Saturday, September 6, 2008

Where in the WORLD is Steph?


Hi all,
As most of you are aware, I made it back to the US safe and sound. I had a month to "relax" and school started 2 weeks ago for me. While I was home I worked and volunteered at the stable and made it to the Equestrian Special Olympics for the 6th (?!) year with our riders. It was a little weird being home and I had to push down instances of wanting to speak German or wake up in my dorm room. It was hard to rein in my independence, but I survived. We got B., my new "brother" about 2 weeks into August. He's a study abroad student from Germany who will be living with my parents this year. He pretty much managed to seamlessly incorporate himself right into the family. Even Rio (dog) accepted him quickly. Also, this is very important as I am once again, for the time being, NOT the shortest one in my family. However, B is a 16 year old boy, and so that will surely change. However, he brought good German chocolate, so I will forgive him of this future transgression. At any rate, I have many misadventures (ranging from falling down a hay stack, which yes, I am Quite allergic to to more recently falling up the stairs in a very public location). Since I am not abroad anymore, I've decided to simply start a new blog. It can be accessed by clicking on my user profile and then should be listed. This is obviously prompted by a need to procrastinate...but it will be there eventually.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed the ride and feel free to keep yourself updated with my shennanigans of day-to-day (read:boring) life.
Hope all is well,
Steph

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Empty Room full of Memories



Hi everyone,
Phew. I just finished emptying and cleaning my ENTIRE room. As you can see above, everything is astoundingly white. However, this does not mean that my life very neatly boxed up at this point (at least where I will make a weight limit anyways...sigh). At any rate, I am enjoying the last hour or so I will be spending in this room. At 5 some good friends are coming over to help me lug things over to Eric's - where Claudia is making the last Sunday Dinner. Unfortunately this seems like it will be time to say "Goodbye" to a lot of the best friends I've made here. This will probably result in tears. As I'm not much of a crier, I'm hoping they won't be mine. We will see.

My last several days have been low-key, to say the least. I've been slightly in denial, but now am starting to get excited about traveling (knocking on wood against Lufthansa...). I have been trying to cram things into my bags, along with last minute purchases of German chocolate and tiny souvenirs. Fortunately, most people got something at Christmas, so I was able to fit about 90% of my clothing in - the rest will be donated. Sentimental feelings fade somewhat after 10+ hours of cleaning, and I went into "toss" mode.

Anyhow, some of my people are here, so I'm pulling the internet plug (I have to somehow electronically close my internet account). So, think happy thoughts and hope I get home all right!

Hope all is well,
Steph

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Universe is Conspiring Against Me

Hi All,
While I'm not trying to take it personally, the chain of events that has occurred over the past few days has made me wonder exactly what horrible deed I've committed to deserve such special treatment.

Washing Machine...?
Last Thursday they removed our washer and dryer...and that was exciting - because everyone knows that if you remove something, you're planning on replacing it quickly. Oh right, that's just a common mistake in reasoning that the optimists in the world embrace. So, really, I shouldn't have been surprised that it took them a WHOLE week to replace the darn thing (and she's a beaut- and cheaper) - the week before 30-40 students would be flying home. Not to mention all the German students leaving as well. Grrrrreat timing guys. At any rate, I have my last load (ever!) in the dryer right now, and then I'm free of the scary dungeon.

Rocky Horror Picture Show
So, I know that this is kind of a big deal to people who are in to it - and so my first time probably shouldn't have been in Germany. It was in English however, and some Germans went the whole nine yards. I heard I missed the hotdog throwing - but let's face it, the German's aren't the type to waste any type of food -especially their nationally acclaimed wurst. However, getting there took a good 40 minute hike, thanks to a very wrong map that I tried to use. However, a good long hike and one long, dark scary road later and Sara and I were there. Definitely an experience I'll have to do in the US!

Insurance...Covered...Hahahaha
So, no, I haven't suffered any atrocious injuries lately requiring me to test my insurance policy. However, Eric and Brady (who flew back today) stopped by with Yulia to sit me down for some bad news. Now, most of the times this has happened, someone has died...so I was a little freaked out. Apparently, my insurance hasn't been covering this past month. Also, they take out the insurance for the previous month on the first of the next month (ie, April was taken out May 1st). Now, one would think "Perfect! Steph closed her bank account, but since she wasn't actually covered this month, it won't be a problem". However, you'd be wrong. Apparently, we still have to pay for the protection, that we weren't under on this month. I don't understand it either, but they can apparently bar me from re-entry into Germany if I fail to pay the 50 some euros. So THAT'S going to be a fun mess to untangle on Monday.

Lufthansa Strike
Isn't "Strike" an ugly word? In fact, I'm beginning to draw an unfortunately strong correlation between the word "Germany" and "Strike". This is the second time an airline has gone on strike in Germany (plus the post, public transportation in Regensburg, the Bahn, etc). The best part is that the strike starts on Monday, and we fly out Tuesday. See?! I told you we're being singled out! So, once again, that should be a barrel of laughs. Apparently they have an "emergency plan" ready to put in place, but it's very likely we could be made to take a train to Frankfurt and re-routed through another company (with likely much lower baggage allowances...sweet...not).
So yeah, I'm kinda feeling screwed over here.

A Little Light
Now, I love pessimism as much as the next person, but I'll leave you with this little ray of sunshine that fell into my life. After finding out that no, I couldn't actually sell my bike back to the shop Vaso bought it at, I was able to sell it. Not for a whole lot, but for something. That made my day. That, and the AMAZING lemon cheesecake I made.

So there, that almost overshadows the negatives, right? Sigh, I hopefully will be seeing you soon...cross your fingers for me!
Hope all is well,
Steph
P.S. Here's a youtube video made from my theater group. However, it's in German...


Monday, July 21, 2008

Who needs sleep, really?


Hi all,
If you know me remotely well, you will know of my deep hatred for the "textbook conspiracy". This is a phenomenon where large greedy book companies pump out new edition after new addition of essentially the identical textbook and con professors into using them for classes by giving them the teaching guide for free. Next, the campus bookstore (whether individual or a corporate giant such as, Barnes and Noble, for example) will give you only a pittance for the book when you sell it back - or refuse to take it at all if another edition has come out. Regardless of whether the Professor will be using the new edition.

I, however, full-heartedly loathe this system and through some website hopping (the official college book store link meant so that you can order the book-although they never give you the ISBN- to Amazon to get the ISBN based on the edition number to campusbooks.com for an automatic price comparison) I have managed through the last 2 years in the US to buy very, very few texts from the Campus Bookstore. Once, I even cheated the system, but that's another story.

At any rate, the whole point of this segue was to tell you why I am slightly crazy and to explain why I got up at 4:45AM this morning to bid on e-bay for a textbook. Unfortunately, I didn't "win" the book, and so I feel like my sleep was wasted. Especially since I was due to be at Eric's at nice for....

Painting!
The girl who lived in Eric's room before he moved in had moved out without painting the walls, so the task fell to him. Naturally, Claudia and I wanted in on the action. I got to Eric's at about 9:30, a half an hour late as I had difficulty waking up - but I brought bakery goods along so all was good in the world. It took us (Eric and I, since Claudia had a final at 8AM) just over an hour to empty his room of everything in it/on the walls. This included taking his bed apart (thanks IKEA!) and moving his dresser and desk and other things into the other rooms. Later, after Claudia came, Eric and Claudia went to go and buy the supplies. This left me to do the taping. As you can see in the slideshow, I think I did my mother proud. Since we were painting the walls white on white (harder than it sounds), my fastidious taping was probably a little over-kill, but it gave me a sense of accomplishment. We finished painting around 2, although Eric has to do some touching up tomorrow.

Selling my Bike
Or not, as it turned out. Vaso had assured me that I'd be able to sell my bike back from the place where the other Vaso had bought it at. If that's confusing, don't worry - it's all Greek to me because they are. So I've been working on getting the receipt from the Vaso that went home, with no avail. So Vaso volunteered (my friend Vaso, the one still in Regensburg) to go with me in case I needed back up. Then we discovered that this was all a moot point as they wouldn't buy it back. So...yeah. Now what? I'm not really sure. People suggested selling it at a flea market, but at the one Eric and I went to, I didn't see anyone selling theirs. So, yeah...not so good. At any rate, a back-up plan will simply have to be found.

So, another long day with mixed success. 8 Days left people, are you ready?
Hope all is well,
Steph

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Ugly American

Hi all,
I'm pissed. Enraged is actually a more accurate term, really. Throughout my stay in Germany, I have endeavored to stay clear of the "Ugly American" tourist stereotype. I have been pleasantly surprised that I had not run into any...until tonight.

Claudia's older brother and father came to visit this weekend. So, naturally, Eric gave them a city tour today and after dinner called me up to come and be social. We met at Bismarckplatz, a nice square with two fountains that is surrounded by a few bars. Naturally a college student hotspot. Claudia's dad had been wandering around on his own for a while and met up with us a little later. At around 10, we went on a trek to search for ice cream. Our first choice was unfortunately closed, so we went to the little place by my dorm. Andreas (Claudia's brother) wanted to go to the stone bridge and see the Danube. So Eric led the way, taking a little side trip to see the Don Juan statue. Afterwards, we cut through a side alley (really just a narrow, but well lit street with restaurants and pubs on either side). There were two guys in suits that I guessed to be around their mid to late twenties. As we approached, happily licking away on our ice cream cones, we heard one guy telling the other guy:

"Shit...MAN! We're supposed to stay at their hotel with them tonight!"

They were both at least tipsy and obviously aggravated. Since it was a narrow street, Andreas took the lead, with Eric and then Me, finally with Claudia's father at the back. Suddenly, and without any provocation the same guy starts hurling insults at Andreas. Now, he had a deep south accent and among other things called him a "lollypop licking faggot", and then threw out the "N" word (excuse my appalling language, but it's impossible to express the crudity and hpow appalling the situation was otherwise). Eric and I stopped dead in our tracks, shocked by this outbreak. Andreas completely tuned them out. However, Eric said (in a very mild mannered and non-antagonistic voice)

"Excuse me?"

The guy replied:
"You speak English?!?!?!"

"We are Americans."

At this point, his friend stepped in and told either him or us to just let it go. I had kept my mouth firmly shut, as the last similar incident I experienced to this drifted through my brain (the slightly infamous mini-golf fiasco) and Nate's (my older brother) advice echoed in my mind.
He'd basically told me that I should simply shut up, as anything I say is bound to make a male not take anything out on me, but instead on another guy; essentially picking a fight for him. Since a confrontation is the last thing we wanted (although I'd sure as hell be in on it), we just kept on walking.

Awkward and embarrassed silence hung thickly for a few minutes until we bumped into Kayla on her way to a bar. Still not saying much we made it to the stone bridge where Eric broke the silence by expressing his embarrassment over the situation and for the Americans who give others a bad name. Andreas shrugged it off saying that it didn't matter to him - no matter what nationality people are, he just chooses to ignore it. His father pretty much agreed with him.

However, I still find it deeply shameful and I almost wish I would have had the opportunity to help kick their asses. I hope that they weren't military guys (although I slightly suspect they were), because as a direct representation of America their actions were appalling. Equally so if they were civilians, and inexcusable either way. However, since we handled the situation in a mature manner, I am expressing my rage to you.

Hope your nights go better than mine,
Steph

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tick Tock

Hi all,
Today I did practically everything - except study. If this shocks you, it shouldn't. I fully realize I have my last final tomorrow and that I shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that it's in English. However, I made every class this semester, excepting one about 2 months ago that won't have material we're coving on the final anyways. Since all this Professor did was talk and talk and talk, if I haven't gotten the information down by now - no amount of studying this week would have made up for it. Add this to the fact that time seems to be trickling by until I get home, the importance of spending my last days here in a memorable manner far outweigh the potential consequences of my grade slipping a little in one course.

Today I packed one of my suitcases. My middle sized one is staring at me in an accusing manner, as it is 2/3rds full of books and the rest of my life is still strewn about the room. However, the washing machine (which apparently got replaced today...better late than never?) has wrecked havoc on my t-shirts, and so many of them won't be coming home with me. I'm also tempted to leave my slip-on Merrels behind...those poor shoes have been with me for years beyond common sense - even I wince when I take them off and see the state of the edges and bottom. But it almost seems disloyal, I mean, those shoes have taken me places. What's more, they don't make that design anymore (see, a recurring theme in my life...which unfortunately is the basis of the fashion industry). Likewise, leaving behind perfectly good books seems also as hard. I know I can leave some with Claudia and Christine, Eric's promised to bring them over whenever he goes back and forth, and honestly, it's probably not too terribly late to ship them. However, since books are my drug of choice and a good path to escapism, I feel we need to stick together. I also fully realize how very silly that sounds, and doubtlessly will relinquish my death grip on too-simple German exercise books. But these things take time.

In between sleeping today (levels of stress and anxiety have thrown my sleep schedule off-kilter, and I was up around 7:30 for no reason today) , I found the time to Get Things Done - such as closing my bank account today. I would thought it'd be harder to go through the steps necessary for me to come home; however, they actually are comforting as they give me targets for things to do and don't let me sit around in indecision or doing nothing. Which I still do, and enjoy immensely. Honestly, the period in my life where I will be allowed that kind of lazy freedom will be limited. My last year of college and then whatever ever happens afterwards are most likely Not going to allow me an afternoon nap, or a random stroll around the city. But at least now I'll have the memories of it.

It strikes me as ironic, that just as I'm finally being able to not only tolerate but actually appreciate some beers that I will be going to a country scorned in the beer industry. However, as I cultivated (ha) my wine taste this year, I look forward to being able to have a glass with dinner occasionally. After the marvel that is "Kaufland"'s wine selection, nothing can daunt me. Plus, being a student, I'm certainly used to cheap wine and will be unable to set myself up to be disappointed. Well, as this is starting to make me sound like a bit of an alcoholic (laughable, as I've had perhaps 5 drinks in a months time - and no, not just counting July) - onward!

As long as I'm being honest, I can fully admit that my room is about a 6.8 on the scale of room catastrophe. Things were shifted to be packed, loads of laundry had been lying around to be washed when appropriate load-size was reached and notes lay scattered from half or full-hearted studying attempts and succession. However, as Mom always said (whenever she could con/bribe/overtly threaten (and there wasn't much bribing, let me tell you) me into cleaning my room "It always looks worse before it gets better". And it'll get clean - practically spotless, as it has to be. And then I'll take a picture, just to have a pre-during-post sequence. (Although I cheated on the during and tidied some).

At any rate, I'm sure your mind is boggling from this non-headed post, so take your time to recuperate, and have a piece of cheddar cheese for me. (Because when I get home, there will be a scarcity in my near proximity...I have 11 months to make up for!).

Hope all is well,
Steph

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Pink Sock


Hi all,
So, a pink sock was the damage of the day. Also the knowledge that Eric's kitchen floor has an affinity for bright red liquids. This time the staining wasn't due to a Strawberry margarita gone wrong, but to a much more benign Koolaid fiasco. When my parents came and visited, they brought Eric some Koolaid and recently he's made it one of his goals to finish them all before we leave. So I was attempting to take the slippery "pitcher" (really a glorified tupperware) out of the fridge and accidentally gripped it only by the top. As I was attempting to gain leverage on the darn thing it slipped - sending up a brilliant red fountain of Koolaid to cover not only me but a good portion of the floor. Luckily my shirt was dark this time, although I had just washed my jeans. Sigh.

At any rate, after some mopping up and changing (Eric had a spare Metallica shirt that actually belongs to Niamh - question, Niamh, why/how does Eric have one of your shirts...?), I was good to go...minus one pink sock. So, I went home barefoot in my shoes. I also made up a great story to tell my apartment mates, should I get the question of why I'm wearing a Metallica shirt (because we all know how "me" Metallica is...), but unfortunately no one was in the kitchen area when I came home. That's ok, it's probably not half as funny as I'd like to think it is...moving on.

The Final From Hell?
No, it wasn't. Although it was certainly stressful enough today, I feel like I pretty much nailed it. I was confident that I did well - only to have it shaken by Vince and Rob (England) on the bus. The format on the test was pretty simple. We had little box charts with the name of historic people (different charts for different topics...ie, composers, writers, and building forms) and we'd have to fill in the style/dates/music selection/text section that matched the person. When I got to the text section, I was a little freaked out as it was 3 relatively modern people, and only one ancient middle-age person. The texts were clearly not old (it was readable, modern German) and I didn't recognize one of the names. Since it looked Italian, I ended up pairing it with Anti-fascism and hoping for the best. Rob and Vince were convinced that Heinrich Mann (who I'd labeled as "Aufklaerung"/enlightenment in English I believe) was actually the anti-fascism author, which meant I just lowered my grade by a nice huge lump as it would trip me up for 4-6 points out of 31. So I did what any person does in a crisis of doubt...I googled it. Guess who nailed it?

The German School System
I know I've posted on and off about the German school system, probably in regards to my English conversation class I taught. However, I have made some discoveries about the German school system.
1. It really isn't ALL that great.
Honestly, yes, they have GREAT rates of kids going to university from their "gymnasiums" - however, if we in the US separated the top 20% (number is slightly arbitrary, I think it depends on the region) of each class and sent them on a college track - of course the numbers would be up! Instead, our public schools have "No Child Left Behind", which holds back the brighter kids and doesn't seem to really help the struggling students by passing them along instead of addressing problems such as poor study habits or learning disorders. However, moving along...
2. They CHEAT
This is apparently one of the best/worst kept secrets in Germany. Spurred by a conversation with Flo, Jake's friend, we learned that cheating is very typical in the German education system. In one of Sara's classes, they'd discussed how in a lot of European classes, testing was doing "cooperatively" and if a teacher left a room...everything was fair game. Flo claimed the cheating was rampant...not only in regular class but for the "Abitur" - the HUGE oral and written test over several major areas of study that German gymnasium students take that entirely determines where they'll be accepted into University. I asked Mike and Claudia, and they both acknowledged that cheating was rampant (although they both vehemently denied cheating, and I believe them) and kids caught a lot of shit if they didn't cheat. Flo then detailed popular cheating methods:
1. Girls wore skirts on test days (and teachers weren't allowed to check) and would hitch them up during the test to reveal written on answers.
2. They used lined graphing paper that they bring themselves, but write lightly with a silver gel pen - impossible to see from a distance.
3. Kids would write answers on their shoes.
4. They'd leave a cheat sheet in the bathroom - this was especially popular during the Abitur, as it was hours long and they were allowed bathroom breaks.
5. One kid tacked a drink coaster to the underside of his desk with answers and could flip it out when the teacher wasn't looking.
The list went on...
So, while the level of education in gymnasiums is undoubtedly higher than in the US, it's probably on par with private schools with strict academic requirements (similar to the sorting that all German students endure). What struck me the most though, was that when I asked if there were many minority students that went to Gymnasium (as I had never seen any as I was outside waiting) I was told that no, there weren't that many - in fact my class didn't know of any in their gymnasium at all. I was told that "They come to the country too late and their German isn't good enough". However, I have seen many, many pre-school aged and grade-school aged kids from obvious Turkish or other descent, so I don't buy that either. Apparently racism is also prevalent in the schools, although they skirted around that topic. I'm not saying that US schools are any better - looking at our rates of minority dropouts is equally appalling, but at least we acknowledge it as a problem. In the end, I have a new outlook on the German education system and now see the flaws inherent in it as well as the benefits.

Pics
Anyhow, enough with material that requires thought. After we finished our respective finals today and got ice cream, Eric and I took a stroll along the river. I had some fun snapping pictures and also included in the slideshow are some random pics from the night before Charlotte left of kitchen shenanigans - that's Rob with the Gummi bears that Molly so lovingly licked and placed on his face...
Hope all is well,
Steph

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I'm Procrastinating...


Hi Everyone,
I'm officially in "Countdown"mode...which is not boding well for my two finals this week. I spent all of Thursday hammering out a 8 page paper (in English, which my group members will translate - yay for group work) and also did a handout. I should be working on formulating a study guide, but I"m doing this first.

Wednesday Dinner
This Wednesday I ended up making dinner with a friend of mine, Jean, from Theater. It turned out to be quite the improvised affair, as the pizza pan I'd brought didn't fit in his microwave oven. I found out once I got there that he didn't actually have an oven. Apparently he doesn't cook much. He was also captivated by the "Italian Spice" mix that I picked up - which we have at home, of course. Apparently he had a whole tin of mixed herbs that he brought all the way from France. Once again, I don't think he cooks much. Another French guy came and helped and ate with us as well. It was an interesting affair as Jean shares his kitchen with at least 15 people (it's very large though, with multiple stove tops) and it was quite the exciting environment to cook in.
Weekend Parties
Yes, there is a plural in my weekend partying fun. Friday night there was the last Gesslerheim (a big dorm party that all the Erasmus students go to) party. It was weird because I hadn't seen a large amount of the people there for months and I didn't recognize a large percent at all, as some people had gone home after only one semester. It was fun, but kind of sad at the same time. At around 3 I ended up walking home with Eric and Mike (from Heidelberg, he's living in Munich now for college). The buses stop running at midnight, which is why I normally never went to Gesslerheim parties.Laura had generously offered to allow me to sleep at her place, but it was a nice night and really, a 45 minute walk has become pretty much nothing or average, which is kind of funny.

The other party that I went to last night was Rob's "Cops and Robbers" birthday party. It was supposed to be dress up, but as I didn't intend on staying very long, I ended up being a "plainclothes" cop. The rules were rather interesting, as everyone had to be tied to one another (in pairs), one cop to one robber. I ended up getting tied to Stefana, which was pretty fun. The other rules included silly ones like no names, pointing, swearing...etc and then there were the bar rules. Obviously, it was a binge-drinking experience - or was supposed to be. The original plan called for a certain number of bars/clubs (9?), where there was a drink you were supposed to order, with a time limit in which to drink it. However, no one took it all that seriously, and I made it through with only one drink for the night. We drew quite a lot of attention, as I believe a there were approximately 10-15 pairs of tied people. That eventually got old as well, with non-smokers tied to smokers and mixed pairs and bathroom breaks. But it was a lot of fun, and I think Rob enjoyed his birthday exceedingly.

Picture
Last weekend there was a "Renaissance Festival" that was going on across the bridge in the far part of Regensburg. Sara went with me to check it out, and it was quite small in comparison. However, we spent a good hour walking around - just enough time to see everything before the rain started. We got inside pretty wet, but just before the total downpour. The rest of the week has been hot, except the last 3 days, where it's been raining off and on all day but pretty clear at night.

At any rate, I should go start on that study guide. I hope all is well with everyone...
Steph

PS. Here's a random video of Charlotte singing the Welsh anthem.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Practically German...Right....


Hi Everyone,

I’m currently composing this on Microsoft Word, as for some fickle reason, my internet is not cooperating thus far today. So who knows when this will debut, although I’m hoping the connection will be fixed later today.

Authentic German Bus Experience
As I was sitting on the bus today on my way home from my morning class, an older woman struck up a conversation with me. And by “struck up” I mean that she started talking at me, without giving sufficient time for me to formulate an answer. About 5 minutes into our “conversation” on cell phones, she whips hers out and starts asking me a question. When I started to answer, her eyes widened a bit – as she suddenly realized I wasn’t German but patiently heard me out. Of course, I have no idea how her phone worked, so I wasn’t able to help. But I did commiserate with her on the difficulty of attempting to gleam useful information out of the poorly written instructional manual.

This is becoming a pattern. I am more and more frequently being stopped and asked for directions by Germans. Since I’m not exactly “exotic” by German standards, I take this to mean that the blind panic look that used to inhabit my eyes when strangers approached speaking German has dimmed and I look confident. Which is a good thing I guess. I actually gave the last woman the correct directions to somewhere (it’s been hard on the university – as I don’t know where some of the buildings are…let alone how to now get to buildings with approximately ½ of the campus randomly being shut down for repairs and up-keeping = nightmare!), and I truly apologize to any misled Germans. At least I tried, right?

In Which Steph Acquires a "Crazy"
At any rate, not all of the interruptions are so welcomed. As I stood for the bus last Wednesday (I think it was…), I was approached by a man who was talking to himself and making random people listen to his radio. He struck up a conversation with me (completely ignoring Eric) which I didn’t understand a word of. However, I decided to maintain eye-contact and nod, as everyone needs a little eye contact in their life. However, he proceeded to follow us onto the bus and kept up his conversation. By this point he’d slightly changed to speaking English (with French and other languages mixed in) and was talking about the Russian broadcasts he was picking up with his radio and how he wanted to go to California and the US. He was starting to make me uncomfortable and he started repeating “not crazy…Not Crazy…NOT CRAZY…” over and over, as I’m sure my discomfort was showing. He seemed like he was rather unstable, and I was glad when he finally got off the bus. The next day I avoided the bus stop when I saw him there, only to have him board it later in the afternoon on my way to play performance. Luckily I didn’t make eye contact. I’ve decided that “having my own crazy” is completely overrated, and a little scary.

Sad News, Indeed
Charlotte became the first casualty to our apartment today. She went back home as she was done with her classes – she runs on an odd Law schedule. It’s hard to imagine that more than 2/3 of our floor will continue to trickle away as the month passes. I’m glad I won’t be the last to go. Apparently we’re supposed to dry-clean our pillow and duvet, or it costs us 19 euros. However, with the cost of the dry-cleaning, the hassle of finding the shop, dropping off and picking up the stuff might be just as expensive and annoying. They also want us to wash our curtains – understandable, except that I think mine would disintegrate and I very much doubt that they’ve been washed within the last 15 years. Plus they have an odd hanging system that I’m not sure I could even replicate!

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
It’s nice that it really is the simple things in life that can make your day. Today, I got a letter. It wasn’t the usual bank statement or insurance notification (which are still kind of fun to get…right?)…no, it was an honest-to-goodness someone-likes-me enough-to-send-a-letter letter. (Sorry for all the hyphens). It’s true that I also really like getting e-mails, but in this age of technology, there’s just something really magical about letters. So thanks Kris. : )

Oh Yeah…That
And finally, a d’oh moment by yours truly. On Monday morning I woke up, sat up, and was very confused. It felt as though someone had literally taken a hammer to my back…I was very sore to say the least. I spent a good portion of the day wondering what on earth I’d done in my sleep to merit such pain, when I suddenly realized:

“Oh yeah, I totally fell down the stairs on Sunday”. How’s that for short-term memory? It’s about 80% better right now, so I think I just pulled/bruised some muscles but should be back to normalcy in a few more days.

Hope all is well,

Steph

P.S. The cows are just because I Can.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I Just Fell Down the Stairs



Hi all...
To be honest, I only fell down the last 6 or so when my flipflop finally completely rebelled over it's long induced servitude. Why this should have prompted me to write a blog is anyone's guess - although I could dabble in analysis and wager it possibly had something to do with my grasp on mortality and wanting to leave a living record of the last few days. Or perhaps, it is merely my way of heaping the embarrassment factor up by sharing it with you. At any rate, after sitting stunned (my arms full of bedding I was trying to bring back to Kayla), Harry (i.e. the Polish girl who literally lives under the stairs) came out. She was duly concerned because she'd heard me fall...and then nothing. After assuring her I was still alive and merely surprised I collected myself and went upon my way. I do take comfort in the fact that I actually had an excuse of why I fell, as honestly, I could expect myself to simply lack the coordination to go down stairs at any point. I have also, officially, retired my flipflops from stair usage.
Also, the photo is of my friend Sara, who played the part of the maid in our theater piece.

Karin's Visit
Karin arrived at approximately 8 AM last Tuesday. Unfortunately, I had classes I had to be at, and so Kayla said she could pick her up. As I got out of my first class, I checked my phone and discovered 2 messages. The first was from Karin, asking where Kayla was. The second was from Kayla (about 45 minutes later) saying that she'd been sick and overslept, but had gotten Karin back to our apartment safe and sound. I skipped my afternoon class (the castle class's last meeting, which wasn't important anyways) and came home to find Karin just woken up from a nap. It's pretty hard to sleep on over-night trains sometimes. We went and, after grocery shopping, found the park that Jake had recommended to us. You've seen the pictures - it was absolutely enchanting. We enjoyed exploring it and catching up.

The rest of the week flew by. Karin came to my German conversation course and theater rehearsal on Wednesday (she had several years of German in junior high) and came with to my English conversation course on Thursday. We did a fair amount of walking around and cooking while she was here and she also hung out with Karin and Eric a good amount while I had theater. Unfortunately, I only got to see her for about 15 minutes on Saturday - Eric brought her by before he dropped her off at the train station. It was definitely better than nothing and wonderful to see her.

In Which Theater Ate my Soul (And Weekend)
As I alluded to in my previous post, theater became my life the last week. I definitely found out why it's considered to be a cult family. Saturday morning (after a late Friday night rehearsal) I was there at 9 am. We proceeded, over the next 12 hours or so, to turn the stage into this:

Honestly, the lights and curtains and techy stuff took the most time, but there was plenty of random things to do as well (ie, vacuum the carpet, varnish parts of the furniture...etc). Eventually, everyone showed up and we did a complete (in costume and makeup) run-through. We got done shortly before midnight - just in time to miss the last bus. So I walked home with another girl - a nice 40 minute walk. I got home around 1 and promptly went to bed - as we had to be back at the theater for 2 run-throughs starting at 11:30 (be there by 10:30) on Sunday.

So naturally we took forever to get started and only managed one run-through on Sunday. However, since I didn't have anything near a lead part (literally 4-joint lines with 10 other people) I got to go "early" - around 5. I headed over to Eric's to watch the Euro cup final and was quite disappointed by Germany's lack-luster playing. Their Turkey game was definitely a lot more fun to watch - which I had done Wednesday night with Karin at the local movie theater. (They give out tickets for free - and make a killing on selling drinks!). Now that was energy!

However, back to theater. We had our last performance last night. All of our performances went well and sported nearly sold-out crowds. Friday night was probably our best night - the audience was very energized (and probably also the most German...). Since a lot of the people who came were friends of the cast, we had a very high percentage of non-native speakers, and so some of the humor was lost on them. Of course, sometimes the German audience laughed at the most random-seeming times, so it's probably fair to say that a good part of the humor was lost on us as well. Last night was twinged with sadness, as we realized it'd probably be the last time we'd all be together. I was surprised at how close we'd become - we really had a great group of people. I can't imagine how hard it would be for the directors to start anew every year - although we received a compliment from one of our directors, Christine. She said (roughly translated) that having a group like us made it easy for her too look forward to next October with a new group. I also just mis-spelled October when I typed that. Wow.

At any rate, we had a cast party and for the second night in a row I went to bed at a ridiculously early time. (Preston's apartment had had a party the night before). By the time we'd caught a taxi home it was 5. Obviously there were large amounts of alcohol consumed, but as it was mostly beer (of which my tolerance has actually grown...) I only had one drink. Speaking German as a common language socially with people from as varied countries as Palestine, Bulgaria, France, Poland, North Carolina and Czech is hard enough without alcohol involved. Luckily, as I've said, it was a great group and we had a lot of fun:




Charlotte's 21st
Charlotte had her birthday on July 3rd, and I managed to squeeze in baking a cake and teaching my last English conversation class before going to her party for a bit. I had to leave early, but managed to take some good pictures and also miss the swamping down-pour that swallowed them alive as they finally began the trek home (we were in the same park that Karin and I visited). You'll note that a large percentage of the girls (including the birthday princess Charlotte herself) were unfortunately wearing white.

Anyhow, I've been trying for the last 1/2 to flip my video clips - unfortunately my video camera and software is somewhat lacking...so if you still have sideways footage...sorry! At any rate, I hope all is well and I'll see you all in...23 days. Wow.
Until then,
Steph

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I'm still alive...mostly.


Hi all,
This is just a quickie - with photos from the high-light of my visit with Karin. We went to the Herzog garten (which was fantastically lovely) and I put the photos in the slideshow.
In other news, theater is consuming my soul. We had our first show tonight (which went wonderfully) but I spent over 20 hours at the theater this weekend. More about those shennanigans and my bus-mishaps later.
Enjoy the pics!
PS. If anyone wants to fly in for the show...we are playing until Saturday night...Just kidding, but my life will stop being consumed, hopefully in time for a Sunday post!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Aham - And I'm not Just Clearing my Throat!


Hi all,
So I got back yesterday from Christian's house. His parents are delightfully lovely and very welcoming people and his brothers were both very friendly as well. We made quite the group, and had 2 groups of 5 sleeping in each room. They have a HUGE house (very atypical for Germany!) and a very cute dog. It didn't hurt that their neighbor had Arabians either...

S'more...what?
So, Friday night after a lovely dinner, we roasted marshmallows and made "s'mores" because Molly had brought supplies with. She had been talking to Charlotte earlier (Wales) and had asked her:
"Charlotte, have you ever had s'mores?"
To which Charlotte replied (with mild exasperation)
"Molly, just because I had the chicken pox doesn't mean I've had every disease!"
I missed the actual telling of the story, but it was even hilarious secondhand. Poor Charlotte, always having to deal with the somewhat crazy Americans...

Voice of an Angel...in Audible Registers
Since Sara had come along, Christian's parents asked if she'd sing for us. Sara took her place, on a little raised part of the garden with us sitting at the large tables outside. It took her a moment to gain her composure, but she launched into a beautiful and sorrowful song in Italian. At the beginning, the neighbor's Arabians came out of the barn to investigate this new sound, with the pushy mare shoving the male horse to go first. Very pushy of her. However, that was just the beginning...Halfway through (and at apparently the most heartbroken of moments), Benny, the family dog, came over and decided to be friendly. This broke her concentration and she ended up laughing for a minute. After shooing him to go lie down, she continued uninterrupted until the very last notes, whereupon Benny (who seemed to think she was in distress) came over and started yowling a little bit with her. It was classic! I wish I could have captured it on video but my camera was upstairs.

Long Nights, Bright Lights and Good Company
The first night we had a little "bonfire" in the yard, with about 6 of Christian's high school friends showing up. There was no small amount of alcohol consumed and a small group of us stayed up until about 5 am. We decided that once the roosters started crowing and the sky lightened drastically that it was time to go to bed. Unfortunately, Emma accidentally pulled down the curtain rod when she was trying to adjust it, so we had a very bright room to sleep in.
The second night, Saturday, after dinner and watching the Croatia/Netherlands game, we headed down to the local pub. I found it amusing that it was located right next to the church, but apparently that's completely typical for small German villages. We met up with some more of Christian's friends and stayed out until 3:30. Another long night. I slept very well last night!

The Beach!
It does strike me as ironic that we went to the beach (inspired perhaps by my asking if we would) and I was the one to forget my swimsuit - along with Emma and Kayla. However, we did some improvising. Modesty is a lot easier to let go of when everyone around you is showing considerably more skin (topless bathing seems to be a popular habit in many women over 40 here, likewise older men in Speedos). So all I will say is that my first official 2 piece swimsuit won't be gracing the public's eye anytime soon in the US.

Anyhow, I should probably do some last moment things before Karin arrives tomorrow and look over homework - my first final in one class is in a week - but those were the hi-lights of my weekend in Aham. I'll get my pictures up soon, I hope.
Hope all is well,
Steph

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Future is Looming...


Hi all,
I just wanted to a make a quick post before I'm gone for the weekend! One of my floormate's parents invited us to his house this weekend and so after theater practice tonight I'll be gone until Sunday. I've been keeping pretty busy lately for upcoming events:

A Visit from Karin!
Karin is finishing her last final on Monday and is repaying my visit! (Karin is a friend from Denmark who studied at WHA when I was in 11th grade...) She's arriving very early Tuesday morning, so Kayla is going to go pick her up as I have classes. In honor of Karin coming my room got a good scrub-down and organizing. It's still far from perfect, but as I am living in it, it's to be expected! However, I do feel like I should receive major bonus points as I finally washed the floor - a first, although I have swept it a few times. At any rate, a few loads of laundry to have all-clean sheets in the room and I'm set! I don't really have anything planned, but we'll probably do a day trip or two to somewhere...

Theater Update
I am once again in the theater group this semester and our production dates are looming: 1-5 July. All but one of our characters are off-script and the last one (a large male-lead role...) is picking up his slack at a rapid rate. As it's an amateur/foreign student theater group there is a wide range in talent present, but I've really been impressed with how it's all coming together. I'd invite you all to come, but as it's a bit far and also in German, it's probably a hard sell huh?

Movin' in, Movin' out...
One of the biggest challenges I'm facing right now is finding an apartment with Eric. Luckily my Grandma and his aunt have been very helpful in going to look at places for us. It has proved impossible to find an affordable and well-kept apartment very near the University, but we've lately found a few options located closely to the local bus routes. Right now there's a clear winner, but I still have to discuss it with Eric. It's pretty much perfect except we'd have to probably pay an extra month's rent...although that may be better anyways as the leases are 12 month. Eric will be sticking around for 1.5 years, but I'm on target to graduate at the end of next year. Of course, what I'll do after that is entirely up in the air - and too far in the future to know yet!

On this side of the ocean, I just received my packet with a check-list for things to do before I leave. It's quite impressively long. It involves contacting my housing manager twice to set up an appointment to be checked out and then check out, disconnecting my internet, canceling my matriculation, canceling my insurance, closing my bank account and about 5 other things. However, I do have a 12 day window between my last final and my flight, so it should work out.

Anyhow, I should go pack and do some grocery shopping for Sunday, as I volunteered to cook Sunday dinner this week. Hope all is well, and Happy Birthday to my mom on the 22nd!
Hope all is well,
Steph

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quirks...

WARNING: NOT FOR THE WEAK OF STOMACH!


Hi all,
I just wish someone had warned me of this before I decided to have the peach for breakfast, because, honestly, that was a bit much for me. I still currently have 2 peaches languishing in my fridge...and from now on I'm sticking to bananas! Today's blog will be (if I can find all the random scribbled notes in my notebooks) on the quirky little things I've experienced in Germany. Starting with this morning...

Bus Annoyances
This morning, two of my pet peeves were present at the bus. At first, a lady was smoking and blowing it in such a way to waft directly into my face while climbing on the bus. Gross and not what I need when I'm barely awake. Secondly, the music. My Good Lord...the music. I understand the whole iPOD phenomenon now that I have one. Suddenly, you're in a bubble - your life has it's own soundtrack and you are in control. Who even knows what iPOD actually stands for? Not me.
So I googled it.
Apparently, it doesn't stand for anything, except "internet pod". How lame is that? I assumed the p stood for Personal. And it should. Because contrary to popular opinion, I do not - let me repeat that, do not want to overhear your crappy taste in tasteless pop/rap/etc music.
I sat down next to this girl today and literally (had I known the lyrics) could have had a sing-a-long. With all the volume leaking out of her headphones it's a miracle that she heard anything at all. Then, 3 rows back, Mr. Techno was jamming out loud enough for me to have a dance party. This is not good for my pent up aggression levels.
I derive happiness from the fact (and a sense of consolation) that they will both not be listening to their music in another 3 years as they will have gone deaf.

On the note of buses, including my Monday bus ride in particular, I have a "What?!?!" story to tell. About 3 weeks ago, I got on the bus and didn't take any notice of an older gentleman who'd also gotten on until I saw him using a mirror. To put on lipstick. Ok, you might say, the world is a different place - especially in different countries - than Good Ol' Minnesota. However, it was strange because he was very presentably dressed (nice, long-sleeved button-down shirt with dress pants) and didn't have any other sort of makeup on. Now, I would've written this off as a one-time oddity and shortly forgotten about it - until he got on the bus with me the next week. This time he proceeded to whip out his mirror and dry-shave his face for about 5 minutes. I mean, wouldn't that hurt? Plus, he looked shaved before he began.
This week, he disappointed me by being completely normal...but there's always next week!

Rulers...More than Just a Sexy Accessory
Wait, who says they're accessories? What a good question.
Wayyyyy back in October, I remember a friend (who happened to be a math major) explaining the "ruler phenomenon". That is, every time there was a need for a straight line to be drawn in notes: "swwwwwwwwsh", pencil bags (yes, everyone in the University has a pencil bag...) were opened and rulers whipped out. Nevermind the fact that they all take notes on gridded paper - in every subject. Now, you could be saying: "Ok, we all know math majors are a little wonky, and straight lines can be awfully important in Math". Fair enough.
How about in my castle/English class(es)?
Every single time that someone wants to underline a line of text (be it a header in their notes, or in the text we receive), out pops a ruler. And don't even get me started on hi-lighters...

"Open" American Professor
Due to a German friend's insistence that it'd be "fun" to take an English course together, I found myself in an 8:15 American Survey course. Now, I thought this would be a culture course - however I find myself thinking I can petition it into being an English course as all we do is analyze texts. The teacher comes from the US and is apparently infamous for never ever, stopping to talk. Nevermind the fact that there's supposed to be a 15-20 minute presentation each class or that he claimed it was supposed to be discussion oriented. Now, I'm ok with that, I really am as my brain refuses to function until at least 9. However, I started to notice a few weeks ago a new trend in his methods. He teaches barefoot.
He walks into class in his sandals, but somehow manages to step out of them in the course of the first few minutes of class (I have yet to catch him in the act, but I blame my numb brain) and proceeds to wander around the (carpeted) room, lecturing.
I really don't know what to make of it, it slightly blows my mind.

Upon reflection, perhaps this post should have been titled "A Rant on German Oddities", as I'm sure my displeasure was easy to read in passages. However, I mostly just quietly shake my head and wonder at the quirks I'm witness to. Perhaps earlier in the culture shock these occurrences would have made me wonder about the German psyche (and it's effects on foreigners). However, I know that annoying music-sharers are probably taking over the world's buses one at a time and that professors have to have their quirks to survive delivering the same mind-numbing information over and over and over and over. So I try to take it all with a bemused attitude and simply share it with you.

Hope all is well,
Steph







Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Czech Me Out - Prague!

Hi all,
Now, I'd like to be able to claim credit for that magnificient pun...however, as it was on every other t-shirt sold in Prague, I can't bring myself to do it. However, I hope you have a swell time Czech-ing out my photos. : p

The Trains...Oh the Trains...
Going and returning from Prague was a bigger deal than I expected. First we had to randomly get off our train in some smallish town (Officially being told that it was a "one-time" deal and it was due to train trouble - although other people we ran into had the same "one-time" experience...). Of course, the trains had the most horrendous brakes I've ever heard in my entire life, but after hearing it time and time again we came to the conclusion that it was the norm. Coming back we were delayed for over an hour, making me VERY happy to be back on Deutsche Bahn!

The Palace
The Palace complex was the first place we went after we got settled into our hostels and grabbed some quick lunch. Molly was a little wary about the meat quality in packaged sandwiches, causing me to laugh when she ended up buying a "Eurohotdog". After some misdirection on my part (and a poorly made map) we finally got up to the complex. There was the palace itself (the whole complex had been ripped down at least twice and burnt once, I believe), a Cathedral, a Basilica, a museum, a torture tower and a touristy avenue. Stefana and Charlotte got tired earlier than Molly and I and skipped the last few things. Charlotte was having flu-symptoms, which turned out to be (although fortunately not until we got home) the Chicken Pox. At any rate, I have numerous pictures for your viewing pleasure.

After dinner (below), we walked across the Charles Bridge. It was still a little under construction, but we got some great sunset pictures and saw some interesting things:


Dinners
The first night we'd decided to do a nice traditional dinner - until Stefana and I balked at the 18 euro a dish restaurant Molly had found in the guide book. We found another place around the corner and I for one had a very good meal. Very bad service, as they brought me first carbonated water (and everyone else the correct water) and then the wrong entree! And I hate sending food back!
The second night we struck gold at a place right across from our hostel - Stefana enjoyed a half liter of beer for the equivalent of one euro! (They're on the Czech Kroner which is roughly 25 to 1 euro.) We managed to all have food and drinks (and sometimes more than one) for under 35 euros - it was amazing. Plus the food was very good, albeit incredibly garlicky.

Kutna Hora
There is a tiny side-trip recommended in my guidebook. Molly and I set off Saturday morning (and after some more train "excitement") and went to a town about an hour out of Prague. We went to an Ossuary - a church decorated with the bones from around 40,000 Plague victims. Here's the video I shot before my camera died:

Wallenstein Gardens

Sunday morning Stefana and Charlotte left early, and Molly and I went to the Wallenstein Gardens and the Mucha Museum (famous for his French play-boards and used lots of female models). We got into the center a little early, so we walked along the river, saw the outside of the Kafka museum (have to go back some day for that!) and back over the Charles Bridge. We got into the gardens as soon as it opened, and had fun wandering around gawking at the statues, aviary, stage and finally...this:



Just for Niamh
Niamh happened to once make the very unfortunate comment of "Didn't Unicorns exist?", right after we'd discussed the possible sources for the myth (mainly, Narwhal tusks). So When I saw this picture opportunity, I just had to seize it:

Here, Niamh, is where all the Unicorns have gone!

Hope all is well and this didn't take FOREVER to download because of all the videos!
Steph

Friday, June 6, 2008

I should be packing...



...But I'm writing this post instead. And, because I'm a dork, I will be trying out the automatic post setting so this goes up tomorrow instead of today. I'm leaving on a 6:23 AM train to Prague tomorrow, but I thought I'd put up some castle pics from the last 2 weeks. I'll try inserting some, and then you can follow the link to the album - as my Salzburg pics haven't been up that long!

Leuchtenberg

The first castle we went to last week was the castle Molly was giving her report on (with another guy). She was pretty nervous but did a really good job. Leuchtenberg has been preserved/partially reconstructed and is actually used as a theater. It apparently attracts over 30,000 visitors a summer. It had a terrifically tall tower and an incredible out-look.

Flossenberg
The second castle was almost entirely in ruins. It was definitely reconstructed, but it also had a great outlook. There wasn't anything very special about this one - until Konnie, a good friend of Christine and a very helpful translator in the class - told us some back-history. See this picture?
If you look closely, you'll notice that starting in the middle of the picture, the houses all have very unique (and nice-looking) stone bases. I pointed these out to Kevin (who came along as he was still in Regensburg) and wondered aloud about them. Konnie came over and said that the instructor had told her that they were the SS Officer's houses. In one of the other more zoomed-out pictures you can see both a watch tower and the stone quarries where the "work camp" prisoners were forced to work. Apparently the town only very recently (within the last 5 years) finally erected a memorial to the camp workers. Apparently, one the most famous of Germany's war-time Lutheran (who later founded the "Confessing Church") Pastors -Dietrich Bonhoeffe - was imprisoned and eventually died there - tortuously hung to death in so brutal a manner that wikipedia claims that the "Wehrmacht soldiers were loathe to watch". He had been part of the failed assassination plot against Hitler and had actually returned to Germany to minister, knowing that he faced almost certain death.

Woerth
This lovely castle has been extensively remodeled into a retirement home. Much of the exterior was preserved, along with selective other areas of the inside. We saw the prisons, the church and the beautiful round room:


Molly is standing in front of one of the windows in a red-armed, white shirt and Konnie is sitting down in a red shirt near the end - she has short blond hair. At the end frame you can see a very tall and gangly red-headed man (in his early 30's) and next to him a short, stout and gray-headed man. Those are our two Professors. Sorry if it makes you dizzy!
The tour was somewhat marred by the fact that two "hobby-historians" accompanied us and kept interrupting the report-givers - and then only speaking in Bavarian! Sigh.

Donauruine

The last castle was that of a ruin that is perched high about the Donau. From it's lookout, you can see Regensburg. My camera died before I could take pictures of the monster thistles (taller than me!) but you should be able to get an idea from the picture. Apparently it was the stereotypical "Romantic" castle, with huge palatial living quarters and was heavily fortified. I believe the Swedes burned it down during the 30 years war.

Anyhow, I should really pack now as I have to get up in 6 hours. Hope you enjoyed the pictures/movie and a little bit of castle history!
Hope all is well,
Steph

Monday, June 2, 2008

I've got the whole world...on an egg.


Hi all,
So, apparently the castle post will be a double whammy with tomorrow's (whenever that gets posted!) First and foremost, happy June! You may have noticed, in honor of my reaching 9 months, I put on a new "countdown" timer for when I get back. Although there are times twinged with homesickness, I'm not looking forward to the multiple goodbyes as we all trickle back home.
However, enough of that sadness...

Salzburg
On Friday morning Jake, Amanda, Molly and I all left slightly before 11AM to Salzburg. Although Salzburg IS in Austria, we can use the Bayern ticket to get there - so it cost us all of 7 euros each! We also planned ahead and bought one for the way back. The heat was swelteringly oppressive on Friday, and we were glad to be in the relatively cool comfort of the train during the hottest part. We got in shortly after 2PM and bought a 24 hour pass for public transportation. We caught a bus to the stop nearest to our hostel and navigated there successfully. It was a Family/Youth Hostel and was definitely the nicest one I've been in so far. Of course, it was also the most expensive (at around 30 euros), but included a decent breakfast - plus our own private room with private bathroom.

Soccer Mania
The most noticeable thing in Salzburg was the heavy amount of UEFA (soccer championship) advertising, as Austria is co-hosting the cup with Switzerland this year. There were signs, posters welcoming visitors and teams and sport-paraphernalia everywhere! Luckily, it doesn't start for a few days, otherwise we'd never have gotten a room at all!

Churches
Molly likes Churches. A lot. Now, I'm a fan of churches - they're big, beautiful and usually very cool (architecturally and temperature-wise) inside. However, Molly is hardcore and so we visited at least five during our stay. This was fine, as we could always just sit and bask in the beauty and cool-ness, but it did make me a tad grouchy when lunch got put off for several hours. But, then again, if we didn't see it the first time we walked past, we probably wouldn't have gone back. Consequentially, we also saw two wedding parties. On the second day, we were sitting outside of a church (in the shade of a fountain) while Molly was in a catacomb. It was a typical wedding, with some guests in the traditional garb. However, the first day we came across a wedding party (already married), and were surprised to overhear that they were all British! Of course, the city was absolutely crawling with English-speaking tourists - I know I heard more English than German - so I shouldn't have been surprised.

Mirabell Gardens and Milk
It may be that you unknowingly missed out on the exciting "International Milk Day" - I.M.D. - celebration in your corner of the world (or, gasp, perhaps were unaware that there in fact is an International Milk Day, let alone anyone who actually celebrates it), but it was on Friday. The timing was especially ironic, as we found out when we got to Regensburg, as Bayern is experiencing a milk-strike. This is unlikely to affect me, as I could probably buy 4 cartons of milk that will last me for the next 2 months and keep them in my room until I needed them! At any rate, we visited the Mirabell Gardens (built by a "celibate" clergyman for his lover and their children) and found - and naturally posed with - possibly the coolest tree I've ever seen. Also, there was an extensive rose garden and several other sections filled with disturbing dwarf statues. It was also in the park that we fell in love with Salzburg - they have "trinkwasser"! Or, in plain English...water fountains! Talk about exciting, although perhaps pathetic, but they simply do NOT exist in Germany!

Back to the I.M.D. though. When we came back to the park later at night, a concert was in full swing. We could have paid 2 euros to get in, but decided to sit up on a park bench above the park. We'd missed the white-dressed memo, which apparently got you in for free. Perhaps we even missed out on free milk...However, we had purchased our own beverage of choice and have a lovely time sitting, talking, and listening to the sometimes-strange music.

Hohenburg Salzburg and Funiculating!
The first time I heard Sara (who'd been to Salzburg) say "funiculate", I swore it was a dirty word I'd never heard. Fortunately, it's a name for a tram sort of thing that runs up the side of a hill leading to the big fortress/palace in central Salzburg. The train itself is called a "Funicular" and it shoots you up the mountain, saving you quite the hike. The 10 euro fee also included our museum(s)/castle entrance and it was pretty interesting. The lookouts were amazing, and we wound our way through the fortress and saw the Marionette Museum (which creeped both Amanda and Jake out...they're not doll people). We also went into the fortress museum (where the second story was the boy's doll museum, aka uniforms of Salzburg/Austria through the ages modeled on dolls) and saw everything from old musical instruments, to weapons to invasion schematics. Very worth our while.

Egg-sellent!
While wandering down the major touristy streets, we happened across the most amazing store I've ever seen (or at least a dead tie with FAO Schwartz, NY). It was packed full of hand-painted, blown eggs. Hundreds upon thousands were stacked up. Molly got some pictures, and as my camera's batteries were dead I stole some of hers for the slideshow. My egg is the profile picture...pretty cool huh? Although, Max (Britain) wasn't very impressed with accuracy of the cartography. I won't say how much I paid for this weightless beauty, but it was well worth it I think!

Anyhow, I have some other small tidbits, but as this post is getting long enough (and I have a million pictures to sort through) I'm going to let it go for now.
Hope all is well!
Steph

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crazies....everywhere...


Hi all,
Now, I'm beginning to think you're spoiled...2 posts in as many days. Ridiculous. However, I got a little help from my apt mates on this one - and I hope it makes you smile!

Introduction
In bigger towns, it seems like there are "crazies" everywhere. Yes, some of them are unfortunately homeless and probably have mental problems, but there are also quite a few eccentric people out there. I would like to say that I don't think that these people are to be laughed at, but I hope you can laugh with the people who experienced these stories.

Jake
I think Jake started out telling his story tonight. At first it sounded like one of his crazy dreams - we often swap crazy-dream stories the next morning/day when we see each other. Anyways, it wasn't!
Jake was waiting at a crowded bus stop at the university, wearing a green t-shirt and jeans. He was approached by a man dressed in a nice outfit, including a vest, and was carrying a briefcase. He started talking to Jake, who could tell immediately that the guy was more than a little off. He was talking in Bavarian, and when it became very clear to Jake that the guy wasn't going to go away Jake very politely said in German that he didn't understand the guy. The guy had become very excited, and in the process of talking to Jake had ripped off his vest and thrown in down onto the ground. Even more excited he exclaimed "Englander! Englander!", until Jake corrected him and told him he was American. While this was going on, Jake was too embarrassed to look around to see if anyone was watching.

Next, the guy starts relating the story (Jake assumes it was the same one as in Bavarian) and it had to do with people wearing shirts in the Czech Republic. Jake heard him out, and was baffled by the fact that the guy seemed to speak perfect English...with an Irish accent. This is very odd for Germany, as most schools teach in British or American English and no one had ever heard of someone learning Irish English. Next the guy started telling Jake a riddle, although Jake was completely confused and didn't know how to respond. Finally, Jake was able to escape to his bus, but not without a few hearty claps on the back and a goodbye of "Good man! Good man!"
Jake still is not quite sure to make of all this, but was glad to hear of other's experiences...

Charlotte
Charlotte has a running-joke (horrible pun...sorry) about when she goes jogging that she ALWAYS sees the same homeless man wherever she runs. Like on an almost day-to-day basis and she doesn't seem to keep her route or necessarily even time of her run consistent. Moreover, he always is on the bench she was looking forward to taking a rest at. Tonight was a whole new experience, as he happened to show up to buy a doener at the same place she did! Her tandem partner was with and says he has a habit of coming to her bakery and checking to see who's working every day, so Charlotte was relieved to find out he had other pursuits to merely hogging benches.

However, Charlotte is far too special of an individual to have just one special crazy in her life. She said that one day as she was running (again, with the running?) she was approached very politely by a clearly-homeless man and asked if she'd like to go drink coffee (in German of course). She equally politely turned him down, and after she told this story, the following conversation took place at the table tonight:

Charlotte: "He was really a polite crazy...but still crazy"
Sara: "Crazy people need love too...but not from us"

It doesn't look as funny in type, but give Charlotte a lovely British accent (with a twinge of Welsh) and a deadpanned reaction from Sara, and you can't help but to smile!

To Be Fair...
To be utterly fair, I'm sure everyone has made their fair share of word/grammar/usage language mistakes that leaves others rubbing their heads or stifling (sometimes completely unsuccessfully) giggles. Sara and Vaso both recently had such incidences.

Sara
Sara was spending a long weekend in Berlin with some family this past weekend. As their sole German-connection, she was questioning a friendly waitress one night to find out where the nearest grocery store was. Unfortunately, she had a bit of a brainfreeze and asked where the closest "Lebensmittel einladen" was. The word she was looking for was "Supermarkt" - German cognates can be deceptively tricky... While Lebensmittel (literally food) was an all right choice, her unfortunate choice of sticking the separable prefix of "ein" in front of "laden" turned laden from "shop" into "invitation". (I know, I know....I don't know either!). Apparently the waitress got a rather confused look on her face for a moment, but quelled any reaction and very helpfully pointed Sara on her way. So Sara just did a mental-slap a few minutes later when she inwardly ran through the conversation. It happens...all the time to all of us!

Vaso
Now, it's been a few weeks since I've heard this story, so I might be summarizing - but it's just as hilarious as when I heard it!
Vaso is from Greece and is a good friend of mine who often comes to our Sunday dinner (and when she cooks...it's divine!) and since it's with mainly native English-speakers, converses in English with us. The other night she was nudged into sharing a story by one of the other girls.
Apparently a few weeks ago, a few girls went to Munich to buy dirndls, because they'd heard there was a shop where you could get a good-looking one for under 100 euros. They found the shop and were soon trying on dresses and getting opinions. Apparently Siobhain (Ireland) came out of the dressing room and was asking for opinions. Vaso said "I really like the turkey one!"

Vaso, unfortunately, had made the mistake of substituting the word turkey for a color not far from sounding the same - turquoise. To make matters worse, she got flustered and forgot the word for "apron" and "apricot" came out. She endured the laughter good-naturedly, and was laughing the loudest as she bashfully retold the tale. This beat the "inky-fish" tale by miles...another situation where she adamantly denied that "inky-fish" were octopi and was absolutely correct - the fish she was referring to is related too the octopus but is actually a "cuttle-fish".
However, considering that Vaso is very near fluent in English (not to mention quite good at German) I would be proud to know enough of a third language to be able to make such mix-ups!

Anyhow, I also went to castles today, but this post is quite long enough as it is. I want to thank everyone who allowed me to steal a little bit of their experiences

Also, I was just looking for a random picture to post for this (as the topic conversation is limited, I just chose Siobhain in her "turkey" dirndl) and found a blog of someone else who came to Regensburg on about exactly the same day. Weird no?
Anyhow, I hope all is well,
Steph

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bamberg and Dult Action


Hi all,

Time for another mini-update with pictures. Well, for part of it anyways...

Bamberg and Kevin
This Thursday, Kevin, a friend of Eric and mine from UND came to visit. Eric lived with him last year, but I knew him through German class. He'd flown into Frankfurt and had spent a few days in Fulda, a town north-east of Frankfurt. We'd looked into going to Salzburg, but decided we didn't want to go overnight, so Bamberg was chosen. Bamberg is about a 2 hour regional train ride from Regensburg. We ended up taking an 11:20am train with Eric, Vaso, Kevin and myself. Eric is having some allergy/sinus crap, so he wasn't the happiest camper. A trip to the local drugstore helped though. We really didn't have a plan - just to walk around and take in the sights.

We saw some amazing churches - including their Cathedral. It was very unusual since it had been reconstructed after being bombed and so had an interesting mixture of modern(ish) art. Also interesting was that there was a lot of woodwork and unusual organ placement (shown in slideshow). The Old Rathaus (meeting place for the town council/mayor) was suspended over the river on a bridge and was quite gorgeous on the outside. Also interesting was the rose garden, although only one tiny section was flowering, so that might warrant a trip back in a month or so -whenever roses bloom in Germany!

It was kind of funny though. We went into this courtyard that used to be where the Kaiser other important people had a quarter to stay in. A mother positioned her daughter - who was about 7, I'd guess - up a flight of stairs in front of a Gothic-style door (pointy at the top, remember?). She kept telling her daughter
"Spitz Marian, Spitz!"
She was trying to get her daughter to keep her hands up over head in the shape of a Gothic structure. She went at this for a full 3 minutes trying to get her daughter in the perfect position, yelling at her to spitz the whole time. This made me ponder aloud if she might regret that choice of language in about 7 years or so - have to be careful what you ask for!

The last cool thing that we saw before we left Bamberg was on display in a small restaurant. As we were walking by we noticed a book filled with pictures of the Dalai Lama and a note. Apparently he'd been in Bamberg less than a week before we had! Though Angela Merkel (the Bundeskanzlerin) and the Bundespraisident were both gone because they can't show too open of support for Tibet. But that was pretty cool.

Dult
Since Kevin had no idea what the Dult was, and since it's the last night (since it ends early tonight and people have class/work tomorrow) we went again. We sat in a different tent and found a new source of entertainment. In the middle of the tent the supporting pole is about 25 feet high and very polished. They'd attached a bell to the top of the pole and a rope hung down about 3 feet. This left about 20 feet from the ground to the bell, maybe slightly less. The object was to put on a climbing harness and scale the pole and ring the bell - resulting in a mass of beer - a whole liter. We were first sitting at a table directly under the pole and it was soon made clear that the guys in lederhosen had a clear advantage. Most would also go up barefoot. However, a girl with a dirndl gave it a try (and the guys are nicer to the girls, giving them a huge boost up) and actually made it! Those with the highest success rate were kids under the age of 12 (both boys and girls) who shimmied right up the pole. Rob, a British friend also gave it a try. Apparently he'd tried early on in the Dult and hadn't made it (although who knows the level of sobriety that was present) but redeemed himself with a hard-won ascent. All in good fun

I also took the plunge and ordered my first mass of beer - and surprised myself by managing to drink it! It took 9 months, but I think I finally did my German heritage proud!

Anyhow, I should probably go and find some way to be productive...
Hope all is well,
Steph