2015 in review

When it comes to the new year I often think “Damn, what a shitty year. Can’t wait for a different one!” But not this time. This year was awesome. The best year ever.

I:

-started two new (part-time) teaching jobs

-experienced Cologne Karneval (wild)

-took two German courses and greatly improved my non-existent language skills (and met some awesome people)

-saw the U.S. play Germany (and win)

-traveled to Barcelona

-traveled through Bavaria and part of Austria, seeing Munich and Salzburg and hiked through the Alps (pictures don’t do it justice)

-got married! (and had the most perfect celebration)

-was visited by friends from the U.S. and Spain!

-finished the first year of my Master’s programme

-got to fly home to the U.S. and see almost all of my friends and family

Looking forward to 2016.

Advertisements

Sun in Germany

Although the first few weeks were rather gloomy weather-wise, the last week has been absolutely beautiful. One of the charming things about Germans (or maybe Europeans in general) is that they always take advantage of good weather by being outdoors. There are so many nice places to eat, drink, walk, bike, or just simply enjoy the outdoors here that it’s almost a crime to stay inside when the sun is out. 70 degrees and a little sun is all it takes for just about any German to take off their clothes grab a beer or a book and head to the park.

Case in point:

(Practically) naked grandpa getting his tan on.

(Practically) naked grandpa getting his tan on.

Even this goose couldn’t resist a little sun bath!

Even this goose couldn't resist a little sun bath!

Hello sunshine, my old friend

Mid-September isn’t looking too bad! Enjoy the sun while it lasts!

It’s that time of year

Fall! This is the first fall I’ve ever spent outside of the Midwest, so I was afraid I might get a little nostalgic and homesick since this is one of my favorite times of the year. The apple orchard, the annual pumpkin festival (and pumpkin EVERYTHING), wiener roasts and s’mores, ciders, hoodies and sweatpants (and the ability to– in moments of desperation– shamelessly wear them in public)… These were things I’d mentally bid farewell to.

But then once we started actively seeking these important things out– the pumpkin stuff, in particular, we saw it everywhere! Photographic evidence:

 

At Starbucks I thought, it couldn't be! But there it was! The first item on the menu was the coveted Pumpkin Spice Latte (which I was horror-stricken to find out actually contains NO pumpkin ingredients whatsoever..But that's beside the point. Europe usually has higher standards on what garbage goes into food and drink anyway!). It was glorious.

At Starbucks I thought, it couldn’t be! But there it was! The first item on the menu was the coveted Pumpkin Spice Latte (which I was horror-stricken to find out actually contains NO pumpkin ingredients whatsoever..But that’s beside the point. Europe usually has higher standards on what garbage goes into food and drink anyway!). It was glorious.

And the fun didn't stop there. They also had pumpkin spice cake! It was really a pleasant surprise because I've heard pumpkin desserts really aren't a thing here. But maybe once everyone gets a taste of this good stuff, they will be.

And the fun didn’t stop there. They also had pumpkin spice cake! It was really such a pleasant surprise because I’ve heard pumpkin desserts really aren’t a thing here. But maybe once everyone gets a taste of this good stuff, they will be.

In the same day we also went a little bit outside the city to this gem. You couldn't pick your own apples or pumpkins, but you could pick your own sunflowers. We bought one of these sweet little guys.

In the same day we also went a little bit outside the city to this gem. You couldn’t pick your own apples or pumpkins, but you could pick your own sunflowers. We bought one of these sweet little guys.

In the summer you can pick your own strawberries and how cute is this little bus?

In the summer you can pick your own strawberries and how cute is this little bus?

Then we made pumpkin soup with the little pumpkin we'd bought. So good.

Then we made pumpkin soup with the little pumpkin we’d bought. So good.

So I got my pumpkin fix (for now) and am really enjoying the fall in Germany!

Cologne Photomarathon 2014

Last weekend we participated in a “photomarathon,” which is easily the coolest thing I’ve done since I’ve been here. The event is part of Photokina, which is a massive photography trade fair held here in Cologne this month. The marathon demands 8 photos in 6 hours, with each of those photos representing the city of Cologne through a given theme. The overall motto was “The city is worth a visit,” and then we were given four different themes to capture…and GO! We had about three hours to take the first four pictures that would fit our themes, and then we would meet at a different location to receive our last four.

A challenge was that these had to be done in order, so you really had to commit to your idea before moving on. You couldn’t have more than 8 photos, and you couldn’t enhance them in any way, so each photo had to be well thought out and done right. About a hundred others participated, so there was also the challenge of thinking outside the box and trying to avoid what we thought might be standard or cliche tourist choices! I swear I’m not as pretentious as I sound right now?

Anyway, even though we took the challenge seriously, we had a lot of fun during those six hours of running around the city center. It was so cool to see and appreciate the city, and all of its quirks and details, through a whole different lens (HA!). Or from a whole different angle? On a roll now… I felt like a tourist and a local at the same time. The city really IS worth a visit. Below I will share our photos and the themes they went with. They’re not perfect (we’re not huge fans of the last half), but I’m really happy with them, mostly because it was such a fun experience. 😀

Like any marathoner, we were given a number (ours was 168). Our first picture had to incorporate our number, so we chose to do that on beer mats, which is what servers use to tally your beers here in Cologne. Kölsch is the local beer and a highly important part of this culture!

Like any marathoner, we were given a number (ours was 168). Our first picture had to incorporate our number, so we chose to do that on beer mats, which is what servers use to tally your beers here in Cologne. Kölsch is the local beer and a highly important part of this culture! Nice picture, right? The best part is that it gave us an excuse to have a few morning beers! Excellent way to start a marathon.

The theme here was "I pack my bag and I put in..." so we used a city map and photographed this against the main station's sign.

The theme here was “I pack my bag and I put in…” so we used a city map and photographed this against the main station’s sign.

"It's a beautiful view here" was our third theme, so we captured the famous Cologne cathedral through a "tourist's" sunglasses.

“It’s a beautiful view here” was our third theme, so we captured the famous Cologne cathedral through a “tourist’s” sunglasses.

"Different countries, different customs" was the last theme of the morning. Cologne is famous for Karneval (which I cannot wait to experience, btw), so we used the symbolic red nose and some confetti to do this one.

“Different countries, different customs” was the last theme of the morning. Cologne is famous for Karneval (which I cannot wait to experience, btw), so we used the symbolic red nose and some confetti to do this one.

"Is this art or can we throw it away?" Since we decided it would be too mean to photograph a real person, we went with this guy.

“Is this art or can we throw it away?” Since we decided it would be too mean to photograph a real person, we went with this guy.

Next theme was "Big city jungle." These themes kept getting more difficult!

Next theme was “Big city jungle.” These themes kept getting more difficult! It’s not a brilliant picture, but it has a big city feeling.

"A souvenir from Cologne." Christina can now add tattoo artist to her resume.

“A souvenir from Cologne.” Christina can now add tattoo artist to her resume.

The final theme was something like "A little part of you will always stay here" and so we went to the famous love lock bridge where couples immortalize their love on a lock and throw the key into the Rhein! I think a lot of people took a similar picture on this bridge, but it just fit.

The final theme was something like “A little part of you will always stay here” and so we went to the famous love lock bridge where couples immortalize their love on a lock and throw the key into the Rhein! I think a lot of people took a similar picture on this bridge, but it just fit.

Bringing your dog to Germany

I’ve officially inhabited the land of beer and bratwurst for one month! This is really more a milestone for my dog than me, though, since the lil guy has never left the Midwest. Before I left, the big question from everyone was always what I was doing with my dog. For me it was never a question at all. He was going to come with me!

Although I was determined, it wasn’t easy. A lot had to be carefully organized in advance for this to happen, and since I didn’t know anyone who had gone through internationally exporting their pet (and my vet had never dealt with this situation either), I was pretty much relying entirely on the internet as my source for information and truth. That was a bit frightening to me. What if something went wrong? What if I or my vet missed something? Would my dog have to be left behind? Quarantined? It didn’t ease my mind any when one vet told me I’d better know my shit because in some countries if you don’t have the right paperwork, they take your pet and euthanize it. THEY WILL KILL YOUR DOG!!! is what I heard. But this is Germany, lady. They are as nice to dogs as they are to humans. Everything should be just fine.

And it was. If you read below, I outlined the steps you should go through if you are taking your dog to Germany (and probably most EU countries) from the USA. And for those who don’t care about that, here are some pictures of Napoleon adjusting to his new turf.

Treats ease culture shock.

Treats ease culture shock.

Napoleon, ready to conquer the new territory.

Napoleon, ready to conquer the new territory.

Enjoying one of many beautiful parks the city has to offer.

Enjoying one of many beautiful parks the city has to offer.

Here are the steps I took before traveling with my dog to Germany, should you be curious or find this helpful to you or someone you know who is considering doing the same.

  • Make sure your dog is microchipped. Be sure that it is a 15 digit number that can be read by European scanners. Apparently there are some microchips that are 9 digits or so and can only be read in the USA. I got mine done through Banfield (with HomeAgain) when my dog was a puppy, and it is the right kind of microchip. You could double-check that yours is the right kind when you go to your vet.
  • Your dog must be vaccinated against rabies and this must be done AFTER microchipping. If your dog got the rabies vaccination before microchipping, he/she will need to be revaccinated. “At least 21 days must have elapsed after the primary vaccination before the animal is eligible to enter the European Union.” As long as you are not planning a transatlantic move last minute, these things are easy to take care of.
  • If you are from the USA, you do NOT have to worry about rabies titer tests! I had a scare at the last second that this was required for me (and these have to be done months in advance of the flight), but luckily as of 2012, they are no longer required for entry into the EU from the USA. I believe that they are only required for countries with unfavorable rabies conditions.
  • Research airlines you want to fly with. Normally I would book the cheapest flight I could find, but since I was traveling with my dog, I considered him above all else. I did lots of reading on international pet policies that the various airlines had, and made a little chart where I compared the policies, costs, flight lengths, and reputations of the airlines before I made a decision. I chose Lufthansa because it was only an 8.5 hour direct flight (no stops, so no worrying that your pet will get lost or lugged around god knows where), they have a very good reputation with handling animals (dogs fly in a climate and pressure-controlled area just like human passengers, and they are taken care of throughout the flight by the staff), and it was also surprisingly cheap compared to other airlines (only $200 for my dog, although bigger dogs would run $400- but this is normal). The flight itself was not cheap, but the convenience of everything and knowing I and my dog would be well taken care of was well worth it. You cannot beat Lufthansa. Have a few glasses of wine (free, btw), kick back, and relax!
  • Call your airline to book your dog on your flight and make sure you have a proper pet carrier. Do this as soon as possible, because you never know how many spaces are available in the first place. When you talk to them, double-check their pet policies and prices. Make sure you have the right kind of carrier/cage/container for your pet. My carrier was ventilated on all sides, was big/tall enough for my dog to stand up and turn around comfortably, and had food and water crocks attached to it. When I booked my dog on my flight, they wanted to know exact measurements of my cage, as well as the weight of my dog and cage combined. This was how they determined my price. My original cage was an inch or two too tall for the $200 charge (it would have cost me $400), so I returned it for a slightly smaller one and saved $200.
  • Make an appointment to see your vet and get your pet’s health certificate within 10 days of your flight. Unfortunately it cannot be done any sooner. You will need to show this health certificate in the airport to prove your pet is healthy enough to fly, and to customs officials to prove your pet has the correct vaccinations. Since neither my vet nor I had any experience with this official export stuff, I saw her in advance to go over all of the paperwork and make sure my dog had everything he needed for customs. We also went over the bilingual health certificate and made sure we would be filling out the right one when the time came! This is what she filled out about 8 days before my flight. http://www.germany.info/contentblob/3444102/Daten/2094425/Pets_Document_Annex2.pdf  Do not assume your vet will be knowledgeable about this stuff. I was glad the two of us read through everything together and got on the same page, but it took about an hour. So communicate with your vet about your move in advance!
  • ALSO make an appointment to go to the USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services to have your health certificate officially validated by your state. I made my appointment for the same day I got his health certificate. Remember, this has to be done within 10 days of your flight, so you want to make sure you give yourself a little time in case something goes wrong! I had to drive about an hour and a half to get there, so also check how far your closest office is so you have enough time between the appointments (should you do everything in the same day).
  • Prepare your pet for the flight. I got my dog used to his cage well before the flight, so that he was comfortable in it and used to it. I rewarded him for going into his cage, and I would put him in there any time we drove a long distance so he could get used to the movement. When you fly, people recommend putting something that smells like you in your pet’s cage in order to ease their anxiety. I gave him a long walk so he could exercise and go to the bathroom before the long flight. I also gave him benadryl, which is ok to do as long as your pet will be in a pressurized area of the plane (not in cargo). Talk to your vet and see what he/she recommends.
  • Check in. You will fill out some information and then you will take your dog through security where they make sure you’re not smuggling any drugs underneath that pet mattress. Then they will take your dog away and even though it’s heart wrenching, in a way you can relax because everything is now out of your hands.
  • Pick up your dog and take him/her through customs. I panicked because once we landed, I didn’t know where to get my dog. Everyone told me to go somewhere different, so I was on a wild goose chase throughout the airport with three suitcases and a heavy bag on my shoulder searching for my dog. If possible, see if an airport employee can take you where you need to go. Once you’ve got your dog, you declare him/her at customs and this is when the official checks your papers. Mine barely gave my papers (you know, the ones I spent months worrying about) a glance, and I was good to go.
  • Get your pet fresh air, food, and water as soon as possible, and then enjoy! All that shit is over with! It’s not a simple thing to fly a pet overseas, but if you plan ahead and stay semi-organized, things will work out. Germany is a fantastic place for a dog!