Thursday, 26 August 2010


To celebrate Mum's birthday, I surprised her by joining her in Paris for the weekend.  I can't say that the German railway system was running at it's well known efficiency, as I had one unscheduled night in Aachen.  However, my 29 hours in Paris were amazing.  We managed to see all of the big sights but I will definitely be heading back to do things properly.

Berenice in the Louvre
The view from my hotel!
The Art Work in my hotel room
Mini Arc in the road
Sacre Cour
Moulin Rouge
Eiffel Tower
Notre Dame
Mum and Me in front of Notre Dame

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

And so week three begins...

Here I am now in my third full week in Germany, still not working and still on the hunt for a flat.  However, I am keeping busy.  This week I have found the local cinema and seen Das A-Team.  They do a Ladies Night once a month.  For August (tomorrow night), it's letters to Julia and the one I'm really excited about in September, is Eat, Pray, Love.  So I am managing to add to my film list without shelling out a fortune for DVDs and also improving my German at the same time.  My host, Nathalie, introduced me to a good way to improve my German last night which is to watch the Cosby Show in English and German to pick up new vocab!  What a great idea!  It's years since I watched that show and it's hilarious how dated the fashions look already.  What a blast from the past!

Also yesterday, I managed to cross another one off my 30 before I am 30 list by joining a French class.  I really want to make the most of it if I am to sit my AS Level this year, I need to.  Although, having all of this time off to get paperwork sorted, I don't know if they will let me out for exams too.  I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

At the weekend I bought a Bahncard on special offer since it was the anniversary (175 years) of rail travel in Germany.  This means I can get reduced price rail tickets for travel all over Germany so I am planning a trip to see my friend Amira in Aachen next month and get the travel bug back.

Later this week I am going to be meeting the rest of the teachers on this native speaker programme which will be nice.  So far I only know Linda and she is lovely so hopefully, I will get to know some more nice people to spend time with and hopefully also practice my Spanish with as one is a native Spanish speaker.

Monday, 16 August 2010

La Strada (Part 2)

Snday was another busy day for the La Strada festival and this time I managed to see some more before rain stopped play.

This is not just the back of someone's head - if you look closely, as we had to, you will see the dancers through the crowd.

Here are a French act (you can only see half) with some amazing Diabolo skills.

Here you can see just how popular some shows were.  We were unable to get in here to see the mime.

This was the main setting for the action in the Marktplatz.

Here's one we braved from the safety and warmth of Alex's on Domhof as it had started raining.  Again, it's a bit hard to see but the two men in uniform putting the red and white tape out are actors.

This was the same clown from the beach the day before but I managed to catch more of his show today which was quite funny and very international (think I counted five languages!)

After the clown show, we sat in the park for some churros!  (Something I have yet to actually find in Barcelona)  and then the heavens opened which meant that the rest of the performances in the park were cancelled and an early finish for us.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

La Strada (Part 1)

Well, as part of my first full day with the Thielmann family, we took a trip to the beach (yes Briony, beach) in Bremen to see part of La Strada for children.  It was a day of firsts really - my first time in a long time on a bike!  And I managed not to fall off!  My first time on the Weser River as we took the ferry across to the beach and my first time at La Strada.

La Strada is basically a street festival that starts Thursday night and finishes on Sunday evening.  Different goups take part in all kinds of different performances in different areas of Bremen.  On the beach today for the children there was a clown and an "art installation" which was basically giant inflatables for the children to play on!

The Ferry
The Ferry
The Weser
The La Strada Clown

La Strada Part 2 will be along tomorrow when I venture into the centre of Bremen to see - hopefully - a wider range of performances.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster week this week.  It didn't get off to the best of starts.  In the first place my papers didn't come through (and still haven't) so I haven't been able to go in to work.  On Tuesday, I had two appointments to keep, the first with the bank manager who was going to explain my new account to me.  It might not sound that important but the hostel has been inundated with post for me, just from the bank rather than the post that I actually need.  So I have a mountain of papers and little idea as to what I need to do with them all.  Anyway, the appointment was set for 3.30.  I arrived at 3.25 and someone was already in his office (glass office I might add, so he was well aware that I was there).  3.30 came and went, as did 3.45 and 4pm.  Finally, at 4.15, he still had made no show of getting rid of the cutomer or even given me a sign as to how long I would have to wait so I left for my other appointment.

The second appointment had been scheduled for last Friday - it was to view a flat I had seen online before I left England and I had made the appointment the Friday before.  I'm pinning quite a lot of hopes on the flat based on the ad, the location and how it looks from the outside, especially after my lack of success last week.  So I had already been disappointed when the viewing was put back first to Monday and then Tuesday.  I arrived bang on time at 5.30 and nobody was there, I rang the doorbell, tried a neighbour and still - nothing.  I rang the letting agents office - no reply.  I waited there until 6pm and nobody arrived.  I emailed the agency as soon as I got back and still I have had no explanation but I was so fed up with myself on Tuesday night - getting nowhere fast with sorting things out.

However, by Wednesday morning, I had decided to put my energies to better use.  I emailed about ten more flats in the area to arrange new viewings, started planning my lessons for when I am finally allowed to start and picked up where I left off (nearly a month ago) with my French lessons.  I have even found a French class in the area that starts up in September so that I can get some speaking practice.  Also, I have been struggling with my dissertation proposal since the classes that I have been given by the school are not the ones that I thought I was getting and the project I had intended to do won't work now.  I didn't want to tell my advisor since it took a long time to get the university to agree to my doing the dissertation out here and I didn't want them to change their minds.  This morning, I had a brainwave though.  There was a project that I was working on in my NQT year that involved some new classroom ideas and techniques.  These didn't really apply to the school I was in last year but the German school has a very similar system and I am hoping to use this for my dissertation.  So now that I am feeling more motivated, I am going to spend the next few days getting the proposal ready and getting a reading list together for the next month or so.

The best news of the week though, I have saved until last and it is really what the title of this post is about.  Last night, I went to visit a teacher from school who had called to say that he and his wife had a spare room with it's own bathroom that I would be able to stay in.  I was a little nervous after we had set this meeting up - what if they didn't like me, what if they expected me to stay there for the whole time I was here, how limiting might it be to live with a young family?  A lot can be lost in translation and I wasn't even sure on what I had understood and what had yet to be discussed.  When I got off the tram, and headed for the address, I was amazed at how beautiful the area was.  This was more what I remembered from where I had lived in Germany before.  Everything was so green and peaceful.  When I arrived, I was introduced to the whole family.  Kai, Natalie and there two children Emil (3) and Fenna (1 next week).  The children are very cute.  The house is also beautiful and fairly big - cellar, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen, living room, study and balcony over a gorgeous garden.  The whole second floor (bedroom, bathroom and study) is where I can stay but they also said that I am very welcome to spend time with the family or stay in my own space as I wish.  They also offered me the use of one of their bikes.  The garden has a huge plum tree with far more plums than they can eat so if anyone knows any good recipes... I quite fancy some time cooking over the weekend.  And for all of this, they expect nothing in return.  I intend to give them some money for bills etc, but they won't even ask for rent.  This small German family, who don't even know me are handing me a key to their house tomorrow and in doing so have completely restored my faith in humanity.  It's not something that's widespread and maybe it is only my opinion but I don't think there would be many in England willing to open their homes in such a way.

Anyway, I am going to buy some gifts for when I move tomorrow and make the most of my last day in the hostel.  This weekend is La Strada which I believe is a bit of a street festival / circus so I will hopefully have some pictures to post over the weekend.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

My Space

So I promised some pictures of my room in the hostel and as single rooms in hostels go, I don't think it's a bad room.  In fact it has served me well considering my stay has been almost two weeks and counting!

My study area
My sleeping area
The kitchen
The En Suite

Monday, 9 August 2010

Bremen - the tourist destination

Since before I even applied for the job in Bremen, I had considered the city fairly small and industrial.  I kind of see it on a par with Leeds.  None of this was negative - I love Leeds, but I certainly hadn't considered it a tourist destination.  Many people haven't even heard of Bremen and it certainly doesn't compete with Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Cologne, Stuttgart or any of the other cities I had heard of growing up.  However, every day, as I spend more time in the city, I hear a range of languages (German, English, Spanish, French, Russian, Polish and Portuguese so far!) and realise that the city is indeed quite a destination for tourists and I doubt that they are disappointed.  On Friday and Saturday, I took in a bit more of the city and the sights and here are some of my photos:

This is the Town Hall or Rathaus which stands on the main square in the town centre, in front of it you can see the statue of Knight Roland - more about that later.

 Here, on the Western side of the square, are some traditional buildings which house several cafes and a chemist among other things.

Here in the North East corner is the St Petri cathedral which is one of the main sights in Bremen.  On this particular day there had just been a wedding service in the cathedral and as I arrived, I beautiful white horse drawn carriage took the happy couple away to their reception. 

 Inside the cathedral is a museum which houses some interesting exhibits.  The floor of the cathedral was excavated in the 1970s and several tombs were discovered with perfectly mummified bodies inside!  A bit creepy but interesting all the same.

 Also on Friday in the square, I was lucky enough to come across this peace protest which was being filmed for the local news.  The flowers remained there over the weekend.

 Finally on the main square - here is Roland.  He was a famous Knight who protected the freedoms of the people of Bremen.  The statue is one of the tallest in Germany.

Hidden away around the side of the Rathaus is this statue of those famous Bremen Musicians.  You can just make out the shiny front legs of the donkey - it's considered good luck to rub them when you visit.

Here are some pictures of Böttcherstrasse - a small street which once led from the square down to the river and used to home coopers who would sell barrels to those working on the ships in the harbour but when the harbour was moved the street fell out of use until it was restored during the 20th century.  It now houses several art galleries as well as some little cafes and cute tourist shops.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

As many of you will remember, in the weeks leading up to my departure for Bremen, I was bemoaning to anyone and everyone the fact that it meant I would only have two weeks of school holiday because the schools in Bremen finished for the Summer weeks ago and started back on the 2nd August.  Well it now seems that I have been granted my wish for longer holidays as I am nearing the end of my third week of freedom! 

This week has been very strange.  Part of me feels like a tourist - staying in a hostel, reading novels (I'm nearing the end of my fourth in six days!), writing postcards and spending lazy hours in the many coffee shops of Bremen.  Well, I say many but I now have a set route that I have taken every day.  I walk straight to the starbucks by the cathedral from the hostel for my first coffee, then I either wander around the square or out to the station to go to the post office and finally back down the main road, picking up a nice fresh fruit pot from the market before a last coffee and people watching session on the main street.  I'm sure the waiters think I'm a little crazy, they almost know my order off my heart! 

In other ways, it's starting to sink in that I'm staying a little longer than the usual holiday maker.  My health insurance came through on Tuesday, closely followed by my bank account info today.  Also, I was allowed to visit school yesterday (the last day before the pupils come back) and it was great to look around and meet my new colleagues who were all lovely.  It's quite informal and friendly for a German school staff and there are also lots of young staff.  One teacher has already offered to help with accommodation - I'm not sure exactly how until I call them tomorrow but with the way my flat hunting is going, anything will be good.  I've got all my books and had some meetings with some of the teams I will be working with.  I don't have my own form but one teacher has invited me to visit his year 6 (English Year 8) group and that will be nice as I will be teaching that class for English and also, if things go to plan, that will be the class we set a link to HGS up with. 

I went back to the education office to hand over the other papers but until this last one comes in the post, she won't let me sign my contract and therefore, I'm not insured to go back in to school. :-( 

As mentioned, the flat hunting is not going great either.  I saw three near school today.  One is ok but not available until September.  The other two were really small and one had damp and rot in the walls.  I don't know what the letting agent was thinking because nobody in their right minds would take it.  I will see what my new colleague has to say tomorrow and I'm also still holding out some hope for the one I'm seeing next week. 

No pictures today but I am hoping to have a bit of a touristy day tomorrow and have replaced my camera batteries today so I will take some snaps tomorrow to show you all what you will see when you come to visit!!

So with some caution as to what I might get, I'm changing my wish.  Three weeks holiday will be plenty - I don't want to be behind before I get started in my new job.  And instead, if it's not too much to ask, I'm wishing for a nice, good value, reasonably located flat, with a balcony if possible! 

Monday, 2 August 2010

Lost Weekend

Well, it’s been the perfect lost weekend. It started with a very early Saturday morning taking Briony to the airport and I worried about how I was going to cope by myself again after four intense days of upheaval that I only survived thanks to such amazing family support. However, thanks to the brilliant European way that everything closes down at the weekend, I have been forced to sit back and relax as there is really little I can do about the work and flat situation until Monday. I always remember one school assembly where there was a prayer or thought at the end that went something like ‘Give me the strength to act when necessary, the patience to do nothing when nothing can be done and the wisdom to know the difference’ and that thinking has certainly helped this weekend.

Having made sure that Briony got safely off home (and on time – thanks Ryanair), I headed to the hostel and as I couldn’t check in until four pm, took a long walk into Bremen town centre. It was kind of eerie at 8am with all of the shops closed (good for the purse obviously though) and I took with me the book I started just last week – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. What an amazing read about a woman travelling through Italy, India and Indonesia over the course of a year in a voyage of self-discovery. I especially liked the first section set in Italy as it was easier to relate to following my own European adventures but the whole book was quite thought provoking and I really enjoyed it. I imagine it is better to read it before the film comes out later this year as the film is rarely better than the book so anyone who wants it sending home for them to read, let me know.

In amongst finishing the book and numerous coffees about Bremen, I met Linda for lunch. Linda is an Irish girl who is on the same programme as me, teaching English and French here in Bremen. It was truly wonderful to meet someone else in the same boat. Of course I wish that her week had gone better but it did me the world of good to realise that I wasn’t the only one who had already thought about packing up and heading back home before the first week was out. However, we are both still here and now looking forward to our adventure and I hope that we will be able to discover a bit more of Bremen together when we are both settled.

Last night, apart from reading, I watched a DVD I bought a while ago in my new French frenzy – ‘Paris – Je t’aime’. It’s a lovely little film, well lots of little films actually all about love in Paris and different types of love, it was really sweet and got me back into the swing of French for a while – that and the French group staying in the hostel.

Today was a somewhat quieter affair with even more of Bremen closed down for Sunday. I had a leisurely stroll into Bremen again following a lovely breakfast in the hostel. (Which, by the way, I could not recommend more highly – my single room is costing me the same if not less than a flat would and has its own en suite and mini kitchenette) During my stroll, I came across a little theatre group that puts on a performance of 'The Bremen Town Musicians' every Sunday at 12.  It is quite a lovely little fairytale, apparantly written by the Brothers Grimm.  See the photos.  I started and finished a new book today – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was recommended to me by a friend and I am posting it back to my Gran who I’m sure will love it. Another thrilling read, and I highly recommend it. As I was unable to food shop – it being Sunday – I ate dinner at the Chinese restaurant on the same street as the restaurant – had an amazing three course meal and wine for under 20 Euros. If you ever come to Bremen, you must visit this little restaurant in Jakobistrasse.

I realise I am doing little more than raving about everything I have done this weekend and it really has been a lovely experience despite moments of homesickness when Skype is distorting the voices of my nearest and dearest beyond recognition. However, I am still overcome with a worry that the authorities will turn up at any minute and kick me out of the country for some misdemeanour that I wasn’t even aware of but a memory came to me just now that has settled things again. It was a conversation with a work friend of mine whose friend had gone to work in Egypt and was experiencing similar doubts and someone said to her – well what’s the absolute worst that can happen? – you have to come home, to a family and friends who love you! And whoever that was, was absolutely right. So I am going to settle down with another DVD (Monster – ok so not the best one to watch alone but at least it’s not Hostel!!) and have an early night before another day of sorting things out tomorrow!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Road Trip!

So I ticked off the first of my 30 before I'd even published the blog (or completed the list of 30) with our amazing road trip through part of Europe. Me, Bri and Dad set out on Tuesday evening from Eddie Stobart's in Leeds and made it all the way to Dover in just five hours with just one tea stop.

We took the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and managed a whole two hours sleep - more or less, with a fairly smooth crossing. And feeling fairly refreshed, I took the first stint on the right hand side too. The roundabouts were a bit dodgy but once we were onto the motorways, I was soon into the swing of things. We were out of France rather quickly (so it is as tiny a crossing as it looks on the map).

We stopped in Belgium - and got by in German :-S And then Bri took over the driving... Who's got right of way Bri?? BRI!! I got some sleep while Bri drove and then we swapped back.

The really hairy driving moments came in Bremen itself and actually, although I thought driving on the right hand side would be the biggest problem, it's really not. The biggest hinderance to driving in Germany are other road users. By this I am not arrogantly suggesting that I know or drive better than German car drivers, the problem is rather that I don't know when cyclists, pedestrians and sometimes even trams have the right of way. After a few near misses on day one, I have found it easiest to assume that they always have right of way and drive extremely cautiously - although this does then seem to wind up other German car drivers. The other big hinderance is the speed limit. Apart from them being different here anyway, everything is measured in kilometers and while I'm gradually getting used to this, I'm still waiting for a nasty surprise in the post after I was flashed on day one! Oops!

The hotel was lovely - thanks Dad! Bri found her German Peep Show star which made her trip (I think) and we kept the staff entertained most evenings with our skype conversations in reception. Skype is working pretty well so please download it so that I can call you for free too (Hayley)