The worst travel planner in the world

OK, there, my secret’s out. I am a horrible travel planner. Dreadful. Borderline incompetent. Obsessive, compulsive, indecisive, lazy, whiny, and just plain bad. Hard to believe, given how much traveling I actually do. I should be an old pro at this by now, right? Alas, no. While I love love love the actual traveling part, I’d rather stab my eyeballs out with a sharp object than actually do the planning.

My problem lies in the quest for the best trip possible. The perfect trip. Every little decision is an opportunity to optimize, and I will do it to an obsessive fault. The itinerary must give us the perfect amount of time in each location so that we have time to soak in the atmosphere, see the interesting sights, but not get bored or miss out on other fabulous opportunities elsewhere. The hotels must be quaint, charming, practical, clean, and in the perfect location. The transportation from place to place must be quick, comfortable, and efficient. And of course, every little bit must be the best bargain to be had anywhere. One of the many problems is this: having not been to these places before, I have no way of knowing, really knowing, how long I will want to spend where doing what, nor how much I want to pay for any particular bit.

Part of this obsession is that I have a really hard time making non-refundable bookings. I’m convinced that as soon as I click ‘purchase’, something better will come along: a better rate, a more central location, free internet, more local character. This is not a particularly useful attitude to have.

[Here I had an example of how I go about booking a single hotel, but it got so ridiculously long and ridiculous it had to be removed, in the interest of the sanity of anyone who’s actually reading this post.]

You would think with all the agony that goes into trip planning for me, I would start doing it months if not years in advance. Not so. Just to make everything even more fun (or perhaps to prevent the planning pain from taking even more of my precious time), I procrastinate like a champion procrastinator at the Procrastination Olympics. I am the Michael Phelps of procrastination.

I have spent the past three days frantically researching and planning our big summer vacation, 10 days in Norway. The final itinerary involves delicately-orchestrated timing, daily changes of location, all the major cities*, a couple fjords, several islands, and a whole lot of fun. I hope. If we miss any single connection, the whole plan falls to pieces. If it all comes together, I might actually not be the worst travel planner in the world, after all. In fact, I just might be a travel-planning virtuoso.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. We leave tomorrow.

* if you can consider a population of 300,000 a ‘major city’

Dear neighbors,

In the future, please remember to turn off your alarm clocks before leaving on vacation. Especially your high-pitched, annoying, beep-beep-beep-beep alarms. Like the one that I’ve been hearing since this morning.

Thanks in advance,


Cologne: a city full of beer pansies?

While I admit that nearly 8 months in Munich has possibly skewed my perception a bit on such things… doesn’t 2 dl (less than 7 oz) seem a little too small to be considered a ‘beer’? (Note the fork I placed in the photo to the left, so you can appreciate just how ridiculously diminutive the beer is.)

Right, so I spent a few hours in Cologne last week. I haven’t been outside of Bavaria (yet inside Germany) very many times in the past few months, so I was on the lookout for regional differences. The one that kept striking me over and over: the itty bitty beers everyone was drinking. I mean, I am the first to admit that a Maβ* of beer is excessive, but Munich’s standard restaurant-sized beer, half a liter, seems to be about right.

In Cologne, these delicate little beer thimbles are transported in their own little carriers by the waiter. Each kranz (‘wreath’) carries 11 itty-bitty beers. If you were to pour all 11 of them all into proper beer-drinking vessels, you would have just over two Munich-sized beers. Clearly the Oktoberfest tents will not be importing waiters from Cologne.

The one benefit of such teeny-tiny beers, I suppose, is that there isn’t a chance for the beer to get even a little bit warm before you are done with it. And I am a firm believer that pale-urine-colored beers should be drunk as cold as possible (if they are going to be consumed at all). Not that Kölsch is all that bad, as far as pale-urine-colored beers go. It’s just that, well, it’s nice to have a choice of other-colored beers, too, you know? When you walk into a Munich brewery (or basically any Munich establishment that serves beverages), you generally have four beer choices: a helles, a dunkeles, a weiβbier, and a dunkeles weiβbier. It’s not an NYC beer bar, but it will do.

Not so at Früh**, Cologne’s premiere brewery-restaurant. Kölsch was basically it. Two deciliters of it. To look on the bright side yet again, at least my waiter was right there with a fresh beer every time I finished mine (which occurred every two minutes or so). And when the waiter has to come around so often, that makes the service somewhat better than it is in a typical Munich joint.

* A Maβ of beer is one liter, and is the standard size available in a Munich beer garden. In many cases, nothing smaller is available (unless you are drinking weiβbier).
** Incidentally, ‘früh’ means ‘early’ in German, leading me briefly to the hypothesis that 2 dl of beer was meant to be a breakfast portion. That might make sense…

Back soon…

I know, I know, I have been somewhat neglectful of the blog this week. That will change by next week if not before. I promise. Don’t go away.

In the meantime, why not revisit some of my classic Japan posts from the archives? They’re even more fun than ass service and smurf gelato combined…

7 internet resources to help you find a job in Germany

As a follow-up to my post about how to find a job in Europe, here are some of the specific websites out there that can help with your job search if you’re hoping to end up in Germany. Happy hunting.

Xing. In addition to LinkedIn and Plaxo, a popular networking site in Germany in particular is Xing. The only problem with Xing is that if you don’t already know many people in Germany, you might not find many people to connect with at first. But filling in your complete profile may still be a good idea, as I hear that recruiters and headhunters use the site a lot. There is a free level of membership and also a paid ‘premium’ membership available, and there are searchable job listings with plenty of Germany-based stuff.

LinkedIn is a networking site similar to Xing, but with a more international membership base (so if your contacts are mostly outside of Germany, you may have a better chance of finding people to link to here). It also has job listings searchable by city or postal code. One cool feature is that it will help you figure out if you have any contacts or contacts-of-contacts who work at a particular company you may be looking to work for. This site claims to list jobs targeted at ‘English-speaking professionals’. All in English.

. This site is in German, but is probably navigable with just some basic knowledge and educated guessing. Use ‘English’ as a search term (Suchbegriff) to pull up many listings in English. Just like, except for Germany-based. Lots of job listings. Also in German.

Toytown Germany
. This big community site for expats in Germany has smaller message boards dedicated to employment offered and employment sought. It also contains various wiki pages that list companies in Germany by industry or area (for example, here’s a page on international companies in Munich).

And don’t forget to check out the websites of individual companies that interest you. Some of Germany’s largest employers include DaimlerChrysler, BMW and Siemens, but even smaller players such as AutoDesk and Infineon are big into hiring expats.

You may also be interested in our post about finding work in Munich as an expat.

Have you found any other websites to be useful for a job search in Germany? What about for other European countries?

Are tomatoes supposed to have noses?

Cute, isn’t he?

Our balcony garden is still amazing and delighting us. In exchange for a little watering now and then, it continues to offer up edible delicacies. The zucchinis are still producing (though slowing down a bit as they outgrow their pots), and tomato season is in full swing. I’ve harvested about 50 so far, but only one has had facial features. I suppose that’s a good thing?

The peas are not pleased with the heat that we’ve been having, but they’re still producing a little bit here and there. There are about a gazillion peppers on the pepper plants, and we’ve had three to eat so far. The recently-planted spinach is doing nicely, although the arugula does not seem interested in producing more leaves since it was harvested the first time.

Mmmmm, city life definitely agrees with me.

10 things to do in Munich for less than $5

Oh, that pesky dollar, more and more worthless every day (currently around $1.56 to the euro). I know, I know, I feel your pain – I have earned the wrong currency at several points in my life. At any rate, for those Americans still hoping to enjoy a European vacation this year while exchanging their banana currency for cold, hard euros, I thought I’d offer up a couple money-saving tips for the cities I know well. First up, Munich.

Free city walking tour. The Red Shirt city tours meet at the gold statue in Marienplatz a couple times a day and are completely free (although tipping the guide is expected). The tour covers a lot of sights around the city center and lasts a couple hours.

Blade night!
Every Monday in summer (weather permitting), there is a free rollerblading event through the streets of Munich. The whole thing is amazingly well-organized and attracts thousands of bladers. No roller blades? You can event rent those at the venue – get this – for free! And did I mention the whole event is free? Even if you make the requested 2 euro donation (for which you get a drink), you still come out well under $5 for an evening of fun. And exercise!

One-euro museums. Several of the best museums in Munich cost only a euro on Sundays. To avoid the crowds, go as early as possible.

Drink a beer. Good beer is cheap and plentiful in this city. A half-liter of refreshing helles or foamy weissbier costs less than 3 euros in most establishments (a lot less if you buy bottles at a store – plus you can walk around with an open beer in this city without breaking the law. Fun and novel in itself for most Americans!).

Climb to the top of the Peterskirche. For 2.50 you can climb to the top of the tower for a beautiful view. (Come on, you know you love going to the top of things.)

Eat a cheesy pretzel. A delicious taste of Bavaria for less than 2 euros. They can be found at bakeries all over the city.

Check out a church or two. It’s not Italy, but Munich still has a couple of beautiful churches full of art and dead saint bits (bonus: churches are usually quite cool inside on hot days, too). Try the Frauenkirche, Peterskirche, and Theatinerkirche to get you started (find them on any map of the city center).

Picnic in a beer garden. Don’t want to spend money on overpriced beer garden grub? Raid a local supermarket for picnic supplies on your way there. In Munich, you can bring your own food to beer gardens as long as you purchase your beverages on the premises.

Get lost in the Viktualienmarkt. I love the sights and sounds of the Viktualienmarkt, the large daily outdoor market in the center of town. Even if you don’t buy a thing, a stroll through the stalls can be extremely entertaining.

Get your fest on. Seriously, there is some sort of festival going on in Munich at pretty much all times (as Headbang8 recently pointed out), and admission doesn’t cost a thing. There’s the annual Starkbierfest; Tollwood is twice a year; the Auer Dult is three times a year. This summer is packed with 850th anniversary parties for the city. And there’s another fest of some sort in the fall… I don’t know much about it, but I hear it involves beer.

So there you have it! Ten things to do in Munich for less than $5. And I didn’t even mention the nude sunbathing…

Adventures in cross-cultural gynecology

Two short stories for you from my recent trip to the gynecologist in Munich:

Story #1: The waiting room was quite full, and the women were getting restless. Glimpsing the crowd, the doctor came out to loosen us up with a joke (here translated by me from the German): “What’s the difference between an Ossi* and a Turk?…. The Turk has a job and speaks German.”

I wondered if there were any Ossis in the crowd.

Story #2: My name finally gets called, and I go in to see the doctor. Upon hearing my accent (or perhaps from reading my name off the chart), he asks where I’m from. “New York” I say. His response: “The pretzels in New York City are awful! So soft! Horrible!”

At least he didn’t try to blame me for it.

* Ossi is slang for a person from East Germany.

7 tips for finding a job in Europe

[The tips in this post are aimed at Americans wanting to work in Europe, but most of the information is valid for those of other nationalities, as well.]

So you want to get a job in Europe, but you have no idea how to go about such a thing? It might be easier than you think. First of all, it helps a lot to have some sort of special skills, since an employer will probably need to be able to justify why you, a foreigner, were the best applicant for the job. Lucky for you, fluent English can count as this needed special skill for a variety of positions. Obviously, specialized and advanced degrees can help too, as can relevant job experience. What you don’t necessarily need is a pre-existing work permit, company connections, or foreign language knowledge.

Got marketable skills? Good. No more excuses – now polish up your resume and get searching. Here are some suggestions to get you going:

Open your mind wide. I know, this is the cheesiest job-searching tip ever, but I’m telling you the number one reason people fail to land fabulous jobs abroad is a closed mind. Sure, maybe you’ll be able to land job X at company Y in country Z, but the narrower your target, the narrower your chances. Instead, try to focus on all the different ways this could work out for you. Spend time brainstorming about the types of positions and companies that would interest you. Be willing to browse through job listings for things you aren’t sure about at first. Ask yourself whether your self-set criteria are necessary, and be open to considering changes. OK, now on to the more concrete stuff…

Online networking. Sign yourself up for LinkedIn, Facebook and whatever other sites you can stand. Connect with as many folks as possible. Poke around to see who they know in the countries or companies you are interested in. You never know which long-lost high school friend may have ended up as a hiring manager in Paris.

Monster.countryofyourchoice. has sites set up specifically for many different countries, including at least 20 in Europe. This can be a good starting point to browse the local offerings and get a feel for what companies are hiring. If you don’t know where to start your search, go with the keyword “English” (and/or the word for English in the local language, if you speak it).

Multinational corporations. In my experience, larger companies are less likely to balk at a foreign hire who will need a little paperwork filed for a work permit. Plus many of them use English as their official language even in non-English-speaking countries, so these are a good target if you don’t happen to speak other local languages. Check out company home pages, which these days usually offer a list of open positions searchable by location.

Universities, NGOs, and non-profits. does have some international job listings, but you are most likely to find these types of jobs on the websites of the entities themselves.

Internal transfers. Does your current company have any European offices? See if they’ll hook you up with an expat gig.

Expat websites. Many countries and major cities in Europe have one or more websites where expats gather virtually to share information and socialize. Employment is a topic that comes up often on these. Poke around for helpful information.

See also: 7 internet resources to help you find a job in Germany

If you have a job in Europe, how did you find it?

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