Happy Things, October 2016

Autumn Leaves - Emma's Picture Postcards

I always enjoy reading people’s collections of little positive things but it’s been ages since I last wrote one! Here are a few things making me smile:

  1. My new job, self-employment and my first big tax refund! Since quitting my last job I’ve been (and still am) looking for a new, traditional, 9-to-5 office job. Aberdeen is full of unemployed, overqualified people at the moment though and it’s a bit of a struggle. In the meantime, I’ve started working as a freelance audio typist, and I absolutely love it. The pay isn’t great (you get paid for each minute of audio you transcribe, rather than how long it takes you, so with practice I’ll start earning more per hour) but it’s enjoyable, gives me at least a little income, means I won’t have a big gap in my CV, and gives me another skill and experience which will hopefully be useful for future jobs. I also received a great big tax refund since my tax had been calculated on the assumption I’d continue in my old job for the rest of the financial year – I knew it would be coming, but it still felt like an amazing bonus when it did!
    Apple and Bramble Pie - Emma's Picture Postcards
  2. Baking and cooking! James is the one with the skills (enthusiasm, patience, imagination) in our kitchen, and normally does most (all) of the cooking. Recently I’ve been trying to give him a break and take a week off his plate (I can’t think of a less punny way to say that, haha) every 3-4 weeks. Usually I rustle up a few of his or my mum’s regulars and try one new thing that I’ve half dreamed up myself and then looked up on BBC Good Food for rough guidance on quantities and measurements. Last week I made what I’d imagined as a stew/casserole, but decided to turn into a really delicious pasta sauce, with tomatoes, sausage, chorizo and peppers, and my mouth is watering just at the thought of it. While it was simmering away, I made an apple and bramble pie as my October effort for Bumpkin Betty’s Baking Club. I used this Hairy Bikers’ recipe, but because we only have a teeny little flan tin, I halved the ingredients. This didn’t leave me enough pastry for the lid and I’d pretty much run out of flour, but with the help of the internet again (what on earth did we do before Google?) I found this open-top apple pie recipe, and covered mine with a half-lattice, half-crumble concoction. I popped it in the oven and proceeded to hover around, peeking through the door to see how it was getting on, because by this stage I had no idea how long I needed to bake it! And the result? *Drum roll*… it turned out perfect. Yay! To date, I am 3 for 3 and the world’s luckiest baker.
    Dornstetten, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards
  3. A quick trip to the Black Forest, for the wedding of my favourite German! We started out as exchange students when we were 15, and were lucky enough to actually like each other and stay in regular contact afterwards! We’ve visited each other every couple of years since then, and really feel like family now. It was wonderful to be there for her wedding, to be back in her home village, to spend some quality time with her family and friends, and to introduce James to a place that’s been a big part of my life.
    Stranger Things Halloween Party - Emma's Picture Postcards
  4. A wonderful week in London. I’ll write a full post soon, but the original premise was for Dad and I to go to another NFL game. The friends I’d planned to stay with then invited me to a Stranger Things themed Halloween party the following weekend, so I decided to stay a week! I really enjoyed both events, the chance to catch up with London- and Nottingham-based friends, and the opportunity to spend a whole week with my Kiwi friends. There’s nothing like knowing your friends will eventually return to the literal opposite end of the Earth to make you appreciate their current, relatively convenient home!

Happy Halloween! Let me know your October highlights 🙂

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Berlin, August 2014

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world. I’ve been many times before (I actually spent six months living just a couple of hours away) but every time I visit, I find something new and interesting to see or do.

Apartments am Brandenburger Tor, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

We stayed at Apartments am Brandenburger Tor, and when they say they’re at the Brandenburg Gate, they really mean it! We were just around the corner from the Gate, and therefore easy walking distance to the Reichstag, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Potsdamer Platz. The main station, Museum Island, Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish museum were all within a half hour walk as well. Perfect!

The apartment was bright and spacious, and the location was pretty quiet despite being so central. There’s a little supermarket just along the street and a couple of restaurants below the apartments. We tried out a few (and of course had some Currywurst from the street vendors) but couldn’t stop going back for more delicious breakfasts at Cafe LebensArt on Unter den Linden. The decor is really nice, with huge windows perfect for watching the world go by, and a retro feel with black, red and brown colour scheme and black-and-white photo canvasses. And here’s a sample of their breakfast menu:

Cafe LebensArt, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

James had been to Berlin before but extremely briefly, as he was just transferring from plane to train on his way to Poland, so he only had time for a quick walk around near the station – just enough to pique his interest! And although I’ve been lots before, it’s mostly been in the winter, so it was nice to be able to walk around and take our time seeing all the sights. So we spent most of our time just wandering, but we did proper visits to the Reichstag, the zoo, and the Jewish museum, none of which I’d been to before, plus Checkpoint Charlie which I had.

Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reichstag, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

I’ve walked past the Reichstag a hundred times before and always just kept on walking, thinking that whatever’s inside, it could not possibly be worth waiting in the huge queue, out in that big open square (often in a blizzard the winter I lived in Germany!) They’ve changed the system though: you queue in a much smaller line at a kiosk across the street, and book in for a time slot – I think we went around lunch time and got a slot in the early evening. Then you return 15 minutes before your time slot, go through security, and you’re in. You all shuffle into the lift (no advance warning of this, so take note if you’re claustrophobic!) but it’s a very fast and smooth ride up to the roof, where you get an audio guide and wander around at your own pace – or if you’re me, spend 10 minutes frustratedly pressing all the buttons on the thing and claiming it’s broken, only to eventually be told it starts automatically when you go into the glass dome… whoopsie. Anyway, the guide is interesting, with a lot of information and history about everything you can see – the views across the city, the structure of the building and the chambers below where the current parliament (Bundestag) meets. And I almost forgot – it’s free!

View of Potsdamer Platz from the Reichstag - Emma's Picture Postcards

View from Reichstag, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

Tiergarten, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

Tiergarten, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

We had really great weather during our stay and were enjoying walking around, so decided to carry on our fitness kick and walk to the zoo, which is “just” the other side of the Tiergarten park. With hindsight, the Tiergarten is enormous – 210 hectares, which is up there with New York’s Central Park at 335 – plus my usual good sense of direction kept failing me so we kept shooting out one side or the other, and zig-zagged all the way to the zoo. So by the time we got there we were already exhausted! It’s a really good zoo though, a great variety of animals and nice large enclosures. There’s an aquarium too, but since we’d spent half the day meandering around the park we stuck to just the zoo! I spent ages watching the seals playing in their pool and befriended a sassy old vulture 😀

Berlin Zoo - Emma's Picture Postcards

Berlin Zoo - Emma's Picture Postcards

Berlin Zoo - Emma's Picture Postcards

Berlin Zoo - Emma's Picture Postcards

Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum are both really fascinating and definitely worth a visit. Checkpoint Charlie was a gateway between East and West Berlin, and is a museum of life on either side of the Iron Curtain. It particularly celebrates the ingenious ideas people came up with to try to smuggle people across the border, and the amazing individuals who risked everything to help reunite thousands of strangers with their loved ones. I’ve been to Checkpoint Charlie twice and it’s been absolutely mobbed with tour groups both times, so I’d recommend trying an early morning or late afternoon visit to see if you can avoid the crowds – the building is a series of interconnected little rooms and stairways, so it’s easy to trip over people when it’s busy! There’s also an art exhibition in Checkpoint Charlie too (on the top floor I think) – to be honest I found it a little incongruous, but it didn’t detract from the overall visit – I just skipped it and carried on.

The Jewish Museum is a lot more spacious and has more of an art gallery feel to it, especially because the architecture of the building is stunning. I felt a bit less of a personal connection with the exhibits than with those at Checkpoint Charlie, but I think part of that was just because there’s such a huge wealth of things to see, and we were rushed for time unfortunately, as we had to get back to the Reichstag for our booked slot there. But I’ll definitely go back at some point and take more of a stroll round.

Hackesche Hoefe, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

We had a really good thorough nose around the Hackesche Hoefe (above). They are a collection of little courtyards, with a variety of shops etc. Some are rather pricey but it’s a nice place to wander around. One courtyard was the perfect spot to relax, with a bench, tree and fountain tinkling away… I could have sat there for hours… and then some small child came along and started shrieking so that was the end of that idea 😉

Last couple of photos from our wanderings: the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, and the Cathedral.

Any recommendations for my next visit?

Berlin Cathedral - Emma's Picture Postcards

Alex, Berlin - Emma's Picture Postcards

Ilmenau and Erfurt, Germany, February 2015

Ilmenau - Emma's Picture Postcards

I’m just back from a flying visit to Ilmenau in Germany, as James has been there for the past month doing a placement at the university. Ilmenau is a pretty little mountain town in Thuringia, roughly in the centre of Germany. I flew to Frankfurt and then took a hire car to Ilmenau since my flight arrived after the last connecting train. I have driven plenty on the right hand side of the road, and on the famous Autobahn (in case you’re not familiar – no speed limit!), but I’ve always started my journeys on the “wrong” side of the road in a quiet place like a village, and then gradually arrived on bigger roads once I’d had a bit of time to adjust. So it was a bit of a shock to the system to come out of the car park and be immediately on the Autobahn! Thankfully I’d decided to hire a sat nav as I’d have been completely overwhelmed without the calm-but-firm lady telling me to “bear right”. I got my hire car from Budget, and I actually got a free upgrade – I’d booked the cheapest car plus a sat nav, but they gave me a car from the next level up since it had a built-in sat nav 😀 I had actually looked at getting the “luxury economy” option from Europcar, listed as “e.g. Audi A1”, but looked at some of the reviews and although I didn’t see any complaints, the cars people got for that option were mostly VWs… nothing against VW, but I wouldn’t really call them a luxury brand! The difference in price for the “luxury” version at Europcar compared to their regular economy car was small enough that I might have tried it, but after looking around some more I discovered Budget’s cheapest category was around 50 Euro cheaper! My car turned out to be a Peugeot and I was 100% happy with both it and the customer service.

Ilmenau, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards

My drive was overall fine – as I got further into the mountains, the scenery began to get absolutely beautiful, with a full moon shining off the snow… and then I reached The Tunnels of Doom. It shouldn’t really have been a surprise, as of course to get to a town far in the mountains, it’s fairly standard that you’d have to go through tunnels and over bridges. Unfortunately I have a phobia of certain man-made structures: bridges, stairs you can see through, dams, and, apparently, tunnels. I’d pretty much forgotten the tunnel thing because I don’t exactly encounter them very often, and I was ok for the first several, but after what felt like an endless series of tunnels and helpfully labelled bridges, I found myself in the Rennsteig Tunnel, which is 7.9km long, and (Wikipedia has just informed me) the longest road tunnel in Germany. I may have had a little sob. However I had my big-girl pants on and I made it through 😉 As it turned out, that was the second-last one on the way to Ilmenau, and because it was out the way early on my return journey, it wasn’t so bad, especially as it was uphill in that direction and it seemed to be the endless downhill straight that freaked me out the first time through.

Erfurt, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards

James has been staying at a guesthouse called Zur Post. The guesthouse has thin walls and the obligatory creepy china dolls that these places always seem to have, but otherwise was great. And to be honest the thin walls were only a problem for an hour or two on my last night – I don’t think anyone was staying in the next-door room until then, and when someone did move in, they were just talking… just unfortunate as I had to get up at 5.00 to drive back to the airport! Anyway the staff are absolutely lovely, and have been very sweet and patient with James – he doesn’t speak German, and they don’t speak English, so it’s been a little challenging for an extended stay! His main struggle has been trying to avoid getting the pickle/cabbage/onion side salad which comes with most of the dishes, as these are all of his least favourite things – the first time he tried to ask for no side salad, he got… not only the side salad as usual, but also a salad starter! Haha. With that said though, the food is very tasty German pub grub, with generous portions. I had a ham and cheese Schnitzel and James had a steak.

WP_20150206_001[1] Erfurt, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards Erfurt, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards

Erfurt Cathedral - Emma's Picture PostcardsWe also went for a walk around Erfurt, a bigger town nearby. It has a beautiful cathedral overlooking a large open square, which I imagine would be a wonderful place to spend a lazy summer afternoon, having coffee and cake outside a cafe! The cathedral is free to visit (donations welcome) and I took lots of pictures of the interior, especially the beautiful stained glass windows, but I’m still getting used to my new camera and all-but-one came out terribly blurry! The town itself is very traditional, cute and impressive at the same time. It reminded me of the Netherlands a little, as there’s a small river through the centre of town with little islands, so lots of bridges, plus the multi-coloured buildings. I treated myself to a quick pop in to a few of the shops we don’t have in Aberdeen – Esprit, Tally Weijl, Mango and S Oliver – and found a shirt in Mango that I’m looking forward to wearing. It’s cream, and a very soft and light material, and is to replace a well-loved River Island one that I’ve had for a few years and worn to death.

Erfurt Cathedral - Emma's Picture Postcards Erfurt, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards

Ilmenauer Buecherstube - Emma's Picture PostcardsOur visit to Erfurt was the only touristy activity, since it was so cold we spent most of the time just eating and drinking coffee! As well as Zur Post we ate at Sharma’s Indian restaurant and the Lindenhof hotel. Sharma’s was quite decent, especially given that there’s not a huge market for Indian cuisine in Germany! James had been before but kindly forgot to mention that the chicken is a little iffy – not undercooked or anything, but a bit strange in texture, as though it’s perhaps been pre-cooked. But the sauce was very tasty, and the naan was great, nice and light but not flaky. James opted for lamb and reported it was very nice. They also give you a pot of rice in the middle of the table to scoop your share out of, which is a simple idea but really helped with that cluttered feeling I often get with lots of individual side dishes! As for Lindenhof, I could happily have spent hours sitting in their conservatory, which looks out onto a pedestrianised shopping street. I loved the decor – they have lots of books, both on a shelf around the top of the conservatory, and in a cozy nook-type area inside, and there were also some wooden ducks suspended from the ceiling in the conservatory, complete with adorable woollen scarves and hats! Despite the knick-knacks, it didn’t seem cluttered, as they balanced out with the open feel of the big conservatory windows to make it feel homely. I had a latte and a mushroom goulash, both yummy.

Lindenhof, Ilmenau - Emma's Picture Postcards Lindenhof, Ilmenau - Emma's Picture Postcards

And that’s it! Unless I get any surprise opportunities, that will be my last trip for a little while as I’m saving up to go to the USA in October, but I still have a couple of holidays from last year to post about. Plus James will be home in a couple of days and spring is sloowwly springing, so I’m looking forward to getting out and about locally a bit more.

Ilmenau Cathedral - Emma's Picture Postcards