Exploring: Osnabrück Weihnachtsmarkt

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You know how I said Christmas was my favorite time of the year? Well, let’s face it, nobody does Christmas quite like Germany and it’s famous Christmas markets.

Once the end of November rolls around, Germany turns into a sea of Jack Wolfskin jackets, hats and scarves (they’re always well prepared for the cold weather) and everyone heads to their local Christmas market. In the German’s case, this is Osnabrück, and last year we managed to fly in just before the market closed – you can imagine the excitement on my face when I realized we’d make it to Osnabrück before the market closed!

We literally jumped off the plane and headed into the city, ready to get into the festive spirit and soak up the Christmas atmosphere. Weihnachtsmarkts pop up in just about every German town and city in December, some are bigger than others but they’re all just so festive. It’s so good to see people of all ages in the same place, meeting friends, chatting and keeping warm with some Glühwein or a hot chocolate. It is definitely my most favorite German tradition they’re just so pretty with their little huts covered in lights that line the streets of the towns.

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Strolling around you’re hit with so many different, delicious smells. First, there’s the Glühwein, a red wine loaded with spices and heated up to keep you warm. Obviously, this is Germany so you can add a shot of amaretto or any other liquor to spice it up that little bit more, it wouldn’t be Germany if you couldn’t!

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Then there’s the bratwurst and currywurst, the Kartoffelpuffer, caramelized almonds and other nuts, Lebkuchen and various other different treats like deep fried cheese, vegetables and of course pommes – that’s chips to you Brits and french fries for the Americans around here! You literally don’t know what to chose and usually come away feeling a little bit full with half a bag of almonds because your eyes were a little it too big for your belly!

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The aim of the game is to stroll around the little huts, check out some of the handmade gifts and drink as much Glühwein, feuerbowle or hot chocolate as you can manage whilst catching up with your friends and family. If you ask me, it’s a blummin good tradition that should be adopted everywhere around the world! Well done Germany, this expat is so sad that she won’t be able to make it to one of your very Christmassy and very special Weihnachtsmarkts this year.

I bloody love Christmas.

I am officially feeling full on festive! The Christmas songs have been on and the house has turned into a winter wonderland! Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It means Christmas decorations, Glühwein, family and food – things just could not get any better than that. My excitement levels go off the scale once Thanksgiving is over and it’s time to get a Christmas tree and that is exactly what happened this weekend.

Saturday came around and it was time for the now traditional trip with our friends Mandy and Carson to pick out our Christmas trees. So off we went to Braselton and to Cooper’s Christmas Tree Farm to kick start the festive season.

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We strolled around the trees before coming across, what we thought was the perfect tree. The German used his expert measuring skills and decided it would fit in our apartment:

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So, we pulled it to the trimming area, paid for our new, beautiful Christmas tree and got it wrapped, ready for the trip home. We also got to do something I’ve always wanted to do – take the Christmas tree home tied to the roof of the car. It’s the simple things in life!

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We got the tree home and it literally just fitted in the apartment – there’s 3 inches between the top of it and the ceiling! It seems we got a little it carried away with our Christmas tree excitement and under estimated the size of the tree! When we started to cut the string off from the tree it’s true size was revealed and it is huge! We ended up having to take an end table out of the living room just to fit it into the corner. This thing is definitely bigger than the one we had last year. Go big or go home!

Then came the decorating. Now, we’re the type of people who puts the lights on first, however, we made it half way up the tree before running out of lights. Cue a quick dash to the store to stock up on 200 more lights and extra ornaments – if more lights were needed, we were definitely going to need more baubles. Once back, we put the extra lights on and still needed more! Thankfully I had a small string of lights I use on the fireplace which fit perfectly. Finally, the tree was full of lights! Between the lights and the finished product there was a disaster in the shape of a broken bauble (and a very sad expression on this little expats face) but I think it looks pretty darn special.

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I am loving the new ornaments we bought and the fact that the tree is the biggest we have ever had:

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Next up was the fireplace, created with the scraps from the bottom of the Christmas tree, some cardboard letters from Hobby Lobby, some pine cones and a string of lights. This year we have new monogrammed stockings from Target (remember how I love to shop in that place, and get sucked in) and I love them. We also added the garland, again a great find in Target!

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And finally, came the advent candles. I’ve had this since we lived back in the UK, obviously the candles are replaced every year. As this weekend marked the first Sunday in advent, we lit the first candle. Another will follow next week, the week after and the week before Christmas.

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The Richter house is now officially ready for the festive season and I have a permanent Christmas is coming smile on my face. We finished our Christmas decorating in true German style with some Glühwein and stollen in our Münster Weihnachtsmarkt mugs, let’s face it, it would have been rude not to, especially as we’re missing out on the Christmas markets in Germany this year (cue very sad expat face:-(). It was the perfect end to a very Christmassy day. To me, Christmas is just magical. I love the Christmas season so much, it’s unbelievable! I can’t stop looking at the huge tree, cracking out a smile and saying ‘I bloody love Christmas!’

It also means the countdown is now on to our trip back home for Christmas – our flight leaves in just over 2 weeks, bring on the festivities!

It’s Turkey Day – Happy Thanksgiving!

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And that is my view right now.

Turkey day is here which can only mean a morning of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! This has pretty much become a Thanksgiving day tradition in the Richter household, well, it’s our second Thanksgiving in the states and this is how we’ve spent both of them, on the sofa, in our comfy pants watching the parade! The German is also doing is homework ahead of Black Friday tomorrow – that guy loves a bargain!

Obviously, that’s not the only thing Thanksgiving is all about. It’s about giving thanks, spending time with family and friends and generally eating a little bit too much. A little bit like a pre-Christmas celebration! Earlier this month we were invited to our friend Carson’s family dinner for a second year – those guys are just so nice! Later, we’re going to see our Scottish friends (who we met through this little piece of cyberspace that I call my blog – yay!) to celebrate with other expats and some Americans of course, one of which is our friend’s daughter who was born earlier this year – so cute!

So there you have it, these 2 expats have fully embraced the American holiday of Thanksgiving – it would be rude not to! Happy Thanksgiving Y’all! Hope you’re having a fabulous day and you’re celebrating in style!

5 Things I Hate about being an Expat in America…Part 4

Expat Hate

We’ve had another installment of 5 Things I Love about being an Expat in America so, it’s now time for 5 Things I Hate. As always, these aren’t things I necessarily hate, just things that I find different/weird/annoying about life here in the States. Ready? Here goes!

1. Cracks in toilet doors.
You weren’t expecting me to write that one now were you? It seems the people who build toilet cubicles in America can’t get their measurements right, ever. Just about every single toilet you go in has a crack between the door and the cubicle frame. Sometimes, they’re so big that if you look at the wrong time, you might actually make eye contact with the person who’s in there. Shocking. Hideous. Just plain wrong. Why would I want to see someone while they are on the toilet? Why would I want someone to see me while I’m on the toilet? Talk about an invasion of privacy. I’m pretty sure it isn’t for safety reasons seen as though the gaps both above and below the cubicle are also huge. Sort it out America, I don’t want to have to accidentally make awkward eye contact with another person whilst they’re having a pee again.

2. Credit card security…of the lack of it.
Using a credit card is as popular and normal as taking a shower here in America. I hardly ever have any cash on me (which can cause some evil looks when I go to the nail salon and have to tip on the card receipt!) and use my cards for absolutely everything, I even use it to buy a coke from a vending machine! However, when it comes to credit card security, America is still living in the dark ages. Nobody ever checks my signature when I pay for things. Occasionally I’ll get asked for my ID which they check against my card but that is very, very rare. My credit card doesn’t have a chip on it or a PIN number (which causes me a shed load of problems when I’m back in Europe, the land of chip and PIN!) sometimes I don’t even have to sign for a purchase. It basically means anybody could use my card to pay for anything, anywhere. Scary. Take note from Europe America and get some PIN numbers installed, or at least check my signature!

3. Sweet bread.
What is it with America and it’s obsession to have everything so sweet? Cakes are laden with sugar, so much so that sometimes I can’t finish a piece and we all know that is a crime! I have to ask for my drinks at Starbucks to have half the regular amount of syrup. First world problems people. But, the thing that gets me the most is the sweetness of the bread here. Seriously, a slice of white bread is super sweet compared to a good old slice of Hovis or Warburtons back home.It’s upsetting when you’re so excited for a slice of toast (it’s a sad life I lead, I know) and when you bite into it expecting some savory, buttery goodness you get some sort of buttery sweet ickyness that is just not nice. Why, America? Why?

4. Shop assistants.
Ok, so I’m a Brit (in case you didn’t know!) and us Brits like to keep ourselves to ourselves. What we don’t like is to be pestered, and America shop assistants certainly know how to pester. I walked into a store just the other day and was, of course, greeted with “Welcome to …” which is all fine and dandy, but, she went on, and on, and on. She asked me if I was looking for anything in particular to which my reply was no, I’m just looking. That didn’t deter her. She then went on to ask me if I’d shopped here before. My reply, yes. Even the one word answer didn’t stop her, or the fact I was rummaging in the rails and only half looking/listening to her. She then asked when I was last in the store! I literally had no idea so answered with a while ago and started to move away from the rack and onto another. Then she asked me my name, which, reluctantly I had to tell her, before she finally gave up, told me her name and said to ask her if I needed anything. Now, I’m all of this good customer service but that was just a little over the top. When I shop, I like to look at stuff without being interrupted. If I need help, I’ll search out a shop assistant and ask them. Maybe it’s just my Britishness but I really don’t like being pestered in a shop.

5. Loud Americans.
Now, I know every nationality is different. I know every person is different. In America though, there seems to be a lot of loud people. Seriously. I definitely don’t need to listen to your whole, big conversation about how you’re going to Florida for the weekend or how you’re about to send an important email that will triple your workload, how you’re planning to stuff your face with Mexican food this evening or that hot date you have planned whilst I’m trying to get some work done. I’m sure I know every aspect of some people’s lives just from sitting in Starbucks for an hour. I know I’m working in a public place and I do expect some noise but I expect it from the person next to me, not the person at the other end of the coffee house! I guess it could annoy me because us Brits are a little more reserved and like to keep ourselves to ourselves. It definitely doesn’t help when you want to concentrate on something though!

5 Things I Love About being an Expat in America…Part 4

Expat Love

It seems you guys like to read about what I love and hate about life as an expat in America, so, for your reading pleasure, here is the latest installment.

1. The Long Hot Summer.
It’s nearly November and I’m still wearing sandals. Seriously. The weather here is one of the major plus points of being an expat, especially when you’ve moved from the dull, grey, constantly rainy place that is northern England! Atlanta boasts amazing weather practically 8 months of the year. From about mid-April to mid-October jeans are literally nowhere to be seen. Temperatures are in the 70s and higher and shorts, skirts and dresses are the only clothes you will need. It’s great to finally have and use a summer and winter wardrobe instead of a summer wardrobe on a 2 week holiday to Europe. The sun shines nearly every single day and you can more often than not make plans outside and they won’t be cancelled because of the weather. Back in good old Blightly though, summer usually turns up for one weekend a year, if you’re lucky, in extreme cases, that gets stretched out for 2 weeks. The country goes mad as people make the most of the couple of days of summer. The shorts are on, supermarkets sell out of BBQ food and everyone walks around sporting strap marks and sunburn – hey, we might not see the sun for another 12 months! Here though, I can take things a little slower knowing that the sunshine and warm temperatures will be around for months, although most of the time that doesn’t happen and the German has to remind me that the sun isn’t going away! I think it’s the British girl inside me that’s convinced it will disappear pretty soon!

2. The Mailboxes.
Ok, so this one is pretty silly but hey, I’m living in a different country and it’s sometimes the little things that make me smile! I love the mailboxes around here, standing at the end of driveways waiting for the mailman to come and pop some letters in from his little truck. This is probably because the only time I have ever seen the is, of course, in the movies, and now that they’re a reality for me it’s pretty weird. It’s a bit like the school bus situation I mentioned before, I’m still in awe when I see one! Sadly, I don’t have an American mailbox yet. Living on an apartment complex means we have a tiny box in the middle of many others at a mail center. One day though, when we (hopefully) get our big American house I’ll be making sure one of those beasts is standing proudly at the end of my driveway!

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3. Target

This place kicks some serious butt. So, for you readers that have never heard of Target before, let me explain. Target is a supermarket here in America but it literally has everything you can think of, and I mean everything. There’s food, clothes, electrical stuff, baby stuff, shoes and home accessories like furniture and every other piece of accent stuff you can imagine for your home. Now, I often say, I’m just popping into Target for something and end up spending hours in that place. Seriously, it sucks you in. You go in for one product and end up doing the whole I’ll just look at this, I’ll just look at that and before you know it you’ve hit up every section in the store and have an overflowing trolley, probably with stuff you don’t really need. I’m a sucker for that dollar section at times and don’t even get me started on the shoes, home accessories and candles…! The German’s face goes a whiter shade of pale when I tell him I’m headed Target’s way!

4. The Thunderstorms
When it rains here, it rains! There’s none of that constant drizzle stuff you get back in England that lasts all day and gets you soaking wet without you realizing it, this stuff is the real thing. We’re talking rain that is bouncing a foot off the floor and gets you soaked to the bone within seconds, the type that means you have to stay in the car/house/shop you’re in until it stops because it’s not worth heading out in. I love listening to it and watching it, the claps of thunder are so loud you think the windows could break, there are big flashes of lightening and any car that is on the road has to drive at literally 2 mph to stay safe. Although many American drivers don’t think this is necessary and still drive at their usual high speeds. Safety first people! Water runs down the street like a stream, and, still to this day despite seeing many storms since moving over here, I’m mesmerized by them and could watch them all day! We also can’t forget the major storms that involve tornado warnings too. We have a siren at our apartment complex to warn us but the German and I had no idea what it was when we first moved in and carried on with our plans. It wasn’t until we got in the car and heard the tornado warning on the radio that everything clicked! Whoops!

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5. Shopping.
Who doesn’t like shopping? Well, apart from most of the men in the world! Ladies, this one is aimed at you. Shopping here in America is so good! Most things are cheaper than they are back in Europe and, if you head to the outlet stores, you’re guaranteed to find a good bargain. Whenever we have visitors, shopping is always on the agenda, which the German isn’t too keen on because that usually means I will spend money too! They come over with empty suitcases and return with cases they’ve had to sit on to get closed! Some of the prices are unbelievable – the other day, I got a pair of Converse for $12. Seriously! You couldn’t make it up! We can’t forget Black Friday either – the day designer goods are at more than affordable prices! I’m already writing up my hit list for this years trip!

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Stay tuned for the next installment of 5 Things I Hate about being an Expat in America – it’s coming up next week!

I cried at a Christmas advert.

Yes people, you read that right.

My name is Rachel and I cried at a Christmas advert, or two, or maybe even three.

There. I said it. I confess. But, let me just show you which advert actually made me cry and you tell me whether or not this thing made you tear up:

No, just me. Oh dear.

You see, I might have mentioned this one before, I bloody love Christmas! Christmas is the BEST time of the year. It’s magical, Santa comes down the chimney (hopefully he’ll realize I’ll be in England this year), you can watch Elf and Home Alone endless times without feeling bad, Christmas trees are everywhere and, back in the UK, Christmas adverts appear on the TV.

I remember writing a post about this last year, (click here to read more), and this year, things are just the same. Adverts in America just don’t cut it as well as the British ones do when it comes to the Holidays!

So, back to me crying at a Christmas ad. So, I didn’t just cry a couple of tears, I was practically in floods of them. The German looked at me with a strange, puzzled look on his face before saying ‘It’s just an advert! Do you want a coffee?’ You’ve got to love his care and compassion for his wife there!

I cried at this one too:

Bad I know. Why on earth am I confessing this to you people?!

Here is my reasoning for crying. I love Christmas, it’s a time for family and friends to get together, eat too much, drink too much, wear bad jumpers and generally have a bloody good time. Watching these ads makes me think of Christmas back in England with my friends and family and I can’t bloody wait! This girl is so excited, the German had better brace himself for that 9 hour flight back to Blighty…he’s probably not going to get much sleep with his excited wife sitting next to him, unable to sit still and prodding him constantly!

And then this one got thrown in the mix from British supermarket, Sainsbury’s:

I was in pieces. The mix of British and German, those thousands of soldiers who lost their lives during World War I and every other war that has followed for us, the sacrifices they made should never be forgotten. Imagine what it must have been like to be in those trenches and away from your family. Heartbreaking.

These adverts remind me just how far away from my family I am, especially the one where all the family gets together. They bring it home a little that I am 4,000 miles away and I can’t just bob round for a coffee anymore. Being an expat is often pretty tough. I think it’s turned me into an emotional wreck sometimes. Hence the crying at the adverts. I’m un-controllable. I can cry at the smallest of things and have tears streaming down my face. Oh dear.

And that people, was my explanation as to why I cry at Christmas adverts. Stupid expat.

Trailing Spouse Stories – The First Voyage

As I am officially a trailing spouse, after packing up and moving 4 thousand miles with the German to America, I thought I would get involved with this great blog crawl with D for Delicious and Tala. They’ve basically come up with a series of clever prompts for trailing spouses like me to write about every month, to share my story of life as a wife who has followed her man.

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I left the UK to start my American journey at the end of January, 2013, just 2 days after a very tearful goodbye party with my family and friends. Ma and Pa Cook drove us to the airport, with Ma Cook crying at every opportunity she got. I wasn’t much further behind her though.

I’d already waved goodbye to all our possessions that were being shipped stateside a couple of weeks before when I watched the lovely removal men pack it all into boxes whilst I sat with my feet up and made them the odd cup of tea. It was the easiest, and strangest move ever! I felt so wrong watching them do all my packing! Still, it made life a lot easier for me. They packed our furniture, kitchenware, books, pictures, ornaments and anything else that we didn’t really need as soon as we arrived. I didn’t realize it would take another 3 months until I saw it again though. That’s a whole different story!

We rocked up to the check-in desk with 3 suitcases each, 2 mini-suitcases, a rucksack and a handbag. It was obvious we weren’t just nipping across the pond for a two week holiday, especially with Ma Cook sniffling behind us. I was pretty worried we’d be overweight, we were moving countries after all but thankfully, they were all successfully checked-in, I think we even had room to spare! I’d love to say those suitcases were packed with exciting things, but, sadly they weren’t! We’re just talking clothes, shoes, some paperwork, socks and pants. Like I said, the essentials! We watched them travel down the conveyer belt, next stop Atlanta.

The more important stuff was in my hand luggage. I had my laptop, visa paperwork and the jewelry my gran had left me in her will. I had cards and presents given to us at our leaving party, all ready to be displayed in our new apartment, a great way to remind me of all the special people who were supporting our move abroad. Of course there was a travel pillow in there, I was about to go on a 9 hour flight where I was hoping I would get some shut eye! The usual phone chargers and my kindle were also stored inside.

Before we headed up the escalator to departures, Ma and Pa Cook handed me a present, not to be opened until we made it to the gate. That, was of course, popped into my handbag until we made it through security. We said some very tearful goodbyes, walked up the escalator and made our way through security. I opened the present as soon as we were through, it was a charm for my Pandora bracelet, obviously the tears started falling again. I placed it safely in my suitcase before boarding the plane.

Had I have known the stuff we’d had shipped would have taken so long I may have packed differently, maybe taking some photos of friends and family with me and packing some little things that reminded me of home. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, something you can definitely learn from. Next time, I’ll know what to expect and maybe pack a little differently.

Are you a trailing spouse? What advice do you have for somebody about to make that big leap and move to a new country?