Three fabulous days in Portugal

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Porto, Portugal

Just a few weeks after my trips to London and Chiemsee, it was time to get out the Ryanair-approved overnight bag once more and prepare for a trip to see a good friend in Porto. She moved there for an overseas university semester, and was always guaranteed a visit from me. It wasn’t the best season to be skipping over to the usually-warm Portugal but I was sure we’d make the most of it.

The first day we were incredibly lucky with the weather – the sun was shining and the locals appeared to be out and about taking advantage of what they thought might be the last day like this for a while. We wandered the markets by the river, caught the bus to the beach and took in the scenery, and had ice cream on the docks before taking a cable car up to the top of the bridge for a brilliant view of the city.

Porto centre, on the docks

Porto centre, on the docks

Walking into town from the beach - definitely need to visit again in summer!

Walking into town from the beach – definitely need to visit again in summer!

The beach near Porto... so beautiful

The beach near Porto… so beautiful

From the churches to the train stations and the winding streets, Porto is every bit as beautiful as I imagined – a stop here for a glass of port and a stop there for some tapas made the day a wonderful one. We finished it off by heading to the Estadio do Dragao to watch Porto FC in action against Nacional. It wasn’t a massive crowd but was every bit the European football match full of great supporters you’d expect.

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The next day the rain came, and as a result we abandoned plans to go to Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal, and went for Braga instead. It was pouring from the heavens by the time our train arrived and we had to run for the nearest café for the next couple of hours. I ordered a hot chocolate and the waitress knew little English, and signalled to me a spoon. I answered yes, and apparently in Portugal this means it’s a hot chocolate mousse rather than a hot chocolate drink. And a delightful one at that.

We walked around Braga as the sun poked through the clouds and it was every bit as beautiful as Porto and completely deserted because of the weather.

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Over to the next day, the rain was falling hard – apparently this is the case in Porto for most of the winter – and so we decided port tasting would be a great wet-weather activity.

We chose a tour at Calems for 5 euro and as it didn’t start for three hours we got considerably tipsy at a tavern nearby on port-sangria. The tapas were equally delicious – by now I was seriously in love with the food, which is so cheap and offering such a big range – and it was turning out to be a very affordable holiday as a result. We had been told about the Portuguese music ‘Fado’ and heard of some tourist spots to head to catch some. But in our small tavern, the head waitress was singing it the way the locals do – spontaneously while her friends joined in. As nighttime came around we went to the hostel I was staying at – called Rivoli and cinema-themed – and made pizza and played Wii. It was a great three days, I felt like I had seen everything necessary in the city and there were enough wet-weather activities to make the terrible weather ok.

Our view from lunch on the last day - raining but spectacular all the same!

Our view from lunch on the last day – raining but spectacular all the same!

Coming back, I was aware of how busy things will become in the lead-up to Christmas. There are trips to Liverpool, Paris and Finland planned before we embark on South Africa and a free weekend will be hard to come by now. But Portugal was so relaxing, I feel prepared for everything that is to come.

Falling in love with a city once, twice, three times and maybe more

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney - bliss.

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney – bliss.

When I moved to Sydney it took me one day to fall in love with the city. I visited a flat and agreed to rent it – it was a steal in the quiet expensive area of Neutral Bay for $160 a week – and we were advised that the best way into the centre was to take the ferry. We walked 5 minutes, and waited at the beautiful harbour, marvelling at the small and quaint park behind us and the sweet breakfast café on the wharf. When we took to the ferry, it drove through all the sailboats and yachts and turned the corner to a picturesque site of Sydney with the Opera House and Bridge in full view. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as it pulled into the Circular Quay, a place where people had travelled for days just to take a picture. This was a place I knew I would love living in.

Fast forward two years and I was excited to be leaving. The sheen had worn off, the love had gone a long time ago and I hadn’t yet faced it until that point, and as I packed my final things and thought about the good times I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter elsewhere.

London was a different story. It took me about eight months to fall in love with it, and when it finally happened, it was for much more than just the aesthetics. I had allowed an outside influence affect me and my feelings towards this brilliant city in the beginning, and when I finally got rid of it I felt freed and like this place could be my home for a long time. London went from being unhealthy for my confidence to being the perfect medicine for it within weeks. It taught me that the company you keep has a big hand in making a city great. When I had to leave, and not by my own choice at first, I really didn’t want to.

London - the city where you work hard and play harder.

London – never get tired of this city.

Next came Frankfurt, and although the German skyline-capital was much like Sydney with the immediate love factor, it was for much more grown-up reasons that I developed such a strong affinity with this place so quickly. It provided a future, somewhere to find more permanent friendships, and a place that would be affordable and enjoyable to live in. It was the first time I pictured having children in a city and it put me on a path where I felt like I was no longer a carefree kid but someone who wanted to build a long-term future with someone else.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out for long with Frankfurt – only 10 months or so – though I hope we are reunited again someday. It turns out that this whole growing up thing, and growing with someone, means you have to make sacrifices that don’t fulfil just your own needs anymore.

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Frankfurt: I miss you.

So here I am in Stuttgart. It isn’t quite love yet, just a strong like, though we’ve had our ups and downs. I am dealing with it’s flaws, and the differences it and I have. It’s also dealing with some of my flaws it would seem, forcing me to become more a part of German culture and adjust my own way of living from being an expat to ever so slowly becoming a local.

Perhaps it’s more like the slow-moving type of relationship where things blossom in a deeper way and can’t be reversed so easily. As I drove to work the other day, I crossed one of the bridges in Stuttgart central and caught a glimpse of the vineyards in my rear view mirror. It was one of the those moments that made that ‘strong like’ a little bit stronger. Who knows, maybe this will be The One after all?

A new season, a new food to try in Germany

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Gotta love a pumpkin on Halloween. source: fruitycuties.com

As the days in southern Germany get a little colder – not as much as I expected though as it seems the summer we missed out on was just a little late coming to the party – yet another season of interesting food is upon us.

In Australia, most of our trees stay green all year round and equally, a lot of our food is available throughout every month. Of course, berries are more expensive in some months but we’re not known for our seasonal treasures. In Germany though, my diet is constantly being peppered by some type of food or drink that is only available for a short time each year, and therefore must be consumed in bulk and with as many variations as possible.

During the spring, it was Spargel. We learned to cook it after a few trial and errors and the white asparagus tasted delicious with hollandaise sauce and almost every meal. The summer brought fruits which all but disappear completely otherwise, and I ate so much watermelon and strawberries I’d picked myself I nearly popped. Over September, we drank a special wine called ‘federweisser’ which is only available in it’s purest form for one month. It tasted like a delicious sparkling juice but with an alcohol content of 11% it’s also quite lethal. As this phase dies down and the production ceases at our local supermarket, it’s been swiftly replaced with the pumpkin.

There are now suddenly pumpkins everywhere. They weren’t my favourite vegetable growing up though they are a staple in a roast dinner in Australia. But now, I’ve found myself Googling countless recipes and taking tips from friends to put pumpkin in almost anything we can think of.

Last week, when I felt slightly ill, my medicine was always going to be pumpkin soup, and it worked a treat. I’m a big fan of BBC Good Food and use the site for most of my recipes, because they often have great feedback and the ingredients are mostly available in German supermarkets (big ones anyway). This week I am cooking a roast for the first time in Germany and plan to include as many pumpkins as possible. We are also hoping to cook this pumpkin pie for the first time and a friend has given me a recipe for pumpkin frittatas. If I turn orange by the end of this month I’ll know why.

I’ve said it many times before, but this is one of the reasons I love living in Germany so much – every season brings a new treat, and the excitement over what’s coming next into our kitchen creeps up on me without fail every year.

The end of daylight savings is upon us as I take to a dark street on my way to work every morning. But while in Australia that time of year brought so much gloom as you looked ahead to winter, here it means something else is coming around the corner; Christmas Market season. Hello gluhwein! :)

 

xx

You’ve Got That Homesick Feeling

I felt this way for the first time while I was travelling through Europe four years ago. I’d set up a base with my boyfriend in the UK and was ducking back and fourth to new places, and then suddenly one day in Dublin, surrounded by Australians for the first time in a while, I felt a little off. It wasn’t an anxious feeling, or an ill feeling, but more of a fidgety, not feeling comfortable where I was, sorta feeling. A phone call with said boyfriend, who was an experienced traveler himself, helped me place it: I was simply homesick.

Being around a group of Australians for the day, one of whom I had worked with for a time in Sydney, reminded me of that homely feeling that doesn’t revolve around packing and unpacking suitcases and becoming acclimatised, used to language differences and new cultures and attempting food that could be amazing or truly terrible. Travelling is much like a roller coaster, giving you the highest highs you will ever experience in life and some moments that feel more lonely than you ever could have imagined.

My own diagnosis helped subside the homesick feeling I was having and by the next day it was gone – perhaps this experience left me feeling slightly detached from it, and as though it was simply a chemical reaction and if this came back, it would only last 24 hours again and I could just see it through. Much like coming off a bad hangover with the right foods, painkillers and time to sleep it off.

Since then, homesickness has never been a long term condition. I struggled at one point after four months of living in Germany, when the language wasn’t sticking in my head and I realised just how much I was relying on my boyfriend to live my life. He had to book hairdressers for me, open up bank accounts, deal with my phone company and discuss my rental contract with my flatmates. And when I had a small breakdown over it all, he offered to move to an English speaking country for me, and then I knew it was worth it to stick it out.

People often ask when I will go home, and equally they warn him that at some point he may have to relocate to Australia. Maybe it’s this experience of homesickness that makes me insist so strongly that this will never happen. Rather wallowing in the longing for home, I’ve found ways to reconnect with my Australian-self in this little German village apartment.

  • I cook Australian food. The last couple of months have introduced pavlova, mini pies and custard tarts into our kitchen. Everyone has a hobby to escape the stresses of life, and working in a business with no right answers, for me something like cooking which offers (seemingly) fail-safe mathematical recipes does the trick. And when I’m missing that homely feeling, or I’ve had a day where I feel like this living abroad stuff is pretty tough, cooking a meal that I had as a kid makes me feel centred again.
  • I watch old movies. I read a piece recently about how a writer reconnected with their young-self by watching 90s classic She’s All That (coincidentally she watched it in Germany too), and I had to get my hands on it so badly I ordered it from Amazon immediately. Since then my movie collection has grown to include the likes of The Craft, Centre Stage and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. They’re not the most critically-acclaimed cinematic experiences, but they take me back to a time when I was easily pleased, I didn’t have to worry about paying rent or washing my clothes and my homework was the toughest thing on my mind.
  • I celebrate Australian holidays with extra gusto. Since leaving the land down under I’ve become far more patriotic, and have been known to wander the streets on special occasions with my Aussie flag draped around my neck like a superman cape. I’m lucky to come from a country which sees it’s own identity in such a positive way and being able to enjoy the likes of Australia Day and Grand Final Day (a very special football game) and explaining to everyone around me why they’re so important to us makes me feel like I’ve come a long way.

We all have ways to make ourselves feel at home when we’re living abroad; unlike most we don’t have the luxury of being within easy distance of a place to go to where it all began. I was talking with RZ about how we might go about getting married one day, and I realised that my wedding might be the only day in my life when all (or most of) my friends and family are together. This thought is both exciting and completely overwhelming. For now all I have is some cakes, or movies, and an occasional holiday to take me back to childhood memories and the comforts of consequent-less living. And that’s enough to soothe my homesick soul for now – I wonder if one day it will change?

xx

Rekindling my love affair with London

 

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After feeling slightly more settled in my jobs and Stuttgart, RZ and I decided it was time for a holiday. With his birthday coming up London seemed the perfect place to go – the first visit for him and a return to the place that used to be called home for myself.

Having lived there for two years, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about coming back as a tourist. Would I miss it too much and become unsettled in my German bubble? Would I be reminded of the things I didn’t like about the place, the things that made it feel like a temporary home rather than a permanent one? The end result was somewhat mixed. I loved seeing my friends again and it made me miss being there a lot, and I felt quite sad on the last night knowing we were going home. But after a few trips on the tube in peak hour and realising how much my body is not used to hangovers on the back of too many jagerbombs and bottles of wine, I was pleased to get back to a place where a cocktail with dinner is standard on a night out rather than a bottle of cheap vodka and there’s always a seat on the train home.

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The castle at Tower Hill with the poppy memorial – so beautiful

Living in London was a fantastic party for me, but the party was always going to end. A lot like many of the parties we had in London, this trip felt like the end of the night where only your good friends are left reminiscing over what happened and who was the most ridiculous, drinking the last of the alcohol and pushing thoughts of tomorrow to the back of your mind. I loved it, and knowing that I can now enjoy this place whenever I like is a lovely feeling without having to pay the exorbitant rental prices and work 15 hour days.

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

For those of you who might be considering visiting London for a weekend, it is certainly doable, and on a budget as we found (apart from one extravagant night to celebrate our 3 year anniversary). But when you’re not a local, this can be difficult. Some things I found –

  • There’s an online oyster card you can buy that covers 7 zones and costs £20 a day. Unless you’re planning on going all over outer-London –I’m talking an hour to an hour and a half each way – don’t buy it. You can buy an oyster card at the station for a small deposit which you get back, and it caps at £8.40 in the first two zones each day making it slightly cheaper than a day ticket.
  • There’s a great site – afternoontea.co.uk – which offers amazing deals on afternoon tea. We chose the Harlequin restaurant and it was fantastic, the service and the all-you-can-eat macaroons were worth£20 per person.

A delightful afternoon tea!

  • If you want the novelty of the open top bus tour do it, but for the price of a daily oyster card –£8.40 – you can see the same things by foot in two days. The first day we went to London Bridge, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Tower Hill, Covent Garden and Trafalga Square, Big Ben, the Queen’s Guards, and walked around Waterloo. The second day we walked around Hyde Park and saw Buckingham Palace as well as Harrod’s. When you see the prices for the buses it works out a lot more expensive!
  • If you have a day trip somewhere and it’s in the summer, you can’t go past Brighton. It’s £15 for a return ticket if you book a couple of weeks in advance, and just walking around the laneways, the Pavillion, and having Pims on the beach is so very English. We also got a fantastic roast at The Pond for £12. It’s cheap and will fulfill many of your wishes on a trip to London!
Beautiful Brighton

Beautiful Brighton.

  • When you’re looking for trips and things to do, make sure you check out the English Groupon. They have trips to Bath and Stonehenge for half price on there, as well as boat tours in the Thames.
  • If you spend an afternoon at one of London’s markets you will find so many treasures and the food is one of a kind. I love the Spitalfields markets as well as Portobello. If you go to Borough market it will make for a brilliant few hours and you can put together a picnic for later that’s far cheaper than what’s on offer at many of London’s restaurants.
  • Lastly, do your research on the internet for prices on London’s musicals. I got 2 tickets to Jersey Boys for £20 each through Love Theatre and although we were at the back we could see everything really well. You can also wait until you get to London and check the ticket shops at Covent Garden which always have sales.
A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

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.

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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 ;).

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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.

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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

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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

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Police blockades everywhere, but nobody minded

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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.

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Danish Parliament

Danish Parliament

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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

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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