When Learning a Language Gets Interesting

Learning a language is a funny thing – you can get a word right in the sense that it is correct, but in the context of a specific culture it can mean something so different than you intended. Before moving to Germany I had never really thought about the words I use in different situations and how they could translate into other cultures. When practicing my German with a local friend, I said ‘ich habe eier’ and she burst out laughing because apparently eggs in this country can also mean balls and I just said that I had some.

Equally, finding out that the German equivalent of the English word for intercourse – Geschlechtsverkehr – literally means ‘gender traffic’ made for a particularly interesting German class a few weeks ago.

I never set out to be a language teacher myself, but the more I teach the more I enjoy it, and the subtle confusions over translations are definitely part of the fun side of learning a new language. Here’s some recent moments that have made my classes a lot more interesting:

  • Applying for a job as a scent tester (students had to pick the worst job in the world): a student wrote ‘I like to go to the gym and smell the fat boys and girls when they exercise.’
  • The same student confused ‘how to get over a cold’ with ‘how to get a cold’ – his advice for getting over it? ‘I take off my clothes and throw them in the box, then I run in my street naked in winter.’ It took us a minute to work out he got it wrong and didn’t have a weird method of dealing with sickness.
  • A student trying to politely start a meeting when everyone is talking. His attempt – ‘let’s get it on’. Er… not appropriate in that situation.
  • The constant use of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when Germans are speaking about friends. It made me laugh for the first time when my actual boyfriend asked how dinner with my other boyfriend was. Today another student, who has a wife, told me about his holiday with his boyfriend.
  • A student telling me his colleague couldn’t come to class because he was working on an erection for the day. The erection of a building, obviously.
  • Trying to explain to students that winky-smileys are not ok to send to people you’re not dating.
  • Of my 10 groups of students, at least 8 found it hilarious that to iron means getting the creases out of your clothes. Why? Because Iron Man. Yes he saves the world, but he does it with a perfectly pressed suit for a reason!
  • I just had a student tell me he wants to go to Australia to make some dirty parties. He meant he wanted to go to some cool parties… I wonder if someone said dirty to him one day and he asked what it meant, and they just responded with ‘it’s something cool’.
  • A week before the World Cup final my students had to say 5 defining years in their lives. One student had every year related to Germany’s World Cup triumphs apart from his marriage (which was down the bottom), and made sure he included 2014 as he was so sure they’d win it again.
  • I was teaching superlatives and asked a student who the most attractive person he had ever seen was. I was expecting a celebrity but instead he said, ‘you, (the other girls in the room) and my girlfriend are all the best’. He got some serious brownie points that day!

Taking To The German Wilderness – A Camping Trip in Chiemsee

It has taken me quite a while to get back into the blogging routine – with two new jobs starting, I have hardly had time to think about anything apart from the classes the next day, which footballer is going where and sleep. But just before my birthday, as I prepared for a girls trip to Budapest to celebrate with a fellow June 27th-er and began my first week teaching at separate companies along with my journalism job, I came up with an ambitious plan to spend a weekend in Austria with my boyfriend.

To start with we found a fantastic campsite on the edge of a lake that looked absolutely perfect; and only 3 or so hours away from Stuttgart. But as the weekend drew closer, the weather was sending out serious warning signs and the forecast wasn’t in our favour. Our tent was supposed to be waterproof, but I wasn’t 100% trusting of ebay’s guarantee, so I searched the entire southern region of Germany, the north of Switzerland, the east of France and the west of Austria, going all the way up to Czech Republic, for somewhere, anywhere!, that gave us hope of a sunny day.

And of all the places Chiemsee appeared to be the kindest weather-wise. In worst case scenario we figured we could visit Ludwig’s palace on the Herr Island and drive home early if our tent rained on us. So we drove to Bayern, hoped for the best and insisted we would have fun no matter what happened.

The rain came, but not as much as we had expected. It was just enough to spend a day in the palace, which was well worth it, and otherwise we were able to grill, relax on the lake and explore the area without much bother and only the occasional usage of an umbrella. Chiemsee surprised me – my research had failed to bring up the blue and picturesque scenery many of Austria’s lakes seemed to easily produce – but in real life it was just as amazing as any idyllic European getaway. Walking around the lake, there were beach bars and I felt like I could well have been at any beach getaway.

IMG_3547
IMG_3569

IMG_3563

IMG_3610

The palace was equally stunning, with Ludwig spending more on it than his other two castles combined. He ran the country broke in the process and died under suspicious circumstances thereafter, and while this palace is still unfinished the rooms he did complete are exquisite. The only downside was not being able to take pictures, which we ignored until RZ was caught and called out by the tour guide ;).

IMG_3578

IMG_3579

IMG_3591

 

Nights spent grilling and making punch with vodka and lemons made for a fantastic camping experience. The people nearby were too happy to help with the little things we forgot and strawberries with melted chocolate one night for dessert topped off a perfect pre-birthday weekend for me.

On the final day we headed for one of the ski mountains, which had cable cars open for hikers and people looking to enjoy the sky-high views in the summer. We arrived feeling somewhat underdressed in our singlets while everyone had ski jackets on, and when we got to the top we realised why, as the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. Walking through the top of the mountains was a fantastic experience, with the peace and quiet only interrupted by the constant ringing of the bells around the roaming cows’ necks.

IMG_3600

After eating our picnic atop one of the rocks – with the cows watching us rather inquisitively as they constantly mounted each other (and oddly they were all female, leading to a discussion over whether female cows can be lesbians) – we headed back to Stuttgart. In the car the boyfriend was already on the phone to his friends planning a return for his birthday, with the usual trip to Oktoberfest off the list for a chance to see this little slice of paradise again.

Watching Germany Win the World Cup in Germany

IMG_3854

Sitting in a warm pub that made it’s own beer in the centre of the room, the big screens were aplenty and the German leis common amongst the patrons. The general consensus was clear; Netherlands would be one of the final’s competitors, and should Germany get a goal or two over Brazil, they would be able to face off with an old foe.

Things didn’t exactly pan out that way. In fact on both fronts that the Germans were expecting, it was the opposite outcome. Beating Brazil 7-1 brought with it a joy that didn’t last long as Argentina upped their defensive play to such a level that not even a rampant Netherlands side could get past them. Germany knew they were favourites to win the World Cup, they had all the ingredients necessary to take it out; and with that came a nagging feeling that it all might be too good to be true.

As the final came around, our area in Stuttgart turned into a patriot’s dream; flags, flowers in German colours, signs, cars beeping and people nodding to each other in excitement while covering themselves head to toe in Germany merchandise. At 5pm on Sunday, after much debate over where to watch it, we made the trek to the local beer garden only to find it was already full to the brim and people were filling the areas outside with no view of a screen.

We wandered around town trying to find a pub that might have a spare table for us – none would take reservations and many said they had to take their phones off the hook because they were ringing with requests so often – and finally we found a place setting up their outside chairs with a screen and got enough space to sit with a decent view. It was a small nightclub off the beaten track and as well as some people setting up a BBQ in front of it, a kebab (sorry, döner) shop down the road was ready to serve everyone dinner.

Fitting five of us onto three chairs wasn't easy!

Fitting five of us onto three chairs wasn’t easy!

This view was priceless, with all the pubs in the area full.

This view was priceless, with all the pubs in the area full.

The game itself went by incredibly slowly, with every German in the vicinity on the edge of their seats. I could feel my own boyfriend’s pounding heart throughout the entirety of extra time, who by now I was sitting on the lap of to make way for other friends to join us.

When the goal came the release of those feelings and the elation was short lived. Lionel Messi had a free kick and if anyone was going to step up and save their side from a final loss, he was surely the one you’d choose to have do it. The outside area of this usually pumping nightclub was stunned into silence. And then, within seconds, a sea of beer, high fives, sounds of fireworks and car horns were surrounding us and the roads became the scene of one massive party.

The main street in Stuttgart

The main street in Stuttgart

People dancing in front of cars

People dancing in front of cars

IMG_3833

Police blockades everywhere, but nobody minded

IMG_3840

People climbing on traffic lights to start chants

All singing the same song

All singing the same song

The rest of the night was a blur of dancing, running from fireworks, following the directions of cheerers from the tops of traffic lights and buildings, and so many flags. The police joined in, the traffic happily stopped for dancing strangers on the roads, and for one night everyone took part in the wonderful atmosphere, whether from their armchairs with their neighbours or on the streets in the centre of the city.

Sharing our lei - one went missing and we can't remember where

Sharing our lei – one went missing and we can’t remember where

The morning brought empty offices and those who did show up were in a mutual understanding that not much would be achieved. There would be celebrations in Berlin with the team and parades around the country, and while it all feels like a dream now, the flags still sit outside the apartments, and on the cars, just to remind us it really did happen.

One of the most wonderful things about winning the World Cup is that it takes more work than almost any other competition in the world. Germany came third in 2006 and 2010 in their pursuit of the trophy, but even in those last seconds of the 2014 final it looked like it might hang in the balance of penalties to get to football’s holy grail.

While for many of Europe’s fans Brazil’s World Cup is but a distant memory, Germans are going to be enjoying this tournament for a long time yet. And having moved to Europe to find football’s holy grail myself – starting in London and now ending up here – it’s something I won’t forget for a long time either.

Climbing Out Of Germany’s Administrative Nightmare

Having made the brilliant/psychotic decision to become a freelancer at the start of the year, only now am I finally getting my head around what this means. In Germany, becoming a freelancer is notoriously difficult with their bureaucracy issues compounding when you dare step out of the line of full-time employment. So far I’ve had to deal with:

Getting a work visa as a freelancer - Immigration told us it was near impossible. Just get a normal job they said. You need to register the companies you want to work for with the Government they said. You need at least two job offers at once before they’ll consider it they said. You can’t get a freelance contract with any details relating to how you’re going to perform for the company they said. We got it anyway. Only two months of going back and forward from the offices and my poor boyfriend hounding them on the phone every day.

Registering with the tax office - This was a much easier process, and in fact it was the tax office who helped us with immigration when we were getting incorrect information out of them. Send an email to the right person and it’s done – having said that, if I didn’t have a partner who speaks German this may have been a lot more difficult.

Registering for proper health insurance – On my travel visa I’ve been getting away with paying towards an expat health provider for less than 30 euro a month. Now I have my work visa I think it’s time to join the rest of the German population, particularly if I’m going to be using their health services for anything other than emergencies in the coming years. I believe the rule is that when you earn over 400 euro in the month you have to contribute to a health insurance company and with that looking very likely in my first month of self-employment I have contacted an agent to help me. I’ve heard horror stories about how this has gone for expats in Germany, with some having to pay half their salary towards such insurance. Hopefully all my bad karma has been used up on the visa and with some good luck this won’t cause any issues.

Finding an accountant - That process has also just begun, with my boyfriend insisting we need to look at some local options as well as ones specialising in helping expats. To help get a tax number the company I contacted quoted me 200 euro – I’m glad I did that myself. And when we get a few more quotes to compare over how much it costs to do a tax return and get a definitive answer on what point I pay tax then hopefully this will be sorted rather quickly.

Licence changeover - One company has already asked me to do some driving in their car to a class and the thought of that is making me wet my pants a little with fear. I’ve never driven on the other side of the road, apart from during a holiday in Greece where I nearly caused an accident in the roundabout, then cried, then let my boyfriend at the time take the car back to the hire place. Not the best experience, and I’ve also never driven a manual car which seems to shock a lot more Germans than it did Aussies. Starting the lessons has been tough – I feel like I’m 17 again and so far can so only get to second gear without bunny hopping – and the whole process is going to cost around 1000 euro, with official translation of my Aussie licence needed, as well as a day-long first aid course and a driving and theory test.

It’s been a lot of work to get this far and there’s still so much to go – and it means that I’ve spent the last few months almost entirely on the couch researching, writing and learning. My life in London, where parties filled the time away from work, feel like a distant memory. Will it be worth it? I hope so. In a year from now I hope I’m happily settled into my freelance life, with work in both writing and teaching, and that illustrious book I plan to write is in my hot little hands. For now, it’s all about enjoying the little moments in between, and working hard for the future.

 

xx

A Wonderful, Relaxing, Hyggelig Time in Copenhagan

The Danish have a special word for the feeling of contentment and the experience of a good time – Hygge. If you mess with their hygge, you mess with the whole of Denmark and the entire country will fight to the death to protect their hyggely lifestyle and sense of being. That’s why the country is one of the most equal in the world in terms of minority and gender rights and that’s also why they saved 99.7% of their Jewish population when Hitler was desperately trying to send them to concentration camps. And after visiting Copenhagen for a long weekend, I can see why this country is so intent on preserving a state of mind which is so positive and has made them the happiest nation in the world, despite their abhorrent winter weather.

Walking through Copenhagen will lead you on a host of interesting trails, from the canals to the Hans Christian Andersen sights to the beautiful streets and the palace and parliament with horses always guarding out front. The weather was on our side as we arrived from rainy Berlin and quickly dropping our things at the Sleep in Heaven hostel, we headed out for the free walking tour at 11am, which leaves from the town square every day.

DSC02536

Danish Parliament

Danish Parliament

DSC02547

Markets in the town square

Markets in the town square

Our guide, who was a born-and-bred Dane, was the perfect person to show us through the sites from the second oldest theme park in the world, to the war sites with tales of Danish James Bonds and a Parliament standing tall against the Nazis, to the reasons behind the rivalries between the Nordic countries. Finishing near the Little Mermaid we wandered along the docks where every building had an artistic story behind it and music, food and festivals lit up the shoreline. By night we headed for the nightclub district and found bars to fulfil our need to dance and have jager shots. The prices weren’t cheap, but the happy hour deals made it affordable, and at around 3am we wandered home past the waterfront with a brightly lit boat that looked more like a castle from a fairytale.

The next day we headed for Christiana. Arriving at the train station we were a little confused; it looked a lot like the rest of Copenhagen and not the hippy town I had pictured. But after getting orientated and heading up the Church of our Saviour for a good view of the city – and catching a wedding while we were doing it – we found this place were there is a law unto itself and anything goes. Proclaimed the ‘green light district’, it’s no surprise that no photos were allowed to be taken inside the area. I did, however, get some good ones of the outside.

The church we climbed before heading into Christiana

The church we climbed before heading into Christiana

DSC02578 DSC02580 DSC02582 DSC02587

The night brought a search for sushi, and after finding the Trivoli hotel was booked we headed for our area in Forum and found multiple places offering deals on our favourite Japanese fanfare. Of course, it was ridiculously expensive compared to Germany – in Berlin we had all-you-can-eat sushi for 13 euro. In Copenhagen? 20 euro for six pieces and a small drink.

I found that making a visit to the supermarket in the mornings helped to ease my cash flow to an extent; Copenhagen has a Lidl, which is a German supermarket well known for being cheap, and dropping in there for some water, fruit and baguettes to take along the way made the search for cheap food a lot easier throughout the day.

After another night out we had to check out by 11am and found Danish hotdogs to soothe our hangovers as we sat in the park in the sunshine. We questioned how people can afford to live in a country where tax is at least 50%, VAT is 25% and car taxes are 200% and then food is triple the price of Germany. But like our guide explained with the metaphor of a bumble bee, somehow Copenhagen makes it work even though the fat body and the little wings make it seem impossible to fly.

Copenhagen was my first taste of the Nordic countries and now I desperately want to see more. Luckily my mother is visiting in November and plans to do Norway and Sweden, and will likely be paying for me if I join her.

Denmark is were Lego was invented and the store is lots of fun even for grown ups!

Denmark is were Lego was invented and the store is lots of fun even for grown ups!

Watching the changing of the guards, worth doing as they're right in front of you

Watching the changing of the guards, worth doing as they’re right in front of you

Where Hans Christian Andersen lived, and coined the term 'to travel is to live'

Where Hans Christian Andersen lived, and coined the term ‘to travel is to live’

The little mermaid - a little overrated but I'm glad we saw it

The little mermaid – a little overrated but I’m glad we saw it

Berlin; not a town for the faint-hearted

IMG_3434

There’s been a slight amount of radio-silence over the last week as I’ve been away in Berlin, Copenhagen and sorting the beginning of two teaching jobs and making sure I actually have a working visa. Now, today is the first chance I’ve had to rest and recover from what has been a manic seven days, and a very successful seven days at that. I’m now the proud owner of German residency and after the hoops we’ve had to jump through to get this it’s quite a miracle; and having taught my first business English class on Tuesday it feels like everything is coming together.

Heading for Berlin last Wednesday, it would be the third time I have visited Germany’s capital and one of Europe’s top cities for art, nightlife and culture. The problem is though that the last two times I’ve been to this place I’ve left feeling worse for wear; the city has something about it that makes you forget the need to sleep and find solace in one of the many brilliant bars on offer. I love a good party and I love to go out late, but in the last year these habits have dwindled as I start to consider my health more and make plans for the future, as well as making friends with people who feel the same. But Berlin is like a bubble where the party will never stop and no matter how much you insist it won’t be a big night because you’ve got an early flight/want to do some sightseeing/want to make it for the free breakfast, somehow at 1am you’re looking for dinner and complaining that you can’t find any sushi (possibly happened on this trip).

So we went to Berlin to see Robbie Williams and thought we’d start the trip with a bang, attending the Alternative Berlin pub crawl on our first night. The bars they take you to are more interesting than what the usual pub crawl offers and after making friends with some Australians and visiting death metal, ping pong and upside-down (yep, this actually exists) establishments we ended up at a reggae club dancing for hours on end.

It got to 3am and felt like time to go home. But as we were walking through one of the best nightlife districts we couldn’t help but hear some fantastic music coming from one well-lit bar. Wandering in to see what it was all about, in what felt like minutes later we were still dancing as the sun was coming up through the windows. At about 6:30am we headed out for some of the finest currywurst and walked home to find our hostel friends getting ready for their day ahead.

Before this visit, I was in Berlin with a group of friends and my family for New Years Eve. We spent the night on a boat and New Years Day was mostly spent at McDonalds and the hotel club room with my parents, trying desperately to get over our hangover. The time before that, I was in Berlin on the back of a two week trip to Poland for the Euro football tournament. My voice was on it’s last ropes and as a result of a night out with the hostel staff it was completely gone for three days afterwards.

While I don’t think I could live in Berlin at this point in my life – I loved big-cities throughout my 20s, but as I edge closer to 30 I appreciate things like space and peace – to visit this place is like entering an alternate reality where night and day don’t exist, everyone is your best friend and art is all around you in every form. I’ll always love travelling to Berlin, though I think I’ll always need a day to recover when I return.

My favourite nightspots in Berlin:

Matrix – Great for if you want to spend the night in one place, the music is really good (mostly commercial) and there’s lots of rooms to mix it up. Expect a long wait in the queue and have your ID ready.

Yesterday Bar – Where the Alternative pub crawl starts, but it’s great to visit on it’s own as well – the cocktails are lovely and the decor is vintage and will keep you amused for hours.

Monster Ronson’s Karaoke Bar – One of my favourite things about Berlin is the multicultural nature of it, and there are certainly a number of karaoke bars that have a great atmosphere. Monster Ronson’s is the best I’ve been to, with booths galore and foosball and pool as well.

Berlin Warschauer Strasse U Bahn/S Bahn – One of the great things about Berlin is that you can just head for an area and wander around checking out any bar that takes your fancy. If you get off at this station and walk across the bridge (passing the view of the o2 arena) you’ll find countless bars behind a host of currywurst stands to provide breakfast when you’re done.

Boat parties – the summer brings a host of boat parties all over Germany and the prices are very decent and often include drinks. We spent New Years on a boat (this one) and it was perfect – 70 euro for all we could drink (with good quality ones on offer) and although it wasn’t exactly summer there are indoor areas and the music is always good. So if you’re visiting Berlin it pays to have a quick google to see if there’s any going on!

Learning to Predict the Weather

The last couple of weeks I have once again been hit by the phenomenon of springtime rain, a concept that has taken some getting used to since moving to continental Europe. In Australia it hardly ever rained as we were in a shocking drought during my second decade in the country; meanwhile in England, while the country holds a visual reputation of never ending rainy days, I found it to be more of a whimper than a full blown storm most of the time, resulting in constantly getting your umbrella out and putting it back in your bag.

Springtime in the south of Germany is like London’s rain on steroids – every morning as the sun comes up it buckets down, leaving me feeling quite glad that for these last few weeks at least I haven’t had to go out there on my way to work. Next week that all changes though unfortunately.

My boyfriend and I were woken up by the storm the other night, not quite understanding what it was at first. Some workers have been doing scaffolding on the side of our house and he automatically thought it was falling down with the loud banging noises jarring in our ears. I, on the other hand, had thoughts of the apocalypse in my head. which I put down to the vivid dreams I tend to have quite regularly. So we clutched hold of each other like two little children for about 5 seconds before realising that it was just a bit of thunder. Our ridiculous reactions made us laugh for quite some time.

On the flip side, it’s lovely to be living somewhere where the seasons can be so easily pigeonholed. Reading children’s books I never quite understood what they meant when they referred to the spring rain, the long hot nights that only happen in summer and the snowy winters that took them inside for the Christmas holiday. Germany has very set actions during each particular season – in the winter they celebrate the lead-up to Christmas and then spend the next three months riding out the cold with growing frustration until the first signs of spring peep through in March.

Then this constant rain, until a few days over 25 degrees start to mix in with the springtime glow. June will likely be as it was last year, bringing more of those hot days and allowing you to turn the fan on for the first time and buy ice-pops for extra relief. And July and August… that’s the time for getting away on a beach holiday (an all-inclusive one preferably if you’re really German).

I like how these things are becoming annual traditions for me, and are allowing me to gauge exactly how far I’ve gotten through the year. It allows more time for reflection and celebration of what you’ve achieved since the last time you were doing these things.

I fly out to Berlin today and then onto Copenhagen for the weekend and I’m hoping the rain will be at least a bit limited for us to see these beautiful cities. When I return, I’m hoping the June weather will have well and truly hit and rain is a distant thought in my mind as I rejoin the daily grind.

 

xx

A Trip To Our Local Palace

Coming from Australia, continental Europe’s palaces never fail to impress me. Our country is not nearly as old as many of these beautiful buildings and the places in history which they hold are so interesting – they’re like time machines that take you back to a time that you can only imagine what it would have been like to live in.

On Friday afternoon, my boyfriend surprised me with an early return from work and some wine. ‘We’re going to Ludwigsburg to take advantage of this weather’ he announced, and with that we were on the bus in half an hour and headed for the residential palace.

I can’t believe it’s taken us so long – we’ve been living here nearly three months now – to finally see this wonderful place. It went beyond my expectations and I imagine we’ll be having many summer picnics here in the coming months. The best thing about it is how quiet it is – we arrived at 7pm on a Friday night with hours of sunlight left, and at one point it felt like we were the only people in the park!

IMG_3378

The gardens felt like they went for miles and every one had perfectly manicured flowers

The gardens felt like they went for miles and every one had perfectly manicured flowers

IMG_3385

The baroque style gardens had a quirky touch

The baroque style gardens had a quirky touch

IMG_3397

Rapunzel's hair!

Rapunzel’s hair!

An old-school carousel

An old-school carousel

IMG_3414

The gardens remind me of Versailles

The gardens remind me of Versailles

Can you find the pig?

Can you find the pig?

IMG_3415

In Defence of Social Media

funny-Facebook-people-Fry-meme

When I moved away from Australia I got a job working for a social media company in London. It had taken advantage of the rise of Facebook and quickly built millions of followers by setting up credible-looking pages for sportsmen. Off that, a successful business was born and now the company represents lots of athletes and sports organisations across the world, keeping fans in touch with their heroes on social media.

It was the only company that had replied to my application, and having sent out about 100 applications I felt very lucky to get the call back. I almost hadn’t applied on the fact that you had to work six weeks for free on an ‘internship’ basis, but I figured while I wasn’t doing anything else I might as well try it and work there while I applied for other jobs.

It turned out to be a job that wasn’t right for me for a number of reasons and within six months I was out. But my social media experience at that company propelled me into my current journalism position, which has in turn given me the opportunity to move to Germany and have immediate work, supported me throughout my many visa issues and above all, has allowed me keep writing about one of the things I love most; football.

Meanwhile, after finally getting out of a toxic relationship and feeling comfortable with myself in London for the first time, I travelled to Oktoberfest with some Australian friends feeling on top of the world. It was there that I met a guy who didn’t speak English but asked for my Facebook details anyway. I’m on a super-private setting where people who aren’t my friend can’t search for me, so I asked for his instead. He gave me a really weird name, making it obvious he was just as concerned with privacy, and I assumed it would be impossible to find him. But alas, the nightclub we were at that night posted a picture of us and I found him after his friends tagged him. I added him, not expecting anymore contact, and a year after writing to each other constantly we were quickly realising there was something more going on. Another year on, we were planning on moving in together.

Since being away from Aus I’ve prioritised keeping in touch with people around the world; I’ve talked about the difficulties of this before, but as well as the down points of trying to juggle past and present lives there are so many benefits I enjoy from the ways I can keep in contact. Without Skype I wonder if I would have left in the first place; it’s unimaginably wonderful having family there at Christmas and birthdays and all those times you’d feel pretty lonely otherwise, and it’s a massive bonus that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the privilege.

My relationship with Facebook has changed over the years like my relationship with real-life friends. I, like many 20-somethings, went through the stage of obsessing about having as many friends as possible, and staying friends with people for far more political reasons than simply liking their company. I grew out of that, and got rid of a lot of the ‘quantity’ friends in real life as well as on social media when I moved to Germany. Now I feel good about Facebook, much like my real-life social interactions; and I use it a healthy amount. When I was travelling last summer my mother asked if I could post pictures on the way. At first I felt uncomfortable about it as I didn’t want to look like I was spending my holiday on Facebook. But then I thought, who exactly is this page for? Me and my friends and family to stay updated on my life or the people who might bitch about what I’m posting?

The constant ‘oh you shouldn’t post baby pictures, and people who post they’re drunk are so annoying…’ whinging should surely be put into perspective. You’ve chosen to be friends with that person, you can easily block them from your newsfeed without deleting them if social politics ask for it. And like in real life, there will be people who are annoying and weird and attention seeking. This is just another way to display those qualities.

So when I’m having stupid ‘social media is bad, get off your phone and see the world’ stuff thrown at me on, ironically, Facebook’s newsfeed – and the majority of the time by people who post the annoying stuff in the first place – it does get a bit tedious. Especially the Youtube video with the bloody spoken poem – next thing we’ll have someone preaching at us with puppets and interpretive dance telling us that real life is so much more important than the communicative services we use to make it so wonderful in this day and age.

If you’re sitting on your phone constantly posting at the expense of spending time with loved ones, you obviously need to change your habits. But I have a sneaking suspicion that these people would be doing something else just as lazy and obsessive (video games, watching TV, sleeping even) if they didn’t have a phone/laptop. So maybe when we’re all up in arms about social media taking over our lives we could remember it also enriches our lives a lot too and accept that some people are lazy, and some are annoying, whether it’s on Facebook or in reality.

Planning ahead of time; A fourth trip to South Africa

These last couple of weeks have been a mixture of job hunting, settling, exploring, language school searching and travel planning. Normally around this time of year I’m looking ahead to summer travels, but with the uncertainty surrounding my work and how I’m going to juggle everything, my attentions have turned to where we will spend our next Christmas.

The option of Australia was always unlikely as my boyfriend is also unsure of where he’ll be job-wise around then and with flights going up in price we decided to leave the big Aus trip for when we are both settled in our work and know how much time we can take. He still wants somewhere hot though, leaving Europe and Russia out of the question, and after fleshing out the possibilities South Africa brought so many positives we had to get on the planning straight away.

The beautiful Morgan Bay in South Africa, where we plan to spend Christmas this year

The beautiful Morgan Bay in South Africa, where we plan to spend Christmas this year

As an Australian living in Germany, for me the prospect of calling one place home has become rather complicated of late. And though I don’t have any relatives or connections to South Africa apart from my best friend coming from there, for some reason the country feels like a place I can certainly relate to in many ways and despite going there three times in the last seven years I want to visit more.

South Africa is a lot like Australia in certain aspects, with it’s vast landscape offering so many things to see and do. I was there for six weeks during the World Cup, and only got part of my list of things I wanted to do finished. I have been to Cape Town twice and still haven’t gotten around to climbing Table Mountain.

South Africa obviously can bring up some uncertainty when travellers are considering their next getaway, with safety a huge concern for someone who isn’t aware of local customs or cultures. I wouldn’t claim to be even close to understanding how life really is in South Africa; on my second trip there I was nearly robbed at a cash machine and had my car stolen, for reasons of which I only have myself to blame. I let my guard down at particularly important moments because for me, having grown up in Australia, safety has never been a great concern. If someone tells me a cash machine isn’t working I believe them, if someone says a carpark is safe they have no reason to lie. Such thinking can potentially be life threatening in South Africa, and because of this, even though I’ve been so many times already I’m taking advice from locals all the more seriously as I plan to return for the third time.

Having said that though, I’ve noticed how differently locals look at their own country and the great things to see and do compared with visitors in general. I was recently talking to an English friend in Aus who said the Whitsundays are at the top of her list of things to do. To me, those islands are overpriced and overrated – all-inclusive resorts aren’t the real Australia, seeing beaches that are undiscovered will give you a much better idea of the beauty of the country than these manicured surroundings ever will.

In the case of South Africa, when my friend got married there we all travelled over for the festivities, and went to a small private safari park before the big day. It was so amazing, we saw all of the ‘big 5′ and then some, washed and walked with elephants and went a quad bike ride around the park that left us covered in dirt and me feeling like I was having one of those perfect travel days that remind you why you spend all the money and make all the effort.

White lions at Inkenkwezi private park... Such an amazing creature and to see them so close was magical

White lions at Inkenkwezi private park… Such an amazing creature and to see them so close was magical

But for my friend, this park is only ‘ok’ and certainly not the kind of place she would consider having a wedding. To her it’s cheesy and has nothing on Kruger National Park, a place which costs 5 times the price to visit and shows you exactly the same animals from what I understand.

But that’s the thing about us being tourists in our own country; we don’t want to follow the path most other tourists do, we feel like we know it better because we’ve seen the highs and the lows of the place over years of existing there. This whole experience of preparing for South Africa has taught me to be a little more careful about dismissing some of the more cheesy – in my mind anyway – touristy things to do in Australia. And in turn, when my South African friends tell me to give a lion park on the way to Cape Town a miss, I will kindly explain that I do in fact want that ridiculous photo playing with a tiger cub ;)