The end, and the beginning

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

I can't believe months have passed since I last wrote here, or felt like writing, if I were to be quite honest. But with the year coming to an end, this seemed like a good time for one last post - for this year at least.

So much has happened. We've made ourselves a little home in the town of Durmersheim in Rastatt, Liam has started kindergarten at a school for children with developmental delays, and Nolan is a chatty, confident and very cheeky 2.5 year old whose German language skills is rapidly expanding everyday.

Over the past few months, we've finally settled into a routine, had a few visitors from overseas (always a much welcomed distraction from the routine of day to day life) and Liam finally had his ear surgery done. I even managed to spend a wonderful week on the beautiful island of Crete in Greece with my best friend from University, which I hope to share here one day!

My parents arrive on Friday and will stay with us for three weeks, where the children will bask in grandparental adoration and plenty of attention (and gifts). It means so much to me to be able to have them here with us at this time of year. I often feel sad when I think of my children growing up without knowing their grandparents or being able to see them often, but I feel blessed that we get to spend time with each other at least once a year, and it's always such a special time.

It's been a challenging, interesting and exciting year to say the least. To think it was only ten months ago that we were making our way from New Zealand back to Germany, embarking on our lives here for the second time. Finding a place to call home, while navigating all sorts of conflicting emotions.

Thankfully, the emotions are mostly positive now. I still miss New Zealand everyday. I miss the beaches, the culture, the language, the people, the food, and the lives we led there. I expect a part of me always will. But I'm no longer resenting my life here the way I did before. Things that used to annoy me, especially my inability to communicate expertly, do not annoy me (as much) as they used to. I find myself able to be more understanding when miscommunication occurs. Able to let things go. Able to let myself feel lonely and accept that, or challenge myself to be in uncomfortable situations and accept that too.

That acceptance, which was never there before, is huge, because it means I can now move forwards. It's still not easy, and progress is often one step forwards and two steps back. But I'm also learning to be patient with myself and with the people around me. I'm learning that (some) things don't happen overnight. That it's okay to feel excited, or sad, or frustrated, or lonely, or happy, sometimes all in one day.

I'm learning to find joy in the simple things, like being able to order at a restaurant in German, or watching my children who are happy and confident in their new surroundings, or going to a Christmas market and having a Gluhwein, or feeling snowflakes on my face, and that is enough.

The little things.

It's been a hell of a year, but we're ending it surrounded by the people we love, with plenty of blessings, and our hearts and souls still relatively intact after everything we've been through - and with that, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or Frohe Weihnachten, and I hope to see more of you in the New Year!


Lehner's Wirtshaus, Rastatt

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A couple of weeks ago, The Husband and I decided to take the kids to Rastatt for an afternoon to check out the Schloss Rastatt (Rastatt Residential Palace). The palace grounds were far lovelier than I had anticipated, with a couple of huge water fountains in front of the Baroque residence (the oldest in the Upper Rhine Valley), which was built in the 1700s.

The kids had a fun time running around discovering the beautiful gardens and the playground nearby, while The Husband and I admired the beautiful, elegant palace. The gardens are open to the public, although the palace itself may only be viewed as part of a guided tour.

After our walk, we stumbled across Lehner's Wirsthaus, right next to the palace grounds, and decided rather spontaneously to have dinner there before heading home. There is a Lehner's Wirsthaus in Karlsruhe (where we used to live), Heilbronn, Pforzheim as well as this one in Rastatt. We used to go to the one in Karlsruhe quite often, and have always enjoyed its ambience, drinks and food. 

I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the building. The interior is far more spacious and elegant than the one in Karlsruhe, with high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows letting in plenty of natural light as well as providing a lovely view to the palace gardens outside. I immediately loved the huge chandelier that catches your eye the minute you enter, and the sexy, sophisticated bar area that stretches across one end of the room. 

The restaurant itself is divided into a few different spaces - a bar area with high stools, a seating area which can accommodate large groups and families, and a quieter area at the back where we discovered a box of childrens' toys and books that kept our kids entertained during our meal.

We ordered some traditional German food, which is what the restaurant specializes in - Spaetzle for the kids, a Maultaschen for me that came in a delicious dark beer sauce with onions and a potato salad on the side, and a Pork Schnitzel for The Husband with homemade french fries. The menu is the same across all four restaurants, and we were pleased to discover the food were as tasty as the ones we've tried in Karlsruhe.

Klassiker Maultaschen mit Emmentaler verfeinert
Lehner's boasts comforting, no-fuss, traditional Bavarian food that focuses on quality in a relaxed yet stylish setting, great for a family meal or a night out with friends, and I have no doubt we will be back quite a few times to try the other items on the menu.

Lehner's Wirtshaus Rastatt
Am Schlossplatz 2
276437 Rastatt
Tel: +49 7222 934443

New home

Thursday, 30 June 2016

It's been a crazy month. We've moved into our new apartment in a little town called Durmersheim, which is part of the district Rastatt in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. It's actually situated halfway between Karlsruhe, where we used to live, and the town of Rastatt itself, and is about equal driving distance to both cities.

Durmersheim itself is small, quiet, and quite unlike anywhere I've ever lived before. I'm still adjusting to 'small-town' life, and the fact that it takes me slightly less than an hour (walking to the tram stop and then taking the tram) to get to the closest city.

We're still getting to know the area and our way around. Thankfully, our apartment block is right next to the only supermarkets in the town, which makes shopping for food easy. There are also a few playgrounds scattered around, and some shops and cafes lining the main street. But apart from that, it is suburbia, and while I do miss the hustle and bustle of the city, it is admittedly nice to have the space and quietness to raise our two little boys - for now.

After three weeks, we've finally unpacked all our boxes, got the boys enrolled in their respective kindergartens/daycares (although they don't start until September), sorted out insurances and all the paperwork involved with registering a family with the local city council, and made a dent in Liam's medical appointments, which will span the next two to three months as we sort out his eye, ear and heart issues. We even managed to have a play-date for the boys as well as friends over for tea and dinner!

It's been busy to say least, but I'm thankful that we got the bulk of it done before The Husband goes back to work on Friday and we embark on this next phase of our lives here. Me, as a SAHM once more, while The Husband returns to work full-time.

Hopefully, this time it will be better. Hopefully, I've had enough time over the past weeks to feel comfortable in this little town on my own, and to make my way around with confidence. Hopefully, this time I'm more prepared to be a SAHM in a place where I still do not speak the language. Hopefully, we'll meet some wonderful, like-minded people we can call our friends and family and build the strong network of support that we didn't have before. Hopefully, this time the lonely days will be far fewer than the full and happy ones. Hopefully, I'll be stronger and able to do what needs to be done for myself and for my family. Hopefully, this time I don't lose sight of who I am and my needs as a person, and instead, learn to merge my dreams and passion with the realities of being a mother and a wife.

Hopefully, this time we can do it right. 

This is our second chance to build our lives here in Germany. To learn from mistakes of the past and to grow and be enriched from it. And I really hope we can.

In the midst of all the busy-ness of settling into our new home, we've also taken the time to enjoy it and to explore our surroundings whenever we could. Here are some photos taken over the past few weeks that I'd like to share with you! Needless to say, this is just the beginning, and I'm looking forward to many, many more adventures and beautiful moments in our days.

We absolutely love our new kitchen, which The Husband painstakingly designed 

Liam enjoying the armchair as only he could
A visit to the beautiful castle grounds in nearby Rastatt

Love the salmon-coloured facade of the Schloss Rastatt
We're going on a train into Karlsruhe! (An excitement which lasted ten minutes)
Another day, another castle - Schloss Karlsruhe is still magnificent
Schloss Karlsruhe and its surrounding gardens/park is a great place to spend the day 
Water fountain at the Karlsruhe castle grounds
Water play on a hot summer's day on our balcony
Playground time
Indoor play area at Aposto, a family-friendly cafe/restaurant in Karlsruhe

Where we're at

Tuesday, 31 May 2016


I can't believe we've been in our holiday apartment in Mannheim for a month now. Time has simultaneously dragged on as well as flew by since we got the keys to our new apartment four weeks ago, and we have been frantically planning, designing, buying, assembling, furnishing, painting, fixing, unpacking, paying multiple visits to IKEA and accumulating plenty of kms between Mannheim and Durmersheim in that duration. (Actually, The Husband has mostly done all that while I look after the kids as we've learned that it's next to impossible trying to renovate an apartment with a two and four year old in tow.)

Nevertheless, we've done our best. There were tears and anger and frustration and delayed deliveries and money draining out of our bank account and days where we hardly saw each other and days where we thought we couldn't do it anymore as were just so tired and plenty of wine and Whisky in between. 

BUT. We have a kitchen. We have a living room. We have functional bedrooms. We have all sixty boxes from New Zealand. We have each other. And in four days, we'll have a place to call home again. 

It's been lovely getting to know Frankfurt, Carolinensiel and Mannheim over the past two months. We've been blessed to always have had a roof over our heads. Our children, hopefully, will remember this time as an adventure and nothing less and only take with them the wonderful places they've seen and people they've met along the way. And hopefully one day when all this is over, when we're able to look back without any pain or sadness in our hearts, we'll remember this time as such too. 

But for now, I just can't wait to cook at my own kitchen again. To enjoy a meal at our dining table. To drink a glass of wine out on our balcony as the sun goes down. To inviting friends over for play dates and dinner dates and movie dates and wine dates. To creating new memories. To making new friends. To schools and doctors and therapies and watching my boys grow up and making friends of their own. 

To the ordinary. 

To the extraordinary.

Carolinensiel, Nordsee

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

We've just had the pleasure of spending a week and a half at the beautiful little seaside town of Carolinensiel at the Nordsee. Our trip was originally planned for five days, a little getaway for us to have some peace, quiet and rest in a beautiful location that we so badly needed after traveling halfway around the world and moving from one place to another. This was then extended due to unforeseen circumstances. Thank goodness the holiday home we'd rented from AirBnB was well-equipped to have us stay there for as long as we wanted to. 

We certainly found the peace and quiet we were looking for, not to mention some really cold days. It even snowed one day, which was very exciting for all of us! Resting, unfortunately, doesn't quite come into the equation when you have a two and a four year old. Nevertheless, it was good to 'escape' for awhile, and we had a lot of fun exploring this beautiful part of Germany, eating plenty of fish, and making friends with the local sheep!

The holiday home we rented was extremely family-friendly, and had its own large garden with a little slide and swing set, sand pit, and toddler-friendly toys like a scooter and a bobby car (which Nolan hijacked from day one). The Husband was thrilled to see a garage filled with bicycles of all sizes and even a bike trailer, so he could take the kids out for a ride.

The views that greeted us every morning were simply glorious. Green, beautiful, space as far as the eyes can see. Right across the road from our holiday home is a dyke where sheep graze each day, and the boys loved running up to them and saying 'Hi, sheep, Tscheuss, sheep!' every time we walked past.

The little town is small and walkable in just about an hour, but oh so utterly charming. People were friendly and greeted us with a cheerful 'Moin', which makes a refreshing change from the surliness of some of the people you encounter down south. We went to a playground at least once a day, and even found a lovely indoor one for when the weather was bad. The rest of the time we took leisurely walks through town, shopped for fish at the local markets, drove around to explore nearby towns, or hung out at our garden drinking wine while the kids entertained themselves. It was the perfect escape.

The Nordsee is all about the fish, and that was pretty much what we ate everyday, without any complaints from me! From salmon to butterfish to smoked matjes to the local Nordseekrabben, it occupies the majority of restaurant menus, and left us slightly satiated after a week and a half, but what a wonderful week of feasting on one of my favorite food.

It is also white asparagus season here in Germany, and we had the opportunity to taste some lovely white asparagus dishes at the Sielkrug, a restaurant I'd highly recommend visiting for some 'finer dining' if you're ever in this part of Germany. We loved the food there so much we went back to eat three times! I'll write more about it on a separate blog post.

The trip was a last minute decision, but it turned out to be exactly what we needed as a family. We had plenty of quality time to spent with our boys, time to sort through and deal with problems, time to let go of them, and time to just enjoy each other in a beautiful surrounding. 

There were bitterly cold days (both literally and metaphorically speaking), but when the sun came out it was simply glorious, and I'd love to return again in warmer months and actually be able to enjoy the beach and water, and hire myself one of those cute Strandkorb to lounge in.

Thanks for the wonderful memories Carolinensiel. It's back to the real world for us now as we settle in our holiday home in Mannheim while we embark on our next task of finding a home to live in.

All roads lead to Karlsruhe

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

It's official. The Husband has accepted a job offer with the company he was working for before we left Germany a year and a half ago, and with that, we will be heading back to Karlsruhe to live, or somewhere in the surrounding vicinity, depending on where we find a house to live in.

Those who know me will know that this result has created plenty of conflicting emotions within me. When we left Karlsruhe at the end of 2014, I truly did not expect, or wanted to, ever return. I left the city, this country, without looking back. I left it feeling like I was leaving a place that was never truly home for me, where there were plenty of lonely days and bad moments, to head to a city and country I've always loved, where I felt like I belonged and was accepted from the moment I arrived.

And now, the truth is, I'm torn. I'm filled with relief that we have somewhere to head to after the past two months of living out of suitcases and without a home. Since we left Auckland, we have dragged our children halfway around the world and stayed in temporary homes and accommodations in Kuala Lumpur, Rietberg, Frankfurt and Carolinensiel in the past eight weeks as we tried to figure out our next move. On Sunday we will head down to Mannheim where we will base ourselves for however long we need while we hunt for a place to live in/near Karlsruhe. We've done this with a two and a four year old whom we've had to try to entertain without their usual gear/toys/books/surrounding. It's been exhausting with a capital E.

So I'm relieved that there is an end in sight. I'm grateful for a second chance to re-build a life for us in Germany. I'm excited at finally having a place to hopefully call home, to settling the boys in school and therapies and finally getting Liam properly seen, after having more or less neglected his health for the past year while we tried to make it work in New Zealand. But there's also a part of me that's disappointed, and a little fearful, that all the reasons why we wanted to leave Karlsruhe will still be there when we return.

It's not that Karlsruhe was a bad place to live in, far from it. We had a relatively good, 'easy' life there. We had a lovely apartment in the heart of the city, and I always enjoyed the festivals that was held throughout the year. I enjoyed being able to step out of our apartment and walk everywhere I needed to go. BUT, there isn't much diversity. The food scene isn't something to write home about. The shopping streets could be walked in an hour. We've already discovered most of what there is to be discovered about the surrounding parks, zoo, playgrounds. I never really fitted in, or felt like I belonged. I largely felt invisible.

It was not a city I ever fell head over heels in love with, like I did Auckland. Or like I could have with Frankfurt, or possibly Hamburg. I wanted to start fresh in a new city, a bigger city, a more international city where I wouldn't feel quite as foreign or alone. Where the memories I left behind, good and bad, won't greet me at every corner. I wanted a clean slate, this time around, instead of heading back to the very place we left for many reasons. And now I have to reconcile myself that the story I thought had ended, in fact has a sequel. Whether the sequel will turn out to be better or worse than the original, I do not know. It seems like life keeps going round in round in circles for us.

At the end of the day, I'm going to be optimistic, because that is the only way to live. Because I want to think and believe that everything happens for a reason. But for some reason, my heart hurts. I left New Zealand resigned and slightly bitter, but even with everything that's happened there, I miss it. I miss our home in Sunnynook. I miss the North Shore and its beaches. I miss the boys' respective daycares where they were so loved and adored. I miss understanding the conversations around me without having to think so hard to keep up or say a simple sentence. I miss being independent in a way that was natural to me and not where I had to think about my every next step the minute I leave the front door. I miss the ocean breeze. I miss the food. I miss our friends who've surrounded us with such love and support.

Tomorrow, I will pick myself up from the ground, dust myself off, and keep walking. I will try to smile again. I will do what needs to be done. I will embrace this next part of our lives with an open mind and spirit.

But today, I'm just going to nurse my weary heart.

Frankfurt, the big little city

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

We spent five days in Frankfurt, Germany's 'Big Little City', last week. The Husband had to attend a job interview there, and we thought it would be a good opportunity for us to scout out the area as well. Although we lived in Karlsruhe before (about an hour's drive away from Frankfurt), I've never actually been to Frankfurt city. I have flown in and out of Frankfurt Airport multiple times though! 

Frankfurt am Main is located on both sides of the Main River. It is also nicknamed 'Mainhattan' thanks to its striking skyscraper skyline. The fifth largest city in Germany, Frankfurt has many high-rise buildings in its city centre, and is one of few cities in the EU to have such a skyline, which is why it is referred to as such. Coming from Kuala Lumpur, I've always loved the hustle and bustle of city life. With its high-rise buildings standing amongst well-preserved traditional European buildings that date back centuries, this is the city that has a little bit of everything, and I felt excited, and also at home, right away.

I loved the fact that planes were flying overhead almost constantly, and while some people may have find the noise an annoyance, to me, seeing the planes constantly crisscrossing the sky made me feel closer to the family and friends I have all around the globe and part of a larger, global world. 

We stayed at an AirBnb apartment in Niederrad, which was a twenty minute tram ride away from the city centre. The first place we visited was Römerberg, the central and most beautiful square in Frankfurt's Altstadt (Old Town), largely thanks to its traditional German-style buildings that line the square.

Large trade fairs used to be held on the Römerberg, with some of it eventually developing into the now world-famous Frankfurt Messe and the Frankfurt Book Fair (which is still being held, although its now moved to new facilities). 

The east side of the square, opposite the Römer is known as the Ostzeile. This row of six picturesque half-timbered houses are reconstructions of the original fifteenth- and sixteenth-century houses, most of which were rebuilt or expanded in the eighteenth century.

Frankfurt's Alte Oper
Frankfurt is certainly not short on history and culture. This is a city of museums and galleries, which has earned the city a national reputation as a city of the arts. The Museum Embankment located along the Main river is home to 13 fascinating riverside museums such as the Städel Museum, the German Architecture Museum, the German Film Museum, and the Jewish Museum.

The Alte Oper, or the Old Opera House, is another building not to be missed when in Frankfurt. It suffered massive damage during the war and was bombed down to its foundation walls, but was faithfully rebuilt to the original plans in the early 1980s, where it stands until today as a fine example of preserving historical heritage.

Lilu cafe in Niederrad
Lilu Park in Niederrad
I also loved that there were many parks, playgrounds located throughout the city centre, and of course, the River Main running through the city's heart, which made it feel spacious, family-friendly and green, even amongst the gleaming skyscrapers and grand buildings. It is the financial centre of the country, and yet still pays homage to culture and the arts. It is home to one of the world's busiest air hubs and the Stock Exchange, and is also home to Goethe, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Paulskirche. 
River Main
Inner city playground
View from the top
At the top of the Frankfurt Main Tower
We had a wonderful time in Frankfurt and I only wish we could have spent more time exploring the various districts, and also a bit more of the food and wine scene!

This is a city of contradictions which somehow exist together harmoniously, and is a little bit of everything I love. I"m definitely looking forward to getting to know the city better in the years to come!

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