Europe city hopping: Cologne & Bonn

At the end of January, we made a weekend trip to Cologne and Bonn. It was a quick trip because I had to be in Cologne for a trade show on the following Monday, and so we decided to spend the weekend there since ZH has not been there before, and my previous trips to Cologne and Bonn were work trips (meaning, I only saw the hotel room and customers’ offices).

Thankfully, Bremen and Cologne were connected via a direct route and we were able to arrive at our destination comfortably without any hiccups. I had booked our accommodation via Airbnb as most hotels were fully booked due to the trade show. The apartment was located near the Basilica of St. Ursula which was a short 2 min walk from the Cologne HBF.

While in Cologne, we were mainly walking around a rough agenda that we had planned. Cologne is well known for its many art museums but since we already know from our Amsterdam experience that we don’t know how to appreciate art, we decided to skip out on all the art museums.

As it was already past noon when we checked into our accommodation, we decided to head to the Mustard Museum for lunch as I had read that you can taste several different varieties of mustard at the museum and also enjoy a sausage with your choice of mustard sauce. I told my family that we were in Cologne and going to visit a mustard museum and my sister was surprised that there’s even a museum for mustard sauce. We were too, and that’s why we decided to visit it! It was about 30 minutes’ walk from our apartment to the museum but thankfully it was along the river and we were blessed with good weather that day (by good, I mean blue skies and not too cold, maybe around 8 degrees), so it was a lovely stroll.

Though we liked some other flavors that were for sale, we bought a jar of (boring) honey mustard at the museum to enjoy at home because the mustards were sold in large ceramic pots and I can only foresee ourselves enjoying honey mustard without getting bored before the jar is finished. It’s a pity that they don’t sell sample sizes or variety gift packs because the large sizes meant that you must really love mustard in order to finish one jar.

After the mini lunch, we crossed over to the Chocolate Museum but we only went to the Chocolate Shop because we have been to many Chocolate Museums in other countries and so we didn’t want to pay 9 Euros each for things that we have seen before. There were some interesting chocolate products in the shop and I got this Madagascan chocolate bar with sea salt and cocoa nibs but sadly it wasn’t really tasty.

On the way back to the apartment, we made several stops along the way to view some churches and Roman architecture. We also made a pit stop at the Cologne Cathedral but didn’t stay for too long as it was crowded inside with tourists, and outside with a demonstration going on.

The left picture below is the Hahnentorburg or the west gate in Cologne. It was part of the medieval city wall that once circled round Cologne. The picture on the right shows the old town hall, it is the oldest building in Cologne and has different architectural influences all in one building. Interesting.

On Sunday, we traveled to Bonn where we met up with a friend I had met while learning German in Singapore. Like me, she moved to Germany because her husband had found work in Germany. These men… they had better appreciate all the sacrifices their missuses have done for them! I do not know the lady that well, but I guess you bond naturally with your fellow countrymen when you’re longing for home. The TehSee couple (as they are commonly known among their friends) brought us around Bonn, showing us some tourist attractions such as the birthplace of Beethoven and even brought us for a short hike up the Drachenfels hills – it was a tough walk up but the view overlooking the Bonn city was gorgeous.

We then had steamboat dinner at their place as it was the first day of the Chinese New Year, and nothing signifies better than steamboat! They had put in so much effort in preparation of the food… TehSee had gone to 2 different Asian supermarkets to gather all the ingredients. We had flower crabs (! I was very surprised), salmon fish, mussels, fish balls, meat balls, tofu, kang kong vegetables, mushrooms. They even prepared a dual hotpot so we could have the choice of spicy tom yum soup or chicken broth. Talk about putting in effort! Kudos. Why don’t we have more options for Asian food like they do… 😦

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Penny savers recipe: soy sauce braised meat

I was watching a lot of Youtube when I first arrived here last year, especially 康熙来了, a Taiwanese variety talkshow that was been keeping me company during the lonely cold days here in Bremen. In one particular episode, the guests were introducing foods from their university days, and one guest introduced 卤鸡腿饭, or rice with braised chicken thigh. That sounded and looked absolutely scrumptious so I thought it might be a good dinner idea. I tried to find the simplest recipe and I think I found it. I adapted it a little since there were some ingredients that were not easily available in my area.

The recipe is very versatile – you can use any cuts of meat (chicken, pork, or even go vegetarian: tofu and eggs are nice too), and the leftover braising sauce can be kept in the freezer for future braising sessions. In fact, I think that’s the best part of the dish… you keep leftover gravy from previous sessions and add it to the next one, intensifying the flavors further.

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Apologies for the less than stellar/appetizing photo. I had tried to remove the chicken thigh as a whole piece, but it was so meltingly soft that the meat just slided off the bone as I lifted it up. Hee hee, not that I’m complaining about it!

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My one year anniversary in Germany

One year in Germany. What have I accomplished? Let’s see… my German language skills? I can understand basic conversations by catching key vocabulary but I am still not able to answer very well. I usually just say ‘yes/no, thank you’ and smile. Haha.

I travel a lot, about 600km every week, and I’ve now started to understand why frequent travelers hate traveling. Especially so when I have to wake up when it’s still cold and dark outside, plus fingers crossed that I catch all my connections!

I’ve started working in Germany, at the headquarters of the company I was working at in Singapore, and experienced how it is like to be a minority. And it kinda sucks, more than ever when conversations take place in German and I’m the only one who does not understand the language. I feel so left out and I become withdrawn. It’s not my colleagues’ fault since I’m the foreigner here, but I just appreciate the diversity in Singapore.

As what I have said on my Facebook, sometimes time passes so quickly, we say it flies. But sometimes, it feels like it’s crawling. Especially when I’m working and counting down the days to the weekend or the next holiday. Public holidays are few and far in between in this country, quite different from Singapore. They make up for it by having 30 days annual leave, but the Singaporean in me doesn’t want to spend my vacation days staying at home, doing nothing.

Anyway, it’s now autumn (pumpkin season!), and I should really start planning for my December vacation. I will be taking the last 2 weeks of the year off (Christmas break is mandatory since the office is closed).

We have finally decided on Prague, after having too many different options previously. We are planning to go to Greece for summer next year (I want to visit the DOTS island. HAHA), so we cannot afford to have a big trip now. Since we are located up north in Germany, Prague is not exactly very near us, but luckily we have various travel options such as flying there (4-6 hours), taking the coach (12 hours) or taking the train (8 hours). We eventually settled on taking the bus since we do not have to make any transits with the bus (having missed our train connections way too many times, we are wary now).
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Has anyone of you been to Prague? Your tips and recommendations will be very helpful in planning my trip! 

Europe city hopping: Greifswald

A couple of weeks ago, we rented a car and visited Max in Greifswald. He is now doing his internship there with a firm that builds yachts. Figures, since Greifswald is just next to the Baltic Sea so the yachts can be built and docked at the harbour there.

Greifswald

I’m glad that Max is living there now so that we had the chance to visit the place and take in its beauty. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come across this beautiful town.

Greifswald is about 3.5 hours drive away from Bremen, and the place is definitely bigger than where I work. Haha, the town I work in is surrounded by fields and greenery, very different from Greifswald.

Max cooked us a lovely German lunch – authentic schnitzel, and we had a BBQ dinner. German style too, with sausages, pork steaks, bell pepper, mushrooms, gyros skewers and German potato salad. 2016-07-02 18.48.342016-07-02 12.35.01

He brought us to the beach, to the harbour and the city centre, plus a large MarktKauf where I managed to find my Alpro “hazelnuss milch”. I immediately bought 6 packs of the plant milk since it’s quite difficult to find it in Bremen and my work town, plus some of my favorite vegan cheese and I tried a new vegan cream cheese.

Such a pity that we only stayed for 24 hours since it’s a long drive home, because I would love to just soak in the warm atmosphere at the beach. It was also nice seeing Max again. Hopefully we will be able to see each other soon again. The lovers (Max and ZH) need to reunite (internal joke).

Europe city hopping: Milan 2015

Part 2 of my Paris.Milan trip in Oct was of course, going to Milan! We took Easyjet from Paris’ CDG airport to Milan’s Malpensa airport. It was our first time taking Easyjet and they ain’t that easy… they were really reallllyyyy strict about carry on baggage. One piece, and one piece it is. You can have an additional small tiny bag for your necessities, but a shoulder bag like a Longchamp Le Pliage is considered as one piece. We spent quite a fair bit of time trying to squeeze our backpacks into the large Le Pliage travel bag that I brought, and into our cabin luggage too.

From Malpensa airport, we had to then take a train into the city centre where our Airbnb lodging was located. The train was comfortable and had proper station announcements.

We struggled quite a bit with street names while in Milan because everything sounded alike. Hahaha… but we also had a blast imitating the Italian accent. Not that we are poking fun at it, but it just sounds like you’re singing the opera all the time.

Mr Goh and I took a day trip to another Italian town (Verona), just 1 hour train ride out from Milan since we didn’t want to join my sister at the shopping outlets. It was very fun at Verona, our kind of holiday where we just walked around freely and took in all the sights. We purchased the 24H Verona card for 18 Euro which allowed us to enter quite a number of museums and churches for free.

We didn’t buy much in Milan because we were wary of Easyjet’s luggage policy. We realised that they (Easyjet) didn’t care so much about the weight of your carryon, but rather the SIZE. We later found out why size mattered, because when we were on board the plane, we saw so many other passengers putting their jackets into the overhead cabins, taking up precious luggage space. It kinda irked us because those jackets could have well been on their laps, freeing up space for other passengers who really needed the space for their luggage.

So anyway, I only bought one box of dried pasta because I was in Italy, and of course you buy Italian pasta made by the nonnas, right? We couldn’t buy any liquid stuff because we only had carry on luggage, and even the Nutella that Mr Goh’s colleague asked us to buy was dunked because it was over the 100ml limit. By the way, Nutella in Italy tastes the same as SG or DE version, so no need to buy Nutella specially to try (as what his colleague originally wanted to do).

Life in Germany: 2 months

I think constant posts on food is quite boring, so let’s do a quick post on my thoughts on living in Germany for the past 2 months!

Being in Europe has allowed us to tour more and experience more. For example, our first winter. Mr Goh couldn’t have put it more accurately: “it’s strange how we Singaporeans always enjoy the cold when we travel. But now that I have to live here, I don’t like the cold anymore”. Right honey, and that’s why I like to stay home all day because I couldn’t be arsed to bundle up, even for quick grocery runs. Cuddling under the warm blanket and a cup of warm tea sounds perfect.

Our first Christmas markets. Needless to say, Christmas in SG did not have the same feel as in Europe, mainly because of the weather. In SG, Christmas was just another public holiday to me, and a period of excusable feasting. The Christmas spirit here is a lot more traditional and pays tribute to the religion. The market stalls are all decorated nicely, selling traditional foods, drinks and gifts. But we realise we really don’t know how to appreciate alcohol. We tried the gluhwein and eggnog, didn’t like them.
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Our first time living together as a proper married couple. Woah, this one… I REALLY have to congratulate Mr Goh for surviving X months of marriage, and countless times of my nagging and dagger stares. In SG, we were living with family, so almost everything was taken care of by others. Here, we have to do everything ourselves, and our individual living habits get more pronounced. More often, I get annoyed by him, like how he doesn’t clear the dry dishes from the drying rack before putting wet plates that he has just washed, or how he doesn’t fold laundry the way I do it. But he sometimes can’t understand me too (I often tell him there’s no need to lock the door when we’re out – but that’s only because there’s no door knob, so you definitely need a key to enter the house).  Let’s say we are still trying out new things in the house, and setting our own house rules and tradition.

The endless processes and paperwork in Germany. I’m constantly amused by this country. You’d think Germany is on the forefront of technology, but I think SG surpasses DE this time. Like what I was telling my dad over Skype yesterday, the banks here (or at least the bank that Mr Goh is using) don’t have online banking tokens. Sure, they have OTPs for security purposes, but it comes in the form of a paper slip. So you get one slip of paper mailed to you, and on it, there are 10 rows and 10 columns of numbers. So when you log in, and the system tells you B4 for example, you look up B4 on the slip of paper, and key in the code that sits in cell B4. Uh huh. That’s it. That piece of paper is EXTREMELY important.

Also, they have so many paperwork processes in place, but these processes cannot be done in parallel. And there is no jump queue either. So we have not had our residence permits settled because there’s a missing document from the work council and we are still waiting for the work council to send the documents over. It’s been 2.5 weeks since we contacted them. When the papers are finally in place, we then have to go down to the registration office at 7am to queue (yup, that early because we no longer have a valid appointment date, and the earliest appointment date is like 3 months away). According to the registration process, after you submit your papers at the registration office, you then have to wait 3-5 weeks before you receive a letter to collect your permit. So yes, waiting and more waiting. I am running low on patience, but there’s nothing I can do right?

I’m thankful for the internet because I will definitely be bored out of my mind if not for it. I know I should be spending my days studying the German language and preparing myself for work, but how often do I get such off days?

A new ‘shopping center’ opened near us last weekend, about 4 tram stops away. We received some flyers & discount coupons from the tenants, so we went there last evening to size up the stores. I was particularly excited about the drugstore opening there because the usual one that I go to is in the city, and not exactly convenient.

From DM (the drugstore), we topped up our toiletries as well as some travel sized ones for our trip to Dresden this weekend (we’re going there for the Christmas markets!). The “milch & honig” cream shower in the middle was free as we had the Geschenk coupon they mailed to our place. Plus they were having 10% discount store-wide until this weekend. *auntie mode*
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I’m a housewife now, so supermarkets excite me very much. Rewe, one of my favorite supermarkets also opened up a shop there, and we had coupons for 10x points, so we also bought some groceries there. Have I told you how much I love Alpro sogurts??
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Yesterday I had a revelation that my skin gets better without dairy. I have been battling acne my entire life, but I’ve never really entertained the thought that it might have something to do with my diet. I did stop dairy some years back because of my eczema, but I cheat quite often. LOL. This past year, I tried my best to cut out dairy because my colleagues were monitoring me. And my skin got slightly better, but milk protein was quite unavoidable since they are used in many “high-protein” foods.

But I came across a blog post or a Youtube video yesterday and saw that some people had acne problems because of dairy, and it got me thinking. My skin was quite ok when I arrived in Germany. But I started to be naughty and ate cheese, even more when I was in Paris and Milan. When I came back, I had lots of nasty blind pimples on my chin. According to TCM, pimples on chin meant a problem with the digestive tract, so I took it as insufficient water and fibre. I started to eat properly again, and since we hardly have cheese at home, it was out of my diet. And my skin started to clear up!

The vegan and organic food movements are huge in Germany, so I knew I would be able to find vegan cheese. My best friend Google told me that there’s a good brand called Wilmersburger, so I also bought a pack of it to try when I saw it at the supermarket. Not cheap though, it was 3 Euros (real cheese is less than half the price). I hope it’s good, so I can have a treat once in a while.

Winter essentials

The temperatures this past week have been dropping faster than we expected. Just last week it was above 10 deg C, sometimes dipping slightly. But starting Sunday, it just went below 0 deg C, we had our first frost/snow and then it’s just 0 to 3 deg C the entire week.

I don’t deal very well with the cold, so I got the sniffles and stayed mostly in bed. Of course, with these ammunition to keep me warm and toasty.

1) Thermal water bottle
thermal water bottle
This is an absolute must-have for me because the water cools down super fast in this weather. I brought this over from Singapore.

2) Humidifier
humidifier
Back in Singapore, I used an OSIM humidifier but I found it the capacity to be quite small. So I got my mum to order one from China (Taobao is fantastic!) and my dad to bring it back to me before I came over. Of course, I didn’t bring it in my luggage, it came with my shipment of other household stuff.

This humidifier is also a must-have for me, maybe more so than the thermal water bottle because the air here is super dry, especially at night. I tried sleeping without switching it on, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a extremely parched and sore throat.

3) Electric blanket
thermal blanket
I first heard of “electric blankets” when I was still studying in Perth. The house that we rented, did not have a proper heating system (cos Perth winters are considered mild), so the rooms are always cold. I had a small halogen heater at my feet while I studied, but the sheets are always cold when I went to bed.

So when I learnt that I was going to move to Germany, one of the things I told Mr Goh that we must buy is a electric blanket. Actually, this is called “under blanket” in German because this goes under the sheets and not over you (as in a traditional blanket). Strangely, the electric blankets here are super expensive and are mostly single size. The double sized ones are more than double the price of the singles. So we ordered ours online via Amazon. They work pretty well for the price, so I can live with the fact that it doesn’t come with elasticized sides to hold the blanket in place.

4) Lip balm & body butter

In winter, my lips peel really easily because of the wind chaffs. I always have my Carmex lipbalm near me. And only the original formula in the tub, because the other formulas don’t work on me.

I also keep a tub of body butter next to my bed because body lotions are too mild for me now. My legs and heels get really dry and itchy when I don’t apply body creams regularly on them. This particular one from Crabtree & Evelyn was a gift from 2 of my ex-colleagues. The body butter spreads easily on skin and absorbs quickly without being greasy. They were spot on the scent because I just love it. Avocado, olive and basil sounds super delicious! I sometimes apply the body butter for fun, just because I want the scent to linger on me.

What are your winter essentials, or winter favorites? Are they similar to mine? Leave a comment and share with me! 🙂

Featured image credits to Huffington Post.