Oktoberfest Pilgrimage

Hello anyone still out there. Its been a while, but I am alive and well (and still living in Berlin, it’s been over a year now!). I’m not going to  bother making excuses. What can I say life got in the way. But it turns out I miss this here blog so I decided to give it another crack!

So much has happened over the last 6 months I’m not even going to try to break it down. Many more travels from a small Island on the Baltic, to California, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Munich, Prague! Wow writing it down I makes me realise how much we did!

I don’t even know where to start so lets start with Oktoberfest just because it was pretty much the most awesome weekend ever.

oktoberfest traditional clothing couple

I swear half the fun was the outfits. We splurged and bought traditional ones, best souvenir we’ll ever buy.

We decided last minute we just had to make Oktoberfest happen so booked a rare decently priced hotel hotel and car and made the 6hr drive Friday night after work. We could not have lived in Germany for over a year and not made it to Oktoberfest. Australian’s and American’s plan their Europe trips to include Oktoberfest. Nobody would ever let us live it down.

Oktoberfest is exactly like you imagine, except bigger. We got there at 9am and managed to not only make it in one of the main tents, the Hacker-Feltzet Tent, but also squeeze on a groups table! They had been there since 7:30am so we felt pretty fortunate to get a spot.

Oktoberfest Hacker- Festzelt munich

How magical is it?! Like all of your Oktoberfest dreams come true

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Giant pretzels for breakfast on the way in. Big mistake, always eat a proper breakfast before a day of heavy drinking.

Oktoberfest outside dirndl

Oktoberfest leiderhosen traditional

Isn’t he handsome?? You could say he felt pretty awesome in his leather leiderhosen

From there the day went in typical Oktoberfest form. Start drinking at 9am, drinking games, more pretzels. Every so often someone would stand up on the table and down a beer while the entire crowd cheered them on (or booed if they failed).

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When the band started playing at midday thats when the festivities really took off! Everybody stood up on their benches and started singing and dancing. We barely sat down again for the rest of the afternoon. As people became looser so did the once exclusive tables, suddenly everyone is friends wrapping their arms around each other singing ‘Ein Prosit’.

Oktoberfest friends fun beer oktoberfest fun beer girl munich oktoberfest beer tent munichlowenbrau oktoberfest munich

It is truly the biggest high to be a part of the festivities. You look around and everyone is smiling and cheering. Of course a lot of beer consumption helps to. And boy are they strong.

3 very large beers later and we were done. We took ourselves home around 5pm and crashed for a couple hours before rounding off the night with some all curing schnitzel.Oktoberfest crowds leiderhosen dirndl

giant schnitzel munich leiderhosen

Giant schnitzel truly is the way to a man’s heart

Sunday we had a more low key day and enjoyed exploring the festival grounds. It was less crowded so we managed to get into almost every tent to check out different atmospheres and decor. By the end of the day the grounds were filling up with Germans dressed in the fanciest, traditional outfits ready for the final night.

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It was one of the best weekends, even if we did get a speeding ticket on the autobahn. Who knew that was even possible?!

Nuremberg- Castle Road pt 1

Nuremberg-Germany

Well its official, I suck at consistently blogging. Turns out it’s much harder to find motivation to blog when you’re staring at a computer screen 8+ hours a day, not to mention we’re lucky to get home before 8pm. From there the night just seems to disappear. But enough excuses! Here, finally, is the first part of our Easter Long Weekend Bavarian Road trip!

If you missed (or forgot since it’s been so long) we planned our Easter long weekend trip literally a week out, so we bought mystery flights as they were the only affordable option. Low and behold we ended up going to Nuremberg. We weren’t super psyched until we discovered there is this great road trip called ‘Castle Road’. Stretching from Nuremberg to Heidelberg it stops off at all of these old castles and medieval towns.

First stop Nuremberg! It was so much prettier than we expected. We just had a day in Nuremberg, but really this was the perfect amount of time to explore and wander the entire city (I’m so glad we discovered castle road instead of spending 4 days in Nuremberg!). Like so many European cities Nuremberg has an old town surrounded by the modern day city. The old town though is so picturesque, its like stepping back in time. Surrounded by stone buildings, Tudor style houses, canals, cobbled streets and many little intricate designs all over the place if you look closely enough. Of course like any old European city it also has a castle with fortified walls that reach out like arms to surround the old town.

One of the nicest things about Nuremberg was the relaxed, almost slow motion, time there. It was so relaxing. It felt like time had just been paused and we had endless time to wander the winding lanes and sip coffee by the canal. It might have also helped that it was Good Friday so none of the usual retail stores were open, but it made for feeling like you had entered an older world.

But really what I loved about Nuremberg was that it reminded us that Germany, unlike Berlin, can be beautiful. Berlin on a whole is an ugly not an attractive city. It is so unlike the rest of Germany in so many ways, so it’s nice sometimes to be reminded of just how beautiful the rest of Germany is.

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We had breakfast at that little cafe right next to the canal

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They had these adorable grass thatched Easter Bunnies everywhere!

They had these adorable grass thatched Easter Bunnies everywhere!

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Smokey Bacon flavoured, it doesn't get more manly than that!

Smokey Bacon flavoured, it doesn’t get more manly than that!

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One of the strangest things we noticed about Nuremberg though were their creepy statues and figurines all over the place! Sorry about the slightly disturbing pics below but seriously this was a statue in the middle of a square with children playing around , so creepy! The gnomes below were a kind of disturbing window display. We couldn’t help but stare and laugh!!

 

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Spontaneous Mystery Flight

Over Easter we finally had the chance to do what we really came to Europe for, travel! Up until now we have barely been able to get out of Berlin, let alone Germany. We just couldn’t afford to take the risk without steady income coming in yet. Luckily the Easter long weekend came just at the right time… about a week after our first paychecks (yay for having money again)!

Of course since it was only a week until the long weekend all the prices were sky high. The cheapest flight we could find anywhere was around 150 Euros and to like Poland or something. Not quite what we had in mind. At this point Spring hadnt really showed its lazy face yet so after 6 months of winter you could say we were pretty keen for a lil bit o’ this

hawaii poolside hyatt resort lounge beach

Flashback to one of the best vacations ever a couple years ago with my bestie! Seriously craving some Hawaii recently!!

 

Thats when we remembered this awesome ticketing option German Wings does, blind booking! Its a really unique deal where you put in your departure destination, days you want to go BUT you don’t select where you are going…

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I know it seems a bit crazy, but considering we didn’t really know where we wanted to go besides getting the hell outta Berlin and the fact tickets are only 66 Euro return it was a no brainer. So they do a fabulous job of selling it, they give you this mix of possible destinations you could end up. Italy, France, Croatia and more wonderful sounding places with a couple of German cities thrown in. So we go through the motions, click pay and confirm and sit there anxiously awaiting our Easter European vacation destination. We were just praying “please not Germany, please not Germany”, somewhere warm! Anywhere but Germany! I was literally like this

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‘Nuremberg’!

 

 

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Yep. Nuremberg. I was like ok, no lets be positive, Nuremberg might be cool! Nuremberg… that sounds familiar… lets google it! Yep. Anyone who is more familiar than  with Nuremberg than us will know exactly what Nuremberg is known for and lets just say its not what I was looking for over Easter. (For those as clueless as me, its the Nuremberg war-crime trials guys).

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A couple days out though we did some research on the area and discovered there is a fairly famous road trip from Nuremberg to Mannheim (near the Rheine) called Castle Road. Basically you drive past a bazillion castles. We LOVE road trips, in fact Easter last year we were road tripping around New Zealand, we’ve decided its a tradition now, so this was perfect. Could it get more European than spending the weekend exploring castles and medieval towns??

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More on our spontaneous Bavarian Road Trip to come!

Are We Out of The Woods Yet?

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, to anyone still out there reading hello! I’m sorry it’s just been crickets around here. Life just got too hard and too busy for the last 6 weeks to find time for sleeping and breathing, let alone blogging. It’s been probably the most trying and tumultuous few weeks of my life but having come out on the other side, it was 100% worth it. You might have a vague idea of what’s been going on if you follow me on instagram but basically it’s been an emotional roller coaster ride of apartments, jobs and visa dramas. It all started getting crazy when we ended up apartment-less but I mean really the craziness started when I began working 12 hour days. So much big news I don’t even know where to begin so I guess I’ll just flash back to the end of January when things started to take a turn for us. As you might know, Daniel had landed a job back at the end of October but hadn’t worked a day yet as he had been waiting 3 months for his work visa to be processed. Good old German efficiency. Well, it turns out his visa had been ready since Mid November, the Alien’s office just lost it. The plus side to the whole situation was that it gave him plenty of time to apply for other jobs (he really didn’t want the other one but had no choice since he needed a visa). Well mid- January a miracle happened and he landed an amazing 1 year contract with an online marketing company. This was right before we needed to find a new apartment since our temporary accommodation was about end. We really wanted to find a long term place so we didn’t have to move a third time in 4 months, however it turns out we way underestimated how hard it is to find an apartment in Berlin. Three days before we had to be out of our apartment we really started to panic.

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I knew we’d hit rock bottom whenI had to post this in every single Berlin apartment search facebook group, but it worked!

We’d left it too late to even find another AirBnB. By Thursday night (we had to be out Saturday) we booked an emergency hotel a few blocks from our apartment. During this same time, other big things were happening. When Daniel had gone in to his new work to sign his new contract they told him that even though he was one of 5 who had been selected out of 350 applicants they still wanted 5 more people. This is when Daniel learned that they were doing a second round of interviews. So, he told them about me. Long story short, the Friday before we had to be out of our apartment (11am Saturday) I was in a 6 hour intensive interview and testing day at Daniel’s company applying for the same position. We got really lucky and, that afternoon, someone who had seen my desperate facebook ad contacted us. She told us she was going overseas for a month on Saturday so we could rent her place while she was gone. After the long interview day I met Daniel and went straight to her place to secure the apartment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t move in until late Saturday and we had to be out of our apartment early Saturday. So later that night we moved into the hotel… in the snow.

His face pretty much sums it up. I wish I could say that was all our stuff, but no this was one of 3 trips. The best was when we had a clothes drying rack perched on a suitcase with a dish drying rack attached. A very classy moment. I"m pretty sure everyone thought we were homeless. I guess we were at that point.

His face pretty much sums it up. I wish I could say that was all our stuff, but no this was one of 3 trips. The best was when we had a clothes drying rack perched on a suitcase with a dish drying rack attached. A very classy moment. I”m pretty sure everyone thought we were homeless. I guess we were at that point.

That weekend we moved twice. First to the hotel Friday night/Saturday morning then to the temporary place Saturday evening/Sunday morning. We had accumulated quite a lot of stuff by this point as the apartment didn’t have everything, so it took us 3 trips back and forth to move all of our stuff in suitcases and plastic bags on the public transport system. I think it’s safe to say it was one of the worst weekends of my life.

The next few weeks were just one giant sleep deprived blur. Daniel was super lucky and his new company helped him resubmit his visa with an agency so it all went through in a couple weeks, with only the slight hiccup of him almost getting deported when his extension visa ran out before his work visa had come through. My lunch times were spent either going to different governmental offices to get all the necessary paperwork to apply to apartments or continuing to interview at Daniel’s company. One of the biggest decisions but also the most exciting I had to make was when I got offered a permanent position to stay on with my company and become a manager or to take the new position at Daniel’s company I managed to secure! After a lot of consideration and back and forth I took the new job! I am now working at the same amazing online marketing company as Daniel in the Social Media Marketing team and having now been there a week and a half it was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! It was a gamble because I was already well established at my old company and I was on a fast-track management path but in the long run I will be much better off with my new company. Not to mention I no longer work 12 hour days! The environment at the new place is just so perfect, it is so much more than we knew when we took the jobs and we are so excited to be there.

We also got really lucky and after viewing and applying to so many different apartments and getting nothing (not even a response) we managed to land an apartment a thousand times better than I ever thought we’d end up with. We are in the exact area we wanted, one of the nicest in Berlin, surrounded by cafes and bars, 5 min walk to a shopping centre, main train station and 15min tram ride to work. But the best part is that we are on the top floor! We get a lot of sunlight (which is rare in Berlin) and we have an amazing view from our balcony. It was a struggle to get a place but we couldn’t be more happy with where we ended up.

We are obsessed with the view from our balcony, can"t believe how lucky we got.

We are obsessed with the view from our balcony, can”t believe how lucky we got.

Apartment-view-berlin

Best part is we get sunshine, a rarity here in Berlin.

Best part is we get sunshine, a rarity here in Berlin.

All in all it’s been a complete emotional roller coaster and a real struggle. Yes we got lucky, but in the end we worked really really hard for this and I feel like we are finally truly settled and set-up for an amazing life in Berlin for however long we decide. Next step, it’s time to travel Europe on the weekends.

And if you made it to the end of this crazy long story, thanks for following along. Everyone’s support has meant so much to us (and I swear next time won’t be a crazy long monologue!). Here’s to finally being stable in Berlin.

German Efficiency- Fact or Fiction?

We all know the stereotype that Germans are known for their efficiency…. well guess what, its a big fat lie. Germany has to be the most inefficient country I have ever been to, or at least any of the governmental systems. It’s like it’s some great big sham that’s really quite impressive how far it’s gone, I mean the whole world knows about German efficiency. They had some good marketers I’ll tell you that!

I have had numerous Germans comment “that’s German efficiency for you” and roll their eyes! It’s a complete and total farce and they are all well aware of it.

Everything you do goes through multiple people/departments, is full of paper work and will take weeks months.

The Germans looove their paper work and they love their lines. Everything you do involves getting there early, to get in the line then waiting at least an hour before it opens then probably another half hour to get a waiting number to then wait at least another hour to be seen.

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Now you might be thinking ‘come on Hannah you’ve only lived there 4 months’ how can you possibly know about German efficiency. Well if you really want to see how a country functions become an expat and move there. I have never had to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops or deal with so many different facets of governmental institutions. I mean, obviously I wouldn’t need to in Australia being a citizen and all but I seriously doubt it involves as much as Germany. I mean when Daniel moved to Sydney he got a one year working holiday visa…before he went… Online.

Not in Germany!! Nothing happens online, it all involves face to face with lots of waiting in lines and lots of paper work (and usually people who don’t speak English, even though literally everyone else including homeless beggars can).

Fortunately I recently discovered the best way to get what you need when they don’t speak english and refuse to help… keep looking confused and asking the same question over and over again… oh and look like you might cry at any second.

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You want a tax ID required for work? You’re going to have to wait in line for that.  You want to register your address? You’re going to have to wait in line for that.You want to apply for a visa? You’re going to have to wait in line for that. 7 times if you’re us, a record so far, we’re yet to meet anyone who took over 3 visits to lodge their visa application. I tell you by the 7th time of waking up at 4am to wait 4 hours all bets are off and social decency/being lady-like goes out the window. When the doors opened I ran up the stairs elbowing people out of the way… I’d do it again not my best moment.

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Oh yeh, did I forget to mention you have to register your address every time you move? Yeh every time. Even if you’re living in a hotel, because anything else you want to do requires that precious piece of paper.

The magic rule for calculating how long anything will take, times it by three.

They say the line will take an hour? It will take 3.
You order something to be mailed to you they estimate to take a week? It will take 3.
You apply for your visa and they estimate the processing time to be a month? It will take 3.

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The only area they are efficient is in the supermarket checkout. You feel like you’re on a game show where the slowest bagging shopper gets eliminated. The cashier will have swiped your stuff, taken your money and started swiping the next customers things into your pile before you’ve even managed to open the bag.

how  its feels bagging your own groceries

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One things for sure, after tackling all of these obstacles you feel pretty darn good about yourself.

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Disclaimer: This may all be because we live in Berlin, aka East Germany. I have been told the West is nothing like this, but these opinions are purely based on my personal experiences.

A Week of Expat Milestones

The first week of 2015 was a big one for us. It was probably our busiest and most exhausting week since we arrived in Berlin. But some big expat milestones were crossed last week!

I got a German Bank account

Finally after living here almost 4 months I have a German bank account! I finally had to get it asap on Friday so work could pay me this week, talk about incentive. I cannot wait for my EC debit card since almost no shop (including grocery stores) will accept my visa or mastercards.

I got a German tax file number

Also needed to get paid but I’m an official worker in Germany now! It was another fun experience with German bureaucracy. The first lady said she couldn’t help so I took another number and tried the next person. She didn’t want to help me either but I have recently discovered if I just keep begging and looking confused and like I might cry they end up deciding it will just be easier for them to do it for me to get rid of me. The key to German bureaucracy!

Berlin Snow expat excited

Daniel got an amazing job offer

So Daniel got a job a while back but hasn’t been able to work a day there yet because we are STILL waiting for his visa to come through. But in the meantime he has been applying to other jobs that are more what he’s looking for and he managed to score an amazing traineeship with a really impressive company. They had the most intense interview process ever narrowing the applicants from 350 to 35 before inviting the remaining to come to an all day interview and testing day, we’re talking 12 on 1 interviews! But he made it through and couldn’t be happier. We’re just praying his visa doesn’t mess it up for him.

Daniel made it on a water polo team

This is probably the biggest news. In case you’re a new reader, one of the main reasons we came to Berlin was so Daniel could pursue professional water polo. It’s a hard sport to get into as you really need to know someone as it’s very hard to find information. By some miracle a few weeks ago our lovely friend invited us for dinner with her flat mates and would you believe it they have a friend who plays on the team. What are the odds?! So they put Daniel in touch with him last Monday and by Tuesday he was already training 4 days a week with them. It’s been a very trying week for him as he’s been out of the pool so now he’s not in top form but he’s giving it his absolute all to get back into it

waterpolo strike UNC

This is from his old team but I can’t wait to see him do this again. Can you believe I’ve never actually seen him play?!

Daniel played in his first professional water polo tournament!

That’s right after less than 4 days on the team Daniel played his first ever pro water polo tournament! Poor guy had to play 5 games over this weekend which is pretty rough when he hasn’t played in months. But I think to be able to say he had a pro game versing prague on the weekend makes up for it.

It’s been a long road but it’s exciting seeing things coming together more and more. It’s nice not to be stuck in limbo between being tourists and belonging. I feel like we can officially say we live here. It’s a pretty nice feeling.

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Other expats what were your significant milestones?

The Best Ever New Year’s Eve Celebration: Leipzig, Germany

Greatest-New-Years-Eve-Leipzig-Germany

I’ve said it before and I’ll said it again, those German’s know how to party!! This year was hands down the BEST New Years Eve celebration I’ve ever experienced. We rang in the New Year not in Berlin but in a city 2.5 hours away called Leipzig. One of my good friends from Sydney, Emily, was in Germany visiting her German boyfriend and brother and invited us to spend New Years with them. We couldn’t have asked for a better New Years Eve celebration and fun couple of days. From a snow filled first day, to a sushi making dinner party, checking out Leipzig and its crazy residents congregated in the square watching classical music in the rain… on a screen (we still don’t understand why) to the craziest New Years Eve celebration Leipzig did not disappoint. Of course a lot had to do with the great company we had, I swear the 2 days were just filled with endless jokes and laughs from people falling off chairs to learning new fun German phrases (my new fave is Geil it means epic/awesome/sick… but also horny, those crazy Germans) I think its safe to say a good time was had by all!

I’ve had some pretty amazing New Years eve celebrations over the years from Sydney, to New York, to Paris to Byron Bay. But this year takes the cake. Here are 5 reasons why this was our best New Years eve in Leipzig Germany.

1. Fireworks everywhere

Now if you know anything about the amazing spectacle of fireworks Sydney puts on every year (the best in the world in my humble opinion) then you can imagine why I don’t usually have high expectations of other cities being able to top it. But would you believe Leipzig took it to a whole other level this year. There weren’t any city run public fireworks displays, instead it is the one day a year fireworks are legally sold in Germany and people definitely make the most of it. We could hear the bang of fireworks occasionally being set off all day in the lead up by people who just couldn’t wait but nothing prepared us for the craziness of midnight. The streets were filled with people setting off their own fireworks. And I don’t mean little firecrackers, I’m talking full blown fireworks. It was absolutely insane. Bangs and flares echoing through the streets, the air thick with gunpowder and smoke. People throwing smaller firecrackers out windows onto the streets below. It was complete and total anarchy and it was amazing. My adrenaline was running high as we walked through the streets littered with fireworks. It was overwhelming trying to capture it on camera, I didn’t know which way to turn. It was so exhilarating and the most fun New Years Eve I have ever experienced. It’s one thing to watch fireworks, its another to be in the middle of them. I honestly don’t know how its legal but I am so glad it is!!

 

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not surprising considering the anarchy taking place

2. Setting off my first firework

If you really want to see (and hear!) what New Year’s Eve in Leipzig is like you have to watch this. This was a crazy experience standing in the road (with the occasional car or tram speeding by) while heaps of fireworks are being set of all around me and lighting a full blown, shoot into the air, explosive firework.

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my first firework!

3. Great Friends

Our New Years celebrations wouldn’t have been anywhere near as amazing without all of the wonderful friends new and old we spent it with. We had so much fun with everyone it was hard to leave!

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the boys and their fireworks

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ready to bring in the New Year with a bang!

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The boys and their beer

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Heading to the bus New Years Day, didn’t have time to stop for a group photo so took one while walking, have since decided we should make an album since we already have a cover

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Snow fun!

2. Great food

I swear we spent the majority of our time their eating. We had a great first night making sushi, my expat christmas wish came true! Their were many brunches, coffee and delicious cake at one of Europe’s oldest coffee houses, Coffee Baum, an amazing potluck buffet at the New Years party and a glorious buffet brunch New Years day. We won’t need to eat for a month (which is lucky since I’ve dubbed this month ‘just healthy eating january’ after the blowout of December!)

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homemade sushi, yep we made that

1. The Snow

The days before we left for Leipzig it finally properly snowed in Berlin. We have been waiting for this moment ever since we moved to Germany. It continued to snow the whole bus ride to Leipzig and the rest of that day. Its amazing how the blanket of white makes everything that much prettier. Naturally a spontaneous snow fight broke out (it was the best snowball making snow!!)

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beautiful snow covered leipzig

beautiful snow covered leipzig

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The people of Leipzig watching an orchestra performznce in the square… on a TV… in the Rain. We still don’t know why

A big thanks to Emily, Sebastian and Paul for the BEST New Year’s ever!

Linking up with:

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Exciting News!

So I’ve been a bit quiet on the internet front the last week, but thats because… drum roll…. I finally got a job!! *fireworks* *celebratory trumpets* *tears of joy*

It was a long and sometimes rough process but I have an awesome job at the company I wanted (read: spammed their HR with applications) It came completely out of the blue, the called me midday Friday and asked if I could come in in 3 hours for an interview with an MD (this never happens, I’ve had numerous Skype interviews with their HR for other jobs). I literally spoke with him for 10min before he asked me to start Monday! Things move fast here! The position is even in Marketing position like I wanted! (I was previously in sales and trying to transition to this so yay for not being stuck in sales the rest of my life). Its great I’m doing social media management so I literally spend my entire day on Facebook (I used to get in trouble at my last job oops). But I think I’m going to get sick of Facebook very quickly.

upper east side berlin freidrichstrasse

Yep I’m working on the Upper East Side…Berlin not Manhattan. I still felt cool.

Its a really cool company, it feels like university meets real world. Only downside is 12 hour days are the norm. Sounds like fun no? People stay until 8, 9, 10 just as a standard! My first day at about 6pm I was like “soooo… what time do people leave…” Its going to take some serious getting used to. Luckily I have the most amazing boyfriend who has had dinner ready and the apartment spotless every night when I got home. Sorry ladies, he’s taken. He does have an identical twin though… jokes (but seriously he does).

After not working for the last 4 months its a bit of an adjustment but I’m so glad to finally be more stable and to have some income so we can do what we really came here for, travel!! We’re planning on celebrating by taking a day trip to a smaller city, Dresden, a couple of hours away. Its supposed to have great Christmas market so we don’t want to miss that! So far we’ve been to 3 different Christmas markets in Berlin and are not even close to being sick of them. How could you ever get sick of festive cheer! And lots of yummy food and gluhwein of course. We have learnt through trial and error with some guidance from our German friends which foods to eat (and a few we wont be trying again). We ate this weird looking dumpling thing on the weekend that we never would have picked but our friend told us it was her fave, and it did not disappoint. It was certainly an odd creation though, think berliner (jelly filled donut) cross asian dumpling cross bread and butter pudding. Confused yet?

Well here’s to making it through my first week of work and actually earning the weekend! Happy hump day everyone!

This One Time In Montenegro… | A White Water Rafting Adventure

 Montenegro-White-Water-Rafting

Let me set the scene for you. 5 blonde Girls. 8 Serbian Men. A Raft. Overnight at a campsite straight out of a horror movie. And a jeep ride from hell.

The story begins back in Croatia. We needed to stay out of the Schengen visa area (if you’re unfamiliar it covers most European countries and means you can only be in there for max 90 days) so we thought hey, why not Montenegro? What do you do in Montenegro? Go white Water Rafting of course! What you’d never heard of that? Yeah me neither. It turned out to be quite an experience.

We opted for the 3 day tour, which ended up being only 2 actual days of rafting since the whole first day was spent driving there. A driver, Joe, picked us up from our Dubrovnik accommodation and drove us 4hrs to the rafting place. He was this massive beast of a man, who looked like he was straight out of a movie playing a bodyguard for the President of something rolling up in an old school Jeep. 6 foot 5, very large build, shaven bald head and sunglasses and didn’t speak a word of English. But Joe was a gentle giant and hilarious as he tried to communicate with us in Serbian. If we asked a question he’d whip out his Nokia flip phone from his Adidas bum bag to call his boss to translate, it was great.

After stopping off for a beer in Bosnia at the largest man made pool I’ve ever seen we arrived at the white water rafting headquarters in time for dinner of mystery meat goulash (actually really yum) before calling it a night to rest up for what was sure to be 2 hectic days of white water rafting.

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Joe and the girls

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Giant man-made lake. Looked like it was straight out of the 70s and barely used since though some teens were swimming there surprisingly. Its in the middle of nowhere!

The next morning we met our guide and were keen to get rafting. Turns out we had another couple hour drive to get to the start, but it was really amazing getting to drive through the Montenegrin country side scattered with old wooden farms and free roaming cattle amongst some stunning mountain scenery. It felt like we had stepped back in time.

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Cow Crossing!

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Entering the EU, Montenegro!

After a very slightly hair raising drive along narrow roads, going very fast around blind corners with sheer cliffs on the otherside and absolutely no safety features in a jeep that two of us had to sit in the boot we finally arrived at the stunningly blue river of the Tara River Canyon. The UNESCO listed Tara River Canyon is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever seen. With almost sheer cliffs, scatters of trees and amazingly blue snow-melt water it unlike anything else. Its the 2nd largest canyon in the world just behind the Grand Canyon in the USA. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and what I loved about the Tara River canyon was that it was completely different, I mean for one it wasn’t in the dessert but also it was a much more narrow sheer canyon which felt much more severe.

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Our jeep is dwarfed by the sheer size of the canyon

Now when you picture white water rafting in the 2nd largest canyon in the world you imagine some big rapids, lots of holding on for dear life just trying to staying in the boat right? Wrong, it was more like paddling for 65km (6 hours each day!). We started off not really paddling just chilling waiting for the rapids until we asked our guide if we should be paddling or not and he’s like its up to you, you’re the engine, I steer. We’re like ok well we’ll just keep chilling maybe paddle a bit until he casually mentions we may want to paddle if we want to get the before dark! It was a looong day. 65km of paddling is a really long way. We were dying by the end. I think we were also driving our guide a little mad constantly asking how much further. But in our defense I’m not exaggerating when I say we had to paddle the whole way, the river was barely flowing most of the time. It was not quite what we imagined. On the plus side we had plenty of time to take in (and capture) the absolutely breathtaking nature we were flowing through.

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Loading the raft

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We’re ready!

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Don’t be fooled by the smiles, that water was freezing!

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That water guys. I die.

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Clearly it was strenuous

Finally we arrived at our accomodation for the night. Straight up I’d felt like I’d stepped into a scene from a horror movie. Now I’m not a prissy ‘ew I am NOT staying there’ type of girls but this place was seriously creepy. It was like an old school camp building straight out of the 70s that looked like it had been reclaimed after being abandoned for years. It was in the middle of nowhere and had no electricity to this old Serbian man with gnarly teeth would emerg from the shadows when you went to walk to your room and would shine a dim torch down the creaky hallway to help you see where you were going, but it barely did anything and once in your room there was minimal light coming though the window. I also felt a little creeped out that it was just us 5 girls and now 8 Serbian men (especially after our guide told us all the guides had competed to be the ones to take us, flattering I guess). Luckily another group arrived so I felt much better. We had a delicious dinner made for us by our drivers cousin of fresh caught whole fish, Bass I think, potatoes, traditional homemade cheese, the most powerful cured meat, potatoes and more. Then there was the Rhaki, pretty much Serbia’s moonshine. We were all poured a shot and very much encourgaed to drink it as it is not polite to leave it. It was the strongest, most potent acohol I’ve ever encountered and only a drop touched my tongue (the rest we sutbly managed to tip out). After 3 fish each and many ‘pretend’ shots later we managed to escape to our rooms and collapse ready for a another day of paddling.

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Our accomodation

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Filling from our accommodations’ only drinking water, fresh from a stream!

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There’s something especially spiritual about small town church on the side of a cliff surrounded by sheer mountains

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The next day was cold and rainy and unfortunately we didn’t have rain jackets, so we wore plastic garbage bags. We looked hilarious, our guide couldn’t stop laughing he said we looked like we were wearing giant condoms, but hey they were warm and we had 6 hours of paddling ahead of us! And another long day it was. This time there were a couple of medium rapids at best but we enjoyed them for all they were worth. We finally made it to the end and were more than ready to get the hell out of that raft! Our guide though, he was a trooper, as we left he was like “ah so you girls more like umm… shopping and things yeah?”. Poor guy. But really we’re not uptight princesses or anything. I think anyone would have been like us, we signed up for white water rafting, not 65kms of endless paddling!

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Pretty much the only rapids

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The finish

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We made it!

The scariest part of the trip was not the rapids but the 2 hour drive to our next destination with our driver who had been up the entire night drinking rakia. We literally had to sing, buy him redbulls (and insist he drink them) and legit poke him to keep him from closing his eyes and us making it there alive.

All in all it was quite and experience and I feel lucky to have been able to seem somewhere so stunningly beautiful and remote. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing. On the one hand I loved it and it was amazing went well, but on the other I feel like we were lucky and things could really have gone the other way. But they didn’t and it sure made for some great ‘this one time in Montenegro…’ stories so we’ll call it a win!

Berliner Bureaucracy

Oh the joys of bureaucracy. It’s been a difficult week. We are currently in the process of trying to work out and lodge visas. It is not something they make straightforward or give you much information on.
I’m currently sitting in a waiting room filled with crazed people desperate to just be given a waiting number. Daniel’s currently standing in a queue if you can call it that. It’s a semi organised formation of people all trying to elbow each other out. There’s a lot of suspicious eye movement, making sure no one pushes in front of them. The tension is palpable to say the least.

Daniel Berlin Immigration line*

The scene right now

There are conversations about visas that have already expired but they can’t get an appointment to see anyone, others who have come here at 5:30am 3 days in a row, people who waited 6hours the day before only to be handed an appointment for 6 weeks time.

But that’s just this morning, this is not our first German bureaucratic experience. Last week Daniel’s boss sent us to the wrong building. We waited half an hour in line before being told “nein”, handed a piece of paper with a bunch of versions of “please come back with papers written in German and a translator” then promptly made to leave the counter. We decided to try our luck on a another floor just incase we went to the wrong desk and fortunately found a kind woman who spoke a little English who was then the one that informed us we were at the wrong entire place.
So Tuesday we tried again, at the correct place this time, Auslaenderbehoerde, aka the Alien’s Office. Because thats what we are. Aliens. And they don’t let you forget it!

Nein baby meme

We got there just after it opened at 7am, there were people going every which way. We had no idea where to go but I knew we needed to work it out fast because I had read the allotted ‘no appointment’ numbers for the day run out fast. There are a few signs around, but of course all in German. We asked a sort of pseudo info/security desk and managed to get the gist of where to go. When we got to the right spot it became even harder. There is no one to ask, there are a couple signs in German and there are people filling the waiting room and lining up down the hall. Its a nightmare. Luckily a few friendly other Americans (can always count on friendly Americans) told us what to do… Wait in line until someone leaves the room behind that door and then go in to beg get a number. After waiting about 45min in line Daniel finally just went in, luckily because no one was in there. He was kicked out in a matter of seconds and told to come back with a translator, again! We were at the Alien’s office for gods sake!! Homeless people on the street rant to us in English as if the people working in the Alien’s office can’t speak English?!! I mean what are the other poor people in the same waiting room from Sudan and South America supposed to do, they can barely even speak English let alone German!!

Thankfully this nice couple, American wife, German husband, took pity on us and he went in with Daniel to translate. Such a kind man he not only translated he went out of his way to defend Daniel’s case! He told us the lady had wanted to kick Daniel out straight away and he argued with her that it was not right and that Daniel was bringing “prosperous work to the German economy unlike the rest of the ‘so-called’ refugees she was letting just file in and destroy our economy”. He went on that Daniel was educated, skilled and already employed and that she should, well pretty much that she should pull the pole out of her ass. This guy really restored our faith in the people of Germany, he went out of his way to help us and he didn’t even know us AND had his wife and not quite 4 week old baby waiting.

While this was all going on I was chatting with her and the other people in the waiting room, turns out this ridiculousness isn’t unique to us (kind of a relief to know were not just stupid). They told us you need to get to the office at like 5:30am and that they’ve done it in the middle of winter before. This was the third day in a row one a few of them had come, one guy had even had an appointment! They said even for Germans the bureaucracy is a nightmare. So after a bit of solidarity bonding hearing other people’s stories we felt no less frustrated but a little less disheartened to know that this is just what has to be done and that every expat working here has already been through this shit. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

So here are again, third times a charm right?? Right?? I’m waiting in the US waiting room again because the Australian room is already filled up (lucky me the other nations in my section are Iran, Iraq, Afganistan, Jordan, Yemen etc so you can imagine its pretty busy). Daniel went in slightly more prepared this time with pretty much the only German phrase I know ‘Konnte ich bitte eine wartnummern ham’ (I’ve probably totally butchered this)- ‘Can I please have a waiting number?’ At least I hope thats right. Hopefully they’ll see it as a sign of good faith.

Oh wait, he’s back! And what do you know… we have to come back 7am Monday. Let the good times roll.

Anyone have any tips on the visa process in Germany??