All roads lead to Karlsruhe

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

It's official. The Husband has accepted a job offer with the company he was working for before we left Germany a year and a half ago, and with that, we will be heading back to Karlsruhe to live, or somewhere in the surrounding vicinity, depending on where we find a house to live in.

Those who know me will know that this result has created plenty of conflicting emotions within me. When we left Karlsruhe at the end of 2014, I truly did not expect, or wanted to, ever return. I left the city, this country, without looking back. I left it feeling like I was leaving a place that was never truly home for me, where there were plenty of lonely days and bad moments, to head to a city and country I've always loved, where I felt like I belonged and was accepted from the moment I arrived.

And now, the truth is, I'm torn. I'm filled with relief that we have somewhere to head to after the past two months of living out of suitcases and without a home. Since we left Auckland, we have dragged our children halfway around the world and stayed in temporary homes and accommodations in Kuala Lumpur, Rietberg, Frankfurt and Carolinensiel in the past eight weeks as we tried to figure out our next move. On Sunday we will head down to Mannheim where we will base ourselves for however long we need while we hunt for a place to live in/near Karlsruhe. We've done this with a two and a four year old whom we've had to try to entertain without their usual gear/toys/books/surrounding. It's been exhausting with a capital E.

So I'm relieved that there is an end in sight. I'm grateful for a second chance to re-build a life for us in Germany. I'm excited at finally having a place to hopefully call home, to settling the boys in school and therapies and finally getting Liam properly seen, after having more or less neglected his health for the past year while we tried to make it work in New Zealand. But there's also a part of me that's disappointed, and a little fearful, that all the reasons why we wanted to leave Karlsruhe will still be there when we return.

It's not that Karlsruhe was a bad place to live in, far from it. We had a relatively good, 'easy' life there. We had a lovely apartment in the heart of the city, and I always enjoyed the festivals that was held throughout the year. I enjoyed being able to step out of our apartment and walk everywhere I needed to go. BUT, there isn't much diversity. The food scene isn't something to write home about. The shopping streets could be walked in an hour. We've already discovered most of what there is to be discovered about the surrounding parks, zoo, playgrounds. I never really fitted in, or felt like I belonged. I largely felt invisible.

It was not a city I ever fell head over heels in love with, like I did Auckland. Or like I could have with Frankfurt, or possibly Hamburg. I wanted to start fresh in a new city, a bigger city, a more international city where I wouldn't feel quite as foreign or alone. Where the memories I left behind, good and bad, won't greet me at every corner. I wanted a clean slate, this time around, instead of heading back to the very place we left for many reasons. And now I have to reconcile myself that the story I thought had ended, in fact has a sequel. Whether the sequel will turn out to be better or worse than the original, I do not know. It seems like life keeps going round in round in circles for us.

At the end of the day, I'm going to be optimistic, because that is the only way to live. Because I want to think and believe that everything happens for a reason. But for some reason, my heart hurts. I left New Zealand resigned and slightly bitter, but even with everything that's happened there, I miss it. I miss our home in Sunnynook. I miss the North Shore and its beaches. I miss the boys' respective daycares where they were so loved and adored. I miss understanding the conversations around me without having to think so hard to keep up or say a simple sentence. I miss being independent in a way that was natural to me and not where I had to think about my every next step the minute I leave the front door. I miss the ocean breeze. I miss the food. I miss our friends who've surrounded us with such love and support.

Tomorrow, I will pick myself up from the ground, dust myself off, and keep walking. I will try to smile again. I will do what needs to be done. I will embrace this next part of our lives with an open mind and spirit.

But today, I'm just going to nurse my weary heart.

Frankfurt, the big little city

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

We spent five days in Frankfurt, Germany's 'Big Little City', last week. The Husband had to attend a job interview there, and we thought it would be a good opportunity for us to scout out the area as well. Although we lived in Karlsruhe before (about an hour's drive away from Frankfurt), I've never actually been to Frankfurt city. I have flown in and out of Frankfurt Airport multiple times though! 

Frankfurt am Main is located on both sides of the Main River. It is also nicknamed 'Mainhattan' thanks to its striking skyscraper skyline. The fifth largest city in Germany, Frankfurt has many high-rise buildings in its city centre, and is one of few cities in the EU to have such a skyline, which is why it is referred to as such. Coming from Kuala Lumpur, I've always loved the hustle and bustle of city life. With its high-rise buildings standing amongst well-preserved traditional European buildings that date back centuries, this is the city that has a little bit of everything, and I felt excited, and also at home, right away.

I loved the fact that planes were flying overhead almost constantly, and while some people may have find the noise an annoyance, to me, seeing the planes constantly crisscrossing the sky made me feel closer to the family and friends I have all around the globe and part of a larger, global world. 

We stayed at an AirBnb apartment in Niederrad, which was a twenty minute tram ride away from the city centre. The first place we visited was Römerberg, the central and most beautiful square in Frankfurt's Altstadt (Old Town), largely thanks to its traditional German-style buildings that line the square.

Large trade fairs used to be held on the Römerberg, with some of it eventually developing into the now world-famous Frankfurt Messe and the Frankfurt Book Fair (which is still being held, although its now moved to new facilities). 

The east side of the square, opposite the Römer is known as the Ostzeile. This row of six picturesque half-timbered houses are reconstructions of the original fifteenth- and sixteenth-century houses, most of which were rebuilt or expanded in the eighteenth century.

Frankfurt's Alte Oper
Frankfurt is certainly not short on history and culture. This is a city of museums and galleries, which has earned the city a national reputation as a city of the arts. The Museum Embankment located along the Main river is home to 13 fascinating riverside museums such as the Städel Museum, the German Architecture Museum, the German Film Museum, and the Jewish Museum.

The Alte Oper, or the Old Opera House, is another building not to be missed when in Frankfurt. It suffered massive damage during the war and was bombed down to its foundation walls, but was faithfully rebuilt to the original plans in the early 1980s, where it stands until today as a fine example of preserving historical heritage.

Lilu cafe in Niederrad
Lilu Park in Niederrad
I also loved that there were many parks, playgrounds located throughout the city centre, and of course, the River Main running through the city's heart, which made it feel spacious, family-friendly and green, even amongst the gleaming skyscrapers and grand buildings. It is the financial centre of the country, and yet still pays homage to culture and the arts. It is home to one of the world's busiest air hubs and the Stock Exchange, and is also home to Goethe, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Paulskirche. 
River Main
Inner city playground
View from the top
At the top of the Frankfurt Main Tower
We had a wonderful time in Frankfurt and I only wish we could have spent more time exploring the various districts, and also a bit more of the food and wine scene!

This is a city of contradictions which somehow exist together harmoniously, and is a little bit of everything I love. I"m definitely looking forward to getting to know the city better in the years to come!

Starting over

Saturday, 9 April 2016

We've been in Germany for nearly three weeks now, and while I'd like to say that we're having an awesome time (and in many ways it certainly is awesome to be back in Germany), the truth is, it's been a really difficult and trying time for us as well.

I count my blessings everyday that after what's happened in New Zealand, we still have the opportunity to return to Germany and start over with the help and support from our family. And yet, this is by far THE most difficult move yet, in all my 15 years of moving all over the world.

Not only are we adjusting to this change and trying our damnedest to built a life for ourselves in Germany again, we also have two little humans who rely on us every minute of everyday to provide them with a safe, comfortable, and stimulating environment, which is really hard to do when you're living in someone else's home without any structure or routine to your days.

We can't enroll them in school temporarily as we have no idea how long we'll be staying here, we can't really kill time with traveling around the country in between job interviews, neither is it an option financially to constantly go to places that provide some entertainment, like zoos, indoor playgrounds, theme parks and such, as we're living off our savings and have no idea how long we'll have to continue to do so.

Everything we know and have held on to, the foothold in our lives that keeps as steady and secure, like having a career, an income, friends, a routine, daycare, a home, has been stripped bare and left us with nothing but each other to hold on to. We are left living out of suitcases and forced to make one temporary home after another as we move from place to place on this epic journey, which is far from over. The boys are seemingly coping well with the constant changes, but I worry about how this is affecting them internally, in the places we can't see or reach. On some level they must be confused. They must be wondering where grandpa and grandma is, who we spent three weeks with in Malaysia and whom they adored. They must be wondering where their toys are. Why their living and sleeping arrangement change every few weeks.

We're trying our best to remain positive and upbeat. We plan simple outings to different playgrounds, or  to the local park every day. The Husband takes the kids for hour-long bike rides in the bike trailer we've been gifted by his brother. They still wake up at 7am and have their naps and go to bed at the same time each day, which gives them a little bit of structure. The rest of their time is up to us to fill up, and some days that's easier to do than others.

But through all of this, I'm also feeling kinda lost. I've never been good at waiting and being patient. I've never been good at not knowing. Or not having a plan. I make lists. I plan. I have backup plans. I've always known where I was going or where I wanted to be and how to get there. But for the first time in my life, I'm completely helpless. I don't really know what the next step is. I don't know where to turn to and what we're waiting for or how long this wait is going to be. Stay in the present, I read in my motivational books. Enjoy every moment, people tell me. You'll get there eventually, I tell myself.

And yet. Yet.

There's a part within me that's restless and agitated. I'm bored. Angry. Stressed out. Worried. Impatient. And another part that is trying its hardest to fight this ennui I'm slowly sinking into. Keep busy. Read. Take pictures. Go for drives. Write. Cook. Play with the kids. Play with the kids some more. Stay fluid. Be flexible. Believe. Have faith. Have hope. Stay calm. This will all be over soon. You'll have a place to call home soon. The kids will be able to go to school soon. You'll be able to focus on your own work soon. Life will start again. Soon.

I chant these to myself like a mantra every night before I sleep, even as I'm simultaneously weeping into my pillow at all the uncertainties that still lies before us. All the work that still needs to be done even when we do finally find a place to call home. The unpacking. The buying of furniture. The enrolling of kids in schools. Finding a doctor and therapists for Liam. Starting German classes. Learning my way around a new area or city. Meeting new people and building up a new network of friends.

This isn't easy. Moving within the same country isn't easy. Moving to a different country is difficult beyond doubt. Moving with two little kids to a different country when you don't know where you're moving to or what tomorrow holds, is a challenge on an epic level. This takes everything we have. It's taken everything we have.

And the only thing I can do right now is keep breathing in and out. Keep writing. Keep taking photos and capturing moments that remind me of pleasure and beauty and everything good. Keep out the darkness. Keep moving forwards. There has to be light at the end of the road. This is only the beginning.


Rietberg, Germany

Monday, 28 March 2016

We've been in The Husband's hometown of Rietberg, Germany, for slightly over a week now, and while it's been mostly cold and grey and drizzly, we've thankfully also had a few hours of sunshine every now and then, during which we quickly bundle both boys up and head outdoors so they can burn all their pent up energies.

It's been a long journey to get here, and our lives in Germany is just beginning. But for now, we're taking a much needed pause to regroup and to get re-acquainted with Germany, before embarking on the next stage of the journey, which is to settle in whichever city we decide to build our lives in over the next month or two.

The boys did great on the flight over, considering everything they've already been through the last few weeks. They're also adapting much better to the cold weather here than they did to the heat and humidity of Malaysia. 

I love this little town where my husband spent the majority of his growing up years. It is quaint, charming, with plenty of historic buildings that have withstood decades of time, and makes me feel like I've stepped into a fairy tale, so different it is from my own childhood and the area I grew up in.

Rietberg is a town in the district of Gütersloh in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and has a population of only about 30,000. The heart of the town is the historical town centre, which is also known as the 'town of beautiful gables', due to the old, carefully renovated and restored, beautiful half-timbered houses located around it.

According to the official website, Rietberg also nestles in large nature reserves extending over 500 hectares, a haven for those who enjoy cycling through picturesque routes or taking a long stroll through rambling pathways. More information on excursions, visitors programs and leisure activities can be found on the website here.

It is really not a big town at all, and the town centre itself is easily walkable within an hour or two. There are many beautiful parks surrounding the area, from smaller riverside pathways to a large garden park filled with various play spaces also called the 'Landesgartenschau', which is one of our favorite places to take the children, rain or shine. More about that on a separate post!

A must-see building in Rietberg is the Rathaus, or the Town Hall, which was build in the 1800s. Some of the older buildings in the area dates back to the 1600-1700. The dates they were built are often etched on the buildings themselves.

This beautiful town has a special place in my heart not just because it is where my husband's family lives, but because it is also one of the first German towns I've been to, and remains quintessentially the idea of how I pictured a German town to be as a little girl, before ever expecting to live my life here one day.

Rietberg is relatively unknown to the international audience, and it certainly does not rely on tourism as an economy. There are not many 'attractions' in the town itself, although the larger towns of Paderborn and Bielefeld are only a short distance away.

But this little town has plenty of charm on its own, and if you ever find yourself in this part of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, it is definitely worth a stop to admire the historical buildings, walk through the beautiful cobbled streets or perhaps dine at the now iconic 1643 restaurant in Rietberg.

Torii Japanese Yakitori & Whisky Bar

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Husband and I caught up with my cousin and her boyfriend at Torii Japanese Yakitori & Whisky Bar when we were in Malaysia last week. She gave me a choice of three places to dine in, and being on a bit of a Japanese whisky bent, I was sold the minute I saw the whisky list this restaurant boasts. 

According to its website, Torii is a Japanese-accented gastro-bar, dedicated to the twin pleasures of 'yakitori and divine whisky'. Japanese whisky lovers will be happy to learn that Torii has the largest range of Japanese single malt whiskies on offer in Kuala Lumpur! They're definitely not cheap, but at least you now know where to head to if you've a sudden hankering for some Yamazaki or Hakushu! Yes, James B. I'm looking at you!

I loved the look and concept of the restaurant right away. It is sexy, chic and modern with interesting diagrams on the dark walls and a wall of whisky bottles that graces the bar and back wall. Not quite what I was expecting to find in the midst a suburban neighborhood, but definitely worth checking out whenever you're in the area. 

The yakitori menu featured all sorts of grilled skewered meats, seafood and different vegetables as well as a range of unique Japanese-inspired dishes.

We ordered and shared heaps of little platters among the four of us. Most of the food we had were really good, with some exceptional ones like the ultra-smooth, silky Trifecta Mushi made from Ikura, Foie Gras, and Shrimp in a Steamed Duck Egg Custard, as well as the Rack of Lamb with sea salt and black pepper, which was moist, smoky and utterly delicious.

We also really enjoyed the fresh and beautifully presented Sashimi Platter as well as the Bonded Unagi and Foie Gras, which were little bites of melt-in-your-mouth concoctions that packed a punch of meaty, earthy flavours and with a lovely, soft texture.

Trifecta Mushi
Bonded Unagi and Foie Gras
Sashimi Platter
There were a couple of misses like the Escargot cooked in garlic miso and scallions, which were a little tough and chewy. I also wasn't too impressed by the Crispy Cheesy Beef, which is a new addition to the menu. Again, I thought the meat was way too tough and dry, although the cheese did its best to add some flavor and texture to the dish.

Sweet Corn
The grilled vegetables were cooked well here. We really enjoyed the Sweet Corn with sea salt and butter, as well as the soft and flavorsome Okra in a shoyu sauce. The Sweet Potato was really tender, well seasoned and tasted a treat too. However, my personal favorite was the Aubergine also cooked in shoyu sauce and topped with bonito flakes. They were moist, delicious and utterly addictive!

Rock Lobster
The Chicken Wings were a little on the salty side, but I loved the crispy skin and it went down a treat with our sake. We also enjoyed the Rock Lobster topped with scallion and a garlic chilli sauce.

Rack of Lamb
It is easy to spend hours whiling the night away here, munching on delicious yakitoris and drinking whisky, and I can see why this place is such a hit amongst locals. The price doesn't come cheap, but with some further tweaking to the menu, it is worthwhile to head here for a fun night out with friends as the food, whisky and atmosphere does make for a memorable experience!

Crispy Cheese Beef
Sweet Potato
Torii Japanese Yakitori & Whisky Bar
18 Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 1,
Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 
Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603 7733 9309
site design by designer blogs