July 29, 2011

Guess Where?

When driving down the interstate like a plant in a greenhouse, you get the feeling of being cooked because of the heat. As Ayelet and I were heading west on I-80, we looked at a wayside map to figure out where some water might be on our drive through Nebraska. We found a small park called Johnson Lake. After a stretch of our legs, we needed to get back on the road so we could meet our friends in Colorado. Rather than going back to the interstate we headed south toward Kansas…that is your first hint to guessing the city we were in.

While driving, we started to only get country music stations on the radio. The twangy melodies were occasionally interrupted with important trade updates on the prices of corn, soy, and wheat. That was followed by the overall value of the DOW. It made sense as we had been driving on a corn-walled highway.

We were low on gas and needed to stop in the next town. As we slowed down I noticed a sign saying we had entered “The Home of the World BB Gun Championship.” We had indeed entered a whole new world.

I was most interested in the colorful back window of a truck at the gas station. The collection of stickers was __________ (there are too many possible words to put here so fill in the blank on your own). The collection that I could read included: a message from Jesus, an NRA membership sticker, an acronym using the name OBAMA (with the M standing for “mistake”), and a handful of others I couldn’t quite read.

Anyway, after getting back on the highway, we began to see signs for a monument/museum called “Last Indian Raid on Kansas Soil.” Unfortunately we did not stop, but the title really seems to convey the purpose. With all those clues, can anyone guess where we stopped or what highway we were driving on? Answer posted below this picture

We were at the junction in Norton, Kansas, to pick up Highway 36. It was beautiful countryside; just watch out for all of the combines that look like something from a scary alien movie.

July 27, 2011

The Golz Family Takes on Door County

The Door County trip has become a tradition for the Golz family. For many years, our shrinking and then growing family has attempted to get together in the big Wisconsin peninsula in order to bond. This bonding may look different to an outsider, but for me (Greg) and now Ayelet, we know what to expect.

For example, my dad and his siblings always come prepared with their own travel coolers. To this day, I’m still not sure why that is. We always grab lunch at Al Johnson’s, a Swedish-themed restaurant with a grass roof mowed by goats. Sometime we gather at the beach. Luckily the weather is great there in the summer and the shallow water is pleasantly warm.

For more lively (or dangerous depending on who joins in) entertainment, we let Uncle Weeds try to run us off the go cart track or beat us in a game of mini-golf. The nights literally come to a crescendo when many of us gather up our coins and have an intense evening of card games. We’re not a quiet family. Now there are plenty more women and children in the family than before with the additions of my niece Abby and nephew Jake, my sister-in-law Jan, Ayelet, and my cousins’ wives (Beth) and fiancĂ©es (Kelly and Maggie). The ladies had their own quiet evening of wine and chatting while avoiding the ruckus of the card games.

Sorry I did not have the pic with cousin Sara

Ayelet and I were very pleased to make it back for the 2011 family reunion and look forward to this trip for many years to come.

July 23, 2011

Road Trip!

Greg and I have had a fabulous couple weeks in Wisconsin and are currently on a road trip. We've covered a lot of ground - more than 1,000 miles/1609 kilometers - and seen so many friends!

A couple Greg has known since high school - Robyn and Ryan - entertained us during a stop in Iowa City. They have a lovely little poodle named Ruby and are expecting their first baby any day now! Robyn and Ryan were able to visit us in Munich on their way to a conference so it was great to reciprocate and see their lovely home.

From there, we drove until Omaha to grab dinner and stay with our friend Jess. She's just finishing up her year-long internship at a facility in Boys Town that provides counseling and help for young adults so they can avoid prison. It's always so much fun to talk with her.

The next day we got moving early so we could avoid the heat of the day - it was about 90-100 F/32-38 C plus humidity in Nebraska and Kansas. We took a scenic route with rolling hills of corn, combines, and grain towers all around. We even got to hear the corn report (the stock market for corn prices apparently)! I'll leave it to Greg to write more about the wonderous things we saw along the way.  But here's a visual taste:

Picture I took at 65 mph of some sort of farm equipment...
I'm pretty proud of how it turned out!
Grain tower along the road
Finally, we made it to Denver - and thankfully right before a big storm hit! It was amazing seeing it advancing across the city. However, it blocked our view of the mountains so I don't have a great shot for you guys.

You can see the storm to the left and a little sliver of mountains below the exit sign.
We had several full days of seeing friends this week. Greg and I stayed the first part of the week with our old neighbors and good friends, Dan and Molly, who have a sweet little girl named Kate and our favorite lab in the world, Lucia. Lucia was great with the baby, letting her plop down and pet her by squeezing her fur between her little fists. Thankfully, Lucia's got a good coat of fur and a little bit extra cushioning to take it.

Kate and Dan in action

We're now with Greg's buddy from Marshfield, Jeremy, his wife Steph, and their shih tsus, Sadie and Sanabelle. Greg's other two good friends from old days, Steve and Shawn, came to stay for the weekend as well so it's a big party in here. It's great to see everyone and catch up on what has been going on with them the last two years.

We still have one more week on the road so expect some more posts about our travels! We're also going to be going backwards a little to write about the Golz family reunion in Door County last weekend.

July 14, 2011

Top 5 Favorite Trips in Germany

Unlike the list of our favorite international trips, this list was harder to rank because we loved each of these places for different reasons. Here are our favorite trips in Germany:

Ahhh, chilly, frosty Berlin! The nonconformity and edge of the people in Berlin was in such contrast to the conservative nature of Munich - it was so refreshing. If you're looking for a place to visit with great museums, food and design inspiration, Berlin should be on your list.

Don't let the snow in these pictures scare you - it's probably gorgeous May through October.


The harbor at dusk

Greg planned this trip on his own for our second anniversary in November. It was the perfect time to visit because the folliage was beautiful and Lindau was quieter than it probably was in the summer. To get to the city, the train crossed a bridge across a section of the lake and Lindau looks just magical. Most of the weekend was spent walking around the small city and Lake Constance, but we did also check out their fabulous museum while there.


One of Nuremberg's fountains

Greg calls this city "the city of fountains" because there were really so many fountains, including a huge, amazing one featuring various sins like gluttony, avarice, hatred, etc. Of course, there were many other things to see in the town, but that and the house of Alfred Durer, a painter, stuck with us.

During the war, the city was almost completely wiped out, but they did a wonderful job rebuilding it and making it look like it did in the pre-war days. This was a very fun place to walk around in and they also have a few good museums... and supposedly an amazing Christmas market, but we didn't see it.


We saw Bayerischzell first in the winter when we went cross-country skiing and loved it. The track was fantastic and wound its way by a river and through a plain, ending with a warm plate of kaiser schwarm at a local restaurant.

I think Bayerischzell was the best cross-country skiing we did while in Germany and it was too bad we found it so late. At least we have the memories!

Unlike our other vacations on this list, this trip we took with our family that lived there - my aunt Na'ama and uncle Gil, and their kids: Shai-Li, Amit and Yuval, and their friends. It was a full weekend with canoeing, exploring ruins, hikes with kid-and-Greg-friendly activities, and chipping away for fossils. When we eventually have a home in the US, ask us to show you our fossilized worm poop slate.

I think this trip was important for us because it was our first and we really bonded with our family through it. Greg hardly knew my family at that point and it was a pretty quick way for him to get to know them all. The German-Portuguese family that also came with filled us in on the history of the area we were in and about Germany in general. It's hard to believe that we took this trip in August of 2009 and we had just moved to Germany a few weeks before. 

Greg swinging across a murky pond

Our canoe, which was always the last one in

July 11, 2011

Things We Won't Miss about Munich

Of course, we had to give the opposite viewpoint of the previous post! No place is perfect. Munich is no exception, although we have enjoyed living here for the last two years. Since we knew we'd only be here a short time, we focused on the good parts of the city and shrug off the bad or the frustrating. That doesn't mean we didn't see them. Here are a few short examples of parts that we won't miss.

German food is not vegetarian-friendly.
We managed to always find something to eat, but more importantly, we learned to be prepared so we wouldn't get caught without anything to eat.

The people could be difficult. We found the people could be pretty strict about the rules, and cold and reserved towards newcomers. People in Munich were fairly conservative and tended towards conforming rather than thinking outside the box. Compromise is difficult for Germans and they don't like to apologize or say that they're wrong.

I think most people think of Germans as described above so this one probably doesn't surprise anyone. We did not make a lot of German friends here, but my co-workers or our neighbors were always helpful in explaining bits of the culture we didn't understand. We also met Germans who broke the rules, didn't conform and were generally very relaxed about things.

Pushy old ladies in the grocery store cashier lines and leaving the metro.
For some reason before you can press the button to open the door in the metro, everyone starts crowding around and forcing everyone as close as possible to the yet-unopened exit. Once the door is open, they're often really impatient about getting off the train uber-quickly, too. It's the same sort of thing in line at the grocery store. The old ladies especially like to get their shopping carts to nudge your butt. I don't know what they think they accomplish by all that, but it's just one thing that I eventually got used to.

Not being able to express myself or understand what others are saying around me.
We got used to this one when traveling, but thankfully, most Germans know English well enough that it wasn't a big problem in our daily lives.

Apartment renting or leaving is frustrating.
In Munich, real estate agents have a huge cut in the apartment rental market. Normally, one has to pay 3.4 months' rent to the real estate agent for helping them find a place and then the 2-3 months for deposit to the landlord. I'm glad it didn't work that way for us.

Also, when you leave, all the light fixtures and curtains must be out; usually the apartment has to be painted white; sometimes the floor has to be sanded or refinished if there are dents; and the place has to be spotless. We've heard of landlords and tenants fighting over what would be considered small issues on the last day. Thankfully, we had it easier and nicer when we left.

Radio license thievery
Basically, you have to pay for German radio and television programming, even if you don't watch German channels. There are actually people who will come to your house or apartment, and force you to pay this tax (in our case, 6 euros per month). Even if you don't own a TV, but just have a laptop, you have to pay the tax! It's best to avoid this topic with Greg since he was the one ambushed by the guy to pay the tax for our two years in Munich.   

Smoking everywhere.
Germans smoke so much! It's always hard for our American visitors to believe. Sometimes it's hard for me to believe because I think they're healthy in so many other ways - biking to work, and hiking and skiing regularly.

A lot of this stuff seems silly, but it can add up. We've both known people who've let their daily frustrations with a place really get to them. For the most part, we enjoyed our experience in Munich and know that we'll have little (or big) frustrations show up in whatever city we live in.

July 8, 2011

Things We'll Miss about Munich

We thought to wrap up our two years here with a post about our favorite things about Munich or Germany. Greg wrote most of this and I did the editing.

Our new friends
We made friends from all over the world, thanks to the school, the hausfrauen friends and coworkers. Our last weeks have been filled with goodbyes, but at least with the teachers in the international schools, it hasn't felt like a permanent goodbye. They always say to us that you never know who will show up at your next school.

Efficient and easy trains
Only 5 mintues from our front door was our access to the world. We could buy a ticket to go all around town or for a longer ride that would get to any big city in Europe.

Closeness to a lot of different countries = easy traveling
We had seen a bit of western Europe before arriving, so our focus was on seeing lots of Germany and going east and south. Ayelet had a flexible rule that all train rides had to be under 6 hours in any leg, but we got around that by going far over many days and flying back. That covered some great places like Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and even Berlin (on a fast train).

Delicious breads and cakes
The Germans really do make delicious bread and so many different varieties of it. It's no surprise that almost every main street has at least one bakery for every block, sometimes more. And the cakes are equally great. They tend to be not as sugary-sweet as stuff in the US. We actually had real American-style 'smores at a friends' house the other day and I thought it didn't taste nearly as good as some of the sweets I've had here.

Biking-friendly society
Anyone would be amazed to see a Radl-plan (bike map) of Germany. You can take paved trails to the countryside and into most cities. Many Germans choose this as an affordable and active vacation option. [Editor's note: biking into work was my favorite way to go to work. You see so much more on the way and there are all kinds of people who bike here.]

Everyone is so active
Hiking, biking, walking and skiing are big acitivies in Munich. Back in the U.S. you often need money to undertake these activities in nature. Here in Munich you can get a cheap train ticket for 5 people and explore some of the best areas of the Bavarian Alps.

City is VERY clean.
Sure, Munich has a bit of graffitti like any other city, but children seem to be taught from a young age how to keep a place neat and tidy. The society as a whole does a great job of monitoring itself and even separating waste. When people get a bit messy (big festivals/weekends) the city cleaning crew is very thorough to make up the difference.

Biergartens rock!
Unlike a bar, beer gardens are great ways to enjoy being outside while drinking with your friends. You find these great social gathering points in and around the city. You can bring in your own food and quality beer is served by the liter (think of 3 cans of beer in one-liter mug). People are encouraged to hang out in the shade and talk as the tables are narrow and seat up to 10. You often have to ask strangers if you can share a table on nice days as all tables are full. When you get a new round of drinks, you always "Prost!" to everyone around you. Sometimes even to the strangers at your table!

Being a kid in Germany is awesome.
Most restaurants and biergartens have a child-friendly play area so you are no longer forced to draw with 2 crayons on a place mat. Everyone will help to both watch out for kids and keep them in line. The community really comes together when raising its children. Sports are very organized and common, or can be open and free like pick-up games of soccer or many of the hidden skate parks. Finally there are also tons of festivals with semi-dangerous kid crafts. For example, we once showed up at an event where kids had access to hammers, files, and saws with very little adult presence. No goggles were in sight, and most kids seems to be sharing tools appropriately. All of them walked away uninjured while we were there with a small carving in porous stone.

The dogs are so well-behaved!
From the moment we arrived, it was easy to see that canines are kings in Munich. If you visit, you will most likely see them off leash in public places: on a train, at the mall, running next to a bike, or on a bench in a restaurant.