Pizza and puppies

Leaving Düsseldorf was a hard thing to do. After nearly three years, it had really become home. We loved our neighborhood, and we had a great group of friends. The kind you can call up and spontaneously meet for Mexican in 20 minutes. My personal training business was booming, and my Zumba classes were up and running.

But change is what keeps life interesting, so we dislocated an entire clan of dust bunnies, had a bittersweet last pizza at our favorite Italian place, and moved to Frankfurt.

Our apartment, while smaller than the one we had in Düsseldorf, is getting quite cozy. The many windows let in every ray of sun the sky gives us, although I am acutely aware of the fact that we will need a window cleaner to come by one of these days. The balcony is gloriously large and finally allowed us to put our American grill to good use over the warm summer we had. Our various trappings of life have slowly found their places again.

The neighborhood is still lacking as far as human connection goes. Frankfurt is a much bigger and more international city than Düsseldorf. Many of the neighbors are reticent to even say hello, and much of the staff at the restaurants we’ve tried don’t bother hiding their indifference. Although, we have found an Italian place, an Austrian place, and a coffee house that are very promising. I’m hoping that if nothing else works, me wandering around with a stroller when December comes will melt all their hearts. And if not, we’ll just have to get a puppy.

Cruise control

I wasn’t a big fan of driving when we first came to Düsseldorf, but I’ve since adapted and have been driving myself around quite a bit. I find it to be a potent feeling of freedom – just me in my climate-controlled box on wheels and the road. As a reward for my assimilation, I promptly received not one but two speeding tickets. I also happen to like the gentle but firm tug you get when pressing the accelerator…

I since have gained a wary respect of the German efficiency with which they keep drivers like me in check. There are radar cameras in enough places, so, aside from those few kilometers on the Autobahn that are speed limit-free, I have become a diligent user of cruise control, to the point of me feeling spiessig, which literally translates into bourgeois but specifically implies the part of the definition having to do with concern for respectable behavior. (did anybody else notice what a German sentence that was? 57 words!)

While the tickets are not expensive and don’t give me points on my record, I’m not willing to be teased by Toby any more than necessary. Besides, those pictures really do look horrible…

20140414 cruise control

Why all this talk about sunshine

As the dreary post-Christmas winter settles upon us here in Düsseldorf, I’m sure I will start complaining about the weather again. While I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to ride my bike in the rain in a while, my biggest point of contention is still the lack of sunshine for what feels like days (and sometimes weeks) on end.

Nice people who can’t fully fathom my climate-related distress are always trying to pep me up with statements like, “but it’s so nice to be inside and cozy and warm while it’s gray outside,” or “cloudy days make you appreciate the sunny ones that much more” (see more here). Oh, you poor people, I always say…

To put my obsession with sunshine and generally good weather into perspective, I grew up in the second sunniest place on the face of the planet, really. www.currentresults.com says so.

And, while researching sunshine stats, I also ran across this on weatherspark.com: “The median cloud cover [in Düsseldorf] is 85% (mostly cloudy) and does not vary substantially over the course of the year. On June 17, the clearest day of the year, the sky is clear, mostly clear, or partly cloudy 17% of the time, and overcast or mostly cloudy 40% of the time.”

Numbers don’t lie. I’m not crazy after all.

And a final word, for all you pepper-uppers, “Düsseldorf has…no dry season.” (weatherspark.com)

Average hours of sunshine for the ten sunniest places on earth
Country Place Year Day
United States Yuma, Arizona 4015 11.0
United States Phoenix, Arizona 3872 10.6
Egypt Asswan 3863 10.6
United States Las Vegas, Nevada 3825 10.5
Sudan Dongola 3814 10.4
United States Tucson, Arizona 3806 10.4
Chad Faya-Largeau 3792 10.4
Egypt Kharga 3791 10.4
Sudan Abu Hamed 3763 10.3
United States El Paso, Texas 3763 10.3

Rediscovery

No, I didn’t die of pneumonia after having my German moment last spring. The one that prompted me and Toby to take the convertible out, top down in near-freezing temperatures just because the sun was shining and this continent’s version of spring was in the air. (Thanks for that opener, thestrugglershandbook!) Life just kept happening. You know, that inevitable march of time where all of a sudden you step back and say, holy $#!?, it’s August, then September, then October?!

Maybe I’ll catch you up on our adventures one of these days, but the most important story to tell is that we had a real summer this year, with tank tops, flip flops, and sunglasses. The gods must have been listening – I told Toby we would be forced to move if this summer was as spectacularly bad as the last two. Instead we had picnics on the Rhine and barbecues with friends. Of course, now that it is October (holy $#!?), the typical gray skies and rain have settled in again. Oh well. There’s plenty of time for me to bitch about that…

I also think I stopped writing because everyday life lost its novelty and started becoming…everyday. But the sight of a few strange characters on my bike ride to work and some interesting graffiti around the city have made me realize, it is high time to rediscover the place I now call home. It is time to acknowledge all the things big and small that make me smile, curse, and wrinkle my forehead in deep thought.

Now to send you on your way, here’s something nerdily gross and intriguing to brighten your day: it is entirely possible that the water you used to make your coffee this morning is ancient dinosaur pee. Mmmmmm!

Summer treat

What’s the best summer treat? Ever? Watermelons, frozen margaritas, and ice cream sundaes got nothin’ on it? Twelve full days with A!!!

I was so happy to pick A up from the airport – I had tears in my eyes. Same for her. We spent that afternoon at my favorite coffee house, talking and enjoying the simple fact that we were breathing the same air. Conversation flowed like always, with each of us finishing the other’s thoughts. For the next 11 days, we never ran out of things to talk about, even in the more heated moments (it’d be boring if we didn’t challenge each other a bit).

Time flies when you’re having fun. And boy, did we have fun! I showed her our new hood and my new work. We rode our bikes with Toby along the Rhine on a sunny day and in the rain on a not so sunny day (the true Düsseldorf experience). I of course showed her all the favorites – the coffee house, the bakery, my chocolate croissant dealer, our little Italian place, the Mexican restaurant, the Devil’s of Düsseldorf. We discovered gummy bear heaven. I tried to take her to boot heaven, but we were about a month early still. We spent a Wednesday night on Ratinger with Altbier and Wienerschnitzel. Toby cooked for us, and we played Yahtzee and Boggle. For a bit of adventure, A and I took the train to Berlin, and A, Toby, and I took the convertible on a road trip to the Netherlands.

Before I was ready, it was time for A to go. I was so sad to leave her at the airport – I had tears in my eyes. Same for her.

The trappings of a culture

Our summer travels have provided some interesting food for thought. What is it that gives a culture its defining characteristics? Sure there’s music, art, architecture, and religion, but I think there are other things that provide hints about a people and their world.

Street signs – I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of street signs in other places. Take for example the level of detail on some ‘watch out for pedestrians/school children crossing’ signs – the graphic artists went all out and included briefcases, purses, and ponytails. That’s just cute. I also like the Polish ‘car shower’ sign. The ‘residential area’ signs in Barcelona paint a picture of familial bliss. And I swear the cows on American ‘watch out for cows’ signs are way fatter than the cows on Polish signs. The logical follow-up question – are the cows themselves fatter too, and what kind of conclusions might be drawn from the answer?

Taxis – The taxis, taxi drivers, and taxi rides in a place reveal a lot about city planning, economics, energy policies, and general satisfaction with life. Are the taxis big or small? Well taken care of or rather dilapidated? Human-powered or engine-powered? Are the drivers controlled or fearless (or potentially suicidal)? Most of the taxi rides in my life have been unworthy of a story, but there were two times when I could appreciate the ‘skills’ of our driver only after I was safely standing on my own two feet again – once in Miami, Florida and once in Lviv, Ukraine.

Grocery stores – I like to eat. By extension, I like grocery stores. And because I also like to travel, I like grocery stores in other places. What people eat and how they package and present their foods says a lot about how they treat their bodies. Is food revered, or is it merely an annoying necessity? Are there more fresh or pre-packaged foods? How big are the stores and packages? The typical grocery stores in Düsseldorf are definitely smaller than back in Arizona. Thankfully the packages are too – I already have to work hard enough to cart everything back home on my bike.

Bakeries – Following the same logic about grocery stores, and considering the fact that I could be classified as a bread addict (or carb whore, as Toby likes to lovingly call me), I love checking out the bakeries in other places. Everything about a bakery appeals to me – the warm, doughy smell, the carefully arranged assortment of breads and sweets, the bustle of people coming in and out to buy their daily bread or just a snack for in between. It’s hard for me to leave without something in the hand. An added bonus at nearly every bakery in Germany – you can almost always get a fresh sandwich to go. Fast food, but better.

The German flip-flop

I’ve discovered that shoes are an interesting matter when living in Düsseldorf. Regardless of winter or “summer” (or whatever they call it here), the key is to keep your feet dry. In winter, the obvious choice is boots. Any style, any shape, and any color will do. I made friends with tall, flat boots paired with skinny jeans.

What was funny was when I started trying to wear my sandals once the temperatures warmed up a bit. For this Arizona girl, summer equals sandals, specifically flip-flops. Trip to the grocery store? Put on your flip-flops. Happy hour? Bust out your flip-flops. Saturday afternoon at the coffee house? You got it – flip-flops. There was no real danger in baring your toes (unless you were moving too fast, flipped one too hard, and ended up on the hot asphalt – but only beginners do that).

Imagine my surprise when I left the apartment one morning, in my flip-flops, only to have totally wet feet a few hours later because the sunny blue skies had turned to rain-producing cloudy skies. Because this sudden change in weather can occur on any given day, I learned from the locals and started wearing ballerinas (close-toed flats). A German girl’s answer to flip-flops. Lighter and cooler than a boot while providing almost as much wetness protection (sounds like an antiperspirant ad…).

Since boot cut jeans drag too close to the ground and run the risk of getting wet, ballerinas are still best paired with skinny jeans. The end result – my summer outfits are the same as my winter outfits, with a few less layers on top.

And I always said I’d never wear those carrot-shaped skinny jeans. Never say never…

Driving in Düsseldorf

While driving the Autobahn is an activity I gladly partake in, navigating the streets of Düsseldorf is a different matter. I actually don’t mind driving. I even think I’m pretty good at it (who doesn’t, right? take my word for it though, I’m good). But there’s something about the chaos that is Düsseldorf traffic that makes my palms sweat.

For the longest time I resisted driving in town. I know, the best way to overcome your fears is to just jump right in. But why force the issue? The few times I did drive, it was a necessity and I did it with as much aplomb as possible (ignoring the sweaty palms).

I greatly prefer being Toby’s passenger. He skillfully maneuvers the streets while I sit back and enjoy the ride. Although, there are times when I think to myself, ‘Holy shark tails! How can he stay so calm, cool, and collected?!’

There are a number of factors contributing to the excitement that is driving in Düsseldorf. Lanes can be repurposed at a moment’s notice. You’re happily driving straight in your lane when all of a sudden you realize it’s become a turning lane. Signage is minimal, although there are lots of arrows painted in the lanes themselves. Speaking of lanes, they’re much narrower here, leading to the feeling that you’re about to embed your side mirror in one of the parked cars. And, in case that isn’t enough excitement for you, street cars and the occasional bike rider often use the same lanes as the cars.

When you get to an intersection, you have to remember to look a little lower and more towards the right since the stop lights don’t usually hang over the center of the intersection. The drivers of the first cars at a red light are always craning their necks to watch for the green light. If you’re looking for a street sign, it’s often posted on the corner of one of the buildings at the intersection. Although I haven’t figured out which corner it always is. There are lots of one-way roads, so you may not always be able to turn where you thought you wanted to. And when you turn, you always have to remember to check behind you to make sure there isn’t a bicyclist that is going straight. (There are lots of us, and we appreciate that extra moment.)

Along with these structural factors are the behaviors of fellow drivers. Your lane might suddenly be blocked by a delivery truck parked in the ‘second row,’ a taxi picking up or dropping off a passenger, or a car preparing to parallel park. Procedure = blinker, quick look, controlled swerve.

All of this is just a side effect of the fact that there’s a lot less space here. Much of the city was designed and built before there were so many (big) cars on the road. But that’s how it is, and people deal with it very well. Everybody (almost) seems to be hyper aware. A blinker is taken seriously and treated with respect. It also helps that the in-city speed limit is 50 kmh (31 mph), which allows for better reaction time and shorter breaking distances. I have to admit though, with so much going on, 50 kmh still seems fast.

Even if/when I do get comfortable with driving around Düsseldorf, there’s still the obstacle of parking. You want me to parallel park into a space big enough to fit my car plus a half-empty roll of toilet paper on each end? And to do it quickly because the street car is coming? But that’s a topic for another day….

What to love about summer

It. Has. Finally. Arrived. Summer is here! It’s amazing what a difference it makes to be greeted by the shining sun first thing in the morning. Here are some of my favorite things about the beginning of summer in Düsseldorf:

  • Blue skies and sunshine
  • People everywhere (where were they all winter?)
  • Drinking coffee at an outdoor street cafe
  • The crowds on Ratinger Straße (Düsseldorf’s ‘party’ street)
  • Shorts, sandals, and sunglasses
  • Daring to leave the apartment without a scarf or a real jacket
  • Grown men eating gelato with ridiculously dainty, brightly colored plastic spoons
  • The pasty bodies of sun worshippers speckled all over the bright green grass of the Hofgarten
  • The air filled with swirling white seed heads from all the blooming trees
  • Riding my bike along the Rhine

I love it, love it, love it!