Suffering from Correspondence Guilt

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I’ve been living away from Australia for three years now, though I travelled for around 6 months before making the move a permanent one. While I had a lot of acquaintances in Aus before I left, nowadays I would say that amount has whittled down significantly. When you leave a country permanently, and the friends and life with it, it’s obvious you won’t be there for important moments in those people’s lives and when you’re not there, over time, they can forget about you. I’ve seen wedding pictures on Facebook I know I would have been invited to had I stayed in Melbourne. I’ve watched old friends make big life achievements through social media and wished I had been there through every step, but being so far away makes being such a good friend to everyone I knew before impossible.

I constantly prioritise keeping in touch with people, and particularly with my best friend there are regular Skype sessions where I feel like I’ve almost been there for her first years of marriage, buying a house, starting a business and having a baby. But it’s only almost. It’s a terrible feeling knowing that once-close friends have moved on without you and don’t see you as the person they can turn to for help and advice anymore, and there have been times I’ve questioned my decision to move abroad because of it.

The time difference is also such a big issue, with Europe in day-mode while Australia goes into slumber and vice versa. I try to Skype with as many friends and family as possible but there are only 7 nights in the week and with work in the morning, I can’t just grab a lunch break and talk to them briefly as it’s 11pm by this point over there.

I was discussing this with a English friend who is in Australia at the moment – over Skype of course – and both of us were expressing the constant guilt we feel over not being in touch with the ones we love enough. At any given moment, just looking through my emails, and Facebook, and Whatsapp, and whatever other programs I have that keep me in touch with people, there are countless messages I need to reply to. It can be overwhelming sometimes and reminds you of what you’re missing elsewhere while living your life here.

Of course I’m well aware that I’m bloody lucky to be in a position to have so many friends and family to talk to. Equally, the fact that we have these means of technology is certainly one of the reasons our generations travel so freely compared to the ones preceding us. I wouldn’t be living in Germany if it weren’t for the internet – Google translate alone has been a godsend. And Skype gives me the ability to talk to whoever I want for free across the globe. It’s an invention which can give anyone living abroad much needed strength and dulls the feeling of loneliness on command.

But having such technology, with the ability to contact our friends the world over with ease, also has an added pressure I’m not sure I was prepared for. Finding that my English friend was going through the same thing – trying to coordinate the sails of life abroad with holding onto the anchor of those back home, and struggling with the balance – made me feel less alone in my own struggles.

Constantly worrying over when to sit down and go through messages to reply to often builds up until it becomes too overwhelming, and then I end up not replying to people I care about. On the flip side, I feel frustrated that other people don’t seem to think of me as part of their lives anymore and don’t reply to my own communication. It’s a cycle of stupidity on my part really and it has to stop.

So now that I am settled in a city, hopefully for the long term for the first time in 3 years, I will make more of a conceded effort to plan my correspondence better. To save set times for it and not worry about it outside of those. People have gotten on with their lives since I left, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. And I’ve gotten on with mine too, which they understand.

Spring and Easter in Holland

I’ve been to Amsterdam twice now and not once have I seen a tulip growing in it’s natural habitat. This trip, as some friends from Australia prepared to come over to Europe for a wedding, that was going to change.

Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in Europe – it has everything you need for a great weekend holiday. There’s the cultural side from the Van Gogh museum to Anne Frank’s house, all the artistic museums on show and the war history, to the party scene with great bars and clubs all across town. There’s the seedier side which is interesting for any traveller and then there’s the beauty of the canals and the fabulous looking houses which make it look strangely romantic considering said seedy side. And with the country being so small it’s also easy to make day trips elsewhere if that’s not enough, though with the good weather and beautiful parks on offer it’s hard to run out of things to do.

So after driving to the city from Frankfurt with a friend we spent Friday night checking out the bars and figuring out the laws relating to marijuana – lots of rumours had been flying around that Holland had banned tourists from using drugs, partly because Germans come and buy it and then take it over the border. This was clearly not the case though, with every bar smelling of the stuff and full of English guys sampling Amsterdam’s finest. And considering it was far cheaper to buy a joint (around 7 euro for a pre-rolled one) than a drink (3.50 for a small glass of wine) it wasn’t hard to see why!

The next day was the one I have been waiting for for so long – heading out of Amsterdam to Keukonhof tulip park. Located in Lisse, it’s only open for 6 weeks of the year when the tulips are blossoming and is believed to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Tulips are my favourite flower – when we moved into our place in Stuttgart one of the best things was the tulip garden the landlord keeps in our garden – so this was particularly exciting. And despite a 2 hour wait for the bus in the morning (would advise people to get there earlier than 11am to avoid this!!) it was definitely worth it. The garden was very busy but that’s to be expected and it could certainly still be enjoyed.

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Is that enough tulips for you? :) It really was well worth the day out and I want to go back again next year. It cost 28 euro for the bus and ticket from Schiphol airport and the package can be purchased at a number of stores listed here.

After arriving back to Amsterdam at about 18:00 we headed back to our apartment – a lovely place right on the canal we found on Airbnb – and had some Champagne to get ready for the night ahead. We ended up relaxing at the house until the neighbours were complaining about the noise and then headed out to Rembrandtplein where the world renowned Australian bar Coco’s is situated. Before you think ‘typical Aussie place’ it’s also a bar and club frequented by Amsterdam locals and as well as cheap drinks the music is always good.

By morning the hangovers were setting in, and after a big day before we didn’t really get going until about 1pm. Lunch near the canals and then a trip to the ‘iamsterdam’ sign rounded off a great sunny day (which was supposed to be rainy) and then a sunset tour of the city made for a great finish to our trip. Dinner and drinks afterwards in the red light district made for some great people watching – particularly the men trying to get out of the brothels as inconspicuously as possible!

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Driving home on the Monday took closer to 6 hours than 4 but it was great to see the countryside and as an Australian, it never gets old and boring going across a border to another country in a car. I know I’ll be back to Amsterdam for a fourth, and fifth, and six time, and even though it’s such a small city i don’t feel like i’ve seen it all yet.

 

xx

 

A Munich Trip Without Oktoberfest

With the CELTA course officially over, my boyfriend very sweetly booked a trip to Munich for us for the weekend to enjoy some of the sights as well as relaxing in a hotel with all the trimmings. We stayed at the Eurostars Grand Central and from the moment we arrived I felt completely relaxed. I’m usually more of a hostel-girl so the massive buffet breakfast with accompanying live music, huge comfortable beds and a bathroom with everything was quite the treat.

With the boyfriend planning everything for the trip we had a long list of things to see. I’ve been to Munich three times now but every one of those trips has been for Oktoberfest – only one of them involved seeing something other than beer tents! So I was really interested to see what the place looked like when one of the biggest festivals in the world wasn’t taking over.

The answer to that was that is was very similar – the first place we went to after dropping off our bags was the Augustiner beer garden, which was packed on the beautiful sunny day, and there were scores of people still in their lederhosen and dirndls… so it wasn’t quite the change from Oktoberfest I was expecting after all :) but after having some fantastic chicken and sausages we headed out to take a look around the city and the beauty of Munich really shone through.

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The thing I loved so much about Munich was the way the buildings represented much of what I know to be German – so structured and regal and clean-looking. The whole city was in tune with this style and it was just amazing to walk around and see building after building with the same feel to it.

We also checked out the parks which were equally beautiful. The beer gardens were all through the main park in Munich, with a buffet style line-up for food and loads of options for drinks, desserts and sides to your typical Bavarian feed. The park was jam-packed for the beautiful sunshine and walking to one of the top peaks we settled for a while and listened to some great buskers playing English classics. The day was sealed by watching some of the surfing – certainly not the way surfing looks in Australia!

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After getting over all the walking we got our dancing shoes on and headed to Vogler jazz club which was the best night out in Munich I could have asked for. The food and drinks were very affordable and the music had a great Latino feel to it. Sitting up at the bar, my boyfriend was mesmerised by the bar man making cocktails and it looked like the perfect place to spend a birthday or have a celebration with the dance floor immediately filling up every time the live act took to the stage.

The next day we took advantage of the spa at the hotel. It wasn’t a massive one – the sauna could fit maybe five people. And if you’re wondering, yes it was a naked one, which I’m still struggling to get my head around. Luckily there were optional towels to use! The pool was really calming and had access to the roof top where we could see all of Munich, making for a nice end to the day.

On the final day we packed up and headed to the markets in the main square in the morning – with so many trinkets and food and more beer on offer Munich is clearly a place that is just as much fun outside Oktoberfest as during the festival. It’s only a 2 hour drive or train ride from Stuttgart, and I’m sure we’ll be back again soon.

xx

Dealing with Germany’s Sunday Silence

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When I moved to Germany, it was Easter weekend. We took a stroll through the city of Frankfurt as I started apartment hunting and the main shopping strip, with it’s perfectly manicured trees and well-lit buildings, was looking particularly pretty as the snow settled throughout the streets. The boyfriend casually commented with disbelief at one of the clothes shops being open, and I was slightly confused. Sure, the shops shut on Good Friday but they’re open again on Saturday and Sunday right?

No. Not on Sunday. NOT ON ANY SUNDAY. And throughout Germany this is the case. I couldn’t understand it. Every shop shuts on a Sunday, even the supermarkets? Surely not the supermarkets?!

It’s taken nearly a year and I’m still struggling to get my head around that. In London, supermarkets had to shut at 4pm on a Sunday to give local market stores a chance to up their profits. The problem in England is the big chains are well-known for getting food in bulk for far cheaper prices than the smaller stores so this is their chance to shine. Another problem – as much as I’d like to support local shops, you make so little money in London that you often literally can’t afford to. Some nights I would eat pasta and cheese and nothing else because I couldn’t afford sauce. Or doughnuts all day because they kept me full and cost 50p for 5 at Tesco. It was that dire.

So most weekends, as you wake from what little sleep you’ve had the night before and wonder why you’re still in your heels and how the hell you got home from the club last night, as well as desperately calling your friends to recap other details of the night you don’t remember, a thought pops into your head: “I need to get to the supermarket by 4pm, I have no food in the house!!!!” The idea of missing that late afternoon deadline is as difficult to deal with as brushing the hairspray out of your hair or contemplating the effort of going through the shower-blow dry routine.

So as you can imagine, the thought of shops being COMPLETELY shut is just preposterous to me. The last 11 months have brought many Sundays involving me trawling through the freezer trying to find something to put together for dinner as I’ve forgotten again that there’s nowhere I can go for back-up; once I seriously considered going to a restaurant and asking for an uncooked sausage. Christmas was a near-disaster when we worked out at 12:45pm on Christmas eve that the shops shut at 1pm. Luckily my boyfriend can run fast or there would have been no turkey on the table. And my mum and sister ended up stealing tea bags from a cafe while we waited desperately for the shops to re-open on – I think it was the 28th?!?! That’s 4 days without access to any shops!!!!

Complaining to my fellow expat-girls about the constant problems that come with not being able to remember the shops shut on Sunday, and having to get all my jobs out of the way on Saturday, they turned the idea on it’s head for me; how about treating Sunday as a day of rest like it’s supposed to be rather than worrying about getting a million things done? They had a point.

Now I am making an effort to use my Sundays more as a time for watching movies, going for walks and cooking meals with pre-bought ingredients that are interesting and new for this house. Or writing, or just drinking tea and running a bath. It’s been a big change from the me who wanted to spend the day at a shopping centre, finishing off the errands I was too lazy to get around to on Saturday. It encourages more organisation, and more time for me, which is particularly nice after living in London where it was all about doing things that weren’t really very good for me.

So thanks Germany – you might have scared and worried me with your strange ways at the beginning, but now I am coming around :)