Friday, August 19, 2011

Alternating cries of "Peekaboo" and "No not you!"

The cows over the back fence
Weeks two and three here in Luxembourg have flown by. Week two the kids were still home full-time so I spent most days here playing with them. After thinking I was making progress with Pepi towards the end of my first week here, Tuesday was a bit of a disaster. I think having a long weekend away from me made things harder - two steps forward, one step back! I really struggled on Tuesday, and got given the option of calling it a day early in the afternoon, but made the decision to see out the day and while I don't think I gained much ground with him that afternoon, I'm glad that I was able to keep positive and re-motivate myself. Again, I think things got better during the week, but we took a step backwards after the weekend, and this week they've been at creche, so I'm back to him repeatedly insisting "Not you" and "Go back to your room". Its weird, we will have a really good half hour when he just seems to accept that I'm there and will do things like play hairdresser and 'wash' my hair in a bucket of sandy water, but then two minutes later he won't have a bar of me. Hopefully we just need to give it more time, I often have moments when I don't understand what he is saying at all, or his way of doing things, and I keep reminding myself that if I'm still getting used to him, then he will still be getting used to me too!

Fountain and statue in a random park in Luxembourg Ville
Ollie is incredibly cute, I have no problems there. He gets a little shy when I haven't been around for awhile, but it only takes a minute to charm him back - "Peekaboo" has become a big thing between us this week! The only time he really isn't happy about me is when he's upset and crying - if I pick him up he just struggles and cries ever harder, and when I go in if he wakes while I'm babysitting - again, he struggles and cries even harder and calls for mama! But I reckon it will always be like this, he just prefers his parents over me, and I'm happy with that, in the end it was really sad that Alice would crawl to me rather than Jan back in Antwerp.

Street view on one of my walks
Last week I went out Wednesday to a Couchsurfers get together and on Thursday to an Internations function. I thought that people who organised and went to Couchsurfers events would be a bit strange, like weird older hippies and younger foreigner misfits, but actually it was really cool, I met some great people there, a couple of tourists but also a bunch of foreigners living in Luxembourg like me. I was complaining about the lack of extra-curricular activities and sports clubs here to join, and asked them what there was to do in Luxembourg. Their response - "Drink, and leave Luxembourg" doesn't bode to well! I might have to be a bit creative with my spare time!

Internations is an network for expats targeted at the business sector, but I went along hoping that I could meet some people who knew about volunteering opportunities. It had this whole 'speed dating networking' thing set up, but after spending five minutes talking to some random IT people, I sat down outside with a young Italian guy and proceeded to spend the next three hours just talking to him. He had just moved here for work, something in banking, and we were both complaining about how we had no friends here, and while he was arrogant and his opinions on a lot of things completely contradict mine, we got on well and I thought to myself, success, I've made a friend here...and then he just left. With just a 'well it was nice to meet you' and no exchanging of contact details. Italians....

Horse on one of my walks
I spent a lot of the weekend and this week just moseying around home, reading, watching DVDs and catching up on random errands like reorganising my harddrive. I'm broke, and the few non-Italian people I've met here are away as well, so I guess there hasn't been too much to do socially anyway. Monday afternoon I had a drink in the sun with Monica, a translator from Brazil that I met at the Couchsurfers thing, at a bar on the riverside down in Grund. I've gone for a few walks, I like how I can walk down one end of the street, past some cows and horses and end up at a huge forest, or I can walk down the other end of the street and find a shopping mall, fast food outlets and pubs. The best of both worlds!

Random buildings in Lux Ville
I've worked out a relatively hill-free running route, but I'm still baffled as to what it is about me running that makes men in cars want to honk at me. I get that daily running is really not as common here as it is in NZ, but seriously? It started back in Germany, with people honking and the bus driver flashing his lights at me. Here it's worse, someone actually leaned out of his window at a red light and repetatively yelled something at me today. But I've learnt the standard explanation for all weird behaviour here in Luxembourg - 'it must have been somebody French'. There are a lot of French people just accross the border who commute here for work or holidays, and they seem to have a pretty bad rap, although I have to admit the majority of bad driving that I've noticed has been by people possessing a license plate with a large 'F' stamped on it.

The Grand Ducal Palace - the baby among European palaces!
I've been pretty lazy on the whole getting-to-know-Luxembourg thing. I think I'm so blasé because I was here as a tourist in February, albeit for only a night, and I'm probably better off waiting until someone comes to visit so I'm not doing things alone. I did go on a tour of the Palace Grande Ducal, or Grand Dukes Palace today. It's in the centre of the city, and while the royal family live elsewhere, it is used for official stuff. Normally it isn't open, but they allow tour groups in over the summer. It was pretty cool, I guess a little like a tiny Versailles or Palacio Real, but less ostentatious, it felt like somewhere where you could actually live and work! It was built in three separate sections, kinda like parliament in Wellington, from the 1500s until the 1800s. The german occupiers during the war used it as a dancehall and pub, and apparently trashed the place, and it was restored last century. I asked a German couple who'd been on the tour to take a photo of my outside afterwards, and they both just said no and kept on walking, possibly the rudest people I've met here in Europe, but maybe they were pissed off at the tour guide's insinuations about the german-inflicted damage! I learnt heaps about the royal family as well, but I will post that another time. They have a temporary exhibition of Luxembourgish stamps (there you go dad!) but they were pretty boring, only stamps of the royal family. It's kinda freaky to see stamps of a three-year old princess, it makes me think of Suri and Shiloh on the front page of magazines.

The fork-tailed Lion symbol of Luxembourg done differently!
Tomorrow we are off to the Netherlands for two weeks! I don't really know where we're going, and I don't really have a solid plan of where to go during my days off, but it will be good to visit a new country (I did go to Maastricht, but only as a day trip from Liege) and hopefully to see the sea again!

Sorry for the lack of photos, for some reason I haven't really been inspired recently!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nannying take two: Week one as an au pair in Luxembourg

View from Grund
So I'm back in Luxembourg and back to the whole stroller and early morning and wiping other people's asses thing, looking after Pepijn (3 1/2) and Olivier (1 1/2). I got here early Sunday evening, Pepijn spent the whole car ride back from the station chirping "hello Claire" repetitively, very cute! We had pizza for dinner, I took a stab at unpacking, and then had a chat with Rogier and Jacqueline. In theory I work Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and a couple of nights of babysitting, but for the next two weeks creche is closed so I am working a lot more, which is a good chance to really get used to the kids and vice versa, but also really draining when I'm still just settling in.

So the week has been a little bit of a blur! Monday started out fine, Pepi was originally great with me, but then when it was just me and him, he did something, I can't even remember what now, and after the usual drawn-out game of asking nicely and final warnings, I put him in the corner. Turns out the previous au pair had never had boundaries or punished him though, so it was a bit of a shock to his system and has made me his mortal enemy!

Ollie is adorable, he's at a really cute age and while he's really a mama's boy, he doesn't mind me. He has a dozen words across all three languages, like he says 'shoe' in english, 'coco' (from 'encore') in french, and some weird ones like 'ice' or 'ijs' in dutch, when he actually means food'. Pepijn's english is mostly ok, usually really clear, but often he will talk to me in dutch (mostly when he's in a bad mood with me) and then I don't understand what he wants and he gets frustrated. I think I've heard more dutch this week than I heard in three months in Belgium!

Main road through Strassen
So most of the week has been spent playing around the house or in the backyard when it's sunny, the weather has been really terrible, often overcast and with patchy rain, but we did make it to the park one morning. I've worked six days this week and I'm still getting used to the early-to-bed early-to-rise thing again so I'm pretty shattered. I've spent a lot of that time trying to engage with Pepi, with limited success - I keep saying "two steps forward, one step back", as we will have half an hour of great time, like when we built a tent house or went digging for worms, and even just curling up on the couch together or playing with his toys, but the next half hour will see him push me away again. The whole 'no' thing is kind of new to me, I never really had to deal with it babysitting, and Arin would either do something happily, do something but in an angry manner, or just throw a full on tantrum from the beginning, there was none of this 'no, no, no, no, no' business, although after the first couple of days he has been giving in and doing what I wanted after the 'no' game, rather than ending it in screams and tears like he was at first.

And I have to keep reminding myself, three year olds are totally new to me, I've only babysat children who were Arin's age or older, so I have to give myself time to get used to his ways and learn as much as he has to get used to me, I'm still sure that after a couple more weeks things I will have won him over. It should also be easier once creche opens again, so that he is back to his normal routine and I have more free time to plan for some fun things to do. It's also a new experience being here more to help their mother instead of doing most of the child-raising myself like I was in Antwerp, its strange to just do as I'm asked and fetch things and keep the kids company, rather than be the one worrying about remembering everything we need for an outing, keeping track of how often kids have eaten and pooped, and juggling the kids with the cleaning and cooking. I feel quite lazy here!

The cat - I forgot her name :-S
I've been sending a lot of emails about joining various sports and clubs and voluntary things, but most won't start until September or are on during times when I am working. I got dropped off in the centre of the city on Tuesday and managed to find some information about the bus network before I had a coffee and walked around the park a little. I managed to bus back home ok, Strassen is technically its own town, but it only takes just over ten minutes to bus there from the centre, I guess it's like Belfast in Christchurch only Luxembourg Ville is a lot smaller than Christchurch! I could walk in, it's only 3km, but I will wait until I've got more spare time. I've gone for a lot of runs since arriving, and have learnt not to rely on GoogleMaps to plan a route that will be the right distance and not see me killing myself - after the flatness of Belgium and Germany, I forgot that GoogleMaps doesn't show hills, although the inclines in my neighbourhood still don't compare to running around Wellington!

Lights down in Grund
I had dinner with an au pair from Sweden on Thursday, she's been here for four months so she showed me around a little, and it was perfect timing because Thursday was my worst day here, just when I reached that point where being in a new country and a new job without my normal support network was too hard, and I got stressed because I got held up by dinner and cleaning up and was running late and I got to the bus stop and needed a hug and wanted to cry. By the time I got off the bus I was fine, but still, it was good timing to be around someone of a similar age who is doing the same thing. We went down to Grund, a quarter of Luxembourg that sits in the valley below the city centre. You can take an elevator down to it, quite cool, and its full of old buildings and bars and a couple of churches and plazas and all, it was quite nice at dusk with the lights on.

Luxembourg Ville in the sun
On Saturday I met another girl from Spain, we did some shopping and had a drink. She is really cool, really spanish, we were both talking a mile a minute the whole time. It's great for me to be able to practice my spanish, but man, my poor head is getting so confused! In the last fortnight I've dealt with French, Italian, English, Dutch, German and Luxembourgish, so throwing Spanish into the mix again was tricky! Like I've said before, here in Luxembourg the official languages are French, German and Luxembourgish. I'm going to start German lessons in September, but I think my (currently almost non-existent) French will improve a lot here too, because they use it in shops and bars etc.

View from Grund
So far, everyone I have dealt with here has spoken some level of English, and done so with a really good sense of humour, I really like their happy joking manner. Luxembourg is totally different in the sun, you can really notice what I green city it is and it's now full of people sitting outside under umbrellas and tourists wandering around. I love how it's such an international city, at the park we could hear so many different languages being spoken, but there isn't the anti-immigrant feeling that was so obvious in Antwerp, everyone is a lot more open here. So, one week down and a few issues aside, I'm already feeling a lot happier here than I ever was in Antwerp, being so close to the city means I can actually get out and about, make friends and join stuff, and hopefully settle down into a routine for the next year!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mainz again - my introduction to Spanish liqueur!

The train journey to Mainz was interesting, my train to Frankfurt was running really late so I missed my connection and had to wait half an hour for the next train to Mainz. While on the train, I got accosted by some young and very drunk German guys wearing lederhosen who were walking around trying to sell things from their tray of dodgy wears. It took me a long time to persuade them that I didn't want to buy their last candy g-string!

Hauke met me at the station and we went straight back to the currywurst stand, where I proceeded to eat the most spicy currywurst that they have, something that Hauke had said I couldn't do way back in December when I bragged about my ability to eat spicy food! I finished it, although it brought tears to my eyes and my mouth was in agony for a little while afterwards. This time he refused to video me, he doesn't like proof of him losing, so there's just a photo of the remnants!

We took the tram home. In most places here in Europe the transport ticketing system is really different to NZ and most people buy a longer-term pass. On trams, they normally just jump on without the driver checking tickets, and only occasionally do ticket controllers get on the trams or buses to check, so I've got quite blasé about buying a ticket myself, especially in Mainz where they cost about $5NZD. This time, we got caught out, as soon as we got on an authoritative guy said something to Hauke about his bike, we should have cottoned on then but didn't until three controllers started moving through the tram, so we stood up to get off at the next stop, which being only 50m away from where we had got on was really suspicious. They got to Hauke just as the tram stopped and he took his time getting his pass out, allowing me to jump out of the tram when it stopped, but even then the guy was asking me for mine, holding up the tram, and I slowly started trawling through my bag for my wallet, hoping that they wouldn't want to hold the tram up too long. Luckily they didn't, and another guy just asked Hauke if I lived here and then let us go. Phew! We had a really long walk home. So I might start buying tickets again now...

Feli, me and Hauke
Hauke had just finished his exams that morning, so we were heading out to celebrate. We had a few drinks at home, and then a few more at Feli's house before we went to Nora's birthday party. Because neither of us had drunk in the past month, we were a wee bit messy even by then, and there we finished a bottle of Cuarenta y Tres, a Spanish liqueur. After this introduction, I don't think Cuarenta y Tres and I will be the best of friends!

We headed with some of them to Schon Schön, where I've been a couple of times and danced for a little while, before we left them and went to Red Cat, where Hauke works (read: also gets extremely cheap, extremely strong drinks). As I've said before, Red Cat is synonymous with us drinking far, far too much and consequently suffering exceptionally the following morning, and this night was not an exception. We left after maybe a hour, with my lack of German I thought that the bouncer was actually kicking us out, which considering Hauke works there would be a good indication of the state we were in, but apparently he was just making sure we didn't fall down the stairs. We walked most of the way home, a long trip that only I can remember and is best forgotten anyway.

Hauke, Nora and I
So Saturday was a write-off. I was awake really early, and spent the day reading the news and cleaning Hauke's flat, but he was in worse shape than me for once and barely moved until the early evening. We didn't leave the house until after six, when we just went to eat at the asian place here that I think makes the best thai food in Europe (it's still nothing on Satay Kingdom) and then for a walk, before he went to work and I went for a run and then to bed early.

Yesterday morning I took the train to Frankfurt, to catch my pre-booked train from Frankfurt to Luxembourg. I should have looked more closely at my ticket though, because the train actually headed back through Mainz anyway, so I wasted several hours training into Frankfurt and waiting around.

Messy...thankyou Cuarenta y Tres for this stunning photo
I'm looking forward to getting into Luxembourg and settling down again. Part of me really loves traveling around and seeing new places, and doesn't want to be limited by working in one place, but the other part of me is ready to have somewhere to call home again, and to start putting down some real roots. The longer I am over here the harder it is to reconcile the over-achiever, involved in a million things and feeling like I was going somewhere in life old me, with the transient, involved in nothing, with no consistent support network and with no intellectual stimulation or sense of achievement new me. Hopefully I can make some friends and get involved in some projects in Luxembourg, and start learning German, to start to feel more like me again.