Monday, 5 September 2011

A little bit of everything

Trip to Wolfsburg
Last weekend we took a drive up to Wolfsburg, about 370km from Bad Soden.  Arne’s dad (Horst) is in Germany visiting his brother – Arne’s uncle.  So we set off to Wolfsburg for a weekend visit, and stayed over with Arne’s aunt and uncle, Amri and Helmuth.  They 

Upon arrival we were told they were expecting about 20 visitors! They had told their neighbours and friends that the “South African” family was in town, and decided to have a South African day. I helped Amri set up the tables for coffee and cake.   
Amri served everyone delicious welcome cocktails – yum!

Arne’s cousin arrived from Hamburg; they hadn’t seen in each since they were teenagers, and I was glad to finally meet Tobias.
Tobias and Arne
We had a great afternoon with the family and friends, and I was even able to understand a fair amount of the German conversation. 
Horst cracked open a special bottle of wine from SA.   

Arne and his 'Pops' (Horst)
Everyone stayed for a braai and the festivities went on until well over midnight – chatting and sharing stories of travels and family times.The trip was well worth it to spend some time with Arne's dad.  My mom is coming in December to visit, so it's only a few more months till we have some more "family time".

Helmuth and Amri have a beautiful garden
The neighbours have a little granddaughter who is 7, she’s so cute.  She came over with her grandfather to give us a “Welcome to Germany” gift.  All wrapped up with a little message on the paper, we got a handy pen and business card holder – very thoughtful. 

Thank you Amri and Helmuth for your warm hospitality. After a scrumptious late breakfast we set off on the road again to head home.  I’m not sure what the roads are normally like on a Sunday afternoon, but there was a lot of traffic and it took us 5 hours to get home! We thought it would take about 3 hours. 

We bought a house!
All the internet searches, and house visits finally paid off when we found a lovely little house in Eppstein Bremthal.   
Horray! The seller accepted our offer and our mortgage was approved within 2 days! Then we went to the notary to sign the documents.  A very official meeting indeed – I felt quite important. It seems buying a house is a very serious thing here.  The estate agent set up the meeting at the notary, where the seller was also present.  They arranged a translator for the seller (who is British) and myself.  The notary read the entire deed of sale while at the same time it was translated into English.  After 45 minutes, nearing the end I had to poke Arne in the leg because I could see his eyes start to close and thought he would doze off – heh heh.  After the Deed was read, we all signed the last page; it was all very formal until the end, and then the notary smiled and said “congratulations on your new house”, and so did the estate agent and translator, and they all shook our hands excitedly.  He said the process would take about 4 weeks, and that he would take care of everything from here on out.  So if all goes well we should be in our new house beginning of October.  The seller has been relocated to the USA, which was just our luck because she really would not have sold otherwise. She has put a lot of love and work into the property and really didn’t want to sell.  On our searches we discovered that the market is not crammed with loads of nice houses up for sale. And the ones that are, were usually because of a divorce (we saw 3 or 4 like this). People just hang onto their house for ages here; they grow old in their homes. 
Anyway, more about the house itself.  It’s in a little town called Bremthal which is part of Eppstein.  Eppstein has its own castle. 
There is a train connection to Frankfurt in less than 30 minutes and there is a grocery store 500m up the road.
The house is at the end of a row of duet houses, so we have a nice private garden, with our very own apple tree! The seller told us that she takes bowls of apples to a factory-type place nearby, and they give her bottles of apple juice or apple wine in exchange.  Looks like I’ll be doing the same as the apples are just coming into season, and I think apple-pie will be the order of the day.  There is also a cherry tree which is in season in May-June, as well as a blackcurrant bush. I will be learning to make jam very soon.  These are only a few pics we took of the internet house search engine, and some of our own. Of course we will take more pics once we have moved in.
Front of house
Front garden and patio
Side garden
Sunny lounge
Apples coming into season now
Front door entrance
Entrance from the road
The area is not too far for Arne to get to his place of work which is great. And as for me, I will be getting a car pretty soon.  The train is not too far, but I am in need of my own set of wheels.

Speaking of wheels, we went to test drive a few small cars for me on Saturday.  The cars are different models from what we had in SA. They are more eco-friendly as you get taxed here on your fuel emissions, so instead of a 1.6 Clio like I had, I would be testing a 1.2. The 1.2 sounded like it was going to be quite slow so we had to see for ourselves. Wow, what a pleasant surprise, it was light on the road, like a feather, and drove beautifully.  But I was so nervous the night before because I thought the sales guy was going to come with me in the car while I did the test drive. And with me not being so familiar with driving on the right-hand side of the road and on the left-hand side of the car, I was concerned I would make a complete mess up. So Arne suggested I drive his car to the dealership to practice.  My nerves! It was 29km from our place, and a very hair-raising 29km! Poor Arne has nerves of steel; he remained calm the whole way.  I was ok till we hit the autobahn, and then I freaked out; eecking and cringing and driving like a real ‘ninny’. It’s hard to explain, but the on-ramps here, and there are plenty of them, make the cars look like they are going really fast onto the highway and like they are going to shoot out in front of you.  So although I kept in the slow lane, avoiding the speedsters going 190km in the fast lane, I had to avoid the cars coming on the on-ramps every few minutes. Arne said, “Just keep going, they must look out for you, don’t slow down!" And then I nearly missed our turn; well I did miss our turn and corrected myself like a real tourist. Sorry for the fellow who was behind me. Then the GPS took us on a tiny farm road because I missed the town turning. The road was so narrow, I honestly felt like I was going to clip my side mirror with the oncoming traffic. By the time I got to the dealership to do my test drive I was exhausted!   To our surprise, the sales guys didn’t even come with us. He took a copy of my driver’s license, gave me a short form to sign, and said “ok, here are the keys, let me show you where the car is” and off we went on our own.  We were allowed to take the car for up to 100km in distance, anywhere we wanted.  We didn’t venture far though because we had no GPS and didn’t want to get lost in the test drive car.  It was a great experience in the end, and we got to try out 3 different cars in the same manner. 

Sunday drive
Yesterday we decided to get out of the house and visit one of the towns surrounding Frankfurt.  We chose Aschaffenburg as it is only about 62km away from Bad Soden.  
We arrived at a beautiful big park called Schönbusch.  

It seemed the popular Sunday destination for families, young and old alike.  Lots of children and adults on bicycles, people walking hand in hand, and moms pushing prams.  We will definitely take our bikes with next time.
We headed to the Beer Garden for lunch.    

Then we explored the park, including an interesting labyrinth, and took a relaxing boat ride on the lake. 

Ah no, dead end...
Another dead end...
We made to find our way out!

Working off the lunch

Small castle by the lake

 Ooooh, mind your head!!!

Then we headed into the town itself to see the Schloss Johannisburg. 

Interesting architecture

Overlooking the Main River
I feel sorry for the person who has to peel and chop this squash - yes, it was real
5 Weeks and counting
I can’t believe we’ve been in our new country for 5 weeks already.  We’ve accomplished so much in such a short space of time, and we certainly cannot wait to be in our own home where we can relax and do ‘normal’ life again.   Although I’m still settling in and learning how things work here, I’m slowly but surely starting to feel less of an alien.  We went to the “alien’s office” the other day to get my long-term visa – horray, they have processed it and I’m getting my ID card in a few weeks – they have a new system now where they don’t put a sticker in your passport, but rather give you an ID card.  I also have my “krankenkasse” (medical insurance) card now, and German Identity/tax number. 
My driving lessons in the big Audi went well. I had a great instructor who spoke English and had such a good sense of humour – I guess he has to have with students like me! I only had two lessons, as that’s all I felt I needed for now.  I thought that changing gears with my right hand would be the hardest, but it was actually quite easy. For me the hard part is remembering which lane to check for oncoming traffic when turning left.  My brain still gets confused with that.  The instructor only used his emergency brake a few times during my first lesson when he thought I went to close to the cars parked on the side of the road. Well, with that huge car what did he expect! Anyway, now that I’ve put myself behind the wheel, I will practice in Arne’s car from here on.  So the next step is for us to convert our SA licenses.  
Today I started my German language course at Inlingua; just a 26 minute train ride from Bad Soden into Frankfurt, then a 10 minute walk to the school. There are 10 of us in the class from various countries - USA, UK, South Korea, China, Dubai, Iran, Spain and Hungary to name a few.  The classes are Monday to Friday in the mornings for 3 months.  In the class we are only allowed to speak German.  I even have homework for tomorrow. Soon I’ll be watching movies in German – Um, I think not.
The movies here are dubbed into English, and for me it’s very strange to see Hollywood actors “speaking” German; we saw a trailer with Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks dubbed into German, it was very funny.  We will stick with Foreign-Language film nights at the Bad Soden Kino for a while.
Kino in Bad Soden
Last Tuesday we watched Bad Teacher in English.

The Kino is a very sweet one-man operated show. The man who sells the tickets also goes inside and sells the snacks and drinks, then goes upstairs and projects the film.  The movie house is very quaint, and behind the seating area is a bar area where you can have a glass of wine or beer. We were early for fear of not getting nice seats…Well, clearly no need for that!
Bar at the back of the cinema

The cinema wasn't even a quarter full.  We had a good laugh at the movie and it was great to enjoy a relaxing evening out. I loved the fact that we could walk there and home again.  The next Foreign-language film is in French so we’ll give that one a miss.

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