sandwich on nice bread with mustard. I recommend the place. Anyway, the three of us rode our bikes through the park to the city center. We got our coffee for the week, picked up our dinner, and headed back to the park to find a place to sit down and eat.

Well, Amy and I sat and ate. Norah ate a bit and walked around in the fresh air, one of her favorite things to do. She ate some more, then walked around again. She got to eat on her own time and get up and wander a bit when the urge struck her.

She was relaxed and happy. Anyone who has a toddler can tell you how better meals are (and life in general) when the little one is relaxed and happy. For us, picnics are the way to go.

Any time the clouds take a day off and the sun shows its face, the people of Leipzig stream from their apartments to the parks where they play frisbee or soccer, grill some meat, drink a bit, and generally hang out and enjoy the nice weather. They know to take full advantage of it while it's here.

And when this weather comes around--sunny, clear skies, 75 degrees or so--this is a really
great place to be. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just Another Stamp in the Passport

Here it is, everyone. We've done a lot of travelling over the past four years and stepped foot in quite a few countries. Some of the countries were so great, we just had to go back.

In no particular order, the list of all the places we've visited.

Italy (2009)

Monaco (2009)

Ireland (2012)
Switzerland (2009)
Greece (2012)
France (2011)

Italy (2012)
Austria (2010)

Czech Republic (2010)
Egypt (2011)
Turkey (2009)

France (2009)
Poland (2010)
Italy (2010)
Croatia (2009)

Sicily (2012)

Austria (2013)

And, of course, there will be more  to come. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Such a Green Island

Dublin is so foreigner friendly! Either that or they just got tired of seeing us getting hit by cars...

Our trip with Norah Grace to Ireland deserves its own post. It was just that amazing. Norah's Gigi and Pop pop flew in to visit with us for a week in Leipzig and got to know their first grandbaby a bit before we all left for Ireland on a week-long, self-driven bed and breakfast tour.

The sights were incredible (rolling green hills and towering cliffs), history deep (intact bodies, hundreds of years old, unearthed from peat and The Book Of Kells, a beautiful representation of the new testament done with calligraphy and colorful illustrations whose creation began in the 6th century), company grand (Norah's first family trip and we are all pretty cool), and food hearty (think meat + potatoes. A lot of potatoes.).

I never knew Ireland was so beautiful. Here you can see where hill after hill has just fallen into the ocean.

Oh, those crazy American tourists.

Mommy, daddy, and baby catching some live folk
music. Norah must have been  listening in her sleep
or something because she loves that folksy stuff now.

Fish and chips. Honestly, I don't see what the big deal is about.
My kind of place.

There were a lot of these single lane back roads that cut through the
countryside and saved us loads of time. 

And, in other news, Norah Grace discovered her tongue.