Acclimating to Life in Vienna: The Girly Book Club & VoiceMap Walking Tour

As many of you know, Robert and I moved to Vienna, Austria in early July! Vienna is his hometown so we’re surrounded by family and old friends, and we’re making new friends. It’s very good to be here and back in a big city. ♥

However, I must admit that I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in Vienna myself – just a few weeks here and there over the last few years. So, I’m a bit of a tourist in my own city!

Fortunately, there is a large American community (see the U.S. Americans in Vienna, Austria Facebook group, for example) and a large international English-speaking community (if you’re female, check out the Women of Vienna Facebook group) here.

I’ve done a couple of things to help acclimate myself to my surroundings and meet new people. The first thing I did was start a Girly Book Club (GBC) chapter here in Vienna called (obviously!) the Vienna Girly Book Club.

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I was a member of the chapter in Stuttgart, Germany for the last couple of years and really loved our monthly meetings and discussions. We read and discussed great books and I even made a few life-long friends (shout out to Sarah in Stuttgart and Lisa now in Berlin!) So, why not do the same here in Vienna, right?!

We all read the same book, selected by GBC, each month and we meet here in Vienna at phil (such a cool place in the 6th district near Naschmarkt – it’s part library, part bookstore with comfy couches, amazing drinks, and tasty food and homemade cakes) on the last Monday of each month at 19:00. There is a nominal fee of €5 to attend. If you’re interested in joining us, please join our Facebook group! We meet again on Monday, September 24th and we’ll be discussing Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, which won a National Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It sounds like a good one!

The second thing I did was seek out a good walking tour of the center of the city (the 1st district), all of the beautiful and touristy stuff that I figure I should know something about! 🙂 I tried and loved my Vienna walking tour with Alex (he’s the local English-speaking guide) at VoiceMap.

VoiceMap Banner

The tour is unique in that it uses GPS to track your exact location and give you the information you need at any given point along the walking route. Very cool! If your phone signal or GPS isn’t working for whatever reason, no problem, you can simply follow the map and click on the icons you see when you arrive at designated spots along the tour. Super easy!

My Vienna walk started at the Opera House and ended at St. Stephen’s cathedral. It was 60 minutes in total. I loved that I could do this tour on my own, and on my own time and at my own pace. It’s totally okay to pause the tour if you want to grab lunch, take photos, do a little shopping, whatever. Personally, I took three breaks – one for a sausage, one for an ice cream, and the last for an iced latte. 🙂 And, I was able to pick up exactly where I left off, no problem. Alex even recommends stopping at a Würstelstand (“sausage box”) while you’re on your tour so there’s absolutely no reason to feel guilty about eating a very unhealthy sausage snack (he even tells you a bit about the history of the käsekrainer hot dog!) So, essentially you can make this walking tour into a food tour on your own – bonus!

Other than doing a lot of eating (!!!) I learned everything I really need to know about the Opera House, the Star Walk, Hotel Sacher and the famous Sacher torte, the Albertina Museum, St. Augustina’s Church, the Monument Against War and Fascism, the Donner Fountain, the Capuchin Church, Neuer Markt square, Kärntner Street, and last but certainly not least, St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Without sharing spoilers, I will never look at the facade of St. Stephen’s – or any other cathedral – in the same way again!

I didn’t take photos of everything, but here are are some photos I did take while on the walking tour:

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Opera House + Pink Rabbit
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Opera House
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Opera House
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Käsekrainer Hot Dog
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Monument Against War & Fascism
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St. Stephen’s Cathedral
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St. Stephen’s Cathedral
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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Bottom line, definitely check out VoiceMap. They have this same kind of walking tour available in 120 cities across 47 countries. I’ll be in London in a couple of weeks and I’m already looking forward to the Camden Town: People Watching and Pigging Out tour! Download the free app in the App Store or Google Play, and happy walking!

 

 

 

 

Taxes for Expats

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One of the most stressful and complicated aspects of moving abroad is taxes. The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that taxes you on any income you earn while living in another country. This “double taxation” means that I’m taxed by the U.S. government and taxed by the German government on the very same income. It’s the worst. I’ve been dreading dealing with my 2017 taxes all year.

Then, one day, I received a message on Facebook from a woman, Lusine, who works for a company in New York called Taxes for Expats. I’m not quite sure how she found me, but I’m so glad she did. She offered me a discounted rate to prepare my returns for the IRS. (Of course, I will still need to figure out how to file here in Germany, but my hope is that my completed IRS returns will be helpful to a German accountant.)

I started by simply checking out their website. I really appreciate that they are a women-owned operation and all of the client reviews I read were very positive so I decided to give it a shot. They’re really straight forward with their pricing. The federal return is $350 and the state return is $100. I also needed an additional form because I am self-employed, which was $100.

The first step in the process was to register on their website and complete the online Tax Questionnaire (TQ). To be honest, the questionnaire is a BEAST. It took me a long time to complete. And I ran into a few bugs. For example, I couldn’t enter a decimal point and a fraction of a dollar (cents) so I had to enter whole numbers only, which is obviously not sufficient for the IRS. Instead, I had to add a comment to each place that I entered a number so that I could enter it correctly. It was redundant.

Also, I had a phone call scheduled with someone (perhaps from their IT department?) who told me he would walk me through the TQ and answer any questions I may have. We had an appointment set, but he never called. He later followed up by email to explain that they were switching over something on their end and our appointment got lost in the shuffle. He was really apologetic and offered to reschedule, but by that time I had completed the TQ.

Needless to say, I didn’t love the TQ. In my case, I think it would have been easier to just send my information via email. And, I did. I was assigned to my own tax preparer, Susan, and I sent her all of my information by email as well because I didn’t feel so confident that the TQ really captured everything in the right way. It’s seemed much too complicated for my personal tax situation, which is really just a mortgage interest statement, rental income, self-employment income, and expenses.

Susan and Lusine were both super helpful throughout the process and regularly reached out to me by email with questions and to make sure that all was going well. I felt really comfortable knowing that I had experts preparing my returns. It’s not cheap, but I think it’s worth it to know things have been done right.

Overall, there were a couple of hiccups along the way, but I had a very nice experience with Susan and Lusine and I feel confident that my  taxes were prepared correctly. And, it certainly doesn’t hurt that I paid just a fraction of the cost for this service. 🙂

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free or discounted product in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and are not influenced by the developing company, and/or its affiliates, in any way. 

Some Things I Love About Living In Germany

As we begin a new year and I celebrate 1.5 years in Germany, I thought it only appropriate to spend some time thinking about all of the things I love about my life here in Germany. (In case you missed it, I’ve already covered everything I miss about the U.S.)

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Recycling – Before moving to Germany, I recycled a bottle or can every once in a while. Now it’s my part-time job! We have yellow bags (gelber sack) for all plastic, aluminum, styrofoam, etc. which gets picked up every 3 weeks. We put all of our paper and cardboard in a special bin behind our house. We take all of our glass to the neighborhood recycling bin, or we return it to the store for a refund (pfand). The pfand applies to some plastic bottles as well. (Yes, it can be a bit complicated – I’m still learning!) We also have special bags in our kitchen for compost (bio), which we put into a special bin behind our house. It’s a lot, yes, but we generate very little garbage (restmüll). I have nightmares about visiting the U.S. and putting everything (yogurt containers, glass bottles, newspapers) into the trash!

Here’s what our neighborhood looks like the day before yellow bag pick-up:

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Butter, Milk, Eggs, Yogurt – I don’t know what it is, but the dairy products are so much better here! We do most of our grocery shopping at natural and organic supermarkets so perhaps that has something to do with it, but the dairy products here certainly beat out Whole Foods any day of the week. We eat farm fresh eggs (sometimes they’re still covered in feathers!) I’m a huge fan of all of the butter and cheese made by Kerrygold (thank you, Ireland!) They even make a nice sharp cheddar, which is a small miracle since cheddar is next-to-impossible to find here. I never really loved yogurt or ate it often before moving here, but I am now officially obsessed with this Söbbeke mango-vanilla kefir yogurt:

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They also make a peach-passion fruit yogurt, which is equally as tasty. Finally, the milk. I don’t drink a lot of milk, but do enjoy a splash in my coffee and in the occasional bowl of cereal. Since we use it so sparingly, we buy country milk (landmilch) or whole milk (vollmilch). It’s so creamy and delicious.

Bakeries – They’re on every corner and they’re loaded with fresh breads, pastries, and cakes. My neighborhood bakery even started making sesame bagels! Many Germans visit a bakery at least once a day to pick up their daily pretzel. Pretzels are serious business here. I even took a pretzel making course at Bäckerei Frank and earned a pretzel diploma! “Kaffee und Kuchen” (or “coffee and cake”) is also a popular tradition here and for that I head over to tarte & törtchen. They have the most beautiful and delicious pastries and desserts, and they make custom cakes if you need one for a special occasion.

Food Markets – The Markthalle is my favorite place in Stuttgart, and Feinkost Böhm is a close second. The Markthalle is a huge indoor food market where you can find just about anything – fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese from around the world, bread, wine, sweets, and all kinds of specialty foods and delicacies. It’s where I take all of my visitors from out of town, and where we do a lot of our grocery shopping. They also have several superb restaurants: Desiree for tapas, Marktstüble for German food, Empore for Italian, and a seafood/oyster bar for a quick bite. And, Feinkost Böhm hosts my favorite sushi spot, Sushi-Ya.

German Food: I was born and raised in Wisconsin so I’m definitely a steak-and-potatoes girl, and Germans love their meat and potatoes.  German food is heavy and that’s okay by me, especially in the cold winter months.

I’m a big fan of käsespätzle (similar to macaroni and cheese), maultaschen (a stuffed pasta “bag” similar to a ravioli), pretzels, and schnitzel (okay, schnitzel is technically Austrian, and my Austrian husband would kill me if I didn’t point this out!) I also really enjoy a rote wurst (red sausage) when at a barbecue or street festival.

My other favorite on-the-go bite is the leberkäse or fleischkäse sandwich, which is a slice of meat (similar to meatloaf) on semmel bread with a little spicy mustard. You can pick one up at the gas station, while shopping at OBI (Home Depot), at the butcher, at the grocery store, just about anywhere. They’re even better in Austria, where they add cheese to the meatloaf!

My favorite soup here is the frittatensuppe (or flädlesuppe), a beef broth with strips of pancake inside. And while technically Hungarian, we also eat a lot of gulasch here.

Finally, I love nothing more than eating something that requires a lot of little side dishes, sauces, etc. — I love having a lot of different flavors in the mix. Tafelspitz is just that kind of dish. It’s boiled beef or veal (very tender) served in a little broth and with the following dipping sauces: sour cream with chives, horseradish with minced apple, and apple sauce.

Although Munich/Bavaria is really home of the giant pork “knuckle,” (schweinshaxe) we do eat it here, and I love it. It’s definitely a dinner for two! It’s normally served with potatoes, cabbage, or bread dumplings.

For even more food pictures (not only German food, I promise!) follow along on Instagram @hungry.in.europe 🙂

dm – I miss Target terribly, but love dm almost as much. Like Target, it’s the kind of place where you go in planning to buy just one thing and end up walking out having spent hundreds of euros! Despite the usual household and personal items, I appreciate the large selection of health foods and snacks (non-dairy milk, müsli, seeds/nuts, etc.) I’m also in love with all things Balea, which is the dm-brand of shampoos, conditioners, body wash, hand soap, etc. Back home I never bought the store brand, but this is different. I mean, you can buy body wash that smells like rainbows, starlets, and little clouds!

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Rainbow body wash with starlets and little clouds

Location, location, location – Germany is in a great location in Europe in that it shares borders with France, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Denmark. With fast trains and cheap intercontinental flights, it’s possible to travel not-so-far and yet be in a whole new place. From here in Stuttgart, we can go to Strasbourg or Colmar (France) in less than 2 hours by car and to Paris in 3 hours by train. We have been known to make day trips just across the French border to gather supplies (bread, wine, cheese, foie gras). We can also easily make our way to Switzerland or Austria in just a few hours.

Infrastructure / Public Transportation – It’s no surprise that the infrastructure in the U.S. is in need of a major upgrade! And it’s really refreshing to live in a place where everything (the roads, bridges, tunnels) are seemingly brand new and really safe. I only take the U-Bahn (the local city train), which is clean, fast, and reliable — quite the change from my days commuting on the “L” in Chicago! I can also plan my route and purchase tickets from my phone (VVS app), which is super convenient.

Vitello Tonnato – Of course I ate a lot of Italian and Italian-American food in the States, but didn’t discover this gem until I moved here. Vitello tonnato (or veal tuna) is very thin slices of veal topped with a tuna-mayonnaise sauce. I admit that it sounds a bit peculiar, but promise you that it’s delicious.

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Vitello Tonnato at Bottega da Giulia

 

Dining Al Fresco – I love eating outside — at a restaurant, on a picnic, whatever — and Europeans know how to do this right. SO many restaurants have outdoor seating. I even see some people eating outside in the winter, when it seems too cold to be outside for any reason!

Foodora – Every great city needs a great food delivery company and ours is Foodora. (We also have Deliveroo, but Foodora is our go-to.) They deliver just about anything you might have a hankering for – sushi, pizza, burgers, tacos, spätzle, salads, etc.

Kaufmann’s Haut und Kinder Creme – I don’t know what you’re really supposed to use this stuff for (a baby’s bottom, perhaps?) but it makes an excellent lip balm. It was recommended to me by a German gal last winter so I have a feeling it’s also popular with the locals. 🙂

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(Almost) everyone speaks English  – I really appreciate this and try not to take it for granted. Yes, I have resolved to learn more German this year, but in the meantime I’m able to do all of the things I really need to do like have a bank account, go grocery shopping, dine out, belong to a book club, and even make a few German friends.

Mezzo Mix – I went to a wedding just after arrriving in Stuttgart and noticed some people at our dinner table mixing Fanta and Coke in the same glass. I was a bit confused. I mean, it seemed like a good idea, I’d just never thought about it or knew it was a “thing.” And, yes, it is a thing here. And it’s good. You can mix it on your own or you can buy Mezzo Mix (or other brand).

mezzo

 

Turkish Food – It’s everywhere. There is a döner store on just about every single corner. It is said that the döner kebap sandwich is the most popular street food in Germany. The sandwich is a warm pita filled with spit-roasted meat and loaded with lettuce, tomato, onion, cabbage, red chili flakes, and a garlic-yogurt sauce. My favorite is at Ützel Brützel.  We also have a really nice (and much more formal!) Turkish restaurant just around the corner from our home, Taverna Yol.

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Döner Kebap at Ützel Brützel

Architecture – Sure, Chicago has big shiny glass and steel buildings everywhere, but I really do appreciate living somewhere that is so old and has so much history. Last year I went on an architectural walking tour of my neighborhood, Stuttgart West, with a group from InterNations. Now I just have to keep reminding myself to look up – it’s where all of the interesting architectural details are found!

Expat Community – Because Stuttgart is home to Mercedes/Daimler, Bosch, and Porsche, a lot of people come here to work so there is a large expatriate community. I have met a lot of great people through InterNations, various Facebook expat groups, and the Stuttgart Girly Book Club. I also religiously follow two expat blogs: Living in Stuttgart and Room for Gelato. All of these things have helped me create a meaningful social life, and my life is richer because I have friends from all over the world – people just like me who left their home and moved here. ♥

Mineral Baths – Stuttgart has the second (behind Budapest) largest source of mineral water in Europe with 19 mineral springs providing 22 million liters of crystalline mineral water to the city each day. This mineral water is believed to have healing properties so mineral baths are very popular here, and they’re where I spend most of my summer days. My two favorite baths are DAS LEUZE and Mineral-Bad Berg (currently under construction, expected to re-open mid-2019).

Christmas Markets – This really needs no explanation and I’ve blogged all about the Finnish section of the market before. I think most people — definitely those of us in Germany! — know how special the Christmas markets are here. Although it’s cold, it is a great time to visit this country.

Eurovision? This has a question mark because I have yet to see Eurovision! I missed it last year, but have it on my calendar (May 8/10/12, 2018) for this year so that I don’t miss it. It’s the longest-running international song competition held among member countries of the European Broadcasting Unit. I learned about this wildly popular competition by reading Living in Stuttgart – thanks, Mel!

•••Fun facts! ABBA won Eurovision in 1974 and Celine Dion won in 1988.•••

Haribo – I mean, who doesn’t love gummy bears?! Yes, they come from here! And they make WAY more than just the gummy bear – they make just about every shape and flavor of gummy candy you can imagine.

Milka – I will take a Milka chocolate bar over Hershey any day of the week. Maybe it’s the alpenmilch (milk from happy cows in the Alps) that makes it so delicious. Whatever it is, it’s working. They come in so many different flavors – my favorites are Oreo, caramel, chocolate + crackers (tastes like a s’more!), and crispy with biscuit pieces.

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Marley Spoon – My husband and I love to cook and Marley Spoon has made meal prep and cooking a breeze over the last several months. Once a week we get a box with two dinners – it has all of the ingredients we need as well as an instruction card (it’s in German, but you can use Google Translate to read it online in English). The food itself is very tasty and healthy, and we have at least 10 recipes to choose from each week.

If you’re interested in giving Marley Spoon a try, let me know and I can provide you with a referral link – you will receive one box for free and we’ll receive one box for free. It’s a win-win. 🙂

We Are Knitters – I have wanted to learn to knit for the longest time, and now I can (well, kind of — it’s a work in progress!) I found this company, based out of the UK, that sends you everything you need (pattern, needles, yarn) to complete one knitting project (beanie, scarf, sweater, blanket, etc.) They make it really easy to learn with the instructions included, and offer additional support on their website. Here is my cat Cheeto wearing the Downtown Snood:

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Gift Wrap – Doesn’t sound so exciting, right?! Believe me, it is! When the holiday season begins and people start buying gifts, stores will offer to wrap your gifts (for free!) Really, it’s EVERY store. No more buying gift wrap for home, no more hiding gifts…because they’re already wrapped!

Birkenstock – I never thought I would fall in love with Birkenstocks. I always associated them with hippies or people who wear socks and sandals. Boy, was I wrong! They are SO very comfortable, and now you can buy so many different styles and colors that they’re actually quite cute. They also make a nice house shoe — I wear them when I need to run to the mailbox, do something on the balcony, take out the recycling. I’ve already got my eye on a new pair for the summer.

How about you? What do you love about Germany?? Am I missing something? 🙂 

Confessions from an American Expat Living in Germany: 12 Things I Miss About the U.S.A.

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A lot of people ask me what I miss about the U.S. and while I occasionally miss something here or there, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I miss. I spend much more time focused on what I enjoy about my new life in Germany (see this post for the things I love in Germany). In any case, I thought it might be a good idea for me to make a list. I can add all of these things to my to- do list the next time I visit the U.S. 🙂 Here it goes:

  1. Target:  Yes, the big-box store. I know it sounds silly, but the prices are decent and the products are diverse. I mean, what’s not to love about a place where you can pick up yoga pants, Laneige skin care products, wine, and some new home decor?
  2. Air Conditioning: The summer months are tough. We live on the 4th floor in an apartment with very little circulation so I’ve had more than a few very hot and sleepless nights.
  3. Nail Salons: Where I come from, I’m used to big nail salons where you can just walk right in at your convenience and get a mani and/or pedi quickly and cheaply. Here? Not so much. There’s normally only one or two people working so appointments are necessary and it’s much more time-consuming and expensive.
  4. TV: I have Amazon Prime (U.S. and German) and iTunes, but paying for full seasons of American TV shows is pricey! I normally pay $3 per episode or $15-$25 per season. But it sure beats the alternative, which is CNN International or the BBC which repeat the same news on an endless cycle.
  5. Grocery Delivery: Okay, you may have read this title and just think I’m a lazy girl. I am a bit lazy, but grocery delivery really is the best. In Chicago, I was a loyal Instacart customer. If you don’t have a car and you need lots of things, it definitely beats walking with very heavy bags. Especially in the snow.
  6. Mexican Food: Chicago is known to have some of the best Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine so I suppose I was spoiled before, but OMG I miss it! I’ve tried several Mexican restaurants in here in Stuttgart and most of them have been pretty bad. There is one good one, El Mero Mexicano, but unfortunately it’s a bit out of the way for us. Instead, we now make our own Mexican food. When there is a will, there is a way.
  7. Cheddar Cheese: Germans are crazy about Gouda, Emmentaler (Swiss cheese), Muenster, and a whole host of other fancy cheeses, but it’s still tough to track down cheddar. I have come across a Kerrygold cheddar and buy it whenever I see it because I don’t know when I’ll come across it again. Big thanks to the Irish!
  8. Free Water at Restaurants: As crazy as Germans are about recycling, I find it odd that you’re basically forced to purchase a glass bottle of water at a restaurant. The water here is certainly drinkable so I’m not sure why water from the tap isn’t an option.
  9. Taxis / Uber: Sure, Stuttgart isn’t as big as Chicago and has excellent public transportation, but sometimes you just want to hail a taxi cab or call an Uber. Or, better yet, order lunch/dinner with UberEats.
  10. Elevators: We live on the 4th floor with no elevator. Need I say more? 🙂
  11. Dryers: When I moved here, we had only a washing machine and had to hang all of our clothes to dry so our second bedroom became the “drying room.” After much nagging on my part, we purchased a machine that washes and dries, but it takes FOUR or FIVE hours to complete one load!
  12. American Junk Food: Cheetos, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Twinkies, Tostitos Salsa con Queso, French Onion Dip, Cheez-its, and the list goes on and on and on. I don’t eat any of these things on the regular, but it would be nice to have the option. 🙂

Are you an American expat living abroad? I’d love to hear what you miss about the United States, and also what you love about your new homeland!

The Architecture of Stuttgart West

I recently became involved with InterNations, an online community for expatriates and locals worldwide. In fact, I just became a Consul for the Feuersee Stammtisch (Fire Lake Regular Get-Together) group and hosted my first event last week — an African dinner for 12 people at Ebony. The event was well attended (11/12 showed, which I hear is very rare in a good way) and we had good conversation and ate very good food. My responsibility as Consul is to host at least one event per month. Next up: Classic English Afternoon Tea Time at the Althoff Hotel am Schlossgarten’s John Cranko Lounge on Sunday, March 26th.

On Sunday afternoon I attended an event planned by Harmut (“Harry”) who happens to live just around the corner from me. A group of us met at Harry’s apartment for a 2-hour walk and architectural tour of my neighborhood, Stuttgart West. I should start by saying that I know next to nothing about architecture, but the tour forced me to really look at the buildings around me and to look up, which is where most of the really interesting architectural elements can be found.

Harry called the event “Gründerzeit – Historismus -Jugendstil” which loosely translates to “Time – History – Art Nouveau.” (Jugendstil literally translates to “Youth Style” in German.) We saw examples of Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architecture throughout the neighborhood. I should note that all of these buildings (the beautiful buildings!) were built before WWII. It is very clear, when walking down any German street, which buildings came before the war, and which were bombed and rebuilt after. The buildings that came after may be colorful (painted shades of pinks, blues, yellows) but they are very plain with flat facades made of concrete. Here I will share some photos from the afternoon, and I’ll start with my favorite building:

Here is a collage of typical buildings you’ll find in Stuttgart West:

Here is a now-school in my neighborhood that was built in 1900:

We saw so many animals! Frogs, Monkeys, Snakes, Elephants…

The Sankt Elisabeth Kirche:

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There are a few hidden green spaces, located behind apartment buildings, that can be used to plant a garden, play with kids on the playground, relax in the sun when the weather is nice, etc. Here are a couple of photos of one of these green spaces:

Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough green spaces! Instead, most of the space behind apartment buildings was used to house factories where people worked. Today, those old factories are where people call home:

We also walked through a little tunnel in Stuttgart West and climbed a couple hundred stairs for a sneak peak of the valley. I learned that this tunnel, at the time it was built, was the longest in Germany. Funny to think about now because it’s so little!

Finally, here are a few street views:

Thanks, Harry, for a great afternoon!

Vienna’s Naschmarkt

Although I’ve only been to Vienna a handful of times, the Naschmarkt is not to be missed when we visit Robert’s family and friends. “Nasch” means “to eat” or “to snack,” which makes sense as it’s Vienna’s largest food market, or market of any kind. The market boasts over 100 permanent stalls and is over 1.5 kilometers long. It is located in the 6th district and is within walking district of all the very touristy (and beautiful) sights including Schönbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Hofburg Palace, and the Opera House.

At Naschmarkt you’ll find just about any food product you can imagine. Of course there are a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and flowers, but also seafood, cheese, nuts, pottery, tea, meat/butchers, wine, oil, sweets, coffee, bread, and more. We visited just after the new year on a very cold day in January so the market was much less busy than usual, which was actually kind of nice as it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves! We wandered around, bought some nice tea, and warmed up in one of the many restaurants on-site. Here are some photos from our visit:

If you’re planning a visit to the Naschmarkt, I found this guide to be really helpful in choosing restaurants to eat at and local specialties to buy.

Finnish Christmas Market Stuttgart

Yesterday I had an appointment at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum (or German-American Center) here in Stuttgart. (More on that meeting later — exciting things to come, I think!) Anyway, the DAZ is located at the Charlottenplatz and I had some time to kill before my meeting so I stopped at the Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt) for the obligatory rote wurst (or red sausage, a favorite in Swabia) and then, completely by accident, stumbled upon the Finnish Christmas Market.

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Rote Wurst

We walked through the Finnish market while in Hannover, but I had no idea that something similar was here in Stuttgart. It’s a really special area of the market, located just across the way from the ice skating rink. There’s a really nice gift shop with Finnish specialty foods and handmade winter clothes — very nice things, but also very expensive. There are also several outdoor fire pits where fresh salmon (flammlachs) is being grilled to perfection to be served alone or on a sandwich and their famous mulled wine, Glögi, is served. If you find yourself in Stuttgart during the holiday season, I highly recommend adding the Finnish section of the Christmas market to your bucket list.

After enjoying flammlachs and Glögi, head over to the Grand Cafe Planie on the Karlsplatz for coffee and dessert. Or flammkuchen. They have really good flammkuchen too. 🙂 They have a huge dessert counter in front with all kinds of house-made cakes, pies, and baked goods. It’s such a warm, cozy spot perfect for this time of year — and it’s really nicely decorated for the holidays. I opted for the blueberry cheesecake, which did not disappoint!

 

 

A Few Days in Hannover

Last week Robert had a conference in Hannover, Germany and I tagged along for the chance to spend a few days in another German city. Hannover is in the north so the weather wasn’t so great — very windy and rainy this time of year. We stayed right near the conference center at the Congress Hotel am Stadtpark, which is also very close to the Erlebnis Zoo and the Stadtpark (city park). Here’s a photo of the view from our room:

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We were three train stops (10 minutes) from downtown and the old part of the city, which is home to the annual Hannover Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas market. I thought the Christmas market here in Stuttgart was big, but it’s nothing compared to Hannover! In fact, they have three different holiday markets throughout the city — one in the old historic district, one in the pedestrianized area downtown, and one near the main train station. We walked through the first two of three. There are over 150 stalls selling just about everything under the sun. And the lights and decorations are just spectacular!

The market in the historic old section of the city is like nothing I’ve seen before. It felt like we were in the Game of Thrones, no joke. It was very dark and medieval. There were no bright holiday lights or music. Instead there were fire throwers, ax throwers, fortune tellers, and all kinds of vendors selling mysterious potions and artifacts. Although a little spooky, this section of the market is not to be missed as it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. Also, right next to the medieval market is the Finnish Christmas market where you can enjoy flammlachs or slow-grilled salmon cooked over an open fire.

Finally, I can’t talk about our short trip without mentioning an unforgettable dinner. Thanks to Trip Advisor we found an amazing little family-run restaurant within walking distance of our hotel called Hindenburg Klassik. Highly recommend! We started with an amuse-bouche, compliments of the chef, a crab and herb roll filled with cucumber, tomato, and prosciutto. Next came a poached egg topped with fresh black truffle, three types of duck liver with poached pear, and for the main entree we shared a European sea bass (branzino) that was deboned and prepared tableside. I’m still thinking about that egg… 🙂

An American Thanksgiving in Germany

Robert and I hosted our second annual Thanksgiving dinner here in Stuttgart. We celebrated one day late, on Friday, November 25th and hosted 7 friends at our home.

(Long story short, our dinner last year was a total flop! I flew from Chicago to Stuttgart the night before and didn’t get really any sleep on the flight. Also, Robert worked a 24-hour shift the day before so we were both just beat. The only benefit of flying in just before the holiday last year was that I packed my suitcase to the brim with typical Thanksgiving ingredients that are very hard to find here — Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy in a jar, etc. So, needless to say, this year everything we prepared was homemade and I’m happy to report that we really pulled it off!)

Here are photos of some of the decorations I was able to find on Amazon.de that we used to decorate our living room and dinner table:

As expected, I wasn’t able to find a whole lot of Thanksgiving decorations, but what I did find made our home feel festive and cozy — and a vast improvement over the simple white tablecloth and unsatisfying food we provided last year! Speaking of food, I didn’t take nearly enough photos as we were so busy preparing food and entertaining guests. However, a copy of the menu is above and here are a few photos along with links to recipes. I’ll say here that everything was really good and I’d highly recommend these recipes for any Thanksgiving gathering, or any occasion at all.

In the picture on the left, you can see the homemade slow cooker creamed corn and roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts with a honey-orange dressing and pomegranate seeds. I made both of these dishes the day before, refrigerated overnight, and reheated just before our guests arrived. On the right is our custom Herbstgold cake from the bakery down the street, torte & törtchen. Our friend Caro made a Manhattan cheesecake, which was delicious and reminded me of home.

We did a really typical and easy turkey — stuffed with lemons, celery, carrots, and herbs and then smothered with butter, salt, and pepper. Our bird was 7.5 kilograms bought at the Vogelsang Bio Markthalle for 150€. Super expensive, I know. I also know that it was fresh (killed the day before) and organic, but the price still shocked the both of us. My guess is that the butcher at this market probably doesn’t sell a whole lot of whole turkeys so perhaps they’re not sure how to price properly. We also did really easy mashed potatoes with milk, butter, and a little fresh nutmeg.

I used a handy chart that I found on Buzzfeed to prepare the stuffing. The only additional ingredient I added was bacon (10 slices) and I used dried rosemary and thyme because I couldn’t find fresh sage.

Robert made our appetizers. We had Liptauer, which is a spicy red pepper and cheese dip typical in Austria that he remembers eating often as a child. He also made bruschetta — one with cherry tomatoes and one with avocado.

Needless to say, we were all stuffed and I think we were successfully able to redeem ourselves from last year’s disaster! I think (and hope!) that they’ll all come back again to celebrate with us again next year. 🙂

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! I’m still wearing my fat pants… 🙂

Early Expat Life

Almost five months ago I said goodbye to my life in Chicago and moved to Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my life has changed and what I’ve accomplished in the last several months. So, I thought I might share a bit of my “everyday” life here. Of course there’s been a bit of travel and lots of dining out and exploring and learning, but my life isn’t nearly as glamorous as it may look!

I’m really happy to report that I’ve completed my first 4 weeks of German language school at the Anglo-German Institute (AGI). (My classes take place at the Ulrich-Walter Schule on Calwerstraße downtown, as pictured below.) It’s hard. Really HARD. Before I moved here I talked to people in the U.S. and told them that I’d be learning German and I’d hear one of two things in response: “Oh, German’s easy!” or “Good luck. German’s a tough language.” Well, I can confirm that the latter is true for me. Perhaps it’s that I’ve never been good at learning foreign languages, or that I haven’t been in school for so many years and my brain is out of practice, or maybe German is just a tough language. My next 4-week course begins at the end of November and in the meantime I’m spending time studying and making flash cards. The upside to school is that I met some nice people in my class — Mirela from Romania, Simona from Italy, Sama from Iran, Tessa from New Zealand, and Louie from England.

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Outside of school, my friend Sabine gifted me 10 weeks of beginner’s yoga just down the street (one U-Bahn stop) from my apartment at Yoga Vidya. This is my first-ever attempt at yoga and I’m loving it so far. The class is in German (not English), but I don’t mind at all. My teacher speaks English and she’s really helpful with me, and I do a lot of looking around to see what I should be doing. 🙂 It’s the highlight of my week and does a body and soul good. When we were in München a couple of weeks ago I bought a yoga mat and belt and now I’m on the lookout for good beginner yoga YouTube channels to help me at home — recommendations welcome!

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I can’t talk about my life here without mentioning my favorite little store around the corner, Feinkost Panzer in Stuttgart West at Arndtstraße 38.

(In case you’re wondering, that strange looking “B” symbol loosely translates to “ss.” For example, “street” is “strasse” or “straße.” -See! I’m learning!)

Frau Panzer, the woman who owns and operates the store, is an absolute gem. I first met her over a year ago when visiting Robert last summer. She speaks English, she carries the best products, gifts, veggies, and fruit, and she makes great sandwiches and soups. I’ve always dreamed of having a “shop around the corner” and now I have this special place! She sells all types of fresh fruits and veggies, juice, milk, cheese, sliced meat, dried pasta, chocolate, cookies and sweets, gifts and specialties from this region of Germany, wine, gin, and the list goes on and on and on. It really is a special place run by a special woman. I’m so happy to have this place (and woman!) in my life.

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Finally, here is a picture of the U-Bahn train, which I take to get most everywhere in Stuttgart. It’s like a breath of fresh air — clean, quiet, fast, and reliable, unlike the transit system in Chicago! Also, a photo of Robert’s Vespa (I’m still nervous and excited every time I get on!) and a picture of our street, Seyfferstraße.

Outside of all of this (school, yoga, travel, time with Robert) my life is pretty uneventful. I do a lot of laundry, a lot of cleaning, and A LOT of recycling. But, the reality is that — despite some stress and a few panic attacks — I am really happy here. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment, for sure, but my husband (so grateful for him) and the Germans (despite any negative stereotypes) have made my life joyful and meaningful. I look forward to the months and years ahead.