Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The mythical turducken...or, what IS this thing?

I saw this bird THINGIE in Amsterdam and I would very much like to know what it is. I would imagine that it's not a turducken (hehe), but it looks like a goose with mallard duck feathers. Duck, duck...goose?

So far, no one I've asked (including a real, live Dutch person) has known what it is and I'm too lazy/not exactly sure what to Google. If you know what it's called, post in the comments.

I do know, whatever it is, that it had a strict "no paparazzi" rule; it was ticked off when I was taking pictures!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Things That American Expats Need to Stop Doing in Germany

Really, this could apply to any expat, but here are some common things I've thought about since moving to a community that is half composed of Americans who live here as a result of the military. Some of these things apply especially to the military-affiliated people.

1. Stop being upset if a store/restaurant does not take credit cards and go with the assumption that they might not so carry cash instead.Yes, I was guilty of that too. Now I just always assume that I'll have to pay cash.

2. Please, please, stop asking if a restaurant is child-friendly if that means that one is looking for a restaurant that will be happy to accept one's children running around, screaming, standing on the tables, and not being properly monitored by the parents. All of these things have happened, sometimes with the parent not making a concerted effort to curb the child's behavior. This does not leave a good impression of Americans to our German hosts! It's not always possible to control every action of one's child, but in order to be respectful of the restaurant and other diners, parents should work with their children to learn proper restaurant manners. If the child is having a meltdown and it can't be resolved, it's time to take the child home and try another time. And, for the love of all that is good as well as for your children's development, please get a babysitter instead of taking your infant or young children to movies meant for adults.

3. Don't be afraid to leave the base if you are living there! So many wonderful treasures await outside the gates, ready for one to discover them. Especially in the Kaiserslautern area, it's not difficult to find someone who can help and speak English if one gets stuck. It's really not scary to go out there. Do a bit of research online if you are worried. Blogs, such as mine [shameless plug], are helpful for learning about how things work here.

4. Stop buying vegetables at the Commissary and being unhappy because they go bad quickly! I'm guilty of buying my vegetables at the Commissary too, but with the realization that I might be disappointed at the freshness, probably because there is not always heavy turnover. Go shopping on the economy; there are wonderful farmers' markets and Turkish markets often have some nice produce too.

5. Stop buying American gummy bears (if you do that type of thing), even if it's the same Haribo brand. Once you taste the German ones made with real fruit juice and no high fructose syrup, you'll never want to go back (trust me on that one).

6. Stop driving everywhere. If it's feasible, try taking the train or bus instead. You'll be thrilled at the ease and comfort of traveling as well as the relief of not having to drive in congested cities or pay for parking.

7. Don't expect Germans (or those of any different nationality, for that matter!) to be friendly in the same way that Americans are friendly. For example, being upset that people on the street don't smile or wave back doesn't do any good. Germans are known for deep friendships and authenticity but may take a while to warm up and get to know new acquaintances. Don't take this personally; instead, appreciate a true friendship if one develops!

8. Don't say things that you don't mean; it's inauthentic. Also, for people from another culture or who speak English as a second language, it is confusing for them (and it's not kind to anyone!). For example, expect that if you say "we should get together sometime," that the other person will be expecting that the "sometime" will actually occur, even if you didn't really mean it.

9. Stop being monolingual! At the very least, learn some common, polite German phrases such as hello, goodbye, thank you, please, etc. Become as fluent as what works for your situation. There are no and low-cost options out there to learn German. Or, even better yet, see if you can find a German-English tandem partner to practice. You may even make a German friend as a result!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

At First I Saw These Guys and Was Confused, Then I Saw Their Leader...

First off: this week's blog entries (or lack thereof!) are brought to you by the Letter E.

E is for exams. I am finishing degree #3 THIS WEEK. Yee-haw. I will soon have my life back and will be able to read for fun and volunteer again after a year of devoting a large amount of my free time to studying.


Anyway, on to the blog entry that the title references (which is modeled on those ridiculous titles of viral cat videos like, "I Thought This Video Was Going to Be Dumb But I Clicked on It Anyway Because I Was Conned by a Stupid Title Like This Yet Again" -- what IS it with those titles? I get suckered into them every time even though I think they're ridiculous).

When we were in Amsterdam, we ran into tons and tons of stag and hen parties. I saw a bunch of guys sitting around Dam Square wearing gnome hats and drinking beer. I love gnomes so I thought it was interesting, but I wasn't sure exactly what the hats had to do with anything.

Okay, later picture when they put on their beards, too. You get the drift.
About 10 minutes later, their friend dragged the groom back to the group and all was illuminated. We had a good laugh at the concept (but not at the rough shape the groom was in).

Poor Snow White seemed to be struggling.

The apples were a nice touch.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hilarious chart of German names for animals

I love love love this flowchart of what animals are called in German. It's hilarious and very informative, too!

We were chatting with a German friend and said that there are quite a few pig and bear derivatives. Noo, he said. Our friend said, "Racoon?"

"Waschbär." This is literally "wash bear." Hilarious.

My favorite two names (I couldn't pick just one) were the Faultier ("lazy animal," or sloth) and the Nacktschneke ("naked snail, or slug).  I love how descriptive the German language is!

How to Name Animals in German
by gnmotion.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Moo becomes disappointed

Am I mean because I laughed at this? I opened a new can of tennis balls and the noise scared Moo the Cat. He started to run away but then realized that the sound ~could~ possibly be like that of a can of vacuum packed tuna opening so he ran up. I let him smell the tennis balls and he wrinkled his nose and slinked off, disappointed.

 Other kitty "cruelty:"

I tease him with the treats, too! I put them on his back and he gets confused because he can smell them and feel them but doesn't know exactly where they are. Then they fall off, he eats them, and is so happy. He's not the smartest kitty.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Biking hardcore in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, bikes are all over. They're parked out in front of shops, they're being ridden all over, and they're even in the canals (oops). There are kids, adults, adults with kids, adults with adults, and even people with dogs on bikes.

We saw many interesting combinations, including the mother and son below. He was standing up behind her on the bike. I just about had a heart attack for him, considering that he wasn't wearing a helmet. Heck, I only saw a few people wearing helmets the whole weekend. It must not be an Amsterdam-ish thing to do.

I used to avoid wearing a helmet while bicycling myself. I'd never ride my horses without a helmet, but biking I would leave it off. However, I recently saw a guy catapult himself head over his handlebars and under his bike right in front of my face when he tried to brake too hard, and I now wear my helmet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Go on, remove me

On the outside wall of a hotel in Amsterdam, there was a sign in both English and Dutch that said "Bicycles will be removed."

It was amusing to see a bicycle propped up next to the sign.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mannsterdam: Or, the Mannequins of Amsterdam

There were quite the mannequins in Amsterdam! Of course I had to take pictures of them, too.

Hey you on the street! I'm not wearing a shirt, but I have a crown on. Go figure.
Off with his...body?
He's dapper, yet slightly difficult to see.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The anger & frustration of the suburban trains to Amsterdam

[Here's a website with some good information about the issue I'm writing about below. I had done some quick research into public transport before my trip, but apparently not enough and I wish I had read this first! Keep in mind that this article is about using the trains outside of Amsterdam. At the Centraal Station in Amsterdam, we had no problems buying tickets for transport within the city at kiosks where we could use our credit cards or pay with bills.]

During our trip to Amsterdam, there was one absolutely aggravating issue: using the suburban trains to get into the city center. We stayed in Weesp, a suburb that was a short 17 minute train ride to the center. The town itself was adorable and our accommodations pretty much perfect. However, getting to Amsterdam put us into a rage.

Why is that? I've traveled plenty of other places and have never had such an issue. I've even been to Amsterdam before, in 2008 and had no problems then. This time, though, it was a frustrating experience (I'm getting grumpy all over again, just writing about it!).

It was awful because of the system for buying tickets. Imagine this: we've finally arrived to Weesp and have to pick up a friend at the Centraal station in Amsterdam. We are equipped with cash in the form of bills as well as our giro chip credit cards that work in Germany (but are from an American bank - with the chip, that's all that matters, at least in Germany). It's 11 p.m. but this shouldn't be a problem because of our cards and the cash, right?

Oh no, my friend, it was a major problem. Here's why: the train ticket machines would not accept bills! There were no change machines around. Okay, so then we tried our credit cards with the chip. We were denied; the machine only took Dutch PIN/Maestro/V-Pay. Cruuuuuud! It was also 11 at night and it's a suburb. What would be open to get change? Well, we lucked out: there was a small bike kiosk and the guy was kind enough to give us change. If it weren't open, we would have been hosed.

So, we get the change and try to buy a ticket. The whole thing was confusing; it appeared that we had to buy some sort of card for 7,50 euros. Ah, that seemed reasonable! My friend chose that option, thinking it was a travel card for the duration. It then told her that she had to put in 20 more euros. What the heck!? At that point, we were going to run late so she just put in the total amount, in change only. She wasn't happy about having to shove almost 30 euros' worth of coins into the machine, and I don't blame her at all.

We later found out how this worked (and it's still crummy, in my opinion): the card she got is called the OV-chipkaart. It's possible to either have an anonymous one (like what my friend bought) or one can buy a personal one with the owner's photo and lost card protection. The latter option is more likely for Dutch residents. The card itself is a non-refundable 7,50 euros and there must be an additional 20 euros of credit on it. If my friend wanted to turn in the card and get the remaining credit (less than 30 euros) off it, she would have been charged 2,50 euros for the "privilege." Oh, and if you don't have a Dutch bank card, you better as heck have a boat load of change to buy the dang card at the machine.

The other option we later found was the single-use cards, which were more reasonable. For 3,20 euros, I bought a one-way ticket from Weesp to Amsterdam Centraal. At the time, I had a printed ticket. I later found out that a few days after our trip ended, the system was changing over to single-use OV chip cards (enmalige chipkaart) and that there would be a 1 euro surcharge on each single-use card purchased.

The whole thing was entirely frustrating and the system is not at all friendly to people who are not going to be using transport very often (i.e. the hordes of visitors to Amsterdam). I think that the worst thing is the payment situation; the machines won't take most credit or debit cards and there are no change machines. If the train office or stores aren't open, how is one to get change to buy tickets? Many of the stores around the trains aren't always amenable to giving change, either; on our second day, we went to the convenience store in the train station in Weesp and they refused to give us our change from our purchase back all in coins. I understand that they need the change too, so it's extremely frustrating to have to scramble for coins to pay for train tickets.

The Netherlands are otherwise pretty cool, but buying train tickets outside of Amsterdam is an exercise in frustration.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A strange juxtoposition at the Bremerhof

The Bremerhof is a restaurant in the forest on the south side of Kaiserslautern. It's a lovely place to stop for a drink after a hike to the Humbergturm or after biking, semi-lost in the surrounding woods, for three hours (not that I have experience with the last situation, of course).

I stopped by the restroom and noticed a vending machine. I can't call it a roadside one, per se, since it's inside, but I'll certainly tag it as such. Anyway, it was filled with lighters in Easter shapes! I'm not sure if it's a fantastic or unwise idea. Since it's up high out of reach of children, I think it's a reasonably good idea. Who knew that one could buy an Easter egg lighter? I wonder if the Easter bunny also brings Easter cancer sticks* too? I was amused by the strange shapes and bought one for myself and received a lighter shaped like a bowtie.

*erm, I mean cigarettes

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Restaurant Review: Eat Mode, Amsterdam

Eat Mode Pan-Asian Restaurant
 Zeedijk 105 - 107
1012 AV  Amsterdam
T: +31 20 3300806
Opening hours: 12:00 - 23:00hrs
Free wireless internet for customers
When we first ventured forth into Amsterdam, our initial stop was in Chinatown to find a bite to eat before continuing our adventures. My travel mates C. and J. were enthralled by Eat Mode and their hamburger with buns made of fried ramen noodles so we stopped in.

Both ladies ordered the burgers. I order the udon noodles with stir-fried udon noodles. My dish was quite large and filling for less than 8 euros. It was fresh and tasted good, topped in dried seaweed strips.

Both of my friends were pleased with their hamburgers, which were about 9 euros with a side of sweet potato fries, dipping sauces, and a small side of salad for garnish. C. said that the hamburger tasted fresh and like a decent cut. They both liked the fried ramen noodles that served as the buns and said it tasted like typical ramen. The sweet potato fries were great; they were very fresh tasting and fried up to perfection (I tried one :). J. also enjoyed a melon-orange juice and liked its fresh, intense taste.

The restaurant offers a little bit of everything: Chinese, Thai and Japanese food; hamburgers, pho, and more. I'd say that it's a jack of all trades and master of none, but the food is decent enough and reasonably priced despite the restaurant's tourist-heavy location.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Weilerbach and creepy ice cream

My friend E. and I ventured forth to Weilerbach, a town between Kaiserslautern and Ramstein, for the Bauernmarkt (farmers' market) on 15 June. It was a special event with a few produce stands, local businesses, fest food, kiddie rides, a flea market, and the Sunday opening of a few businesses. It was a bit funny that it was the farmers' market and there weren't that many farmers represented by booths, but it was a fun, small festival nonetheless.

We did come across a somewhat confusing sight, though: the "California ice cream" booth. As far as I know, there is not a particular type of California ice cream. I wonder if there is a South Dakota ice cream too, or if this is a marketing idea that a German had? Anyway, check out Aunt Sam* (I guess). I find her a bit scary, and the scoop of ice cream on the left looks a little bit like some sort of alien double trunked elephant thing, eh?

Then we found this dog, which didn't make me feel any better!

I cleared those images from my mind and we enjoyed the rest of the festival.

*Slightly misshapen wife of Uncle Sam, apparently.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Back from Amsterdam

For the 4th of July, some friends and I took a trip to Amsterdam for the weekend and rented a house in the suburbs. My brain turned into German mode (yay!) since all four of us speak German in some capacity (I'm the weakest link) in our international group of two Americans, a German, and a Dutch guy. I think we confused some other train passengers as we talked in a mix of German and English but it was a great way to work on my language skills. If I did this all the time, I'd be significantly more fluent. It's just funny that a trip to the Netherlands yields more German speaking.

Anyway, more posts about the trip will follow of course, when I have time. Until then, here's a short story of something that happened to me on the Amsterdam tram: I was in a tram seat and there was a handle on the wall between my seat and the passenger seat facing mine. There were also straps to hold above. As some other passengers were boarding the tram, a gentleman faced me, grabbed the handle on the wall and held the back of my seat, basically "straddling" me! He wasn't touching me, but it was extremely awkward, for sure. I thought that maybe he was doing it just as people were boarding to give them room but as the tram started, he was still there and I couldn't take it any more. I said, "excuse me, but could you please give me some  room?" and he complied, standing closer to his family and holding a strap from the ceiling. I don't think it ever occurred to him that doing such a thing would make someone uncomfortable!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My mom gets in on the mannequin thing

My mom is funny (well, I find her funny at least, probably because we have basically the same sense of humor). She knows that I like to take pictures of mannequins during my travels, so she sent me a picture of one during her travels in Grand Rapids:

I asked her what was wrong with the mannequin. Apparently there isn't anything wrong with him; he doesn't look beaten up nor has his facial hair been drawn in with a Sharpie marker. I was almost disappointed (that's my m.o. for mannequin photo taking), but then I laughed because I love that my mom's getting in on the weird photos. I also think she composed the picture rather well; don't you? It makes one wonder what the mannequin is pondering. Good work, Mom!