A Little Venting

I apologize in advance and if you don’t want to hear a little complaining you should just stop reading now. This post is half about German culture, but more about general pet peeve of mine. You see, since being here in Berlin we have been taking public transportation a lot. Whenever we have to take a train it requires taking an elevator up or down to the platform because we always have a stroller. There have only been a handful of times when no elevator was available, or at least I couldn’t find it. What I have encountered regularly is an inability to get on the elevator because it is full of seemingly able bodied people.

I have no other option than to take the elevator. You are not supposed to put a stroller on an escalator for safety reasons and while I have done it, taking the stroller up or down stairs alone is no easy feat. I need the elevator and unless you truly have to take it due to a a medical issue, age, or a lot of baggage please kindly take the stairs or escalator because I can’t. Now I realize that one cannot always tell by appearance if someone is able to take the stairs, so we have to operate on the honor system. If you really need to take the elevator too that’s totally cool, but otherwise don’t. At the very least let those that have to take the elevator on first and then wait for the next one if there is no room. Most of the time the alternative to the elevator is an escalator and in this situation I really don’t get the desire to take the elevator. You have to wait for it and it is often cramped. Plus it really requires no more effort to ride the escalator. You can even set your bag down on the stair while you ride. I wish I could take the escalator.

Now here is the part that is more about German culture. Even if you need to take the elevator if there is a line you get in line and wait your turn. Despite the Germans’ apparent love of rules and order they don’t really do lines, unless it is a clearly marked off one. It’s a free for all. Even if a line is formed people have no problem going in front of others and getting on an elevator or placing an order at the butcher stand. It drives me crazy. In the US we respect the line. Line cutting is considered rude.

This afternoon the elevator at the train station was unusually busy, so an informal line of mostly people with strollers was formed at the entrance. Everyone was respecting the line until one woman came up and tried to push her stroller in front of everyone. The line was about 5 strollers deep. I really had enough so I positioned my self in such a way that it prevented her from cutting everyone else off. When the elevator arrived I motioned the woman who had been waiting the longest to enter and almost everyone in the line made it on the elevator and the other woman had to wait. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but it just seemed so inconsiderate and I didn’t like the idea of this person pushing everyone around. I don’t understand why Germans don’t respect the line and in some situations it doesn’t bother me as much, but in this case it was really not alright.

Sorry, I needed to get that off my chest. In closing please remember that some people have to take the elevator and thank you America for respecting the line!

Tomorrow we are heading to Dresden for the day. Asha is super excited to ride the train. I’m sure we’ll get some great photos 🙂

Tchüss,

Karla

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Keep It Clean

I got the impression that Germans like things to be neat and tidy and after visiting Italy I really think it’s true. First, I have only been in one public restroom, so far, in  Germany that was not so clean. It was a “city toilet,” you pay 0.50€ and the doors open to a toilet and sink, in an area apparently frequented by junkies. At least this was the information relayed to Sanjay by a stranger who was concerned about Karina finding a needle while she was running around waiting for Asha to finish using the bathroom. Given this info, and assuming it’s true, a kind of dirty bathroom is not surprising. Now in Italy it was a different story, public bathrooms were very hit and miss. Some didn’t even have toilet seats, I’m still not sure why. I have also noticed that many bathrooms in Germany have toilet seat cleaner next to them. I don’t recall seeing this at all in Italy.

The public transportation here is also very clean. I’m sure it’s germy, which is really unavoidable due to the number of people that come on board. I have yet to step in a train care that smelled like urine or had a seat with a stain of indiscernible origin, though most times ignorance in this case is bliss. The CTA has a no eating rule, but as most Chicagoans know this is often ignored. I once got on a train in which someone left a half eaten can of tuna fish. The same rule exists here in Germany, but as Germans are big rule followers, they actually adhere to this policy.

Another interesting thing is that servers here feel compelled to clean up after Karina while she is eating. We have eaten outside the majority of the time, but the handful of times we were indoors the server kept coming by to clean the floor under her. I realize she makes quite a mess, but it’s also pretty futile to clean up until she is totally finished. Maybe German kids aren’t messy or their parents just don’t take them to restaurants until they can eat with minimal droppage. I’m not really sure. We always try to clean up as much as we can before we leave a restaurant, even in the US because I feel bad that someone else has to clean all that up. However; it’s really a waste of time until the very end. Good thing so many places have outdoor patios. The constant during meal cleaning makes me a little uncomfortable.

Berlin itself is also pretty clean for a big city, especially compared to Rome. It is not very hard to find a garbage can while walking down the street. There are however, cigarette butts everywhere, but not much litter. They also seem to hide their dumpsters. I’m not really sure how, but I can’t remember seeing one since we’ve been here. In Rome I saw several. Now I’m very curious about where the Germans are hiding all their trash…

Here’s hoping this idea of cleanliness, particularly while eating, rubs off on our kids!

Tchüss,

Karla

Back to Berlin

We left Rome on Sunday morning after a breakfast of pastries and Nutella. Sweets are big here. We had troubling logging into our flight online, but couldn’t figure out what the problem was. We were finally able to do it, but didn’t get a boarding pass for Karina. We have run into issues flying with her before. You see after much research I decided that we should really purchase a seat for her and bring her car seat on the plane. Since she is under two this always seems to through things off a little bit. Anyway we proceeded to the check in counter to get her boarding pass and realized that somehow they had booked us as having an infant in a seat and a lap infant. We had to wait for a manager to come down and resolve the issue, which took a little while but seemed easy to fix. We were flying on Vueling airlines, which is a low cost airline affiliated with Iberia. We mentioned several times that we were taking her car seat on the plane. A car seat that she was seating in at the time thanks the Brica Roll ‘n Go, highly recommend. It didn’t seem to be an issue. We made it through security and Asha and I went to grab some food as our plane was boarding soon.

It seemed to take forever to get the food and when we met Sanjay at the gate he said they were about to board. I packed up our food and we headed to the boarding line. We asked about priority boarding for families, no problem. Then we started to board and everything changed. When we got to the front the gate agent told us we couldn’t take the car seat on the plane. We explained that we purchased a seat for her. We also noted that the airline’s website states that you can buy a seat for your child and put them in a car seat. She told us that we had to notify them 24 hours ahead of time if we wanted to do that because they needed to have a special belt for the carseat. This made no sense to me at all. We have flown on at least 4 different airlines with Karina in a car seat. Unless this was some plane with crazy seats I did not understand what the problem was. They had us step to the side so they could check to see if we could bring the car seat on board. Eventually the gate agent told us we could board and the crew would help. We made it down the walk way and were might by the flight crew who once again told us we could not bring on the car seat. We started to explain everything once again and some one from the boarding area came down and talked to them. We were then told they had to consult with the pilot to see if it was ok. It was really unbelievable and made zero sense. The flight attendant returned and we were given permission to bring the car seat on board. However, one of us had to hold her during take off and landing. You know the riskiest parts of the flight. I still have no idea what happened. The whole thing was incredibly bizarre. If you do any research on flying safely with infants and children it is highly recommended that you put them in car seats on the plane. The FAA has even considered making it a requirement and no longer allowing lap infants. I mean to each his own. I’m not judging anyone, but I prefer to fly with Karina in a car seat. It also makes it easier because we have more room.

Now normally Karina falls asleep in her car seat before or during take off, but she had to sit on Sanjay’s lap with a seat belt extender, the special belt they were referring too which had nothing to do with the car seat. Instead of falling asleep she began screaming for me because she could now see me in the next aisle over. To avoid a screaming child for the whole flight I had Sanjay pass her over to me. We attempted to put her back in the car seat, but that caused more screaming. She wasn’t going back in there now that she got to sit with “mommy.” Sanjay ended up moving to the empty aisle seat in our row while the empty car seat sat in the lovely window seat we purchased. To say we were unhappy would be an understatement. We paid for that seat. We wanted to travel safely with our child. We followed the instructions on the airline’s website. Yet we sat cramped together with a lap infant. Not cool Vueling. Really not cool.

Despite all the drama we made it back safely. Since it is Sunday, everything in Berlin is closed except for restaurants, so groceries will have to wait until tomorrow. We enjoyed some dumplings at a restaurant down the street, put the kids to bed, and now get to relax a bit. I’m so happy to be done traveling for the day!

Tchüss,

Karla

 

Arrivederci

The last few days here in Italy have been pretty low key, which is very nice. We visited the church of St. Francis in Assisi and went to the small hill town Corotona. We did some wine tastings and had a little picnic with beautiful views. Italy does not disappoint when it comes to scenery.

We have also eaten a lot, but the last night was by far the best meal we have had. When we booked our rental house through Air BnB we decided to ask the home owner, Marco, about having a traditional Tuscan dinner at the house because the grounds looked so beautiful. He was happy to do this, but what we didn’t realize at the time was that he and his wife would be preparing the meal for us. This was an experience you could not get at a hotel. We talked to them as they prepared the food and insisted they at least join us for drinks and dessert. Which by the way was a delicious cake that his wife got up at 6am to make before she went to work! It was nice to learn about them and their family. At times we had to use phones for translation, but smiles and laughter are universal. It was an experience I know none of else will ever forgot and worth every Euro to get to experience the culture and Tuscan life in that way.

We packed up and headed back toward Rome. On the way we decided to take a little detour and stop by the Mediterranean Sea. It was beautiful of course!  Unfortunately we are leaving the sunshine behind. The weather in Berlin is cold and rainy, but oh well!

If you are ever planning a trip to Siena I highly recommend renting a house. I would also be happy to give you the info on the one we rented. The house is beautiful and the people stupendo!

We are incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful friends who are really family. I’m grateful that we were able to take this trip and spend to time together. By the end we were all pretty beat, but it was worth it. So far it seems we only lost one thing, our portable crib. How do you lose something so big you ask? Well none of us are really sure, but we think it may have fallen out of the car. You see on the way to Siena from Rome we stopped in Orvieto and as we were leaving someone honked at us. We were driving away with our trunk open. Oops! A causality of a great vacation I guess.

Ciao,

Karla

Italian Vacation

Ciao! I know it’s been a few days, but hey I’m on vacay. Also the wi-fi here is not so great. I mean who really needs it that much when you are surrounded by these views!

Anyway, we are spent 1 day in Rome and we are now in day two in Tuscany. The bread and gelato are amazing. I’m not really a big pasta fan, so I can’t really speak to that, but everyone else says it’s good. It was really cool to see all the sites in Rome and think about how incredibly old everything is. I liked seeing the history, but was not a fan of the giant tour groups. At the end of the day I was really over all the people. It doesn’t help that we were trying to navigate through the crowds with two strollers. Also the kids are tired and therefore extra crazy. Karina has decided that she is fully capable of pushing a normal size stroller and screams bloody murder when denied the opportunity which is awesome. The kids seem to take turns crying and being upset, so there’s never a dull moment.

The house we rented in Tuscany is gorgeous and all the little hill towns we have visited have been beautiful. Today we went to Florence and it was a beautiful city. I would have liked to do a little more shopping, but there is just a lot to fit into one day and with three kids. Yesterday we went to pig farm and say Cinta Senese pigs, a breed specific to Tuscany. We say where the pigs are raised and then had a tasting. During the tasting they told us about the different cuts of meat, what part of the pig they are and how they are processed. It was very interested and not surprisingly my kids devoured the meat.

All in all Italy is pretty great. It is absolutely beautiful! I am however afraid that I will be hit by a car because the drivers are crazy! It is far more laid back than Germany and for the most part very kid friendly. Here are a few pictures from our adventures thus far.

 

Also the coffee is even smaller here because it is actually espresso. The first couple days I kept forgetting this and was really disappointed when I was handed a shot glass size cup of coffee. We have also had some difficulty with the Italian washer. Probably because none of us can actually read it. There is also no dryer, so we have to hang the clothes outside. In general life seems a little simpler here, at least in the smaller towns. It’s a bit challenging when you are used to all the latest and greatest things, but it is also very refreshing.

Ciao!

Karla

 

Just Another Day

Lest anyone think differently, our days here are pretty much the same as those is the states as far as activities and daily life. I mean, I happened to fall asleep on the couch today while Karina was napping for no more than 15 minutes and when I woke up Asha was sitting on the floor face covered in black marker and one leg multi colored. I should have taken a picture, but I was more concerned about getting the marker off her face, so I was not walking around with a 4 year old in black face. I assume that is universally frowned up. You see normal everyday life.

I was able to get her cleaned up and then after Karina woke up we walked to art class. As we were walking we went past Wasserturmplatz. It is the oldest water tower in Berlin, though it is no longer used. It was also taken over by the Nazis in 1933 and used as a concentration camp. Now it is a park with a playground. That is what is so crazy about this city. The juxtaposition of a dark history with modern everyday life. Children are running and playing on the site of a former concentration camp. There is also a daycare center there.

After our little detour we continued on to art class. The girls had a great time. The class was set up with different stations, painting, clay, and light with shapes. The theme of the circus, but the kids could move freely about the space and explore the different mediums. I was asked by a couple parents if Karina was always so active. Um…yes always. Which means this class was great for her and Asha too. She said she loved being able to be creative.

Tomorrow we leave for Italy. YAY!! I can’t wait to visit a new country and see great friends.

Tchüss,

Karla

 

What’s that you say?

I really have a new appreciation for people in America who don’t know English. Here in Germany every one speaks to me in German at first and I try to understand, but usually just give them a deer in the headlights look before asking “English?” Most of the time they are able to respond, but I feel bad that I even have to ask. I feel like I should have some ability to speak German. I mean I am in a country where German is the national language and I spent a whole year of college studying it. I really try to understand what people are saying and it is a little easier with people I talk to on a regular basis. For instance, the ladies who work in the childcare area at the gym are all older German women who don’t speak much English. They speak to me in a combination of German and the little bit of English they know. Most of the time we seem to understand each other, but sometimes it does involve some hand gestures and charades. We are both trying and it helps that we have a relationship.

I’ve started to get a little better at understanding numbers so I know how much to pay for things. Luckily if I don’t understand I can just check the screen on the register. I can also give greetings and say goodbye. FYI, I have not heard one person say auf wiedersehen since we’ve arrived. It always tchüss or ciao. Also don’t get your pronunciation of danke schön from Wayne Newton. The correct pronunciation is shoen. Aside from these and a few other words I’m pretty lost. Like I said though most people speak English.

I also find this to be very interesting. We as Americans go places where English is not the national language, especially in Europe and we expect the people there to be able to speak to us in English. It is pretty presumptuous and egotistical really, but most of us don’t know another language fluently. Here in Europe they do. It is not uncommon to find someone that knows three languages. It seems like as the necessity to know different languages in the US decreased we no longer placed a high value on it, but here in Europe you can live just an hour away from a country where a different language is spoken, so you need to learn it. It would be really great to see Americans put a stronger emphasis on learning other languages and at an early age. By the time people are in high school it is much more difficult to learn. It would really make us more worldly and I think help with the image that we think we are superior to others. It is a very humbling experience to walk around and not know what others are saying around you or directly to you.

I’m going to keep trying to pick up what I can and make sure to be thankful to those who are willing to help me out.

Tchüss,

Karla