Friday, October 19, 2012

Halfway point!

This has been a good week. Me and the girls have been hanging out a lot while the guys are away. It's been getting colder and since we're all from the South we've been doing expeditionary trips to the local shopping center to look for warm clothes. I got some awesome deals on sweaters and tights and a fire engine red pair of jeans :)

I made a new friend in Nürnberg who introduced me to this amazing woman who does eyebrow threading. My eyebrows have never looked this good! She doesn't speak English, but she's super sweet and funny. Since I was already in NBG I stopped at the Starbucks in the old city and sat around with my latte and read a book. I'm not a dedicated Starbucks lover, but when I'm in Europe I love to go and sit and eat brownies and cheesecake that taste like they do back home and drink coffee that is EXACTLY what I expect it to be and just sit around and use their free wifi and enjoy a little taste of home.

I love Nürnberg. Where we live is quiet and peaceful, but I love getting off the train at Nürnberg central station and breathing in the busyness of a big city. I love walking down streets choked with people, riding the subway, shopping in big stores, and meeting my NBG friends for coffee in a cute café. I've always loved cities and just spending the day in civilization can totally make my day. I hope one day we'll live in a city again!!

Thursday was great since we had our first wine night! We met at Carly's house and made pizza, then sat around and drank wine and had total girl time til the wee hours of the morning. Side note, Carly is the crafting queen! Her house was adorable and she had handmade so many of the things! I think all of us were longing for a tour to see more of her handiwork!

It was such a fun night though, I'm so happy to have made this group of friends here. They're all so fun and down to earth and it's great to have people who're going through the same thing you are. Good that we can keep each other company while the guys are away.

Speaking of that, the guys are home for the weekend! Fionn is sound asleep as I write this-I think he slept like 2 hours in the last 48 hours, poor thing. I hope he sleeps in for once and catches up on all the sleep he's missed.

I'm trying to enjoy him while I have him since he leaves again next week. Luckily the girls are already planning things to do-we're going on a day trip and I'm hopefully meeting Nate (a friend from Marburg) in Plzen next weekend. Yay!

All in all, life is good. I always miss being in Savannah in October since it's Yellow Fever time at the DH, Greek Festival, Seafood Festival, not to mention amazing non humid weather, but I'm trying to stay positive. I'll always miss you all back home :)

I really need to write a wedding post, so stay tuned for that one. I'll save that for a slow blog day (which'll be soon most likely!)

lots of love!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tips for Polish Pottery Shopping in Poland

Tips for Polish pottery shopping:

-Get there early, especially on weekends. The later in the day, the more crowded the shops became.

Check the exchange rate before you go. When we were there (October 2012) it was around 4 zloty to 1 euro. So you divide the Polish price by 4 and that's what it is in euros. Of course, exchange rates can change, but know the rate before you go so you can recognize a good (or bad!) deal!

Bring something to carry everything in. We brought a laundry basket and that worked great (until it got full!)

Do some recon. Every shop is different, but not THAT different. Don't go crazy in the first shop you visit. There might be an awesome sale rack somewhere else!

Check out the pieces in the front of the store but keep an eye out for the sale rack. A lot of times you can find amazing pieces that have a small chip or crack or pattern mess up at half price. Watch out for bubbles or large cracks though, because those can't be put in the oven or microwave. But if you're just using it for decorative purposes, why not save yourself the money?

Know the pottery ratings. All the pottery is rated. Category 1 and 2 are the best. You can find stickers or markers with the number category somewhere on the pottery. Most of my pieces were Category 2, and many of the wives I met told me they had Category 2 and 3 pieces and had used them for years and years.

I found this guide on a website,

" "Gat 1" is the best quality; there aren't any defects in the pot whatsoever.
"Gat 2" pots may have a stray brush stroke.
"Gat 3" may have a crack in the glaze.
"Gat 4" may have a chip.
"Gat 5" cannot be used in the oven."

-Slow Travel Eastern Europe-Polish Pottery

Most of the shops took dollars, euros, or zloty. They almost all spoke English, or at least enough to communicate. You just tell them which currency you want to use.

There are a lot of patterns-geometric, floral, Christmas, even a few American and military ones (they know their audience!). Some are mass produced using stamps, but a few are "Unikat" (unique in Polish) and those are signed by the artist and limited edition. The Unikat are more expensive and a lot of them are decorative only, but still pretty! I bought a beautiful Unikat hand painted cross with flowers for around €3.

Branch out! My former experience with Polish pottery was the pretty blue dots on plates, mugs, and platters. Then I found gorgeous handpainted flowers, butterflies, animals and city scenes on ceramic muffin tins, shell shaped dishes, and a million other creative, unique things. There's a world of possibilities.

Buy in Boleslawiec! It is without a doubt the best place to buy the pottery. The prices we pay at the Army bazaars or at the PX are already cheaper than the prices you'd pay in the US, but it CANNOT compare to the prices in Poland. Even at the bazaar I could barely afford one plate, and an internet search today pulled a serving platter very similar to mine that I paid $30, which was selling for $100. The most expensive piece I saw while in Boleslawiec was 200 zloty, which is about $63!

Plan ahead if you're planning on shipping it back to the US. If bringing your own car/transport is not possible, keep in mind that it's really hard to find a place that will agree to ship your pottery. I've heard there's one place that does it, but that might just be a rumor. So bring extra luggage or plan to pay to ship it yourself.

If you can, take your car or a bus tour. You'll be tempted to buy a lot, and I can't even imagine trying to schlep all your stuff home walking or on a train. Those boxes we left with were big AND heavy! Just drive to the town and look for a sign with "Ceramika" on it and giant examples of the pottery outside. It's insanely easy to find.

Enjoy the town. Everyone we met was very nice and friendly. When the three of us were walking along looking for a place for lunch an older lady on a bike stopped us and asked "Ceramika?" and showed us to another store nearby. Not what we were looking for, but still appreciated ;)

Want to read more about my Polish Pottery adventures? Check out my first trip and second trip.

Girls' weekend in Poland (and lots of Polish pottery)

The boys are off training, and for those of us without kids this means a lot of quiet houses, quiet dinners, and falling asleep in cold beds. I'm so glad that this time I've made a lot of kid-less girlfriends because once the boys left we were like, ok! When are we hanging out?

Thursday we all met up at my house to make bracelets. Usually on Thursdays there is a craft class and since we've all had to get creative furnishing European houses, I feel like I've embraced my crafty side and met other ladies who do the same. Well it turned out the class was cancelled, so I invited everyone over to my house and said I'd teach them how to make the bracelets I learned how to make in another class.

It was really fun! Everyone's turned out really nice and it was fun just sitting around and chatting.

We had talked about planning trips while the guys were gone and Poland was one of our ideas. Then we heard there was a sponsored trip to Poland going on that weekend. It was pretty whirlwind, but the whole focus was Polish pottery shopping, which is what we all wanted to do anyway. So we thought, why not? Me and two other girls signed up (the other two couldn't make it unfortunately) and we all met at my house Friday night to go out for dinner and then talk and watch Friends. We had to stay up since the bus left at 2 am, but we managed pretty well :)

Two AM rolls around and we all pile on the bus. The bus was only half full, so there was plenty of room to stretch out and try to get some sleep. Surprise, surprise, the ENTIRE group was women ;) We drove all night to Poland (about 5 hours by car, closer to 6 hours on the bus with the stops) and woke up around 8:30 at the Polish border.

We crossed the border into Poland and made our way to the town of Boleslawiec, which is famous for its pottery. There were giant examples of pottery all over the town, and just about every corner had a sign advertising pottery for sale.

First stop was naturally at a ceramics store. We weren't sure what to expect-we'd all seen the colorful, super sturdy pottery at the bazaars on post, and any Army wife can wax poetic on how awesome Polish pottery is, but we were kind of skeptical, especially because it tends to be expensive ($12 for a mug, anywhere from $60-100 or more for the big, nice pieces). We walked in and all the prices were in Polish zloty so we were like, is 30 zloty a deal? The more experienced women were running around picking up everything so that was heartening. I picked up a medium sized beautiful bowl with flowers and walked to the register, and my jaw dropped when she showed me the price in euros. 8 euros?? For this bowl?? Anywhere else it would have been at least 30!! I almost felt bad handing her a 10 euro note.

Once we realized the exchange rate was 4 zloty to 1 euro AND that every store had a sale rack where you could find pieces at 20, 30, or even 50% off because of a minor defect we definitely went a little crazy :) I had gone on the trip thinking I'd only be able to afford one or two pieces and had expected my 100 euros to not go very far. But after three stops and only 45 euros spent I knew this was going to be an awesome day!

Every store was full of American women, not just from our group, but others as well as women who came over by themselves. Things got really excited when someone would discover a cache of giant serving platters at around $12-15 because of a tiny chip or slightly crooked pattern. And the peer pressure was also helpful. When I had a basket full of pottery I looked at a big scalloped serving plate and wondered aloud if I really needed it. Immediately 4 women turned around and were like, "what are you talking about! Get it! It's so cheap!!"

Every time I went to the register, expecting to wince at the final price I was surprised by getting a box full of pottery for only €30 or €40. My friend Melissa did all her Christmas shopping and left with a huge box-final price €42! It felt like Christmas!

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant called Elric's and each had a plate full of tasty pierogies and a drink. The total came out to €4 per person. I don't think I've ever paid €4 for lunch except at the university Mensa!

Carly and I both bought beautiful handmade wicker baskets for around €15, and pretty soon the small laundry basket I'd brought for the three of us was full. We had hoped to find some Christmas stuff but we only found Christmas themed dishes and I wanted more ornament type things. But they had a ton of Easter stuff which now I'm sad I didn't pick up. That'll be the next trip :)

By our last stop we were a bit pottery-ed out and had pretty much gotten everything we'd come for. We stopped in a really cool antiques store where I picked up some WWII memorabilia for my fellow history nerd of a husband. Then it was back on the bus where we passed out for a while (shopped til we dropped literally) and then talked the rest of the way back to Bavaria (planning more trips!). Packing the car was hilarious by the way...all of us were really excited about all the beautiful pottery we got, and I'm sure the husbands will be happy we were able to do so without breaking the bank. I got 12 pieces and a basket for around €80.

the spoils

Poland was a nice change from Germany since the dollar hasn't done so well against the euro lately, so it was nice to go somewhere and NOT get fleeced for a change.

All in all, it was a great girls' weekend. I would love to go to Poland again and see Krakow and Warsaw with my man, but the Polish pottery aspect of the trip is definitely a girls-only thing. We were pretty sure the boys would have been ready to kill themselves an hour into the trip had we brought them along :) I'm pretty sure we'll be signing up for the trip the next time it's offered.

This week has a lot of girly activities planned (some day trips and a wine night!) and I'm so glad I've made friends my age finally so we can all hang out and make the month go by faster.

Want to read more about Polish pottery? Check out my shopping tips here or read about my second trip to Boleslawiec here!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday in Munich and Saturday in Nürnberg

Last weekend recap...

The Friday before last I hopped a train down to Munich to see a good friend of mine from Marburg named Anna. She was the student liaison of sorts when I studied in Marburg. She helped with the paperwork, our integration, and any problems we had in school. Plus she was just an all around nice girl and we used to get coffee a lot together. We've stayed in touch since then but we always seems to miss each other when I'm in Marburg. She came down to Munich for Oktoberfest so I met her and her boyfriend to hang out for the day.

It just feels weird to go to Munich without some Trachten on


Since both of us had already done the Oktoberfest thing, we hung out in Munich. It was an amazing blue sky day so we had a good time wandering around Munich and seeing the usual sights. We stopped for lunch in a typical Bavarian brauhaus for some tasty schnitzel and potato salad and saw more half drunk dirndl and lederhosen clad people to count. Oktoberfest was definitely in full swing, even at 2 pm on a Friday!

We went to the market to try some food and look at the odds and ends being sold, and Anna explained the German maypole tradition. Then we stopped for coffee and cake before heading towards the station.

We had a good time hanging out and catching up, but unfortunately we both had trains to catch around 6 to head to our respective homes. I said goodbye to Thomas and Anna and hopefully I'll see them again soon!

Saturday poor Fionn had to work most of the day, but he was a sport and still went to Nürnberg with me to see Irish flute player Kevin Crawford in concert. I was super excited about seeing him live, and he and the two guys he was touring with did not disappoint! Afterwards I got to meet an Irish fiddler who lives in the area. She and I have been emailing back and forth trying to get some music going, so it was cool to meet her in real life!

Sunday was a lazy quiet day before the crazy week that was to come. It was nice to spent time together since the boys are leaving for a long training this month. But more on that later!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Military Ball!

Last weekend was the week me and my girlfriends had been waiting weeks (ok, months!) for. The military ball! Since about end of July/beginning of August we had discussed dresses and hairstyles, emailed dress websites suggestions and German formalwear places we'd heard of, asked everyone we knew for tips of where to get alterations, hair done, nails done, spent countless hours on YouTube watching video tutorials to do make up just right...the ladies were excited!

The common theme was that our husbands/fiances did not share out enthusiasm :) Their pre ball planning consisted mostly of, Hey honey can you take my dress blues by the dry cleaners this week?

Oh, and shining their shoes!

After consulting with Amanda, and then bringing in the additional opinions of my mom and best friend Kate, I picked out a deep purple one shouldered floor length dress. When I showed the picture online to Fionn he was a little skeptical. "It looks kinda weird. It's missing a strap."

Uhh...that's why it's one shouldered?? Silly boys.

Through my new expat friends I found an amazing British stylist who did my hair. She was so nice and talented and it was great not to have to explain what I wanted in German ;) Then I went home, curls hair sprayed within an inch of their lives, and tried to sit as still as possible til the ball began. Fionn was very perplexed by all of this. "So, you're not going to do anything today? You don't want to go anywhere?"

Fionn...I just got my hair done. It's noon and the ball starts at 6. I'm not doing anything to mess up my hair.

He was a little confused by that and decided to go organize the man cave.

I should note that Fionn didn't want to go to the ball in the first place, and it was only after much pestering by me and the company putting pressure on (if they sold 600 tickets they got a 4 day weekend, so the stragglers were rounded up and harassed to by tickets) that he finally agreed. But he definitely did not share my enthusiasm for getting pretty.

I had never been to a military ball, so I was excited to see what it was like, not to mention I've been able to make a lot of new girlfriends this summer and when girls get together to dress up, the excitement level rises. Nothing is more satisfying than a group of girls getting all excited about whatever girly thing you're showing them after your husband saw it and was like,'s a dress right? ;)

Also, when Fionn and I were dating he offered "You get to dress up and go to a ball" as one of the reasons moving to Bavaria to live with him would be so awesome. So, I wasn't letting him off the hook!

We got ready and then had the big reveal-I thought Fionn looked absolutely dashing in his dress blues and he seemed to think the same about me (and he even liked my one shouldered dress after all). So in the car we got and headed to the ball.

We got there for cocktail hour, and I chatted with my friends while Fionn made the rounds. Everyone looked so pretty! My only regret is that I didn't get pictures with everyone :( We also had so much fun talking that we missed the receiving line. Oops!

me and new friends!

After cocktail hour we took our seats. The first half of the ball is very ceremonial-it begins with the posting of the colors, where they bring in the US flag, the German flag, and the military flags/banners associated with your unit. All the soldiers stand at attention, and the civilians just stand. The whole room has to be facing the flags as they are carried to their location, it's a bit odd to watch an entire room shuffle in unison to follow the flags.

Then there is a prayer, followed by toasts where the toast giver says something and you have to reply. The last toast is "To the ladies". So your date seats you, then toasts you. One thing I liked about the ball was that anytime I tried to get up out of/into my seat, if Fionn didn't see me and pull the chair out right away one of the neighboring soldiers would rush to do it. How very chivalrous (and much appreciated since that long train was a bit of a hassle!)

After the toasts they made the "grog" which is a mix of alcohol that symbolizes...I dunno...pretending to be Vikings? ;) I missed some of that since they weren't using a microphone. Each ingredient had a special meaning though. Someone brought Fionn some of it-it smelled awful. The guys around me drinking it agreed!

I think we make a cute couple! :)

Then it was time for dinner. The line was HUGE, so we split up-Fionn got salads and I held our spot in the (neverending) dinner line. The food was good, and the people at our table were very nice. It was cool to put faces to names.

After dinner was a speech, and then the formal part was over and dancing began. Fionn does not like to dance, so I let him off the hook. I danced with my friends for a while, but my contact lenses conspired against me and I agreed that we could head home.

my friends' husbands were ready to dance though! They stayed pretty late and had some pretty funny stories later...

All in all, it was a fun night. Fionn had fun too and was happy he went after all.

So...when's the next ball? :)