Say some things in German properly

I’m not going to teach you German for the same reason I’m not going to teach you to knit, or to juggle. I’m not even going to bore you with a week by week pronunciation guide. I would just like to teach you one thing, so if you ever travel to one of the six countries where German is an official language, you can pronounce some placenames without sounding like a dick.

EI  and  IE

Most English speakers get these mixed up. So let’s sort that out right now:

  • IE  =  “ee”
  • EI  =  “eye”

Is there a trick I can learn to remember that?

There are two tricks: my trick and Jack’s trick.

My trick:   DIESEL  and   HEIGHT

  • Every time I see a word with “ie” in it, I think of “diesel”.
  • Every time I see a word with “ei” in it, I think of “height”.

Diesel, height, diesel, height, diesel, height, etc.

Jack’s trick: what’s the sound of the SECOND letter?

  • Eg, the word has “ie” in it – the second letter is “e” – make that sound.
  • The word has “ei” in it – the second letter is “i” – make that sound.

Now let’s put it into practice

To be fair, most English speakers do get the “ei” words right, it’s the “ie” ones they struggle with. We’ll start easy:

I write Bier, you say …?  That’s right, “beer”, and that’s what it means in English!

Next… I write Bienen. Take your time. Did you say “beenen”? Well done! And that’s German for “bees”, so it even sounds similar. You are nailing this.

Alright this one’s tricky: Friedhof. Yep, it looks like the English word for what you did to your bacon and eggs, doesn’t it? So be careful: remember, “diesel/height”, or “the sound of the second letter” and … Did you get “Freedhof”? Fantastic! Um, that means “cemetary” by the way, but Germans are totally into burial, and I swear, you drive 5 metres into any German town and THERE IT IS, the sign for the Friedhof.

Would you like some “ei” words? OK, these should be straightforward:

Meister – yep, that’s pronounced “MY-ster”. It means master or champion.

Freitag – “FRY-tag” which means Friday, so again, it even sounds like the English word.

Ok, are you ready for the placenames quiz? Try and pronounce these town names, then scroll down to see the answers below:






Weil der Stadt







The Answers

  • “Leentz”     The “z” is spoken as if there is a “t” before it.
  • “Linegarten”    Too easy.
  • “Vy-ler”     Yep, the “w” is pronounced like a “v”.
  • “Voon-zeedel”     That “oon” is not pronounced like “soon”, it’s more like the double-o of “book” or “look”. Think of “wunderbar”! Also, the “s” gets a slight “z” slide on it.
  • “Freelingsdorf”    Again, easy, huh?
  • “Hair-shide”     The “er” is said more like “air” than just “er”.

How did you get on? Let me know in the comments.


How to plan a trip away 2 – Accommodation

So from the previous post hopefully you’ll understand why, for a trip like our two weeks in Italy, I wasn’t really a fan of “oh, we’ll just show up and find somewhere to stay”.

That’s a bit personal

When it comes to “What are you looking for in your accommodation?” everyone is different! So this post is very much written from my perspective and what works for me and my family. As usual, if you’ve got views, there’s a Comments section below so do wade in! Anyway…

Accommodation Booking Websites

I’ve tried a few accommodation booking websites but I keep coming back to We used Air BnB very successfully in Paris. But other times I’ve found places on Air BnB that look like they really, really are available, even some so-called “Instant Book” ones, but then you get an email back saying, “Oh sorry, it’s not available that day.” And unfortunately has set my expectations that I should be able to browse, pick something and book it right then and there, job done.

Self-catering, parking and WiFi, please

A great thing about is you can put in everything you’re looking for in your choice of accommodation, so those are the main three things I’m after:

WiFi – save your phone’s data; double-check opening hours for museums, etc; do a bit of reading up on Stuff We Saw Today, eg what exactly is Trajan’s column?

Parking – because we show up some of Europe’s biggest cities with our car, and if you have to pay to put your vehicle in a carpark, you need to factor that into the price of a room that otherwise looks cheap. For example, in Rome we found rooms for €80 a night, but then parking might be €30 a day. So… that’s really a €110 a night room! And yes, we managed to find a place in Rome that had free parking. I will write a separate blog post about our accommodation in Rome because I think it was possibly (for us) the most perfect accommodation experience I have ever had.

Self-catering – the cheapest rooms you can get are usually in some sort of hotel chain like Ibis, on the outskirts of town. We stayed in one of these for one night in Metz and it was fine. As well as WiFi and parking, in your room you get a bed, a TV, maybe tea and coffee making, a shower and a toilet.

Finding somewhere with a small kitchenette costs more than these type of places BUT let me paint you a picture: you and your spouse, and your two teen/tween children, in the same small room, for two weeks. You can make a cup of tea, but there’s no bowls or spoons if you just want cereal for breakfast. For dinner, you don’t choose to eat out, you have to eat out, even if you feel like just throwing on a packet of pasta and heating up a ready-made sauce*.

For me it really boils down to being able to just cook or eat like I’m at home – not all the time, but when I want to, that makes me try and look for self-catering accommodation. I love going out for breakfast, but I actually don’t want to eat croissant every day for two weeks. OK, rephrase: I would love to be able to eat croissant every day of my life without any impact on my waistline, but … So there you go.

Self catering = bigger room = no-one gets killed

If you are looking for somewhere that is self-catering, that also sets the bar in terms of the size of the room. At a minimum, it’s likely to have a separate bedroom. This means you and your spouse can physically separate yourselves from the children and whatever crap they’re watching on TV and close the door. By all means have a smutty giggle here, but after a day trudging around museums and historical sights, when everyone is just a teensy bit tired, a separate room can help you survive the trip with your mental health intact, and help your children survive the trip with … well, help them survive the trip. A separate room also means you don’t have to turn your lights out at 9pm or whatever your family watershed is.

Minimum two nights

You usually can’t check into your accommodation until 2pm. But the day we go from Town A to Town B, we’re driving (obviously), stopping along the drive, getting lunch somewhere different, so we aren’t likely to arrive at our accommodation until more like 5pm or 6pm.

If you’re only staying one night, you’ve got to be out of there by 10am the next day: bags packed, room cleaned, goodbye. That’s why a one-night stand at a hotel is only good if you didn’t want to be in that town in the first place – if it’s just a way of breaking up a 10 hour drive to Town C, which is where you really want to be. And if that’s the case, forget self-catering and just go with the outskirts of town, Ibis-chain type option.

This is exactly what we did when we drove from here to Paris not on the motorways (8 hours), and we stopped one night in Metz which was exactly half-way. The hotel was on the outskirts but luckily near a main bus station. That night we took the bus into town, had dinner and a walk around Metz. In the morning we packed our bags but we went back into town to look around the food market before heading off to Paris around midday.

If you read the previous two paragraphs together, it won’t take you long to wonder, “So, you really didn’t want to go to Metz, did you?” Correct. And I felt bad about that! Poor Metz! A lovely historic city in Lorraine**, and I’m just having a one-night stand? Using it like a hotel? That’s why we made the effort to go into town, eat out, wander around, and go back in again in the morning. Now I can say that I’ve seen a bit of Metz and yes, it’s pretty cool.

Why don’t we finish off with a photo from Metz, then? This is not a great photo, and I had taken some pretty good photos of the old town, but unfortunately Metz is also the place where my phone got stolen just before we left for Paris, so this is all I’ve got, sorry. Place St Louis in Metz by night:


* If you know me, you’ll know it wasn’t a ready-made sauce but I wanted it to sound easy and inviting…

** Yep, I bought a quiche from a bakery in the market. YUM.

How to plan a trip away 1 – Itinerary

While we’ve been in Germany, our pattern has been to have a trip away somewhere every few weeks or so. Seeing other places in Europe was very much a reason for coming here in the first place. This blog post is about what we do to plan and book stuff for such trips. It was getting a bit long, so I’ve split it into how we do general/itinerary type planning, and then tomorrow you can get the one about how we find accommodation.


Within a couple of weeks of getting settled in Germany (so, October), Joe and I made a list of where we wanted to go in our year, and we have stuck to this list. This is the list of anywhere that’s more than 4 hours to drive to. Less than that, you could just rattle off in a weekend with maybe one night away, so no great planning required there.

Near the top of the list was Italy, where I have family in the north and, apparently, there’s a few things to see further down as well. So I’ll use that Italian trip as the case study for this blog post.

Sometimes we’ll just go with, “OK, I am NOT leaving Europe without seeing the Colosseum”. So that adds Rome to our itinerary and of course, while we’re there, we might find other things to see as well.


Joe and I are both self-employed, so we can just up and go anytime. Joe just needs to make sure he keeps an eye on his emails so while he’s away he can accept bookings for when he’s back. Otherwise he has an unpaid holiday followed by a very lean patch for two weeks.

With the kids, because they don’t have big exams, their schools are happy enough for us to take them out during term time – provided we do obvious stuff like ask in advance, and don’t take the piss. So far we have only taken them out for an extra week in February – the school holiday was one week, and we went to Italy for two. Plus I took Jack out the one day we went to Ruhpolding. We are very lucky in this regard – I believe this is not the case for locals!

Molly is the hardest to persuade that a visit to the Colosseum might be at least as rewarding as a day chatting with her school friends and making sure she attends football practice.

For Italy we chose February because we planned to have a few days in Alto Adige with our German friends, and that’s when they were going skiing.


So once we pick the country, we plan an itinerary that is about 4/10 on the “ambitious” scale. We like to spend at least two nights somewhere, if not three. More about why a “one-night stand” doesn’t work a little later. We like to focus on, as I said further up, the sort of towns or places are on our list of “I am NOT leaving Europe without seeing [ xx ]”. There’s always a longer list of “What about here? How about there?”. And if we make it to even one of these places, we are doing very, very well. We can’t see it all, so instead we ensure that we go to the one that most important to us.

We use Google Maps to work out how long it will take us to drive somewhere, and whether we want to save a few euro and not go on the motorway (there’s an “avoid tolls” option in Google maps). An 8-hour drive would be the absolute maximum for a day’s travel, and we would only do this right at the start and right at the end of our trip, ie, to put some good distance between us and home.

For Italy we did:

  • 7 plus hour drive to Friuli, then 4 nights there.
  • 4.5 hours to Alto Adige, 3 nights.
  • 6 hours to Rome, 2 nights.
  • 3 hours to Amalfi, 3 nights.
  • 4.5 hours to Tuscany, 3 nights.
  • 4 hours back to Friuli, 2 nights.
  • 7 plus hour drive back home.

So you get the picture.

For Italy, that itinerary seemed to work really, really well. In hindsight I would have loved another day in Rome but I guess that means I will just have to go back one day!

Motorways or backroads?

Motorways in Germany are free, but in most other countries you have to pay either a toll or buy a windscreen sticker called a Vignette for a certain number of days. And going the backroads is prettier right?

Well, we decided to pay the money and take the motorway. It wasn’t that expensive in Italy and it just means that you can get to your destination so much quicker, because it’s about spending time in Rome, not spending time in the car, right? Yes, there is an argument that it’s nice to meander through the backroads, but that’s an argument that loses weight in winter, and frankly the children aren’t that interested in gazing out the car window at the nice hill, or the nice tree, or the nice stone.

The one time we didn’t get the motorway was the drive from Friuli to Alto Adige where there wasn’t really a motorway except for the last hour (and we used it then). And that drive was spectacular. The mountains were AMAZING and yes, I will do another blog post with photos of that amazing region of the world.

“Itinerary? Why didn’t you just jump in the car and play it by ear?”

I totally hear you, so please let me defend my planning if it all sounds a bit obsessive. The main reasons were we were going to Italy in a German school holiday week. There are 80 million Germans, and they are nothing if not a nation of travellers. Also I believe it was a French and British school holiday week.

We stayed with family in Friuli so it’s good to let them know what your dates are so they can roll out the airbed and plan things to do with you. Finally, it’s cheaper if you book your accommodation beforehand, particularly when there are four of you, particularly if you are going to Rome in a school holiday, and particularly if you are after the sort of accommodation we look for. Which will segue nicely into my next blog post tomorrow.

And as you’ve been so good, let me throw in a couple of pictures from Italy. I will do separate blog entries for each of these destinations, with proper pictures, but for now you can have one from Rome, and one from Alto Adige:

Lunch at the Spanish Steps
Lunch at the Spanish Steps
Molly on her "sled" - basically a giant plastic spoon.
Molly on her “sled” – basically a giant plastic spoon.

Life in Germany 2: Fizzy Bottled Water

There’s nothing wrong with the tap water here. A little bit scaly, but perfectly fine to drink. But no-one does and, in the spirit of fitting in, neither do we now very much. We started drinking bottled water at J and W’s when we stayed there and, well, I guess in Germany if you had people come around to your house and you didn’t have something bottled and fizzy to offer, it would be a bit off.

So, we go to one of THOUSANDS of drinks shops in Germany – this one is called “Trink Paradies” – yep, Drink Paradise. It mainly sells water, soft drink, beer and wine. This is in inside – and outside there are thousands more stacks of drinks waiting for floorspace.

Buy it anywhere

You can also buy bottled water in bulk from other shops, supermarkets, and even their version of Mitre 10 has a huge section for drinks! Get your decking timber, nails and your beers for after the job’s done – sweet.

Pay for the water… and the bottle

Pretty much anything you buy in a bottle will have a Pfand as part of the price – it’s basically a refundable deposit for the bottle. For example, a 750ml of sparkling water is 60 cents, of which 15 cents is the Pfand. After a while, you get into a process of bringing your crates of empties to the shop, they count them and write you a slip, then you grab your new supplies and they take the refund off the price of your purchases.


How much gas?

In your bottled waters, you can buy different levels of fizz, and even one called “Sports water” (I haven’t worked out what’s sporty about it, it’s just water). Most of them are bottled from local springs as well.  We favour Gemminger, from Gemmingen, and I’m a fan of lightly sparkling. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen still water at Trink Paradies… I must look next time I’m there.

Do we have room in our little fridge for all this water? No way – but no-one ever puts it in the fridge. It’s always room temperature and it actually tastes better that way.

Too much gas!

There’s a fairly predictable side effect about all this gas entering the children’s digestive systems. And you can imagine that when you are 13 or 10 years old, it is pretty funny. Turns out when you’re 41, it’s still pretty funny so I’m afraid to say I am hardly discouraging their efforts.


Like most food staples here in Germany, it’s pretty cheap. Below I have 24 bottles of water, 12 of lemonade, 24 beers and a wine for €25. I’m just off home to stash it in my other German domestic staple – my cellar.


Black days

Until now, the worst thing that has happened on this trip is that I had some sort of weird outbreak of acne on my shoulders. Weird. I put it down to different water hardness or whatever. On my first OE, I remember getting a rash from hard water in the first few weeks in London. After a while, I was able to spot newly arrived New Zealanders from their red blotchy faces. True story.

Anyway, everything else so far on this trip has been paradise: sun, swimming, friends, travel – fantastic.

But then we bought our cheap car.

A 1996 2.5L Audi station wagon from a mechanic in Linkoping for SEK 17,000. And, this roughly NZ$3,000 car has done what $3,000 cars can do – unfortunately it’s done it after only a week. We’ve now just paid another $1,700 to get it fixed. And the fix hasn’t worked. We got the phonecall today while we were “enjoying” ourselves at Skansen Museum in Stockholm. It was pretty weird trying to point at the nice exhibits with the kids with your left hand, while your right hand was nursing the enormous financial kick in the guts you’d just had. I really thought the dude could fix it, but we rolled the dice and it just hasn’t worked out.

We are weighing up what to do next, and have a few ideas on the table. But the worst part of all of this is the children, and how this affects their trip – both logistically and emotionally.

We’ve just cancelled going to Legoland on Molly’s birthday. I am gutted. And the hardest part is, I can’t spend the next whatever weeks walking around gutted. The kids didn’t sign up for that. This is where you have to be the adult in this situation. This – this – is hard.

So, avid readers, Real Life has arrived and put my spotty shoulders in perspective.

What will we do?

The most important thing is to work out what we want to do most of all right now. Do we want to say stuff it, and use up our last precious summer time pretending this hasn’t happened, and pay it back later? Do we want to make our move to Strasbourg earlier than we thought, and start seeking the security of jobs and a place to live?

I don’t quite know yet, but I have a few ideas. I’ll keep you posted.

Packing: 140kg is a lot

“We’re going for a WHOLE YEAR, Joe, and I’m going to need summer clothes, winter clothes, work clothes, road AND trail running shoes, hiking boots, hydration pack, iPod dock, so….”

If you’re going for a year, do you need to ship a box of stuff over, or will you have enough luggage allowance for everything?

SPOILER ALERT: we didn’t need to ship a box of stuff.

Joe in Team Luggage argued that flying Korean Airlines, we had 23kg of checked bags each, plus 12kg of carry-on each. That’s 35kg each. For the four of us, that’s 140kg.

Carlene in Team Shipping Box argued that it’s possible to send a standard sized shipping box to an address in Europe for only about NZ$450 and it takes about 10 days to arrive. Anything we don’t pack that we will need in the next 12 months, we will need to buy, and that will probably cost more than €250. $450 between the four of us, that’s just over $110 each.

Team Luggage said we could take everything we wanted to in our 140kg because, well, 140kg is a lot.

Team Shipping Box pointed out that 140kg of packed bags might not fit in L’s car when he picks us up in Stockholm, when that car is also carrying the four owners of that 140kg and their chauffeur friend.

So Team Luggage suggested a Test Packing Exercise, two weeks before we left. Team Shipping Box was both pleased and surprised to hear this, because it sounded like the sort of thing Team Shipping Box would suggest herself, only to be greeted with derision.  You know. #highmaintenance and all that.

So we did a test pack on a Sunday. I got the biggest suitcase and stuffed it with everything. Joe hung around saying things like “what about this running hoodie? You like this one!”  I put in winter clothes, summer clothes, work clothes and all the stuff I said up there, and it was 22kg. I hadn’t started on the 12kg of carry-on yet.

On the basis that The Adult Female has the most stuff, everyone else was considerably less than 22kg. The kids were around 10-12kg, so we added things like the hiking boots, iPod dock (just one), a stovetop coffee maker (OK, actually two), a couple of bits of clothing that we liked but weren’t sure we needed.

Did it fit in the car?

It sure did! So, one large suitcase, three large backpacks, one large carry-on trolley case – all fit in the boot of a standard sedan.

So based on this, no need for a shipping box.

Appendix 1 – things you might like to pack

  • Clothes for all seasons
  • Clothes for work, even if it’s just one smart piece for a job interview (for a dish-washing)
  • Sleeping bags
  • Hair clippers and haircutting scissors – haven’t paid for anyone to have a haircut for a while, why start now?
  • Things that are small but will be annoying to have to buy all over again:
    • sewing kit, and I don’t just mean a hotel-sized one;
    • stationery items including blu-tack, scissors, ruler, etc;
    • iPod dock
    • Stovetop coffee maker
    • Small items from home you can display in your new place (with the blu-tack you brought)

Appendix 2 – things you don’t need to pack

  • Not too many kids’ clothes for the other season, as they might have grown out of them by the time the season rolls around
  • Clothes you don’t love, because if you go to another country and you want to feel like you’re fitting in, you’ll find you quickly buy a couple of pieces that are fashionable in that place, and then some of the other stuff you brought from home isn’t quite “right” and stays at the back of the cupboard. Or maybe you don’t care – up to you.
  • Anything kitchen-related, when your NZ-based German friend says you can use all her kitchen stuff which is boxed up at her parents’ place (yuss!)

Appendix 3 – if you do ship stuff

It was going to be around NZ$450-$500 door to door (a bit less if you take it to the airport yourself). The box was around 40x40x65cm or something like that.

There are a couple of providers in NZ but Excess Baggage who I talked to seemed very nice and knowledgeable.

Consider you might have to ship that stuff back home again, in which case the final cost of a shipping solution is more like $900-$1000.

“Door to door” means you need to have an address in Europe that you will pick up the stuff from, so if you don’t know where that is yet… you will have go ask a European-based mate if you can get it sent to their place.

Alternatively, as it only takes 10 days to arrive, you could find accommodation and then ask a NZ-based friend or family member to arrange for the stuff that you’ve boxed to be collected.

If you are going to be touring around for quite a while before you get to your destination, it might be handy to have minimum luggage for that bit.

For us, we flew Korean Airlines to Frankfurt, and although we had an overnight in Seoul, our big bags were checked all the way through.

Appendix 4 – what to put in your carry-on v checked bags

I reckoned seasoned travellers have a better perspective on this, and also we had an overnight in Seoul for which we had only checked bags, but anyway, while I’m busy capturing everything, for our trip we took the following:

  • Empty drink bottle (Molly’s was a metal Kathmandu number with a plastic lid). Despite the 100ml Only And No Pump Bottles Madam, no-one seemed to mind about a kid’s metal or plastic drink bottle, and once we were through security there were water fountains where we could fill it.
  • Togs – because it was going to be 32 degrees in Seoul and the hotel might have had a pool
  • This laptop so I can blog on the plane – I like a proper keyboard, and 24 hours of flying is useful downtime  (is that an oxymoron?). Oh and anyways, laptops aren’t covered by your travel insurance if they are in checked bags.
  • Your own headphones/earbuds, so you can keep watching your movie after the hostesses collect the airlines’ headphones
  • Snacks (I’ll say “well, KIDS, you know?” and we can all just pretend I took snacks solely for their benefit)
  • Print-outs of important stuff. I’m quite a e-girl usually, but if my only record of booking a shuttle to the airport is in an email and my phone has run out of battery…

OK, that’ll do for now for the Important But Not Very Sexy stuff.








Dress rehearsal: moving in with your Olds

“Olds” = parents

When doing their first OE, a lot of younger kiwis move out of their flat a few weeks or months before their big departure, and move back in with their parents for a while to save money. We’ve ended up doing the same – mainly because we got tenants who were keen to move in at Easter, but we don’t leave the country till July.

My parents very kindly offered for us to move in with them, so we did.

For some people in their early 40s, moving back in with the Olds (or in-laws for your spouse!), with you kids and your well-rehearsed domestic routines, might seem a nightmare. For us it couldn’t be sweeter – my parents are laid-back, welcoming in a non-smothering way, they love having their grandkids around and I’ve never had so much laundry done for me since I was 15.

It’s also had three distinct advantages:

1) Spending time with them before we go

That’s obvious – but it’s worth mentioning. My parents are half an hour away from our place and I probably see them every four to six weeks.  It’s cool when they visit us, and vice versa.  But when you live with someone, it’s a different. You get to help each other with everyday things. You get to revive those old in-jokes and create new ones.

And, they get to spend lots of time with their grandkids, and Joe and I have live-in babysitters!

2) Dress rehearsal for packing

Moving out of our house in May meant we have already packed up most of our stuff.  So now we’re three sleeps away from flying out, we have no worries about cancelling electricity, redirecting post and boxing up our pots and pans; that’s all done.

3) Dress rehearsal for Different

This one was interesting. So on a weekday morning in our old house we were up and about around 7:15 or so, most of us out the door by 8:00, maybe 8:15. Joe works 2km from home and the kids’ schools are a similar distance away.

Now we’ve moved half an hour away (in no traffic), the four of us were up at 6am (say it: “SIX AY EMM!”) and all out the driveway by 6:50. It’s a 40-45 minute drive in the traffic to get to the kids’ school and Joe’s work, and I would get dropped off in Kingsland to get either a bus or train. Of course it’s winter too, so for me the only time I got to see the house in daylight was on weekends. And on weekends, we were back over “our” side of town for Jack’s football on Saturday and Molly’s on Sunday.

Now, actually this new routine was quite exciting – for about two days. Yes, of course, we have a fantastic adventure ahead, and the security of knowing our house was safely rented out, and even (to be quite honest) the extra income from collecting rent while we stayed with the Olds, BUT… eventually the utter lack of Vitamin D started to wear me down a bit.

On the second week Joe dropped me off at Kingsland station, I saw a train coming in and I sprinted up to the platform only to arrive as the doors closed. I regret to say, I did not react particularly well. I started quoting the first few lines of Four Weddings and a Funeral. I think I even stamped my foot.

And then I reflected on this (in the third person – that works best for me): “Carlene, are you really having a tantrum for missing a train? How are you going to cope in France when you don’t know anyone, or anything, or anywhere, and you’ll have two kids hanging off you, complaining?” So I had a little chat to myself about Being More Resilient, and I think we’re/I’m OK now.

And that was good, you know. Good to have had a brush with Tantrums Over Ridiculous First World Problems, spot it, and take steps to avoid it in the future.

And as my good friend G said: this is why people don’t do what we’re doing. It’s too safe with your morning wake up routine, your commute, everything.  It’s just to easy to keep doing that forever.

So, here’s hoping that 8 weeks in Howick will be just the Bootcamp we need for taking this family to the other side of the world.