8 Things I Miss About Germany and Europe

So as a follow up to all the things I missed about the good ole’ U.S. of A., here are some of the things I’m missing about Germany and Europe after being back.

1. Chocolate

German chocolate, and really this can include a number of European countries’ chocolate, is just better.  Period.  End of story.  I can’t get on board with Hershey’s anymore, it’s just not the same.

2. Breakfast

When we would travel, I would always try to pick a hotel that included breakfast.  Not only is it convenient, but the spreads that the hotels would lay out were always very delicious.  It was an added treat we looked forward to when we were traveling.  Most of the time the breakfast would consist of a wide array of freshly baked pastries and breads, butter, jams, nutella (hello!), yogurts, fruit, cold cut trays of meats and cheeses, and frothy cappucinos (or whatever sort of coffee drink you wanted).  May not seem that special but I can assure you a fresh baked pastry is pretty spectacular.

What was leftover from a breakfast in the Champagne region of France.  Fresh baguette, huge slice of brie, homemade jams, and fresh squeezed OJ.  Delicious!

What was leftover from a breakfast in the Champagne region of France. Fresh baguette, huge slice of brie, homemade jams, and fresh squeezed OJ. Delicious!

Breakfast with a view over Positano, Italy.  Yes please!

Breakfast with a view over Positano, Italy. Yes please!

3. Traveling 

The hands down best part of living in Germany was all the places we were able to visit.  The size of Europe makes jetting off to another country for a long weekend a fun possibility.  We knew our time in Germany was limited so we made the strong push to go and do as many things as our calendars and wallets would allow.  Of course you can travel in the states, but here in California we could drive for hours and still be in California.  There’s something a little more exciting about traveling abroad than staying in your own state or country.  It also gave me a hobby to sit down and research places and develop itineraries.  It was fun!

4. Festivals

Germans love a good festival and are always looking for a reason to party.  It seemed like every weekend during the spring and summer would have multiple fests in the area to choose from.  There was always music, beer, wine, kiddie rides, and of course food!  One of our favorite festivals was a culinary hike through the farmland.  The organizers set up about a 5 km route and along the way placed 6-7 different stops where different vendors were set up selling different culinary and wine specialties.  So you walk for a bit, then drink and eat, walk a little more, and drink and eat.  Another one was a car free day on a 30 km stretch of road.  We brought our bikes and biked along the route.  Similar to the culinary hike, there were different food and wine booths set up all along the course.  The perfect mix of athletic activity and food and wine!

Spring Fair in Kaiserslautern.

Spring Fair in Kaiserslautern.

Christmas Market in Bernkastel-Keus.

Christmas Market in Bernkastel-Keus.

Europe's largest pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg.

Europe’s largest pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg.

Wine festival on the Mosel River

Wine festival on the Mosel River

5.  Public transportation

While you can find public transportation in some places in the U.S. I find that it’s not as readily available or as widely used as it is in Europe.  Here I drive everywhere.  And if I go someplace else, we drive there too.  Which means I always have to travel with my carseat, and that is a pain.  I loved traveling without one in Europe and just knowing we would take the metro everywhere or walk.

6. Gelato shops everywhere

There’s never a bad time for a gelato stop.  A little tip we learned on a food tour in Italy:  if the gelato is neon colored and piled high in fluffy mounds-it’s made with a lot of artificial ingredients and pumped full of air.  Look for gelato that is natural in color and does not rise above the top of the container.  And my personal favorite flavor combo is pistachio and hazelnut, just in case you needed a new idea to try.

7. Atmospheric old towns

I miss being in places that look like this: DSC_0139

8. The overall experience.

The fun of being a new place, the excitement of journeying into the unknown, and being able to experience things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Scheveningen Beach Boardwalk

Less than a week after we got home from Thailand, it was time to hit the road again.  Normally we wouldn’t plan these things back to bad, but when you have the time off you have to take advantage of it!  I have been wanting to see the tulips in the Netherlands since we arrived in Europe.  The first year it was too quick to pull it together, last year I was due with a baby, so this was our “last chance” to get up there to see them.

We stayed in Leiden which is closer to the Keukenhof gardens (where the famous tulip displays are) than Amsterdam.  Since we had already visited Amsterdam, we decided to see some other areas and do some different things.  We drove up on Friday, but we didn’t get an early start so by the time we got to our hotel it was time for dinner and bed.  We had planned to visit the Keukenhof on Sunday, which was Easter, so Saturday we woke up and decided to go out to a beach town called Scheveningen-just outside the Hauge.  The morning started out cold, windy, and cloudy.  We rode our bikes about 500 meters down the boardwalk before I caved in and was asking to stop in a cafe to warm up.

Luckily, while we sipped on coffee and snacked on pizza, it did warm up.  The sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.

waiting for the sun to come out

Once we had filled our tummies and warmed ourselves up, we were ready for our second attempt at riding down the boardwalk.

there were tons of surfers out in the freezing water

Heinekens with an ocean view

We spent the day cruising up and down the beach, stopping at restaurants and shops along the way.  Our little lady got to take her first ride on a carousel too!

We really enjoyed the little beach town and having a fun, relaxing day on the coast!

Easter on the Peninsula

Easter was a lot of fun for us this year.  Hard to top last year’s Easter at the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands, but we had a fun-filled weekend.

Here’s a nice side by side of our daughter’s 1st Easter in the Keukenhof and this Easter.

Easter 2014 in the Netherlands & Easter 2015 in California

Easter 2014 in the Netherlands & Easter 2015 in California

Hidden Hills Ranch in Prunedale hosted an Easter party on Good Friday.  Our daughter was very excited to see the Easter Bunny, she went right up to him and started giving him hugs and high fives.  She was also thrilled to see a smaller bunny in a pen that she could pet.

Petting the Easter bunny's friend.

Petting the Easter bunny’s friend.

The Easter Party included a tour of the ranch where we were able to see all the different animals they have including horses, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, an emu, and a donkey.  This where our sweet girl learned what sound a donkey makes and now will happily give a quiet “hee-haw” when asked what a donkey says.  There was also a story time with various bunny books.  I suppose we got a little wrapped up in story time because we somehow missed the start of the egg hunt!  Even though we were late, we were able to stumble upon some discarded eggs that another child had raided the contents of and then left the shells by a tree.  Empty or not, didn’t matter to our little girl!

Trying to hold as many eggs as possible.

Trying to hold as many eggs as possible.

Mom fail…I forgot to bring her Easter basket to the Easter party!  Luckily the staff had a few extra baskets lying around.  A berry basket was just the right size to hold her 5 eggs.

Make-shift Easter basket.

Make-shift Easter basket.

The highlight of the day was quite possibly the pony ride.  Although I thought we would never make it through the long line where my little girl kept running off.  I wasn’t sure how the pony ride would go, especially since she would have to wear a helmet and she throws a fit when asked to wear a smock for painting.  To my surprise she took no issue with the helmet and was very happy in the saddle!  For several days after this she would request, “ride horse.”

1st pony ride!

1st pony ride!

On Easter morning, we of course had to see what the Easter Bunny had delivered.  Her favorite items were the Anna and Elsa jelly beans.

Checking out the Easter basket.

Checking out the Easter basket.

We then headed over to the local golf course for an egg hunt.  I remembered the basket this time!

Egg Hunt #2 at the golf course.

Egg Hunt #2 at the golf course.

We had hoped to get a last minute reservation at the restaurant on the course for brunch, but had no such luck.  So it was back home for cinnamon rolls and Dad’s egg frittata.  After a nap, we tried one more egg hunt at home.

Egg Hunt #3 in the backyard.

Egg Hunt #3 in the backyard.

My husband had the idea to substitute berries inside the eggs instead of candy.  Little girl didn’t seem to mind at all!

Is that a jelly bean inside the egg?  Nope, a blueberry!

Is that a jelly bean inside the egg? Nope, a blueberry!

We were joined by friends for dinner and dessert at our house.  All in all a great Easter weekend!  Hope you enjoyed yours as well!

8 Things I Missed About the U.S.

A lot of americans talk about “reverse culture shock” when returning to the states after living abroad.  I was always curious about this, would it feel weird to return “home” after  being overseas?

I can say that our family looked forward to coming back to the states.  Not that we weren’t happy in Germany, because we were!  We loved it there, and we had great friends there.  But there were certain things we were missing and ready to go back to.  Also I think knowing we will be returning to Europe in the next couple years made it a little easier to leave.  We knew it wasn’t our last chance to be there.

Personally I don’t think we had any reverse culture shock.  Maybe just a few “I forgot what this is like” moments.  Here’s some things I missed about the U.S. while we were gone.

1.  Big roads and big parking spaces

When we made a stop over in Dallas for a couple days on our return trip home, we were in awe of the spacious lanes, parking lots, parking spaces, and the huge trucks that seemed to be everywhere.  In Germany we had grown used to narrow streets, where often you have to pull over to let a car going the opposite direction get by.  A lot of the roads connecting villages are just 2 lane winding farm roads.  And the parking spaces always seemed miniature!  Even in places with a big parking lot, like a Best Buy or WalMart equivalent.  There were plenty of spaces, but they were all designed for small cars, not the small SUV we drove.  Our small SUV was a big car there.  It is not common to see Europeans drive anything the size of a Ford Explorer or bigger.  If you see someone driving one of those…it’s an american.

Would've been nice to have a tiny car like this in Europe!

Would’ve been nice to have a tiny car like this in Europe! image credit

2.  Freebies

Free water at a restaurant, and free use of a bathroom.  These are all things that were almost non-existent where we were.  I never realized how much I loved having free water at a meal!  In Europe tap water is not commonly handed out upon sitting down.  Mostly you have to order a bottle of water, and most of the time it is more expensive than beer or wine.  Why not just drink a beer then?  Because I’m thirsty!! I’m one of those people who constantly drinks water.  And if I want a beer but I’m thirsty, I need a water first and then I can drink a beer.

When in Europe you always use the bathroom when you’re at a restaurant or cafe.  Whether you have to go or not.  Because if you don’t, you will have to dig out change to access a public one.  And if you’re on a road trip and want to stop at a gas station to use the bathroom, you better have change.  This system comes with a trade off.  While it is annoying to have to pay, often times this means the money is going to the upkeep of the restroom.  So they are mostly very clean and well maintained.

This is a typical German rest stop bathroom.  No free entry here!  Pay the fee and go through the turnstile.

This is a typical German rest stop bathroom. No free entry here! Pay the fee and go through the turnstile. image credit

3.  Shopping

I missed the convenience of knowing exactly what store to go to when I’m looking for product x,y,z .  In Germany I never quite got fully comfortable with the stores.  A combination of not knowing which stores were selling quality items, not speaking the language, things being just a little bit different, and products being more expensive.  Here it’s like I know the stores I like and what kinds of things are sold in most of the big box stores like Target, Kohls, Michael’s, etc.  I also relied heavily on shopping online via Amazon and other stores.  Maybe if I hadn’t had that to fall back on, I would’ve gotten out and explored the retail options in Germany a bit more.

I really missed Target, so many great things you didn't know you needed!

I really missed Target, so many great things you didn’t know you needed! image credit

4. Friendly Strangers

It is very refreshing to be back in a place where people smile and say hello while passing by on the street.  It’s just not a part of German culture to be overly friendly to strangers.  Not that Germans are rude or mean people by any means, but it’s just not normal over there to be so forward and friendly with people you don’t know.  For now I will appreciate the smiles, waves, “good mornings” and other the other niceties that come along with living in a happy California town.

5.  Less severe garbage rules

In Germany we had 4 different trash cans in our kitchen.  One for food waste, one for metal and plastic, one for paper, and one for all other trash.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the special grey bags for diapers!  And don’t think about throwing glass away, that you have to take down the street to the glass recycling bins and sort it out by color!  Our regular trash bin was tiny and was only picked up every other week.  It forced us to be very conscious of our waste and how we dispose of trash, but what about when you have visitors?  Or when you just have one of those weeks where you have a lot of trash?  And forget about placing extra bags out next to the bin.  If you do that, none of your trash is getting picked up!  We still recycle here, but our trash is collected weekly and we have garbage bins that aren’t so small and restrictive.  I must say it is very nice.

Notice how small the bins are!  image credit

Notice how small the bins are! image credit

6.  Garbage disposals

No one I knew in Germany had one.  Why??  Maybe it’s related to the trash system, I don’t know.  But I never realized how nice it is to have a garbage disposal and I never want to live without one again!

7. Drive up services

The only places I saw in Europe with drive-thrus were McDonald’s and Burger King.  No drive up ATMs, no drive-thru Starbuck’s, no drive up pharmacy windows, and no pay at the pump gas.  I guess it’s kind of lazy when you think about it, but it is very convenient at times.  Especially when you don’t want to pull your toddler out of the car seat to just grab a quick coffee.

Gotta love being able to get your coffee on the go!  image credit

Gotta love being able to get your coffee on the go! image credit

8. Everywhere takes credit card

Europe is modern and when you’re out shopping at a mall or any big store, they take cards.  Sometimes not the american cards we have though.  And there are still a large number of restaurants that only accept cash.  We often found ourselves searching for an ATM to withdraw some euros to deal with this.  I’m hardly ever prepared with cash, and I love that even the local farmer’s market here can take cards.  Again, another nice convenience to have.

In the grand scheme of life these are small things.  But they are things I didn’t think about before they were not available to me anymore.  Not saying one country is better or worse in these terms, but just noticing little differences in ways of life.  I will have to do a follow up about things I miss from Europe…stay tuned!

California Livin’

I feel as if I should start at the beginning.  So why “abroad wife” when we aren’t abroad?  Well, we just returned from 3 years abroad and will be going back overseas in a little over a year.  We had a blog for the years we were in Germany to help keep friends and family in the loop.  I’ve since taken it down because I felt it could use some improvement.  My intention is to edit those old posts (mostly about our travel in Europe) and re-post them here.  So there may be some throw back  travel posts here in the near future. For now I will give a little update as to our lives on the Monterey Peninsula.

We’ve been in California for a few months and are finally settled and into the groove of daily life.  There was a long transition waiting for a car, and all of our household items to arrive.  Now my husband is fully into his job, the house is put together, and life is resuming into “normal” or our new normal.  We love the coastal location here.  We are surrounded by beautiful ocean views, a sleepy main street, and all kinds of wildlife.  On a regular basis we see deer, hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, woodpeckers, squirrels, harbor seals, sea lions, otters, and a big wild looking house cat who roams the neighborhood.

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Since the weather is a bit more sunny in California, we find ourselves going for a lot of walks, spending time at the beach, going to parks, and enjoying our big backyard.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a favorite hangout of our Sweet Daughter.  She loves the fish, sharks, and otters.  Luckily for us, it is close enough to walk to and we can pop in anytime now that we are members!

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Our daughter is still getting used to the beach.  She hates to stand on the sand.  Most of the time she will only stand on the sand wearing her rain boots, and even that is a hard sell sometimes.  A few nights ago we had a breakthrough and she spent the evening scampering through the sand in her socks.  She likes to be held and taken to look in the tide pools for starfish and “baby crabs”.

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So that’s a little look into our lives right now.  Looking forward to more outdoor adventures here and exploring more of the central California coast.  If anyone has any “must sees” or “dos” in the area, please feel free to share!