Yes, I’ve made it – I’m now living in Germany!
First of all, however, I was able to enjoy several leaving events (I think I counted nine in total). These included Black Forest Gateau at a church housegroup, several meals with friends and, on the Saturday before I went, a cycle ride around my bit of Essex followed by Bring & Share Cake at the local pub, The Haywain in Little Bromley.
People brought and shared a heck of a lot of cake!
This is Donauwelle, made by my German friend Gundi.
This was a wonderful chocolate cake made by friend Clare with mini eggs on top and Kitkats round the side like a picket fence!
James and I counted 72 friends, neighbours, family and others who came along to my leaving event at the Haywain which was wonderful.
The following day I had a lunch at a friend’s house for members of the choir with which I sing at Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester. I brought along some of the spare cake from the previous evening at the Haywain but hostess Louise had also made me this wonderful cake with little cyclists on the top!
Susie, wife of our choir director, had made her wonderful butterfly cakes.
My two Dutch friends Alex and Vince had both brought my favourite Dutch food, poffertjes (mini pancakes) with them to the event at the Haywain the day before, so I shared some of the leftovers at the choir party. Vince had included powdered sugar and a special caramel sauce to go on them too (whereas Alex insists that poffertjes should only have sugar and butter…)
Here I am enjoying my poffertjes.
Susie, who made the butterfly cakes, also made this work of art pavlova!
After the choir lunch we had a day to organise everything and pack for our trip to Germany.
First of all, though, I opened a few of the presents and cards that I had been given.
There seems to be a continuing cake theme!
Getting ready to leave
On Monday 31st March it was time to load up the car.
Because the dog gets really upset when we do this we waited until she was at the groomer’s to start the major packing and loading of the car. We had an hour and ten minutes which didn’t seem very long but fortunately we were able to do everything in that time, including box up my iMac.
Here is the car ‘before’.
And here is the car ‘after’. We didn’t need the roof box!
Even though she hadn’t seen us packing the car, Poppy knew something was up when she got home and looked very mournful!
Our ferry wasn’t until 23:15 on Monday evening so we had the whole day at home, having packed up the car by 11:30am. We walked the dog, went to visit a friend for a cuppa and generally relaxed, eating our evening meal as normal. The dog calmed down a bit.
Heading for Germany at last!
Then it was time to leave – and Poppy went into the kennels on the ferry, which she really doesn’t like.
This is the view from the kennelcam in our cabin.
You can see her there in her basket. She was lying down but almost every time when we looked she was clearly whining/howling. I don’t think she got much sleep at all.
We were woken up very early as usual (especially as the clocks had gone forward just the day before) and got ourselves ready early so we could leave the cabin and watch the ferry docking. You can see the lights of Hoek van Holland in the distance.
Then it was time to disembark so we collected Poppy, went to our car and headed out into the Netherlands.
Friend Alex from Rotterdam got a webcam pic of some cars leaving the ferry – perhaps ours was one of those!
As soon as we were off the ferry we stopped the car and gave Poppy a nice walk along the cycle path that goes alongside the Maas river towards Rotterdam (although not that far!) We walked for about half an hour, giving her plenty of time to sniff the Dutch paths and relax after her stressful crossing.
Then it was back to the car and hitting the road to Kempen, just 135 miles away.
The route to Kempen involves several different motorways but none of the route seems ever to be that busy and we didn’t have any queues to hold us up. We arrived at Kempen at about half past ten in the morning. The landlady Gudula and her husband Frank and daughter Lara were out so she had left me the code for their key safe and, lo and behold, the house keys were in there.
We went up to the apartment – James was able to see for the first time where I’ll be living for a year. Although he’d visited the house in Kempen before they had another person renting the apartment at the time so we couldn’t go in.
They had prepared us a welcome message on the dining table!
After eating a few of the goodies (and really enjoying the smell of the curry powder that was included in the parcel of food) we unpacked the car. The final job was to unpack Alfie and put him back together – here he is outside his new home.
Poppy was definitely still feeling unsettled after the journey so we took her out for a walk in the lovely sunshine.
Great views across the wide open farmland.
And some new vegetation to get stuck on the dog’s face!
We walked to the bakery in Sankt Hubert for some lunch. James sat outside with Poppy whilst I went in to choose some food. A German lady started haranguing me – I couldn’t hear her initially (I’m a bit deaf) and it took a while to work out what she was saying but she was basically complaining that we had our dog in sight of her dog which was lying outside the bakery, not tied up. Her dog (a German Shepherd) was fine, it was just looking at Poppy, but the lady said we should have sat elsewhere so as not to upset her dog. I pointed out that there weren’t any other cleared tables. She wasn’t impressed and collected her dog and left. As a first interaction with a local this could have been a bit disheartening but I’ve met hundreds of German people before and they’re almost all really friendly. This lady must have been having a bad day – her dog certainly didn’t seem to mind us!
It was a mile walk to the bakery (one of five in Sankt Hubert) so we turned round after our belegte Brötchen to walk back to the apartment.
We had promised the landlady a cream tea when we arrived and discovered the local farm shop was selling their own home-grown strawberries so bought some. We then went back to the apartment and I assembled my cake plate and we took it down to eat on their patio with the scones, Tiptree little scarlet jam, clotted cream and English tea. All very yummy!
Then it was back to the apartment to finish unpacking the final few things. The iMac was working well but having only one computer between two is less convenient!
Extras needed for a year abroad
The apartment I have rented is a Ferienwohnung (Holiday Apartment). This means it’s set up with a kitchen for self-catering purposes and this kitchen has rather more utensils and things that most (it has a proper oven, for example; lots of Ferienwohnungen just have two hob rings and no oven). However, for living here long term I needed to get a few extra items. Some I had brought with me from home (I had made a list of what I needed when here last year) but others we had to go out and buy.
So on the second day here, Wednesday, we trotted off to the industrial estate bit of Kempen that has lots of big shops and supermarkets.
First item was the microwave – a cheap, basic one that I can use to defrost stuff and to cook some vegetables maybe. It will be called the Popty Ping (Welsh) or Magnetron (Dutch), both of which sound much better than microwave or Mikrowelle.
We’re a bit short of electrical sockets in the kitchen so the fridge, popty ping and kettle use them all up. If I decide to get a rice cooker or something I shall have to think a bit more about it!
Before I left home I checked on the website of Fressnapf, the German equivalent of Pets At Home, what food they had. It turns out that they stock James Wellbeloved which is available in the UK so I switched Poppy to that, ready to buy some more in Germany. Of course when I got to the Kempen Fressnapf it turns out they don’t stock it, so we had to choose something else. We ended up with Bosch food!
Poppy was interested – and she really likes the food!
In Germany there is something called Meldepflicht which means you must register where you live. If you move house you have to deregister from the old address and re-register in the new one.
As a new arrival in Germany I had to register at the Rathaus in Kempen so I headed off on my trike, prepared for a long wait (I’d heard stories of people having to wait for 3 hours in the queue).
I had to wait about one minute before someone saw me. She sorted out my registration which took about five minutes and I was given the official form, with a stamp from Kempen, to prove that I now live here. The form is necessary for lots of administrative things.
I also had to register Poppy for the Hundesteuer (dog tax), which varies in price depending on how large the dog is. I assumed I would need to go to another department in the Rathaus but the same lady could do this for me. Poppy was registered and given a special tag which she has to wear all the time.
She doesn’t seem particularly thrilled to now be an official German dog.
I also had to do an identity proof thingie at the Post Office as part of my application for a bank account. I already have one German bank account, with Deutsche Bank, but they won’t let me have an EC card (like a debit card), only a cashpoint card which is a bit useless. Now I had a German address it was much easier to open a bank account that wouldn’t charge me (as Deutsche Bank do) and would actually let me have some plastic. I also went into Deutsche Bank and changed my address there, plus had a bit of a moan about the lack of EC Card. The lady said I should come back in a week and see if they would change their mind now I had a German address.
So that was most of the major administrative things all done within the first full day in Germany and it hadn’t taken me more than an hour in total.
When I got home we took the dog out for another walk before dinner, which coincided nicely with Beer O’Clock for James!
And for me, the chance to open some more pressies I had been given at my leaving do (thanks everyone for being so generous!) and then to unveil the special chocolates given to me by friend Kirstie at Christmas. Yes, I hadn’t eaten them straight away but had stored them up to enjoy them as a treat when I arrived in Germany.
A slow unveiling…
Four different flavours of special chocolates…
They are labelled ‘Great British Puddings’ although I’m unconvinced that Black Forest is an English pudding.
Still, they tasted wonderful!
Continuing the British theme, various people had given me mugs and these are displayed here.
Doggy was now getting a little more settled (she seemed to be quite worried if we left her initially) but it helped for her to have a nice long walk.
On Thursday morning we took her on a walk James had seen the day before. Along a forest path we discovered a ladder which, of course, we had to climb (there were no signs forbidding it after all!)
We continued on and found a knock-about football field which was covered in these lovely little plants.
I posted the picture on Facebook asking if anyone knew what they were and got the following information:
Lesley: Lady’s Smock
Lesley: Cuckoo Flower
Dad: Kuckucksblumen (Cuckoo flower)
Jet (Dutch): Pinksterbloemen or Pfinksterblume
Jay: Cardamine pratensis
Gabriele (German): Wiesenschaumkraut
On we walked, meeting other dogs and some cyclists on the way – and sometimes both together.
A view of the lovely quiet hamlet of Escheln where I am now living.
The house where I live is called ‘Bienenstock’ which means ‘Beehive’ – there are several hives here. You can just see Poppy at the bottom of the photo – I’m hoping she doesn’t get stung too often!
After our walk it was time to head out again for another session of purchasing things I need for a year in a holiday apartment.
We’d passed a likely-looking shop on our travels yesterday so with shopping list in hand (for things like washing basket, pedal bin, trough for growing salad indoors, rubber mat for the dog food eating area, etc) we headed for Self in Kempen.
It was a huge shop with lots of different areas – a bit like a combination of The Range, B&Q and IKEA.
They were keen on the Union Jack flag as well – there were several items with this pattern. This coathook rack is upside down though!
We found almost everything on the list so then headed off to Lidl for the final thing (a table lamp for my bedside table) and some food. We had forgotten our plastic bags so the washing basket came in handy!
We unpacked, had our lunch and then after chilling out for a bit and playing with the dog we thought it was time to go out cycling together.
James doesn’t have a bike here – there wasn’t room in the car, even for a folding bike, and he would only be here for six days, but the landlady Gudula said that he could borrow her bike whenever he likes. It’s a traditional German ladies’ bike with 5-speed hub gear, back pedal brake and high riding position. I thought it suited James very well!
When riding around Germany you see hundreds of young people riding bikes like this – they aren’t obsessed with carbon bling like the UK MAMILs.
We rode to Sankt Hubert and I then showed James the shortcut to Kempen which is a bicycle-only route. It passes the Griesson de Beukelaer chocolate factory but once again we didn’t stop (that’s three times I had been past the factory without succumbing to its lures).
We were soon in Kempen and headed right to the centre, Buttermarkt, where we sat outside the Rathaus (Town Hall) where I registered yesterday and had some wonderful ice cream. I had Snickers & Hazelnut, James had Snickers and Cherry.
I liked these ice creams!
After that it seemed like a good idea to cycle all the way around the walls of Kempen, which is a mediaeval village.
We saw this lady on a recumbent trike as we were going round the walls – James says she had electric assist!
There are many interesting structures dotted around the walls.
I liked this windmill!
James stopped to put a bit more air in the tyres but the bike didn’t seem to want that so he gave up. It looks like most bikes in Germany with rather flat tyres but that probably gives a more comfortable ride over the cobbles!
This is the Kempen logo which includes all these buildings around the walls plus some of the churches too.
We returned to the centre again before heading off back towards Sankt Hubert.
This time we stopped at the Griesson de Beukelaer factory to buy a little something to tide us over chocolate-wise.
There was a fair amount of choice!
We rode back with a welcome tailwind but some heavy clouds in the distance.
Like back in the UK in Great Bromley they have been planting potatoes. The mounds for the potatoes here seem rather more precise and knife-edged!
About 100 metres from the house is a Spargelhof (asparagus-growing place) which also does strawberries. They are three weeks early this year, apparently! We had some the other day and they were lovely so we decided to get some more.
This is the asparagus choice – various different grades.
And they have this weird machine that peels/cleans the asparagus spears. The lady puts one asparagus spear in at a time and it pops out the other end.
Here she is collecting up the trimmed Spargel – you can see the ribbon-like stuff that’s been peeled off in the hopper below the machine.
I think the ones in plastic bags have already been trimmed.
Here’s a map of our complete 8.5 mile cycle ride today.
So a successful day all round. Poppy has now settled very well and doesn’t seem too upset if we go out without her. Here she is snoozing after her dinner this evening. Good thing we brought throws and other covers with us for the furniture!
Everything is unpacked and although I’m still fiddling around a bit with furniture/storage I’m nearly there and certainly feel at home. The landlady and her family are incredibly friendly and helpful which makes it all feel really homelike.
And tomorrow Penelope the Velomobile will arrive…