Saturday, December 26, 2009

A blog for Aunt Eileen

Christmas has come and gone. On the 23rd I brought home a tree from near the dumpster at work, and the 24th and 25th were spent in a very relaxing manner. Our landlord gave us a bottle of wine, and our neighbors gave us a board game, so we spent Christmas eve playing a game and indulging in sekt and glühwein and lebkuchen.
The Christmas season cannot, however, overshadow that most important of holidays, Stina's birthday.
rights belong to Randall Munroe of
On Stina's birthday, we celebrated with our neighbors, couchsurfing friends, and her co-worker by seeing a movie, wandering the Weihnachtsmarkt, and going out to eat at Vina Pearl. By her account, Stina had a good birthday, getting several games, a calendar, good eats and drinks, and a guitar. In the days preceding, we also got some random drop-ins from friends.
That's maybe a different cultural thing. Maybe it's just us, but I don't think people in the States just drop in on each other as much as they do here. We get a couple random visits a week. It's fun!
Love to all. Have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ages and Real Life

Yes, sadly, it's been ages since we've updated. It's time to find out what real life is like when you're an immigrant.

Stina and I have a delightful one bedroom apartment. It has high ceilings and looks into our neighbors' home. We can't avoid watching their kittens play with the blinds.
In general I work from 11:30AM to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Once a week I work until 6pm, and less often, but still possible, I start at 6AM. My commute is about 40 minutes on either side. I work at a private grade school as an Erzieher. I guess the closest equivalent is a classroom aide, but we're much more prevalent here than aides are in the U.S. I take my class (the first graders on the English track - 1e) to lunch, occasionally sub, and teach a theater class every Wednesday. In January, I'll start directing a play as one of the kids' extracurriculars.
I enjoy my co-workers. One of them reminds me a lot of my co-worker Amanda from YTN (from her keen fashion sense right down to her occasional observation of the darker side of childcare). Another one has horses, lives in Quidlinburg (sp?), and has served as sort of my guide to figuring out this job. She's been very helpful, and I anticipate that Stina and I will visit her so we can play with her horses (and get to know her and her family better, too, of course). Yet another and I have struck up a friendship. He's vegan and punk and down-to-earth and would fit quite well with our old Seattle crowd. There's also a teacher here from Vancouver, WA. I've also made friends with a young lady on her Social Year and one of the French Erziehers, who knows someone who works at Berlitz with Stina. I haven't gotten to know everyone here very well, but I'm quite satisfied with being able to look forward to chatting with the friends I have made here.

We take time to play games together and with our neighbors and friends, watch videos from the library, and go to the Weihnachtsmarkt.
We are hoping to make monthly excursions. Our first will be in January while my kids are still on Winter Break. Ski trip or Vienna trip or someplace warm? Submit your suggestions in the comments!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Establishing a Routine

Sorry it's taken so long for us to update. I (Stina) am now two weeks into my teaching career . It is going well. It is nice to be official and teaching my own classes.

In other news, Brendan and I are working on National Novel Writing Month, where one's goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

We had a Halloween party and it was a huge success. Brendan and I both dressed up as pirates. We made a ton of food and thought we would have leftovers for days because we didn't think that many people would come. Turned out we had a total of 25 guests, everything got eaten, and the last people left at 3:42am. A bunch of Couchsurfers came that we'd never met before and that added a nice dynamic...everyone was mingling and meeting new people. It was a real party party. We are now working on organizing monthly Couchsurfing potlucks and we're having the first one at our place next week.

We are still finding lots of stuff. A couple weeks ago we went on a walk. We were searching for a street I had driven down when a co-worker gave me a ride home. All the building on it are brightly and crazily colored, and I wanted to show Brendan. We found the street, and we also saw a bunch of stuff on the curb. There was a bag filled with pans, tupperware, bowls, pots and mugs. We wanted it! So we divided the stuff into two awkward piles and proceeded towards home.

On the way, we passed another big pile of stuff on the curb and saw some really amazing things, like a bread slicer and a brand-new showerhead. We wanted it! Thankfully, there was also an old baby carriage out there, so we were able to put all the stuff we already had plus the new stuff in the carriage. As we started to head home, though, we realized the reason the baby carriage was out there was because it only steered to the right. So for the 30 minute walk home, we took turns pushing this baby carriage, starting on the far left of the sidewalk, letting it veer to the far right of the sidewalk, then resetting again to the far left of the sidewalk. It was easier that carrying everything, but still incredibly awkward.

I (Brendan) am still waiting on my Arbeitserlaubnis. I called about it last Monday and they said to call back at the end of this coming week. My boss wants me to come in to work on Wednesday, but she didn't say why...

We finally bought some ping pong gear, and had our first match at the park half a block from us. We're taking regular evening walks, and have pretty full evening schedules, with lots of friends nearby. Last night we went over to a friend's apartment and played new games and old, and today some friends are coming over to play games with us. Every Tuesday, a friend comes over on her way home from work, and we often feed her, and always play Carcassonne with her. Speaking of feeding, we've continued expanding our culinary horizons, as I make once-a-week special meals for Stina's birthday, and she feels the same urge. We haven't found a regular place for dumpster-diving yet. The one dumpster we successful dove in hasn't been out on a Saturday or Sunday night since that time. If anybody reading this is a part of the Magdeburg Dumpster-Diving scene, shoot us an email, so we can figure this city out.

We've thought about dropping everything and buying a van and hauling curbside treasures for a living. The things we find are amazing, and we're feeling sated. We almost feel a sense of guilt for not being able to give all the wonderful things a home. Luckily we go pretty regularly to Lirum Larum, and give them the excess stuff we find. I don't know how much of it they use or what their procedures are, but they certainly relieve our guilt.

All-in-all, we're settling in to a very comfortable day-to-day existence here. We find plenty to fill our days with, and there is no dearth of delightful personalities near us. Wir sind zufrieden.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Helping YOU navigate moving to Germany

Well, Stina and I have gotten this far, and I think it's useful to share our experiences. We found no good how-to guides, and really didn't know what to expect. Let me break it down for you future movers into Germany, specifically Magdeburg:

Step zero: decide what, where, and why, and move to get those things done. Americans have three months from the time you enter the Schengen Treaty zone (includes most of Europe). If you want to work here, it's pretty much the same procedure as in other parts of the world. Make contacts, send out C.V.s (definitely convert your resume to a C.V. Do it here), pound the pavement. You are looking for a job that no German can do, otherwise the officials might deny your application and send an otherwise unemployed German citizen to do your job. If nothing else, teaching your native language somewhere is a good option. It will be very important for you to have official documents stating your qualifications: college and high school diplomas are good, official transcripts seem to be working as well: get certificates for anything and everything. Decide where you want to live and make that happen. Knowing what you hope to get out of the experience of living in Germany will help you make all your other decisions.

Step one: find an address. Whether this means finding an apartment to rent or a friend willing to let you stay with them for a few months, you can't really do anything official without a physical address. See our blog here for our experience with this part of it.

Step two: register your address. Go to the official building (you'll have to ask someone which building it is for your city... I've registered at police stations, city halls, and the Bürger Büro here in Magdeburg)

Step three: get a German Bank account. Almost all transactions are made through the bank. Rent comes out of the account directly, as will fees for electricity, internet, and insurance. If you work, paycheck deposits are also directly made from your employer to your account.

Step four: get health insurance. Whether or not you get a job will define how you go about this. If you work as a freelancer or don't work, you will need private insurance. If you get a contracted salaried position, you will need government insurance (which are still handled by private companies). Stina has the former. I will have the latter. Stina pays 51€ per month. According to reliable sources, I will pay 20% of my gross income of 2000€ per month, 7.9% for health insurance, 9.95% for what I think is the equivalent of Social Security, 1.4% for unemployment insurance and 1.1% for "nursing care insurance". Stina set hers up by calling a coworker's mother who works in the insurance industry, and I set mine up by asking my boss for help, and she took me to IKK and talked to them with me.
You should set up health insurance within the first month of your arrival in Germany. If you're reading this and it's been more than a month, I think, but am not sure, that it is acceptable to cross the border and return to reset the date of your arrival in Germany. If you don't get it within your first month in Germany, you can talk to someone who knows about the insurance industry and the laws governing it and get help from them. I'm still not clear on how it all works, but essentially we told someone in charge our dilemma, and they figured out any workarounds we might need.

Step five: assemble your various documents for the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner Authority) and make an appointment. The packet of documents should include passport photos (done biometrisch-ly; they'll tell you how), a copy of your lease, proof of health insurance (something from the insurance agency that states that your health insurance conforms to paragraph 11), proof of financial support (i.e. a contract offering gainful employment), passport, copy of your address registration paper, a pink form that they will give you to fill out, and, if you are working, a copy of your University transcript or Diploma. A strange warning: we heard someone was denied because the agency thought their apartment was too big for just one person and said she had to find a roommate. Germany does have 80 million people in a country the size of Montana, so perhaps overcrowding is an issue for them. Magdeburg has empty apartments galore, though. [edit: Stina corrects me. It was about the money. They thought she couldn't afford it. She brought more proof of more money, and they allowed it.]

Step 6: submit all materials to Ausländerbehörde and wait. We've heard tales of it's taking as few as 2 weeks. Stina's been waiting 3 weeks now. We hear they have to return it within 4 weeks. We've also been quoted up to 6 weeks. (A lady in Bonn said 6 months. I can't imagine that). I will have to pay 50€; we're not sure for which part of things the fee is. Stina's on her way out the door with 50€ just in case she has to pay it, too, though she was never told of this fee.

Good luck! If you have more questions, visit our ...And Contact Us page (

Disclaimer: this is our experience, which is incredibly specific. It is also not guaranteed to be accurate. I hope it is nonetheless helpful.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Life in Germany

I apologize on behalf of Brendan and myself. We have been so busy getting used to this new life we are making for ourselves that we haven't kept you all up to date. Here is my attempt to rectify that.

We now live in a two-room apartment in Magdeburg, Germany. In the three weeks we've been here, we have managed to furnish it nearly completely for free. People who are moving out leave what they don't want to take with on the curb, much like in Seattle but times a million. First we found a table across the street, and a full-length mirror. Then we found a few chairs. Then a loveseat. The loveseat was kind of far away, but we endeavored to carry it home. About halfway there I gave up. My arms were too tired and, most of all, my fingers hurt from gripping the edges of it. Thankfully we were very near our neighborhood grocery store and Brendan had a great idea. Why not use a shopping cart to take it the rest of the way home? Unlike some stores in the US, they don't put alarm sensors on the carts here. To ensure people return the carts to their proper resting place, one must insert some amount of money (between 20 cents and 2 euros) to release a cart. You only get the money back when you return the cart.

This worked like a charm. We got the loveseat home without further strain and returned the cart a few minutes later with no one (from the store, anyway) the wiser. A few days later we found a couple nice looking mattresses on the curb in our friends' neighborhood, even further from home than the loveseat had been. This time we took advantage of the month-long tram passes we had recently bought and hauled the mattresses onto first one tram, then another, until we were much closer to home. A short walk to the grocery store, then the cart served us once more the rest of the way. Now we have a bed and an extra mattress for couchsurfers and friends and family!

Last week a couchsurfer we had communicated with a bit via the Magdeburg couchsurfing group rang our doorbell. We thought this was a little strange as we had no plans to see him that day. We invited him up and he told us that his flatmate, who was moving out, was getting rid of a couch that would fold down into a bed. This was exactly what we were looking for (more sleeping space for couchsurfers and friends and family!), so we went with him to his place to look at it. Turns out he only lives about a 15 minute walk away. Along the way our couchsurfer friend explained that he had left a phone message that we didn't get because our phone was off, and he had sent us an email that we hadn't checked. His housemate was about to put the couch out on the curb and he wanted us to see it and lay claim before this happened. His sudden arrival to our place suddenly made so much more sense!

We really liked the couch, but it was way too heavy to carry all the way home, especially since there were no grocery stores on the way. We told him we definitely wanted it and that we would figure out some way to pick it up with a vehicle in a few days. We started walking home and were talking as we walked about how we would be able to pick up the couch. If only we knew someone with a van or a truck! we lamented. Kind of like that guy, we said, pointing to a man who had just parked his big van. What harm in asking? we asked. We approached this man and Brendan explained (in German, of course) our situation and asked if there was any chance we could borrow him and his van sometime soon to pick up the couch. He was super nice and said he was free right at that moment. Ten minutes later we had the couch in our apartment! Not only did he drive it and us over to our place, but he also helped carry it down three flights of stairs and up two.

We are also making good use of a wonderful place called Lirum Larum. It is like a thrift store, but everything there is free. We've been giving them many things that we find on the curb that are in great condition but that we don't need (toys, children's clothes, rugs, etc.) and taking things that we do need (dishes, towels, clothes, utensils). I am interested to see if we can get involved volunteering with them. Speaking of getting involved in things, I joined a choir! Marc, the delightful couchsurfer who gave us the couch, is a member of several choirs, and now I am also a member of one of them. I went to a rehearsal with Marc just to check it out and I loved it, so I joined that night. I will already participate in a concert on Friday!

We are finding it very easy to make friends in Germany. Couchsurfers, sure, but also random people we meet on the street, and neighbors. At this very moment Brendan is playing Magic with the two college students who live in the apartment just on the other side of the courtyard. This weekend we are hoping to go bowling with the middle-aged couple we met through one of our shopping cart expeditions. Manny approached us as we were loading up the mattresses and asked if he could help. We started talking and he noticed our American accents and when we told him we just moved here he said he had some stuff from when his daughters lived at home that he could sell us. We went over later that evening to see the stuff and were treated to the lovely hospitality of Manny and his wife, Ines. The stuff wasn't yet gathered together, so we made further arrangements to see it the following week. When we went back, they gifted us with a set of 6 glasses, 6 tea-cups and saucers, and six dessert plates.

We spent the weekend with our new friends Suzie and Bastian, and their adorable dog Bailey. I met Suzie at the Berlitz training in Hamburg. She and Bastian planned to go to Munich for Oktoberfest and they invited us to join them. They picked us up on Friday evening and we arrived rather late at Bastian's parents' house in a small village about 2 hours outside of Munich. We ate some pie then went to bed. The next day we drove to Regensburg and walked around for about an hour, then took the train to Munich. We knew we couldn't experience Oktoberfest the way the locals do because it would have meant getting there very early and since we didn't get to sleep until 3am, well, you get the picture.

The village where Bastian grew up

A shop in Regensburg

Hanging out in Regensburg

A cat in Regensburg

The first sight to greet us in Munich as we stepped off the train was a man in Lederhosen lying on the platform in a drunken stupor. That turned out to be par for the course for the rest of the day. We walked through Oktoberfest feeling a little like we were drunk because of all the weaving we had to do to avoid the actual drunk ones, surrounded by the fumes of beer and fair-food. Outside the beer tents the ones who did not get there early waited outside the doors, hoping for a chance to be let in if space opened up. We saw some get in and decided it was worth waiting a while to see if we could get in, too. Though we were enjoying playing 20 questions while we waited, we still gave up after an hour of the line not moving at all. It's possible we are the only people in history to visit Munich during Oktoberfest and not spend any money there.

Dirndls and Ledehosen and drunk!

The view inside the beer tent we did not get into

Carnival rides at Oktoberfest

My favorite part of visiting Munich was seeing and listening to an amazing band of buskers near the Rathaus, then seeing the beautiful Rathaus with the full moon peering over it. We took a much more full (of drunk people) train back to Regensburg, then drove back to the village. We stopped on the way at a gas station to pick up some local beer for 1 euro a bottle. Please take a moment to compare that to the cost of a glass of beer at Oktoberfest, which is 10 euros. Yikes!

The band of talented buskers

The moon and the Rathaus

No seats for Suzie and Bastian on the train

We are savoring these days of being unable to work. Hopefully in about a week and a half I will receive my residency permit and work visa and begin working that same day. Brendan will soon get a work contract and then take his paperwork into the Ausländerbehörde and soon enough he will be working as well. For now, though, we can stay up and sleep as late as we wish, join friends for weekends away and homemade dinners and hours of game-playing, and take long walks with crisp leaves underfoot. I hope we will still be able to do many of these things even after we begin working full-time, but I know it will be harder.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coming together...

things are. The only thing stopping me from proceeding with the residency permit and work visa process is lack of insurance, and papers are on the way for me to sign and return which will result in my having insurance. The Big Worry, what about Brendan?, is less worry-full. He had a job interview today at a primary school and it went very well. He will observe some classes there tomorrow and speak to someone regarding a contract next week (that person is currently out of town). We signed our lease yesterday for the place in Sudenburg that comes with a kitchen sink, registered our address, opened a bank account, and opened a utilities account. Oh yeah, and I'm also waiting on my transcripts from UW to arrive, because I need those in order to get the work visa. A copy of my diploma would have sufficed, but I wasn't about to ask my parents to dig through the dozen or so containers sitting in their shed, holding most of my earthly goods.

My head is swimming less today.

The Berlitz training in Hamburg went well. I had fun with the practice-teaching, and I think the real-live teaching will be even more fun. It's such a great feeling to see the click of understanding in someone's eyes when they learn how to use a new word or grammar concept. I will co-teach a lesson on Monday. I feel a bit nervous about this, but glad that I will be able to get some experience teaching with someone else before flying solo.

Once the paperwork is processed for both of us and we have the stamps in our passports that allow us to stay here, then I will be able to relax a little and enjoy the amazing and unexpected fact that we are living in Germany. At this point nothing feels sure enough, but that point is coming, I can tell. Maybe I'll even get a library card today.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Living in Germany requires:
Step 1: find a job
Step 2: find an apartment
Step 3: get a bank account
Step 4: get insurance
Step 5: go to ausländerbehörde

Seems simply enough, right? But there's a catch-22... you don't actually GET the job until after step 5, and you can't complete step 5 unless you can prove that you won't be a burden on the system. Step 2 also wants to see proof of income, and step 3 requires an address first. So right now we're sitting on our bums, engaged in email negotiations with the landlord of the place we hope to rent. It would all be great except he sent us the lease, and IT says 220 kalt 300 warm. That's not what we had agreed on. Sigh.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Finding an apartment in Magdeburg

We are considering 3 apartments right now, and We need your input.
Things to know: Warmmiete and kaltmiete. Warmmiete is the cost you will be paying each month to the owner. It includes water, gas, and heat. Kaltmiete is the price of the apartment without water, gas, and heat. The difference between the two is called the Nebenkosten. When one moves out, the total utilities used is calculated. If you've used less than the Utilities cost, you will receive some money back. If it's more, you will receive a bill for the missing amount. Electricity is not included in any listed rent costs (nor is internet, phone, tv or anything like that), but is generally estimated to be 20€ per average person. A Genossenschaft is, as far as we're concerned, a rental agency. When renting from them, one must pay a 1330€ deposit. One only receives this amount back after 2 years. Most apartments come without a kitchen sink, cabinets, oven, stove, fridge, or lighting fixtures. We estimate that buying those will cost about 250€. By law, renters must give 3 months notice before moving out.
The first is in Südenburg (Wolfenbuttelerstraße 31). It's 5 minutes by tram to the city center. It's in a neighborhood that is, itself, interesting. There's park just a block away that's not super big, but has things, like a place to climb on and pingpong table and benches and sand. The neighborhood has shops and cafes and restaurants. The apartment itself comes with a fridge, stove/oven, cabinets, sink, and lighting fixtures already included. It consists of a short entryway with the bathrrom just off that, then the kitchen, big enough to also be the dining room, and a bedroom. You see the problem with it... not a lot of space. It costs 300 warm, 200 kalt / month.
The second is in Leipziger Strasse (Lion-Feuchtwangerstrasse 6). It is large (living room, bathroom, kitchen, and 2 bedrooms), and has a balcony. It also has a good view of the city from the bedrooms, though kind of just an okay view from the balcony. Leipziger Strasse is about 10 minutes from the city center by tram. There is, however, nothing much in the immediately walkable area, maybe a restaurant or two. It costs 311.56€ warm and 198€ kalt / month. It is being rented out by a Genossenschaft.
The third is in Neu Olvenstedt (Hans-Gradestr. 107). It is large like the one in Leipziger Strasse, but the floors are an ugly linoleum. It has a BEAUTIFUL view from the balcony. The area has many small paths from apartment building to apartment building with statues, and small parks around each corner. It is 18 minutes from the city center by tram. it costs 184.16€ kalt, and 279.24€ warm. It is being rented out by a Genossenschaft.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ignore this unless you want to know what playing in a giant Magic tournament is like.

It´s done. I played 20 games of magic today, 19 of them sanctioned, and I won 10 and lost 10. Not good enough, but better than I feared. One guy I beat went on to qualify for day two. My overall matches were 4-5
It all started last night. I had purchased an apple, a pepper and tomato (all sleva, though) and some buns as I walked home from registering. I made myself a lunch for the next day, put my sleeves, my dice, my camera, a notebook of fun stuff from Nikki, and pens and pencils in the detachable part of my bag. Then I tried to fall asleep. I did a very poor job of that, including one dream where I was sure I was awake and it was after 9 and I was at my parents´ house. Somehow I couldn´t figure out that it was a dream, even though I knew that I wanted to be at the grand prix in Prague. I think I was frustrated at the quantum probability fields that sent me to WI. Anyways, I was so upset in the dream that I woke myself up, and then spent another hour trying to fall back asleep. It was worse than childhood Christmases.
I finally got up at 7:43 even though the alarm was set for 8. I took a shower, which I hadn´t planned to do, and put the lunch I´d made in my bag and ate jelly-syrupy delicious stuff that my host has in the fridge in a water bottle on buns with fake butter for breakfast.
I walked to the palace. This time there really was a stream of geeks headed in. Noteworthily, There were a countable number of women playing as well... the proportions were probably 60 to 1 or worse, but it was good to see more gender diversity than could be feared. I arrived 10 minutes before 9, as they had warned us to get there before nine. I then wandered around and did nothing, as they didn´t actually start anything until 10.
Everybody was assigned a seat and was given 6 boosters. These we were to record on a deck list, ... well here´s the play by play:
I received 6 boosters (and my promo Chrome Mox). They said we wouldn´t be playing with the boosters we opened. This is a mechanism to prevent cheating, of course. Then I recorded on a checklist they gave me all the m2010 cards that had come in those 6 boosters (liliana vess and
royal assassin!), and I alphabetized and colorcoded them as required.
Then We were instructed to check the list of the person sitting across from us. We did, everything was in order, and we were instructed to pass the cards and list to the person to our right :(. then again. then again. And this one we kept. I counted all the cards in each
color that I wanted to play with. Each color had 11. poop. So I played green and white with 1 foil mountain and 1 fireball.
Here, you may not care, But I´ll get my cards and tell you everything I had. First and foremost, a wolf token, which I loved, and used a lot.
In my deck:
Stampeding Rhino
Windstorm (which I never used)
8 plains
Howl of the night pack
Giant spider
griffin sentinel
blinding mage
master of the wild hunt
foil mountain
2 excommunicate
silvercoat lion
white knight
llanowar elves
entangling vines
elite vanguard
2 serra angel
elvish visionary
razorfoot griffin
mist leopard
rampant growth
8 forest
craw worm
veteran armorsmith

not in my deck:
lightning bolt
trumpet blast
lava axe
snapping drake
zephyr sprite
magma phoenix
sage owl
canyon minotaur
wind drake
jackal familiar
essence scatter
seismic strike
dragon whelp
air elemental
goblin piker
merfolk looter
raging goblin
ice cage
emerald oryx
solemn offering
2 oakenform
wurm´s tooth
2 siege mastodon
tome scour
convincing mirage
open the vaults
holy strength
2 lifelink
angel´s mercy
panic attack
sign in blood
2 drudge skeletons
vampire aristocrat
wall of bone
warpath ghoul
mind rot
howling banshee
underworld dreams
soul bleed
whispersilk cloak
gorgon flail
Demon´s horn
bountiful harvest
nature´s spiral
bramble creeper
pithing needle

Anyways... So I did what I did, and played my first match against Jan.

I beat jan (even though he went at least 6-2 later). He made some play mistakes, and I capitalized on them.
My day goes like this
loss (Lots of play mistakes by me)
loss (a few play mistakes by me)
loss (some play mistakes by me)
loss (Lots of play mistakes by me) won 1 of the games, though
casual game won - played at the special tables
loss (Lots of play mistakes by me)
I suppose I could have dropped when other people did (you couldn´t go on to day two unless you had fewer than 3 losses), but I´m in prague to play magic, dammit, and play magic I did.
At some point I decided that I really wanted to play at the special tables. I got Sony (my second
loss) to play with me at the tables where they hold the feature matches when no one else was using them. Other than that, though, it was really hard to get people to play just for fun. But I did see Raphael Levy, a pro, play in a feature match.
There were 1543 people there, the third largest grand prix ever. I came in 293rd of the people that stayed till the end of the blue portion... out of 350 people or something. not at the bottom, certainly. Yay!
what else... 3 people noticed my untap upkeep draw a card shirt, two of them judges, and the
third an opponent from Romania who took a picture of it for his friend who always mutters the names of the phases when he´s stalling (and bluffing).
Just before my last round, I couldn´t find one of my cards. I went on a wild expedition with a judge, and she replaced the missing card with a plains. No stampeding rhino for me.
I´m proudest that I never broke a rule, that I successfully bluffed in 1 extra point of damage once (attacking with my griffin sentinel into a razorfoot griffin with green mana available), and when I went out I was 5050.
Burnt soybeans taste like burnt popcorn.
That was my grand prix experience.

Friday, September 4, 2009

If you care about Magic...

I´ve done it. I registered for Grand Prix - Prague. The Palace of Industry, built at the end of the 19th century, is only a 10 minute walk from where I´m staying. I expect that tomorrow Prague´s residents will see giant spiders crawling over its towers of glass and metal and lightning bolts lancing the skies above it. It´s a majestic building, and it´s filled to the brim with Magic.
I have never participated in a professional tournament before. I´m a bit overwhelmed at this first look at what my weekend will hold. Packs of international players roamed the courtyards. A timid "money draft" was whispered by players who, I´m sure, know they´re better than most. I may or may not have seen an international group of pros speaking English in French and Japanese accents.
I´m humbled by the vastness of it all.
I´m going to play Magic in a freaking palace.


Brendan speaking here. As you may or may not know, Stina is in Hamburg for the week training for her new job with the Berlitz in Magdeburg. While I was disappointed not to be offered a position as well, I am quite pleased that it allows me the opportunity to participate in Grand Prix - Prague, a major sanctioned Magic: the Gathering tournament with a top prize of $3,500 and an invitation to Pro-Tour Austin, which has a top prize of $40,000. So wish me luck and enjoy my adventures:
I got to the hitchhiking stop that Hitchwiki suggests from Hamburg headed south, and the directions are good. Follow the road in the same direction as the bus, and after about 50 meters, you will indeed start to hear the Autobahn. The road curves to the left, but there´s a smaller paved area that´ll lead you to the gas station. First, though, note the supermarket across the road. That´s where I bought a yogurt and two bananas for my breakfast. I ate the yogurt and one banana while I walked to a place under a tree by the exit, because just as I got there, it started to rain. The tree did its job well, and I was surprised to find that I was pretty excited to be on the road again. The challenge of getting from there to here with only my wits and little else was exciting to me. I think the fact that I felt entirely well returned much of the exuberance that´s been flagging for the past several weeks. My first ride was a delightful ride from an Indian man who, like all other German speakers, was shocked that I spoke German.
Take that as a given for all my interactions, and I won´t mention it again. He gave me a ride out of the rain about 50 km down the road.
Then I got a ride from a German who wanted to practice his English. He was older, but a fit bike rider and he´d recently gone to Görlitz which he wanted me to go to as well as it´s kind of on the way to Prague. Next time, I promised him. He likes to practice languages. He worked at an American army base for many years as a dishwasher, and he learned his English there from the soldiers, by reading articles about the same topic in German and English newspapers, and by listening to the news on the American radio station from the base and the regular German news radio stations. He said his English was so bad that his English teacher wouldn´t let him talk in class. His English was excellent. Quite meticulous, even. He spoke very carefully and slowly, and asked me to do the same. When I did, his comprehension was complete, and his vocabulary was extensive. He also practices Dutch with a friend of his from the Netherlands. They´re penpals, and they pretend they are the Dutch queen´s marshall and Germany´s ambassador to the Netherlands. He said his friend just wrote to him that he has retired from his marshallry,
more´s the pity.
He was going to west of Hannover, and, as you know, the route from Hannover to Prague takes one east. We looked on the map, and saw that there was a Raststätte not too far along the western route. I knew I didn´t want to run across six lanes of 100mph traffic again, but we found an underpass leading from the westbound side to the eastbound side. I walked the wrong way for a while, and thought what a nice autumn day it was for a walk with a loved one, as I saw two people pushing two other people in wheelchairs along the sidewalk next to a very autumnal copse of trees. Then I realized my mistake, and turned to follow them.
There I waited 3 hours. I made several mistakes which probably cost me some of those hours, but even so, it seemed there were fewer people willing to pick me up than the volume of traffic should have suggested. Of course many were just going into Hannover, but there were plenty of other license plates, notably Polish, Czech, MD and Berlin. My major mistake was believing people who said that they were going to Berlin but not through Magdeburg... okay, okay, I suppose they don´t go THROUGH Magdeburg, but they come darn close to it, so I
eventually cornered a Ukrainian guy - and by cornered, I mean he stopped for me, despite initially shrugging apologetically and seeming he would continue. My gaze and fierce thumbing halted him. He was going to Berlin and dropped me at the Tankstelle I told him to.
I waited there only a few dozen minutes before a Czech guy stopped and took me all the way here. This country is gorgeous. If it weren´t for all our other plans, I would say we should buy a place in the countryside here and raise those sheep immediately. What a lovely drive. I borrowed my driver´s cell phone to let my couchsurfing host know I´d get there a day early. She said it was fine, but she was out with friends and wouldn´t be home until 1130. I said okay even though I got to her house at 8, but I went to a Chinese restaurant and got some fried rice for 59czk and a half liter beer for 30czk. In all, I had a full sit down restaurant meal for less than 4 euros ($5.70). I started writing in my journal, but then everybody left the restaurant, including my waitress. I started to think that they were closing so I finished quickly and left. When I got out, I saw that they would be open until 11 and it was only 9, so I kicked myself and went in search of an internet cafe. I didn´t find one, so I wrote while sitting in front of a very old church. By the time I looked up, it was 1030 - close enough to 1130, right? I walked up to my host´s front door and plopped down on my bag to wait. I had barely written a sentence before she showed up with a "contemplating Magic strategy?" I greeted her, and she led me to here. She has a tremendous flat, about which she keeps apologizing for the mess. The mess, however, is not particularly dirty, but rather is made up of glorious books. Some of them are in English, and this morning I claimed one and am now 128 pages in. The reason for my progress (despite all of the other opportunities Prague has to offer) is that there were 2 other Couchsurfers here as well, a very nice couple originally from Bavaria but now studying in Salzburg. They were out late at a jazz club last night, and so didn´t get up until noon. Despite my being awake, I didn´t want to go anywhere or do anything noisy and didn´t have the key, so I searched amongst the books and read. Tonight: Registration. Tomorrow: DAY ONE!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A whole new world

My goodness, here we are indeed. We've had a whirlwind of a time this past almost a year, and It's not quite settled down yet, but the net stage of our trip is in sight.
Stina and I will begin living in Magdeburg, Deutschland within the next two weeks, and we intend to stay there for a good long while.
What's that you say? I need to catch you up? You have no idea what I'm talking about, or if you do, you don't know how we got from there to here 'cause we haven't blogged in a while? Well, here goes then:
Before we left Saarbrücken, We checked our emails once again. Lo and behold, Stina's email had in it a job offer from the Magdeburg Berlitz! We redid the budgets, figured out we could just squeak by if only Stina is employed and she gets enough hours, and accepted the position on the spot! After evaluating our many travel options, we decided to head to the places we had the greatest concentration friends (northwestern Germany) so I could bask in their warm glow on my birthday.
We tried to leave Saarbrücken by tramping (hitchhiking). It was a hot day, and we trudged about 2 miles from the Studentenwohnheim where we were staying with our couchsurfing host. (and where I discovered that Bulgarians play a much funner card game of BS than the American version and that Stephen King really is a good writer - Lisey's Story grabbed me. I'm on page 375. I had to leave the book with our host.) After that 2 mile trudge, we saw that our spot looked kind of dead, but we waited faithfully anyways until a lady from across the street hollered at us that no one was going anywhere from where we were standing. She invited us to her shady backyard and gave us sparkling water and then drove us to a bus stop near the freeway entrance. We waited for about an hour and a half, then gave up, took the tram back to the Hauptbahnhof, and got our quer durchs ticket. We rode the train to Bonn where we got to relax again with the most pleasant of people. We headed the next morning by train (can you tell we're tired?) to Düsseldorf and to our Magic friend's door. We couch hopped for the week in Düsseldorf, staying a few nights with each of several friends we had made before, making new friends, and indulging our passion for relaxion. My birthday was particularly relaxing, as we spent most of it lounging around a park and eating the pasta salad I had made that morning.
We hitched pretty easily from Düsseldorf to Hannover, now fully refreshed from our long stay in Düsseldorf. Our final Düsseldorf couchsurfing hosts accompanied us to the gas station in Oberhausen, 'cause they were on their way to do some geocaching out there, too. It took us 2 rides, and our last ride, a buddhist priest who wrote a book on relationships and generosity with his girlfriend, dropped us right in front of our hosts' door. In Hannover we stayed with friends of Stina's from her bible school days. They, too were game enthusiasts (like attracts like), and we spent a rollicking 2 days with them. We ate plenty of good vegetarian food, and discovered trampolines and centrifugal force and mini golf in various parks. After our stay, we hitched the most efficient hitch ever - I stuck out my thumb for the first car, he pulled over like magic and took us all the way to the central station in Hamburg. We took the Sbahn to Veddel, walked 5 minutes and arrived at our current couchsurfer's home. Now Stina's spending her days in unpaid training for Berlitz, and I'm trying to figure out what happens next. I'm researching for this weekend's Magic Grand Prix in Prague, and will be hitchhing there on Thursday. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How we got from there to here, part 2--leaving Oslo

After arriving at Mia-Simone's in Oslo and getting a good night's sleep, the next day we simply rested. We lounged in bed, read books, and were bums. It felt delightful. Later in the afternoon we went downstairs and hung out with Mia-Simone, and Brendan made dinner that night for the three of us and Mia-Simone's flatmate, Lauren. We played some Yatzy (not quite the same rules as Yahtzee, but very similar) and enjoyed laughing together. We felt very comfortable staying with Mia-Simone and Lauren and were a little reluctant to get back on the road. We ate a late breakfast together the next day and took a leisurely time getting ready, and then checked our email. We had invitations to come and interview at a couple of Berlitz locations! This got us motivated to continue on to Germany. We responded to the emails to try and set up some possible interview dates, and then set out on the road once more.

We walked from their place to an E-6 south entrance. It wasn't a busy entrance, but it was in a beautiful spot surrounded by high hills and trees, and the weather was finally not rainy but rather beautiful. Sometimes slower spots almost seem like better spots. It's as if the people passing us realize that we will have a hard time getting a ride, so they feel more responsible for helping us get to a different spot. I sometimes think that people who pass us at very busy spots are just thinking "Ah, I'm sure someone else will stop for them." So just 11 minutes of waiting and we had a ride. This was at 2:46pm.

Our ride was from Nels, a football (soccer)-coach dad. His team had recently played in the Norway Cup, the largest youth football tournament in the world. They had been eliminated after a couple of days and even though they had planned to stay and watch the rest of the tournament, the coaches were so disappointed that they left. They made it up to their team by taking them out for pizza later. One of my Norwegian cousins was also participating in this tournament with his team from Haugesund, but I'm not sure how they did in the end. If any Norwegian relatives are reading this, could you post a comment with the results?

Nels wasn't going far but said he could drop us off at a better spot outside the city. It was indeed outside the city, but not the greatest spot. It was another plain entrance rather than an entrance by a gas station, which is usually better for us. Even so, we got a great ride within half an hour from a man named Frederick who was going quite close to Gothenburg, which was where we were trying to get. Frederick is from Sweden but had been in Norway for the weekend for a jazz festival. He is our age or a little younger, but has a house and I think he said he has a kid. He has been working since he was 17 years old and now has his own company. He sounded a little jealous of our travels because he feels he is too tied down to do much traveling.

Frederick dropped us off at a gas station. We used the restrooms and by this point Brendan wasn't feeling very well. He wasn't sure if it was his appendix, but the pain was feeling similar to what he has experienced in the past, so we started talking about the possibility of going to a hospital. He wasn't feeling so bad, though, so we kept on hitching. We walked out to the freeway entrance and soon had a ride with Leo, a man we'd had a ride with on our way north to Norway. As Brendan described in a previous blog, he felt more comfortable with Leo because we had already met him, and Leo showed us the way to the hospital in Gothenburg.

The rest of the story you have probably already read, so I will end part 2 here. We are in Saarbrücken now and had interviews at the Berlitz here yesterday. They were the last of our scheduled interviews, so now we are going to return to visit friends in Bonn and Düsseldorf as we wait to hear back from the Berlitz locations where we already interviewed--Magdeburg and Hamburg. Next post I will try to bring everything back to the present moment, but for now we must begin another hitchhiking day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How we got from there to here, part 1

It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts, a post that recounts the journey. In the past two weeks we have traveled approximately 2,261 kilometers, or 1,405 miles. This leg of our hitchhiking journey began in Christiansand, Norway on Thursday, July 30. From Karmoy Island we had traveled with my cousin Unni and her husband Sven Erik to Sven Erik's family's cabin about an hour or so away from Christiansand. We spent one night there and the next day Unni and Sven Erik kindly drove us into Christiansand. At this point we had decided to try and get to Germany as quickly as possible because of our new life plan, so we planned to take the ferry from Christiansand to Denmark.

New life plan? What's this we talk about? Since arriving in Germany, and really, quite a while before then, we've realized how much we want to settle down again for awhile and have a home of our own. When we were in Seattle we applied for jobs and seriously planned to shorten our trip and move back if we got a good offer. We didn't. In Germany we learned about the possibility to become English teachers with a company called Berlitz and started forming all sorts of new dreams.

While in Norway we converted our resumes to the Curriculam Vitae (CV) format and sent them to every single Berlitz location in Germany. We got a lot of "Thank you for submitting your CV, but we are not currently hiring..." and, thankfully, a few offers to come and interview. We scheduled interviews as soon as possible because we want to settle down as soon as possible, so off we headed to the ferry terminal.

We found out that tickets would cost $75 per person. We had heard from Sven Erik's family that there are two ferries going to Denmark from Christiansand, a fast one and a slow one. We wanted to take the slow (read: cheaper) ferry, but it turns out they canceled it some years ago and the only option was the fast one. Tickets were that expensive because we did not book in advance and those were the only seats left. Since you recently read about our budget, you know $75 per person for a ferry ride is way outside it. Plus, the next available ferry was the next morning. So we set out to hitchhike.

Feeling a little forlorn, we went the grocery store first and bought some comfort food (this is where that cheap chicken was bought, and chocolate for me), ate some of it, then walked to an entrance to E-18 to head to Oslo. We had sent a few couchsurfing requests to Oslo before making the plans to take the ferry so we just hoped that we could find internet when we arrived in Oslo and that someone would be able to host us.

After about 45 minutes of holding out our thumbs, and just as we started talking about how maybe we should bite the bullet and just take the ferry to Denmark, we got a ride at 2:53pm. Stefan was not going far, but he said he could put us at a better hitchhiking spot. He had hitchhiked a lot in the past, so he picks up hitchhikers now. He dropped us off at a bus stop just off of the E-18 where we could thumb and be visible to all traffic along the E-18.

It was indeed a good spot. Five minutes later we had a ride with Helge, who shared cold cokes with us. He was on his way to Lillesand to pick up his son for the weekend. He had a funny conversation with his Polish friend while we were in the car with him. From our end we heard "I cannot understand you. Are you drunk?" He dropped us off at about 3:30pm.

It started raining. It rained, I think, every single day that we were in Norway, so this was no surprise, but unpleasant all the same. Just after getting thoroughly wet, we got got a ride with Johnny. He also wasn't going far, but he said he could take us to a gas station where at least we would have some cover. We took a bathroom break, then walked out to the road where, thankfully, there was another bus stop with a shelter. I sat under the shelter while Brendan thumbed, protected as you can see.

At 4:30pm we had a ride with Tor Magne, another man on his way to pick up his son for the weekend. He was going quite far along our way so we had plenty of time to dry off and sit back and relax. Tor Magne is a plumber who is hoping to get a job at a college because the pay is good and he would get all the right time off for holidays. His son lives in Tonsburg and he used to also and would like to move back there. He grew up in Christiansand and his parents live there still, but his extended family and all his friends are in Tonsburg.

He dropped us off at 7:30pm at a gas station just off the E-18. He drove at least another 20 minutes out of his way just to put us at a good spot. The weather that day hated us. It started raining again just after he dropped us off (by the way, Tor Magne told me that Norway has had its rainiest summer in over 100 years), rained just long enough to drench us, then stopped raining.

At 8:05pm we got a ride with a man who is living in Norway but is from Poland. His holidays had just started and he was on his way to Oslo with his son and the next day would fly to Krakow to visit. (Brendan thinks the son had been visiting his dad in Norway and was now headed back home on a plan... slightly different understandings of speakers of English as a second language are not uncommon to us. Two days ago Jan (of Elke and Jan, you'll learn about them soon) said that he just couldn't sleep if one of his friends was snorkeling in the room.) We were with him not quite long enough to dry out all the way, but at least it was warm and comfortable in his car, and he was listening to some fun music (take my breath away, bum bum, bum bum, bum bum). He dropped us off at a metro stop and told us we could take the metro into the city center.

We got on the metro and got some further instructions from the driver about where to get off and where to find an internet cafe. I was feeling pretty miserable by this point. Wet and cold and hungry and I could only really solve one of those problems. So when we got to the central station, after finding that toilet in the pizza place, I sat down to eat some beans while Brendan got started checking our couchsurfing messages. I felt a lot better after that, and Brendan had some good news.

One couchsurfer had responded with a yes, so we called her and explained that we were at the central station and could we please come to her place right now? She said of course, and we happily made our way there on the metro. By this time it was dark outside and around 10pm or so. When we got off at her stop, we walked in what we thought was the right direction and just before we had the chance to get really lost, a car pulled up by us. A woman poked her head out the window and said, are you Stina and Brendan the couchsurfers? Yes, we are! It was Mia-Simone, our hitchhiking-couchsurfer-host, whom you know from the interview-video. There wasn't room in the car for us, but we could follow it right to her doorstep.

Mia-Simone showed us where we would sleep, we changed out of our disgusting wet clothes, then joined her for hot tea. It is the greatest relief in the world to be relieved of physical discomfort and know that you will sleep in a warm bed. This post will have to be continued because we must do a little shopping so we can look nice for our interviews tomorrow at the Berlitz in Magdeburg, Germany. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Greetz from Oslo!

One of those promised posts - finances

How in the world can we afford to do what we're doing?

In all, we've spent about $5000 in the past 10 months, including student loan payments, airplane and bus tickets, 4 months of rent, and emergency medical care. Excluding those, we've spent about $200 per month or $3 per person per day. And we're having fun, that's important, too, isn't it? We have since increased our daily budget to $15/person because we saved so much in the earlier part of our trip and anticipate either having jobs in Germany or moving to Los Angeles in 3 months. Please note that the "Europe on a Shoestring" and other budget travel books suggest a daily budget of anywhere from 40-70€ per day (That's, like, 4 times our budget. Plus, they make sweeping generalizations about nationalities, and that just smacks a bit of racism/nationalism, especially when the generalities are on the order of "Austrians are grouchy and right-wing". NOT a view we espouse.)

Here's what you should do to live a typical week of our lives (spliced together to accomodate a wide variety of money-saving tactics, but all borrowed from real experience):
Wake up in Lingdal with some cousins. Eat a full breakfast, compliments of the family. Get a cozy, comfy ride to Kristianstad and bid adieu to the relatives.
Go into the Ferry terminal. Learn that the cheap tickets to Denmark sold out, and we can either pay the equivalent of $75 or wait a week. Leave ferry terminal to consider options. Go into grocery store. Brendan is pleased as punch to find a whole grilled chicken for 29,90 kr ($5). Stina gets chocolate and beans (pork and beans style, but without the pork) for about the same total. Eat on the curb while watching the Norwegian world go by.
Upon having full stomachs, come to realize that hitchhiking is the best thing in the world.
Catch some rides into Oslo (Thank you, rides!). Ride the train ($6 each) to the center of town, getting directions from the train driver while aboard. Hurry into the central station (it's dark now) to find bathrooms. Discover these cost money, so go to Peppe's Pizza across the street and ask the bartender if we can use their bathroom. Get the kind man's permission. Use the toilets. Eat bread and cheese or chicken.
Haven't confirmed a place to sleep tonight, so find the Sidewalk Express internet terminal (1 hr - 2€ - $2.80). Log in to Find kind like-minded host has responded to request (have sent about 9 to potential hosts). Copy down the directions left in the message and a phone number. Log off after 12 minutes, save sidewalk express username and password in wallet. Find whole cigarette laying on ground. Pick up, examine, determine cleanliness and perfection, hide in brim of hat for use later as bargaining chip when thrown in the slammer.
Ask the lady at the newspaper kiosk which numbers to dial into the pay phone. Put lots of small change and one large piece of change into the phone. Dial the correct numbers. Confirm that you can stay with her, get some specifics about getting off the train, down the hill and to her home. Hang up and collect all the pieces of small change, losing only the 20 kr piece ($3.33). Get on subway, noting that bus ticket from earlier will suffice for this ride. Ride tram to appropriate stop, enjoy sensation of rain in anticipation of dry abode. By happenstance, meet host as she drives past. Follow car to home. Go to room. Spread out wet gear to dry. Go downstairs for a cup of tea and to get to know host. Sigh with contentment.
Awesome day! Total cost: $14.07 per person
Awake next morning around 10:30AM. Shower. Plan to go into Oslo to see the sculpture park and all the awesome things there are to do for free in Oslo. Opt to read and nap instead. Around 3PM journey downstairs to visit with hitchhiking-enthusiastic host. She's making jam. Go outside and pick plums and cherries from her trees. Interview host about her hitchhiking. Learn of her housemate's impending birthday. Choose to make a special meal for the evening. Go to store and discover that they don't carry tomato paste or lentils. Buy fixins for spaghetti and sauce: Pasta ($2), tomatoes ($2), canned tomatoes ($1), red peppers ($2.50), Hvitlok (garlic, $2). Already have onions. Buy ice cream ($4). Buy yogurt ($2). Go home and make dinner while everybody chats in the kitchen. Be the opener of a fine Riesling contributed by the birthday girl. Eat way more than necessary. Play Yatzy (the Scandinavian version!). Giggle until breathless. Sigh with satisfaction.
Awesomer day! Total cost: $7.75 per person
Awake next morning around 10AM. Wish the birthday host her happy birthday. Eat jam and bread and leftover pasta. Use internets to discover possible jobs in Magdeburg and Saarbrücken. Relax in the sun with Euro Shopper brand müsli and yogurt. Bid adieu to hosts. Tramp, upon consultation of map and knowledge of hitchhiking-savvy host, to nearby freeway entrance. Catch some rides (thank you, rides!). With last ride of the day, learn of a medieval festival in a castle taking place in Kungälv. Ride is working at festival, and can sneak you in for free. Accept invitation to stay the night in host's tent on the castle grounds. Borrow clothes from host. Meet host's friends, all fellow LARPers. Notice that they all call one of their number "Dansk". Also call him "The Dane". Imagine he's decended from the same line as Hamlet. Learn to say "Kann jorg yelpe de?", "Jorg elske de.", "Wat hette du?", and "Hor mor du?". Become "The American". Find a discarded plate of medieval stew. Follow the partying medievally-garbed men and women around the castle. Sigh with excitement.
Unexpected day! Total cost: $0 per person
Awake around 9AM. Use toilets. Help set up a beam for an activity for the public to enjoy. Anticipate swinging a straw pillow at an opponent and falling off. Gather straw and spread on mat under beam so that falling off won't hurt. Follow someone important-looking to their car and ride with them to the store. Buy tomatoes ($2) and cheese ($8). Return to castle by secret entrance. Note that porta-potties have become pay-porta-potties. Thank lucky stars you already went. Wander around festival now in progress. Watch the slave auction. Try to participate, but fail. Covet others' candy apples. Find candy apple dropped in dirt and abandoned. Take to hose. Wash thoroughly. Enjoy thoroughly. Listen to rocking German bagpipe group that everybody's been talking about, Schelmisch (trans.: Rogueish). Scavenge two more candied apples and some bread from trash cans. Everything free tastes better. Leave festival, using workers' toilet on the way out. Tramp about 1k to nearest freeway entrance. Catch some rides (thanks, rides!). End up at deserted entrance. Watch gorgeous sunset as you try to catch another ride. Wander into woods and make good use of alt mann's rette (trans.: every man's right). Sleep with the gurgle of a stream to lull you. Sigh with appreciation.
Delicious day! total cost: $5 per person
Awake to rain pattering the tarp on the tent at 7AM. Hurry up and pack away everything. Thank goodness for tarps. Hitch towards Copenhagen (thank you, rides!). Have a slow day. STop at a gas station with a Burger King. Bus other people's abandoned food. Scavenge 1 large fry's worth of fries. Get ride to Malmö. See the Turning Tower and the bridge to Denmark at night. Ride asks his building's "fake cop" (his words. Americans might say "rent-a-cop"... but properly and in order to not be derogatory, you think "security guard") if you can sleep in the apartment building's side yard. The guard says that he won't disturb you unless someone complains. You decide that's too much of a risk, and your kind and patient ride leads you 200 meters to a park. Find an out of the way corner and pitch your tent. Awake to rain pattering at 2AM and cover the tent with a tarp. Toss and turn restlessly. Sleep fitfully. Sigh with exasperation.
Rough day! total cost: $0 per person
Get up at noon. Trudge to hitchhiking spot as advised by hitchhiking-unsavvy ride the night before. Stop to use the restrooms in a mall along the way. Complete trudge to spot. Turn down 3 rides (thank you, almost rides!) going the wrong way. Make a sign. Wait at fruitless spot through heavy rains. Get cold, wet, and frustrated. Practice singing. Give up. Trudge back to mall. Go to grocery store. Find too-high prices and a confusing array of goods. Buy chocolate (16,50 kr - $2.35). Sit despondently. Get fed up with bread and cheese. Go back into grocery store. Buy lettuce ($3), tomato ($3), mango (7,90 kr $1) and feta cheese (13,90 kr - $2). Eat salad in a plastic bag. It's a delicious change of pace. Decide to go to train station to see your non-hitchhiking options. Have no Swedish cash for tram. Try to buy crackers and get cash back at store. Get told "not with that card". Buy crackers anyway in embarrassment (9,90 kr - $1.40). Just start walking towards the center of town. Get confused about which way to go. Ask a lady who speaks no English. Watch her disbelief as you try to explain you are WALKING into the center because you don't have 18 measly kröner to take the bus. Accept with grace that she has pointed in two directions 90 degrees apart and indicated that they are the centrum. Note that the signs also point in two directions, and suspect that one is for cars and one is for bikes. Then accept that that still doesn't make sense, but walk in the direction that seems for bikes. Spy a streetcar after trudging a couple km. Discover hurrah! that you can buy tram tickets with a Visa. Get flustered when presented with options for Copenhagen and Malmö centrum. Choose the cheaper of 2 options (18 kr - $2.65 per person). Feel poor. Eat some chocolate. Find Malmö centrum to be bustling but closed. Note the very sad woman on the floor and the man protesting to a transit employee that they don't have any money. See Sidewalk Express. Use a few more of the minutes you already have from your card in Oslo to check some internet. Consider the lateness of the day and the possibilities available to you. Get frustrated and flustered when you realize you poured $5 down the drain. Get over it. Bite the bullet and buy tickets to Copenhagen ($14 per person). Discover that nothing seems cheap or easy. Then discover that Sidewalk Express provides free access to Gmail and Blogger. Send emergency couchsurfing requests for Copenhagen and to a friend in Copenhagen. Call friend in Copenhagen (5,20 kr - $1.40). Get email from friend. Go to her home. Sleep soundly. Sigh with relief.
Long day! total cost: $16.75 per person
Wake up at 9AM. Enjoy the company and generosity of friend and her roommate, who both insist on paying for everything. See the amazing city of Copenhagen. Sleep.
Rejuvenating Day! total cost: $0 per person
Cost for the week: $87.14 for two people or $6 and some change per person per day.

Most mornings when we wake up in someone's home we have a full and leisurely breakfast during which we share our jam, cheese and chocolate, and they offer us some veggies, bread and spreadables.

Now play mad lib with the details for a choose your own adventure and send it to us. You can do this. If you don't, we'll try to live it out vicariously for you!


Wow, past couple of days

Hello everybody.

We are still alive.

At some point really soon, we will write a blog about how we afford it, since that's the absolutely most common question we get. We'll also update everybody on the past several days of hitchhiking.

But first things first.

We're alive.

I had a brief bout with appendicitis a few days ago. My stomach started to hurt as it has in the past, and on our way to Gothenburg, I told Stina that I had to see a doctor. We had just gotten a ride with Leo... a man who picked us up near where he had dropped us off about 10 days earlier (that's right, two rides with the same guy!). I think because he had given us a ride before, I felt more comfortable talking with him openly about what I needed... I.E. a hospital. He took us to the public transit (a ferry to the center of town) and showed us which tram to get on and which stop to get off at for the hospital. We did as we were told. I tried not to groan with pain, but when we got off the tram, I walked about 100 meters and then lay down on the ground. Stina went to find the entrance to the emergency room. It was only 30 meters away. I got up and walked in. Stina had gotten a number. It was 6:45pm. We waited an hour or two. A nurse called my number. He was very kind and very clear. First, once we were away from Stina, he asked if there was anything secret I was here for, then he did the things nurses do when they're checking you out like blood pressure and temperature (in the ear!). Then he took my passport and my Visa. I paid 2898 (398 dollars) kröner, which is what Americans must pay. He told me this would cover the emergency room visit, but anything else would be extra. Then he sent me back out to the waiting room with a spiffy new bracelet that said my name and had a bar code on it. A kind fellow waiting room patient offered us any help she could provide. Stina borrowed her cell phone and called the couchsurfer we had lined up for the night to explain that we wouldn't make it, 'cause we were in the hospital. We watched very quiet Family Guy, Simpsons, some Stevel Segal and Keenan Ivory Wayans movie, and had just gotten to a Jackie Chan film called The Accidental Spy when an orderly led me to a room just outside of the waiting room where I could lie down on a gurney. They watch TV very quietly since it's all in English and they read the subtitles, I guess. Stina got to dozing on my shoulder after I made her tell me a story promising that all would be well. She reassured me with a story about how my appendicitis was actually a bizarre pregnancy that would have to be resolved after 9 months of pain and a c-section. She could have been more reassuring. I rubbed my belly and jiggled it, and this seemed to ease the pain. I've noticed in past circumstances that showers tend to ease the pain as well. I hypothesize that the nerve endings start to pay attention to the surface sensations and distract my brain from the pain a little bit. The doctor arrived at I don't know what time. As soon as he entered the room, my pain eased a little more. There was something very healing about this humorful Swedish doctor. He felt my belly, listened to my description of the pain and my medical history, and joked about the U2 concert. He told me that the symptoms all added up to a minor flare-up. He said they used to take out all appendices, and he could do it "snip, snip in 10 minutes" but then I might have bowel problems tomorrow or in 20 years. So he came up with two recommendations: 1. He could keep me overnight for observation or 2. He could send me on my way. I said our travel was flexible, and so a day or two, if he recommended it, would be fine... would it cost much? His response... he didn't know. From this point on, I felt very much like I was in an American hospital. Nobody had any inkling how much anything cost. He said he would ask the secretary, but he couldn't imagine it was more than a couple hundred kröner. He left and came back... she didn't know either... she'd tried to find the answer on the internet, too, but couldn't. He said, though, that he would make sure I was sent away with some antibiotics and painkillers as a gift from Gothenburg. That was a funny phrase to me that he mentioned several times. He said "I can't stand here and say Sweden is perfect, it won't cost you anything, but I think so." Then he sat in a chair and chatted with us for a bit, which was really nice to see. Hospitals often make me feel harried and hurried, but I felt like if something was wrong, I would have an opportunity to tell him. I think that's a rare gift that some doctors possess. I've seen it before, and it's one of the best feelings I can get from a doctor. We told him about hitchhiking and I mentioned that if he said we should not do it, we wouldn't. He didn't say that. He poked me once to prove a point... as if to say, "I know this hurts, but it doesn't hurt SOOOO much". He was right, of course.
My mother keeps saying I have a high tolerance for pain... but I wonder if maybe I have a low tolerance. We keep hearing stories now about people having their appendices taken out, but doctors don't want to take mine out.
Later a nurse came in and gave me morphine. I felt mostly better already, but wasn't awake enough to protest.
To conclude, I spent the night in the ward. Stina also got a bed to sleep on. The nurses were very nice, one of them even promised to find out how much a night in the hospital would cost. She never did. I felt much better in the morning, ate breakfast, saw the doctor one more time, took a shower, got antibiotics ("a present from the hospital"), and checked out with the nurse. I have no idea if they're just going to charge my Visa card for the further expenses or if everything was covered in that initial 2898 kröner.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe - Somewhat hard to hear

Quickest blog post in the west

Brendan at the campsite in Kinsarvik

Waiting for three hours makes us desperate!

Where we slept in Kinsarvik

The tent we slept in at the medieval festival

Brendan in medieval garb

Me in medieval garb

Some belly dancers at the medieval festival

Or at least it will try to be. I've been meaning every day to write this blog post, but every day seems to get filled up so fast that there has been no time. Blogging requires one to be a little bit anti-social, and that is difficult when surrounded by so many family members. Therefore, I will try to write a long blog very quickly.
We left Copenhagen on the 15th of July. We took the Metro to what was supposed to be outside the city but before the airport, but turned out to be the airport. I wasn't happy about this because it is often difficult to navigate away from an airport via hitchhiking, but thankfully that wasn't the case at Copenhagen Airport. We were able to follow signs leading to a highway entrance and stand by a bus stop to hitchhike. Just using our thumbs, within 15 minutes we had a ride to Sweden. We'd gotten a late start, so it was already 6pm.
Mats, an avid hang-glider, drove us across the bride into Sweden. He lives in Sweden and works in Copenhagen. It is cheaper to live in Sweden and he makes more money in Denmark, so it is a good deal for him. Mats dropped us off at 6:30pm.
Almost instantly we had another ride, this time from two Danish women heading to the summer home of one of them to do some home improvements. They needed to stop at a home improvement store to pick up some materials, and then could take us a fair distance.
At 7:35pm they dropped us off and we got a ride right away from a man named Christian, who was just going a short ways down the road. I think by now we were around Halmstad, Sweden, but honestly I wasn't keeping very good track of where we were exactly so long as we were still on the correct highway (the E-6/E-20).
(From Brendan: at some point in our travels through Sweden, a ride pulled up as we were still getting our gear out of our last ride. I don't have the notebook in front of me, so I'm not sure which ride this was, but that was very thrilling to us.)
Christian was a man with young daughters who seemed convinced the world is becoming a much worse place that will not be as safe for his daughters as it was for him growing up. Christian dropped us off at a truck stop that he said was not a very busy spot, but where we could probably get a nice long ride. It was around 8pm when he dropped us off, and we were not able to get another ride that night. We did, however, have some wonderful wild raspberries and a fun camping night.
The next day, July 16th, we got a ride at 1:10pm with Jasper down the road a little ways. Even thought it was a short ride, it was enough to get us out of a tough hitchhiking spot. Our next ride was with Jerker, pronounced with a soft J sound and much nicer sounding than it looks. He took us another 30 minutes down the road to a gas station.
After a food break, we were hitching again by 3:15pm. An hour and half later, we had a ride with Johann. He dropped us off at 4:40pm at a gas station. Now we were nearly to Göteborg. Our next ride came at 5:45pm from a man named Johan and it turned out to be our last ride of the day, because he took us to the medieval festival in Kungälv, north of Göteborg. He even let us borrow some medieval-looking clothing so we wouldn't feel out of place.
We had a great time at the festival, and I think I'll save the details for another post. The next day, Friday the 17th, we left the festival in the evening to see if we could make it a little ways further while it was still light out. We got a ride at 7:10pm with a lovely family literally just going to the next exit. There we saw another hitchhiker and spoke to him to make sure we weren't invading his space. Turned out he was coming from Oslo and making his way back to Italy, where he was from. He said he'd been having good luck hitchhiking.
Our luck was a little better than his that evening, at least, because we got a ride first. It was another short ride, but our next one was a little longer. We camped near a gas station and woke up the next morning when it started to rain.
By 9:30am the next morning (Saturday the 18th) we were back out there with our thumbs well-rested. We got a ride an hour later with Benny, who didn't speak as much English as many of the younger people we'd been getting rides with, but who was a really nice guy on his way to work. He dropped us off at a fairly dead spot, so we were worried we would have a hard time getting a ride. We needn't have! We had a ride five minutes later with Jobst.
Jobst was on his way to pick up his son, who'd been on a sailing trip. He was kind and offered to share his breakfast with us, but we weren't hungry again yet. He picked us up at 10:40am and dropped us off at 11:10am. Where he dropped us, the E-6 had changed from a 4-lane to a 2-lane highway with a lower speed limit, so we felt safe standing just on the shoulder of the road near a truck pull-out. We stuck out our thumbs there in the pouring rain.
At 11:45 we got a ride with Katarina, who was going to Oslo! We decided to go all the way into the city center with her rather than try to take another tunnel-highway that also headed the direction we wanted to go, in the hopes that there would be more people leaving the city. Katarina was really nice and took us on a 15 minutes tour around Oslo before dropping us off at a gas station on the edge of the city. The gas station was ideally located by a grocery store, so we were able to stock up on some bread and fruit.

We then had a ride with Bernt, a kind older man who told us how people in Norway are wary of picking up hitchhikers because of some recent news stories where people posing as stranded motorists had in fact been thieves preying on the kindness of strangers. He gave us the contact info for one of his sons who lives in Germany when he heard we would be returning there. He also gave us his contact info in case we ran into any trouble and needed to contact him for help. He dropped us off by an entrance for the E-134, which crosses the mountains and ends in Haugesund, near where my relatives live.
Our next ride, though, came from a man who was going quite far, but not on the E-134. His name is Botolv, and he would be taking a highway that also runs west, but north of the E-134. He was going very far, though, so we decided to go all the way with him even though it meant taking a different route. He was a very interesting man to talk to. He is a linguist who works in Oslo at the university. He specializes in place names and is a part of a committee of experts on geographical names for the United Nations. He's moderately famous in that of the one couple we told about him one of them had seen him on TV. We also got to listen to a little bit of The Hobbit on CD in German.
We camped that night in the most beautiful spot. It was near Kinsarvik by a fjord and it was so incredibly lovely. It was raining all night, but we stayed mostly dry in our tent with a tarp on top and another beneath us. The next day, though, even though the spot was so nice to stand at, we were frustrated that it took us three hours to get a ride. Our ride came, finally, from some German tourists who'd been stopped nearby fishing and took pity on us, I think, because they had seen us trying to get a ride the whole hour or so they were parked there.
They dropped us off back on the E-134 and we got a ride within 10 minutes from Ole, a sheep farmer. He drove us into Haugesund even though he wasn't planning to go that far, and let us use his cell phone to reach Heidi and Dag Terje. We couldn't through on their cell phone, so he did some sort of text message search for their home number and we got through. He dropped us off at the bus station there, and Heidi and Dag Terje picked us up and took us to Karmøy Island! Phew.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cousins, rain, and hiking

Preikestolen (or Pulpit Rock) is 604 meters above the fjord. The hiking trails are maintained by the Tourism Bureau of Norway (or something like that):

"Why," you may ask, "do we care at all about the Norwegian Tourist Forening?" Because several Norwegians have told us about them very proudly and with good reason: They maintain hundreds of huts around the country that anybody can go and sleep in and that are sometimes stocked with food. The fee is on the honor system, and you leave it in an envelope after your stay.

And to leave you with just a slice of what can happen when you keep contact with the family left in the homeland: Stina was in a room with 1st cousins twice removed, 2nd cousins once removed, 3rd cousins, and 3rd cousins once removed (everybody's eyes are on Ingeborg, Linda-in-the-foreground's one-year-old, eating and making a mess).