Gemütlichkeit

What a whirlwind! My final day at work was followed-up by a lovely Thanksgiving with good friends, the kind that blur the lines between friends and family.  A few days later, we were off to Germany! I don’t know if it was fatigue from a long day of traveling, but I felt a wave of emotion and nostalgia landing in Germany. Returning had been on my list for quite a while, and Germany has always held a special place in my heart.

For a bit of a backstory, I have so many childhood memories of being in Germany with my parents, brother, and paternal grandparents (Oma and Opa). My father was in the Army and was stationed in Germany twice. My brother was born in Augsburg, and some of my earliest memories are from our little Ansbach apartment. At a mere 18 months old, Germany was the first stamp in my passport. Later, during the 4 years we lived in Italy, we would often drive north to visit friends and see historical sites. I also always knew that my family had some German heritage, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I was able to confirm that through DNA testing. In case you’re wondering, I’m apparently 21% German. Needless to say, I have been longing to return for decades, and I was not disappointed at all.

Germany in December is lovely and magical with all of the Christkindlmarkts, glühwein, twinkling lights, holiday decorations, seasonal baked goods, and visitors from around the world. It takes quite a bit to get me in the Christmas spirit, and this trip definitely got me pumped for the holidays. A week prior to leaving, I was actually shouting and skipping while walking Stevie Mix. It sounded something like, “CHRISTKINDLMARKTS! Cinnamon! Glühwein! Spiced nuts!” If that doesn’t say Christmas spirit, and perhaps slight insanity, I don’t know what does.

Since it would be too much to catalog what we did each day, I’ve outlined some of the highlights and things that I found surprising. Photos are posted on my Instagram account, and you don’t need a personal account to view them. I plan to add more there in the coming days.

Highlights

  • All of the food! Schnitzel, spätzle, bier, pulled doughnuts, apfelstrudel, glühwein, venison, bratwurst, spiced nuts, curry, and amazing Turkish food. I could go on and on about the food. One evening Andy and I ventured out to RamenCado, and shared a table with a nice German couple, Miro and Suzie, along with their 7-month old puppy, Lucy. Andy ordered the chicken curry on Miro’s suggestion, and we were not disappointed. It was some of the best curry we’ve ever had. It’s also really nice to share a meal with locals when traveling. It’s a great way to learn about the culture and sights in an unfamiliar place.
  • Inner City Express (ICE) high speed rail from Nuremburg to Munich – Incredibly quiet and cozy inside. These trains can travel at 300 kmh or 186.4 mph. We clocked ours at about 155 mph. We were in Munich before we knew it!
  • The Siegestor or Victory Gate – Built in 1852, and damaged during WWII, the arch was to be demolished in 1945. However, it was partially restored. This was one of my must-see items, and our group obliged me. We took a lovely 2-mile walk from our Airbnb, over water, and through a nice park, to reach it.

Surprising Things

  • Mostly everyone speaks English. At least, we learned from Miro that everyone under the age of 50 usually speaks English because it became part of the curriculum in German schools. We were prepared to rely on Google translate, and we even learned some basic German before going, but most people voluntarily spoke to us in English. I was actually a bit disappointed. I looked forward to learning more German, and I also was looking toward the challenge of trying to communicate. Funny enough, I was commonly mistaken for Italian. Quite often a vendor or shopkeeper would send me off with a hearty, “ciao!” I often would respond to them in German just to throw them off.
  • The post WWII building restorations were astounding. I was particularly struck by the photograph hanging in Nuremburg’s Frauenkirche (“Church of Our Lady”) that showed a completely gutted structure post bombings. Today, it stands restored in all of its Gothic glory.
  • I visited Dachau concentration camp when I was about 9 years old, so I expected an emotionally taxing day when we decided to go to the Documentation Center and Nazi Rally Grounds. What I didn’t anticipate was how large the grounds themselves were, even though only a small portion of the buildings had actually been completed before the war began. It is difficult to imagine what it would have taken to finish building, as many materials were sourced from forced labor in camps. The self-guided tour was incredibly detailed, explaining the perfect storm that led to Hitler’s rise. By the time we reached the Nuremburg Trials portion of the museum, I was exhausted. It was still worth a visit, and I learned a great deal. We plan to follow-up with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC sometime soon.
  • Public transport in Munich runs like a well-oiled machine, and there are many options to get around without using a car. There were also more bikes than I expected. Dedicated bike lanes were typically on sidewalks. You have to be very careful about not stepping into the lanes since only a painted line separates pedestrian and cycling traffic. We even saw a very large two-tiered bike rack to park bikes in Munich. I wish I had taken a picture.
  • We didn’t see any accidents or disabled motorists on the Autobahn, or anywhere actually.
  • Dogs! Dogs! And more dogs! We saw well-behaved dogs everywhere in Munich, and they were often just trotting around, sans leash, behind their owner(s). I did remember dogs in restaurants from my childhood in Germany, but I didn’t recall seeing them without leashes on the streets. We got strange looks if we stopped to fawn over a particular dog. In fact, the dogs themselves seemed indifferent to attention. Of course, it still didn’t break my habit of exclaiming, “puppy!” each time I saw a new dog.
  • I’ve never visited an Olympic park. While I expected it would be quite large, I really couldn’t believe the scale. I felt really small standing in Munich’s Olympic Park, which was constructed for the 1972 summer games. We got some great photos from a high vantage point that overlooked the grounds, and we also had a nice, brisk walk.
  • The greenery was amazing. Even with overnight freezing temperatures, we saw blooming and vibrant plants all around the city and on the tables in restaurants.
  • The Munich Krampus run is extremely popular. I could only catch a glimpse perched on Andy’s shoulders. If you ever plan to see this, arrive early.

Accommodations

Both of our hosts were incredibly helpful. They met us on the day of our arrival, walked us through the unit, and provided us with a wealth of information about things to do and the surrounding area. We were also within walking distance of public transportation, food, and a grocery store for both stays.

Side Note on Customs

Leading up to the trip, we both paid for Global Entry. I think Andy’s application fell through the cracks because he’s still waiting. However, he downloaded the free Mobile Passport app on his phone to get through customs, and he beat me by 3-5 minutes.

Returning Home

The fact that I resigned from my job 19 days ago still hasn’t sunk in yet. I expect that realization to fully hit me in January when everyone goes back to work. The day or two before we flew home, I was mentally running down all of the things I would need to tackle at the office when I went back to work, and then I realized I wasn’t going back. Talk about a very strange feeling.

I had grand plans of taking the time before the holidays as personal time. I wanted to get back to my work outs, start yoga again, bake Christmas treats, and visit friends. However, I woke up on the last day of vacation with a sore throat, and I knew what would come next. Add in a return flight that lasted over 8 hours due to a strong headwind the entire way, and the end result was as expected–a lovely head cold. What a nice parting gift! I’m still recovering. In fact, a week later, my ears are just now beginning to pop and I’m finally regaining my energy.

That said, I’ve been somewhat immobile over the last week. We did make some headway in downsizing things around the house, and we also did the typical things one does when returning home from a long trip: laundry, tending to plants, grocery shopping, catching up on email, and cleaning. We also finished our holiday cards, decorating, and shopping. In addition, we celebrated Andy’s birthday soon after coming back. I presented him with a bier stein that I had successfully purchased at the Munich Residences and transported without his knowledge. We had a low-key day, celebrating by having lunch at the best Cuban restaurant around and then browsing books at Barnes and Nobel. A few days later, we continued celebrations with a group dinner at delicious Turkish restaurant that also features belly dancing. You can see why it has been a whirlwind. I know that once things settle, normalizing our schedules will be key to getting things done and staying sane.

While spending more time together was a big driver for me to stop working now, we both agreed that personal development was also very important to both of us. We acknowledged that setting personal goals and having personal time would be critical to our own well-being and happiness. We also knew that planning and structure would be helpful in achieving our personal and joint goals. To assist in that endeavor, we’re both still keeping day timers. Mine is a simplified bullet journal where I write down thoughts, plans, and to-do items in; Andy’s is a plain Moleskine Cahier journal. Right now, we are keeping a relatively structured day to just get our bearings back after this trip. We’ve been starting the days off with coffee and reading in the morning, breakfast, a long walk for Stevie, and then we tackle projects (personal and household) for the day. We break for lunch, and then we’re back to our projects, another long walk for Stevie, a late afternoon workout, dinner, and then tv/reading/games. I expect that our days will change depending on what projects we’re working on. Also, our time is meant to be flexible. It would be no fun to retire early, if we still kept schedules like we’re going to the office daily. I also expect that our days will change seasonally, as our outdoor activities change with the weather.

Stay tuned for future plans and updates on how we’re adjusting (mainly me—it seems Andy has this whole retirement thing nailed down already). I don’t expect to post again before the holidays, so I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus! I hope that it’s full of laughter, tasty treats, and new memories with loved ones.

xo

5 Comments on “Gemütlichkeit

  1. What a great update! I really enjoyed reading about your trip and can’t wait to hear more about it in person! And I totally understand the need to make structure in your days now. I have always been like that, especially when the kids were really little and I needed to get out of the house so I wouldn’t go nuts! I think over time, your days will fall into place and you’ll develop more normal routines. How fun it must be to have such freedom now! 😘

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    • I actually learned from you in the early days of your motherhood how important routines and structure are when you’re not leaving the house to work. I can’t wait to get something on the books to see you. My sniffles are almost gone!

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  2. What a lovely account of your travels! I love your blog Jessica. When I retire in 3.5 years, you’ll already have it all figured out. I’ll be asking for “structure my day” advice. I missssss you!

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  3. Pingback: 3-Month Milestone – Life After 38

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