Monthly Archives: January 2012

Budapest at night

Budapest is a stunning city at anytime of day. But it’s really something to see at night when the bridges and buildings are all lit up. We braved the freezing cold tonight and walked a couple of miles to get some shots. Enjoy! We’ll share more pictures in a Budapest recap blog later on. Of course, you can always find more photos on our Flickr page.

The Chain Bridge. It was the first bridge to connect the towns of Buda and Pest.

The former Royal Palace. It's hard to explain how big this building really is.

The city's Parliament building is a sight to see in the evening.

A wider view of Parliament with the Margaret Bridge to its left.

Us in front of the Chain Bridge.

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A “fine” day for a road trip

Katie and I hit the road at 6:00 a.m. this morning for a nice six-hour ride to Budapest, Hungary. She had to be here for a couple days of meetings and we decided to make a weekend out of it.

The first half of the drive was absolutely gorgeous. The German countryside – especially in areas where the Alps are in full view – is a sight to see in the morning. I felt like I was driving through a puzzle for the first three hours. Here’s one of several photos we snapped from the car. It’s not entirely in focus, but you get the idea.

The view to the south on our way from Germany to Austria.

And I really like this shot. There are so many little communities and villages at the base of the mountains and throughout the hills in between.

One of many little towns that sit at the base of the Alps in Germany.

The second half of the ride wasn’t as enjoyable. We learned that all vehicles traveling on the main highway in Austria require a special pass. And we learned this when the officer who pulled us over at a controlled stop — just before the Hungarian border — told us. He also told us that, because we didn’t have a sticker, we had to pay a 120 Euro fine (about $160). Katie and I drove through Austria in 2010 on our way from Munich to Milan. We had read about the tolls and expected to pay them then, but there were none. And the same appeared to be true this time around. Instead, we learned it’s just another way that Europeans do things differently than in America.

Upon entering Austria, we saw several signs (though none in English) that told motorists to “pay toll.” We had cash out, ready to go, but never saw a toll booth. Well, there are no such booths. Apparently, you’re supposed to stop at a gas station immediately upon entering Austria and purchase a pass (you can get them for 10 days, two months or an entire year). The 10-day pass would have cost us 8 Euros (about $10). Instead, we were forking over $160.

We pleaded with the officer and explained that we fully intended to pay the toll, but had no idea where it was. He said we should know the rules of the road before driving on it. (Ouch.) A fair point, but not one that will ever have me saying kind things about Austria in the near future. (Although we’re planning on exploring Salzburg in April, so I’m sure that will change.) So we paid our $160 (they conveniently accepted credit cards) and were on our way. Thirty seconds later, after crossing into Hungary, we stopped at a station to purchase their highway toll card (12 Euros this time) and avoid another fine. When we got to our hotel and researched the fines, we learned that they’re often as high as 400 Euros and sometimes over 1,000. So it could have been worse …

You think it would be easier (and ultimately more profitable) if they simply forced you to pay the toll before driving on their roads at all (like in America). Or at the very least, you think they’d be a little more forgiving of the silly Americans who don’t know the rules. But then again, we’re still in a recession and busting tourists at $160 a pop sounds like a nice revenue generator.

We’re not sure if it was the bad taste left in our mouth by our new Austrian enemy, but the second half of the ride wasn’t nearly as memorable. The landscape in western Hungary is very Wisconsin-like. In fact, if I hadn’t known any better and you told me we were on our way from Madison to Milwaukee, I would have believed you. It was only once the mountains came back into view that we felt more like we were in Europe.

The ride itself took about 6.5 hours. Our rental held up just nicely and the iPod made the time go by quickly. I was also once again amazed at Katie’s ability to remember every single word of every single song ever written (an impressive feat given that she still doesn’t know how to get to our apartment from the subway).

Budapest itself seems quite intriguing. Coming in from the west side of the city, as we did, was not all that picturesque. There’s a lot of graffiti, old buildings and rundown areas. But soon we were darting down narrow roads with side-by-side buildings that reminded us of Italy. When the Danube river came into view — along with several impressive-looking bridges — we both said, “Ahh, so THIS is Budapest.” We’re excited to explore, most of which we’ll do on Saturday. We’re hoping to partake in the city’s famed thermal baths and enjoy what we’ve read is very good (and cheap!) wine. There are also some notable museums and parks that we plan to see.

With Katie at a work dinner, I’m off to find my own meal. They’re not on the Euro system in Hungary, so I have to go load up on Hungarian forints first. (And I do mean load up — one American dollar is equal to 225 forints. We saw a sign on the way into town that said, “Computers! Only 119,000 HUF!”) I hope their bills come in denominations of 1,000.

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St. Michael’s, Nymphenburg Palace

We tried out a new church last night — St. Michael’s church in the Marienplatz area. It made St. Joseph’s from last Sunday look like a tiny chapel. Built in the 1500’s, this Jesuit church (love the Jesuit connection!) immediately made me think of St. Peter’s in Rome due to its size and beauty. The Mass was again in German, so I had plenty of time to sit around and stare during the liturgy.

As I soaked it all in, I started to think about how thankful I am that there was a period in our history where such massive places of worship were built. I’m sure St. Michael’s wasn’t cheap to build and it took almost 15 years to complete. What’s more, according to its Wikipedia page, the church was built on top of an existing neighborhood, meaning Duke Wilhelm had to force 87 families out of their homes to make way for the construction.

That would never happen today! I can only imagine what the citizens of Milwaukee would say if there was a proposal to spend tax payer money on a building that would cost so much, take so long to build and only promote one faith. And if it meant people had to be forced from their homes, it would make national news and be a trending topic on Twitter.

But things were a little different in the 1500’s. I’m not saying we should revert back to Duke Wilhelm’s practices, but part of me is thankful that there was a time when such effort and detail went into the size and scope of a church. As a result, we have places like St. Michael’s. And while every place of worship offers the same promise of being close to God, there’s something about being in a place so massive that hits you at your core. I couldn’t help but get goosebumps when hearing the organ echo through the halls of St. Michael’s. Even the chanting from the cantor – again, nothing of which I could understand – gave me chills. As much as I believe the music of a liturgy to have a tremendous impact on the worship of those attending, I think the worship space can be just as impactful — whether it’s the awe-inspiring St Michael’s church in Munich or in the humble, intimate St. Joan of Arc chapel in Milwaukee.

As I said before, I didn’t have my camera with me (nor would I have used it, I’m sure). But here’s a picture I lifted from the Internet. Unless a better option comes along, I think this is where we’ll go for Easter Sunday Mass this year.

St. Michael's church. (Image taken from TravelPod.)

Prior to church, we took the tram out to Nymphenburg Palace — about a 20-minute ride. (By the way, the public transportation system in Munich is amazing. It was our first time using the tram, but it was just as easy and convenient as the subway.)

It was too cold and windy to walk around the 490-acre park that sits behind the palace, so we saved that for another day. But we did go inside and take a tour of the areas that are open to the public. The palace was used as a summer home for Bavarian rulers. They’ve preserved much of the decor from how things looked in the 1700’s and 1800’s. The several rooms that we were able to walk through give fascinating insight into how royalty lived in those times (and perhaps still to this day). In addition to serving as a museum, it’s still has some government uses. You can read more about the palace here.

We’ll return sometime in the spring or summer when things are a little greener. Here’s one of the pictures we took of the outside. The museum portion is the first level (above the entrance level) of the middle building, the adjoining smaller buildings and then the left-most building. I’ll add more pictures to our Flickr account soon.

A view from the front of Nymphenburg Palace.

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The Hofbrauhaus

We made our way to the Hofbrauhaus last night – the world’s most famous beer hall.

It’s tucked away on the east side of Munich’s Marienplatz, about a three-minute walk from the U-Bahn station. It’s right across the street from the Hard Rock Café, which I thought was kind of funny. Even funnier were the two (not one, but two) bouncers we saw standing outside the Hard Rock’s main entrance.

Back to the Hofbrauhaus … We walked in and saw exactly what we expected – a large room full of long tables that was packed with people.  Some (drunk) guys were singing loudly, a polka band was playing and waitresses were running all over the place. There were even a few people dressed in the traditional lederhosen.

Welcome to the Hofbrauhaus! The view from the entrance.

There’s no waiting for seats. You’re expected to seat yourself and, unless you want to wait for three hours, you’re also expected to sit with strangers. After circling the place twice, we finally found a spot at a table built for 10. There was only one other couple there at the time, but five others soon joined us.

The service was outstanding, but that may have been because we happened to be sitting right next to a serving station. I ordered a liter of the Hofbaushaus Original and Katie ordered a half-liter of the ever-so-delicious Weissbier. As for food, Katie went with the Bavarian chicken and I took the tourist bait and ordered the most popular dish on the menu – the pork knuckle. I had researched the dish ahead of time to know exactly what I was getting myself into. It was pretty tasty. The outside was essentially charred skin and tasted a lot like the outside of a piece of fried chicken. The meaty part tasted just like pulled pork, but without the BBQ sauce or other flavoring. Couple with a side of potatoes, it made for a delicious meal. I meant to take a picture of it when it came out, but didn’t think of it until I was halfway done. Katie thinks my posting this photo is gross. I think it’s educational:

Half-eaten pork knuckle. Mmmmmm!

We’ve read that you don’t have to talk to the people at your table (that is, you won’t be considered rude if you don’t), but because I married someone who likes to talk and pull life stories out of complete strangers, we ended up talking quite a bit with the couple that sat across from us. She was a native German (and half Italian) who hailed from a town about an hour from Munich. He was an American (from Chicago!) in the Air Force who had been in Europe since 2009. He was one of the “I’m never going back to the States” people who had fallen in love with the European way of life. He had heard of Gurnee, my hometown, and even played high school basketball with former Marquette standout Cordell Henry. We asked them to take a picture of us holding our mugs, which they were happy to do, although they didn’t do a great job of framing the picture.

Prost!

After a couple of hours of eating and drinking, we made one more lap around the place, checked out the gift shop and then hit the road. I’m sure we’ll be back again this year – most likely with visitors. The food and drinks were outstanding and the atmosphere is fun. But after going to Oktoberfest in 2010, I have to admit that I prefer a beer tent to the Hofbrauhaus. I think that’s because the beer tents are a little louder, a little drunker and, surprisingly, a little less touristy. But for a brewery-turned-restaurant that was built in the late 1500’s, the Hofbrauhaus is a pretty amazing place. And there are three more floors that we didn’t even explore. Perhaps we will on our next visit.

You can see a few more pictures on our Flickr page.

As for today, we’re hoping to head out to see the Nymphenburg Palace. It was built in 1675 as a summer home for members of the Bavarian royal family and is one of the more popular tourist sites in Munich. The front of the palace spans 2,100 feet and the building sits on a 490-acre lawn, making it a little more than a summer cottage.

We’re also gearing up for a trip to Budapest, Hungary, later this week. We’ll leave first thing on Thursday morning and are planning on coming back on Sunday. It is possible we’ll have to head from Hungary to another neighboring country or two, so for that reason we’re renting a car and making the drive from Munich to Hungary – which according to Google Maps is about a six-hour drive. More on that trip as it happens!

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Home away from home

One thing we’ve learned is that Germans – and likely most Europeans – get by with much less space than we Americans do. When we started looking for apartments in our price range, we were getting results for units anywhere between 500 and 800 square feet. Our condo in Milwaukee is 1,400 square feet, so we knew we were going to have to get used to smaller living quarters. But the space issue extends beyond the size of the place. Everything seems to be smaller – the oven, the refrigerator, the washing machine, the dryer … even the garbage cans! And after a week of living here, we’ve realized that it’s really not a big deal. The fridge still holds all of our food, as does the oven. And the smaller washer/dryer helps us stay on top of our laundry. Even the smaller garbage cans force us to take out our trash on an every-other-day basis. It got us to thinking about why we dedicate entire rooms in America to just laundry machines (here our washer is in the kitchen and our dryer is in the bedroom). It’s a luxury that we never realized we had. (And one I’m sure we’ll gladly embrace again when we return to the States.)

The place we ended up renting was on the higher side of square footage – just under 800. The fact that it has a washer and a dryer in the unit is pretty rare for Munich. Many places will have a washing machine, but not a dryer. We have a dishwasher, but we’ve yet to use it. Garbage disposals do not exist in this country. And due to Germany’s high interest in efficient energy, they likely never will. Speaking of efficient energy, the lights in the hallways of our apartment building are on timers. When you come in to the building at night, it is completely dark. You can turn on the lights, but they’ll go off in about 30 seconds. It was quite strange at first, but then we realized how smart and efficient it was!

We were also lucky enough to find a place with a second bedroom. It will come in handy when people visit and it doubles as office space in the meantime. The only thing we don’t really have is a balcony – but who cares!

Everything else is pretty much as you would expect. The building is decades old but, as you’ll see in the photos below, it has been updated. The bathroom is brand new and the kitchen is quite nice (which was a relief to Katie).

The main bedroom has one of those beds with two mattresses – complete with two separate comforters. The mattresses take some getting used to (it’s weird having a giant crack in the middle of the bed), but I will say that having his and her comforters is rather nice.

Because we’re renting a furnished place through an agency, all utilities are included in our rent, which makes things so much easier. Basic cable is free in Germany – about 30 channels worth – but all of the channels are in German. We just purchased a sling box so that we’ll be able to watch American TV. We were originally planning on using Hulu or Netflix, but it turns out that neither one is offered in Germany yet. (We could have gotten around that with some creative VPN work, but we’ve been told that Germany is a stickler when it comes to pirated content.) As it turns out, the sling box will be great because we’ll get Milwaukee programming (read: Bucks games!) and a full suite of channels.

The lady who owns our apartment (she lives in Greece full-time) left us with everything we would need (and more). We have pots, pans, dishes, silverware, etc., in the kitchen; linens and towels in the bedroom; cleaning supplies, a vacuum cleaner and random tools in the front closet; and a random collection of German books, including “Huckleberry Finn,” “Weight Watchers” and Stephen King’s “The Picture” (or “Das Bild”). She even left us with one of those air freshener things that automatically sprays every 30 minutes. We spent the first two hours in our new place wondering if our new neighbor was standing at our door sneezing.

Now for the pictures:

Our bedroom. Yes, we hate the flowers on the wall. No, we can't remove them.

Our kitchen -- complete with family pictures on the fridge.

Our second bedroom. Well, more like futonroom.

Our bathroom. I couldn't get the toilet in the shot, but trust me - it's there.

Our living room and dining room. Hi, Katie!

Hallway area. It's kind of the glue that holds the apartment together.

So there you have it. Our new home away from home. Not only are we really happy we ended up in Schwabing, we’re really happy with our apartment. Within the first hour of living here, Katie had put up family photos and moved around furniture to her liking, making it feel much more like “home.” And after seven days, we’re no longer waking up and thinking, “Where the hell are we?”

All in all, we love our apartment. While there are many things that shocked or confused us (and literally shocked Katie when she blew up the blow dryer), we love that we are able to learn bits and pieces of the culture through simply living here.

If you loved this post and want to read even more about “flats” in Europe and how they differ from American “apartments,” you’ll love this piece. He clearly takes a pro-American stance, but it’s still interesting reading. To us, neither way is right – it’s just interesting to note the differences. (After reading this, though, I’m really glad we ended up with a dryer.)

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Mondays in Munich

And so begins our first full week in Europe! After staying up until 2:00 a.m. to watch the Packers play their worst game of the season, Katie and I were all too happy to sleep off the bad loss and begin the first work week of our new jobs. What that really entailed was both of us sitting at our computers asking when the other person would be done with the Internet. (Since we won’t have Internet in our apartment until next week, we’re using an Internet stick in the meantime. The connection is great, but only one computer can be online at a time. I’m not complaining; just explaining. After going four days with no Internet, we’re thankful to be online at all!)

We broke up the computer time with another attempt at finding a cell phone. We know we want to purchase a super cheap, calls-and-text-only phone and get by on prepaid minutes, and for on-the-go email, Internet, etc., we’ll use our iPad (which we already bought a data plan for). And we’ll use Skype and other free or inexpensive Internet-based services as long as we’re at home or at a hotel (and if we’re at home we’ll also have our landline in another week). The mobile phone is really for when we’re out of the apartment and in between locations. And for when I get distracted by the smell of a nearby döner (Munich’s answer to the gyro) and Katie loses me.

We’ve checked in at T-Mobile, O2 and Vodaphone — the top three service providers in Germany — and we’ve checked in at multiple stores for each. But we’re finding that there’s either not a lot of employee training taking place or that cellular plans change as often as the conversion rate for dollars to euros. What one T-Mobile guy said would cost 0.19 cents per minute for international calls, another said would cost 0.89 cents. What one Vodaphone guy said would cost $1.50 per minute, another said couldn’t be done at all. It’s like going into a Starbucks and asking for the price of a large coffee and being told it’s $2.00. Then going to another Starbucks and being told that it actually costs $6.00. Then going to a third Starbucks and being told that they only sell tea. I think we’re going to go with O2 and see how the financials play out. The nice thing about prepaid is that you can change plans from month to month.

The only good thing about today’s cell phone search is that it took us to the Marienplatz, the central square in Munich’s city center that’s been around since the 12th century. I’ve talked about the area before and Katie and I visited it a few times during our trip to Europe in 2010. As it’s only a short subway ride from our apartment, I imagine we’ll visit often — especially because of the year-round farmer’s market that takes place. We also hear it’s especially beautiful at Christmastime. It’s a picturesque area with a mix of old architecture and modern shopping. There are also plenty of food options — both sit-down and on-the-go. We stopped at a sandwich place for lunch and I was able to practice my newest German phrase, “Keiner Senf!,” which means, “No mustard!” As a condiment-hater, this phrase is essential to my survival. Anyways, the Marienplatz is a pedestrian-only part of town so you don’t have to worry about watching for traffic. You do, however, have to watch out for people (I ran into an old lady today while snapping the picture below).

The Rathaus in Munich's Marianplatz is the square's central building.

Prior to watching the Packers/Giants game on Sunday, we took a walk to Luitpolt Park – just two blocks from our apartment. It was too cold to stay out for very long but I promise you that we’ll visit the park often once it’s warmer out. There are some great running paths and a couple of nice hills that give interesting views of Schwabing. The picture below was taken from atop one of the hills and the church you see is St. Joseph’s, which sits about a 10-minute walk from our apartment. Katie and I actually went there for church on Sunday night — my first-ever all-German liturgy. The music consisted of a lot of chanting and was pretty neat.

A view from Luitpold Park. St. Joseph's is in the center.

That’s all for now. I have some authentic German gummy bears calling my name. Ciao!

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Schwabing

From the minute we started researching good places to live in Munich, the Schwabing area (pronounced “shva-bing”) caught our eye. With its cobblestone streets, tightly packed houses, abundant restaurant/bar/shopping offerings, and proximity to both the central Marienplatz and the city’s English Garden (slightly bigger than NYC’s Central Park), we knew it was a place we would love to call home. Plus, it’s popular among Americans who have made the move abroad. When the dust finally settled on our surprisingly adventurous apartment search, we were very happy to have ended up in this northern district of Munich.

The streets of Schwabing.

To put the convenience of our location into perspective … We are four blocks from a major grocery store, one block from the subway station, two blocks from two different Walgreens-type stores, 15 steps (I counted) from a liquor store that sits across the street, blocks away from dozens (literally) of other bars, restaurants and shops, a 15-minute walk (about a mile) from the university area (which means a 15-minute walk from anything we would ever need) and about the same amount of walking time from the aforementioned English Garden (where we plan to do a lot of running and biking).

Restaurants like this one are all over the place in Schwabing -- just steps from our front door.

We’ve gone on a handful of walks in the few days we’ve been here, always turning down different streets (or “strassen”), and we’re constantly in awe of the very European feel of this area. There’s no shortage of cars (many of which bear the enviable emblems of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz) and there seem to be just as many bikes. In fact, we were surprised to learn that most bicyclists don’t lock up their property when they park outside. If they do, they just lock the back wheel to the frame — meaning someone could still come and pick the bike up and walk away. To that point, the lady who moved us into our apartment showed us how to work the deadbolt, but assured us that we need not worry about ever using it. “Munich has to be one of the safest cities in the world,” she said. The bike thing seems to validate that.

You know it's a trusting city when bikes are parked outside like this.

I’m sure the other areas of Munich — Lehel, Maxvorstadt, Sendling, etc. — are equally as charming and have their own unique characteristics worthy of a blog post. With that said, I’m thrilled that we ended up where we did and can’t wait to get to know the area even more as the days turn into weeks and months.

Oh, and I should point out that Schwabing also boasts a very American sports bar. We’ve already confirmed that they’ll have the Packers/Giants game on tomorrow night (10:30 PM our time) and we’ll be there with our green and gold on!

We hope this gives you a little insight into our new neighborhood. We’ll add photos of our actual apartment in a future post. For now, off to bed.

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We’re here!

I was hoping to update the blog sooner, but our first few days in Munich have more or less been “maintenance days” as we try to square away all of the details of our new home. In fact, I’m writing this from an internet cafe because we won’t have internet in our apartment until the weekend. So no pictures this time, but next post for sure – and I’ll include both photos of our apartment and the area we’re living in.

Our original apartment fell through last Thursday. That’s right. Four days before our move we learned that the place we had signed a lease for was no longer available (sounds like the Seinfeld car rental episode, I know). I won’t even go into the details. But we had to pick a new place. When we finally picked one, we were told – on Monday, the day we flew out – that the landlady didn’t want to rent to someone who worked for an unknown company (Spaulding Clinical). Sigh. So we spent Tuesday, our first day in Munich, looking at a couple other places and finally chose one in Schwabing (you can read about the area here). Then we found a place to eat dinner and crashed for the night at a hotel, exhausted from the flight, the jetlag and the extreme lack of sleep (I slept for 30 minutes on the plane, too engrossed in movies to take a nap).

On Wednesday afternoon (we slept until 11:30), while waiting for the lease to be signed and transfered from Spaulding Clinical to the agency here in Munich, we walked out of our hotel in search of a cell phone, only to have somewhat of a chicken-and-egg experience. We found a place that sold phones, but were told that first we needed to have a plan. So we found a place that sold plans, but were told that first we needed a German bank account. And for that we had been told awhile ago that we would need a residence permit. To get a permit, we need to prove that we live here (a lease). So we walked back to the hotel, sufficiently convinced that we couldn’t do anything but play Angry Birds and Stick Golf on our iPad until we had a lease. We finally moved in around 6:30, walked to a place for dinner and then had another early night.

I was up early on Thursday and, rather than wake Katie, took the opportunity to walk around our new neighborhood. I felt like I was on the set of a movie. The streets are incredibly European. There are cafes, restaurants and bars everywhere. Even with a year’s time, we won’t be able to hit every spot within a five-minute walk of our place. I found the grocery store (also a five-minute walk from our place) and managed to buy bread, fruit and water in German. I walked back to the apartment and Katie and I spent a few hours unpacking. Afterwards, we showered and changed before hitting the streets. I was sitting in our living room unpacking some of our work stuff when I heard a loud pop in the other room and Katie scream. I rushed over only to see Katie standing over her now-dead blow dryer with a left hand complete covered in ash. The room had a smell that I can only describe as burning sulfur – whatever that smells like. Half a day in our new place and we had blown a fuse. And as it turns out, despite knowing every curse word the language has to offer, Katie was unaware of the German word for “fuse.” To make matters worse, the fuses in our apartment looked like they were from 1950. Luckily, Katie knew the words for “light” and “explosion” which, coupled with some impressive hand gestures, made finding a new fuse relatively easy (of course, when we got back to the apartment later that day, the old fuse had started working again),

As for the rest of Thursday, with our lease in hand, we found a Deutsche Bank just around the corner from our place and registered for a German bank account. From there we went in search of a cell phone only to learn that you can only get two-year phone contracts in Europe. Since we’ll only be here a year, we’re still working on figuring out the best solution for us.

And as for today, we experienced our first German snow storm (it was more pretty than sloppy), went to the Marienplatz area to buy a few things and explored Schwabing a little more. Still on our to-do list is to register for our one-year residence permit (like a Visa). We’ll do that on Monday.

With that, I need to say farewell. Katie and I are going to go to the grocery store to pick up dinner (and a cheap bottle of wine — you can get Italian wine here for $3!). I promise another blog with photos by weekend’s end (knock on wood).

Mit freundlichen Grüssen (Kind regards),

Matt and Katie

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From Milwaukee to Munich

And so the adventure begins.

This evening at approximately 6 p.m., Katie and I will board a plane with much of our worldly possessions (read: clothes) in tow. Our return ticket won’t be valid until mid April (when we come back for the Concert for Life) and our new home will require special plugs to make our electronics work. We’ll have no cars, I’ll have no (real) job and Katie will have no kitchen aid mixer. Yes, it’s going to be a year of great change – and we couldn’t be more excited.

In the days, weeks and months since Katie and I announced our decision to move to Munich, Germany, for 2012, I’ve talked with countless people about the adventure that awaits us. More often than not, I heard some form of the question, “Aren’t you scared?” And while I was never shy in admitting the not-too-big-but-not-too-small part of me that was terrified for hundreds of different reasons, I was also never shy in telling everyone why I was able to make such a faith-filled leap in the first place. Her name is Katie.

For those who plan on reading this blog regularly – and I hope and pray that you’ll bookmark this page and check it out every few days, for I plan to write often – I promise that it will not become a forum for me to gush about my wife. But for this first entry, I have to give credit where credit is due. There would be no entry at all – nor a blog to house it in – were it not for Katie. Sure, we’re moving because of her job. But even with the job offer, we still had to decide to pack up and move. And while we were both admittedly hesitant to pull the trigger at first (family, friends, work, etc.), we soon realized this was something we both really wanted to try. For me, the yearning that I felt to experience a year abroad would not have existed six year ago. Prior to dating Katie, I’m not sure I could ever have spent so much time away from the comforts of “home.” But the reality is that Katie is my home now. Wherever I go, she goes. Wherever she goes, I go.

So while, yes, I may at times be nervous about the unknown of it all, a much larger part of me is beyond impatient to just be in Europe already and to start our 11-month adventure overseas. And whatever the experience, I know I’ll get to share it with Katie, which means the trip is destined to be nothing but a success. (Provided we don’t end up in some Italian or French jail.)

It’s fitting that we would fly out tonight of all nights. Six years ago today, on January 9, 2006, Katie was crazy enough to let me take her out for Thai food in Milwaukee (though she wouldn’t let me pay). It was the best first date I ever had and I knew that very night that it was the start of something special. Something tells me we’ll be toasting our anniversary as we make our way to Europe and talking about how fast time flies.

Six years ago we started our relationship with international cuisine. Six years later we’re commemorating that first date with an international journey.

We hope you’ll join us for the ride. Check back often.

Auf Wiedersehen!

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