One year ago today

With the Christmas markets coming around, and the snow starting to fall, it’s beginning to feel a lot like the end of the year. A weekend in Bruges brought me together with a very good friend from London and catching up for the first time in nearly 12 months made for a fun and nostalgic few days. We talked about life in the UK – how the pull of it can be so addictive and only getting out reminds you there’s a world outside London – and we had time to reminisce about people we used to hang out with, the things we used to do and the best and worst relationships we could remember having.

Such nostalgia did make me think a bit about how much things have changed in the past year, and trying to wade through all of what’s happened made my head spin a bit. When you live abroad it’s like your life goes on a rollercoaster. You go from living in one situation to a completely different one in the click of a finger, making you feel more on top of the world than your home country ever did while the bad times leave you feeling more lonely than ever. I thought the year I moved to London was crazy enough; going from living in one hemisphere to another, becoming single after being in a serious relationship, changing jobs twice and moving house. I really had no idea what I was in for when 2013 rolled around.

One year ago today, I was:
- planning a christmas market-themed weekend trip to Frankfurt with my London flatmate, and hoping to figure out if the boy I was texting/skyping who lived there liked me as much as I liked him
- putting together the paperwork for my visa for the UK, hoping that everything was in order
- booking flights back to Australia for a month so I could wait out my visa situation
- spending my weekends in a routine of drinking and feeling hungover, dancing and applying make up, getting horrible night buses and telling sleazy guys to piss off in as many creative ways as possible

Today, I’m:
- giving notice on my flat in Frankfurt as I plan a move to Stuttgart next February with the boyfriend
- organising my visa situation in Germany to stay here for enough time to get citizenship
- starting to pack up my things for the second time in the year
- enrolling in a month-long teaching course in France
- celebrating my boyfriend getting his dream job at Porsche
- spending my weekends doing a mixture of getting trains overseas to explore, having dinners with my new-found girlfriends and spending relaxing nights in with said boy

Things have changed a lot in the last year – I’ve gone from being a single Londoner to a Deutsche Frau in a relationship planning a move to city i’ve never been to before, via living and studying in France for a month. It’s been a pretty crazy 2013 and with plans to live in three cities in 2014, along with two trips back home and taking a big step in both my career and relationship, I wonder at what point my life will slow down and find some kind of normalcy.

Equally, I often wonder what would have happened to me had I not left Australia. I certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near close to being in this situation. Living abroad really does spin you in directions you never even knew existed before you left home and although I’m going to be putting my life into a completely uncertain place next year I think I’m experienced enough with this type of situation to know that it’ll turn out positive, even if I end up homeless, jobless, single and starting all over again, again.

Till next time xx

In Bruges

The winter cold was now upon us and craving a little change from my daily life in Frankfurt, I planned a weekend in Bruges to find out what this little piece of Belgium was really all about. The boyfriend’s exams were coming thick and fast so with a good friend from London we booked tickets and headed out by train to discover the city that supposedly gives you everything a historic European town should.

I’d heard mixed reviews about Bruges and having spent some time in Brussels before I hoped we would find enough things to do with our time there. We stayed in the St Christopher’s Inns hostel in the hopes of finding some sort of nightlife through either the local pub or pub crawl. The beginning of the trip was somewhat stilted – my friend missed her train and as a result I spent about 5 hours at Starbucks watching movies on my ipad. My rediscovery of Brussels while waiting for her proved to be very similar to last time; after a few hours, there isn’t really a lot to do. But it gave me time to watch the movie ‘In Bruges’, which turned out to be far darker than I thought but gave me a good visual tour of the city I was about to see.

By the time we got to Bruges it was dark but we managed to find a cute little restaurant serving mussels on the main square. It seemed everywhere we looked there was romance in the air, making for quite an amusing journey with my friend who insisted on taking ‘couply’ photos everywhere.

Enjoying the romance of Bruges!

Enjoying the romance of Bruges!

The Saturday we had hot chocolates by the fire in another cosy restaurant and had a look around some of the Christmas markets; full of gluhwein and food, we took a walking tour to get a better historical understanding of the town. Organised through St Christopher’s, our tour guide was wonderful and gave us a great perspective of the place. I was lucky I had seen ‘In Bruges’ before the trip because the tour was littered with references to the movie as well as explanations of why the houses are shaped like little chocolate boxes and the Belgian peoples’ gullible natures.

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After a night on the town with some of our newfound friends from the hostel we found a little tour of the chocolate shops helped to cure our hangovers. While the nightlife in Bruges is sorely lacking compared to many other European cities, we found the Irish bar was cosy and had good beer to start us off, and then after that closed a local bar with a pool table and jukebox provided us with enough entertainment to end up finishing at around 3am, despite us being the only ones in the place. My friend asked for a gin and tonic and received a glass full of gin, with tonic given in a can on the side, and we knew it was going to be a crazy night. I ended up with a hat and sunglasses and left all my valuables in the hostel the next morning – luckily the cleaning lady was honest!

Three days was definitely enough but Bruges left a lasting impression on me. European cities are becoming very common in my travelling life but this one presented something different; from their love and artistry of beer to the amazing chocolate, to the interesting museums (we checked out the chemist museum which was great, though would have been better if the descriptions were in different languages), the romance of the parks and restaurants and the wonderfully Christmasy feel, topped off by the ice skating rink in the middle of the city.

By night, Belgium is just as pretty

By night, Belgium is just as pretty

Some of the guys we met on the weekend were on their fourth trip to Bruges and it’s not difficult to see why they keep coming back. It’s not a cheap city break but it’s definitely worth it and one that can make winter feel all-the-more comforting and exciting.

When A Russian Met An Aussie: Experiencing The Cultural Clash

In my life I’ve had three serious relationships – one was with a fellow Australian, one with an Englishman and the current one is with some sort of Uzbek-Kazakh-Russian-German hybrid. So you could say I moved up the cultural difference ranks with each boyfriend. From one who was from the same area as me, went to the same school and whose family were very close to mine; to one who lived on the opposite side of the globe but still spoke the same language, with subtle cultural differences that we both found interesting to compare, discuss and often argue about; to one who didn’t speak my language (he does now thankfully), comes from places I never thought I would visit in my lifetime and does and says things that well, sometimes just completely blow my mind.

I think it fully hit me just how different culturally we are when we were walking through the park the other week, being all romantic with one another as he whisked me off for an anniversary dinner. Noticing a rabbit bouncing through the park I almost squealed with excitement and exclaimed how cute it was. His response? “We should catch it and eat it, and then I can make you a hat for the winter.”

The thing I like about cultural stereotypes is that often, they do have an element of truth to them. My boyfriend seems to have some qualities that are German and some that are Russian. He insists on pouring my drink for me all the time and cheers-ing at weird times (for us Aussies it’s just once at the start of the drinking session, not every time you pick your glass up). Sometimes when his brother roams around the house screaming at him I have to confirm whether he’s actually angry or not – it’s about a 50/50 probability – and when I met his family I very quickly had to learn how to hide the fact that I couldn’t do a vodka shot every 20 minutes. Equally, he refuses to believe that I could possibly not like the taste of beer.

Meeting the parents was certainly an experience that I enjoyed and found fascinating – while his mother is the most amazing cook and puts any of my signature dishes to shame, she goes crazy if i walk around the house with no shoes on and makes me soaps with pretty knitted materials around the outside so i can keep my clothes smelling nice. His father insisted on having about 20 pictures with me drinking wine, eating biscuits and just generally standing next to him – he changed shirts at one point because he felt it wasn’t slimming enough – and the boy’s sister made me take her through the English words for every piece of cutlery we were using and everything we were doing.

This is another thing I should point out – none of my boyfriend’s family speak any English. It’s mostly Russian though he and his brother speak sort of half-half with German. His father tries to speak German to me as I understand the basics, so we do find that we can talk a bit. Of course my boyfriend has been amazing at translating, and his father in particular loves to tell a good Russian joke then poke him constantly till he explains it to me (a guy went to the doctor and said I had a dream, my alcoholism was cured. How do I make this happen? The doctor says well stop drinking, the guy says but then I stop dreaming LOL).

But the cultural differences don’t stop at the family. On a recent discussion over why it’s apparently less fun on a night out when girls are there – I couldn’t understand this as I have loads of guy friends in Australia who are exactly the same around girls as guys – the boy pointed out that I’m constantly saying he treats me with a lot more respect than any Aussie guy did. It seemed that a guy back home’s idea of a date involved a pub and his mates, though I will happily submit that I maybe wasn’t always picking the best ones. Either way, I do feel that the traditional Russian in this boy as well as his modern German-ness seem to have blended perfectly to create someone who can hold doors open for me but also do the dishes if i cook and doesn’t think I’ll be the sole carer of possible future children.

I’ll admit I have yelled at him drunk a few times that I won’t be the Russian woman who takes a submissive role and doesn’t question him staying out late at night. In my head, this is what the majority of traditional Russian women do; it’s that cultural stereotype sneaking in again. And every time he gets a very confused look on his face as if to say, if i wanted a Russian girl I wouldn’t have gone for you?! But we work through these little differences, and I learn more about his culture and he about mine in the process.

Next summer we’re apparently heading to Russia to visit the family where they live in Kaliningrad. His father is the mayor of a town there and if there’s anything in my life that will be a cultural shock, this will be it. So far i’d say China was the most different experience I’ve ever had but this will probably equal/beat that. And also Russia in summer? Apparently there’s beaches there and we can go swimming. The idea of swimming to me in Russia involves rolling around in the snow and then diving into a hot spring. I never thought summer existed in this country but I suppose I’ll find out for sure next June.

And on another side note, I’ll be taking him to Aus next September for my sister’s 21st birthday. I had to explain to him why this particular birthday was so important (because, er, we like to copy Americans?). I’ll take him to some sport, to the pubs, to the beach and then for a snorkle in the Great Barrier Reef. And according to my Russian-Aussie friend he’ll fall in love with the country and never want to leave. We’ll see about that.

xx