Friday, 28 September 2007

Bikes are not the only fruit

Something else I've noticed about the people of Cologne recently...they don't just limit their two-wheeled-human-powered transportation methods to bicycles. Oh no. Grown-ups can also be seen regularly utilising:

• rollerskates
• skateboards
• and push along scooters

Apparently there is no shame in it. Perhaps it even passes for cool?

Today, while I was waiting at a pedestrian crossing with the pram, a man in a black suit (ie unmistakably a grown-up) wheeled up beside me. He pointed to some buttons on the pram's handles and asked whether they were brakes. Er, no, I said, with a note of confusion in my voice. Firstly they weren't. Secondly, why on earth did he feel it was a normal thing to ask a lady he'd just met at a crossing?

Then I was confused again as he hopped on to his push along scooter and sped off. Perhaps he was grateful for his chosen mode of transport - after all, it meant he could get away at speed following his embarrassing question...

Monday, 24 September 2007

Poor man's piñata

No sooner had we turned off the light last night then we heard the sound of an insect noisily bashing against a surface in our room. Unable to sleep for fear of this unknown beastie and its noise, I made Simon get up to investigate. Once the light was back on we realised the racket was coming from inside our round paper light shade (you know, one of those really cheap ones that collapses down flat). The noise was from a fly, bashing itself against the inside of the shade. The fly was trapped, but alive.

In order to make it stop we either had to a) kill it inside the light fitting, b) get it out, or c) or take down the light fitting.

We started with a mix of approaches a and b. First up, we searched for a ruler. The idea being to tap the paper shade and either stun the fly or get it out. All we could lay our hands on was my '2000 years of history by the metre' ruler. (It's great. It folds out to 2 metres and each centimetre is marked with a different event from the last 2000 years. Get one. You won't regret it.) I laid in bed watching Simon repeatedly hitting the outside of the shade with the ruler, like some bizarre late night game of Piñata.

Fly was having none of it.

'Ah-ha', I thought. We don't have any fly spray, but we do have some Lynx. If the ads are to be believed, it's so deadly to those who smell it that they will be stunned into doing whatever you like. Perfect.

I ran to fetch the can of Lynx. Simon sprayed it inside the shade. Yet still the fly refused to die or come out with its six legs up. Weary and tired we needed a new plan.

The plan was simple. It was option c. Simon waited until the fly was in the centre of the shade. He then carefully unhooked the shade from the light bulb, with the fly in it. He collapsed the shade, put it on the floor and covered it with a book. The fly got to live but it couldn't make too much noise in its confined space. We got to go to bed.

It's now 12 hours later. The shade is still collapsed on our bedroom floor and I can hear the fly gently buzzing inside it. I might release it into the wild. So a bird can eat it...

Monday, 17 September 2007

Can't do without IT

I don’t think I’d survive very long as an expat without IT. It’s essential for…

Communicating with family and friends overseas
Email is the main tool I use as it's easy and cheap, but recently I have been taking advantage of the phone software, Skype.
Vicky and April do a video phone in to EnglandWith Skype software and a webcam I can do space age style video phone-ins to my family (but I have to brush my hair first). It's really important to be able to do this so they can see how April is doing (she changes so much and I don't want them to miss anything). Skype also allows me to have long chats with friends and family without spending too many Euros.

Buying stuff
Using the internet I can order expat foods (eg proper English tea) which enables me to cope with living in a foreign landscape. While I have managed to source most of my usual groceries here, there are annoying gaps that only online expat suppliers can fill. I'd be miserable if I had to survive on German tea...


Thank heavens for Google on this one! I can copy and paste blocks of German text into Google translate and ask for it to be turned into English. It’s not fail-safe, but it’s dependable enough to give me the gist.
Also, whenever I have a German grammar question I usually turn to Google to find a quick answer.

I use the internet a lot to find things out. I did this before I moved to Germany, but now I really rely on it. I don't have the benefit of being able to understand local radio, TV, or newspapers and nor do I have a well-developed community network here (yet), so the internet is my first port of call for questions like 'What's the best Thai restaurant in Cologne?' or 'Where can I go for baby swimming classes?'.

I need IT to be able to publish my blog. And what motivates me to have a blog?
1. I need to keep my grey matter ticking over (it could easily turn to mush when pregnancy and new motherhood are taken into account)
2. It's another means of letting my family and friends know what I’m up to
3. It's a great way to record my experiences: I am archiving all my entries and I intend to print and bind them when I return to the UK so I’ll always have a diary about my time here

All hail the interweb!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

German pirating

Avast me hearties, for it be 6 days to International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

I am pleased that even Germans can join in, courtesy of this handy guide to sprechen Sie Deutsche pirate. Read this or you're a 'Küstenschiffer' and I will have to make you 'Über die Planke schicken'.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Oh, the things I've seen...

My parents have been over for a few days which was great as I was really missing them. Plus, it was a good excuse to go sightseeing. The last time ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ (to give them their proper names) were in Germany I’d only just given birth and could barely walk so they had to go exploring on their own. It was good to be able to go to some interesting places together this time.


penguins waddlingWe paid a visit to Cologne Zoo which I had been meaning to do for some time. Dating from 1860, the zoo has quite an impressive range of animals, from honey bears to deer. I think my favourites were the penguins, just because they waddle in an amusing way. It is a great resource for the city and very interesting, although perhaps some of the enclosures could have been bigger.

We also went to visit the Roman Praetorium museum of Cologne. As well as being an interesting place to see Roman exhibits, it is good because from here you can walk down into the underground remains of Cologne’s sewerage system. Roman Cologne had a very advanced water system - as well as the sewerage system for drainage, it was supplied with fresh spring water via an 80 kilometre-long aqueduct which ran from the Eifel hills.


Augustusburg PalaceWe decided to head out for a car trip on Saturday and went to the nearby town of Brühl. It is famous for two 18th Century palaces, called Augustusburg and Falkenlust, built by the powerful Archbishop of Cologne, Clemens August. The palaces have UNESCO World Heritage status. We visited the beautiful baroque confection that is Augustusburg (see photo). It has a stunning hallway clad completely in marble and decorated with frescoes. We didn’t have time to take in Falkenlust, which was built as a hunting lodge for Clemens August to practise falconry.

tiles in BrühlAmbling around the town we came across this lovely piece of wall art on the town hall, made up from tiles. The tiles seemed to be depicting the history of the town. Here is the complete artwork, being inspected by me and ‘Dad’.

carnageHere is a close up, showing one of the tiles.
Don't know what's happening here, but it doesn't look good.

telephone boxNext to the town hall was this old English phone box. At first it seems like a completely normal piece of street furniture, until you remember that you are in Germany, not England. The phone box had a plaque on the front, notifying all about Brühl’s twinning with Leamington Spa (the towns were twinned in 1973).

stuffed animalsThere was a town event going on when we visited. It was hard to make out what the point of the event was, but it seemed to be various hobbyists and charities displaying their interests. I wonder what interest group this display represents? Perhaps the Woodland Tiny Creatures Indoor Climbing Society?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Our local corner shop

leather corset shopThere is a shop exactly opposite our apartment block. As convenient as you like. It's our corner shop. Except it doesn't sell chocolate, wine, or any other of life's little necessities.

Unless, of course, you consider leather corsets a 'little necessity'. In which case you'd be very happy. You could have your pick of leather under garments. You could drop by every day to peruse the stock. Perhaps buy a little something to surprise your partner.

Interesting, I have never, ever, seen anyone go in there apart from the owner. I guess the owner relies on internet sales...