Monday, March 31, 2014

Burritos in Berlin: Dolores

If you're an American expat living in Europe, you've probably noticed that good Mexican and Tex-Mex places are pretty rare. 

I'm talkin sparkly unicorn having a picnic with Nessie rare.

Germans just don't seem to understand what Mexican food is supposed to be. You'll get a "burrito" with eggplant and green beans inside, or sweet and sour sauce instead of salsa, or they'll roll up chicken in a tortilla and then put sauce all over it, completely missing the point of handheld food. After so many bad experiences, we were ready to give up in our attempt to find good Mexican food in Germany.

And then one day, we found Dolores.


During one of our weekend trips to Berlin, Fionn and I were wandering around Mitte when we saw a sign for "California Burritos". Fionn is a California boy, and he's a pretty harsh judge when it comes to authentic Mexican food. We decided to take a chance.

We were absolutely BLOWN AWAY by this place.

Burritos, quesadillas, tacos, salads, soup, agua frescas, real guacamole, and more-this place has it all. You have the option to order an "express burrito" with pre selected fixins', or make your own, choosing from delicious options like mole chicken, adobe beef, pork carnitas, and even tofu, plus a ton of awesome homemade salsas.

Did I mention they use real pinto and black beans and Mexican cheese?

You heard me right. Oh, and the giant burritos run about € 6. 

Holy Taquito, that's a good deal.

My "Easy Chicken" Express Burrito (€5,50) and Fionn's Burrito Bowl with adobe beef (€6), plus 2 agua frescas

There are two Dolores locations in Berlin. Our favorite can be found near Alexanderplatz:

rosa-luxemburg-str. 7
10178 berlin mitte

But you can also get your fix in West Berlin too:

bayreuther str. 36
10789 berlin schöneberg

For more info on their menu or to get directions, check out their website here. It's in German, but you can easily Google Translate it. 

The staff speak English and German and when you're sitting inside, enjoying your delicious burrito and agua fresca midst sugar skull art, the only thing that reminds you that you're in Germany instead of a place in Los Angeles is the bumping Euro techno. This place got such a rave review from finicky Fionn that when we returned to the US and ate our first burrito on American soil, his response was, "Well, it's not as good as Dolores..."

And if that doesn't convince you to try this place out, I don't know what will!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why Do You Write?

Ace at Life in Dutch tagged me in the blog hop for "Why Do You Write?" Since I finally, FINALLY have a moment to sit down and catch up on blog stuff, I thought this was the perfect way to spend it.

My third true love, after Fionn and blogging.



Why do you write?

To inform the world about Polish Pottery Shopping! Ok, not really, but that's how 98% of people find this blog! ;)

I started Beginnings in Bayern because I had a tradition of starting blogs when I went away. One for my French study abroad, one for my German study abroad, one for my internship in Berlin...why not one for being a newlywed abroad? Like all my blogs before it, it was my little space to keep my mom and a few Facebook friends updated on what was going on with me, fostering a connection to my "old life".

As time went on, I decided to use my blog to tell people things I wish I had known. It started off as "I wish I had known to pack this/visit this place in Italy/try this travel tip" but then it grew into "I wish I had known that being an expat is lonely sometimes. That being newly married and far from home is hard. I wish I knew that other people felt like this."

Once the blog took on that angle, it really started to grow. I wanted to be honest, encouraging, and helpful and people responded to that. Now when I write, I have people in mind. I think of sitting with my friends and giving them advice for an upcoming trip, or their first PCS, or how to cook something new. I write what I've learned, but since I still have a long way to go, I want to hear their advice for me. I like the conversations that get started when you start talking and listening. I love the support from the blogging community.


What am I working on?

Currently I'm working on a new blog design and rebranding. Since I moved back to America, the name "Beginnings in Bayern" just doesn't fit anymore. But I love the name, so it's hard to pick a new one!

Besides cosmetic stuff, I'm trying to focus on which direction to go in. While I love traveling and still have interesting trips planned for this year, I really enjoy encouraging people struggling with moving and expat life. Moving sucks, whether you're moving across an ocean or across the state. It's important to me to be honest about what I'm going through rather than only talking about sunny travel destinations and weekends. I think talking about real life (warts and all!) is important.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my blog reflects me as a person; a little bit of everything. I talk about travel, expat life, marriage, dealing with the Army, food, and music every once in a while. I'm kind of all over the place, but that's how I am in real life. It seems to work though. The blogosphere is big enough for a few rogues, right?


Why do I write what I do?

I'm a google addict. If I have a question, I google it. Chances are, if I googled something and didn't find a good answer, but then I have the answer myself later, I'll probably blog about it. 

If I find a great hole in the wall cafe in Berlin, I'll blog about it.

If I travel somewhere weird but cool and would recommend it to friends, I'll blog about it.

If I find a way to save money or make expat life in Germany easier, I'll blog about it.

If I go through something sucky and learn something from it that might help someone else, I'll blog about it.

So yeah, that about sums it up! :)


How does your writing process work?

I like to write in the mornings when Fionn goes off to work. I sit down with my cup of tea and work on my blog all morning. I try to do that a few times a week so I can have days to myself. It can really be a lot of work-writing posts, keeping up with comments and emails, and trying to get more people to visit and see what I have to offer. But I love doing it, so it's a labor of love.

It does get frustrating when my life gets chaotic (like the last two months) and I can't find that time to just sit and work. But sometimes I just have to take a step back and do what I need to do before I can focus on the blog. 


Now I'm going to tag Sara in Le Petit Village. I think her blog is hilarious and we share a love of TK Maxx. Check her out!

Are you a writer or a blogger? Why do you write?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Apartment Tour

A lot of you have been asking for a tour, so here goes! There's still some work to be done, boxes to unpack, furniture to buy, and pictures to put up, but I'll update as we get all that done. For now, this is the result of a weekend of hardcore unpacking, organizing and furniture moving. 

Master Bedroom


I love the light in this room! It makes it such a pleasant place to be. We're still on the look out for bedside tables, lamps, a new bedspread and maybe a dresser. But for now, having a place to sleep is pretty awesome ;)


CLOSETS!! I'm sure every expat in Germany can feel me on this one. So big! So spacious! So awesome! The best part? We have FIVE more in the apartment. Holy cow.

Fionn and I are loving how easy it is to find these plastic drawers. In German it was like finding the holy grail if you could find just one at our tiny PX or an affordable one on the German economy. America-the land of options.


Here's a peek at our master bathroom. Not too much to say about it except that I love this little organizer Fionn found for me at a thrift store for $7. Can't beat it. Oh, and how cute is this shower curtain?! Jumping on the ombre bandwagon...

Living Room/Dining Room


As you walk into the apartment you come into the dining room. Well, it was a dining room until we realized our giant Bavarian table didn't fit there. So now it's a china hutch-antique chest-don't hit your head on the low hanging lamp room.


We're planning on doing a photo collage above the chest, incorporating some of our cool antique sketches and prints we collected in Europe. I sense a lot of framing in my future...


The apartment has a really open floorplan, so if you turn you find yourself right in the living room. It extends into a sunroom that we made into a dining room. Or at least, it will be a dining room when I finish staining the chairs :)


Planned projects for this room: a travel photo collage above the couch, a TV table, bookcase, and second end table to replace our interim theme of boite de cardboard chic, and maybe a curio to display our travel souvenirs.


I love this couch. I love it even more since it was 50% off :)

A touch of Berlin!

Here's a view from the opposite side. Note the cluster of frames waiting for a home on the wall.


Here we have the dining room! I'm excited to get the chairs done and maybe add a few curtains. We'll see how it goes. The light in here is great though, I have the feeling this will be my new blogging area.


Kitchen

Next we've got the kitchen. It's huge! There is so much space-space to move, space on countertops, space in cabinets...


Literally so many cabinets I don't have enough things to put in them. SUCH a change from my shoebox German kitchen.



We worked so hard this weekend getting things put up and settled. It looked like this on Thursday!

Hot mess!!

Crazy, right?!

Down the hall we have a guest bedroom and office, along with a second bathroom, but since they're a work in progress I'll save them for another day. 

What do you think? I may not love our new town (yet) but I love our new apartment. It's not Germany, but it feels like home :)


Monday, March 24, 2014

From Expat to Repat: How to Furnish a House From (Almost) Nothing

Tomorrow you'll get the apartment tour!

Like most expats, we moved to Germany with the bare minimum. This was partly because we were fresh out of college and had nothing to begin with. Fionn came with clothes, Army gear, and a computer and was lucky enough to land a sweet furnished apartment in Bavaria. When we got married and I moved in, I came with two suitcases and shipped 3 moving boxes of hand me down kitchen and house supplies my mom had given me when I went to college. Shortly after, our friends and family sent us some wedding presents to help get us started, I bought a few travel souvenirs to decorate the bare shelves, and we were pretty set!

The blissful days of living in a German furnished apartment!

When we started planning for our move back to the States, I knew we would have to buy quite a few things. But when we actually got to America, I was shocked at how much stuff we suddenly had to buy. Sitting in an empty apartment with nowhere to sleep, eat, or sit was a bit overwhelming! So here are my tips for furnishing an apartment without breaking the bank.

1. Let your friends and family know you're in need.
Ask your parents, your grandparents, your aunt, cousins, friend's boss's sister...we discovered that people often have furniture or household stuff they're willing to part with. My parents offered to let me have my old bedroom furniture along with some antiques from distant relatives they just didn't have space for. My grandmother's preacher heard we needed furniture and showed up at my mom's house with two beautiful vintage chairs. Friends from back home asked if I needed curtains or kitchen supplies. Ask around!

2. Decide right away what you MUST have
When you're starting from scratch, the small stuff can add up quick! Pick the big must haves and buy those first. For us, that was a couch and a bed. Furnishing a house from scratch can feel overwhelming, but if you start with the big stuff it makes it easier.

A week on an air mattress showed us what our "must haves" were!

3. For big purchases, shop around and ask for a discount
We spent a whole day scoping out furniture stores and discount places, comparing prices. I'm so glad we did, because big box furniture stores can really rip you off! We found our couch and our mattress at outlet stores. The couch had a small stain on the arm and was marked down 50% because of it. We asked for a military discount and they gave us an extra $100 off! 

When we bought our mattress and our dining room chairs, we went with family owned retailers. Neither one of them did military discounts, but they were willing to work with us on the price. The wood furniture store offered to pay the tax and the mattress store offered us a free bed frame and free delivery, both of which were better deals in the end than 10% off. It never hurts to ask.

4. Determine where you can cut corners.
When we bought our bed, we decided to forego an expensive headboard and foot board and just buy a metal bed frame. They usually run $50-100, but we got ours for free. Score! 

We found a local wood furniture store that sells unfinished Amish made furniture. You have to stain or paint the wood yourself, but it saves you $100 per piece of furniture. We bought 5 pieces from them, and saved $500 right off the bat! Yeah, it requires some DIYing for us, but that was a compromise I was willing to make to have the quality furniture I wanted.

My DIY staining job in progress!

5. DIY where you can!
The decorating touches really add up. Curtains, throw pillows, and tablecloths can all be easily made with a sewing machine. I'm planning on framing our pictures myself after my brother (who's an art major) showed me how easy it is. If you can make it yourself, do it!

6. Thrift stores are your friend.
It's so frustrating when you go to big furniture stores and see how expensive basic stuff like coffee tables and bedside tables are, especially when they're mostly Chinese particle board crap to begin with. I started scouring thrift stores and Craigslist and found our end table and vintage coffee table for $40 and $35 respectively. They've got some character, they're made of real wood, and they're cheap!

$35 coffee table and $25 vintage chevron stool, both thrift store finds!

7. Decide what's temporary and what's an investment.
We spent money on our bed, couch, and dining room chairs because we plan on having them for a long time. We decided to compromise on things like a cheap thrift store coffee table and buying plastic drawers instead of an expensive dresser. We can always upgrade in the future.

Plus, if you move all the time like we do, it's just not worth dropping a lot of cash on every single thing when there's a chance it could get scratched or damaged in the next move.

8. If you're an expat with a return move coming up, start planning in advance!
About 8 months before we left, I realized we wouldn't have anything when we moved back to America. Fionn and I started shopping around and buying some big purchases for our new house (like a dining room table and china hutch) so it wouldn't all come at once. I love to cook, so we had a well stocked kitchen all taken care of. It was nice to not have to worry about buying that stuff!

Keep in mind, you'll probably have to replace ALL of your electronic items. Lamps, alarm clocks, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaner, stereos, etc. I forgot about this and am in the process of replacing it all...not fun. It adds up quickly!

Such a happy sight-kitchen boxes!!

Finally, SAVE MONEY!! Fionn and I saved up some money before the move but I still wish we had saved some more. No matter how you slice it, moving is going to put a dent in your wallet. Especially if you are military stationed OCONUS planning on returning stateside-kiss all that sweet COLA money goodbye! Dealing with a decreased paycheck in addition to all the moving start up costs can be a sucky experience. Don't get caught by surprise!

9. Consider renting appliances
Washers and dryers are stupid expensive. We were able to rent a washer and dryer set from our apartment complex for $35 a month. Since we only plan on being here 6 months, it made perfect sense for us!

10. Space out your purchases.
Figure out what you need right away, and then slowly start accumulating the rest. We bought the essentials right away and plan on gradually buying the rest of the things we need as we go. For example, we started off with no dining room chairs. We bought two this month, next month we'll buy two more, and so on. If you can live without it, put it off.



Any tips I forgot? Any tips you wanna share with me as we continue our adventure into buying grown up stuff?

Tomorrow, a tour of our new place! :)







Thursday, March 20, 2014

Head for the middle



Beginnings are scary, endings are sad, but it's the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at a beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.

A Facebook friend I haven't seen since high school posted this on her wall today. It seemed really applicable to my life and I'm sure the lives of a lot of you out there!

I think I'm going to write it down and put it in our new house, somewhere I'll see it everyday. Because it's true, the middle is the part that counts. When I think back on the places I have lived, I didn't love them in the beginning (which is how I feel right now) but I also wasn't happy at the end because it hurt so much to leave. I was happiest in the middle, when life came together and routines were made and things just were.

So I'm going to keep on keepin on til I hit the middle ;)

This has been a week of great news, so great it deserves caps lock and lots of exclamation points.

1. WE BOUGHT CHAIRS!!!

Which might not sound like much, but when you've been eating and watching netflix and blogging on the floor, getting chairs is a pretty big deal. I'm also excited that now I can use them to reach tall shelves. Oh yeah!

2. OUR STUFF IS HERE!!!

That's right, as of yesterday all of our stuff has arrived safe and sound. They only broke two things (nothing i really cared about), and everything fit in our apartment. Except now we really need to buy some bookcases or some type of storage unit to put all this stuff in.



The sad part? I found the wax wedding flowers that jerk mover so callously stepped on, and yes, they were partly crushed. Some of the flowers survived, but the sight of my pretty vintage wedding flowers all mangled after how careful I was with them made me really upset. And yeah, ok, I cried about it. 

So if you ever see a short Turkish guy named Ali working as a mover in Germany for Gosselin moving company, please feel free to throw something at him on my behalf. I HOPE YOU CAN FEEL MY HATRED FROM ACROSS AN OCEAN.

Crushed wedding mementos aside, I was glad nothing was damaged. And I learned a valuable lesson in PCS moves.

3. FIONN'S CAR ARRIVED!!

Fionn's starts his class next week, and once it starts he won't have time for all the moving stuff and it'll all be on me to complete. I've been panicking the last two weeks that we wouldn't be able to get everything done in time. 

Well not only did our stuff get delivered this week, but the same day we got a call that his car had arrived from Germany.  I'd been praying about it all week, so it was definitely a good feeling to get that answered. Then on top of that, he was given the rest of the week off so we had tons of time to get everything done. God is good :)

Today we're off to pick up Fionn's car and next week things will calm down and get a little more normal, including the blog! I am so ready for some calm in my life. Oh, and blogging at a table with a chair rather than the floor.

Happy Thursday everyone :)



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Weekend Back Home: Savannah, Georgia


I am lucky enough to call Savannah, Georgia my hometown. True, I wasn't born here (for many Savannahians, you're not truly FROM here if your ancestors weren't living in the city when Madison was president) but I moved here as a kid and lived, loved, and grew up here. I love this city with a passion. Every time I come back I run into people from my past. The hugs and excited cries of, "You're back!!" are the best feeling in the world after a long time away.




The weather was perfect for a quick visit home. Fionn and I strolled through downtown, stopped by my favorite places to eat, and dropped in on some friends. It was great being able to say, "Shannon's back in Georgia!"




As we walked around the familiar streets, it was hard not to be overcome with memories. My first job, the place where I graduated from college, the hotel where Fionn's mom and I sat making bouquets for our wedding. It was a great feeling, and suddenly, it hit me how good it was to be home.

The past few days in our new city have been a blur of errands and cardboard boxes and swiping debit cards. Our work-in-progress apartment doesn't feel like home and we've found ourselves aching for our German life. I can't speak for Fionn, but for me, this weekend helped heal that hurt a little. Being in a place where so many people know me and love me was healing. It re-energized me. Even when it was time to go back to our new city at the end of the weekend, I felt ready to tackle our latest challenges.

Funny how "home" can do that.





Beautiful weather, wonderful people, peaceful walks. It was such a fabulous weekend.




More Savannah to come!



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

No Longer Homeless!

We've been in our new duty station in Georgia for one week, but it feels like one MONTH. Forget hitting the ground running, Fionn and I hit the ground sprinting. I am exhausted. But in this action packed week, we have...

-picked up my car that we shipped from Germany
-visited 11 apartment complexes in ONE day, ultimately signing a lease on a sweet apartment within 2 days of arriving
-bought a couch
-picked out a new bed (waiting on delivery)
-rented a washer and dryer
-got American cell phones
-set up internet, water, and other utilities
-got Fionn all squared away at his new job
-begun unpacking our Unaccompanied Baggage shipment that arrived just this morning.

Happy sight from my window this morning!

It has been a CRAZY week!

Once we found an apartment, the biggest stress for us was the lack of furniture. As I said in earlier posts, our German apartment was fully furnished so Fionn and I had to start from nothing in terms of furnishing a house. Can I just say, Holy Moly furnishing a house is ridiculously expensive?! We tried to save some money for this move since we knew we'd have to buy a couch and a mattress and chairs and everything else, but the cost was still shocking. Add to that all the moving start up costs and eating out since we don't have a kitchen...I definitely felt like we were hemorrhaging money at some points this week. 

Luckily, we left no stone unturned when it came to finding deals. We've scoured thrift stores, Goodwill, flea markets, Craigslist, and outlet stores to find some amazing deals (like a leather couch for $480!) and we're slowly piecing our house together. I just hope our Household Goods shipment arrives soon so we can really feel like home!

Emotionally, we are both holding up but definitely starting to feel homesick for Germany. Our new duty station is huge and sprawling and well, kinda ugly. Having come from a close knit, cozy community set in picturesque Bavarian countryside that would make even Heidi sigh, this has been a rough transition. Everything seems so new and fake and suburban and impersonal. We miss our sweet grandpa of a landlord who'd rush upstairs to change a lightbulb and got misty eyed when we moved out. We miss drives through German farmland. We miss trains and medieval city centers and Germans drinking jovially in lederhosen.


We miss our friends and familiarity and our little life in Germany. It sounds dumb, but when the Unaccompanied Baggage arrived today, I got a little teary as I started unpacking my kitchen stuff. Even though I complained about it, I loved my cozy kitchen and all my stuff in it. Seeing my stuff made me feel at home and wish I was in my old home all at the same time.

That sounds so silly to say, doesn't it? That inanimate objects can reduce you to homesick tears or make a place feel like "yours" instead of an empty cookie cutter apartment. It sounds silly but it's how I felt all the same.

I'm trying to stay positive though. I really like the apartment we found-it's spacious and pretty with sunny windows and enormous closets. I love my big kitchen and two people can be in there without constantly hitting each other. I love the couch we found and it's been fun decorating our new place together. Bed Bath and Beyond and TJ Maxx are within walking distance of our house, we have air conditioning, and even a sweet pool in our complex. All the things I wished my German apartment in the middle of nowhere had!


I love that I can drive to my parents' house for a weekend visit, or that when my brother has his Senior Art show I can drive down and cheer him on. I love that if I need something it's so readily available, and if I can't find it in store I can order it online and have it at my doorstep the next day. I love that I can talk to everyone and eat Chick fil a whenever I want (well, except Sunday). All these things make coming back to America pretty cool.

Pros and cons, y'all.

I'm off to start unpacking my Unaccompanied Baggage and cooking again! Hope all of you are well out there in blog land. :) Any advice for furnishing a house on the cheap?


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On the road again...

Yesterday Fionn and I loaded up a rental car with all of our earthly belongings, and drove to Georgia to pick up my car that we shipped from Germany back in January. It was so nice to be back in my familiar little car, and I couldn't help but laugh as I looked back at Fionn playing an intense game of luggage Tetris to get everything to fit.
 
3 suitcases, 1 duffel bag, 1 giant hiking backpack, 2 normal sized backpacks, 1 violin case, 2 day bags full of snacks, important documents, every electronic we own, a bottle of water, and a couple of German winter coats and snow boots-once essential but now completely useless in 65 degree Georgia "winter".
 
 
The whole scene was just funny and also sort of happy, so as we set off on the newest leg of our seemingly unending PCS journey, I couldn't help but sing that old Willie Nelson song,
 
On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again.
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again.
On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been.
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again.

 On the road again -
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends.
Insisting that the world keep turning our way

And our way
is on the road again...
 
Today Fionn and I are headed to our new duty station after a wonderful two weeks of time off spent with our families. After that mini-staycation, today we'll check into our 5th hotel in less than a month, unpack our suitcases for the bazillionth time, and start looking for an apartment. I'll try to keep updating in the mean time, but cut me some slack if the updates are slower than molasses. Hotel Wifi is spotty at best!
 
Thanks for all the love, support, and laughs during this transition. When things settle down I have lots to blog about! :)