Andventures

Munich - Breda - Rotterdam not another distance … ?

We both have said that the long-distance relationship Netherlands-Malaysia was the last one, so why are we separated again? 

Andrea has to finish her Bachelor thesis in the Netherlands and has mandatory classes and I am in the middle of my Management Training in Munich. Why are not happy about the distance but have it under control since we have our vacations planed already and will be able to see each other at least once a month. 

What will happen in the summer? 

Mademoiselle Andrea will hand in her Bachelor thesis in June, if I am not mistaken, and start her 1 year Master program in the Netherlands.

The weather here in Munich is a joke since we had snow on Tuesday and sunny 18 degrees today. There even is a German saying: “Der April macht was er will.”  which means that April does what it wants and no one can predict the weather during that month… 

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21°C today but snow on Monday? Where is global warming when you need it… 

21°C today but snow on Monday? Where is global warming when you need it… 

Spring in Munich!

Family reunion

Last weekend Andrea’s parents and her brother came to visit us in Munich. After a beer at the famous Hofbräuhaus and a great dinner at the restaurant “Zwickl” we rented a car to explore the area of Munich.

The weather was a gift and therefore we started the trip at monastery Andechs known for its strong beer. The history of Andechs goes back to 1080. After a “second breakfast”  and a beer we made our way down to Schwangau to show them castle Neuschwanstein. Even though we have seen it before it was still impressive. 

The next day we visited the BMW World and finished the trip with some shopping. It was a great weekend and sure went by too fast. Thanks again for the visit and hopefully we will see you soon.

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What to do when Munich bores you?

Sure, when you take day trips in Australia you get to see the most magnificent landscapes and animals, but we must admit that there is a lot to explore around Munich. The train company here has a so called Bavaria ticket which allows you to take any bus and train in Bavaria (except the ICE fast train) for 24 hours from €27 for two people (€13.50 each). The ticket is also valid in the bordering areas of Austria as for instance Salzburg and Kufstein.

Daytrip 1) The Disney Castle (Castle Neuschwanstein)

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Our friend Agnes came to visit from Paris and we had a special trip planned for her to one of the most popular castles in Europe. The trip takes roughly about 2 hours by train and bus (via Füssen) and it is definitely worth it.

Luckily, we went on a Sunday afternoon in early February which mean that we were almost alone at the castle. In summer you get pushed up the hill to the castle by a stream of tourists most of the time since the castle has over 1.4 million visitors yearly. The setting of the castle could not be more idyllic surrounded by lakes and steep mountains covered in snow. 

2) Partnach - Gorge and Lake Starnberg

Our second daytrip was with family and Niko’s best friend Basti via the Lake Starnberg to Garmisch - Patenkirchen. This time we used the car available from Niko’s parents but it is also possible to take the train and it might even be easier since the weekend traffic on the autobahn.

The Lake Starnberg is not far from Munich, it is Germany’s second largest fresh water lake  in terms of water volume and gives a gorgeous view to the alps. The lake also has a dark history to it because king Ludwig II of Bavaria was found dead in it in 1886. The official death was ruled a suicide by drowning, but the official autopsy report indicated that no water was found in his lungs?!

We made our way further south to Garmisch - Patenkirchen to visit the Partnach gorge, a a narrow valley between the mountains with steep rocky walls and a stream running through it. The water that come from the top down into the stream freezes immediately and leaves impressive ice formation behind.

Munich itself is a beautiful city but it takes you around 3 days to see it all and even less when you are not into museums and art galleries. So day trips and even weekend trips around Munich are easily done and there is a great variety to see and do. We are looking forward to the next trip.

It is the end of February and Munich has not seen much snow so far. The spring flowers (as the snowdrop on the picture) are growing everywhere and we are asking ourselves if the winter is over soon, or if all these flowers will freeze to death in a few weeks? 

It is the end of February and Munich has not seen much snow so far. The spring flowers (as the snowdrop on the picture) are growing everywhere and we are asking ourselves if the winter is over soon, or if all these flowers will freeze to death in a few weeks? 

No laundry on Sunday please.

We made it to Munich after 3 amazing weeks in Iceland over Christmas and New Years. Andrea is already half way done with her internship at Testbirds and is enjoying the responsibilities given to her.

We landed in Salzburg, Austria, and made our way by train to Munich. Luckily we had an apartment ready waiting for us that we found via a facebook chain post. Our “landlord” is the sweetest: The apartment was fully equipped with everything you could think of, the price is fair and we even got a lift by car to the nearest supermarket to get the groceries for the weekend.

It is cold, the trees are grey and mostly foggy. It took time to get used to the new hometown and the culture of the southern part of Germany. Andrea started straight away with her new job and I have to finish (more like start) my Bachelor thesis.

Now it is mid February and we are finally getting used to everything. Friends came to visit as well as my family. I had a lovely birthday weekend in the alps and look forward to my new job here.

A few things are worth mentioning and therefore we created a pro & con list to summarize our last weeks:

Pro:

1. Supermarkets are cheap and the variety great

2. We see the alps from our window and trips to Italy, Austria and in Bavaria are easily done.

3. We are closer to our family and most of our friends than before.

Con:

1. Supermarkets are closed on Sunday & you are not allowed to wash your laundry since it is the day of rest.

2. There is a list for the use of the washing machine!

3. Service Quality seems to be low and people tend to be rude/ grumpy.

The Australia Nostalgia

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Today (January 26th) is Australia Day

For that reason, I decided to write down the thoughts I’ve been carrying around in my head for the past couple of weeks concerning Australia.

I’ve always looked at Australia through rose-tinted glasses. (For those of you who are not familiar with the idiom, it means that you only see the positive of something). Perhaps the reason is that Australia is located on the other side of the world. There is a saying in Icelandic, namely “fjarlægðin gerir fjöllin blá”, which directly translates as “the distance makes the mountains blue”. The meaning is similar to the proverb “the grass is always greener on the other side” and is used to refer to something that may not be as magnificent up close as one assumes when looking at it from distance. Ironically, there is a mountain range in Australia called The Blue Mountains.

As many people, I had my own image of Australia, shaped to a large extent by the media. Umberto Eco once said that 70% of what we know comes from Hollywood. This sentence has featured in many of my essays and the more I think about it, the more I believe it. During my childhood, I watched numerous movies, which shaped my idea of Australia.

  • By watching ‘Skippie’ I learnt that kangaroos exist and are endemic to Australia.
  • ‘Crocodile Dundee’ taught me that there are dangerous animals in Australia, including crocodiles.
  • ‘Nemo’ taught me about the Great Barrier Reef and one of Australia’s deadly underwater predators - jellyfish.
  • ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’, starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen gave me an idea about Sydney and the picturesque view over the opera house and the harbour bridge.
  • Sadly, I first learnt about aboriginals and the bombings in Darwin after watching the blockbuster ‘Australia’ starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.
  • Last but not least, the soap opera ‘Neighbours’ gave me a good idea of the ‘typical’ Australia suburban life.

These are only few examples of how the media shaped my idea of Australia. Interestingly, a common threat in many of these movies is adventure. Think about it: The heroic Crocodile Dundee defeating dangerous animals in the Outback; Olsen sisters being chased by criminals after being placed in the FBI’s Witness Protection Program; Nemo’s dad venturing across the Great Barrier Reef trying to save Nemo; and Nicole Kidman driving a herd of cattle across the desert of Northern Territory. No wonder we have the image of Australia as an exotic place!

When I decided to chase my dream and go to Australia for an exchange semester, I was concerned that everyday life, i.e. studying and working, would change my adventurous image of Australia. In other words, I was afraid I would lose my rose-tinted glasses. Most people I know who have travelled Australia did so in their gap year, meaning that they backpacked through Australia. That is exactly what Niko did in 2009 and I remember him advising me to do the same.

Here I am, back in Europe, looking back on my half a year in Australia as an exchange student. Did my image change? Yes.

Here are some of the things I realized:

  • Australia is not only a country - it’s a continent. Although I knew this beforehand, I never realized how big Australia actually is.
  • Thus, diversity characterizes Australia. From snowy mountains to deserts, you have it all – even in the same state.
  • There is not always good weather in Australia. Melbourne has full-on winter time! From June-August, night temperatures go down to 5°C and in the alpine regions it can go down to -5°C.
  • There is not always a picturesque view over Sydney’s opera house and the harbour bridge. Believe me, I tried and more than once!
  • Kangaroos are not just super cute jumping around the fields – they also end up as a road-kill and cause serious car accidents.
  • Australia’s history is not a bed of roses. From cold-blooded massacres of aboriginals to the White Australia Policy and beyond.   
  • It is hard to define the Australian identity. There exist some Australian stereotypes, such as bogans and surfers, but Australia’s relatively short history and multiculturalism makes it hard to pinpoint the typical ‘Aussie’.
  • Australians also have “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, just like us. You can’t believe how often I met people that tried to convince me that they were half Italian, one quarter Dutch etc. without even speaking one word of the language - just because it’s cool to be European.
  • You are really on the other side of the world: Not only is everything opposite, you do feel far from home. 

In short, my image did change. But did it change to the worse? NO. Living the everyday life and travelling allows you to experience a country in two very different ways – and I experienced both. If I wouldn’t have experienced the everyday life, I wouldn’t be able to say with all my heart: I really want to live there. And yet, if I wouldn’t have travelled I wouldn’t be able to answer the question: So how is Australia?

It is very hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced or shared the same thing with you, how it was – especially if you need to sum it up in two sentences. That’s what I feel about my exchange experience in Australia.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been experiencing what I like to call the Australia Nostalgia. Although I am happy that I have started a new chapter in my life I am unwilling to close my Australian chapter. I can’t explain it – not even to Niko, who was there with me every day. For some unknown reason, I just feel connected to Australia and feel like I belong there. Even though I might have wiped a little bit of a dust of my rose-tinted glasses, I will keep on wearing them when it comes to Australia.

Happy Australia Day!

The Socially Embedded Obsession With Looks

-By Andrea Guðmundsdóttir

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They say that living abroad and experiencing cultural differences opens up your eyes to your own culture and socially embedded structures more than anything else. I have only lived abroad for three years but during that time I have travelled continents and come in contact with people of very different cultures from my own. Without a doubt these people have influenced my personality and the way I perceive things. Never have I felt the influence stronger than during this Christmas holidays when I went home after a long absence.

In this blog, I want to touch upon Icelandic women’s obsession with their looks, from an (former) insider’s point of view. The intension is not to insult anyone but rather to point out that our social structures are sometimes so embedded in ourselves that it blinds our perspectives of things.

My Years of Obsession

During my high-school years, when I started going out and being interested in the opposite sex I became obsessed with my looks. Before every night out, I would spend 2-3 hours getting ready - taking a shower, blow-drying and straightening my hair (until my hair almost fell off) and putting on layers of make-up. I even remember the time when my best friend and I used to do make-up sessions before attending soccer games. The 2h sessions were not even enough – every 10-20 minutes we would go to the ladies room for a fix-up (which often ended badly when alcohol was involved). I mastered the art of smoky eyes and the black liquid eyeliner became my ‘bestie’. My hair was almost too glossy due to the extensive amount of hair products that I used and my friends still remember me keeping a comb with me at all times and brushing through my hair in every class.

Later on, I participated in a beauty pageant and during that time gym, spa-treatments, fake-tan and gel-nails became the center of my world. My quote in the yearbook that year was: “If you want to see me come to the gym because that’s where I’ll live the next months”. Normal to hear a 17-year old say that? Somehow the almighty did not intend this beauty world for me and made it clear when I had a serious knee-injury two-weeks before the big night. Shortly after, when this pageant thing was all over and my focus was back on my studies I remember thinking how glad I was that I got my priorities right again. Although a painful and a persistent reminder, it was a necessary one. Yet, I do not regret participating in this pageant, it actually opened up my eyes to a lot of things, especially in retrospective.

Non-Icelandic readers might now be thinking that I was the extreme case of girls going through the worst phase of adolescence. Some people might say that this is the typical fate of a teenage girl going to the only high school in Iceland with the typical American high-school stereotype image (something that only Icelandic people understand). Although I do admit that the pageant thing was extreme, the rest is actually not far from being the typical adolescence experience for many Icelandic girls. The situation even became worse with the advent of social media sites.

Moving to the Netherlands

When I moved to the Netherlands at the age of 21, I had developed my own daily routines concerning hair and make-up. My post-adolescence obsession with looks had balanced a bit but still I was washing, blow-drying and straightening my hair every day and using extensive amounts of make-up. What struck me as surprising in the Netherlands was the fact that eyebrow colouring was close to non-existing. The only possibility was to go to hair salons and ask them to dye them and that was an unusual act. I started asking the girls around me how they managed to keep their eyebrows ‘in a good state’ and I quickly realized that this was a very Icelandic thing to do. It makes sense that a nation of predominantly fair, blonde people is more accustomed to eyebrow colouring but not even the blonde friends of mine in the Netherlands seemed to care.

As I developed closer friendships in the Netherlands, I increasingly heard my friends telling me to lose some of that make-up. By no means did I understand at that point in time where they were coming from telling me to use ‘my natural beauty’. Particularly strong in mind is the night that I met my one and only (Niko). Eileen, a close friend of mine, came over for a dinner beforehand and while I was getting ready she literally begged me to look more natural. She even convinced me to go in flats vs. heels, something that’s common in the Netherlands but a social suicide in Iceland. Wearing barely no make-up (in my opinion) and flats and after biking in the rain, I arrived at the club feeling not like my ‘true self’ (ironic huh?). As the night went on and Niko started a conversation with me, I started regretting more and more that I let Eileen trick me into this ‘non-sense’. I didn’t even realize that Niko was interested in me - not my clothes or make-up. As we started dating, he even came up with the so-called No Make-Up Rule. Of course I didn’t follow that rule, I had to impress him :) Then I met the in-laws for the first time, and the first question that Niko’s mom asked was whether this dark-chocolate hair colour was my natural colour. His dad even mentioned to him that he thought I looked better at the breakfast table than after all my make-up sessions. Since then, they often joke about having the No Make-Up Rule in their house.

Recently, I feel that I have changed in terms of appearance. I’ve started to get back to my natural hair colour, my daily make-up is much lighter, I don’t wash my hair every day and I hardly use the straightening iron. At the same time, I increasingly hear critical voices - especially from Icelanders - that I look paler.       

The Family Incident

The cherry on the top and the reason why I wanted to write this blog is an incident that occurred this holiday season. A close family member came over for a family dinner between Christmas and New Years. The story goes something like this: That same afternoon, I was downtown meeting one of my best friends for a brunch and on my way home mom asked me to pick up few things from the supermarket. Thus, I was home just in time for their arrival. All the family members were looking extremely fancy – the ladies in heels and the boys in a shirt with a bow tie. For some reason, it didn’t even occur to me that I was underdressed. First of all, I had already prepared myself nicely for the brunch downtown (it was not like I was wearing sweatpants and no make-up). Secondly, since they were so close to me I simply felt comfortable around them and didn’t have the need to ‘showcase my very best’. Thirdly, I didn’t know there was some specific dress code in my own home.

The evening was very nice: We had good food and drinks and it was wonderful to finally have time to catch up after being abroad for such a long time. However, my last evening in Iceland, I find out that apparently this particular family member felt extremely offended by my appearance that night. According to her, I was downgrading her and making her feel unwelcomed because I didn’t feel the need to ‘put on decent clothes or even a mascara’. Supposedly, I always look nice except for that particular night and that was because I did not feel they were worthy enough. You can just imagine how shocked I was hearing these words, especially coming from my own family.

After this incidence, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Never do I feel as pressured to look nicely than in Iceland. I always have the need to shop new clothes before going home, I never do full make-up for everyday situations except in Iceland and never would I go out partying without wearing a lipstick and heels. Furthermore, every visit includes a trip to the hair salon and a beauty salon where my eyebrows are waxed and coloured. I like getting these things done, don’t get me wrong otherwise I wouldn’t do it, but I cannot help but wonder why this obsession with looks is so embedded in the Icelandic society. By no means am I implying that physical appearance is less of importance to other women around the world. Indeed, every human being cares about his or her looks in one way or another, and make-up even dates back to Ancient Egypt. What I mean to say is that as with so many other things, Icelanders take it to the extreme.

The Socially Embedded Standards

When walking around Icelandic malls you see young teenage girls with blonde hair and thick, black eyebrows. As Niko commented so aptly: It looks like someone took a marker and drew eyebrows on their face. I’ve also heard about numerous incidents where girls are sucking their lips into bottles to make their lips bigger. For what? Well, for the perfect selfie to post on Facebook or Instagram.

Not so long ago, a new concept became popular in Iceland when describing this artificial physical appearance: ‘Skinka’ (Ham) is a girl with fake tan, ultra blonde hair and extensive amount of make-up.  

However, the new trend that is perhaps most noticeable in Iceland concerning physical looks is model fitness. I was once scrolling down the news feed on Facebook in a lecture room in the Netherlands when the person sitting behind me asked: Who are those people? At was during a time when all the biggest fitness competitions were going on and every other profile picture was of a fitness girl with an orange-coloured fake-tan, posing almost naked in a glitter bikini (which looks like a thong from the back). Before these competitions they do not only exercise tremendously (which after all is the purpose of it), they also whiten their teeth, get hair extensions, eyelash extensions, gel nails etc. Since I’ve been studying social media, amongst other things, I often wonder whether this trend would thrive so much without social media because most fitness competitors hire photographers to do personal photoshoots right after the competitions and then they post the photos on Facebook. I would’ve loved to make this my thesis topic!

Fitness competitions have become the new beauty pageants in Iceland and are subject to extensive criticisms, especially in terms of the diets associated with it. As outdated as beauty pageants are, in my opinion, at least the diet consists of natural food items vs. the supplements that fitness people use. In terms of appearance, it is my opinion that these competitions are equally bad for the self-image of young women. Then I’m not referring to fitness itself but everything artificial that comes with it. It seems that to be accepted we need to put up masks, which consist of layers of make-up and beauty enhancers. But the question is: Who are we trying to impress?

There is so much pressure to live up to these standards that are embedded in society, especially in a small society like Iceland. Thus, we feel like we can’t take down our masks – not even with our own family. The irony is that Iceland is the land of natural beauty.

Appendix I Melbourne: A hotel with no rooms for rent!

When you walk down Bridge Road in Melbourne´s hip-district Richmond you will see a “hotel” on every corner: Mountain View Hotel and Bridge Hotel are just two of the numerous “hotels” in Melbourne.

When we first moved to Australia we stayed with Matt and Chloe who we found via AirBnB. The first night Chloe told us she works part-time behind the bar at the Bridge hotel not for from their place, so we decided to surprise her at work. When someone talks about a hotel bar you most likely image a quiet, clay bar in the lobby of a hotel. Well, not in Australia. You should have seen our faces when we arrived at the Bridge Hotel on a Friday night at 21.00. The line seemed endless and it took us almost 15 minutes to convince the bouncer that Andrea was over 18 and just did not know that she had to bring her passport as proof of age. Again, we did not know that this was the place to be on a Friday night for Melbournians to drink, flirt, dance or mingle.

“Hotels” in Australia look similar to English pubs and are the place to be on almost every night of the week.

The reason why pubs/bars are called Hotels goes back to the end of the nineteenth century when pubs were forced to offer accommodation to guest in order to the “new liquor legislation”. By renaming their bar into a hotel and offering a small amount of room, which most of the time where not even used, they found a gap to trick the system.

Nowadays these “hotels” do not have rooms for ret anymore. Most of them transformed into unique concept bars/nightclubs.

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Iceland´s Firework Madness

Prosit Neujahr or Gleðilegt nýtt ár

This New Year´s Eve we spend in Reykjavik and Icelandic people are the biggest Firework fanatics there is.

The night started with a lovely dinner with friends and family and even the German tradition of watching “Dinner for One”. Around 9.00PM all over the city people gather to watch the “Brenna” (a huge fire) and a small firework show.

You better be sure that you are in front of the tv at 10.30PM for the annual “Áramótaskaupið” (New Year´s comedy). It is a show where a group of comedians make fun of everything that happend during the year in Iceland. Putting it into realtion to show how popular that show is: The firework, which was going on since almost 06.00PM, will stop for 60 minutes all over town. Once the clock turns 11.30PM Reykjavik starts the “bombing” again and it will not stop until the early morning.

2013 was a year full of travelling and making new friends. We went from Berlin to Breda/Rotterdam, flew to Barcelona, Iceland, Milan, caught up with friends in Bangkok, Koh Tao and Kuala Lumpur. In July we moved to Melbourne, travelled Australia and flew back via Bali, Bangkok and Helsinki.

Now it is time for us to find an apartment, write our Bachelor thesis and conquer Munich. 2014 will be a year of celebration for us and our families since Niko´s sister just got engaged, we will graduate from Uni and many family members have important anniversaries.

We cannot wait.

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A German in Iceland for Christmas – part 3/3

The food preparations for the 24th December go late into the night. The traditional Christmas dinner in Iceland are ham (hamborgarahryggur), smoked lamb (hangikjöt) or ptarmigan (rjúpa). We had rjúpa on Christmas Eve and the taste is so strong that you cannot compare it with any other meat. The rjúpa is best consumed with a strong red wine and children enjoy “Malt-Appelsín” with it.

The official Christmas Eve starts at 06.00PM all over Iceland with the radio broadcast of the ringing of the bells of the Lutheran Cathedral in Reykjavík followed by the religious service. Afterwards it is time for dinner and only if all plates are gone, the table is wiped and everyone is gathered in the living room it is finally time to open the beautifully wrapped gifts.

It was not only the snow, the decoration or the amazing food what brought us into the Christmas mood at the end it were the warm-hearted people and the fact that we finally could spend our first Christmas together.

Happy New Year to all of you and let´s see what 2014 has to offer, but we are sure it will be amazing.