Tag Archives: 4 girls one world

The Hills are Alive!

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Now that school has started (at a comfortable 9 am this week only), I can only go on to describe our quick vacation in the depths Bavaria…  We have seen plenty of picturesque places – the cliffs and rolling hills of Andalusia, Spain, the sunrise over a glowing Venice, the warm and ancient temples of Angkor Wat. But I have never appreciated a landscape so close to the one of “The Sound of Music.”

We arrived in Munich to awaiting family, and the next few days were ones filled with talk, coffee, cake, and more talk with various family, friends, and friends of family. We visited lakes, went sailing, shopping, and generally relaxed in our allotted vacation time. The weather held out just for us, and it was a beautiful 75 degrees Fahrenheit with blue skies and a gentle breeze. I never will get used to Celsius.

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After the city of Munich and all of the acquaintances were crossed off the list, we rolled in our borrowed Fiat 500 through the Bavarian countryside… We passed through countless towns in which the “Welcome” and “Goodbye!” signs came after another with such quick succession that soon they all blended together and we forgot we were in the town in the first place. Then, if you wanted to get even smaller (which was quite possible), there was the little sign with a convoluted name on it, pointing to 2-5 houses max. All of this is, of course, surrounded in a sea of deep green corn fields, with the rolling hills like waves and little red barns scattered throughout this ocean like white caps. The Alps provided the holy sight of land in the far off distance. More country-side amenities such as horses, sheep, and church spires were also available on the horizon.

Woehr and Munich 5 (4)

Then came Woehr. If you haven’t heard of it, I am disappointed but not exactly surprised. It is a destination by invitation only… Woehr was one of these little villages, that comprised of, well, one house. This house was a recent addition of some close family that normally lives in Munich, and now also have a retreat in the countryside, where they welcomed us with open arms. We would have missed it had it not been for both the little yellow sign peeping “I’m here!” and our eyes glued to those handy Google Maps directions. This is a tiny exaggeration, as we did see one other house at the end of the dirt road, but then the story wouldn’t be as good. As we got used to the splendor and comfort of Woehr, we also indulged in plenty of “the Sound of Music”.

Woehr and Munich 10

Woehr and Munich 1 (1)

This is Woehr.

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When my sisters watch a movie, especially a musical, they tend to spend the next couple of days singing the songs of that particular musical with the vigor and dedication of lifetime fans. Then the phase passes. But for our time in Woehr,  the particular musical and following phase was, of course, “The Sound of Music”. It seemed that all of a sudden, everything was Maria, the nun – Josephine started having a hilarious time pointing to various objects or people and singing, “How do you solve a problem like Maria??” and then breaking into peals of hysterical laughter. My other sisters, on the contrary, enjoyed the song, “My Favorite Things” to the point where even I had it stuck in my head, and of course, “The Hills are Alive… with the Sound of Music.” They naturally infected our third cousins with the singing bug, and soon the house was ringing.

When we walked down to the magnificent house and adjacent barn from bathing in our pristine little lake, over the grass with the church spire, corn fields, and mountains behind us, it felt almost surreal. As we went riding at sunset in blissfully quiet surroundings and the sky was colored pink and orange and the mountains were the clearest I’ve ever seen them, the hills had never been more alive. Oh, and all of the kids were singing too.

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Woehr and Munich 6 (3)

Ridiculous.

Ridiculous.

Starting to look like home…

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Due to the Deutsche Bahn tickets scheduled for 2 weeks of relaxation,  I must apologize, for this blog post has been sitting and waiting to be posted for far too long. Unfortunately, I am a perfectionist and felt the absolute need to add pictures. Our last taste of summer in Münich will be posted shortly!

Contrary to what we were doing in all of June, we are insisting on settling into Berlin, not seeing it. We are unpacking heavy boxes instead of even-heavier suitcases. Instead of delirious jet-lag my mom and I had come down with a summer cold and we can now get on the U-Bahn to a certain destination without consulting the map three times. And I know for a fact that I now know more about IKEA than I ever knew or thought I would know…

Your average shopping trip at our nearest Lidl...

Your average shopping trip at our nearest Lidl…

Since purchasing our beds, closets, and various other appliances that are either Siemens or IKEA, we have been working hard at putting them in place. After building and un-building our stuff countless times, my father knows more than all of us about the distinctive IKEA building style. So we threw the picture-comic instructions aside and went on our intuition, which, with the aim of the directions and assembly being “simple”, wasn’t all that hard. Everything was packaged in long packages of cardboard, and so I am weary to say that I have broken down and folded and squashed and jumped on and bullied more pieces of stubborn cardboard than I ever care to admit. After 9 hours of screwing, drilling, alan-wrenching, and hammering, we collapsed into a package of tortellini, bought as a last-second attempt to make food at home and not go out. Everything looked great – save for ourselves and the fact that, due to our uneven floors, my tall closet was leaning forward at a scary angle until we remedied the problem by shoving broken pieces of wood under it. IKEA is all about accessorizing right?

The movers came on the 8th of July with a fat truck full of our boxes. They also had all day and therefore weren’t in a monumental rush to haul all of the boxes up the 4 flights of stairs. Instead, they slowly rolled their lift up until they reached our window and started loading boxes that way, thereby avoiding a whole lot of stairs and sweat. They offered the lift as an extra cost and seeing as we weren’t the ones moving everything, we naturally declined the 450 Euro add-on. Of course, they brought the lift anyways. Only after making absolutely positively sure that my parent’s mattress did not and would not fit through the window did they haul something up those dreadful stairs, which ended up being the first and last time. As the day wore on, the “we’ve got all day” attitude ended and we scrambled to unpack every box.

Faster - Faster!

Faster – Faster!

The packers in Chicago packed us. And so the unpackers here in Berlin had to unpack us. And take the packaging material with them – which we were grateful for. After climbing the fence of the next door school to stuff our squashed boxes from IKEA into their paper trash dumpster multiple times, we were not in a hurry to have to somehow hide mountains of packing paper, stacks of bubble wrap, and oceans of Styrofoam peanuts in someone else’s trash because the puny containers in our courtyard are not enough. Apart from the fact that our apartment looked like it had just exploded and we were completely exhausted, it was a pretty productive day. Since then, our days in Berlin have been a little less intense, and the apartment already has seen an exponential decline in the amount of boxes sitting around. In fact, we are unpacked and it’s starting to look  like home.

The first (or second) batch of hot chocolate in the new kitchen.

The first (or second) batch of hot chocolate in the new kitchen.

Home is where the heart (and toys) are.

Home is where the heart is… and where the toys are.

Change of Plans…

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There is only one thing constant in life and that is change.

Over the last couple of weeks many things have changed.

  1. We are not moving to Berlin.
  2. We are staying in Chicago for one more year.

That’s about it. My mother visited Berlin before us, planned on finding an apartment, which she did, and exploring the city, which she did also. However, as she biked and biked and biked, she couldn’t shake her intuition telling her this was not the place for us, long-term. So after much back and forth, she came back to us in Chicago. Our goal is still to move to Europe in the end – for all of the reasons stated in the previous post; quality of life, education, family… It has been a dream of ours for a long time, but we weren’t ready to just settle down anywhere after Berlin didn’t work out. So, the choice we made was to stay in Chicago for one more year and during this year we can explore our options in Europe further.

We moved into our new apartment recently, found the day we made this decision. It’s almost surreal to unpack boxes I packed up 2 years ago, when we moved out of our house and downsized, before the trip was even mentioned. I am happy we get to stay, and I get to keep the friends and community we have here for one more year. But I know I have to leave again, and that puts a little dollop of sadness into our chaotic soup. I have one entire year, so I will just choose not to taste it.

The first thing that came to mind when we decided on this news was the school – my sisters will go to my fantastic elementary school, AG Bell, but I am now in High School! It’s crazy, I still can’t get over it myself. I was accepted on short-term to Lincoln Park High School, into the IB program. The International Baccalaureate allows me to study at hundreds of universities around the world where it is recognized. I am very excited, and a little apprehensive, (isn’t everyone on their first day of something new?) to be starting High School. And I am sorry to say I will have an exorbitant amount of homework so I will probably not get to blogging as often as I should (this gap was crazy enough, but I wanted to be sure of every most things before I publish it for the whole world to see). However, I will try!
As for where we will end up – no one, least of all myself, knows. But not all who wander are lost… It’ll work out!

PS: Audrey left for a 3-week trip to Europe! Our family in Germany generously offered to take her to Switzerland, Munich, Sardinia… She is coming back September 2 (2 days before school starts!). Hopefully I can convince her to be a guest-blogger here – I would love to share more travels with you.

Culture shock in Bangkok

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Bangkok… where shall I start? We departed Düsseldorf with 3 half-empty bags, expecting the heat, anticipating the change, and as nervous as ever. After a 10 hour plane ride (plane rides are plane rides, there’s nothing new) we arrived in the airport. The beautiful Thai signs were everywhere, but well-suited to tourists, as everything was also in English. Our first taxi was really interesting. First off, they drive on the right side in Thailand. Even though I now know, I still look into every car and am surprised that no one is driving; I guess my eyes haven’t caught up yet. Our taxi man had 4 Buddha statues, of which we would see many more, and a golden dragon in the front. On the ceiling he had foreign currencies taped and on the wind-shield wiper there were many amulets hanging from those suction-cups. While we were waiting for the light to turn green, he bought a little ring of flowers, prayed, hung it around a buddha, then stepped on the gas. People really incorporate religion into day-to-day life.

One thing can not be argued about Bangkok – it’s dirty. Trash is everywhere, the river is dark-grey, the houses look like they’re about to fall apart sometimes and are stained black in places with water damage and dirt. However, the people smile as they sell delicious food from their vendor carts or shorten people’s pants with their old sewing machines. On one street we smelled fish sauce, then flowers, then garbage, then incense, and then more.

Our neighborhood, the Khaosan Road, is known for backpacking. We stayed along a canal on a walkway lower than the regular street, shaded with trees and a little mysterious. Because it’s so hot people leave their house wide open, and I purposefully don’t say door, because there isn’t really a door, just an open wall. Some are completely empty with a little bed and a campfire with a wok and a rug and some are full of old boxes and stuff piled everywhere, which are used as low walls. In these small neighborhoods everyone knows each other, they hang out in front and smile. Even though we may question how they live, they seem content. Buddhism believes in reincarnation, that in your next life you will be a step higher in society.

The actual Khaosan Road and streets around or off of it we explored at night, where we usually chose a spot to eat. There are lights everywhere, pop music playing from different restaurants, and people busy either selling, buying, pushing or staring. It is very alive. Little carts are selling food from massive woks, the street is crowded with one clothing stall after another. You can get a massage, have your hair turned into dreadlocks, eat fruits you’ve never even heard of, and buy an entire wardrobe in one block. To get away from this chaos, we often took little side roads or alleys and passed pretty much the same on a smaller, quieter scale.

The little roads off the main ones are always interesting wherever you are in Bangkok. You are faced with less traffic, smaller walkways, a more private feel, and the people; you see where the locals live and make money and hang out and where the little ones play around. There’s much more greenery and it’s always a mystery as to where the alley will lead.

On our first day we explored and quickly met the nearest temple, one with many locals. Temples usually come in a compound, walls enclosing the temple itself, the statues, and other buildings to meet in. We took off our shoes, stepped over the raised golden threshold (stepping on it is bad luck), walked across the squishy carpet, and sat on our feet. The gold Buddha was beautiful; it was raised over the flowers and offerings, sticks of burning incense and smaller other Buddhas while looking over us all, making sure we were ok. In this temple I always felt very empty, it’s quiet, the only sound is the hum of the fans, the cozy carpet was just vacuumed, my feet rest comfortably under me; it’s peaceful.

We went shopping in a massive mall center, where the different malls were connected by bridges that spanned over the highway. At first we could only stare; the sheer size of everything is overwhelming. The MBK was a little like an indoor market, little cramped stalls everywhere selling everything and as you look down the aisle, it doesn’t stop. Other ones, like the Center Siam or Siam Paragon were more upscale and too expensive, so we stuck to the MBK and bought long, light pants for the evenings.

Some other tourist attractions we saw:

The Grand Palace – The Grand Palace consisted of an outer, middle, and inner building, which no one but the royal family is allowed to visit. A tour guide offered us a good deal so we took her and she showed us the palace. It’s a good thing she did because otherwise we would have been completely lost. Not only lost in the orientation, but now we could also appreciate what different symbols or statues stood for. We learned about the religion and legends we will now be able to recognize. People here take their King seriously. He is printed on almost all of the money, signs everywhere say Long Live the King (leftover from a huge celebration for his 84th birthday), and huge portraits of him are everywhere around the city! The airport has a timeline in pictures of his life on the side of the building and everywhere life-size pictures show him doing everything from playing the piano to greeting an important person. He is a big part of the day-to-day life here.

Wat Arun and Wat Pho:

Each Rama, or King, has his own sacred temple. Wat Pho and Wat Arun are 2 of the 9. Wat Arun’s prang, a tall spire only built in important religious places, is decorated entirely with broken china. Each flower is different! From far away it looks extremely detailed or painted, but in reality they only stuck random pieces of broken plates and cups to form cool patterns. I can imagine it was fun to build.

Wat Pho, the home of the reclining buddha, is a massive temple! We spent a lot of time going into the small temples around it until we finally followed the tour groups and found the reclining buddha. It’s a beautiful buddha and very, very big! Outside there was a place to worship the different buddha statues, each one representing a different day. People burned incense, lit candles, put big flowers into the vases, and you are supposed to pat gold leaf onto the buddha, or day, you were born on. For 20 Baht you could get a little offerings package which I thought was smart, with 3 incense sticks (they’re always in threes), a candle, a flower, and some gold leaf. I didn’t know which one was Saturday (although I do know that the reclining buddha is Tuesday), so I simply put gold leaf on a couple. Although I did like these temples, I still like our local one the best. For me the peacefulness and the little offerings and local atmosphere were the perfect image of Buddhism.

Other than that we explored, had our first foot massage, and took a little boat through the canals of Bangkok. More pictures will follow!