Cycling in Munich

I’ve always loved riding a bicycle, ever since I was a kid, but there were several years after university where I didn’t regularly ride. Mostly it’s because I lived in big cities (London and then Sydney) that aren’t super conducive to cycling. I eventually got a bike in Sydney and even commuted for a while, but honestly, it never felt very fun or safe there. In fact, at times the attitude towards cyclists felt downright hostile. As the Wikipedia page for “Cycling in Sydney” states,

Cycling in Australia has, until recently, been a minority interest sport, and hostility on the road is also common. One Danish cyclist, Thomas Andersen, who had cycled around the world for four years, singled out Sydney in 2014 as being the worst city he had visited for cyclists.

Not only are Australian drivers hostile, but separated cycleways are few and far between. Sydney is also pretty hilly, and in the summer even a short ride will get you sweaty. There is also a mandatory helmet law, which puts off a lot of casual riders. As a result, the percentage of trips in Sydney that are made by bicycle is less than 2%.

Guess what? In Munich it’s closer to 20%.

Cycling in Munich

In Munich, lots of people ride bikes. I’ve seen old people, business people, parents towing kids and dogs in trailers, delivery people, all sorts. Sometimes they’re in lycra and helmets kitted out like serious athletes, but most of the time they’re just normal folks going about their day. (This photo and others are screengrabs from a video I filmed of a ride through Munich today.)

Rodd's bike

We sold our bikes in Sydney before we left, mostly because we weren’t sure whether we’d have appropriate storage for them in our Munich apartment. Once we were settled here, I started looking on FB Marketplace and Ebay for bikes. Around the same time, we had a presentation at work from the folks at Swapfiets. This is a Dutch company that offers fixed price rental for bikes, and they take care of all the maintenance for you. We decided to give it a try, reasoning that we could always cancel if we decided cycling here wasn’t going to work. Swapfiets offer a few different types of bikes in Munich, including a cruiser-style (with no gears) and a luxury “e-bike” (with an electric motor). We went with the middle option – 7-speed hub gear commuter bikes with dynamo-powered front and back lights. All of their bikes have a distinctive blue front tire as well as both a chain and tire lock for security. (While this is an unsolicited endorsement, if you want to sign up and use my referral code “KRISTINE77165” we’ll both get a a €7.50 discount!)

I’ve been experimenting with recording some of my rides. I don’t have a GoPro or anything; I’m just using my iPhone with a handlebar mount that I bought. This was a ride I filmed last week going around the Theriesenwiese and Bavaria Park. It’s bumpy and rough, but you get the idea. (I’ve sped it up; I’m not a very fast rider!) The remarkable thing is that from our house – which again, is really close to the city center – you can ride quite a while without ever having to go on a main road. You can just as easily get to Westpark, which is a massive park with beer gardens, playing fields, and picnic spots.

However, sometimes you want to ride into more trafficked areas. I rode into the city today to visit a special bakery and pick up some Christmas treats. It was about 3.5km (2 miles) each way. I filmed my ride, and I’ve grabbed a few screenshots to show you some of the cycling infrastructure I encountered. (Apologies for the blur!)

Bike ramp

Our neighbourhood is directly next to the Theriesenwiese, the massive open showgrounds where the Oktoberfest happens each year. There’s a big, heavily trafficked ring road around it full of cars, but across the middle there are paved areas that you can ride across. To get to it, rather than crossing the road I can go down a ramp with stairs and zip through a tunnel straight on the Wiese. Much faster and safer! If you watch that little video above, you can see me go down the ramp and across the Wiese…

Fahrradstraße

On the other side of the Wiese, there are some quiet residential side streets. This one is labelled “Fahrradstraße” (bicycle street), which means motor vehicles are limited to 30 km/h (19 mph) and cyclists are allowed to use the full width of the road.

Cycleway

Most of the main roads in Munich have separated cycleways alongside them. This is the one that runs along Lindwurmstraße all the way up to Sendlinger Tor. In most cases there’s one on each side of the road, so you ride in the direction of traffic. As you can see, while the cycleway is completely separated from the traffic, there’s no real barrier between the pedestrian area. It’s literally just, like, a difference in the paving. Most pedestrians seem quite conscientious of cyclists though, and it’s become quite natural to me when walking to look out for bikes. The cycleways vary in width, and sometimes there’s not a lot of room for overtaking so faster riders will occasionally swing onto the pedestrian part to pass. I am not a fast rider, and I am content to pootle along in the cycleway watching for pedestrians and knowing I’m not going to get flattened by a truck.

Of course, there are still places where you have to cross main roads. At Sendlinger Tor there is a major intersection where Lindwurmstraße runs into Sonnenstraße, and it’s a very busy wide street with the added complication of Strassenbahn (tram) tracks. There the separated cycleway turns into a dedicated bicycle lane on the road, complete with its own traffic light! I was a little confused about how to turn left the first time I hit this intersection until I realised they use the same trick as Melbourne – hook turns! As a cyclist, you ride straight across the road and there is a dedicated spot for you to turn to the left and wait for the signal to continue onwards.

Non-separated cycleway

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There is a small bit – only about 100m – along Sonnenstraße where there is construction blocking the bike path, so you’re forced to ride alongside traffic. Thankfully, as soon as you get around the construction there is a ramp that takes you back up onto the separated cycleway.

Cafe Kreuzkamm

Oh hey, look, I made it to the bakery!

Waiting at a light

The return trip on the way home is much the same, albeit on the other side of the road. I’m pleased to see that for the most part, German cyclists follow the rules of the road and don’t run red lights and such. A few do, but not nearly as bad as I’ve seen back in Australia.

For some reason, the first part of the return cycleway on Lindwurmstraße is on the road. Presumably it’s because there is a park on the right, and the footpath isn’t wide enough? At any rate, there’s only a short stretch before the cycleway separates again. And then it’s an easy ride back to the Theriesenwiese.

Fahrrad-Übungsplatz

One last thing – a few months back, the city turned part of the Wiese into a “Fahrrad-Übungsplatz” (bicycle practice area). They painted lines and lanes and cars and traffic lights on some of the concrete areas, and anyone can go and use them to practice their cycling skills. How cute is that?

So that’s cycling in Munich. It’s amazing what a difference some infrastructure makes! More people cycle, which makes more pedestrians and drivers aware, which makes it safer, which means more people cycle! It does crack me up though how negative the  “cycling in Munich” Wikipedia page sounds. I don’t think the people who wrote it understand how good they have it! As I said to the Snook, unless we move to Copenhagen, this is probably the best it’s ever gonna get for us in terms of cycling. That said, it’s supposed to snow tomorrow… so I guess we’ll see how that affects things! 🚴‍♂️❄️

Home Sweet Home

Two weeks ago today, I got a message from OSS Shipping that our shipment from Australia had cleared Customs and was finally going to be delivered! All up it was about ten weeks door-to-door, which is actually incredibly fast for shared container shipping. (Normally you have to wait until an entire container load is filled up with multiple people’s shipments, which can mean a wait time of 15-20 weeks. We got very lucky and our stuff was the last to go into one that was already nearly full.) We had considered air freight, but it’s ridiculously expensive especially as there are less flights right now due to Covid. So instead our stuff went the long way around on the boat to Rotterdam, and then over land to get to us in Munich…

Moving truck

Right on cue, early that Wednesday morning, a truly gigantic semi-truck pulled up in Theriesenhöhe. I spent several nerve wracking minutes directing them through narrow streets with very tight turns so they could pull up as close to our building as possible. A pair of very friendly and funny Dutch guys then proceeded to quickly unload and move all our stuff inside. I read out each box number as it came in and the Snook checked it off the manifest to be sure we didn’t miss anything. Incidentally, the Dutch guys thought it was hilarious that we moved from Sydney to Munich. “Pardon my language,” one of them said laughing, “but why the fuck would you move from Australia to Germany?!” 😂

Boxes

And then they were done, and the Snook and I were left with a lot of boxes to deal with. To be completely honest, we didn’t even fully remember what we’d brought! Once you live out of suitcases for a few months, it’s hard to remember what you deemed essential enough to ship halfway around the world.

It took us a couple days to unpack fully, and even longer to get rid of all the packing materials. Rodd had the brilliant idea of asking at work if anyone wanted moving boxes and bubble wrap, and a couple folks came over (masked and distanced!) that weekend to take the majority of it away. We also had to make several trips to our landlord’s storage unit down in the parking garage, where we carefully packed away a few of his furnishings that we didn’t have room for anymore. And finally… it feels like home!

TV Unit

Our TV was the thing that gave us the most worry. It really is giant, and we spent the past two months nervously looking at the entertainment unit and crossing our fingers. Thankfully, it just fits! (If you don’t count the fact that it sticks out past the frame, that is.) 😅 The Google Home, AppleTV, and Nintendo Mini fit nicely underneath.

Around it are a small selection of books (we left most of them back in Australia), photos, some Lego, a wooden star made for us by Rodd’s Mom, as well as a pair of gorgeous wooden birds – Gonzo and Gertie – his parents gifted us many years ago. Unfortunately Gonzo’s head was the one casualty of the trip, but it’s a clean break and we think we’ll be able to easily repair it.

Lego

Chicago, Sydney, space and robots… ❤️

Dyson

Do you know, we almost didn’t bring the Dyson? It was literally the last thing the movers packed up back in Sydney, just because they said they had a tiny bit of room left. And I’m so happy we did! I really missed it. No other vacuum compares. (I should also mention that the voltage here is the same as in Australia, so all we needed was some converters to be able to use our Aussie electronics and machines.)

The Bar

The Moomin poster was too large and heavy to hang, but it stands nicely on top of the dining room cabinet. We’re also using that as the bar (which the Snook gleefully stocked via an online liquor store). See the lovely rose gold cocktail making kit? That was my going-away gift from my team back in Sydney. 🥰

KitchenAid

The KitchenAid came, of course, and fits in quite nicely alongside the Snook’s new coffee machine and grinder.

Prep station

We also brought along a bunch of other kitchen stuff: cast iron skillet and Dutch oven, fancy frying pan, favourite utensils, tea towels that friends gifted us, sous vide machine, Instant Pot, kitchen iPad, and beloved old chopping board. The magnetic knife block and fancy new Wusthof knives were Rodd’s going away gift from his team. (Yep. They went from Germany to Sydney and back again!)

Magnets

Since our new fridge is built into the cupboard, magnets don’t stick to it. I had a flash of inspiration though and realised I could put our old magnets on the spiral staircase! I love seeing them when I go up and down.

Travel posters

Our landlord kindly allowed us to replace the three artworks in the upstairs hall with these framed travel posters we brought with us. London where we met; Sydney where we lived; and Las Vegas where we got married. We’ve never had them all hanging up together before, and I think they look great.

My Gudetama collection came with me, as well as the Baby Groot my friend Jane crocheted for me. And how nice is it to wake up and put your feet on an Aussie sheepskin in the morning?! (Apologies to the vegans…)

My office

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love my office/craft room. I have my work setup in the corner with my ridiculous gaming chair, fancy microphone, and LED lights for streaming. On the wall are framed artworks from my friends Leonie Connellan and Stuart Spence. On the left my sewing area, with my sewing machine and giant cutting mat. (The desk is an IKEA electric standing desk, so I can raise it up for cutting fabric!) On the right is my vintage Fler rocking chair with the Hamilton blanket custom made by my friend Sarah Spencer. On the pull-out couch are quilts made by my Mom and me.

Book cases

On the bookshelves are my sewing, knitting, and office supplies, as well as a few pattern books I brought along. (The bookcase on the left is full of the landlord’s books; I didn’t bring that many!) The Alice in Wonderland painting is another one by Leonie. The garland of mini sweaters was made by my amazing group of knitting friends back in Sydney, and it makes me smile every time I see it!

Rodd’s office

And of course, there’s one more room… the man cave. We disassembled the small bed in here to make room for the Snook’s giant electric standing desk and gaming chair. (Don’t worry; we can put the bed back together if anyone ever visits!) And on the wall is a gorgeous framed girly illustration from our friend Anton Emdin.

Again, I really didn’t anticipate what a big psychological difference it makes having these little touches of home! It finally feels like we’re settled in, right before the long dark winter sets in…

Restaurant Gabelspiel (sort of)

Normally for our anniversary we go out somewhere fancy for dinner, but right now everything is closed due to Covid. However, a couple weeks ago I started researching and learned that Restaurant Gabelspiel, a Michelin star restaurant in Munich, would deliver a four course meal! We placed our order and tonight the Snook got to live out his MasterChef dreams…

All of the components came prepared, packed, and labeled. We also had instructions… in German! Google Translate was a big help.

The first course was seared prawns with radish, papaya, and “Thai curry cream.” Rodd quickly fried off the prawns and then began plating up. We quickly realised this is a LOT harder than it looks!

Our finished first course. It wasn’t pretty, but it tasted lovely! I especially liked the crunchy radish, and the chilli in the sauce really crept up on you. They also provided bread and butter to accompany.

The second course was Tom Kha Gai soup. We just heated it up in a pan and served. It had mushrooms, capsicum, baby corn, and spring onions. It was sweet, salty, and sour, like the best Thai food. We’re guessing they used the prawn shells to make part of the soup base.

The main course had several components! Rodd had to heat up two sauces while cooking gyoza, chicken breast, and bok choy. Actually the chicken had already been sous vided, so really it was just crisping up the skin and then warming it through. The gyoza were problematic in that they stuck to the plastic, so they got a bit mangled by the time he got them into the pot.

Then it was time to plate up…

We later discovered the restaurant has photos of their plating on their Facebook page, and… let’s just say it’s a LOT more elegant than ours. 😂 Still, we had fun and everything was delicious.

Dessert was a pannacotta with mango, tapioca, and coconut. That one we managed to do pretty well…

Even though the cooking was minimal, we still somehow managed to dirty most of the dishes in the house! 😂❤️

Anniversary

Sixteen years ago today I married this legend in Vegas. Love you, Snookums. ❤️

Taking Control of your Tech Career

This blog post is based on a talk I gave on November 13, 2020 at the Build Stuff software development conference. I was also a presenter at the 2019 conference, where I stood on stage and talked about shiny geeky tech – machine learning and computer vision and reverse engineering knitting patterns. And that stuff is fun, and I love it. But this year… this year feels different. I know people who’ve been laid off this year. I know people who’ve had trouble finding their next contract. And I know folks who have really struggled to adapt to changed working conditions. 2020 has really sucked for a lot of us. And that’s why this year I chose not to talk about how to build something cool, but instead how to build a career that makes you happy.

Imagined Career Path

I think all of us start out with a picture of how we expect that to go. We land the right job, do the hard work, put in our dues, get recognised and promoted as we climb the ladder, and eventually we end up rich and successful. And hey, maybe working in a unicorn startup that IPOs along the way too, right? I started my career in the tech industry 20 years ago, and this was pretty much how I expected it to go. I was a web developer, and everybody knew that the Internet was the land of opportunity and riches. Six months out of uni I was at a startup in London going through hockey stick growth; I’d been designated a Subject Matter Expert, helping to hire new devs and setting company-wide standards; and on top of all that, I was outearning my Dad. The path seemed really straightforward and clear.

Reality Career Path

Note: The item in the upper right says “Success” but on click was replaced with “Being happy.”

Reality was somewhat different. What I have learned over the last two decades is that very, very few people actually have that straight path. For most of us, there are zig-zags and detours and loops. I’ve gone through three major job ladder changes over those years, from a developer to a business analyst, to a people leader, and now developer advocate. I was a contractor for a while. I’ve lived in three different countries. I’ve worked in techbro startups and traditional corporates. I’ve had big promotions, but I’ve also taken pay cuts. I’ve been laid off three times, and I burned out and quit the industry entirely for a while. I’m sure many of you would be able to draw a similar picture.

The really interesting thing is – I don’t think it’s just chaos and random chance. Each of those experiences taught me something that I was able to put into practice down the track. And somewhere along the line, the end goal changed. It went from “Success” to being happy, which ultimately means living and working in alignment with my personal values. And believe it or not, that’s how I ended up

Bye Sydney!

moving from Australia to Germany in the middle of a global pandemic. It makes total sense, I swear! But more on that later.

In this post I really want to dive deep on values.

Values

Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. This is true whether you actually acknowledge those values or not, and deep down, they’re how you judge whether your life is turning out the way you want it to or not. Values determine your priorities and help you make plans and choose between different options. In a nutshell, when you make decisions and behave in ways that are aligned to your values, life is good. You feel satisfied and happy. But when things aren’t in alignment… that’s what you can get stressed, or unhappy, or frustrated.

Right now, at the end of 2020, is a great time to take stock of your own values and see whether the career path you’ve envisioned actually matches up with those. For me, it’s taken me the better part of two decades to figure this stuff out. I’m hoping that by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned, I can help you get to that understanding faster. And at the end of this post, I’ll show you  an exercise you can do to determine your top personal values so you can start using them to guide your way in 2021.

For me, the first big sign that my career path wasn’t going to be a straight line from A to B was burnout.

Dealing with Burnout

I was five years into my career as a developer at this point. I’d been through the dotcom boom in London, working 60 hour weeks building dating websites and ecommerce shops, and when the bust happened, it all just disappeared. I’d moved halfway around the world to Sydney, Australia, where I had no friends beyond my partner. I hustled as a contractor, trying to win jobs to build websites that no one needed. Eventually I ended up as lead developer at a printer company, building websites with the explicit goal of getting people to print stuff out and use up more ink. One day my boss gave me feedback that my code “needed more div,” and I just couldn’t take it anymore. You know that bit in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where a planet sends off all its most useless people, like telephone sanitisers? I felt like that’s where I belonged, like I wasn’t adding any value to the world, and I hated every bit of it, and I quit.

I’ve given talks that touched on burnout in the past, and I can tell you that the majority of the folks in the industry have either been there or felt on the verge. And look, there are lots of reasons this happen. Sometimes it’s an emotional or spiritual crisis, like I was having, where what you’re doing just isn’t fulfilling. Sometimes it’s because you’ve been working in crunch mode for way too long without a break, and your body just can’t take it anymore. Sometimes it’s because a global pandemic hits, and you have to figure out how to work from home with all the kids and the pets and get toilet paper delivered without losing your mind.

The way I recovered from burnout – and granted, this will NOT work for everyone – was to go work a real, physical job for a while, in a small business. I spent more than three years working in an independent craft store. I rang up customers, I counted stock, I swept the floor, I taught classes, and I stood on my feet all damn day. And I absolutely loved it. Eventually I took over their website and revamped it, building in all the features that I wanted as a customer, and filling all the orders as they came in. It turns out that it wasn’t the tech that was the problem; it was that the jobs I’d been in hadn’t delivered on things that were important to me. I learned that, rather than the stereotype of a developer sitting alone with a computer, I like talking to people and interacting with them, and understanding exactly what it is that they want, and delighting them. I like being creative and getting to express myself. I like projects with tangible outcomes, that make a real difference in people’s lives. And through some of the programs we ran

Knit and Quit

like this one where I taught smokers to “knit and quit,” and gave interviews to newspapers and radio – I learned that I liked being recognised for my ideas as a thought leader.

I didn’t have the language yet to identify these as my values; all I knew was that even though I was working harder for less money, I was a lot happier. Unfortunately sometimes people don’t have the luxury to leave the tech industry, which – let’s be honest – pays a lot more than others. And that’s ultimately what pulled me back in – I got married, I got a mortgage, so I went back to tech for the money. But this time, I was able to use what I’d learned about myself to jump to an entirely new career ladder.

Moving into new areas

It took me just under a year to make the change from a web developer to a business analyst. Actually, I didn’t even know that was the role I wanted, or even that it existed – I just knew that building websites to sell ringtones to teenagers (which was the only job I could get) was not going to make me happy. So I began laying to groundwork to change roles. If you’re in a similar boat, you have have felt that this is a catch-22 – no one will hire you in the new role because you don’t yet have experience in it, but you can’t get experience without the role.

So my advice is to get that experience WITHIN your current role as best you can. First, look for opportunities to take on new responsibilities outside your day job, ideally ones that align to your strengths and interests. For me, that meant I took on the task of writing documentation for our users, which no one else on the team cared about or wanted to do. I also put my hand up to run the demos at our fortnightly showcases, which meant that people from other teams started to recognise me. For you, maybe it’s improving your team’s testing framework, or conducting user research, or attending a sales training course. Basically whenever you get an opportunity to learn or practice a new skill, jump on it. When the product manager needed someone to fly overseas on short notice to run training sessions for users, I was the first person he came to. And even thought it was scary – and it really had nothing to do with my day job of building custom Joomla modules – I went for it. And eventually I realised that I actually liked doing the new stuff better, and I wanted that to be my job. And crucially, when you want to change roles, you need to let people know. I made sure that the product manager and other leaders knew that if a role opened up, I wanted to move to that team. When the company eventually fell apart – because it turns out premium SMS was not a sustainable long term business strategy – one of the former leaders invited me to interview for a business analyst role at his new company, and I ended up doing that role for 4.5 years.

Finding your voice

During my time as a BA, the single most important thing I did to grow my career was to begin public speaking. Look, I don’t think every person in the industry needs to aspire to give conference talks. But I honestly believe that if you put the effort in to practice and improve how you communicate, it will pay dividends. At a bare minimum, unless you work in a team of one, you will need to sell others on your ideas. That’s a lot easier when you know how to construct a compelling pitch. Being a better presenter also helps you with job interviews and annual performance reviews. It’s basically a cheat code, a way to stand out from the vast majority of your peers.

For me, I started by volunteering to give talks at local meetups. I can tell you right now that every meetup organiser is desperate for speakers, and most of them are happy to have first timers. If you’re really lucky, you can find a meetup where they actually provide mentoring for new speakers. There are also formal training options for speaking, including Toastmasters groups all around the world, if that works for you. One of the best talks I’ve ever attended was

Damian Conway

this session by Damian Conway on giving Instantly Better presentations. It’s actually online, and I highly recommend you watch it if you’re interested in taking your career as a technical speaker to the next level. I was there that night and I scribbled notes for 90 minutes straight, learning about different ways to tell stories, to avoid “death by powerpoint”, to present code effectively, and to handle nerves. I was fortunate enough later to attend a training session with Damian, and I am still using the things he taught me.

And I want to be clear – every single time I gave a presentation – from meetups, to bigger events, to actual tech conferences, and eventually speaking on the TEDx stage – I was terrified. Everyone is. But one of the other big lessons I’ve learned in my career journey is to do the things that scare you.

Do the thing that scares you

I saw a talk at a meetup about this book, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and it immediately resonated with me. Dweck is a psychologist with a focus on motivation, personality, and development. According to her, some people believe their success is based on innate ability; these folks are said to have a “fixed” mindset. They believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness are said to have a “growth” mindset. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it. And one of the biggest differences in these groups is how they handle failure. Fixed mindset people fear failure because to them, it’s saying that they failed as a person. A growth mindset person doesn’t mind failure, because they know they’re learning and believe they’ll get better.

How many of us in this industry, as kids, were praised for being smart rather than for working hard? I know I was. I was in the “gifted” class – I mean right there, it’s a gift, right? I didn’t work for it. And when I read this book, I suddenly realised how many opportunities I’d missed due to fear of failure, for being seen as not good enough. Since I read it, I’ve made a point of doing things that in the past I would’ve avoided, due to a fear of being bad at it. I attended a three day functional programming course on Haskell. I learned to solder and weld. And I’ve said yes to job opportunities that might not have otherwise… like taking the leap into people management.

When I got offered a promotion to lead a team, I knew nothing about performance management, or how budgets worked, or what CapEx or OpEx were, or how to approve an expense, or even what managers actually did all day long. But I had had bad bosses in the past, and if nothing else, I figured I could add value to my team by protecting them from that. And hey, GROWTH MINDSET, right? So I made my second big career switch. And I made one really smart move that helped immensely – I got a mentor.

Mentoring

Whenever I talk about mentoring, the overwhelming response I get is that a lot of people don’t think they’re qualified to be mentors, but they’d really like one themselves, but have no idea how to make that happen. And that’s pretty much how I started out too. I thought of mentors as some wise older sage on the mountaintop that would dispense wisdom and tell me exactly what to do. But this is a myth, and it turns out mentors come in lots of different shapes and sizes.

Types of mentors

  • Some mentors INSPIRE you – You can think of these as role models. It could be someone you’ve seen present at a conference, or who’s written a book you admire. You might not even know them personally, but they provide a vision that you’d like to emulate.
  • Other mentors provide CAREER GUIDANCE – this is probably closest to the sage on the mountain. They’ve been there. They can help you see the big picture; plan for your future; and provide accountability.
  • Some folks can help you with the day-to-day aspects of your job and how to get better at it. TECH MENTOR; better name might be COACHES. Maybe someone you pair program with. Maybe old colleague in the industry that you occasionally ask questions to. Could be a Slack community.
  • Some mentors go beyond just giving you advice to become CHAMPIONS or SPONSORS. These are the folks who make you feel confident, and who actively advocate and campaign on your behalf.
  • And then there are your PEERS, your friends, your colleagues – who you can share your frustrations with and get advice and ideas.

To get a formal mentor: if you’re lucky enough to have a mentoring program available through your work, take advantage of it. Ideally you’ll be paired up with someone outside of your reporting lines. I was able to get into a manager training program with external coaches who were really helpful at identifying some blindspots. There are also external mentoring programs out there. Maybe your university offers one, or a local professional body, or even your local tech meetup.

Or you can just ask somebody. This is the hardest one, and it feels so awkward, almost like asking someone out on a date! Several years ago I was at a meetup and saw a talk from a Sydney CTO that just immediately resonated me. I thought, “Wow, she seems like she has it all together. I wish she could tell me how to become like her!” But I couldn’t work up the courage to actually contact her. I assumed that someone in a C-level role would be far too busy and important to have time or even to bother meeting with someone like me. So instead what I did was basically… stalk her. Over the next few years I followed her career, I saw her speak at the occasional meetup, and I even introduced myself once or twice. One day I even got the courage to send her a LinkedIn request, and that was quite a highlight when she accepted it!

Fast forward a couple years, and I was at a real crossroads in my career. I was venting to my friend Cath and said I really wished I had a mentor to guide me. And she said, “You know who you should have as a mentor?” And she said this person, the one I’d been following for years! And I said, “Of course, right? But she’s far too busy and important to have any time for me.” And Cath looked at me and said, with all love, “Kris, you’re an idiot. Here’s what you do…” And she gave me a tip. An amazing tip. Call it my ONE WEIRD TIP TO GET YOUR DREAM MENTOR. She said, “You email the person and introduce yourself, and say that you’re looking after a mentor who has X, Y, Z qualities. And obviously, you’d be amazing, but I know how busy you must be. So do you have any time where we could grab a coffee so you could suggest some potential mentors from your network?”

And this, my friends, is the genius. It gives the person an out. If they really are too busy, you will still probably get a list of names that they recommend for you! But what is more likely – and what happened with me – was that we met up for a coffee, and by the end of that conversation we’d set up monthly mentoring sessions going forward. My only regret is that I didn’t reach out to her a lot sooner. Eventually I told her the whole story, and she laughed at me and confirmed that I should’ve asked her years earlier. Learn from my experience!

Mentoring benefits

And I don’t want you to think that mentoring is a one-way street, where it’s all about somebody else helping you out. I also want to encourage you to think about stepping up as a mentor yourself. There are so many benefits, even if you don’t think you’re quite ready for it. It’ll give you confidence – Imposter Syndrome affects like 70% of us. When someone else gets value from your experience, it validates your skills and all the hard work you’ve put in. It also gives you perspective on your own problems, which are probably not as unique as you think. It’ll help improve your communication skills because you’ll get practice explaining your ideas in different ways and seeing how your ideas are received. It’s also a great way to learn leadership skills, where it’s often not about what you do, it’s about influencing other people to get things done. So mentoring can be a really good stepping stone and give you an idea of what people leadership could be like. And even if you’re the most senior, grizzled developer in the world, mentoring someone outside your team will give you exposure to new trends and techniques you aren’t aware of. For me personally, mentoring is also about making the tech industry better, and paying it back for all the folks that helped me along the way. It helps keep the spiritual burnout away. If you value connecting with people, as I do, seeing them accomplish something they didn’t think they could is just the greatest feeling in the world.

So at this point I was more than ten years into my career, and finally starting to figure out the things that were important to me, that made me feel happy and satisfied. And what’s more, I could tell that the company I was in – a traditional free-to-air media company – was not lining up with those. I felt bored and constricted. I felt the need for adventure and excitement. I felt the siren call… of the startup.

Thinking Big

It all started when I went to an event in Sydney where I heard one of the founders of Canva speak about his company. This was years ago, and they were still small, but I started researching them and I really liked everything I read. People seemed to really love what they were doing, and they were willing to pay for it. Think about how rare that is in this industry! You build something and don’t have to, like, trick people into using it, or slap ads all over it. I commented about it to my husband who replied, “Oh right! I’ve heard of them. They keep trying to hire me.” He explained that one of the founders kept messaging him on LinkedIn with links to their open developer roles. I had a look on the Canva jobs site but there weren’t any non-coder jobs listed, and my coding days were behind me. But I took a deep breath and figured “What the hell.” I sent one of the founders an email and basically told him he was chasing the wrong person in the family. To my surprise he suggested I come in to have a chat, and less than two months later I was working there. They created the role of an all rounder for me.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I think for a lot of us, we opt out of potential opportunities because we assume they won’t pay off. This was the example that really showed me that I needed to trust my gut and swing for the fences more often. I joined Canva when they were undergoing massive growth, and in many ways, it reminded me of the start of my career in the dotcom boom. The entire company was changing every other month. I loved my time there, and I’m so proud of the massive things we were able to accomplish. Nothing was too hard or out of scope. But also, we were scrappy and always working within tight constraints, and I found that some of the ideas I had for things we could do, it was just too early for them. I recognised that while I love the energy and innovation of a startup, I also thrive better in an environment that’s a little more established, with a bit more structure, where I could execute on my ideas rather than helping fulfill somebody else’s. I also wanted to share with the wider tech community some of the stuff we were doing, but oftentimes in a startup that just isn’t possible, because of competitor pressure or even just time constraints. So it was time for my third major career shift – into developer relations.

I got the opportunity to join YOW Conferences in Australia, where my job was to help put on tech events and to help represent the voice of the community in the topics we covered and the speakers we featured. I went to hundreds of meetups – both as a speaker but way more as an attendee – and I got really serious about building out my network. And again, I think this is a massively underrated tool you can use in your career journey.

Networking

Someone once complimented me early on in my career as being one of the best networkers in the industry, and I actually took that as a bit of an insult. I think sometimes technical people can get the idea that “networking” is something that just salespeople do, that it somehow means being fake or accumulating LinkedIn followers just for the sake of it. For me, it’s actually about being authentic, and legitimately wanting to talk to other people and learn from them. I’ve benefited massively from people in this industry – job and speaking opportunities, mentoring, exposure to new ideas, and making lifelong friends. So it’s not about being transactional or becoming an influencer, but rather how we can all support each other.

That said – I SUCK at remembering names. I’m sure that goes for many of you. So I’ve had to build out some actual infrastructure to help me. You used to be able to record a note for each of your LinkedIn connections, which was super helpful for remembering how and where you met people, but when Microsoft bought them they removed that feature. I’ve since tried a few different “personal CRMs” over the years – and yes, that’s actually a thing – and eventually settled on one called Contacts+. (Unsolicited endorsement; I just like them a lot.) It’s basically an address book on steroids, and you can tag contacts and add notes that you can later search on. And then to populate it, well, if one was so inclined, one could search Github for “LinkedIn Scraper.” And then one could hook that up to a shortcut on their laptop, so one could simply hit a few keys and have the current LinkedIn profile scraped and uploaded to Contacts+ via their API. I couldn’t possibly comment. But you know, hit me up if you want more details about how one might hypothetically do that.

And just to give you a concrete example of the benefits of my network, it was through a conference speaker I met, Lynn Langit – who’s since become a good friend and champion – that I got recommended as a speaker for Build Stuff, which is why I was able to travel to Vilnius last year, and which helped inspire the decision to move to Europe.

Okay, so we’re nearly at the end. While YOW offered me lots of opportunities to talk to people, to have autonomy and to grow my network, I started to get envious of people who were out there building things instead of just talking about it. And that’s when AWS happened to reach out. And while I was scared – this felt like the big leagues – I repeated my mantra (“Growth mindset! Growth mindset!”) and decided to go for it.

Landing your dream job

If you ever find yourself in a similar boat – and I know right now there are lots of people looking for new roles; I did a mentoring panel at a meetup about it just last week – there are some practical things I think you can do to increase your chances of getting hired. First and foremost is to polish your CV. Ideally this shouldn’t be something you do only when you’ve decided to go for a new job. And if you really want to shine, you should get someone else to review it and give you feedback. Maybe this is a mentor, or someone from the community – I’ve participated in CV review sessions at meetups – or best of all, a recruiter! Believe it or not, there are actually really good recruiters in the tech industry who will help you make sure your CV represents you at your best and is tailored to the type of role you want. Next, leverage your network. It turns out I knew lots of folks who worked at AWS – one of them had even referred me – and I had coffee with a few of them to learn more about the company, its Leadership Principles, and what makes a good Amazonian. This really helped with my preparation for the interview.

And lastly, when you get the job, you need to resist Imposter Syndrome as much as possible. I have a couple mechanisms that help me with this. I keep a text file open on my computer where I jot down my accomplishments, just a couple bullet points, every single day. I means you never get to the end of the week, the month, or the performance review cycle, and think, “What did I actually accomplish?” I also have a doc that I refer to, embarrassingly, as the Good Stuff File. This is where I make a note whenever I get a thank you, or some good feedback, or an award or something like that. Whenever I’m having a bad day and the Imposter Syndrome hits, I can look back over this file and remember that I do know what I’m doing, and it really really helps. A Daily Log and a Good Stuff File will also help you in the future, if you decide your current role is no longer right for you and you need to course correct your career path again.

Values

I’d like to wrap things up by bringing it back to values again. Remember – your values exist whether you recognize them or not. Life can be much easier when you acknowledge your values – and when you make plans and decisions that honor them. If you value family but you’re working 60 hour weeks, is that really going to make you happy? If you crave adventurousness and creativity, are you going to be happy in a conservative megacorporation? It’s also important to note that your values can change throughout your life, and what you think is important for success when you’re 20 might be very different to when you’re staring down the barrel of 40.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out what makes me happy in my working life, but thankfully, there are ways you can shortcut that process. If you are feeling unbalanced, or on the verge of burnout, or even just unsure if which direction you should take, this exercise can help. I learned about it through my friend Jody Podbury, and I’ve gone through it with my own teams as well as people I mentor.

Values exercise

Start by taking a few minutes to think back on your life to identify when you felt happiest, at your best, and really confident that you were making the right choices. We’re not just talking career here; I want you to think about your personal life too. If you can, grab some paper or open up a text editor and jot down the experiences you’re thinking of.

For me, I think about finishing my first (and so far only) marathon, which involved months of planning and hard work and meeting a really tough goal. I also think about the AWS Sydney Summit last year, when my team helped put on a conference for 25,000 attendees, and everyone worked so hard, whether giving talks at sessions, or helping customers at the Ask an Architect Booth, or hosting 20+ streaming sessions on Twitch like I did. I was so, so proud, and even though I was tired, I loved every second of it. I think about the travel adventures my husband and I have been fortunate enough to go on, like coming to Europe last year for Build Stuff, and getting such great feedback for my talk from all of you, and getting inspired in 2020 to relocate.

Whatever experiences you’ve got, keep them in mind for this next bit. I’m going to show you a slide with a LOT of common personal values on it.

Values

I want you all to take a few minutes and read through this list, and just start noting down the ones that resonate with you in light of those experiences from your life. The ones I have chosen for myself are highlighted in green.

Now the next step is actually the hardest – we need to whittle this down to just your top values. You can do that by prioritising them, or by cutting them in half and continuing until you get down to your top 3 or 4 values. So if you had to choose the top priorities, the ones that make you feel good about yourself and that you’d be proud to share with others, what would they be?

For me, right now, those are Adventurousness, Community, Positivity, and Teamwork. And now, I think, you can see why I chose to move halfway around the world to join the AWS Developer Relations team less than three months ago. Sure, there have been challenges and bad days and hard work, but because the decision was rooted in my deeply held values, I feel happy and fulfilled.

Bringing it all together

So just to bring it all together: I took you on a little journey throughout my own career history. We started off by talking about career paths, and they are very rarely a straight line from A to B, and that’s okay! Your career goals will change throughout your life along with your values, the things you believe are most important in the way you live and work. As long as you’re behaving and making decisions in alignment with your values, life is generally pretty good. When things are out of alignment, you risk burnout – whether from overwork, stress, or unhappiness. It’s never too late to make a career change though, and by hustling to expand your responsibilities and your network in your day job, you’ll open up the door for new opportunities. I also think that working on improving your speaking and communication skills is vital for anyone in the tech industry, regardless of whether you ever step onto a stage. (And do remember to check out that Damian Conway video.) Many of us fall into the trap of avoiding activities that we think we won’t be good at, and then we miss out on the chance to learn. If you make the effort to cultivate a growth mindset – like in Carol Dweck’s book – you’ll stop fearing failure and starting seeing it as a chance to grow. I also shared with you some of the different types of mentors I’ve had in my life, as well as my secret tip for getting your dream mentor. I also told you how I talked my way into one of the hottest startups, and why it’s you should always swing big. We also spoke about networking, and how it’s less about gamifying your influence, and more about being an active, supportive part of the community. And lastly, once you identify the role that lines up with your top priorities, some steps you can take to land the offer and set yourself up for success.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my career path, and I wish you all the best for 2021!

A Ride to Olympiapark

With tightened Covid restrictions and the arrival of our shipment from Australia, we haven’t been doing as much sightseeing. The sun came out last weekend though, so I dragged the Snook out for a bike ride to Munich’s Olympiapark.

Olympic Tower

Olympiapark was the site of the 1972 Olympics, the one with the terrorist massacre. As with many ex-Olympic sites, it’s now a big park that hosts sporting and cultural events. It’s about 6km (3.7mi) from our house, and it took us about 30 minutes to ride there. (Did I mention that Munich’s cycling infrastructure is excellent? I’ll write a full post about it one of these days…)

Olympiapark

The park was full of folks making the most of the sunshine. We pootled around the lakes and the various sporting stadiums, finding a bench to stop and have a picnic lunch. The tower has an observation deck, “rock and roll museum,” and a rotating restaurant, but sadly it’s all closed due to Covid right now.

Olympiastadion

The Olympiastadion is right there and we were able to peek through gates. (The actual sporting ground is lower than where we were standing.) It used to be the home ground for FC Bayern München, but nowadays it’s mainly used for concerts and such.

Along one side of the park is an absolutely enormous hill, and I could see a crowd of people silhouetted at the top. It turns out this is the Olympiaberg (Olympic Mountain), constructed out of the rubble from World War 2. It’s one of the highest points in Munich and it offers an amazing view, so we figured it was worth the climb.

Panorama

There’s an observation area at the top of the hill, and it was so crowded that we thought it best to put on our masks. Here you can see a better view of the stadium from up high.

The Snook and the Stadium

To the northeast of Olympiapark is BMW Headquarters, the funny tower in the middle of the photo below. Right next to it is BMW Welt (BMW World), which is apparently the most visited tourist attraction in Munich. I’m not really a “car person,” but I suppose we’ll have to check it out one of these days…

BMW HQ

Turning to the east, you can really see how Munich’s height restrictions have affected the way the city has built up. There’s a rule that buildings in the city center cannot be so high as to obscure the famous Frauenkirche, which means the skyscrapers are really only on the edges of the city.

View to the south

Looking to the south, away from the park, you can see most of Munich spread out before you. That Ferris Wheel in the distance is the one in Maxvorstadt, where we stayed during our first week in Germany. I’ve zoomed way in here so that you can faintly make out the silhouette of the Alps on the horizon. Isn’t that amazing?

Alps in the distance

Vegan Pumpkin Curry with Quinoa

Look, it’s not all sausages, pretzels, and beer 24-7 here, people.* We are making an effort to eat vegetables too! So far we’ve had two veggie deliveries from Etepetete, which are all organic and locally sourced. Given that it’s autumn here, it’s been a lot of root vegetables (pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, turnips) as well as potatoes, onions, kohlrabi, celeriac, and beans.

I also signed up to an internal Sustainability group at work, and recently they announced they were going to do a virtual vegan cooking class. I had a look at the recipe and realised it lined up nicely with veg we had on hand, so I figured I’d give it a go. I only realised after I’d signed up and bought the rest of the ingredients that both the recipe and the live session were entirely in German, which added a fun level of difficulty! Thankfully the end result ended up really tasty, so I thought I’d share if you’d like to have a go yourself.

Cooking

Ingredients for 2 people:
3T of coconut oil
2 onions
1 capsicum (aka red bell pepper, Americans)
1 can of diced tomatoes
0.3 L almond milk
100g quinoa
30g cashew nuts
1 lime
1 small Hokkaido pumpkin or other winter squash
1 sweet potato
1 clove of garlic
1 cm ginger
1 small can of chickpeas (150 g) or let 50g of dried soak overnight
1 small bunch of green onions
1 red chili
Pinch of turmeric
1 small bunch of coriander (aka cilantro)

Preparation:

There are four components to this dish, and the first is the capsicum sauce.

Cut 1 onion and the capsicum into cubes. Sweat everything together in a saucepan with the coconut oil and lightly sear. Then add half of the canned tomatoes and simmer everything together. When most of the liquid has evaporated, add in the almond milk, bring everything to the boil and puree in the saucepan using a hand blender. Then season everything with salt and pepper.

I was quite dubious about this, especially the almond milk. The Snook is also Not a Capsicum Fan. However, it worked quite well and really helped tie the whole dish together.

Next is the quinoa.

In a saucepan mix 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water along with some salt and simmer on the stove over low heat. When the quinoa is soft, add the cashew nuts. Right before you eat, add in some lime zest as well as a squeeze of lime juice.

My packet said 20min to cook the quinoa, so that’s what I did. I also chopped up the cashews a bit.

The main part of the dish is the pumpkin curry.

Cut the sweet potatoes and pumpkin into cubes, and slice up your ginger and garlic. Add the sweet potatoes to a wok with coconut oil and cook until they begin to take on some colour and soften a bit. Then add the pumpkin as well as salt, and continue to stir fry both. Once they’re starting to soften, add the chickpeas as well as the rest of the can of tomatoes. Then add the sliced ​​ginger and garlic and continue to cook. Season everything with salt and pepper and keep warm in the wok. Towards the end, slice up your red chili as well as the green onions and mix those in.

I wasn’t very clear on how long to cook all this, and my main worry was that the potato and pumpkin would be raw. So I basically just kept cooking it until they were cooked but not mush, which seemed like a good spot to stop.

The last component is the roasted onion garnish.

Slice up the last onion and fry in a pan with a pinch of turmeric and coconut oil until crispy.

To plate it up, start with a large spoonful of the capsicum sauce. Add a small scoop of the quinoa as well as a larger portion of the curry. Top with the fried onions as well as chopped coriander.

We ended up adding a fair amount of salt at the end, but other than that, this was excellent! The Snook liked it even despite the hated capsicum.

Finished dish

* I was amused recently to see SALAMI PRETZELS at the grocery store  though. I am not sure under what circumstances one would ever eat these, but I’m sure I’ll try them at some point.

Salami Pretzels

Zugspitze – the top of Germany

After our damp and cloudy trip to Wank Mountain, Sunday dawned bright and clear for our trip to the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain. There are multiple cable cars to the summit, but the Seilbahn Zugspitze is the newest and departed from right next to the Eibsee, walking distance from our hotel. As we headed over, we got our first glimpse of our goal…

The Summit

Yep. Right up there.

The cable car is a marvel of engineering, and it currently holds two world records: the longest freespan in a cable car at 3,213m (10,541 ft – more than two miles!) as well as the tallest support tower at 127m. (I highly recommend you check out this video of how they built it. Even in German, it’ll blow your mind.) We masked up, joined the queue, and boarded the car. And then…

Eibsee

We could very quickly see all of the Eibsee, including our hotel there on the edge closest to the Seilbahn. We kept climbing…

Past the tower

We reached the single (world-record-breakingly high) tower and knew that we were then on the two mile free span straight up to the top. In case you’re wondering how we both were feeling at this point…

Nerve-wracking

The ride was very smooth and very fast, and the whole thing takes less than seven minutes. This portion got very steep…

Even higher

and soon we could see the entire valley spread out below us, with snow-covered rocky peaks to either side.

Nearing the Summit

I’m not going to lie – by the time we pulled into the station at the top, I was really, really eager to stand on solid ground. The summit complex itself is perched like some James Bond villain’s lair right on the peak, parts of it hanging out into space. It’s all steel and glass, with the lower floors having access to transport, bathrooms, museum exhibits, a restaurant, and a gift shop. We were really looking forward to the view though, so we followed the crowd and climbed the stairs up to the rooftop terrace…

Breathtaking

It was amazing. We had feared it would be super cold and windy, but with the sunshine it was actually really nice. We could see practically all the way back to Munich!

View

See the lake far off in the middle there on the horizon? Munich is just a bit farther north from there. We wandered all over the rooftop complex. Thankfully it wasn’t too crowded either…

Rooftop

Danger

DANGER! Don’t climb out on the roof. Noted. 😳

The chain of mountains that the Zugspitze is in forms the northernmost part of the Alps, and the border with Austria actually runs right near the summit. There used to actually be a border crossing up there, but now that both countries are in the Schengen zone, you can just walk straight into Tirol in Austria. (The other big cable car runs down on the Austrian side.)

Austria

“I’m pretty sure Austria is designated a Covid hotspot,” the Snook whispered. “We better not go in there or we might have to quarantine!” We instead turned back to the Bavarian side…

Bayern

The actual summit is marked with a golden cross, and we cable car plebs can’t actually get up to it. Only real mountain climbers are allowed to go up there. We can pose for photos though!

Summit

Summit

In the middle of the terrace there’s actually a bar with tables set up so you can have a drink. I couldn’t resist having a hot chocolate on the top of Germany’s highest mountain!

Hot chocolate

Meanwhile, this cheeky boy threw a snowball at me!

Naughty boy

Eventually we decided to move on to our next destination, the Zugspitzplatt (plateau). It’s basically the other side of the mountain from where we came up in the Seilbahn. We took the much smaller Gletscherbahn (glacier cable car) down to the Platt, where you can find a beer garden, ski and sledding slopes, and the train through the mountain back to the Eibsee.

Zugspitzplatt

If you look straight up the mountain behind the Snook, you can see the summit complex there at the top. We decided to go for a wander in the snow. There were lots of folks hiking, sledding, and even building snow forts.

Queen of the mountain

Hiking

Us

I nearly fell over laughing while watching the Snook try to walk back down a snow-covered hill without falling on his ass. “Ich komme aus Australien!” he yelled. “Wir haben kein Schnee!”

Aussie in the snow

After our hike, it was time for lunch. We found a table in the sun and split a beer with our meal. It was a good day.

Lunch

To get back to the Eibsee, we caught the Zugspitzbahn, one of four remaining working rack railways in Germany. These are the ones with a special rail up the middle that looks like a zipper so that the train can climb or descend steep grades. (You can see it in the middle of the tracks in the photo below.) This train actually goes down into the mountain in a long tunnel and eventually emerges back on the north side. It’s a lot longer trip than taking the cable car, around 45 minutes to get back to the Eibsee.

Waiting for the Zugspitzbahn

Back at ground level, we picked up our bags from the hotel and then began the long trek home. We caught the Eibsee bus back to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen railway station, and then got a train back to Munich.

What a lovely little weekend trip! And given that we’re about to go into a “light lockdown,” I imagine we won’t get to do any more leisure travelling for quite a while…

A Trip to Wank Mountain

…in which I get my blog blocked by even more parental filters. 😂

Not long after we got to Germany, we had a realisation that gave us a new sense of urgency: if we’re only in Europe for two years (which is the thing we keep telling our family, whether or not that stays true), then that gives us roughly 100 weekends to fill. With a countdown like that staring you in the face, watching Netflix and sitting on the couch seems like a big waste of time, even in a pandemic.

Last week it felt like we were both getting anxious cooped up in the house, so it was time to go on another adventure. “Only one hundred weekends, right?” Plus the forecast looked like we might get one day of sun amidst all the relentless rain and gray skies. (And as Covid numbers are rising, it also felt like we probably wouldn’t have many more opportunities this winter to travel.) Our original thought was Neuschwanstein, but to our surprise, it’s booked out for months! “What about the Zugspitze?” I asked. I knew it was Germany’s highest mountain, and it supposedly wasn’t very far away. “Did you know,” the Snook giggled, “there’s a mountain near it called the Wank?” That settled it. We were definitely going to go to there.

Train from Munich

We caught the train Saturday morning from Munich Hauptbahnhof (central railway station). There’s a special ticket you can buy called the “Bavaria ticket” that gets you pretty much all trains and buses for a full day, so we travelled on that. The weather continued to be horrible and cold and gray. I had my knitting with me, but within 20 minutes realised I’d made a fundamental error and had to pull the whole thing apart. So the train trip was perhaps less fun that it might’ve been. Still, the scenery was pretty and the train wasn’t too crowded. (Everyone wore masks the entire time.)

Our destination was Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the foot of the Alps, and the trip took less than 90 minutes. At the train station we stowed our little suitcase in a locker and then caught a bus over to Wank. Unfortunately due to reduced Covid numbers the cable car isn’t running as frequently as usual, so we had a little time to kill. We discovered the “Philosophenweg” (philosopher’s trail) nearby and went for a wander. It was very, very pretty.

Philosophenweg

In the distance we could even see the ski jump from the 1936 Olympics! Unfortunately most of the tall mountains were completely hidden by clouds, so the Zugspitze was as yet hidden from us.

Then it was time… time to ascend Wank Mountain.

Wankbahn

The cable car was small – it would seat four people at most – and the trip took about 15 minutes all the way to the top. We would get moments where we could see, but then as soon as we crossed a valley or crevasse we’d be plunged into clouds again.

The Wankbahn drops you off directly at the Sonnenalm restaurant. We were hungry for lunch, so we went straight in to refuel. We both went for “Bergsteiger” (mountain climber) schnitzels and beer. I had a laugh at all the “I ❤️ WANK” merchandise they had for sale. 😂

Sonnenalm lunch

To be honest, there wasn’t much else to do on the top of Wank Mountain. Normally it’s a lovely place to hike and wander, but visibility was really poor and there didn’t seem to be much chance of it improving. It was just gray and damp and cold. We did spot some patches of snow on the ground, which was mildly exciting. (Nothing at all like what was coming the next day!) We hiked a little ways up to the Wankhaus, a guesthouse for hikers, but it was closed. We snapped a quick photo, marvelled at the non-view, and decided we might as well head back down. Bye-bye, Wank!

I HEART WANK

The ride back down the mountain was just as harrowing as the way up. The clouds in the distance were starting to break up though, and we got tantalising glimpses of far off peaks…

Back at the bottom, we hiked back to the railway station on foot to reclaim our luggage and wait for the bus to our hotel. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is ridiculously pretty. It looks like a mock Disney European village at Epcot Center, except it’s real and people actually live here. I’m like, can you actually believe this??

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

The Snook realised there was an ice cream shop nearby, so we headed over for a coffee and a treat… and I noticed they had Spaghettieis (ice cream extruded to look like spaghetti with strawberry “sauce” and coconut “parmesan”). Folks, I haven’t had this since I was a 16-year-old studying in Germany in 1994. I ordered it and I ate the entire thing with a smile on my face. JOY ON A PLATE.

Spaghettieis

Then we caught the Eibsee Bus over to the Eibsee Hotel on the shores of, you guessed it, the Eibsee. “Due to its location below the Zugspitze and the clear, green-tinted water, the lake is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the Bavarian Alps.” Yes, 100%, can concur. Our room had a balcony with a lake view. We sat and watched as the sun went down. It was very, very peaceful.

After an early dinner in the hotel restaurant, we decided FOR THE SAKE OF SCIENCE to check out the fancy European sauna in the hotel spa. “You’re meant to go naked,” Rodd said as I put on my swimsuit. I wasn’t sure if he was tricking me, so I messaged my German friend Sally to confirm. (FKK, you’ll recall, is an acronym used in Germany that refers to nudism.) Sally confirmed. 😳

Whatsapp

As you can see above, we went for it. We waited to disrobe until we were in the spa changing room, and then we wrapped towels around ourselves as we went in. They had two different saunas, and we went first to the “pine sauna” (65°C/149°F). Thankfully, no one else was in there! It was hot but not steamy like I expected, so we cautiously threw off our towels and sat there sweating for about ten minutes. Then we wrapped up again and headed to check out the “Kelo lake sauna (95°C/203°F)”. I have no idea what “Kelo lake” refers to, but that was HOT. We managed about two minutes in there (again, alone) before heading for the door. We quickly changed back into our swimsuits and then went for a quick dip in the empty hotel pool to cool off.

And that was it for day one! Stay tuned for our adventure on Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze…

Bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and trains!

With the weather so crappy of late, we have been restricting our explorations to close to home. Luckily, we have the Deutsches Museum Verkehrzentrum just five minutes’ walk from our house! The Deutsches Museum is a museum of science and industry, and it has several different locations around Munich. (You’ll recall that we went to their aviation center at Flugwerft Schleissheim a few weeks back.) The one near us in Schwanthalerhöhe is dedicated to all things transportation. Because of Covid, you have to purchase your ticket ahead of time online and wear your mask at all times inside.

There are three halls. The first one is devoted to urban transport, and it was full of cars and motorbikes. I was very excited to finally see a Trabi in real life!

Snookums and a Trabi

Some more highlights from the first hall. I’m not really much of a motorhead, so I tend to look at these machines in purely aesthetic terms. I am definitely drawn to retro designs! I loved that blue “Vicky” German moped, and if such a thing were available today, I’d be buying one. We also had a laugh when we saw the Goggomobile. (There’s a famous Australian commercial that features one.)

There were a lot of bicycles too, including some very unusual designs. This one with the springs was meant to provide a smoother ride (since it had solid tires rather than pneumatic). I did a double-take when I saw these other ones. “Is that… crochet??” I said. It was. These are “Damenfahrrad” (women’s bikes) that featured a “skirt guard” to keep your skirts from getting caught in your wheels! They were really beautiful, and each one was unique.

There was one other special vehicle we couldn’t resist checking out… a Waymo self-driving car. “So this is what I’m meant to watch YouTube ads in while I’m whizzing down the Autobahn in the glorious future??” To be honest, it’s really goofy looking. I had thought they were the size of a Smart car, but they’re actually much bigger. With that camera wart on top, I think it was taller than me! This looks like something from Playskool.

Waymo car

The second hall was themed around “travel,” and it had more cars along with horse-drawn carriages and full-sized train cars. You could walk alongside and above some of them. The other guests were mostly families, and little kids were really going nuts for the trains!

Trains

We are so embarrassing. There were several points at which we would point to something and mutter to each other, “Now that looks like something from Indiana Jones…” Here are some of those.

I fell in love with some more over-the-top retro car designs.

The 1962 pink Cadillac complete with Route 66 diorama cracked me up. It had a sign near it with lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” translated into German. 😂

Pink Cadillac

The third hall – “Mobility and technology” had some very special exhibits of rare and concept vehicles. I don’t think I’d ever seen a “Tin Lizzie” (Model T Ford) in person before! I was also intrigued by an exhibit of the “VaMP” – a self-driving car from the 1990’s. I’ll admit I burst out laughing when I looked in the back seat. It was loaded up with desktop computers with multiple monitors and keyboards! (There was another one in the passenger seat!) But apparently this thing was able to drive from Munich to Copenhagen with the human driver only having to take over a couple times. No GPS – just computer vision! It even changed lanes! I had no idea people were tackling this problem 25 years ago…

There was also an interactive area filled with kids where you could watch a model train, fire up an engine, or try different types of brakes. I spotted a pennyfarthing and, to our delight, it had a sign nearby inviting you to climb aboard! I had the first go, and sadly, I couldn’t even make it with my bum knees. The Snook managed to clamber up there though, finally fulfilling his destiny as That Beardy Hipster.

Pennyfarthing hipster

To finish our day, we used our normal-sized bikes to ride over to the Augustiner Keller, the third-largest beer garden in Munich. (It has 5000 seats!) Unfortunately with the cold weather, the only people outside were a few lonely smokers. We headed in and enjoyed a quick “hoibe” (that’s Bayerische for half-liter of beer). We will definitely have to go back for a full meal sometime!

Augustiner