December 30, 2013: A Day in the Life of Bonn

The train ride from Frankfurt to Bonn was pretty uneventful.  I mostly played Flow (which it turns out I’m pretty good at) and chatted/looked at all of the pretty scenery on the Rhein.  We got to Bonn sometime in the afternoon, and while Bonn is not a particularly big town, we managed to get a bit lost and then stumble upon the someone ghetto part.  Well, it mostly was because we got on the wrong train which, while it said it was going to Bonn, what it really mean was that it was going to some random station on the edge of town instead of the main station.  So we had to navigate our way via street car to the main station and then walk to our hostel.  This is where we began to run into some issues.  We started walking down an innocent looking enough street.  As we progressed, the scene around us began to shift to one of somewhat neutrality, to graffiti lined abandoned buildings with broken window and somewhat hard faced teenagers staring us down as we walked.  This wasn’t aided by the fact that we had to turn down this alleyway to get to the hostel we reserved.  Oh, and did I mention the building looked totally deserted.  After ringing the doorbell, knocking, calling the hostel, and searching for other entrances we gave up.

So what did we end up doing?  Well we saw a hotel a bit farther up the street which was in a much less seedy part of town.  After knocking on the door and talking to the guy who I presume was the owner, we booked a room and could finally breath a bit easier.  While it wasn’t a particularly bad hotel, it was a bit… off.  There were five beds in our room, but the owner assured us that we would be the only people staying there.  This was not really an issue except people would randomly hit our door and I would be slightly panicked by the thought of someone just barging in the room.  The “door” to the bathroom consisted of two small swinging doors which had about an inch wide gap where they closed, and subsequently didn’t lock.  This was a bit awkward.  The weirdest bit about the hotel was the fact that there was not only a massive hole in the shower curtain, but also by the fact that there was a pair of men’s underwear hanging up by the shower, belonging to who I can only guess, was the last renter of said room.

Initial seediness aside, Bonn did turn out to be quite nice.  The main attraction was the house where Beethoven was born.  This included a nice little museum with various different paintings and artifacts from his life.  I even managed to snap a couple of photos, despite the signs prohibiting photography.  It was really neat though, but a bit too cheery for what was actually Beethoven’s life.  This is also about the time I proceeded to drop and break my camera the rest of the way.  Technology: 2  Alicia: 0.

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This is the piano Beethoven used as a child, btw.

After that I walked around the Christmas market as well as the town.  The Christmas market in Bonn was much like any other market I’d been to, but was nice to see anyway.  I also saw the main church, which like any other church in Germany was large, old, and pretty.  I wasn’t able to go inside because they were having a concert of sorts.  I also saw some of the university as well as a nice little lookout over the Rhein.  At this point it had already gotten a bit dark, so it was back to the hotel room for some internet and German tv.

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The major event in Bonn the next day, and also the last, was going to the Haribo store there.  For those who don’t know, Bonn is where Haribo actually started and is an acronym for the founder Johannes Riegel and Bonn.  There was a bit of history on the walls as well as an art gallery for their calendar, which takes photos using their gummy snacks in various artistic ways.  Probably the best part was getting to make your own bag of gummies from their huge assortment on the back wall.  I think the only one I tried and didn’t like was called a salty pretzel gummy, which ended up being licorice and therefore, disgusting.

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After a bit more walking around and lunch at the Christmas market, it was time to hit up the next city, and probably my favorite: Cologne.

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December 29, 2013: I’m a Computer, Stop all the Downloadin’

So if you are wondering why I haven’t written a post in so long, there are two really good reasons.  First reason, I have been traveling, but more on that in a minute.  The second reason: my computer finally gave out.  Diagnosis: my hard drive is failing.  This really makes me wonder what I do to hard drives which makes them ultimately give up on life and off themselves.  Am I too critical of my computer?  Often times I find my colorful use of language directed at this seemingly inanimate object in front of me, only for it to feed my hypothesis that it actually hates me by shutting down or freezing.  Is it the fact that it is a dell computer from 2008 that is running what most consider Windows worst operating system (Vista)?  I’ve counted myself among the lucky few that have not had several severe problems with this OS and with Dell computers in general.  Who can really know, or rather, how could I ever know even if someone much more capable explained it to me?  As previously mentioned before, I am secretly an old lady who both despises and is despised by technology.  Luckily I have a friend who knows a lot about computers here and he is currently helping me to fix the issue.  Unfortunately this requires buying a new hard drive with what little Christmas money I still have yet to receive, heh.  Being an adult is not always fun.

 

That aside I guess I should talk about what I’ve been up to for the past couple of weeks.  I have a friend visiting me from America at present.  Most of the first part of the break has been devoted to various excursions and site seeing.  We went to several Christmas markets (most of which I had already been to) and went ice skating.  There was also a bit of German Lion King thrown in there.  Oh, and I did manage to go to most of my classes that week, with the exception of Thursday, which I skipped altogether because screw my Thursday classes anyway.

 

Speaking of Thursday, that was when I went to Frankfurt, which was the first leg of my travels over the break (the others being Bonn, Cologne, and Dusseldorf, and please excuse my lack of umlauts due to my present computer situation).  Frankfurt is a pretty awesome city to go to, especially since I have friends there who are awesome enough to let me stay at their place.  Unfortunately though, one of them was in Thailand, which made me sad not to get to see her, but more jealous than anything.  Jealousy aside I really enjoyed seeing more of the city.  I saw the Christmas market there and wandered around the main shopping area for awhile, only stopping every now and then to look at an interesting building.  The next day I went to the church and climbed up the tower.  Luck was on my side since the sun decided to come out and I was able to get some pretty good pictures of the city.  The church itself was pretty nice; there was red brick all in the inside, which was pretty unique considering most of the older churches have either stone walls or they have been painted white.  There was coffee and cake involved either before or after that, I’m not entirely sure which.  Then it was off to the film museum.

 

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Yeah, that is as awesome as that sounds.  The first floor was devoted to the evolution of cinema.  So it started with the little scenes which were made of various layers people could move about and tell a story, and went through flip books, photographs, shadow plays, and so on until they finally got to the somewhat primitive film projector.  This was where I was a bit disappointed because while there were so many technological advances in film making after this point, this is where the history ended.  Okay, so this little fact is probably relevant, if I go to a museum, I want to read every little thing there is to read (provided hunger hasn’t diverted both my attention and patience) and the fact that it just abruptly jumped from the history and development of cinematography, which was at first so thorough, to just basics about movie making sure as costumes, acting, editing, and props, just was a bit jarring to me.  That aside the second floor with the aforementioned things was equaling interesting, I just wish they had incorporated it a bit better.  Also cool to note on this floor were the Alien from Alien, Darth Vader’s mask, and the models for Jack Skelington’s different expressions in the movie Nightmare before Christmas.  There was also an interactive part where you could play with the music/sound from different movie scenes as well as editing.  Overall it was a pretty awesome museum.

 

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The real highlight of the day came after the museum though.  This was when the hunt for the only Chipotle in Germany began.  After walking around the main part of the city for awhile and realizing luck (read Jesus) was not going to take the wheel and lead us to the elusive oasis of TexMex food, we happened upon an Apple store.  This may sound unhelpful, but the tablets provided us with internet, and directions to Chipotle.  After walking for another 20 minutes we finally found it.  I could, at this point, no longer contain my girlish joy as I bounded up to the practically empty register and ordered my tacos.  My level of excitement clearly did not match the excitement of the other patrons as they ate their burritos and gave me most apprehensive looks.  They clearly haven’t realized the power of Chipotle yet, which is honestly, their loss.  That aside, my tacos were delicious and mostly the same as I would find at home.  The only downside, they were a bit more expensive than the already somewhat expensive ones back home.  Oh well, it was totally worth the money and the inevitable food baby which soon followed.

 

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The next day was spent at the Staedel, which is the really big art museum in Frankfurt.  And yes, I spent about five hours in there and would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for my growling stomach which beckoned me through the latter parts of the museum.  The museum actually covered different art from around the 13th century until the present, so you can imagine how large it actually was.  Highlights would have to be some of the works of Picasso and Monet, as well as a couple of other artists, whose names I have sadly forgotten now that it has been a week.  There was also a large exhibit on Albrecht Duerer, who was pretty important to the German art movement because he helped bring the Renaissance methods of perspective to German art.  His works are also really detailed and just beautiful to look at.  After Duerer, we breezed right on through the contemporary art, due not only to my hunger, but also due to the fact that some of the works annoy me due to their simplicity.  I’m sorry, but just because you use a paint roller and smear black paint all over an entire canvas and then call it “Black on Black” does not make it art.  Okay, done ranting.

 

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After that we went to a more obscure Christmas market on the edge of town.  It was a bit sketchy getting there because we took a bus to this gas station, where we were to meet a friend of a friend who would drive us the rest of the way to the market.  While I trust this friend and subsequently his friend, it was pretty seedy waiting at a gas station for a person you don’t know in the dark.  But the market was really nice and not crowded at all.  There was apple wine to be had and bratwurst as well.  And the company was nice.

 

So that just about wraps up Frankfurt.  The next day we hopped on a train and rode the two to three hours north to Bonn, but that is another post for another time as I slowly play catch up.

Pictures from Heidelberg

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On top of the hill over looking the city~

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University of Alabama folks!

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View of the city~

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The castle~

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The student jail~

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The Christmas market~

December 13, 2013: A Slower Paced Weekend

Yeah, this blog post is a bit late, which I like to think is a reflection of how lazy I was this weekend. It’s funny how when I actually go somewhere or do something I tend to write about it pretty quickly, but when I have all the time in the world to write about my boring weekend, it just becomes this impossibly boring task. I guess because I have to put forth a bit more effort to make the post interesting rather than just having the events be interesting enough in and of themselves. Yes, that means this post is probably going to be a bit dull, but I needed a break from all the going and doing I’ve been doing lately. Yeah, I will probably be back to my typical shenanigans during the break, if not two fold, so the next several posts might be a bit scattered. There is a better word out there, but scattered was the first one to come to mind. English hard. Need easy.

As for the high points of last week, I decided class that Thursday was overrated and ended up skipping both classes. Mind you, I was going to skip my afternoon class anyway so that I could go to the Advent Tea the club that is sponsoring me put on, but I decided 8:15 is just too early in the morning, and it was raining, and it was cold, and I have just become infinitely lazy over here. So as far as the Advent Tea went, I rode with a lady who lives near Erlangen to Nürnberg. She is pretty cool, but she made things a bit awkward when at the end of the ride she casually brings up that her husband has unexpectedly died since I last saw her. Then she continued on after about 5 minutes to go into detail. I am a pretty awkward person and I just don’t know what to say to people in situations like this. I tend to just think of this scene from the IT Crowd and and somewhat grateful that I not quite that socially awkward.

 

The tea itself was pretty nice. There was a ton of different kinds of cakes to try, but I only went with two. There was also a man there who read poetry and played the accordion for us. Interestingly enough he spoke a German dialect which sounded almost Scottish (I think one close the the Czech boarder, but the name of the actual dialect escapes me). It was almost musical. Anyway, it was hard to understand because of his dialect, but I still enjoyed his melodic voice. I also won some coupons to some different places in Nürnberg because they had a raffle. I think they slightly rigged it a bit because they called all of my numbers. Oh, and I didn’t even buy tickets, one of the ladies bought some and gave them to me. They are so awesome and sweet.

 

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After that I wandered around Nürnberg until it was time to meet my friends to watch das Rheingold, which is an opera by Wagner. The opera was…nice. I liked the music and the plot a lot, but they sort made everything else modern, which was weird. There was even a sex scene, which I guarantee wasn’t in the original version and the costumes, at least of the women, were pretty scant. Not that that would normally bother me, but I wasn’t expecting a somewhat gritty reboot. I was expecting to see something closer to what it looked like when it was first performed. Still something to cross off my ever long “Do in Europe” list.

 

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Most of my weekend was devoted to relaxing and reading (finished the Road and started World War Z, and gasp read a total of 15 pages for my comps). I did end up going to the Mideval market in Fürth, which is a part of their Christmas market. It was really cool. There was a stage in the middle where there was a fire show with juggling, poi, double stick, and so on. There were also things like a black smith, where you could buy/try out different weapons. There was a place where you could throw axes, which was quite fun to watch, but I didn’t try. All of the shops sold clothes, jewelry, etc. that looked like it was from the Middle Ages. And of course, they had Glühwein. We also checked out the craft market, which was nice, but really the Mideval market was my favorite.

Also, a bit out of order I suppose, but last Tuesday I went ice skating for the third time in my life. And I’ll have you know, I only fell twice. It was really fun though, even though I felt like a child most of the time because the majority of my ice skating was aided by a penguin. Sadly this penguin was not alive, but it was rather helpful otherwise. Essentially it is designed for beginners to follow behind and lean on to keep their balance. I may have looked like a complete tool, but it was better than falling. And hey, by the end I had managed to skate several rounds without it. Success!

 

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So that’s been about it for last week. I think a lot of this weekend is going to be devoted to Nürnberg and surrounding areas. Mal sehen!

December 2, 2013: I Lost my Heart in Heidelberg… or Something like that

The above is actually a song lyric that was continuously referenced during my trip to Heidelberg. But before I get to that, I suppose I should talk about Thanksgiving since it came first chronologically speaking.

 

As far as the preparations for my early Wednesday Thanksgiving celebration go, they went relatively smoothly. Tuesday evening I skipped my class and went with my friend Ela to Kaufland to get supplies. It was pretty intense, I must say, because both of us were hungry and a bit frustrated. Kudos to her for putting up with my grumpy ass self. We found everything we needed, save the ever so important corn syrup for the pecan pie. That’s when I decided to just make peach cobbler and call it an evening. After spending about an hour and a half in the grocery store and eating a quick dinner, we headed over to Arielle’s dorm (which by far has the best kitchen between the three of us) and got started with the pre-cooking. We really didn’t get to make much since the most important thing to cook (the pecan pie) didn’t look like it was going to happen. So we cooked the cream corn, green bean casserole, and the cornbread for the dressing. It did not take that long at all so we ended up finishing in time for me to head over to juggling.

 

The next day was pretty busy. I went to my first class and then after that I actually found a way to make pecan pie without corn syrup, so I made my way back to the store to get the ingredients as well as another casserole dish. Then it was four hours in the kitchen making: turkey, dressing, cornbread, Brussel sprouts, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes, fried okra, peach cobbler, pecan pie, and finishing off the green bean casserole and cream corn. It was pretty intense and I was pretty stressed out. We ended up using two ovens, the one in Arielle’s kitchen and the one in Ela’s dorm, which isn’t that far but I definitely got tired of running back and forth between the two to check the turkey. I’m really glad that everyone was there to help me, otherwise there is no way I could have gotten everything done. Along with what I made we also had cranberry sauce and some bread. Other people brought some things as well, which I might post the recipes in the recipe section if I can translate them (of course via google translate). There was a lemon meringue pie with a raspberry layer in the middle, Marko’s famous chocolate balls (rum balls without the rum essentially), and caramel shortcake. There was also plenty of wine to go around. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and the company and of course, everyone ate way too much. I also had them participate in the Thanksgiving tradition of everyone saying something they are thankful for. I think most of them felt a bit awkward about it, but if we are going to celebrate an American holiday, we are going to do it right I suppose.

 

After we ate and cleaned up we went downstairs to the Hofmann bar and hung out/ danced for a bit. I think I finally ended up getting home and going to bed around 2 AM. I managed to somehow make my 8:15 class that next morning and not fall asleep. Although there was a brief two to three second period where I was riding my bike and closed my eyes and started to kind of drift off to sleep. That was a pretty weird moment for me. So naturally I decided to take a nap in between my classes. This. Never. Works. Out. Ever. I set an alarm but I guess I turned it off and went back to sleep, or it just sort of gave up on life because I am a very heavy sleeper. Anyway, I didn’t wake up until a friend texted me to ask if I was going to class. My class was at 1:15. It was 1:12. Nope. Then I laid in bed for a bit longer and decided to watch Anchorman, which was a pretty okay movie as far as Will Ferrell movies go. I could do without most of Will Ferrell’s scenes, actually. I really like Brick though. “I love lamp.” And that is pretty much my Thursday. I still have yet to venture down to the HaWo bar to pick up my dignity which I left down there a couple weeks back. But in all honestly, I might never get that back, heh.

 

So Friday was a pretty tiring day. I didn’t actually DO much, but I did go with my program to Heidelberg. I ended up riding with one of the ladies who is part of the program (and she takes care of the Erlangen students, so that’s nice). Everything was going pretty smoothly up until about 30 minutes out from the city. There was a traffic jam. Of course. How could one ever hope to drive somewhere kind of far in Germany without encountering the ever-so frequent Stau (traffic jam). Sitting in traffic for about 30-45 minutes really wore me down, and by the time we made it to the hostel, I was pretty wiped. I was pretty lucky on the hostel part though. I only had three other roommates and they were pretty cool people. Two of the three had previously studied in Alabama (the were the German exchange students), one at Troy and the other at the University of Alabama (my current university), but she was there a couple years before me (2011 or the year of the death tornadoes to be more precise.) The other went to Florida and had decided to stay to finish her Masters. Essentially all we did was wait for dinner, eat at an Italian restaurant (which was really delicious!), and then go to a Kneipe (kind of bar) and talk/drink. Although I only drank sparkling water. I’m still not over the Absinthe debacle.

 

Saturday was pretty fun though. We woke up pretty early and then went on a tour of the city, which mainly focused on the castle. Much of the castle is actually in ruins, but interestingly enough, not because of WWII. The tour was in German so I didn’t catch all of the details, but one of the big reasons is because the French took over the castle and accidentally lit a bunch of explosives stored in one of the towers. What we did see of the castle though, despite most of it being destroyed, was pretty cool. It was baroque, which means everything was pretty ornate. Also many of the writers during the Romantic period drew inspiration from the castle, particularly the eastern side, and so there are several drawings of it. There is also a Philosopher’s path, which I could have taken, but it was cold and rainy and I was feeling quite lazy, so during my free time I shopped around for a bit and then had some coffee and cake with some friends from UA.

 

The really awesome part of the trip came later when we all went to the Christmas market that night. Just to let you know, Christmas markets here embody everything that Christmas should be. No crowded malls. No massive crowds of people scrambling over one another to get cheap deals. No death and destruction laying in the wake of everything. Basically, it is a bunch of little shops/booths set up outside selling anything from toys, to clothing accessories, to Christmas decorations, to tasty treats (my favorite being the caramelized almonds). There are Christmas decorations and lights everywhere and you can smell the pine and cedar even before you arrive. People are walking around with friends and family browsing the shops’ wares and drinking Glühwein. I ended up just sort of walking around in wonder for awhile, even after we tried to go to a bar, I ended up going back until the market closed just to hang on to that Christmas feeling just an hour or so longer.

 

I won’t bore you with the details from most of my day Sunday. The Americans of the group just sort of talked about our experiences so far in Germany and then we ate lunch and headed back. At this point I want to pause and talk about something I’ve mentioned before and it came up again when I was talking to one of my UA friends this weekend. That would be the European view of America, moreover, the stereotypes. Now she has apparently had a much worse time about it than I have, but she brought up an interesting point which I guess kind of explains my past reactions to people dissing the U.S. It’s the fact that they don’t even seem to acknowledge the fact that you are from there that is kind of upsetting. There is not even the typical, no offense, but… They just say, in her case, “I hate the American accent” and then do not even consider the fact that they are talking about a major part of someone’s identity. No, I am still not very pro-American by any means, but it would be nice if people thought, “hey, I am talking kind of bad about someone’s identity, maybe I should take their feelings into consideration and acknowledge it.”

 

Which I guess that kind of leads into my Sunday evening? Not really, but a bit since someone did bring up America again. Heh, sometimes I wish I was from a country that no one really knew about. Anyway, once I got in I ended up meeting a friend at a cafe and having some coffee (due to my lack of sleep over the weekend, I was quite tired and had a caffeine headache to boot). It was nice and relaxing. Then a rather large English speaking group of us (three Americans and four and a half UK-ers) went to the Christmas market in Nürnberg. Fun story about how I am completely oblivious to most things. So we got on the train and we were sitting in seats that faced each other (four with two on each side) and there was already a guy sitting in one of the seats. So we all sat down and one of my friends sat on something. I didn’t think much of it and we went about our train ride. Well, because said friend hadn’t shaved in awhile, we started talking about his patchy beard. I offhandedly brought up how he didn’t quite look like a pedophile and we all joked about it for a bit. Then after we got off the train everyone started laughing and that’s when I realized, I was calling my friend a pedophile in front of a police officer. The same police officer who owned the gun my friend accidentally sat on. I really need to pay attention to my surroundings… On the way from the train station to the market, I swear we past by a little area that looked exactly as I picture Diagon Alley would look. Looking back we really should have stopped there. It looked quite magical indeed with the little booths all lining the cobblestone paths lit by the tiny Christmas lights. It probably had a slightly better atmosphere than the actual market, to be honest. Not that the larger one was bad, it just wasn’t Diagon Alley.

 

Anyway, the market in Nürnberg was much bigger than in Heidelberg, but condensed into the square in the historic downtown area. There was much of the same kind of wares being sold: glass ornaments, paper stars with lights in them, wooden figurines, homemade candles, wooden toys/puzzles, sweets, and alcohol. There was also a nice little chorus which sang in front of the church and they had little speakers around the market so that you could hear them while walking around. When they were first warming up, I don’t know what they were singing, but it was really depressing. Something about being a family from World War III and give it another shot… I thought they were about to whip out Aimee Mann’s I was Thinking I could Clean Up for Christmas, which is a good song, but quite depressing. So we walked around until about 9 when everyone started to close up shop and then we made our way back home.

 

As for Monday I ended up meeting a friend in the park to hoop/juggle. I think I look like a victim of domestic violence, to be honest. My arms right now have about 8 or 9 bruises from all of the elbow hooping I’ve been working on. Then I came back and had a chocolate croissant and rested up a bit before going to my belly dancing class. It was a pretty relaxing day. I’ve also started reading the Road, which I’ve heard is pretty depressing so I have a couple of lighter books to read afterward. I’m pretty pumped that amazon had these kindle books on sale yesterday, so I only spent around $6 to get three pretty awesome books. Can’t say I’m not pumped. I have missed reading for fun!

So I plan on posting some pictures when the guy who let me use his camera sends them to me.  So special thanks to Theo for trusting me enough with his camera to let me use it all day!