Saturday, June 14, 2008

My one week anniversary

Well, it’s official. I’ve been in Germany for one full week! Time flies…except when it comes to sleeping.

I’m still recovering from jetlag. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch relatively early (probably around 11), but I woke up at least a dozen times during the night. I finally got up close to 6 and moved to the bed. However, the comfort level wasn’t much better.

I don’t know if I’ve explained German beds before, but I’ll risk repeating myself. Let me just say that German beds are HARD. They have thin mattresses and they’re about as comfortable as a slab of concrete. Also, the linens they use are different.

They by-pass sheets altogether and use down comforters instead. Each side of the bed gets their own comforter, which you sleep on top of, and a pillow. Then there is one blanket that goes across the entire bed. At the moment, I’m sleeping on top of both comforters and using both pillows, but I still can’t get comfortable.

They should definitely invest in egg crates and sleep number mattresses.

Anyway, today I spent the afternoon with Dan and Kelli and their favorite couple, Sonja and Bryce. The best way to describe the four of them together is kind of how we act when we have mini-sorority reunions (i.e. when someone gets married or comes in to visit) or our intern rotation group.

They’re comfortable with each other, they’re loud and they use goofy voices.

Much to their credit, I only felt like the 5th wheel a handful of times. They’ve gone on several vacations together and have been hanging out for a year so naturally they have their own inside jokes, etc. All four of them were really good about explaining what the heck they were talking about so I would still feel included.

Anyway, we went to this great little town/village along the river and took care of business straight off the bat – we ate lunch. We went to this great restaurant and sat on the deck overlooking the river. I had a radler, which is half lemonade, half beer (it’s fabulous) and of course, a bratwurst with fries. One thing is for sure, I’m not going to go hungry.

Afterward, we went hiking – I know you probably can’t picture me hiking, but I was! – We went up to a couple of smaller castles on the hill. The first had a wicked set of stairs and you spent half the time in the dark trying to find the next step. When we went back down all you could hear were feet shuffling. Each of us was trying to shuffle to the first step so we wouldn’t fall down the stairs!

The view at the top was beautiful because you could see the nearby town and river. The only sad part was all of the graffiti and carvings that were in the wood at the top of the tower. On the one hand, it’s really disgraceful and takes away from the natural beauty and history of the place. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the carvings. There were plenty of hearts with names inside and I kept wondering what happened to the couples who visited in 1985 and felt the need to carve their names in a castle. Did they get married and come to visit once a year? Is this where they had their first date? Or maybe where he proposed? Or did the whole thing end in divorce? Or turn out to be just a fling? Maybe the “f- you” written in blue over the heart happened three months after the initial carving?

Of course, while I’m thinking these things everyone is ooohing and aaahhing over the view. I have to pull myself back together so I can make it down the stairs.

Next, we venture to a second castle further in the woods. By this point, I’m thinking I should’ve worn better shoes. There aren’t many guardrails and it’s a long way to the base of the hill. We finally make it to the second place and admire the view from a slightly different angle. Then we decide to hike up the stairs one more time.

Keep in mind these stairs are very narrow, very steep and made of stone. They also have old handrails attached to the stairs, but they could easily fall off. I learned the art of holding the rail to keep your balance, but not putting any of your weight on it so it wouldn’t be tempted to break loose.

Now the final set of stairs leading to the tower were made of wood and didn’t have a backing so you’re foot could easily go through the stairs and get stuck. For me, this is a GIANT RED FLAG. I mean, really, how old are these stairs? When was the wood installed? Is this really safe? Is that stone going to break my fall? Hell.

Kelli and I are the last two to climb the stairs and she’s behind me bringing up the rear. Halfway up the stairs I decide this isn’t a good idea, but can’t stop because Kelli is right there. I keep going and pray there is a magical elevator inside the tower which will take me back to sweet solid ground.

To top things off, there’s not much to see once we get up there. Just a few more windows and a higher view…of the same thing we’ve been looking at. Ah and no elevator.

So it’s time to go back down and Kelli and I are bringing up the rear again. I’m trying to steady myself because at this point, I’ve already looked down and am feeling nauseous. What the hell was I thinking? Earlier Dan had noticed I wasn’t “digging” the wooden stairs and assured me they were probably 10 years old and completely safe. So when Sonja yelled back up to tell us one of the stairs had just broken, I nearly fell out.

Are you serious? Kelli looked at me and said yes, she was completely serious. So we walk down these steep, rundown stairs and about halfway we get to the broken step. CRAP. Someone had stepped on the step and broken it in half.

I gingerly step one side and realize it won’t hold my weight even temporarily. Had I stepped down on it, I surely would’ve broken through the entire step and fallen to the stone ground below. Instead I stretched my legs to the step beyond the broken one and braced myself with my arms between the wall and the rail. Thank the Lord I have been blessed with long legs.

I get to the bottom and heave a huge sigh of relief when I start walking on solid ground again. Owning a castle would be cool, but I wouldn’t want this one!

But before I continue with our shenanigans, let me say that I really enjoyed walking around the old castle ruins today. I know it’s crazy, but walking around the woods and climbing old castle stairs is cool. At least the unbroken sets of stairs…

Around 4 p.m. we decided to head back toward the car.

Next stop – Kelli and Dan’s for some red wine and backyard golf. Well, the guys played golf and the girls lounged and chatted. We were absolutely exhausted. Hiking on a full stomach is tiring.

Anyway, Sonja and Bryce end up leaving to go to a work party and I stayed to have dinner with Danelli (it’s like TomKat or Brangelina). Kelli and I practice my German while Dan runs to the Reve for supplies. I can now say my alphabet and the numbers 1-10. Granted, I still have to look at the words while I say them but progress is progress!

We had a kind of appetizerish dinner where there’s a plate of different types of cheeses and one with meats and two types of bread and guacamole, etc. Anyway, basically you make different combinations. For example, I had toasted sunflower seed bread coated with an herb cheese and a bruschetta mixture on top. It was delicious.

Ah and Kelli and Sonja have agreed to teach me how to cook. Sonja is 100% Italian and promised she could teach someone “kitchen-challenged” like me. Kelli is going to teach me basic cooking skills.

Anyway, I got home close to 10 and now it’s a little after 11. I’m tired. I think I’ll probably go to bed now and see if I can actually catch some zzz’s!


Friday, June 13, 2008

One week down!

Hello all – Another day another dollar, right?

This morning I rode the streetcar to work and learned what to do if the “walking man” sign that tells you to cross the street doesn’t work. You wait until there’s a large group of people and then you all walk out into oncoming traffic at the same time. One man held his hand up to tell the oncoming traffic to stop and yield the right of way to us.

Normally, I wouldn’t willingly walk in front of a moving vehicle, but I didn’t know how else to get to work. Fortunately, all of us made it across the road safely. Well, except for that one old woman. She got clipped because her walker got stuck and the driver didn’t anticipate her sudden stop.

Just kidding.

Today was a training holiday for our service members so there were only civilians working along with a few high-ranking people trying to catch up on work. I finally got my badge so now people will know I’m allowed to roam the property without being questioned. The issuing official said I should feel special because I get a badge with a red stripe, which is only for very important people. I found this amusing because not five minutes before, she had asked me what my title was and I didn’t know the answer. Public affairs specialist? Manager? Supervisor? I decided to go with Public Affairs Officer. I’m the only one there, what can they say?

Eventually I headed over to the transportation center to check on my household goods. I should expect them the last week of July or first week of August. It seems like an awfully long time to go without the rest of my shoes. You know and furniture and all that…

I met up with Kelli for lunch (Taco Bell) and then we went down to the main street, called the Hauptstrasse, to look at two apartments.

First, let me say this is a prime location. This is where all of the nice clothing stores are, where all the pubs and restaurants are and where people our age like to spend their time. It’s right off a streetcar line so I’ll have easy access to public transportation and if you walk in the other direction you’ll run right into the castle.

Next, the landlord is fantastic. He and his wife seem like very nice people and they have a great track record with the housing office. The landlord kind of reminds me of a mix of Tim Robbins and Anderson Cooper.

The first apartment we saw was a maisonette, which I think means a split level place. It was about 900 sq feet and we think it was on the 3rd or 4th floor. It’s really hard to tell because it’s a winding staircase and I forgot to count. Once you hit the second floor you really try to concentrate on

On the bottom floor there are two nice-sized bedrooms and a bathroom. The top floor has a nice open kitchen with an area for a kitchen table and a small balcony. The living room is cozy and if you look out the windows you can see the Hauptstrasse.

It was a nice place, but the carpet on the first floor was kind of dingy and the bathroom was too small for my taste. So we headed over to the next building, which is really only across the street.

This apartment is also on the top floor and about 1200 sq feet. Again, Kelli and I didn’t count the floors, but we think it’s probably five or six stories high. At least, that’s what my thighs were screaming at me. Did I mention there aren’t any elevators?

Also, this building is really cool because it was built in 1780. The winding staircase is actually made out of stone and it’s the oldest set of stairs in Heidelberg. By the time we reached the top we were short on breath and slightly dizzy.

This apartment is all on one level, which I think I prefer. There’s a huge master bedroom with a bigger bathroom, a smaller spare bedroom (which would be a great place to write) and an L-shaped kitchen. There’s room for a dining room table in one part of the “L” and the actual kitchen makes up the other part.

The living room is a nice size with high ceilings and you can see the beams of the roof – it gives the room some character for sure. When you look out the window you can see Heidelberg Castle to your left and the church right in front.

The only problem is that the ceiling is leaking in the master bedroom. Something happened when it rained and they’ve called someone to fix it. The apartment would be ready by the end of next week.

It also already has furnishings and the landlord said I could either use them until my furniture comes in or keep it for the duration of my stay. I thought that was nice.

Also, both apartments come with parking garage spaces. Another requirement met!

Although, there is one downside. Four to six flights of stairs is bad enough when you’re just carrying a purse. Think about carrying up a suitcase! Granted, I won’t have visitors 365 days a year, but the trip up is going to be brutal. If any of you are thinking of coming to visit (and I hope you are!) make sure you pack light!

Anyway, so now I’m debating whether or not I should take the second apartment. I really love the apartment, the location and the vibe that I’m getting.

However, people have mentioned I should wait to see if something better comes along. Then again, what if I give up the apartment and nothing else comes along? I have to decide by Monday because we only get to “think” about each place for a few days. Then the housing office opens it back up to the public so other people can rent the apartment. Decisions, decisions.

I did talk to my dad about it briefly and he said if it feels right I should just do it. You gotta have the feel good vibes, you know?

Anyway, enough about that. I’ve just turned on the television and it looks like Friday night prime time TV includes American Gladiators. Not the really awesome old one, but the new one hosted by Hulk Hogan. What’s up with that?

OH and one more thing. When I got home from work I walked to the grocery store and bought yogurt, fresh bread and salt tabs (they’re for the washing machine – something about the hard water) all by myself!

I was so excited I ate both pieces of farmer’s bread (hey they were small!) with jelly for dinner. I guess you could call it untoasted toast.

I had been waiting to get fresh bread because it’s so addicting. Once you’ve had it, you’ve got to have it again. Did I mention there is a bakery right across from my potential apartment? This may become a deciding factor…


Thursday, June 12, 2008

House Hunting, Farewells and Football

This morning I had an appointment with the housing office. I sat down with a housing counselor and we discussed how much money I would be given for rent, utilities, ect. Then we chose four potential locations for me to view. Three are owned by the same landlord while the other is independently owned.

All of the locations are in downtown Heidelberg and come with either a parking space or a garage spot, which are my two biggest requests.

Much to my surprise, I was able to see one of the apartments within the hour. The housing team gave me a map and some directions and sent me on my way. I was a little nervous at first because I had to switch streetcars, but it all worked out in the end. The only problem with finding your way around is that the street signs aren’t located in very visible locations. You may find them on the side of a building or you may not find them at all. Fortunately, my directions were good enough to get me to the right street.

The apartment is actually located in a nice part of town with easy streetcar access, but I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling. One, I’m really lazy and the apartment is on the fourth or fifth floor sans elevator. I can’t imagine carrying bottled water, groceries or luggage up and down those stairs. Two, it was the top floor of the building so all of the ceilings were slanted because of the roof. It made me feel claustrophobic. Finally, I know buildings in this part of town are old, but this apartment just looked worn out. I decided to pass.

I made my way back to the office just in time for the hail and farewell party. I didn’t know the person who was leaving, but I was told I should come and meet people and eat the free food. Done and done.

This wasn’t like any farewell I’ve ever been to. Yes, they say a few words and get an award – that’s not weird. The weird part was when it was time to eat. Everyone filled their plates and sat in chairs along the wall. They all kind of talked to their neighbor. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m used to mingling and having small groups form to talk about the latest gossip…

It just wasn’t user-friendly. Needless to say, I ended up next to one of our deputies and he made me feel like a total idiot. Why I would know he was not only a deputy, but a such and such advisor is beyond me. But apparently, he felt I should’ve known and should stay in my lane. He wasn’t rude about it, but I got the message. Later I discussed this with someone else who explained no one really knows whose lane is whose because so many people play dual roles for both our organization and higher HQ.

It’s terribly confusing.

However, I have gotten past it and decided not to feel bad anymore (y’all know I’m a dweller). Why should I feel stupid for not knowing who he is? I’ve only been here since Monday! For crying out loud…

Anyway, I also spent some time talking to Ivy (the one with the awesome apartment). Apparently he knows someone who has a killer place downtown and there’s about to be an opening. I’m going to check it out tomorrow - fingers crossed.

He also mentioned he likes my shoes :) It made me think of DINFOS – y’all know what I’m talking about. Anyway, it just reaffirmed how much I love my silver metallic shoes. Every time I wear them, people notice them. I think it’s because when the light hits them the right way, it bounces off and temporarily blinds them, but I’m not sure.

I also saw some guys at the streetcar stop checking out my shoes. Which leads me to believe one of three things:

1) You don’t see many people in Germany wearing silver metallic heels so you have to stare.

2) You’ve been blinded and it’s like looking into the sun. You just have to do it again.

3) They think I’m a prostitute.

Now let me expand on number three. A few years ago, a good friend of mine studied abroad in France. She told me the heat was unbearable and she decided to go out in shorts and a halter top. Well in Europe, most women don’t wear revealing clothes. In June, women wear long skirts, long pants/shorts or capris. Anyway she started to notice that men were following her down the street so they could watch her walk in her shorts. Eventually, someone pointed out that the men thought she was a prostitute. All because of her clothes!

Maybe the same goes for shiny shoes! Okay, it’s a stretch…but you never know!

This afternoon didn’t amount to much. I managed to find a trash can. Do you know how sad it is to have to ask someone for a trash can? Yeah…Now imagine that being one of the most productive things you did the last half of the day…

Okay, I technically did more than that, but it really felt like things were dragging. To be fair, I did manage to scrounge up some post-it notes and a steno pad.

I was really looking forward to this evening because the Euro Football Championship has started and Germany was playing tonight. I was supposed to meet up with Kelli, Dan and his co-workers so I could see the “crazy” football fans, but it started to rain.

We had reservations at an outdoor location so they decided to move to an indoor bar. Unfortunately, it was already full by the time they got there. In the end, we went to a café which was actually two buildings away from the apartment I had looked at earlier in the day.

Which was exactly why I thought I could safely navigate a car full of people there.

I was riding with Kelli and Dan and we were running late. While the others were looking for a place to go, we were stuck in traffic going into Heidelberg. One of the girls was on the phone with Kelli trying to explain how to get to the place and I recognized the street name from earlier today. It’s one of the spokes on this huge roundabout. Dan was thrilled because they had left their GPS and
weren’t 100 percent sure of the location.

So we get to the roundabout and nothing looks familiar. I was pointing at the streetcar (since that’s how I got there) and said we should just have to cross the street and shazaam – we’ll be there. So he goes in that direction and of course, it’s wrong. So now we’re going the wrong way and we don’t know how to turn around. We end up about 20 minutes in the wrong direction, finally turn around and then try the roundabout again.

Of course, I feel horrible because I told him to go the wrong way. Plus, tension in the car is high because we’re late and we’re lost in a city that doesn’t believe in street signs.

Being the genius that I am, I realize I was turned around and we should’ve gone in the opposite direction. Duh, streetcars run two ways like the metro, I just had it backward. At this point, all you can do is laugh. And be grateful beer is on the way.

We go into the café and meet up with his co-workers, who are all very nice, but I still feel uncomfortable. I’m trying to learn German phrases and I do pretty well for the most part, except when I’m around his co-workers. It’s one thing to struggle with German in front of Americans. It’s an entirely different thing to struggle with German in front of Germans.

Plus, they all look at you when it’s time to order to see what you’re going to say. Things I can normally say suddenly become jumbled and incomprehensible. Then you just feel foolish.

I also have an issue with setting unreasonable expectations for myself, which makes it worse. I mean, yes, I've only been in Germany for 6 days and no, I've never taken German classes, but is it so unreasonable to expect myself to be fluent by the end of the week? Is it? The answer is YES. I should be happy I can order beer and ice cream, not sad I can't speak German as well know, Germans.

I've really got to work on getting some patience and on making realistic expectations. We're always hardest on ourselves, right?

I think I may look into a German tutor. You know someone who could actually take the time to teach me the right way to say things and would actually speak slowly enough to where I could understand them. That would be fabulous and well worth the money.

In the end, I still had a good time. The beer was good, the pizza was good and the people were friendly. The only downside was that Germany lost. They play again next Monday.

Tomorrow is a training holiday for everyone but civilians. I think I’m going to wear jeans and have ice cream for lunch. Just thought I would end on a happy note.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hump Day

Hello all –

Today I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and a really annoying German alarm clock. I knew almost instantly it was going to be a half and half day. Half enjoyable, half irritating. I should really look into becoming a fortune teller.

I was really excited this morning because I was going in for my housing briefing. You can’t look for a new apartment or house until you check this block. It took a little over an hour, but by 10:00 I was ready to meet with a counselor and pick out some available spots to go view. Since we’re in Germany, the housing office takes care of just about everything. They show you the listings, you visit them, you pick the one you want and it’s yours. Easy as pie.

However, since I’m Jen things didn’t quite work out the way I had planned them. Remember how I mentioned the half and half day? Half enjoyable because I had a meeting with my counselor right off the bat, half irritating because once I sat down with her we both realized there was an issue.

One, I was misinformed by another department and didn’t have the rates I needed to start looking for a place to live. Two, my orders were missing a very important phrase which ensures the government will pay for my housing. Oy vey.

So I had to re-book my appointment for tomorrow and my little spirits were crushed. Bummer. I spent the next hour or so trying to straighten everything out so I would be set for tomorrow. After that, I headed toward the PX to buy pantyhose, which I’m sure you wanted to know, and then waited for the shuttle to take me to work.

I get to work and realize my sponsor is unavailable so I head to my office and run into the girl who had shown me my office in the first place. Remember, she’s the one who said I should go out with her over the weekend, but I thought it was a pity friend date?

As it turns out, she was uber-friendly today and we chatted in the parking lot for awhile. Then I headed to my office to sort through everything. I spent a good half an hour just untangling wires and cords from my keyboard, mouse, phone, etc. During this time a couple of people stopped by and introduced themselves, which was nice. Except, after they said who they were and how excited they were I was finally here they started giving me stuff to do. Keep in mind I have no working computer, a dead phone, zero access to email and for all intents and purposes, a non-functioning office.

Oh and for my fellow PA/PR brethren, the only AP Stylebook I could find was from 1994. CRAP.

Then my new next door neighbor stops by to ensure I’ll be at the 4:30 meeting. Who the hell holds a meeting at 4:30? Especially in this line of work? It’s time to go home! Anyway, I told her I didn’t know anything about it, but that I would be there.

By this time it’s about 1:30 and I still haven’t eaten lunch. The bad part is that I wasn’t even hungry. Y’all know I’m ALWAYS hungry. Must be jetlag.

So I eat a granola bar and head out to do more in-processing work. I think I walked the entire complex at least three times going from building to building. Now I’m at the health screening checkpoint. They need my old medical records, shot files and my first born child. What the hell.

Ah and since this is a four day weekend (they have training holidays over here – not me) they won’t be able to help me until next week, which delays my security badge. Sigh.

Fully defeated I head back to my office so I can go to the meeting I know absolutely nothing about. I was assured I would just have to sit there and smile so they could introduce me. Like that ever happens.

So we’re in this meeting and she introduces me and someone calling into the meeting starts tasking me! I was completely blown away. Long story short, I’m traveling next Tuesday to a health fair. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Honestly, I think it will be a good experience and I’m glad I get to go, but I really felt bombarded.

They really needed a PAO. I know they’ve told me that multiple times, but I’m really starting to FEEL it now.

After the meeting I met up with the girl I was talking to earlier – we’ll call her Megan – and she offers to take me to her friend’s place downtown so I can scope out the area.

We stopped at her apartment on the way – which is huge – and it turns out we have a lot in common. We both read the Harry Potter series, she owns the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary and we stopped on the way to get wine. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Her friend’s apartment – we’ll call him Ivy because he kind of reminds me of Phi Delta Theta Ivy – has an AMAZING apartment. This place is huge and it’s centrally located. The ceilings are sky-high and he has a number of balconies. There is no reason this one man needs this much space. Although he did say his ping-pong table would take up one room. Anyway, I’m immensely jealous…

And immensely embarrassed - some of you may enjoy this bit – Ivy was wearing a t-shirt (this guy is really built) and some basketball shorts. Well, the way he’s standing in the kitchen is really odd and his shorts keep bunching up in the front. I couldn’t stop staring. Seriously. Every time I looked at him I would see the weird shape of his shorts out of the corner of my eye and have to look. It just got worse because I kept thinking about it and you know how that goes. Hell, if you think about blinking you start to do it consciously. Anyway…

It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I’m pretty sure he caught me. When we sat down to eat, he went to put on pants. I was so busted. He probably thinks I’m a total perv. I thought y’all would appreciate that, especially those of you who know about the tour guides :)

He also had a friend over who is taking a course in the area this week. They’re both nice enough, which remember, is the half that is enjoyable. However, as always, things take a turn for the worse.

The irritating half just has to step in.

Most of the time, people try not to offend strangers. Right? Well, MOST of the time. Anyway, they started talking about living arrangements and the one friend decides it would be beneath him to live alongside enlisted personnel. EXCUSE ME?

I will not go into the details of everything that was said, but I nearly laid him out. So did Megan. Naturally, Ivy leapt to his defense. It was terrible. He said he was sorry for acting like an asshole, but he didn’t want to live next to people who were just “getting out of jail time”.

Needless to say, we left shortly after that. I was thoroughly disgusted with his behavior. For someone who claims to be “highly educated” he sure was an idiot.

Now I’m back at my lovely apartment and trying to wind down. I had another restless night and I’ve really got to get some sleep. This is borderline ridiculous.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Work: Day 2

Hello all.

Today was another day of in-processing at work. There is a long checklist I have to complete which includes things like mandatory training (ugh), security and computer access stuff. I finished the first two (sort of) this morning before lunch.

I say I finished the mandatory training, but really all I did was schedule it. Apparently, I have to take a hospitality training course that lasts half a day. Crazy. I wonder if that’s why everyone has been so nice?

For example, today I waited for at least half an hour for the security people and had a very nice time talking to a guy who was out-processing. He was telling me all about the fun times he had at the clubs and bars and random trips to Paris. Too bad he’s leaving – he probably would’ve been a lot of fun.

Another example – when I finally made it into the security office they were “very professional” as Uncle Tony would say until I told them I am the new PAO. All of a sudden both of them leapt from their chairs and starting jumping up and down. They were so excited! Why security would be excited about a new PAO I’m not sure, but they were.

Then they proceeded to tell me how I don’t have big shoes to fill. In fact, they said they were more like sandals. I almost feel sorry for the guy who was here – people did not care for him at all. They were calling him a fake PAO - Which I guess really isn't all that nice...

However, it all balanced back out when I met a nice guy who helped me register for some of my training. He was more than happy to sit and chat about work and family, etc.

I am definitely starting to feel more and more like this was the right decision. One thing I have noticed is that everyone I’ve run into is more than willing to sit and have a conversation with you – no strings attached. The guy who made my ID card, the specialist I called for help, the lady administering the training – it doesn’t matter. They’re all uber-friendly.

There are really only three explanations –

1) I’m so used to rubbing elbows with rude people in DC, the average friendly person suddenly seems like an above-average friendly person.

2) Everyone has adopted the more relaxed, enjoyable German lifestyle.

3) The hospitality training paid off.

Either way you slice it, I think I’m going to enjoy working here. Plus, I met my boss today and although we only chatted for about 10 minutes, he seems like he’ll be a great supervisor. He’s very forward-thinking and believes in the power of good public affairs. Right on.

Also, his admin. is great. I think I overheard her talking to someone else in the office about how young I am, but she balanced it out by saying I’m much cuter than the last guy.

I like her already.

I also had my first DFAC experience today. It's not worth writing about. All I’ll say is that today was Chinese day and I’ll probably pay for my meal later. Not in Euros.

Oh and I bought my monthly pass for the Strasse so I can ride back and forth stress-free. Yay! It’s kind of like an above-ground metro, but ten times cleaner. You wouldn’t think riding the Strasse home from work would be a big deal, but I felt so accomplished. Wow, I can get to work and get back home all by myself. It’s the little things we take for granted in the States that can be so rewarding over here.

Kelli came over this afternoon and showed me around the local grocery store, Reve. It's so interesting to go into a German grocery store because even the way they package food is different. Not to mention all of the different wursts - white wursts, spicy wursts, marinated wursts. YUM! There are dozens of fresh cheeses, lots of fresh bread and tasty cookies. I heart the Reve.

Kelli's husband Dan met up with us afterward and we all went to dinner in Leimen, which is where I’m living. The European Soccer Championship is going on right now so we sat outside and watched the big screen with several other people. I had this amazing banana beer – seriously, it was delicious – followed by some killer ice cream. Life is good. Expanding belly is bad.

Anyhow, things are getting better. My housing briefing is tomorrow so maybe I’ll get some idea of where I’m going to live. Exciting.

Hope all is well,

My first day as an OCONUS employee...

All –

Happy Monday! Today was my first day of “work” as an OCONUS employee.
Early this morning (0900), my PA supervisor picked me up at the Keller Residence. He isn’t what I expected looks-wise, although I’m not really sure what I expected…he’s just not it, you know? Anyway, he’s a nice guy and he dropped me off at the CPAC office near the shopping center.

My appointment was at 1000, but when I got there they said it was at 0900 and I was late. I still believe it was for 1000 and should double-check my old emails to confirm I was correct – Fortunately, they didn’t write me on the calendar for either time so they had to see me. Go figure.

Everything went smoothly, but the financial stuff was kind of an issue. Apparently, they’ll advance you money for your lodging, but not for food. This really isn’t an issue since I’m just taking care of me. But they said when you find a place to live you usually has to put down two months’ rent for a deposit plus your first month’s rent. They don’t help with this so they offer up to six pay periods of your salary as a loan. Of course, you have to pay it back. Things are really starting to add up…. So I’ve decided not to worry about it until I have to – otherwise, I’d probably have an aneurism.

On a positive note, I ran into someone else at the CPAC office who was transferring onto post. As it turns out, she’ll be working in the same complex as me! She’s very nice AND she’s single! Finding single friends over here is going to be a lot like dating I think…Anyway, she’s been in Germany for a while and said it’s very hard to find single people to go out with so I think we’ll meet up at some point for dinner. Yay!

After all this, I was pawned off by CPAC onto a poor unsuspecting Soldier who also needed to go to the ID card office. He was my “escort”. Too bad he and his wife are moving to Texas – he was nice. So I waited around for about two hours to take care of my ID card (my picture is WAY worse this time) and caught the shuttle to my building.

Of course, once I get to the bus stop I have no idea where to go. I just walk into a random office and ask to use their phone. As it turns out, it’s one of our offices. The guy I was talking to said he thought public affairs was non-existent. Great. On top of that, my sponsor doesn’t pick up his phone so I ask where his office is and wander around the complex until I find him. Keep in mind it’s hot, there are lots of stairs/hills and there is no AC. Tomorrow, I’m wearing a bathing suit to work.

At the office I met his deputy, who was wearing cowboy boots, black wranglers and a cowboy hat. No joke. He’s as nice as can be though and he took me over to where I’ll be working. Our first stop was to meet the adjutant, who has been doing a lot of the PA work. She’s really cute, about my age and very busy. After she showed me my office she told me we should hang out over the weekend because there aren’t very many people our age in the area. I think we may go to the movies or meet up with some other “young” people.

Oh and have I mentioned enough times that I’ll have my own office? CRAZY! Granted, it’s an absolute wreck. They just put carpet down so none of the electronics are hooked up and there are binders piled high. I need to go in and weed through the trash.

Apparently, most of it is going to be trash. The guy before me didn’t do squat. As it turns out, he wasn’t even a PA person. He was some random guy who got thrown into the position because he was web-capable. Which is such a joke because I don’t even care for their Web site. Anyway, they said he just made up random tasks for himself and goofed off.

He left in January, but the deputy said he quit working in August and to be honest, he probably didn’t do much for the past 3.5 years. On the bright side, anything I do should look fabulous. On the down side, there’s going to be a lot of creating from scratch.

Also, I asked the deputy if there would be some sort of list of tasks or expectations and he said he wasn’t sure. I’m all about working outside the box, but I’m hoping there’s some sort of guidance at some point – geez.

But moving on – so the PA supervisor and I leave early so I can buy some VAT forms. Whenever you buy something on the economy that’s more than 100 Euro they encourage you to use VAT forms because it takes off the tax (which is 19% - ouch!). Then we stop by the Keller Residence office (where I’m staying) so I can drop off the forms. One of the guys who works there has excellent English and is very nice and helpful.

So naturally, when he calls me thirty minutes later I’m a little confused. Wow, he’s really concerned about my stay, right? WRONG. Scatterbrained Jen left her wallet on his desk. CRAP.
So I haul my butt over there as fast as my legs will take me. Thank goodness I remember how to get there – it’s across the street and around the corner and down the hill etc…

I grab my wallet, which was just as I left it, and ended up talking to the guy for about an hour. He suggested we grab coffee downtown sometime so he can show me the area. He’s convinced I should live downtown near the river because I’m single and only fuddy-duddies with families live in the burbs. He’s so funny.

When I got back home I started Rosetta stone and now recognize the words for woman, horse, auto, plane, elephant and young boy. You can only imagine the small sentences I can now piece together.

Ah and then I fell asleep on the couch until Kelli called and woke me up. She’s volunteered her husband to pick me up tomorrow because she doesn’t want me to ride the streetcar until someone has gone with me. It’s really for the best because I would have to buy a ticket from the conductor and I have no idea what to say.

Tomorrow should be another long day of in processing. Maybe I’ll go to my office to air it out – it’s kind of musty.

Hope all is well!

Monday, June 9, 2008

My move to Germany...

All –

CRAP. That is a less vulgar version of the word I was thinking when I landed in Germany. Remember how y’all kept asking if I was nervous or overwhelmed or insane and how my response would always be how I was still kind of in shock and it hadn’t really hit me I was leaving the States?

Well…it finally hit me.

But first…

The plane ride wasn’t so bad.

I was in nearly the last row of the plane, but I was in an aisle seat and sat next to a very cute boy who was probably about 13. I said hi to him and he said bonjour, so I assumed he was French. However, all of the flight attendants were speaking French and he spoke to them in English so maybe he thought I was French? I don’t know, it’s very confusing and not really part of the story anyway. Although I feel like I should say he was a very good row partner and didn’t make me get up once so he could use the restroom. His bladder must be huge. But I digress…

Like I was saying, I was absolutely fine on the plane. They were showing the movie 27 Dresses which proved a nice distraction for a couple of hours. When we landed, we stopped on the tarmac and we all deplaned outside, which I thought was odd. On the bright side, they opened doors at both ends of the plane so I went from the last seat to being one of the first ones out. We loaded onto shuttles, which took us to another part of the airport.

I was wandering around looking for baggage claim, which wasn’t all that hard since they also had signs in English, and at this point I’m still fine. Then I get in line to show my passport to security and I start feeling a little squeamish.

The officer waves me up and says good morning in German. I’d write it here, but have no idea how to spell it. At this point, I start feeling sort of uneasy. He scans my passport, stamps it and hands it back saying good-bye. Naturally, I go to take it, but accidentally fling the passport back at him. Not good. I mutter an apology and head toward baggage. By now, I’m feeling edgy. My brain is beginning to absorb the idea I will be around Germans, who speak German whereas I don’t. Not to mention, my French does not come in handy because none of their words are similar. You would think I would’ve realized this before I left the country, but I must’ve blocked it out. At this point, I have one of the many, “oh CRAP” moments.

Kelli and Dan were waiting for me right outside of customs and I was so grateful they were there. They pushed my “oh crap” feeling to the background for a while. They are two of the nicest people and I really enjoyed spending the day with them. They also seem to genuinely enjoy spending time with each other which is so nice since so many people are unhappy with their relationships. I can honestly say, I was also a little jealous and really missed Brandon yesterday. Doing this move with someone else would have been so much easier because you have someone to lean on for support. Oh well, Dan and Kelli will just have to adopt me or something :)

Anyway, so they helped me lug all of my suitcases up to my temporary apartment. I’m on the fourth floor and there aren’t any elevators. My apartment is HUGE. It’s a two-bedroom with a full bath and a half bath. There are these huge windows and they have special blinds that can make the rooms pitch black in the middle of the day. After brushing my teeth and a quick change we headed to downtown Heidelberg where all of the shops are. We walked around and made our way to a restaurant for a late lunch. I had a beer, a bratwurst, sauerkraut and fried potatoes. It was awesome.

Now Dan is a teacher and one his co-workers was throwing a grill party that evening. They invited me along since I was still standing (apparently, they didn’t make it long their first day because of jetlag) and I went to keep Kelli company since she really doesn’t know his co-workers very well.

The drive itself isn’t bad, but we have no idea where we’re going. The TomTom could only help so much and then we were on our own. We drove up and down these tiny streets (if you can even call them that) on this huge hill looking for the party, but had zero luck. Eventually, we call Katarina, one of the other teachers who lives in the area and we meet up with her.

We went up into her apartment, which is the standard 300 sq. feet. I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too – 300 sq. feet? That’s a glorified living room, how the hell do you fit an entire apartment in there?

But apparently that’s fairly normal and to be honest, she made it work. Go figure.

So she joins our car and we go off looking for the party again. She’s very nice and fluent in English, which is helpful… at least when she was talking to me. We end up going down a windy road that looks desolate – had we been in Texas I’d be afraid of getting shot for trespassing. Katarina sees a woman walking her dog and asks her where to go in rapid-fire German. Apparently, we were going the right way. It kind of makes me think of Little Red Riding Hood in the forest – We all agreed later we never would gone down the odd path except Katarina was sure we were going in the right direction. And of course, she was right. When in Germany, follow the Germans. Odd concept, right?

So we get there and there are only a handful of people standing around. The party started at 6, we got there at 7 and we later found out most people wouldn’t show until 9, which makes absolutely no sense. I mean, there’s late and then there’s LATE.

I stuck with Kelli the whole time we were there and met a number of Dan’s co-workers. Most of them spoke decent, if not excellent English and were very nice. By this time, I was on a downward spiral and about to fall out due to lack of sleep, but they understood. We left the party a little before 9 so we could hit the commissary on post so when I woke up I wouldn’t be starving without any food in the house.

By the time I got home it was probably around 930. I tried to get online, but my laptop was out of juice and I had to buy an adaptor so I could plug it in. I also realized I couldn’t use the hair dryer I brought so my hair “air-dried” this morning. Needless to say, it doesn’t work all that well…

I passed out on the couch reading my book and was barely able to get up to go brush my teeth.

Right before I went to bed, I realized how quiet it was and how alone I was and that’s when I had a mini-breakdown. It only lasted about 5 minutes, but the stress hit me and I had to cry it out. All I could think was, what the hell have I done?

Fortunately, my inner Jen told the emotional Jen to shut the hell up and to be more positive. I read my book to get my mind off of everything and then I passed out.

I woke up around 8 this morning because I had fallen asleep with the light on and I thought it was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I was able to shut the light off and sleep for another four hours. Then I made myself get up so I would be ready for Kelli and Dan.

They picked me up close to 1 and we went to Mama Rosa’s (their favorite Italian place) for lunch. We sat outside on the deck and watched tennis. There were three courts right in front of us with club players getting their game on. They were really dedicated and played through the freak hail storm we had in the middle of lunch. Ah and I had a beer :) and a Mama Rosa pizza, which is authentic Italian pizza and absolutely delicious.

Afterward, we went to the PX where I could buy things like hangers and phone cards and then back to the commissary for more food shopping. I also ran into Natasha from DINFOS at the PX which is so random! I was so glad to see another friendly face though and we agreed to have dinner in the near future.

I also called my new boss to let him know I was alive. He is going to pick me up tomorrow for work - yay!

That’s pretty much my weekend in a really long email – sorry! I think one of the most difficult things is the language. I’ve never heard anything like it and it’s really hard to imitate. I’m getting by on the basics – please, thank you, good bye. I’m definitely going to need to take classes. This is hard.