Thursday, May 30, 2013

Doc Aach(en)

Note: I'm not going to describe in great physical detail the things that happened at the doctor, because I think we all basically know how that goes, but I may mention body parts in the course of things so just be warned if you feel like that's something you can't handle.

On Monday, we took a trip to Aachen for my first doctor's visit in Germany. I basically chose this doctor like I choose all doctors: they had a website, which is not as common as you might expect (in my experience). They also said they had someone who spoke English and that they would see me even if I didn't have my German insurance yet. On the train over, I practiced what I would need to say to the receptionist: Ich habe eine ernnenung mit Doktor Kristen Grunwald. I also practiced saying what time my appointment was at. I was kinda wary, just because everything I had read on the Internet said that doctors in Germany were quite different from doctors in America.

Anyway, after I explained who I was and that I didn't have insurance, the first part was basically the same as all of my pre-natal appointments had been. They took a urine sample and drew blood, and I gave them the folder of info from my previous doctor. Hunter always goes with me to my appointments, but this time it wasn't clear if there was room for him, or if that kind of thing was acceptable, so he mostly stayed in the waiting room. After a much shorter wait than any doctor I've seen in America, I went in to talk to Dr. Grunwald.

She started speaking to me in German, but then realized I didn't speak it and her English was very good so it didn't pose any problems. I had tried to be prepared, but there was one thing that hadn't really occurred to me: the metric system. Obviously, when they weighed me it was in kilograms, so when she asked my weight before I was pregnant, I only knew it in pounds. She also asked my height which I only knew in feet and inches. Oops. Anyway, I had heard that in Germany, doctors are less interested in involving the patient or telling you anything about what they are doing, but that wasn't my experience here. She asked if I had any questions and then gave me this:
This is the "Mutterpass," the purpose of which is to keep a record of your pregnancies. She said to carry it with me and if I was in an accident or somthing, that the doctor would see it and know what was going on with me. When she saw I didn't have insurance, she also said they could wait to send blood to the lab until my next appointment, since it would be very expensive without insurance.

So, at this point I'd already spent more time with the doctor than I usually did during my appointments in America. But apparently we weren't finished. She told me that at each appointment, she would do an exam and an ultrasound. Another thing I'd heard about going to the doctor in Germany was that they don't have the same idea of privacy that we do. But I didn't have any problems. I was wearing a skirt and she had a little screen behind which she said I could take off my underwear. After the exam, she did a vaginal ultrasound just to measure my cervix. Then she took me to another room to do the regular ultrasound to measure the wee baby Scunter.

I was pretty surprised at this point that the doctor was doing the ultrasound. There weren't any really good aesthetic views, she was mostly just measuring various things, and she told me to look away at times when I may have accidentally found out the sex of the baby. She showed me everything she was doing and explained the things she was measuring. Then she took me back out to the waiting room to make my next appointment and I guess explain to the receptionists not to charge me for the bloodwork. When she saw Hunter waiting for me, she said she didn't realize there was anyone with me and that next time he could come in to see the ultrasound.

The total cost of everything I had done that day, without insurance, was about 130 Euro.

Anyway overall I would say the experience was better than my experiences with doctors in America. I had no real problems with any of my doctors before, it just seemed like such a different environment here. I feel like in America, doctors are these sort of mysterious figures that make you wait forever and then talk to you for five minutes or so while nurses and technicians do most of the work because they are just rushing around from patient to patient. I was really surprised at how much time I spent with the actual doctor and also the size and comfort of the office and exam room. I don't know how typical this is since it's my only experience, but it really wasn't scary at all.

Next time: what happens when you burn sausage.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

real,- talk

Alright, well Saturday was pretty much our low point so far. We were right in the thick of the frustrations of the phones not working and I also found out that it was impossible for me to transfer money from my bank account in America without actually being inside the bank. One employee on the phone also told me that they just don't do transfers to Germany. I don't know if I believed her but suffice to say as soon as I get back to the states, I'm closing the account.

So anyway on Saturday morning we were just a little bummed, thinking maybe we had made a huge mistake coming here. We also needed a printer. So Hunter found a site for this store called "real,-" which appeared to be basically the German equivalent of a Super Target/Super Wal*Mart. We had been under the impression that Germans don't really like these kinds of stores, but apparently there are some. So we walked there, getting lost a few times on the way, and finally made our way in.

After being in this completely unfamiliar place, it was kind of nice to be in a giant impersonal warehouse that sold printers, clothes, food, and household items. It's the kind of store that also had a bakery, some kind of Chinese fast-food counter, and you can get haircuts, too. So very much "American-style." I'm not going to do all of my shopping there (for one thing the walk is a bit further than the other stores, even when you go the right way), but it certainly is convenient for when you need several different kinds of things. It was also just nice to be in a place that was more recognizable. It has later hours that some places (open til 22:00, although closed on Sundays and Thursdays) and a pretty wide variety of products. We've been there several times since, to buy groceries and another SIM Card for Hunter's phone, which I think is finally working.

Next time: I talk about the German doctor, which wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

Monday, May 27, 2013

TCB, plus the saga of the phones

Friday was the day we decided to be productive. The first thing we had to do was open a bank account, so that we could pay rent. We had originally wanted to go with Deutsche Bank, since they are somehow linked to Bank of America, but we couldn't find it so we went with Commerzbank, which also is a large bank comfortable with international dealings. We went inside and luckily there was a banker who spoke good English. We pretty much just had to show our passports, and I guess our address, and we were able to open what is here called a "current account," which is what they call checking accounts. I was also able to deposit the rest of my American cash into this account. I had assumed that opening the bank account would be the most difficult/stressful part of the day, but it was actually one of the easiest.

The next thing we wanted to do was get phones. There was a T-Mobile shop nearby, which Hunter was favorably disposed to because of how nice they were after Hurricane Katrina (they just didn't make him pay for like 5 months), so we went in there and were able to find someone who spoke English. We wanted smartphones, and the pre-paid smartphones are a much better deal here than in America, plus I think the network is faster. My understanding is it's pretty hard to find Internet as slow as it is in the states. Anyway, we picked out two pretty cool phones and then were on our way home.

I guess this is when the trouble really started. Hunter installed the SIM cards and started charging our phones. After I rested a bit, I got up to start setting mine up. I turned it on, synced my Google account and everything (we both got droids), and then saw the message that said "Emergency Calls Only." Somehow, my phone wasn't connected to a network. We planned to just take it back to the store the next day and see what the problem was--I suspected something wrong with the SIM card. Before we did that, though, Hunter wanted to see if the card from his phone, which worked, would work in my phone. Sounds easy, but in the process of trying to get his SIM card out, it got jammed even further into the phone. It was impossible to get out. It looked like the only way we could get it out was to use a tiny screwdriver to take apart the phone. This being like probably 9 or 10 on a Friday night, we had no way of getting a tiny screwdriver.

Some of you might be thinking, oh you had to wait til Monday but no, we did find a place that was open on Saturday (which I will talk about in more detail tomorrow) where we bought several things, including a set of tiny screwdrivers. But when we got home, either the screws were too small or just in too tight. We didn't want to risk stripping them so we just took both of the phones to the store to see what the problem was (the T-Mobile shop was also open on Saturdays but only til 2 or 2:30). Regarding my phone, the woman at the shop, whose English wasn't great but enough that we could communicate, said something about a SIM  pin that should have been on a paper included with my phone. Regarding Hunter's, she said the only thing to do would be to unscrew the back of the phone, and that she didn't have a small enough screwdriver. We went back home and attempted to put in the pin, but that didn't help my phone and we already knew that we couldn't do much with Hunter's. I think Hunter went back there later and bought another SIM card, to try with my phone. For some reason even though it was a T-Mobile store, they didn't have T-Mobile SIM cards.

I also remembered that there had been SIM cards at this store we had gone to earlier, so we made a second trip and bought some more food and a T-Mobile SIM card. Hunter decided that he was just going to try and unlock his OLD phone, from America, which was really nice, and put the German SIM card in it. I guess he found a tutorial or something online and was able to do it. He started out putting the T-Mobile card in his, but then we switched because since my phone was from T-Mobile, it was being weird about having a card in it that wasn't. So I FINALLY had a phone with the T-Mobile card that worked and Hunter had his old awesome phone with some other card that worked--kind of. Whatever company his card was from seems to be taking a while to process his pre-payments. So he can call or text but can't do data yet. He might end up just buying another T-Mobile card and sticking it in his since I haven't had any problems with mine.

So far I'm pretty happy with it, and it's dirt cheap. It's 9c a minute for texts/calls, and I think 10 Euro a month for data, but that part is a little confusing. They have one plan where you can just pay 99c for every day that you use data, but since I'll probably use it almost every day that wouldn't be worth it.  It's so much cheaper than Verizon, who we were with in the states, and who we will not be going back to when we return.

Anyway, next time I will talk about the magical store of wonder that we found just when we felt most lost and alone.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The First Day (ish)

So, as I mentioned previously, we arrived at our accommodations in the morning, around 11am or so. We got a key and headed up to our new "wohnung." That means apartment. After a bit of difficulty figuring out how the key worked, we got inside. It was much bigger than I was expecting, however we are staying in a pretty small town right now so I think once we move into the city we will have a more "European-style" living experience. I don't remember exactly the order of things, but I'm pretty sure as soon as I made the bed I changed my clothes and took a nap.

After that, we went out to change some money since we didn't have any Euros yet. We found a small bank that did not exchange money, but they told us where we could find a larger branch that would. We made our way into the "city center," such as it is, and I found a bank where I could exchange dollars with a passport. One interesting thing is that near the city center is a citadel dating from the 1500s that is now a high school. That would be a pretty cool place to go to school. Anyway, we hadn't eaten in a while at that point, so we found a cafe and had some sandwiches before heading back to the apartment.

We still hadn't done any grocery shopping, so we had dinner the first night at a restaurant pretty close to our lodgings. My favorite part of the dinner was that some kindergartners were eating there at the same time--they were so cute! One of them was even wearing a Lightning McQueen sweater! Anyway the first day, despite involving lots of travel, was one of the least stressful so far. Tomorrow I will tell the saga of the phones...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Plane Ride

I'm going to do these posts just a little bit at at time, since a lot has happened in the past few days. Figured I'd start with our arrival in Germany. I was pretty stressed out about it since basically every time I travel something goes horribly horribly wrong. This time was surprisingly uneventful. The main snag was when we were checking our bags in New Orleans, there was apparently something wrong with the computer system, so we had to stand there for awhile and then the tags they put on the bags were these handwritten ones, which definitely had me wringing my hands for the next 12 hours or so but it did turn out ok.

The best part of the flight over was our second leg of the trip, from Washington, DC to Copenhagen. We got upgraded to "Economy Plus," which is their middle tier. It seemed definitely nicer than the coach section, although their coach section wasn't quite as nice as, say, British Airways'. There was free liquor, which I obviously couldn't enjoy, but Hunter was able to partake. My favorite part was probably the meal, mainly because of the silverware. It was Georg Jensen, which I remembered seeing on my dad's episode of Antiques Roadshow. I also got to FINALLY watch Les Miserables which I'd been trying to see forEVER.

We arrived in Dusseldorf just fine and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when all five of our checked bags came out quickly and unharmed. The driver we had reserved from SunTransfers was there to meet us and drove us to where we were going quickly. So, getting here has definitely been the easiest part of the trip so far. We got here pretty early in the morning, so we had a day to do some things, which I will talk about a bit in my next post.