Monday, April 28, 2008

Spring Has Sprung Springingly

Hey Everyone,

So, I realize that I probably shouldn't have said I'll post more often right before I go away for the weekend. Also not helping is the fact that I came down sick...but more on that below.

Theater Weekend Retreat
I must admit that this weekend was a lot less hard-core. I had to ride the train this time, with 10 other people, because there weren't as many drivers available. We went to the tiny town of Abtschlag - about 2 hours by train. It was slightly funny because no one noticed we had 11 people, we just assumed we had 10 until we got to the town - we'd only bought 2 Bayern tickets that were good for 10 people total! Our theater instructor Christine had a good laugh over that. The first night I went to bed around 1:30, unfortunately the walls were like paper and it was impossible to sleep for an hour. I hadn't been feeling 100%, my joints were hurting a bit and my neck was sore. The next evening my symptoms exploded - I was simultaneously feeling fevered and chills. I got mothered by Sara and whisked off to a different room that Andy (the other instructor) gave up for me. I'm pretty sure I had a fever, but it broke by the next (Sunday) morning. After 11 hours of sleep, I woke up with a killer headache and no voice. I had some tea and took an early train back with a couple of other people. I got back to Regensburg by noon, took medicine and slept for 7 more hours...However, today I am feeling much improved and will continue to get lots of sleep, water, vitamins, decongestants, allergy medicine and cough drops pumped into my system. Yay.

On a less Depressing Note
Spring has sprung in Regensburg. Yesterday and today were delightfully (and unfortunately, headache-inducing) sunny and warm. The trees have all frantically shot out their leaves and the grass and flowers are growing rampantly. The fountains have gurgled back to life, the pigeons are obnoxiously wooing outside our windows and the statues have come out of their boxes. And since it's the season for new beginnings, two more strikes are on. It is rumored that the train
strike is actually over. However, the buses and the post are on strike. This doesn't effect me really, as the only mail I normally get is from the bank and that's all they are not delivering. Apparently they just want to hurt the businesses. A German naively asked me what happens when our post goes on strike (which they're not allowed to do, under federal law) and I told them that we don't have the expression "Going Postal" for nothing and we don't like to tempt fate.

The Pant Dilemma
I have decided to try to make do with my 2 remaining pairs of pants and my two pairs of capris. I also have some springy dresses and a skirt or two, but let's not kid ourselves people. I will try to save myself the 30-60 euros for something important. Like icecream on hot days when it's too hot to breathe in my room.

Teaching English Conversation
So, I have had 2 sessions teaching my group of high-school aged kids English conversation. I had 8 the first week and it was a bit awkward at first. They hadn't gone to the last scheduled meeting, so Molly hadn't been able to tell them that she probably wouldn't be teaching them the next semester. Also, the kid (literally, about 7...) who was supposed to meet me and take me to the room apparently couldn't figure out who I was. So I had to find it myself, with a phone call from Molly. There weren't a ton of awkward pauses, I had brought along a bunch of questions (ie. if you got stuck on a dessert island, what 3 things would you bring? etc) and did a couple of other activities. We played 2 truths and a lie, which went over well and then tried to do a current event (which went However, the hour passed swiftly and I felt assured that YES I COULD do this.
The second week only 3 showed up, but the others should be back next week (they/we have a holiday this Thursday). I had quizzed them about adverbs and nouns the week before as a set up to Madlibs. They loved them. I also had printed out an adverb list with such gems as lackadaisical and abhorrent (along with much easier ones), so they maybe learned some new vocab as well. We also played Never Ever Have I Ever...and that was fun as well. I had planned to do a fill-in-the-blank lyrics sheet, but we didn't have time. So that's going well!

Anyhow, I have some homework to read through for until next time!
Ps. The pic is me all dolled up for Molly and Emma's B-day Extravaganza where...I think I look weird without any bangs...but I did my hair myself!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Starting a series of short posts...

Hi "all"
Anyhow, I'm not going to even get into that. I am, however, going to try to be a better blogger and try to post every other day or so. It'll help me not forget little things (that are probably funny and I forget about) and make it seem like less of an ordeal for me.

The Bane of My Life...
I have decided that I can blame society (and thank Global Warming) for supporting one of the most difficult areas of my life - clothing. If public nudity was allowed (along with encouraged by a semi-tropical climate) I'd be a much happier person.
I'll be the first to admit I'm picky about clothing, but my body shape doesn't help me out any either. The most traumatic shopping experiences of my life were probably prom dresses...which is why the instant I found my last prom dress (about 7 months before prom) I bought that sucker. However, a close second to those ordeals is always jean shopping. I HATE buying new jeans. I have hips and I'm tall and the very thought of non-bootcut jeans my make my ankles want to crawl up and seek refuge in my stomach. I refuse to let them, as it would be hard to keep my balance without my ankles.
At any rate, due to the harsh washing conditions in Germany and to the trip with my rents, I have walked through one pair of jeans in the last month, and another pair (making them my 2 favorite pairs, of course) is tentatively hanging on by it's last threads. (Yes, a pun...groaning yet?). So I thought to myself - "Something should be done!". Luckily, Sara's dad and partner are coming in May, and Sara said that Kris would very likely (and very graciously) be willing to bring a pair of jeans from the US if I ordered online and shipped to her house. So far, super...right? Ok. Let's start listing the problems....but first - the reasons why I'm not buying jeans here...

1. Remember that ankle/tight jeans phobia? Skinny jeans are THE JEANS here....ahhhhhh
2. Clothing is very expensive...even at H &M where they use child labor (which Eric argues prevents child is a founded belief...)
3. I know what I like.

So here are the problems...
1. I have searched the entire web and both styles of jeans (one Mossimo and one Levi's) have been discontinued. In fact, they don't even have the same label for Mossimo anymore.
2. I don't know my size for sure in any other model = even the 2 pairs are different sizes!

I wish I had a happy ending...but I don't. Or a twin that could try on jeans in the US for me. And all I really want is Levi Signature stretch lowrise bootcut jeans size misses 8 long Dusty Road-colored. Is that too much to ask for?
Any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Random Topics of Interest = Steph De-stressing!

Hi all!
So, I don't have anything terribly exciting to talk about, although I'm sure you weren't expecting a blog entry so soon! Anyhow, here's a few little quips about life with me...

3 Meals a Day?!?!
Ok, so, I might have been a little lazy for the past few months (although also thrifty...) and I was basically only eating two meals a day (one around 1 pm and the other around 8 pm) as I was practically nocturnal. However, I set up a bit of a challenge and now not only am I striving to take a vitamin daily and ingest three meals, I'm also trying to eat red meat twice a week. I've become a sort of involuntary vegetarian, as meat has to be purchased with a plan. Most of my meals come from items I've learned to stock and are semi-quick. However, sometime in December/January I started to notice that my stomach was NOT happy whenever I ate red meat, ranging from slightly queasy to You Probably Don't Want to Know. During the month of March with Chris and my parents around I actually ate some more red meat and so that seems to be going ok now - I had spaghetti with meat sauce with Dinkel pasta. Dinkel has the pleasant connotation of being whole-grain, but somehow seems tastier under this title, and I honestly loved it a lot. Anyhow, I really wouldn't have a problem cutting red meat out of my diet, but I really think I've been lacking in iron (and other sources such as spinach and beans are harder to use in my diet and more expensive/time consuming). I'm trying to self-motivate myself into actual exercise, but I might settle for 1-2 bike rides a week and walking from campus to town a few times a week once the weather evens out. We'll see...

In Which Steph Inherits a Job...sorta.
So, I had been trying (literally for months, exhaustively through e-mails) to get a job involving English conversation. As soon as I abandoned designs on ever achieving a job, one lands in my lap. Since the Colorado kids actually have an adviser on campus, he steers them into jobs. Luckily for me (and Eric), most of them have vastly different schedules this semester and won't be able to continue their English Conversation Course at a local high school. The job is incredibly easy (or hard...) - all I have to do is get 14-16 year old boys and girls to talk in English. Although my group apparently has 2 very radical teenage boys and so the students are not allowed (under any circumstances, says Molly - the girl who's day I got teaching) to pick their own topics. So, my first day is tomorrow, and it's only for an hour. I figure we'd do the "Get to know you" day, and try an ice-breaker or two. Honestly, after Upward Bound I think I can handle just about anything. As long as they don't ask me to sing.

Class...or Not...
I realize I am using an absurd amount of ellipses, but really, with the way my English is going down the tubes, it's not only a reflection on my state of mind, but is also indicative of the chaos that I call my life in the first week of classes. Or non-classes, as it happened for the SECOND time this week. However, at least the secretary came and told us that our professor was "sick" - although a lot of professors seem to be "sick" conveniently and the beginning and end of the semester. So, once again I had gotten up at a completely unreasonable hour, to find out my 8:30 class was canceled. So Eric and I coerced Kim (Korea) into going to breakfast - does a sandwich count as breakfast? We always speak English with Kim, which is actually probably far more valuable to him than German will be. I pestered him with questions (not that I've ever done that to anyone before, right mom?? : p) about topics from school to Korean funeral traditions. I now am a repository of funeral etiquette (ie, from bowing to a picture frame of the deceased twice - the only time you bow twice in Korea- to the fact that superstition is rampant and many people have dreams of the deceased coming back and telling them to move their graves from water, which they do by dowsing...). So, I actually did some learning at 9 in the morning.

Britain's Got Talent 2008 Episode 1
Ok, so I kinda got sucked into I'm going to post a few videos from the 2 most amazing acts I saw... they should be on the bottom. The kid's voice is so amazing it gave me goosebumps, and the dog trainer probably has no human friends or a life...but WOW. Enjoy!

In Which Steph Begins a New Obsession
I was reading an article I found through (great for boredom and random dinner conversation = perfect for Steph) and I found an article on African Pygmy Hedgehogs being the new rage in England. What are they, exactly? They're little balls of pure-magicness and I thoroughly succumbed to being enamored with them this afternoon. As I type, the cost of 190.00 is slowly shocking me less and less. They're just so darn Cute. (As you can see above...awwww). And yes, Mom, it is a rodent...and it's nocturnal....and expensive....sigh. Want Want Want Want Want....and it's much more realistic than the chickens I wanted to hatch a few years ago. I guess I'll have to wait until I'm back in the US and see how much time (and money...) I have to commit. Although they are pretty ideal for apts and college students, as they wake up in the evening and only need a little room to romp in. Guess I'll just have to see...

Steph Finally Passes Muster
I finally had something to call home about yesterday (although I refrained, since last time I called my mom with news she freaked out in a minor way, automatically suspecting something terrible...obviously I've been calling home a whole I went to retrieve my English paper -finally- from my English lecturer. I was a little apprehensive because I wasn't sure what kind of possibly-impossible grading scale I might be facing as I was American and I supposedly know English. However, I was shocked to discover my grade... a 1,0! (A+). The best part was the fact that I got to choose a topic completely not covered in the course - Heinlein's Science Fiction and his Female characters not fitting classic literary archetypes (dork...dork...dork...) Damn, I just set off the "Dork Alarm" on my blog. I bet you didn't even know they had one....

Ok guys, I'm sure that was disjointed and about as random as I could get. But, um, one last request. I always say hello to everyone and refer to my readers in the plural (which, considering I know my Mom, Dad and Grandma read this, is probably technically correct), but it makes me anyone ELSE out there? You could leave a comment with a "Hi" or'd pretty much make my day...
Take Care,

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Last Leg...

Hello Everyone,
I'm going to insert the last bit of the trip now -from Innsbruck to Regensburg - and then add a few miscellaneous tidbits at the end. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26th

We woke up after sleeping in a bit and headed down to a sumptuous breakfast. After filling up, we set out to explore Innsbruck. After rambling around the downtown touristy area, we had visited the Swarovski outlet (very pretty…and expensive), a very interesting rock shop, seen the Goldens Dachl (Golden Roof) and set out for a little hike across the bridge – hoping to find lunch. As we climbed and climbed the steep streets, we found ourselves passing by churches and schools. Pausing to take a break, Steph launched an impromptu snowball fight with Dave. We ended up trekking back down to the tourist area to have lunch, enjoying wiener schnitzel with potato salad and apple strudel for dessert at the Elferhaus Restaurant. Afterwards we searched out the Triumphpforte (triumphal gate) and the Dom zu St. Jakob (which is, oddly enough, the church of St. James in English). After a quick poke into the local market, we took up our bags and proceeded back to the train station. After a cold wait (after picking up some provisions) while flipping through Sandy’s pictures and seeing the Oriental Express train make a stop, we were on our way to Munich and Regensburg. It was a bit after 10 pm when we arrived in Regensburg and Steph led the march to her apartment. After the 3 flights of stairs and setting up in her tiny room, we were all ready to head to bed.

18,702 steps (6.19 miles)

Thursday, March 27th

After a night’s sleep on the airbed, a request for breakfast was made. As Steph had no food in the kitchen, she ran to the nearest grocery store and even brought back coffee for Dave. After a filling Bavarian breakfast of bread, cheese and yogurt with muesli, a load of laundry was done and we set out to explore. As Steph led us throughout the city, we got to see a great many churches. The first one Steph led us to was the Cathedral, which is a copy of Köln’s. The Cathedral was in Gothic style – a first for our trip. It’s rumored that the Pope wants to be (or that Regensburg wants him to be) buried there when he dies. Those Germans, always planning ahead… After a rather roundabout trip, Steph got us to the Roman arch that has been carefully preserved. Next we saw the giant fresco of David and Goliath – a status symbol painted on the largest building in the city at the time. Next we went on the stone bridge, which gave us a good view of the town and river. Our next destination was the Thurn and Taxis palace/brewery for a palace tour. Steph got a little lost trying to find the entrance (as she’d only been to the church there before) but we made it with 5 minutes to spare before the 2 o’clock tour. Unfortunately, the tour was completely sold out. So we went to Ganesha – an Indian restaurant with a lunch special that Steph loves. We had tandoori oven bread and Steph and Dave had the lamb in almond curry sauce and Sandy a chicken dish with grilled vegetables and the same sauce. Afterwards, we caught the bus back and walked to the palace. We couldn’t take any pictures, but the tour group was very small – just 6 people including the guide and us! Since it isn’t peak tourist season, the tour was only given in German and we were given the audio headsets. Steph tried to switch back and forth initially, but as the tape players had no fast forward she soon found herself committed to the German guide. She surprisingly did very well – catching up to 70 percent total, she thinks. The audio tours were ok, but the guide seemed much more animated and in depth. The Thurn and Taxis family was quite the group we discovered, thick with independent women (two sisters swapped who they were suppose to marry!) and interesting stories of heirs marrying the gardener’s daughter, for example. Afterwards, we spent some time packing up the extra suitcase and resting our feet. (Steph is trying to make her trip back home a bit less bulky!) We played some cards and after a traditional Bavarian dinner (weisswurst, pretzels, sauerkraut, potato salad and bier) we got to meet some of Steph’s friends, including Eric. We ended up going to Steph’s favorite pub, Murphy’s Law, where Dave tried Strongbow. However, it wasn’t too late a night and we were all tired after another long day.

14,986 steps (4.96 miles)

Friday, March 28th

We slept in a little but got moving in time to make a trip to Steph’s University. It was pretty much as she said it was – gray and utilitarian. Apparently Regensburg University has the distinction of being named the ugliest university campus in Germany! We got to meet her leaders from her intensive language class group and enjoyed the spring weather and sunshine. We then had Döner (this is a Turkish sandwich of pork or mutton with veggies and a yogurt sauce in a pita-type bread) for lunch at Lara’s – the neighborhood place that’s widely acknowledged (at least by students) to be the best place for Döner in the altstadt city center. Afterwards Steph treated us to ice cream at her favorite gelato place. We had a few hours to burn before we took our train back, so after we were all packed we played a few rounds of cribbage. (Sandy didn’t win, as usual!) We got to the train station plenty early and talked until we boarded the train. It was tough to say goodbye to Steph but good to know that 4 months isn’t that far away. The trip to Frankfurt was uneventful, though Dave and Sandy did miss their translator Steph. They managed to get off at the right train station and navigated to the ground transportation to catch the shuttle to the Intercity Airport Hotel.

8583 steps (2.84 miles)

Saturday, March 29th

Dave and Sandy were up early enough to have a nice breakfast at the hotel and then catch the 7:45 shuttle to the airport – plenty of time!! Wrong! The lines and several checkpoints along the way caused them to arrive at their gate area only about 15 minutes before the plane started boarding for the 10:20am flight. The flight to Detroit was again smooth with no napping. Upon arrival in Detroit, it was off to US Customs. Dave realized that his passport was not with him and that he’d probably left it somewhere on the plane. A NWA person went back to the plane and retrieved the passport from the overhead bin and we were in a slow-moving line once again. Next stop was to collect the checked luggage and bring it over to be rechecked. Just one final checkpoint! This was when Sandy realized that she had in her carryon bag a 200 ml bottle of Grappa which she had neglected to inform anyone of all day long. It apparently was no problem here either because we were soon through that checkpoint and ready to move to our gate for the final leg of the trip from Detroit to MSP. The aromas coming from a Jose Cuervo restaurant enticed them in for beer and nachos before the flight. The arrival in MSP was without incident and they caught the shuttle to the Ramada Mall of America Hotel which is conveniently located a short walk away from IKEA. The NCAA basketball tournaments were on TV and they lasted less than 30 minutes before falling asleep, only to awaken bright-eyed at 4:30am. They had breakfast at the hotel as soon as the restaurant opened at 7am and, in Steph’s honor, Dave and Sandy walked to IKEA and browsed the whole store. Then they hung out and waited for Jamie and Jennie to arrive around noon. After a quick drop-off at Carleton and lunch at Sweet Lou’s Waffle Bar, Sandy and Dave concluded the European journey with the drive back to Walker.

5787 steps (1.92 miles)

The Weather

So, as the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, so too is the weather always nicer on the other side of the globe. I'm pretty sure it hit in the 70's here today and yesterday - with plenty of sunshine. This is a rather sharp contrast to the 30 inches of snow or so that recently hit Walker, so I thought I'd gloat a little.

First Day of Classes

Well, today was in fact my first day of class for my Summer Semester. I managed to drag myself out of bed (with the "help" of two alarms) at the lovely hour of 6:45AM...a time not known to me for at least...4 months? A LONG TIME, at any rate. I even showered. I met the other 3 girls in my German Culture class after 1945 and we found the first lecture hall without many problems. Unfortunately, it took Eric 45 minutes to find the room - sauntering in at 8:30, for the 8 o'clock class. As he came in he mouthed that I'm dead to him, but I gave him a chunk of banana bread, so I think all was forgiven. Class wasn't all that exciting really, as the teacher never showed up. Well, if he/she showed up, it was after the 50 minutes of waiting we did. We thought perhaps we'd mis-read the schedule and that class started next week, although the internet confirmed that we were correct. So that was a great start of the day.

I came back to my apt and napped for a few hours and was back on campus shortly before two. I had a grammatic class...and that was a little bit rough. Komparativ...almost impossible for me to say, and it kept popping up whenever he asked me to read. The teacher's very engaging, but I'm not sure if I can keep up with the class - and since I have to drop one or two (I'm drastically over-committed and I'm in 8 classes..) that may be a candidate. The next class followed immediately and that was my translation English/German class. That also seems to be potentially challenging, but I may stick it out. We'll see, I guess.

Anyhow, I'm exhausted and have to be up at that same ungodly hour tomorrow...I know, you're all laughing at me...


PS...will load pictures sometime tomorrow for the last leg...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Girl Shoes and Italy

Hi All,
Ok, so the girl shoes and Italy have absolutely nothing to do with one another. I'm going to insert some of the travel blog now from Italy and get back to the shoes later.


Thursday, March 20:

We all managed to get a fair night of sleep and had a box breakfast in the morning. The train arrived around 9:30am at Roma Termini. There were quite a few homeless people around and Steph was a bit disturbed by that. It was also a bit of a culture shock for her, as she was suddenly in the same position we’d been in since Frankfurt – unable to understand the language. We headed off to find our Corona Hotel. It was just about 6 blocks and we found it with no problem. We left our luggage and headed out to explore. We went to St. Maria Maggiore church (where the tomb of the artist Bernini is located) and then headed to Trevi Fountain. We ate lunch and had pizza at a little restaurant near there (Ristorante La Fontana) and then had our first taste of gelato. We checked into the hotel. The room at Corona is adequate and clean but a sure step down from our Berlin accommodations. We all had a nap and then headed to the American church Santa Susanna for Holy Thursday Mass. Steph scanned the “Time Out Rome” book and we were off to find a place for dinner. Upon much poor-lighted consideration, Steph narrowed down the choice to a restaurant that was relatively nearby, boasting that one could “eat like a horse and drink like a fish” on a reasonable budget. A 15 minute hike later we arrived at Osteria del Rione. We were greeted by Bruno himself (much touted in the guide book) and soon we were seated in the almost-empty restaurant. This isn’t saying much, as there were only places for 30 people, max. Upon hearing our wine request, a carafe of red wine (that even Sandy liked!) was brought to the table…and then the courses started to roll in. First came Bruschette, (toasted French bread topped with raw tomato chunks), next French bread with a VERY strong and soft cheese, then a plate of grilled eggplant, tomatoes with parmesan, wine-soaked cooked black olives, an odd sort of bread with cheese and zucchini, and cannelloni beans in a red sauce that were absolutely delicious. It was at this point we realized we very well may be in over our heads…we had no idea! Next they brought out a large dish of deep-fried mini-meatballs, and deep-fried potato dumplings with apple in the middle. By this point we were glad to see that other late (early for Europe) diners were arriving – it meant our dishes didn’t arrive at such a speedy interval and we had extra time to digest. Then came the onslaught of pasta! First there was a thick, long-tubed pasta with a light white sauce and parmesan, next came a penne coated in fresh pesto (amazing!) and finally, the “ear” pasta, as Bruno called it. It was small, thicker, bowl-shaped pasta in a light red sauce (reminiscent of Chef Boyardee, as Dave classily noted). We now knew we were in it for the long haul and didn’t manage to finish the three hefty servings dished. Steph remarked it would have been a convenient time (for once) to have 3 teenage boys around – although there’re only 2 now, technically. Barely had we finished when we were attacked with a dish containing deep-fried (it’s a theme…) dumplings with broccoli, a little dumpling stuffed with eggplant and 6 regular sized meatballs – that were, for the record, not as good as Dave’s mother’s. Unfortunately, Bruno also brought out the plate of tripe – which only Dave was brave (and unfortunate enough) to try. He said it reminded him of calamari – but with a much stronger and unpleasant taste to go with the characteristic rubbery-ness. Finally, we were given a choice of dessert (Steph and Sandy chose the Tiramisu, while Dave went for the “Chocolate Cake”) and grappa. At this point, Dave realized that he’d had more wine than he’d intended and ended up shaking down an orange for Steph on the way home. However, back to dessert! Dave’s was like a glorified brownie, and Bruno actually ended up bringing a whole other plate for us all to share. It probably had something to do with the fact that Sandy requested his autograph in the book and he was so tickled pink he showed it to some regulars. We concluded the night by getting pictures with him and waddled our way back to the hotel (along streets lined with orange and lemon trees). We booked a full 18,166 steps, or a full 6 miles today!

Friday, March 21, 2008:

After having a hard time sleeping over Dave’s snoring the previous night (Sandy and Steph finally resorted to ear plugs that Dave so graciously provided), we rolled out around 7am to shower and head to the hotel breakfast. My, how standards had changed! We found a few scraps of bread, juice, and jam and a little dried out sweet bread. There were also banana and apple pieces. We satisfied ourselves and headed out to catch the bus to the Vatican for our 9:15 tour. The bus ride was an event in itself. It was so crowded and there was a woman that kept wanting Dave to just get off. He tried to explain that he was with Sandy and Steph and he wasn’t going to get separated. The bus eventually cleared a bit and a kind woman let us know when we were at the end of the line and needed to exit. That is something that is very non-impressive about the public transit. The street signs are hard to find and the bus gives no indication at each stop of just where you might be. Freshly off the bus, we headed towards the St. Peter’s dome and Sandy headed right through a gate of the Vatican Wall and was kindly asked to leave the private property. Who knew that there were only just a couple of ways to get in? So we had to trek ¼ of the way around the wall to meet our tour. Lucky for us, the meeting place was under construction and also popular with about 30 other tour operators. We finally found our tour after some tense moments and linked up with Michelle and 17 other tourists in our specific group. Michelle told us several times that we were moving along quite smoothly through security and that she had expected things to be much worse on Good Friday. The tour was very well done and covered all the galleries on the way to the Sistine Chapel as well as St. Peter’s. St. Peter’s is gigantic and, unfortunately, a lot of it was blocked off in preparation for the Holy Week services so we only got about ½ way into the church. Our tour ended at the front entry of St. Peter’s so we headed down the steps and caught a guard change at the Swiss Guard station. Then it was over to the Vatican Post Office to buy postcards and Vatican stamps. It was very busy there and Sandy doesn’t do Euro math very well and ended up purchasing about 15 extra stamps than she requested. She had also left all of the mailing labels over in the hotel. Oh well, they can be mailed when we come back on Sunday. At this point it’s after 1pm and Steph is starved and we are trying to find a way to have a meatless light lunch (Good Friday). After a few frustrating stops, we ended up at a small shop having calzones stuffed with cheese and spinach. They would have been better if they had been totally warm, but they did satisfy! Our walk then took us to Piazza Navona where we saw Neptune’s fountain, and the church St. Agnese in Agony (both by Borromini) and also Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers. Apparently there was some strong competition between these two artists. And, of course, there was also the obligatory obelisk (probably stolen from Egypt but with a cross installed at the top once it arrived in Rome). About this time it started to rain shower. Dave found a WC by a sidewalk restaurant and we decided against staying for a cup of hot chocolate that would have been 5 Euros each. Next stop was the Pantheon. We also only got to go about ½ way in here because a church service was about to start. Campo di Fiori was nearby so we decided to check that out next. The open air markets were just closing up shop about that time and we walked over lots of artichoke debris on the cobblestones. Shortly thereafter as nifty street-sweeping machine came along and whisked it all away. The fatigue was setting in so we set off in search of a bus and had yet another thrilling and crowded ride back to the stop near our hotel. We took a bit of a rest (Steph read, Dave napped, Sandy wrote post cards and washed out some laundry) until we elected to head to the corner grocery store in search of makings for a light supper in the hotel room. We had bread, cheese, tomatoes, fruit, wine, and Girl Scout Thin Mints (which we had brought from home). The earlier thought had been to take in the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum at 9:15 pm with the Pope, but although the spirit was willing, the body was weak and we were just too tired to venture out again. Time was spent reading, journaling and planning the adventures of the next day.

15,582 steps (5.2 miles)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Today we got up and had a re-run breakfast, certainly nothing special. Around 9:30 we headed off on foot over to the Capitoline Museum. On the way we stopped at St. Peter in Chains church. It had started raining by then so we very dutifully left our umbrellas outside as directed. The church has as sculpture of Moses (by Bernini?) that was very detailed and beautiful. They also claim to have the chains that St. Peter was in while he was jailed. They are displayed in a glass case. Sandy was really impressed with marble in this church. Unfortunately, Sandy’s umbrella had been stolen during our visit so had to buy a new one at a very conveniently located stand just at the bottom of the church steps. On to the Capitoline! We walked past the Forum on the way in. The museum had many sculptures. Probably the most famous was the statue of Marcos Aurelius on a horse and also Remus and Romulus being nursed by the she-wolf. There was also a whole floor of paintings and a second building which we didn’t have time to explore. We had lunch at the museum cafeteria and then walked to the Colosseum for our Dark Rome Walking tour. We started at the Colosseum and then did the Forum, Piazza Venezia, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona. We walked from there to the Spanish Steps where we picked up the Metro train back to the stop near our hotel. That was a better experience than the previous bus rides. On the walking tour we met a couple with 2 young girls from Delaware (the girls were perfect and soooo cute!), an American couple visiting from their home in Brussels, and a couple women from Maryland and one of their daughters from Omaha. We gave the last group mentioned a recommendation for the restaurant we ate in with Bruno. We rested for a bit back at the hotel and decided not to venture very far for dinner. The desk guy at the hotel suggested the trattoria right next door, Antica Boheme. We went and had pretty terrible service (which wasn’t helped by our non-existent Italian skills and the waiter’s miserable English) and the food was just OK. We walked ½ block up the street and used computers to check email (unfortunately, Steph’s computer malfunctioned and her e-mails got erased) and send quick notes off. We spent a little time repacking suitcases and then went to bed.

21,802 steps (7.22 miles)

Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008

We were hopeful as we got up in the morning because it wasn’t raining. We went to another simple breakfast (there was nothing special added for Easter) and checked out of the hotel. We headed to the Termini and left our baggage in storage. We hopped the Metro to the Vatican and joined the throng heading there for Mass. We arrived about an hour early and got a standing spot just outside the roped off area where people that had Mass tickets got to have chairs. Oh, and it started raining just as we got out of the Metro station. The square had jumbotron screens and even they were hard to see with all of the umbrellas. We thought we would have a pretty good view but were mistaken. As soon as Mass started, the people in the back chairs decided to stand up on the chairs. I guess people can be rude even in the presence of the Pope! The light rain soon turned to pouring rain and we decided to try to get to the postal drop box to mail postcards and then head out. The Mass was all in foreign language, except for the second reading that was in English. The post boxes were unreachable and the experience of trying to leave St. Peter’s Square against traffic with all the people just getting there to try to be there for the blessing was possibly the worst crowd experience ever! We were pretty wet by the time we got to the Metro station and happy to get on the train back to the Termini. Once at the Termini, we had about 2.5 hours before our train so we decided to look for a place to sit down and eat. Our language barrier was again an issue as we tried to order lunch at a fast food counter. It turns out that the place didn’t, in fact, actually have the sandwiches that were pictured all over the restaurant so we had to quickly make a change in our selections. They ended up getting the order wrong and Steph ended up with a sandwich she was unwilling to eat. She marched back to the restaurant and probably gave the proprietor good reason to fear those “ugly Americans”! In the end, they realized their error and replaced the incorrect sandwich with another 2 sandwiches! We hunted around and finally found a ledge to sit on and eat the food. That Termini station has a serious absence of seating! We strolled around the 2 levels of the Termini and found a chapel (seats!) and went in to pray for a while. (We had, afterall, left Mass early…) Then we headed to reclaim our luggage and figure out which track to get the train on. The train ride to Venice was mostly peaceful and gave us the chance to dry out (except for shoes and socks). We arrived in Venice around 7:20pm and quickly found the Hotel Bellini very close to the station. Our room was actually a lofted room. Steph’s bed was on main level with the bathroom and the double beds were up a curving staircase. The walls were covered in fabric and the bathroom had a tub and sort of a shower door so the floor didn’t get as flooded as at the last hotel. (In that place, the shower was just set in the corner of the bathroom with a floor drain nearby.) We headed out to find something for supper and went to a little place and had spaghetti with mushrooms, bread, and wine for 30 Euros total. It was raining in Venice too and forecasted to rain again the next day as well.

12874 steps (4.26 miles)

Monday, March 24, 2008

We woke up and it wasn’t raining for a change. The weather was cool. Breakfast was a treat after the Rome Hotel experience! There were scrambled eggs, very wide bacon, yogurt, cold cereal, breads, meats and cheeses. We filled up well! Then Sandy had a slightly smelly incident. While Steph was showering, Sandy plugged in her curling iron to Steph’s adaptor (omitting her converter). Steph noticed a hot smell, but after touching the adaptor, she chalked it up to being the room heater burning up dust. However, when Sandy went in to curl her hair, a chunk abruptly seared off and wafted down to the sink. The clamp was melted to her hair and she couldn’t open the jaws of the darn thing! Certain swear words and exclamations may have ensued. Luckily the damage was not very noticeable on Sandy’s head. The curling iron, however, was a total loss! The room windows were opened and we left the stinky place behind! Next we headed to our Ferregio vaporetto (water bus) stop. We had bought a 24-hour pass the night before so only needed to validate them to start the clock ticking. We caught the number 2 which is more express and went all the way to San Marco. We had 9:55am reservations for the Doge’s Palace Secret Itinerary Tour. The tour took us to the “working” area of the palace where the archives used to be held, where the lawyers and clerks doing the investigations of criminals had their offices, as well as to the jail cells and torture chamber. It sounded like most of the torture was psychological as they made the poor guys stand and wait for torture in the dark for 3-4 hours in the dark before they started. Many people talked after just the long wait! We also got the inside scoop on Casanova’s escape (apparently the only one to ever do so successfully – although he had special privileges, so it isn’t as impressive as he makes out in his memoirs.) After the “secret” part of the tour, we were on our own to look at the rest of the palace. We started in the Doge’s apartment just on the other side of the Golden Staircase. Pretty impressive! The rooms were full of sculpture, paintings, marble, etc. We also took a path across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison just across the canal from the palace. The story is that that is the last view for the prisoners of the outside world before their incarceration so there was lots of sighing. After the tour, we headed away from the plaza and into the shopping district where we eventually sat down for a sandwich and something to drink. It was a busy shopping district and we shopped as well. We spent time in 2 different shops where the proprietors did a nice job of showing/telling us about authentic Murano glass. Steph bought a vase for Sandy and Dave as an early 25th anniversary present. She also found a tie for James and a few glass pendants for herself and friends. Dave bought a brass statue of the winged lion, which is the symbol for St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. They also selected a glass pendant for Sandy’s mom. Then we headed back to San Marco to look at the church and watch people and pigeons. Sandy and Dave went into the church to gawk at the mosaics while Steph stayed outside by the backpack. By this time, the sun had come out! We decided to ride the elevator up the Campanile and take in the view. We were up over 100 meters and the views were good. Then we went down and took the vaporetto back to Hotel Bellini to rest and drop off a few shopping purchases. Steph and Sandy went to the train station to purchase a better Venice map and Steph found the location of a restaurant we decided to try for dinner, Frary’s. We took the vaporetto to the San Toma stop and found the place. It served Greek and Arab cuisine and we really enjoyed it. The music was great. We had wine, water, mixed appetizers, and bread. Steph had a chicken Tajine dish and Sandy had a chicken with mixed vegetables and cous cous dish while Dave had the same thing, except with mutton instead of chicken. We asked for a recommendation for dessert and the waitress brought us a mixed selection of several things and all were delicious. The meal was topped off with a shot of some type of cinnamon liqueur. We headed off walking and eventually made it to the Rialto Bridge. The streets are very narrow and can be confusing at times. I guess everyone gets lost in Venice and we were only slightly lost for a short time! The night view from the bridge was nice, and as Steph took a picture of Sandy and Dave she witnessed a fellow getting down on one knee and proposing to his girlfriend right there on the bridge – ah, young love! We then hopped the vaporetto and headed back to the Bellini. Steph and Sandy found an internet point so they could make a quick note to home and then it was back to the hotel for bedtime.

12188 steps (4 miles)

Tuesday, March 25th

We got up fairly early in order to be all packed up and to catch one last vaporetto before our 24-hour pass expired. We ate breakfast, checked out and left our luggage at the front desk. We noticed that the Grand Canal was much busier today. Yesterday was a national holiday so many businesses were not operating (except tourism-related business!) We caught a vaporetto to Rialto and explored the Rialto market. Talk about extensive! There were (in a series of 3 squares) rows upon rows of merchants selling everything from fresh flowers to still-wriggling shrimp. Afterwards, Steph bought a tie for Brian and a few pashminas for herself and a friend. We found a hat for Brian and a decorative bottle of Grappa for Nate. Steph was also amused to find Italian “Magic the Gathering” cards and couldn’t resist purchasing them for Nate and Chris. Good luck boys! We asked the vendor that we’d bought Brian’s hat from if there was a post office nearby. He pointed out the direction, but we soon realized we’d asked for a post box…and so that’s what we’d found! However, Steph inquired at the little newsstand and came triumphantly back with 25 stamps! Mission accomplished. Next, after a bathroom was searched for, bread and really good chocolate-loaded scones/cookies were bought for the next train ride. The obligatory gondola ride was next. Our 45 minutes-3km ride took us past Marco Polo’s home, Casanova’s palace, and under several bridges and around tight corners. The gondoliers do a good job of watching out for each other and there seems to be some etiquette about navigating blind corners. After the ride, we walked our way back to the hotel with no problem (stopping along the way to gawk often and making a quick stop at the grocer’s for some cheese) and picked up our luggage. By this time the sun was out full force and we spent 30 minutes soaking up sunshine. We boarded our train and soon had a full compartment. The ride to Innsbruck was mostly uneventful, until we looked out the window. Going from sun-filled valleys covered with vineyards, we crossed the mountains and found Austria covered in 4 inches of fresh snow! It was gorgeous, but made us acutely aware of our spring coats. We got off at Innsbruck and after a bit of a trek (with no wrong turns) we found ourselves at Hotel Innsbruck – just around the corner from Maximilian’s (where Steph had stayed 3 years earlier on her HS German trip). After a quick check-in and recommendation for a restaurant (as Sandy had not picked up a Time-Out Innsbruck for the quick one-day stay), we headed just across the street from the hotel. After a dinner of pizza and beer (Sandy tried Radler, a mixture of beer and Sprite) at the Cammerlander Restaurant, we all vegged out in the hotel room, watching “No Reservations” on the English television channel – a marked improvement from our other option, the British edition of Antique Road Show.

(Pedometer data lost for this day!)

Summer of Endless Love: Fairy Edition

Ok, to explain the first part of my blog: my "girl shoes". Now, I have a few outfits that I brought (and recently bought) that would look awful with my brown shoes. So this means I needed some white "girl shoes". At the mall yesterday, I bit the bullet and bought a very low-key pair of nice white flats. A little white on white embroidery and that was it. Well, when everyone demanded I show them my new "girl shoes" - I was embarrassed to find that they not only had the words "Summer of Endless Love" but they also sport a good size depiction of a fairy on each inside heel area. It screams tween. How embarrassing....

On The Plus Side...

Ok, so there really isn't a plus side to the fairy shoes (other than you can't see them when I'm wearing them), and has to do instead with my language test. It wasn't obligatory, except if you wanted to take classes in a higher level. I tried a practice round available online, and did exactly the same (28,if not a point worse) than the FIRST time I took it. Not a good sign. However, when I got there, they explained the format had been altered. Now if there was 1 letter before the blank it could be 1 or 2 letters after it, 2 letters before was 2 or 3 letters after it, etc. And, I actually got to take it electronically because the system didn't crash. So I knew my score right away - a 53 (!). This plants me Solidly in the Unicert 2 level...I was so impressed I called my mother. (Who was a little shocked to hear I was calling with good news...). I also had to do a listening comprehension test (because they apparently had problems last semester with people with good grammar being put in too high of levels without having good enough comprehension), and that seemed to go ok as well - I find out the results tomorrow.

And Finally: Steph Gets Twirled

I know I'm not a huge person, but I also know that I'm no elf. With that in mind, I'll have to recount my encounter with Eric's friend Stu (Stew?) who came to visit today. He comes off his flight, gives Claudia a hug and picks her up, twirling her once around. He goes to Eric and gives him the handshake/hug combo. When I'm introduced we shake hands. Then he says "Well, I have to be equal..." and promptly scoops me up for a twirl as well (he's only about 3 inches taller and maybe has 50 pounds on me...). Now, mid-scoop I was tempted to say "I'm to big to be lifted/twirled". However, as last time I said that I got dumped in a pool, I decided to accept the twirling.

So, Italy, girly shoes and twirling...I sound like a member of the Italian Ballet.
Hope all is well,

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wow, a record!

So, apparently I hit an all-time low last month - only 1 blog entry! But oh, I shall make it up to you! Actually, I'm going to be VERY lazy and cut and paste from my travel journal (well, "our" travel journal, especially since my mom wrote a good chunk of it...see if you can figure when the writer changes!).

Europe 2008

Sunday, March 16: Sandy and Dave flew from MSP to Detroit and then from Detroit to Frankfurt. The flights both left a tiny bit late but arrived earlier than scheduled. It was smooth flying with only short naps on the way over…

3894 steps (1.3 miles)

Monday, March 17: Arrived in Frankfurt at 6:50am local time. Steph met us at the airport train station by just after 9:30am. We were very tired but managed to get the rest of our train reservations made before boarding an ICE train to Berlin. More napping happened. Arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof around 4:30pm and then took the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn to the Mercure Checkpoint Charlie hotel. We got a little turned around coming off the U6 so we walked the wrong direction a couple of blocks before we figured that out. The check-in didn’t go smoothly, but at least the staff took our word for it until our travel agent could get things arranged. The room was a 2-room suite and very nice! Steph checked out the “Time Out Berlin” book restaurant section and we selected a place called Honig Mond (Honeymoon), which was billed as a place with French and German food. Sandy ordered a goulash and dumplings, Steph had coq au vin with garlic bread, and Dave had Prussian meatballs and potatoes. We splurged on dessert and had beautifully displayed ice creams with fruit and a citron/mint ice cream with cream puffs. Exhaustion was setting in so we headed back to the hotel.

6485 steps and 2.1 miles (before the walk to dinner – forgot the pedometer after the clothing change!)

Tuesday, March 18:

We woke up early and enjoyed a great breakfast in the hotel. Eggs, cooked breakfast meat, cheeses, meat, breads, yogurt, etc.

Took the S-Bahn out to see Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The guide made a point of letting us know that this was not an extermination camp like Auschwicz. It was a “work you to death” camp. It was also used to kill lots of Soviet POW’s. When the Germans were defeated, the Soviets actually took the camp over themselves. The audio guide was incredibly thorough, and I think we could have easily spent all day listening to it. However, as it was very windy and quite cool, we left after just under 2 hours. Just after noon we hopped the S to go back into Berlin and ended up at the Zoo station and were hunting for lunch. We ended up at a little gyro shop just across from the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church. Next, we got onto the 100 bus, planning to take the full loop to get the lay of the land (except that they make everyone get out at the Alexander Platz). We noticed the Neptune fountain and the Marienkirche church nearby so decided to check that out before starting back. We also say the TV tower just behind us, one of the tallest structures in Europe. On our walk down Unter den Linden, we sauntered past Museum Island and Dave stopped to try on a Russian hat. It was definitely good for a few laughs! The Berlin Dome was next. Dave went in and Steph and Sandy checked out the gift shop and just sat down for a bit. The German History Museum was actually having free admission to commemorate historical event so we went in to check that out for a little while. We passed the Public Library and walked into the courtyard to check out the fountain. The goal was to get back to the Brandenburg Tor (gate) and we made it just as the sun was about setting. We finally caught the bus again and rode as far as the Victory Tower monument with the large gold angel on top. Saw lots of bullet holes around the base and pieces of the fresco shot off too. We think that sometimes you can climb to the top, but it was locked up when we got there. We caught the bus back to the Zoo and then did the S and U back to the hotel. We decided we’d walked enough so asked for a closeby restaurant recommendation. It was Entracote, another French/German place (and also in the “Time Out Berlin” book!) We all had steak and French fried potatoes and a salad of some type. No dessert tonight. Tried a little German beer. It was OK. On the way out of the restaurant, we stepped right into a scene being shot for some German TV show or movie. There were bright lights and the scene didn’t look too exciting. Then it was back to the hotel. Steph enjoyed the bathtub, Dave went up to check out the sauna, and Sandy started thinning out the travel binder.

20851 steps (almost 8 miles)

Wednesday, March 19:

Got up early and had another great breakfast and then it was off to the Reichstag in an attempt to beat the lines. We waited about 45 minutes before we got into security and then it was up the elevator to the rooftop. The dome has circular pathways all the way up to the top and a central column of mirrors. The very top is open. There’s a display at the base which shows the great extent of the damage done to this building during WWII. From the Reichstag we headed over to the Pergammon Museum. We had a little trouble finding it, as Museum Island, is in fact covered in museums! It had huge displays of reconstructed ancient Greek altars, statues, frescoes; Babylonian gates; Islamic art, etc. We had an audio guide, which was very helpful and interesting. We had timed this visit just right too as the line was super long as we were coming out. Then it was back to our hotel area where we stopped for a quick sandwich (Steph’s treat!) and found a grocery store for food for the train ride. We grabbed our suitcases and headed to Haupbahnhof for our train to Rome. We actually traveled to Munich first and then changed trains and got our sleeper car for the journey to Rome. We had quite a job to squeeze us and our luggage into the car! All three of us were stacked on top of each other with our luggage squeezed into any available nook or cranny. We have slept in tents that were larger! Steph fired up her computer and we watched all but 8 minutes of a movie when her computer suddenly died (the power supply from the train gave out). So it was bedtime. We must have been going through mountains at that point because the ears were popping and there seemed to be a fair amount of turning and swaying.

12716 steps (4.2 miles)

Ok, so we had a Pedometer!
At any rate, that was the Berlin portion of our trip. As it will become quite clear, we became grade-A a major way. The pictures I posted are of the Berlin chunk. I figure I will update this post every 3 days or so, and hopefully everyone will be able to see the pictures. If not, you can click on the slideshow to go to the picaso web album online and view them there. Most of the pictures were taken by my mom, as I was lazy.

So, my room was taken up by an airbed for a while but it's now currently being used by a French student's sister who's visiting. Since my room has been pretty much stuck how I put it the first week, I decided to make some changes. Or really, just A change. See, back in September (when I made my first trip to IKEA) I bought a set of three little individually planted cacti. However, as I had no table in front of my window (which is part of the sloped side of my room, which makes it difficult) they have been languishing on the floor for the past, oh, 7 months. However, I took pity on them and figure that since they've lasted this long I might as well try to actually HELP them live. So, with the help of a plant pot abandoned in the kitchen and Sara's potting soil (for her own, identical cacti...) I replanted the sickly things and moved my desk so it sits partially in the light. Now, of course, is their cue to dramatically die on me. We'll see I guess. I am really looking forward to having a living space that is more than my bedroom but not sharing a bath/toilet/kitchen with 7 other people, as nice as they may be.
So, that's it for now...stay tuned!