Snow in Europe has always brought with it many happy memories for me – the first time I saw the real thing in England was exactly a year after taking a one-way trip to the country and getting my working visa stamped. It was amazing having it on my doorstep and between building snowmen in our backyard and having snowball fights with friends I knew the European winter wasn’t as bad as the naysayers in Australia told me.
The next time I saw it was in Chamonix, just next to Mont Blanc, two years later almost to the day. The 2013-14 winter brought no snow – something which was particularly frustrating as my parents had come to visit for a white Christmas and just got rain instead – but my first skiing trip with my snowboarding-obsessed boyfriend couldn’t have been more spectacular. We didn’t have a chance to build a snowman and my skiing was as terrible as I remember but I was introduced to a new and wonderful concept called ‘apres ski’ :)
This year, I’ve been pleading to the weather gods to bring me some snow. We’re still stuck in this little village just outside Stuttgart while we look at apartments closer to the centre, which is not so bad now that my schedule at work is dying down, but one of the positives of living so far out of the city is that when it snows, it’s like someone has taken some whiteout and turned your whole area into something from a wintery Christmas cartoon.
The trees sparkle and snow covers your coat and scarf as you walk along the street. It’s perfectly soft under your feet and as you find parks and long walkways nearby you really start to feel like you’re in that Christmas movie.
So many Europeans complain about the snow, in the same way we Australians complain about the hot weather. I hope I never lose this excited feeling over seeing it fall and settle around me, because it makes the winter so much more enjoyable. When we noticed the flakes falling at rapid rates on Friday night, despite being in my pyjamas and suffering from a bad cold, I was dressed and ready to explore within minutes. And what we found, even in the dark, was pretty spectacular. Perhaps it’s partly that it reminds me how far away from home I am, and how happy I am to still be having this adventure.
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! :)
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?
Four years ago to the day I was in South Africa, having the experience of a lifetime and meeting people who would change life as I knew it. The 2010 World Cup was one of many travelling experiences I would have but it was also by far the best. Spending six weeks travelling across the country for the sake of football, and jumping over to Namibia and Botswana for a time as well, getting to know a country when it’s at it’s happiest and best – a particular achievement for South Africa considering the recent hardships they’ve been through – was something I’ll never forget.
Travelling to South Africa made me realise how much I wanted to live abroad, and upon meeting some English guys who asked what my plans were after the tournament, I immediately said I was moving to England – it was a decision that happened so fast and without any thought and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Naturally, when the final game was over in Johannesburg my mind turned to planning a trip to Brazil. But the last four years have brought so much change, and going from a carefree singleton with no job and a dream to travel to living with my boyfriend, setting up my own company and considering the possibility of starting a family, it would appear that life has made it much more difficult to drop everything for six weeks and let the wind take me to new and amazing places and people.
So the decision was made to sit this one out – to enjoy it in Europe for the first time, and in a country who are one of the favourites to win it – and I know it was the right one to make. Money is now going towards things like paying accountants and saving for a house. And with RZ currently finishing his thesis for his Masters, the thought of taking a big life-changing trip without him was something I didn’t want to do.
But when the first game began on Thursday night, as we sat in a small Mexican bar in the middle of Stuttgart, I really missed being there. I missed being able to witness the happiness and excitement in the streets, the sounds of horns and signing and the feeling that life itself really can be a big party. As the tournament continues I’m sure the interest in Germany will increase – we’re off tonight to the local beer garden to watch their first group match and I’ll definitely get a good taste of the World Cup atmosphere – but I couldn’t help but feel a longing deep down watching a news piece on the Copacabana beach last night that I’m missing something amazing.
Anyone considering travelling to a World Cup, even if you don’t like football – just do it. It was the best travelling experience I have ever had and though it cost a fortune and left me broke afterwards I don’t regret a thing. If it wasn’t for that trip I wouldn’t be the person I am now or in the place I am now. And while I’ve been happy to sit this one out thanks to life getting in the way, when 2018 rolls around and my boyfriend’s native Russia is hosting… just try and keep me away.
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.
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.
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.
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 ;)
I went to an all girls school in Melbourne and while you might think that would make it a lot more comfortable changing for gym classes and in front of one another, it was quite the opposite. I perfected being able to change a whole outfit without showing an inch of skin to the outside world and I turned my nose up at any girl who showed off her half-naked physique while doing something crazy – like changing into her uniform or coming out from the showers. I don’t want to see another naked girl! What is wrong with her!! My prudish nature continued until my late 20s, with changing after adult gym sessions taking place in the toilets when I couldn’t be bothered to manoeuvre my outfit with the above-learnt process.
Meanwhile, when I moved to Germany and heard about the wonderful-sounding natural spring baths in Wiesbaden, just half an hour away from Frankfurt, I put it at the top of my list to check them out. That was until I found out they were naked ones. ‘I knew someone who wore a bikini in there, and someone actually complained about them because they said it was distracting!’ a German friend told me, as my eyes widened with shock. ‘Everyone is naked and all the men are with the women, that’s the case throughout most of Germany.’
She was certainly right about that, and it was nothing like the spas I had experienced in Australia, where the masseuse hiding her eyes with a towel as I rolled over being the closest another woman had come to seeing me naked. As expected, I found England to be equally prudish about such matters, unless you played cricket with the boys in the country for some reason…
Anyway, my boyfriend found it laughable that I would have a problem with going to a sauna and being sans-clothes around other people. Having grown up in this culture, he is much more comfortable with the whole being naked in public thing. After discussing it for a while I figured maybe it was time to get over my hang-ups about getting my kit off and jump in the deep end; it’s worked before when I’ve been problem solving, why couldn’t it now? So we got a Groupon voucher for the best spa in Frankfurt and headed out to relax and have what was for me a very new experience. When we arrived, everyone was in bikinis. I was entirely confused. But there are sections for clothed people and unclothed people, it was explained, which made me feel a lot more comfortable.
We went for a swim in the clothed pools first and it was really enjoyable – I haven’t really been to a public pool since I was quite young, so experiencing the cool whirlpools, diving board, waterslides and the outdoor pool where you could swim indoors took me back to being a kid again. After an hour or two RZ suggested we go into the more adult area and my heart started to pound.
We went into the changing area, and while he slipped off his shorts with the upmost confidence, I resorted to my school days of taking my bikini off underneath my towel. It wasn’t so easy this time around, with me trying not to make it obvious how uncomfortable I was, but I got there eventually. Never have I been so thankful for a towel in my life – it would become my shield for the next six hours or so whenever I was experiencing feelings from slightly bashful to completely embarrassed.
Having said that, RZ assured me that everyone uses their towel in the sauna. This is fine I thought, I can just chill out in there whenever I’m feeling a little less comfortable with my nakedness! But as it turns out, people take their towels in, lay them out and just sit on them showing off all their best and worst assets. It took me a few hours to become comfortable with that, but by the end of the day I was at the point of happily lying down on my towel with my legs firmly crossed, which I would say is serious progress.
My comfortable-ness came slowly as the day turned into night. Seeing so many different people in all shapes and sizes around me just going about their business naked made the whole process a lot easier as I acclimatised myself.
I’ve grown up only ever seeing photoshopped and skinny pictures of other women naked, so it was quite refreshing to see what real bodies looked like, though I made a huge effort not to stare and to try and, like everyone else, just do my own thing.
We ended the day with a swim in the outdoor heated pool before getting our swimsuits back on and having a hearty schnitzel in the cafeteria for supper. It felt like I’d been on holiday for the day, my skin felt fantastic, and I no longer felt so horribly scared of being around other people with no clothes on. It’s something I definitely want to do again soon and for Christmas both my boyfriend and I gave each other presents involving spa trips.
While I’m not quite at the stage of heading there with my girlfriends or anyone apart from the guy who sees me naked on a normal basis anyway, I certainly feel a lot less inhibited about my body and any issues associated with it, and can see the benefits of relaxing in that feeling. Once again Europe, you have taught me something lovely and new! ;) xx