Saturday, September 25, 2010

Winterswijk, Netherlands

Yesterday we took off in the big van to go to Winterswijk, Netherlands for the afternoon. It would be Dylan's first time in the Netherlands, and both me and Dylan's first time riding with Bryan while he drove a stick-shift car.  Despite being a little jilted by GoogleMaps from our ill-fated trip to Kauflands, we consulted it once again for directions to Winterswijk and GoogleMaps redeemed itself. 

Here is the map from Borken to Winterswijk.
 Winterswijk is only about 12-15 miles away from where we live, so it was a pretty short drive for us across the border to the Netherlands. 

Some interesting history to note about Winterswijk is that according to Wikipedia (so it must be true!), Winterswijk was mainly an isolated farming town until 1830 when the road from Borken was built.  Then in the 1840s, many residents emigrated to America - mostly to Michigan.  So perhaps some of our Dutch friends in Michigan are have ancestors from this adorable little town.  Do you see how reading our blog can be informative as well as entertaining?

Anyway, Bryan did a decent job showing off his driving skills, although his movements weren't totally flawless, so I spent a lot of time grasping for the handle and pumping an imaginary brake from the passenger seat. No one got carsick, though, so the drive was a success.

Winterswijk has lots of clothing stores, shops, bakeries and shoe stores, so once we figure out what our shoe and clothes sizes are in European measurements, we will be headed back here to shop.  Yesterday we mainly just walked around, then bought some pastries to eat on our way home.  We also bought some more espresso shots from the nearby grocery store (we were already out).  We heard that coffee is cheaper in the Netherlands, so we took advantage of the opportunity.

Here is a little photo tour of what we did, followed by some cute recent photos of Dylan goofing around.

Bryan and Dylan at the beginning of the "marktplatz" in Winterswijk.  I asked Bryan if he wanted to change out of his workout clothes before we left.  He declined.  Once shopping, it didn't take long for him to say, "I think I'm a little under dressed."  Thank you, Captain Obvious. 

Every European town has a big church in its center.

Dylan and I in front of the big church.

Here are Dylan and I down a cute little side street.

Here is my happy baby.

Flashing his cheesy smile for the camera.

I try really hard to bundle him up at night so he'll stay warm, but this is usually how I find him in the  morning.  He has his pants off and has mostly taken off his shirt.  He is, obviously, very proud of himself.
Posing on his "Big Bobby Car."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost In Munsterland

I pride myself on having a keen instinct for directions, so I am little tentative to tell you the following stories from the past week (yes, there are actually two). I figure, though, that if we are going to live in a foreign country, than I need to be able to laugh at myself. So, here I go:

On Monday, Dana and I were desperate to get to Kaufland’s (kind of like a German version of Walmart) to get Dylan some shoes, Dana a hair dryer, and a couple of pillows. We weren’t exactly sure where Kaufland’s was, so we did a quick search on Google maps and carefully wrote down the directions on paper. It seemed like the map was in the wrong direction, but who are we to question Google Maps when we were on Day 4 in Borken? The map said it was about 1.5 miles away, which is consistent with the distance we rode in the car on our first trip to Kaufland’s. So we walked, and walked, and walked. We followed the directions perfectly and it took us to…the Kaufland Haus. We didn’t ring the doorbell to say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Kaufland, but we now know where they live.

This is Kauflands - where we wanted to go.
This is Mr. and Mrs. Kaufland's house. 

We ended up on the outskirts of town and ended up taking the bus back to town (see bus episode on my random thoughts post.) After all of this, I was determined to still find Kaufland’s. We were a little cranky and hungry after walking for the last 45 minutes. I told Dana that we walk to the center of town and my instincts would get us there. She reluctantly came along. It didn’t take very long to find Kaufland’s once we got the center of town. I pumped my fists in victory as we walked in and explained to Dana for the 3,201st time that “I just need to trust my Y chromosome. Google Maps is not wired with this type of instinct.” She was not impressed.

Fast forward to Thursday morning when I took the Sprinter Bus to Munster from Borken. My bus stop was approximately 500 meters (1/4 of a mile) from the Business School Building, so I didn’t really check a map to make sure that I would take the right direction. I was so confident in my instincts that I displayed on Monday that it wouldn’t be a problem. It was a problem. I kept walking and would stop to use my instinct to give me the next step. I could also see the Dom (large church at the center of town) from time to time to show me where I was in proximity to the center of town (pretty close to where I wanted to go.)

I was within range for a while… and then the wheels fell off. I got so turned around I had no idea where to go. My instincts became guesses. The Dom was out of sight. I was terribly lost. The good news is that Germany doesn’t really have ghettos, so I wasn’t in danger (except for my ego). After 45 minutes of walking I was simply happy to find a busy street (I had listened to nearly the entire Kollide album from our church's worship band). When I arrived there, I saw that I was two bus stops back from where I was dropped off. This is ok on a local bus, but the Sprinter Bus only stops 8-10 per hour, so to be back two bus stops is really messed up.

I found a taxi filling up at the gas station across the street. Asking a taxi driver if he is still on duty in German was out of my vocabulary range, so I walked up to him and muttered a half sentence in German and waited for him to get the hint that I had used my entire vocab repertoire and if the conversation didn’t immediately go to English, we were done. He said that he could take me, in English, if I was close. I convinced him I was.

The taxi ride was really a ride off shame for me. With each kilometer that we drove, I realized how badly I messed up the directions. The driver could hear me say, “Ouch” and “Wow” with each passing block. We finally arrived and I paid my taxi cab fare… 7.20 Euros. All I could think of for the rest of the morning was that I was a 7.20 euro taxi lost. I went into my office and shut the door behind me and didn’t talk to anyone for the entire morning. By lunch, I was able to confess my misfortune and laugh about it, but deep down, there is a Y chromosome that is badly bruised.

In this map, the red mark is where the Sprinter Bus originally dropped me off and my destination, the Finance building, was "B."  I got in the taxi at "A" and needed to be driven back into town.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Photo Tour of our Flat and Town by Dana

Sorry it's taken so long to get these photos up - we know this is what you've all been waiting for. Here are some pictures of our flat and a few from around town.  A few of these are makeshift panorama's, so bear with us.
Here are Bryan and Dylan outside our building.  We live on the third floor, which is extremely confusing for Oscar.  Every door we pass on our way up the stairs, Oscar stops at thinking it is our house.
This is the view of our living room area from the front door. I really like the modern furniture. 

This is a view of the kitchen and looking back into the living area.  Straight ahead is our refrigerator, which is slightly smaller than our fridge in the US.  It makes for more frequent trips to the grocery store, which is OK becasue it's only a couple of blocks away. 
We also have a small dishwasher, which is disguised as a cabinet. 
I haven't quite figured out the oven yet - I still have trouble converting the Celsius degrees on the oven to Fahrenheit - I need to make a cheat sheet.  On the far left next to the blue chair there is a small freezer, and just to the right of that under the red table cloth is another small fridge. 

This is our bedroom.  Directly to the right and left (not in view in this photo) are some really nice closets and cabinets.

This is Dylan's room, which was formerly used as an office.  He has one wall that has floor to ceiling windows and a great view of the fire station.  Some days we can see the firemen smoking on the roof - how ironic.  We've purchase some curtains for this office and tried to hang them from a rail system that is above the windows. It looked great for about 5 minutes, then the entire rail system including the curtains came crashing to the ground.  Someone is coming here this week to help us fix it.  Curtains are very important because the sun shines brightly in here in the morning, causing Dylan to wake up super early.

Here is a picture of Dylan's room facing the other direction.  Notice the drying rack - we have two large drying racks because although we have a washing machine in the basement, we do not have a dryer.  It takes some getting used to, but it really isn't that bad. 
This is our bathroom.  Directly to the left (not in view) is the shower, so we don't have to take baths only in the giant tub.

Here are Dylan and Oscar playing in the park near our house. It is a large, beautiful park with lots of open space for the boys to run around in. 

The park has lots of walking and bike paths and leads from the Sporthalle (where Bryan's games are played) to the town center.

Here is Dylan in the town center.  This is a large open area for pedestrians surrounded by shops and restaurants.  This is just a  short walk from our house.

We were walking back towards home from the town center.  This is what a typical street looks like in the "marketplatz" (market place). 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Random Thoughts by Brzan

It’s been a full week since we’ve touched down in Germany and so far it’s been quite a week with a lot of new experiences. Dana and I have also been sick (kronk) the entire time, which means that Dana has to take care of two babies instead of one. We are being very well taken care of and are settling in nicely.

Here are some random thoughts from my first week back in Germany:
  • I am in a foreign speaking country. This should be an obvious thought instead of random, but we have realized that we have a lot of work to do in order to learn German. We have learned a lot of new words in one week, but we are looking at a long road ahead. To add to the pressure, I said in my press conference that I would do next year’s press conference all in German. Maybe I can blame my jet lag for that comment and take it back.
  • I am short; Really short. You would think that after 29 years of being short, I would be able to accept this. In Jacksonville, I was at least average, but now in Germany, I am back on the ‘short list.’
  • We don’t get the websites we’ve taken for granted. We were exited that we wouldn’t miss any of our favorite TV shows in America thanks to and That led to a huge disappointment when the error message for both appeared saying ‘Video is not available in this area.’ We were devastated, but our German friends were quick to help with other sites that we can work around to watch American TV and Sports for free.

  • I can get arrested for not recycling correctly. Germans take their recycling very seriously. Instead of the American recycling container that contains all things that can be recycled, we have to sort into separate paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum bins. When I asked what would happen if I get it wrong, a friend told me that I could get arrested by the “Recycling Police.” He wasn’t joking. Evidently, they can rummage through your trash and find your name in the trash that is not recycled and give you a ticket. I almost want that to happen as it would make for a great blog post. Bring it on Recycling Police.


  • Don’t walk on the red brick road. Muenster is the bike capital of the world (I think there are 500,000 bikes for 250,000 people) and their bike paths are packed with people riding bikes. The sidewalks here are split, with a gray sidewalk and a red sidewalk. I learned the hard way that the red path is only for bikes. Now, whenever I hear a bike bell behind me, I freeze and look down to see if I am on the red brick. I am getting better, but still put my chances of getting hit by a bike are between 99.5% to 100%. Sadly, these bikes are very well built, which means I will lose the battle if I get hit.

  • The bus driver will ask you your destination when you get on the bus. For some reason, I forgot this when we took the bus for the first time, leading to a very awkward standoff in front of a packed bus. It was a local bus and I was almost 100% sure that the driver said “’Free Pass,” so I just walked through. I learned that I was wrong when the bus wouldn’t move and the bus driver was saying something to me. I went back up and told him where we wanted to go and gave him money. He was not very happy with me.
  •  The @ sign is impossible to find on a German computer. My office at the University is very nice and it comes equipped with a nice computer. However, it has a German keyboard, which isn’t too different, except the ‘y’ and the ‘z’ are in opposite places. I wonder how long I will type Brzan? Also, I could not find the @ sign. I had to ask a colleague to help me type it. “I am smart, I promise.”

  • Espresso Shots are readily available here. We have an espresso shot maker at our flat. As a person who loves efficiency, coffee, and process improvement, this concept makes me giddy (and shaky). I can consume an equivalent of two cups of coffee in 2 minutes. That means I can have two shots before our coffee is ready (we have that here too). What I am also saying is that my caffeine consumption problem is going to get worse before it gets better.
We will keep you posted as more adventures come along.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Link Time

Bryan is starting to get some press here in Germany for his return to basketball. The team sent out a press release a few days ago and last night he had his first game. Here is a picture from the game - check out his big guns - wow!

Here are some links to the recent articles about him:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hello from Deutschland!

After a  long day of travel we finally made it to our new home in Borken, Germany.  We kicked off our journey on Thursday with a nice drive from Edgewater, MD (where my parents live) to JFK airport in NYC.  By the grace of God, the drive only took us 4 hours and we did not hit a single traffic snag the entire way there.  We were very early arriving to the airport, which gave us plenty of time to figure out how in the world we were going to get our 5 bags, dog-in-crate, baby, stroller, carseat and 4 carry-on bags from the car rental return to the baggage check-in counter.  Here is a photo of what we looked like:

New Yorkers and other JFK patrons were not ashamed to stare at us.

This is about the size of 8 parking spaces.
The JFK airport has a Pet Relief Area just outside the main entrance, so before Oscar was put in his crate for good we were able to take him outside to "do his business."  When the airline was ready to check-in Oscar, they had an attendant escort us through security.  We got to cut in line but then Bryan and Oscar had to sit in the "penalty box" area for a while so they could make sure we didn't hide anything illegal in Oscar's crate.  The attendant walked us right up to the terminal then took Oscar directly to the airplane to board.  It made us feel so much better than if they had put him on the 8-mile long converyer belt with our other luggage.

Dylan was getting really cranky right before boarding, which made us very nervous.  Thankfully, once aboard the plane he seemed to understand that he couldn't run around and was content sitting on our laps.  We were seated in the row directly behind the bathrooms, which has its pros (extra leg room, no seats in front of us for Dylan to kick) and cons (lots of foot traffic, kind of stinky).  He eventually fell asleep on my lap, which then made my lap fall asleep and start to hurt not long into the trip.  A stewardess noticed my discomfort and brought over a bassinet that she hooked onto the wall in front of us for Dylan to sleep in.  What a blessing!

Seriosly, Air Berlin?  Is this the
best you can do?
Air Berlin has the lamest in-flight entertainment programming that I've ever experienced.  We watched a half-hour of a clown jumping out of a trash bin to scare people as they threw something away, some really weird  German music videos, 45-minutes of Mr. Bean mini-episodes, the movie Letters to Juliet and then finally Date Night, which started too late into the flight and we never got to finish.

Upon our arrival, some new friends from the basketball team picked us up in a large van and brought us to the flat.  I don't remember much about this part of the trip - I was really tired.  Bryan rallied through his sleepiness and carried on a conversation, but I didn't say much.  We all took naps yesterday and slept for about 12 hours last night, so today we are much better.

We were able to explore the town a little more today and will continue to do so in the upcoming days.  Once we get our stuff unpacked and we're settled in, we will take photos of the flat and post them, as well as some photos from around town.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Crazy Train

It's been a restful few days at my parents house after a very crazy, long train ride from Jacksonville to D.C. Some of you may have seen my Facebook status with a brief re-cap ... here are some more details.

Bryan brought Dylan and I to the Amtrak station on Thursday afternoon for a 14 hour train ride.  The one-way ticket only cost about $80 and we could bring several big bags of luggage at no additional cost, so it seemed like a good deal.  Sitting in the train station, though, all I could think about was the bus station scene in Adventures in Babysitting where Chris's friend Brenda gets stranded and encounters her share of crazy people.  It felt eerily similar to that.
This is how I sometimes felt on the train.

Once aboard the train, the seat assignment guy put Dylan and I in a dark corner with no windows but with extra leg room.  I was thankful that he gave us two seats when we had only purchased one.  Across the isle from us sat a man who had some kind of brace on his legs so that his knees didn't bend at all so when he sat down they just stuck straight out.  Dylan took a liking to Straight-Legs right away.  Behind Straight-Legs sat a giant 500+ lb. man who must have eaten two or three huge bags of sunflower seeds throughout the duration of the trip (I can't imagine what his sodium levels must be like!).  It was really annoying to listen to him cracking and spitting sunflower seeds onto his tray table for pretty much the whole 14 hours.  I guess it was probably annoying for him to listen to Dylan jabber on to Straight-Legs for a good deal of time too, so perhaps we're even.

Straight-Legs and Sunflower almost duked it out in the beginning because Straight-Legs made the mistake of looking at Sunflower.  That prompted a "Whatchyou lookin' at, boy?  You aint got nothin' to look at back here." They exchanged some heated words then quieted down.  By the end of the trip the two were good friends after bonding over their shared desire to get off the train and have a smoke.

His career must not be going so well since he now rides the Amtrak.
Around 6:30 Dylan and I went to the dining car and shared a hot dog and some yogurt for dinner.  It was there where I'm pretty sure we ran into Lil' Jon and his posse.  Lil' Jon and about 3 other questionable-looking men stopped at our table and tried to say something to us through their gold-capped teeth.  I don't speak "crunk" so I have no idea what they said and I just smiled and nodded and thankfully they moved on.

After dinner, we went to use the restroom.  Here, we ran into a lady who was coming out of the bathroom as we were going in.  She told me as she was exiting that she had hung up her pants to dry on the purse hook and did I think anyone would steal them?  I shrugged my shoulders and said I didn't know, so she said "No one's going to want those pissy pants anyway!" and walked away.  She was wearing a skirt, so perhaps she keeps extra clothes in her bag in case of an accident, just like how I do with Dylan.

Dylan playing in his seat on the train.
We settled into our seats for the night and I tried to get Dylan to calm down.  He was pretty jazzed up from all the new sights, sounds and people so he and Straight-Legs carried on a spirited conversation for quite a while.  A lot of the passengers by this time were starting to get pretty drunk.  Amtrak must have  good deals on beer and booze because pretty much everyone made a beeline for the bar-car as soon as the train was out of the station.  There was a big commotion several rows back when one lady started to get sick.  She made it to the restroom in time, but someone tattled on her to the train conductor.  The conductor apparently doesn't have any tolerance for sloppy drunks and booted her off the train at the next stop!

9:00 - 10:00 was Dylan's worst hour.  He was overly tired but just couldn't get comfortable.  He cried a lot this hour, and I felt like crying too.  He finally did fall asleep and we cuddled up together, but he wouldn't share his blanket with me at all so one of the train attendants brought me a paper table-cloth from the dining car to use as a blanket.

We must have been a cute sight to see because an old man who had told me earlier in the night that he has five sons and lots of grandkids wound up his disposable camera and snapped a picture of us as he was walking back to his seat.  I didn't know whether to be touched or creeped out.  A little bit of both, I guess.

Dylan pretty much slept through the night, although he woke a few times to change positions.  The seats were fairly comfortable (much more comfy than an airplane) and Dylan is small enough so he could lay down completely.  7:45 a.m. couldn't come fast enough and I was so happy to see my Dad waiting for us in the station.  Amtrak itself was great - the ticket process, the conductor, the attendants, the accommodations were all very good, but I don't think I would ride it again until Dylan is a little older.

Here are some picks of what we've been up to so far this week:
Here we are in front of the White House.
And the "Forrest Gump" shot with the Washington Monument in the background

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dana's Strange Request

Saturday afternoon, as I was relaxing on the floor (we sold our last couch) and watching golf on TV, Dana stormed into the living room and demanded that I head outside and measure the dimensions of our van that I am taking to Washington DC. Normally me+floor+golf= Do Not Disturb, but I could hear a little stress in Dana’s voice so I didn’t want to ask too many questions. I’ve learned this after 8 years of marriage.
I went outside and came back with the dimensions scribbled on a napkin. I thought I had fulfilled her request and could go back to the floor to enjoy some precious me/golf/floor time. I was stunned to hear her next request.

Dana: Do you have any chalk?

Bryan: No, why?

Dana: I want to outline the dimensions of your van in the garage.

Bryan: What? Like a dead body?

Dana: Exactly. Do you think blue painting tape will work?

Bryan: Yeah, I guess. (Shaking my head)

So, we went out to the garage and laid tape down 100 % to scale of the back of my van. We even taped the height on a nearby wall. The good news is we still have room to spare, which made Dana feel a lot better (and a lot less stressed out).

I was afraid that if our "keep" pile wasn’t going to fit in the outlined dimensions, Dana would have made me create a computer software “packing Simulator” so we could practice. I’m glad we didn’t have to go that far…yet. We still have some packing to go.

Everything we are keeping must fit in this van.