Every morning I wake up, get out of the wooden bed my husband built, hurry down the steps and feed the dogs, then take them on separate walks. First Hugo, then Millie. We walk the half block to the river looking both ways for cars and bikes until we reach the grassy park. As we walk, I look just over the bridge to see a huge sandstone castle, sometimes shrouded by a cloud or pieced by the sunlight.
As my three years as an expat are coming to a close I wanted to reflect on what I love about living abroad.
I’ve written before about why I chose to live in Heidelberg, Germany, why we chose to move in the first place, and why we’re moving home. One post that seemed to ruffle some feathers was what I hated about living abroad.
I think it’s interesting to look at the differences between where you’re from and other places in the world. It's amazing that the world has become so globalized, yet things remain so different. I wanted a way to document those differences, both good and bad, and felt a blog post was the best way for me to do it.
My life abroad has been a whirlwind: from moving without having step foot in Germany, finding a place to live, having our visas denied, maneuvering life as an expat in a foreign country, and traveling more than 50% of the time- it’s been exhausting and exhilarating. You can see a more detailed timeline of our journey here.
While I loved my time in school and university, I think my best education is living abroad. It's also made me want to learn more about the world. As Mark Twain says, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
It’s really helped open up my world.
There is good and bad to living abroad, but here’s what I love:
Ease (and Price) of Travel
We moved to Europe to make it easier to travel Europe. And that has definitely been the case. Flights are cheaper, there’s more public transportation, trains, and options. Michael and I once took a 9 euro flight from Nuremburg to London during the holiday season.
There are myriad of cheap flights and carriers across Europe. One of the reasons we picked Heidelberg was because how close it is to Frankfurt airport, one of the biggest in Europe. We can find inexpensive flights to and from nearly anywhere in Europe, and even beyond.
To me, Europe is the most stunning place on earth. You have incredible, ancient history that impacts everyone on this planet. From the Greeks to the Romans and beyond, the architecture left behind is remarkable. Every cobblestone tells a story.
In addition, there is natural beauty as well. From Iceland and Norway’s crazy waterfalls to France and Croatia’s coastline and everything in between. There is natural beauty in nearly every country in Europe.
I know other places have great beaches, fun nightlife, or ancient history, but no other place on earth packs a punch quite like Europe.
Where I Live
I live in a beautiful little neighborhood right by the river. Wisteria blooms alongside roses the size of your hand. There are cafes, restaurants, stores, and supermarkets around every corner. There’s a gelato shop that we can walk to that serves delicious gelato for €1.20 a scoop. I usually opt for 2 scoops in a cone: blood orange and maracuja.
Near our house is the Neckar river that is always busy in Spring and Summer with sunbathers and picnickers. It’s the perfect view of the Schloss (castle) and is still relatively quiet and extremely quaint.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I live here. You get wrapped up in a routine, but walking the cobblestone streets, passing the half-timbered houses, and seeing the 17th century building reminds me that I’ve definitely changed locations.
Walking and biking to cafes, bars, restaurants
On any given day of the week (if we’re home) Michael and I will walk to the market or bike to the Haupstrasse (our main street, one of the longest pedestrian streets in the world) to shop or have dinner with friends. The city is so accessible. I’ve only lived in Dallas and Nashville and they aren’t exactly walkable or bikeable. I can cover the entire city on my bike which has been so much fun.
Access to Hiking
We live right on the edge of some lovely rolling hills. These hills stretch from North to South in our area and are dotted with towns and castles. Taking only 15 minutes we have a wonderful, somewhat secluded, walk in the forest. In the Spring the trees are bright green and the new growth makes a blanket on the ground. Summer brings out the animals with birds chirping. In Fall the leaves turn bright orange and red and make the most beautiful colors. In Winter, snow covers the ground and makes the whole scene serene.
There are lots of great hikes in Germany, and Europe in general. The landscape is pocked with so many cool cities that offer hiking trails. Countries like Austria and Switzerland are basically an outdoor lover’s paradise: the alps cascade through the landscape and beautiful valleys with cows donning bells make the perfect place to wander.
Much of the food in the supermarket in Germany is pretty inexpensive. Shockingly so. Produce is dirt cheap and extremely fresh. There are many different types of markets such as Rewe, Aldi, and Lidl. Although I sometimes get a bit frustrated at the grocery stores, I am always pleasantly pleased with the prices.
Each week we have a market in the center square of our little neighborhood. You can find fresh produce such as gargantuan tomatoes, plump grapes, and asparagus during spargel season. There are flowers from all over Germany and France, sometimes imported from Italy. Fresh baked bread loaves and pretzels waft through air, and you can find sausages of all varieties.
But my favorite part of the market has to be the cheese. The cheese truck most often has a long line because everyone knows it’s well worth it. My all time favorite is one fresh from France called “Gallete de Loire.” It looks a bit like brie but is much stronger and stinkier. We put this on warmed pretzels and have a bit of mustard, sliced sausage, and some fruit and that’s our perfect idea of a meal.
I know I miss “queso” at home, but I don’t think anything can top fresh cheese from the cheese truck. It’s one thing I know I’ll miss so much!
Speaking of markets… don't even get me started on CHRISTMAS. Truly, living in Germany is the best spot in the whole world to experience the magic of Christmas. I think everyone should come to Europe (specifically Germany and France) for Christmas markets.
Variety of cultures and languages
Being from Dallas, Texas, there’s usually one or two languages you might hear when strolling around town. But even in a town as small as Heidelberg (156,000 people) you’ll hear a variety of languages and even dialects. Many Germans from the south can’t fully understand the language from the Northern part of Germany! I find this fascinating and I was shocked to learn this when I moved.
There’s also an incredible amount of hidden treats you find along the way. In Nice, France they have delectable street food called “socca.” This is kind of like a crepe and sprinkled with salt and heavily with pepper. You can only find this in Nice.
Again in France, we were visiting a tiny hill town above the city of Lyon called Pérouges. They make a sweet pizza called Galettes. This can only be found in a town with a population of 90 people! I could travel all over Dallas, Austin, and Houston- huge cities that are hours apart from one another, and still find the same kind of food.
There is a vast opportunity to see how other people live, not only through their food. Culture seems to be very strong within each country, region, and even tiny hamlet. It’s so incredible and it’s something I constantly marvel at.
Michael and I don’t typically buy souvenirs, except for food. We find it’s a great way to remember a place, recreate a meal, or create a smourgasbourg of gastronomy from all over the world. It’s so easy to pick up these food items and take them back with us to Germany.
Take Chances on Places
I love that living abroad gives me opportunities to see and do things I’d never even think to do before. I spent 3 weeks in Romania, 6 days in the remote Azores off the coast of Portugal, and find hidden gems in tiny towns near where I live. I would never get to do these things if I didn’t live abroad. Frankly, many of the places I’ve traveled to weren’t even on my radar.
I remember we decided to do an epic road trip through Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia. I had always dreamed of Croatia, but honestly didn’t know much about Montenegro or Bosnia. I fell in love with both, marveling at their incredible scenery, kind people, and delicious cuisine.
The People You Meet
The expat community has been a wonderful asset for Michael and I living in Germany. I get to meet and interact with people from all over the world. I’ve made friends that are from or now live in: Saudi Arabia, Australia, South America, and all over Europe.
In case you’re wondering, using sites like Meetup and Internations are fantastic ways to meet people. You can go to group events or more specific interest outings. This is how we’ve met the majority of our friends.
The World Is Small
To go with my point above, one night we went to a meet up at a local bar. Michael had on his heavy gold Aggie ring (his college, Texas A&M, school ring) and in the corner of the bar someone noticed it. “What year were you?” The guy asked. “2009,” Michael answered, “And you.” He replied, “I was class of 2005, in the corps of cadets.”
Mind you, Texas A&M is a huge university with over 50,000 undergrad. So when Michael answered that he too was in the corps of cadets in Outlaw 8, the other guy’s eyes went wide. “Me too!” Recognition seemed to hit Michael. “I think I pulled your boots!” This is a ceremony where Freshmen pull off the Senior’s boots.
Shockingly, they not only attended the same school, were both in the same program, and in the same outfit, they also both happened to move to the small town of Heidelberg, Germany.
The world is small, and it makes you feel like you can find a home anywhere in the world.
After traveling a large majority of Europe, I’m still so happy we picked Heidelberg to live. I love living in Europe and getting to experience something new.
Living abroad has really opened my world and mind. I thought that in traveling to Europe often, I would have a pretty firm grasp of what it was like. But living here is totally different that what I expected. It makes me not only appreciate America, but have a new sense of respect of Europe and so many of the countries I’ve traveled to. Living in Germany hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a wonderful lesson and exciting adventure.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever live abroad again, but I’m so happy that we took this risk. It’s been more than worth it.
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