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!

video
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:

video video

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:
video

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:

video
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