Will-o-the-wisp

This is my second attempt at a Halloween ghost story (a challenge set by my brother-in-law). My first story really needed some work and I decided I would go ahead and try my hand at writing a second, shorter story that would work for the challenge. This is the result. Happy Halloween :)

Vicky couldn’t exactly tell you when the girl appeared. She just sort of noticed her one day. Actually, she didn’t quite believe her own eyes when the girl first appeared and she thought that her mind was merely playing tricks on her. You see, Vicky was the kind of person who would adamantly deny the existence of any sort of supernatural phenomena.

“Anything can always be explained by science, even if we have to wait for science to catch up,” she would often quote if the topic ever arose.

But there Vicky was, lying in her bed after a Saturday afternoon nap, eyes freshly open and adjusting to the warm autumn sunlight streaming in through her window, staring at a young girl, about the size of a thimble, sitting on her chest. She rubbed the sleepiness from her eyes and put on her glasses. By the time she looked again, the girl had vanished and Vicky was left to believe that she was merely the remnants of her midday dream.

She didn’t think anything else of the wisp of a girl until about a week later. She was rummaging around her bookshelf searching for her grandmother’s recipe book, when she saw a faint whitish-silver glow behind her dusty copies of the Bible and On the Origin of Species. Her curiosity was naturally peaked. Vicky pulled the books off of the half filled shelf, and there she was, the little wisp of a girl staring up at her. Being the size of a thimble, it was difficult to make out the features of the little girl, but this did not stop Vicky from trying. Not wanting to take her eyes off the little wisp of a girl, she seated herself on a chair with a good view of the bookshelf and waited for the girl to move.

As she waited, Vicky began to ponder the little girl’s existence. Her first thought was that this was some kind of joke. Surely, her best friend Gale had sneaked over and rigged up some sort of equipment, maybe a small projector of some sort, as a pre-Halloween joke. But then, she remembered how much Gale hated technology and how little time she likely had for such pranks owing to her two small children. Vicky decided that was probably not the case. Then she began to wonder if maybe her house had developed a slow carbon monoxide leak. She had heard on the radio that throughout history, many haunted houses actually had some sort of gas leak, causing the occupants to have wild hallucinations. She walked over to the carbon monoxide detector hanging in the hall and pushed the green ‘test’ button. The alarm gave a deafening screech. No, it was not a gas leak either, it seemed.

By the time Vicky had returned to her perch in the living room, the girl was gone. Vicky searched the room frantically looking for the little wisp of a girl, to no avail. She didn’t reappear again for another three days. When she did return, the little wisp of a girl looked as if she had grown a bit. She was now about the size of a cigarette lighter, but she was much the same aside from that. This time, Vicky spotted her when she had just stepped out of the shower. She dried herself and went to leave the bathroom, when she saw the little girl staring up at her. She carefully side-stepped the girl, eying her warily as she passed. When she looked over her shoulder to see if the girl was still there, she realized that the girl, too, had turned and was following Vicky to her room.

Vicky paused and asked, “why are you following me? What do you want?” Her voice had a slight quaver to it as she spoke.

The little girl stopped too, and stared, what seemed to Vicky, through her rather than at her. She said nothing. Vicky turned and left the bathroom and as she entered her room, she slammed the door so as to bar the little girl from entering. Breathing a sigh of relief, she went to her closet and began getting dressed. But when Vicky turned around again, the little girl was standing just behind her, looking up in Vicky’s general direction.
Vicky crouched down and carefully studied the little girl. She seemed harmless enough, even though her presence slightly unnerved Vicky. The little wisp of a girl looked to be about five or six years old. She wore her light hair tied back with a ribbon. She was dressed in a frilly dress, which Vicky assumed must be her Sunday clothes due to the lack of tears or stains. The oddest thing about the little girl’s appearance though, wasn’t her dress or her hair, which both looked extremely old-fashioned for 2016, but it was the fact that the girl wore sunglasses. Vicky wondered if the girl might be blind, and even asked her so. The girl did not respond.
Vicky laid her hand face up in front of the girl in invitation, but the girl stood there, silvery-white feet planted on Vicky’s hardwood floor. Vicky moved her hand closer as if begging the girl to indulge her. The girl still didn’t move. Vicky then tried to pick the girl up with her thumb and forefinger, but they simply pressed themselves together as the passed right through the girl.
Vicky stood up and shrugged. It didn’t seem like the girl was out to cause her any harm. If Vicky were to be haunted by a ghost, it seemed like this was the best kind of specter. Besides, it didn’t seem like there was much she could do to get rid of the girl. Vicky assumed that she would just disappear one day as suddenly as she had appeared. In the meantime, it felt rude to refer to the little girl simply as “girl” or “ghost”. So Vicky decided to give the girl a name. She named the girl Maddy, after her childhood puppy which would follow her around the house. At least it did until one day the puppy got out and the neighbor accidentally ran her over with his beat-up old car. Vicky cried for days. Vicky smiled down at Maddy and invited her to follow her everywhere through the house.
After several days, Vicky had become used to Maddy’s presence, which was almost constant by now. It seemed that giving her a name had encouraged her to stay. Vicky didn’t much mind, in fact, she was a little glad to have some company around the house. Vicky had long since given up on having children. She was already 37 and didn’t even have a current boyfriend. She had considered adoption and even a sperm donor at one point, but decided that it probably wasn’t the best idea. She couldn’t even seem to make time for a steady relationship with all the work she did. How could she ever manage being a single mom? Although Maddy was far from a living human child, she did seem so somewhat fill this need in Vicky’s life.
Eventually, Maddy didn’t just stay home when Vicky left the house. Rather, she chose to ride on Vicky’s right shoulder. Vicky didn’t much mind at first. It didn’t seem like anyone else even noticed Maddy. But as late September faded into early October, Maddy continued to grow until she was the size and weight of a large dictionary. Vicky’s shoulders began to sag under the weight. She had tried to leave Maddy at home, or even just have her walk beside Vicky, but Maddy always managed to find her way up to her perch atop Vicky’s shoulders. Soon Vicky had resigned herself to Maddy’s whim and decided that the best course of action was not to venture away from the house as often.
Sleeping became more difficult as Maddy grew as well. Maddy’s favorite place to lay (because she didn’t actually sleep as far as Vicky could tell), was on Vicky’s chest. Vicky would wheeze and choke through the night, waking up at regular intervals and trying in vain to get Maddy off her chest. Eventually, Vicky went to the doctor and feigned sleep apnea in order to get a CPAP machine, in hopes that it would at least keep her breathing in the night if Maddy’s burden became too great. It seemed to help, but Vicky had trouble sleeping with the mask pressed firmly against her nose and cheeks.
A week and a half passed in this manner. Maddy was now the size of a fairly large dog. The weight on Vicky’s shoulders became almost unbearable at this point. Vicky almost never left her house now. She had decided a couple of days ago that she would instead, work from home. Sometimes she didn’t even leave her bed. Vicky had also undergone some physical changes. Her eyes were now constantly bloodshot and dark circles began to frame them. Her once plump, rosy cheeks were now sunken in and the color of stale oatmeal. Her clothes hung loosely on her body as the weight seemed to fall from her body.
Vicky’s friends and family grew concerned about her new-found hermit lifestyle and called her often. At first, Vicky would always answer the phone. She tried to play it off as merely feeling a bit under the weather. But as the days dragged into weeks, her loved ones soon saw through this lie. The calls became more frequent, and soon, Vicky began to ignore those, letting her voice mail fill to capacity. Her mother even stopped by after work one day and knocked on Vicky’s door. Although she didn’t want to answer, a small part of Vicky hoped that her mother would come in and see Maddy and somehow put all the pieces together. Lured by this though, Vicky pushed the door open and invited her mother inside. Despite her inactivity, Vicky’s house was surprisingly tidy. She showed her mother into the living room and sat her down next to Maddy, almost pleading with her silently through her eyes to understand what was happening. Her mother did not. She merely tried to convince Vicky to get out more, and after an hour or so, her mother left a doggy bag full of Vicky’s favorite food on the kitchen table and took her leave. She promised she would be back in a couple of days to check in on her. Vicky could hear the concern in her mother’s voice, and a part of her was dying to tell her mother everything about Maddy. But Vicky said nothing. Her mother closed the door and drove off, leaving Vicky and Maddy alone.
Vicky knew no one would believe her if she said anything about Maddy. She had seen all of those Hollywood horror films where the attractive star opened up to a friend or family member about the strange things they had been seeing. In the best case scenario, they simply didn’t believe the main character. In the worst case scenario, the main character was committed. Vicky had heard stories about mental institutions, and she did not care to join one. She wasn’t, after all crazy. Maddy was there, as plain as the nose on her face. It’s just, well, Vicky seemed to be the only person who could see her nose at this point. And so, Vicky continued to wait for Maddy to one day disappear again.
Not long after her mother visited, Vicky lost her job. She had gone to sleep a couple of nights before, with Maddy sitting on top of her chest as usual, and woke up only to find that Maddy had almost doubled in size overnight. She was now the size of an adult person. Vicky tried to get up out of bed, but found Maddy’s weight to be too much for her to move. She silently cursed herself for not joining the gym with Gale in January. She silently laid there, waiting for Maddy to move. She did not. She just stared blankly ahead as Vicky squirmed underneath her.
Vicky even took to pleading with Maddy after a couple of days, something she had given up weeks ago after only ever being met with silence. She was desperate now though.
“Please let me get up,” she begged. “I just need to get up and get to the phone, or my computer even!” She gasped as she choked the words out.
Maddy said nothing. She just continued to stare blankly ahead.
“Please, please, please! I can barely breathe. Just let me get up!” Vicky began to sob.
Maddy said nothing.
Vicky’s sobs turned into screams, “Please! Please! Let me up!”
Maddy said nothing. She did, however, move her head down, as if she were looking at Vicky. That was when Vicky realized something. She had always assumed that Maddy was wearing sunglasses. She had thought that was odd enough, but she didn’t give it much thought afterwards. As Vicky peered up into Maddy’s blank face now, she realized that Maddy was not, in fact wearing sunglasses. She was not wearing anything on her face. The black circles which she had mistaken for lenses, were actually holes where Maddy’s eyes should have been.
Vicky screamed and began thrashing madly, trying to shake the specter off of her chest. Her arms flailed recklessly, hitting the bed, the wall, and Vicky’s body. Maddy did not move. She continued to glare down at Vicky. And then, she did something that Vicky had never seen the girl do before. She smiled.
It wasn’t the the smile of a sweet innocent girl, however. It was much the opposite, in fact. Vicky gazed up at her pointed white teeth as Maddy grinned down at her. She stopped trying to throw Maddy from her chest. Vicky was entranced by Maddy’s smile and a feeling of calm washed over her as Maddy lowered her head and began to tear at the flesh on Vicky’s face and body.
Somewhere in the city, Vicky’s mom sat in the early evening rush hour traffic, looking at her watch. It would be at least another 30 minutes until she reached her daughter’s place. At least this time she had picked up a salad for her daughter, so she wouldn’t have to worry about the food getting cold.

June 10, 2015: Scotland! Freedom!

By the way, I never promised I would go in chronological order or anything that would make sense like that. So I’m going to start with the highlight of my summer: Scotland! It was June 10th, I was sitting on a plane headed from Toronto/ Halifax Canada to Glasgow. Luckily I was seated in an aisle seat, with some not-so-bad single serving friends, who were admittedly quite chatty, but nice and interesting. The flight itself was pretty okay, nothing majorly inconvenient aside from not being served a proper meal at any point (because we had a weird stopover in Halifax the flight was technically 5 hours, which I guess is not enough to justify serving dinner in the airline industry). The plane was only a bit late coming in, but it worked out because my ride was also a bit late, heh. But, it was nice when Donald finally walked through the airport doors and I finally got to hug him again for the first time since Christmas. It’s hard to describe the feeling seeing a loved one again after a long time. It’s nice and you’re happy, but at the same time, it is an incredibly weird feeling, which takes several hours to shake. It’s just weird seeing him in person, and somewhat shocking some of the things you forget, even if you talk every day.

Anyway, most of the week I had to adjust to the time difference, aided by the fact that in the summer the sun doesn’t set in Scotland until 10:30 PM or so. The extra light was pretty helpful, although most days it was still a struggle to keep my eyes open. However, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, at least for the next couple of days that is. We took advantage of this by taking a cycle trip to Loch Winoch, which isn’t terribly far, but was nice all the same. And, for those of you that don’t know, loch=lake. We took a picnic lunch and ate it on a bench overlooking the late and the green hills surrounding us. That is one thing about Scotland, it is surprisingly green, but there aren’t nearly as many trees as there are in Alabama (also fairly green, but in a different way). It was like the hills had been carpeted green with tufts of heather here and there.

These few couple of days after my arrival were some of the best weather we had though. Most of the time it was cold, grey and rainy. And I don’t mean cool, I mean I had to wear a coat on several occassions. One which sticks out in my memory is when we took a day trip to Irvine to visit some of Donald’s family. Irvine is a nice little coastal town, and on a sunny summer day, I’m sure it’s absolutely lovely. On the day we went, it was so cold and windy. However, we were not deterred. After a nice lunch we decided to take a walk to the beach, and certain, less sane members of the group decided to actually get in the water. Needless to say, they were not in there for very long. Luckily enough for us though, the rain at least held off until we got back to the car. The tea and biscuits that followed were almost a necessity. This brings up another thing about the UK which I quite like, tea and “biscuits”. And no, I don’t mean what most Southerners call biscuits. I am essentially talking about cookies. The amount and variety of biscuits in the UK are impressive, these being my favorite :). And I could really get used to the fact that whoever you visit, will offer either tea or coffee. I’ve never been so caffeinated in my entire life, and I went to Grad School.

Another awesome destination which we went to several times was the sunny island of Milport. Sunny is mostly sarcastic, but there were quite a few nice days there. And because there is no internet at the flat there, activities mostly included reading, cycling around the island, walking and eating. There was some juggling and such as well. And I tried my hand at golfing for the first time, when Donald, his grandma and I went out for a round. I must say though, I never thought golfing was going to be so tiring, but it really was. And it was really difficult. I also rode on the back of a tandem for the first time, and had a go on the front before almost crashing. The picnics and the coffees/icecreams were also quite nice. It was always just a nice place to go and relax for a bit, not that I didn’t do that on my own already.

So not to give you the idea that this was all I did in Scotland, I will get around to writing more of what I did. I just don’t want to make a really long post. So brace yourself for more parts to come at a later date :)

October 28, 2015: Random Thoughts on Writing Lately

So I haven’t been updating or writing on this for a long time. Not to say that there weren’t attempts to start my blog up again. However, most have ended up with a half written, incoherent draft and I eventually quit halfway through and turn my attention elsewhere. Of course while finishing my degree, there really wasn’t much to say. My days were pretty standard: wake up, teach, go to class, drown in work, Skype Donald, sleep, repeat. But since finishing my Master’s I’ve not had much of an excuse. I’ve even done some interesting things, like go to Scotland for two months, go to a juggling convention in northern Italy and move back to Germany, although that has been a confusing and frustrating mess which I try not to dwell on too much at one time, mostly because I don’t like the constant taste of bile in the back of my throat. So I could celebrate the awesome things I’ve done, or I could complain about bureacracy and stress, but I probably won’t do too much of either, at least not at the moment.

Donald has been insisting for months that I start writing again, and I think I should finally start taking his advice. The only problem seems to be that I don’t really want to write. I’ve made some awesome memories, and part of me doesn’t want to record them, because somehow, that seems to detract from them. It’s much like my thoughts on taking photos of everything I do. I appreciate the memories, but somehow the experience is slightly spoiled by the act of taking myself out of the moment in order to document it. It takes time to sit down and write about what I’ve been up to, which isn’t always a big deal (and not to give the idea that I don’t appreciate looking back on it, I really enjoy that bit). I’ve just been feeling like my time has been somewhat precious lately. This is the hard part about living abroad, I can’t be everywhere at once. Living in Germany means that I am sacraficing the friends and family back in Alabama and in Scotland. So instead of documenting everything I’ve been doing, like I normally try to do when traveling, I have been living in the moment, or at least attempting to do so.

However, I have had a lot more time lately considering I am still waiting on my residence permit here and I’m not allowed to work until I get one, so I might actually start trying to write about my summer (no promises though, I tend to be quite flakey in my blog commitments). But at least I’m going to have a shot at it.

July 18, 2014: It’s my Birthday, Charlie Brown!

So I know, the last month and a half or so I did not do anything to my blog.  I kept procrastinating as I often do with this thing and thinking that I would catch up on it some other time.  At the time, I was too busy enjoying biking trips with friends, sunny days spent juggling or in cafes, grilling together, or just spending some one on one time with Donald because I knew it was close to coming to an end.  I didn’t really want to miss a minute of it by sitting down at my computer for an hour or so just to write about my experiences, rather than make more new memories.  And being removed about a month and some change from some of them, the details are likely to be fuzzy, but I’d still like to give a couple of brief updates on the final months of my journey.

 

I spent the 4th of July at some lady’s barbeque who is a part of our VDAC club.  She is a nice lady, but her Americaness was very overt, despite having lived in Germany for a decent portion of her life.  She completely embodied both the good and bad stereotypes which characterize a former actress as well.  I’m not complaining, that was part of her charm.  And in such a friendly American fashion, she had me come over to her 4th of July party and also watch the Germany/France game in her garage surrounded by a whole host of polite strangers.  Some were American, some were German, all were welcoming.  However I am still just as awkward of a person despite how friendly others are around me, so most of the time I stood kind of awkwardly off to the side waiting for someone to talk to me.  It was nice to get out, but it was also nice to get back home to Donald.

 

The next day was likewise spent at a VDAC function, only this one was a formal affair.  I ended up meeting the American consulate in Germany, sadly wearing only my best jeans and a nice blouse.  In my defense, I asked what I should wear but the response I was given was that it did not matter.  So I dressed for comfort.  Sigh.  Oh well.  The party was just as awkward for me as the one on the previous day and the awkwardness that is me was only alleviated by the fact that two of the girls from the festivities the day prior were also there, wearing just as casual if not more so, clothes.  The cake was nice though, and hey, free food!

 

Another big event in July was my birthday!  And it was one of the funnest birthdays I think I have ever managed to have.  The weather was absolutely perfect and I had so many caring friends wish me well, both in Erlangen and abroad.  The day started out with a bike ride to a nearby lake with a handful of friends.  Once we got there, grilling ensued as we prepared our lunch.  Everyone brought something nice and the food was excellent.  And we had enough to snack on the entire day.  We also did a whole host of other things like volleyball, Ninja, hooping, juggling, and my favorite, volley club.  I even had some friends drive all the way down from Frankfurt to join in the festivities.  That was especially touching.  One of the highlights of the day was also Donald’s amazing chocolate cake.  He really went all out making me a homemade cake (well, I did help a little…) and topped with Ela’s candle sparklers, it was really awesome!  We stayed there until the sun had started to dip close to the horizon and only made it back home just before dark.  We had briefly thought about going out together, but everyone was so completely tired, none of us made it back to the town center.

 

The next day, because we like celebrating things so much, we went out for dinner and some drinks at a hotel/restaurant.  Then we decided that instead of going out, we would head back to Ela’s to drink and watch a bad movie (Iron Sky in this case).  We were not disappointed in this case.  It was incredibly bad.  Unfortunately it was meant to be as bad as it was.  I still think the Room level of badness tops that of Iron Sky just because Tommy Wisseau was actually serious when making it.  And it really is just that bad.  But it was fun to laugh at all the nonsense in that movie regardless.

 

Other things that I did in July (at least before my departure and the weekend leading up to it.  That’s for another post).  Ela and I went to a department store and tried on dirndls (since we didn’t want to spend that much money on buying one).  It was really fun and I even managed to find a gothic dirndl, which I did indeed try on.  We also went to Nürnberg in order to hunt down a jacket which was on sale in a specific size and color.  We didn’t manage to find it, but we still had fun.  And we even managed to find a nice park to laze in before we biked back to Erlangen.  There was also the fact that Germany won the World Cup, which that was a fun celebration even though Donald and I stayed in because he unfortunately had a final the following morning.

 

Speaking of Donald, his mom and aunt also came to visit for about 5 days.  They were, of course, super awesome and nice.  And I could listen to them talk for hours, even about the most mundane things.  I know that sounds creepy, but the Scottish accent is just so melodic and I have unfortunately grown accustomed to Donald’s, heh.  We took it easy most of the time, taking them to all of the nice places and restaurants in Erlangen.  However we did venture over to Nürnberg for an afternoon and took them to see the sites there.  I think they liked it.  Nürnberg is a nice city and has a lot more to see tourist wise than Erlangen.

 

And speaking of visitors I also got to visit with one of my German professors from Auburn as well as one of my friends/instructors at UA and bonus: one of my friends I met on my first study abroad to Vienna.  Extra bonus: we went out to dinner for his birthday.  So it was really nice to see them again and visit with them for several days.  Unfortunately I caught a cold a couple of days before they left so I didn’t get to see them much after Rob’s birthday dinner, but it was still nice to catch up with them.  And it was nice to ride my bike and meet them in Nürnberg as opposed to taking the train.

 

We also went to an interesting French festival on the solstice and did some fire poi.  I tried it out for the first time there and managed to not set myself on fire.  A couple of weeks later I met with my poi class and did fire poi once again.  I was about the same as I was the first time, but I still didn’t catch myself on fire, which was a win.  Donald also tried his hand at some fire juggling, which turns out to be much harder than regular juggling because the fire is blinding.  On top of that you automatically want to grab the flaming end since it is the part you can see the best.  Luckily no harm came to him, even though he dropped the clubs several times within close proximity of his bare feet.

 

There was also a somewhat spontaneous trip to Munich thrown in there.  I still had yet to take the skis I borrowed from my friend there in April back to her.  So I decided I would go to Munich and invited Tom and Helena to join me.  Unfortunately the weather was the worst it could have possibly been for a day trip to Munich, but we made do.  By the end of the day we were soaked to the skin, despite our rain gear.  But we still managed to have some fun.  We met my friends and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the university, which was both cheap and delicious.  Then we followed up with some ice cream at a nearby shop which specialized in odd ice cream flavors.  Some examples were Hugo (quite nice), Augustiener (beer flavored and quite delicious!) and wurst flavored (yuck!) ice cream.  Then I showed them several sites worth seeing, including the university and the rathaus as well as some of the more famous squares and churches.  Then we decided to have a coffee after being drenched to warm us up before our train ride home.  And once we finally got back, we got to watch the rest of the Germany/Brazil game!

 

There was also a couple of end of the year/semester barbeques with the Erasmus students, several of which we did not know because they were 2nd semester students.  But it was still fun, even though there were a ton of mosquitoes.  I was lucky enough to walk away mostly unscathed, but two of our friends got it especially bad and had little red welts all over their arms, legs, and necks.  They looked incredibly itchy and I felt bad for one girl since she was traveling back to Barcelona the next day.  But it was still quite fun!

 

And I think that is about it as far as highlights of July go.  I will probably think of other things to add to the list later, but oh well.  Most of my time was spent in the usual relaxing manner.  I didn’t take many trips or do much exciting.  I just lived in Erlangen like it was my home and hung out with my friends.  And while part of me wishes I was a more exciting person, the other part of me is glad that I made the memories with the people I loved there.

June 16, 2014: Bitter Sweet Tübingen

I can’t really think of anything I’ve done last week of consequence, so I will go ahead and jump into what I did that weekend, i.e. my last VDAC trip to Tübingen.  We left on Friday at about noon, and I say we because there were seven of us leaving from Nürnberg.  There was of course Frau Arneth, who graciously drove us in her big red van, her two granddaughters visiting from the states, and three students from FAU who are going to the states next year.  They all seemed pretty excited about going and the ride there was filled with questions about life/studying in the US as well as the general “getting to know you” questions that always accompany meeting new people.

 

Once we had arrived and got into our rooms, it was time for some coffee and cake which was provided by the hostel, and was probably the tastiest thing they served all weekend.  This meant we mingled with one another for awhile which meant that I sort of awkwardly stood around and listened to what people were talking about, but not making any real effort to contribute to the conversation.  After everyone had pretty much become acquainted with one another, we made our way to the German American Institute nearby for a short talk, mostly concerning what the institution does.  I think the most interesting part of the talk was looking at all the photographs they had on exhibit of people from the Broncs on a nearby beach.  I don’t know why, but there was something so beautiful about them.  There were two really memorable photographs for me.  One was a black and white of a young African American woman grinning at the camera, one hand placed on her hip jutting out with such sass, with her vibrant orange swimsuit being the only splash of color in the image.  The other was also in black and white and was of a somewhat overweight Hispanic man in maybe his thirties or forties with a small child who I can only assume was his daughter clinging to his back.  Both photos just sort of struck me at that moment and made me really appreciate how diverse the U.S. really is.

 

Anyway, that aside we listened to the lady in charge give her spiel and then we were assigned a rather interesting and fun task.  Instead of going on our usual city tour, the program decided to make us take a more active part in learning about the city.  So we were assigned into groups based on our U.S. universities (or those in close proximity) and given a list of five riddles to figure out.  And no, we couldn’t just cheat and use google either.  They had already thought of that.  So Team U. Alabama’s solution: go to the tourist office, get maps, and ask questions.  For the most part the people there were pretty helpful, giving us at least a starting point for most of the questions.  They only led us astray once, but I think they were rather unsure of their responses themselves.  Maps in hand we set out to solve these riddles.  The first two or three went pretty smoothly and quickly, but then we got a bit hung up looking for a small bone at the entrance of an old monastery (I think) which was now a dorm.  But with the help of a few nice strangers, we soon had our sheet filled out and ready to go.  This accomplishment couldn’t very well go unrewarded.  This called for some ice cream by the river as we parsed through our information and made a poem/performance with it for a later presentation that evening.  And even though all the performances were supposed to be judged, it ended up not mattering and every group got a nice little thing of gummy bears for our work.

 

Team U. Alabama, well most of us

Team U. Alabama, well most of us.  Selfie courtesy of Byron

 

After that we broke up into our groups and were assigned a specific theme to discuss concerning cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany.  And most of our topics, while pretty mundane, eventually boiled down into some sort of political debate.  And while most people were giving answers as they know them to be true, no one could actually agree on those answers.  So eventually every debate boiled down to: it depends on where you are in the U.S.  It would have probably been more helpful to students if we had discussed these topics in more regional based groups as opposed to trying to for example, parse out the climate of the entire United States in under 5 minutes.  But hopefully it was at least somewhat helpful and not terribly overwhelming.

 

And that was about it for day one.  Everyone else decided to go out after we had finished, but I was a bit too tired so I went to bed at around 11 or so.  I was still extremely tired the next morning though.  Sleeping in hostels is just not as comfortable as your own bed.  But the next morning was really nice and thankfully, a bit cooler as well.  We woke up early, breakfasted, and then took a bus to a nearby castle, which we took a tour of, but only after a pretty steep climb to the top.  The American in me was gasping and wheezing the entire climb.  You would think one day I would get used to all the walking I do over here, but nope.  The castle was worth the climb though and we learned a lot about it as well.  It was built originally in the 11th century but was later destroyed and eventually fell into complete disrepair.  But in the 19th century they decided to rebuild it in the Medieval style as a sort of museum to their empire.  Which also makes it important to note, the family that once lived there eventually became emperors of Prussia.  And what a monument it is!  It was absolutely beautiful, and not only the castle but also the view!  The valleys below stretched for miles.

 

Picture on my ticket stub via google

Picture on my ticket stub via google

 

We ended up eating lunch at a restaurant at the castle before heading back down.  Then we took a bus ride which dropped us off in this random road by some fields which we walked to another cafe.  We drank a bit of cider/coffee there before heading on a “hike”.  It was much more of a walk in general, but was fun.  We did some more mingling and chatting, and some games were involved before we made it back to Tübingen.  Then we walked around the downtown area for a bit before our free time.  This is when I found a juggling store just randomly placed in a shop lined street.  The excitement completely overwhelmed me as I pressed my nose against the storefront glass and drooled over their wares, the most notable being a fire hoop.  But before I could get my fill I realized the group had already wandered off and I decided to catch back up with them.  This probably wasn’t my best idea.  I did find them, but they had already disbanded so I could have very well stayed at the store.  So I decided to go back and see when it was open.  To my dismay it had just shut for the weekend, so there was no geeky juggling store to be had.  But it was still pretty cool.

 

This is about the time I got lost.  Now Tübingen is not a terribly large place, but we had done so much circling about I was completely confused.  This meant I wandered around for about 20 minutes to no avail.  I was starting to panic a bit and I decided to call Donald since my phone is much to junky to do anything like internet.  He ended up looking up my location and giving me step by step directions back to our hostel.  Potato.  But I made it back and even had time for a nap before dinner!

 

After that we were divided into two groups: the German students and the American students, for a brief talk on the differences between German and American universities and how to go about applying to Master’s programs in Germany respectively.  And while I found the talk interesting, I didn’t think it was extremely helpful for my situation since I am almost finished with my Masters back in the states and am planning on actually finding a job if/when I come back over here as opposed to more school.  Not to rule out a Doctorate just yet, but I want some “real world” experience first.  I need a break from school and a break from being a poor student.  Then the German group joined ours for a break down of all the U.S. universities involved in the program.  There were pictures and each American student told a little bit about their universities before moving on.  Luckily for us the lady giving the presentation had done her exchange at UA, so I really didn’t have to say anything at all.  I ended up just nodding along and smiling and that was good enough for me.

 

It was pretty cool to see all the universities and hear some of the students talk about them (undergrads being a lot more positive than grads, surprise).  After that we went out to a beer garden nearby to celebrate one of the guy’s birthday.  It was fun to sit around, drink a beer, and talk.  Then we were going to go to another bar for awhile, but a handful of us decided to go somewhere less crowded and smoky.  This was when I realized that my initial entry into said group of people, based on the fact that I have seen the movie Primer before (thanks Doug!) was likely a mistake as they dissected different rap songs, artists, and other obscure movies.  My only other in into the conversation was Haruki Murakami, which was merely a brief topic.  It was still pretty interesting though.  I also learned about a new Swedish show that I’m going to have to watch about androids.  Eventually I had to call it a night and managed to get only 4 hours or so of sleep, which was admittedly more than some other people managed to get.

 

The next day was pretty relaxing, even though everyone was exhausted.  We got up and ate breakfast and then went for a gondola ride on the Neckar.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I don’t think we could have asked for better weather.  It was neither too hot nor too cold and the sunny blue sky smiled down upon us.  Some people even got to try captaining the boat themselves, some with much better luck than others.  It was nice getting to sit back on the river with some pretty cool people to keep you company, sharing stories ranging from a dissection of Vanilla Ice to work stories from the movie theater days.  And with that and lunch we were forced to say goodbye for what could potentially be forever for some.  I’d like to think I’ve gotten good at goodbyes over the years, I sure have had a lot of experience with them.  And I would like to say that I have even accepted the fact that most people you only get the pleasure of knowing for a short time, but then the other part of me really does think I’ll see at least some far away friends again.  It is, after all, a small world.  But even if I don’t see some friends from the program again, I can take solace in the fact that my life has been forever influenced by them and the program itself.

 

View on the river. Picture coutesey of Taylor

View on the river. Picture courtesy of Taylor

 

On the gondola.  Picture courtsey of Taylor

On the gondola. Picture courtesy of Taylor

 

So before I get any more gushy and sentimental I think I’m going to call this post done.  Of course there was the ride back, much like the ride there and the coincidental meeting of a friend from my Vienna study abroad in 2011 on a random train platform in Nürnberg, but those things don’t really need much explaining anyway.  And hopefully I can manage to write a bit more regularly again until I get back to the states.  So until my next adventure!

June 8, 2014: Bergkirchweih > Oktoberfest

More highlights from my stay in Germany:

 

My good friend Tom’s birthday was on June 2nd and so we decided to celebrate it the weekend before.  If you know Tom at all you know he is not a fan of the usual 20 something birthday scene involving a ton of alcohol and dancing in a club or bar.  Instead we decided to take a bike trip from Erlangen to Bamberg, which is more than double the distance to Forchheim.  I think to total for our trip there was something like 51 miles.  Anyway, we started off decently early around 10:30 and cycled along the canal.  We took it kind of easy and stopped fairly often for water, snacks, pictures, and the occasional swallowed bug.  The weather was absolutely perfect and the sky was blue with these nice fluffy clouds watching over us most of the trip.  For those of you who don’t know anything about this part of Franconia, the landscape is pretty awesome to cycle through.  The trip goes through the Frankische Schweiz, which are these low rolling hills covered in trees and greenery, with wide flat valleys of various fields and a patchwork of wild flowers on either side of the canal.  From about Forchheim on the trip seemed never ending.  It was nice and I have no complaints other than my legs and bum were really starting to feel the burn.  But in the company of good friends one tends to forget these things.  At one point we stopped cycling long enough to watch a rowing race in which we then proceeded to cycle along side (which was pretty neat).  We also met an older group of bikers (most with silvery white hair) who helped us along our journey.  I don’t think I could have asked for a nicer cycling trip to be honest.

 

By the canal

By the canal

 

Pictures near Forchheim

Pictures near Forchheim

 

bambergbike12

The rowing race

 

Once in Bamberg we found the brewery which sells this smoked beer special to the town and had lunch there.  And oh what a feast we had.  There is nothing like eating nice food and drink after such a long bike ride.  We even chatted with some of the people we were sharing a table with, who were all rather surprised that we were from different countries (France, Scotland, US, Poland, and Spain).  Then we walked around for a bit and managed to find some ice cream before heading back.  The plan was originally to cycle back the way we came and hopefully making it in under three hours this time.  And considering how long we had ridden and how loudly my legs were aching at this point, Donald and I decided to head back via train while the others cycled back, debating when we likely overtook the others.

 

Lunch in Bamberg

Lunch in Bamberg

 

We continued the birthday celebration that Monday and Tuesday by going to an Indian buffet nearby and feasting on some lemon meringue pie.  Some Game of Thrones was involved as well.  And later on that Tuesday we went out to celebrate another friend’s birthday at the student bar in Erlangen.  I managed to meet some more American people here as well and we just chatted and sat around until the old lady in me decided I should go home and get some well deserved sleep.  Celebrating birthdays is, after all, hard work.

 

Another important event to note this week was the opening of the Erlangen beer festival, Bergkirchweih.  Now there are a couple of very important reasons why I like this festival much more than I liked Oktoberfest.  The main reason is that the atmosphere is so much nicer at the Bergkirchweih.  The beer gardens are on top of the small hill overlooking Erlangen, surrounded by trees and nature.  The tents are quite close to one another, with the seating stretching up the hill.  And it just feels more cozy and authentic overall to be honest.  Someone told me that Oktoberfest is where to tourists go and the Bergkirchweih is where the Germans go.  I’m not sure how true that is, but it makes at least a bit of sense to me.  It also wasn’t completely impossible to find a place to sit as opposed to Oktoberfest, where you have to arrive early and drink the entire day so you can sit comfortably in a tent.  And just in case you were wondering, yes I have managed to go to the Bergkirchweih several times since I am so close to it.  It is really nice to be able to ride my bike to and from the fest instead of sitting on top of a luggage rack in a train crowded with drunk people trying to untie my shoe laces for 2 hours.

 

Overlooking one of the booths

Overlooking one of the booths

 

Enjoying a liter on opening night

Enjoying a liter on opening night

 

I also took another bike trip with my good friend Ela from Erlangen to Nuremberg.  Considering how far our last bike trip was, we thought this one would be a piece of cake.  And for the most part it was.  The only issue was that it was incredibly hot (in the upper 80s to lower  90s) and the sun was blazing down on us.  It felt a bit like Alabama, minus the extreme humidity.  And the scenery was just not as nice as it was on our Bamberg trip.  This is mostly due to the fact that we followed the road instead of finding another route.  Once in Nuremberg we parked our bikes and found some ice cream.  Then we made our way over to the river and ate our fare in the shade of a nice big tree.  We walked around for a bit and then eventually decided to beat the heat by sitting in a cafe near the castle.  While sipping on some black currant juice we lazily chatted and people watched before finally calling it an afternoon and heading back home.  The ride back was pretty uneventful with the exception of my near death experience as a driver parked halfway in the bike lane decided to open his door right as I went by him, coming less than an inch from hitting me.  The weather was also a bit cooler and shadier as we rode back, and mostly downhill as well.  And to top off such a nice weekend we decided to beat the heat on Sunday by going to the swimming pool next to my dorm the next evening.

 

And since this post is already getting a bit long, I think I am going to make a new post for Tübingen and all of the fun I had there with my fellow American and German exchange students.

May 25, 2014: Learning the Ropes

Okay, I have been super lazy lately concerning my blog.  It’s time to play catch up again.  This is just going to be a brief overview of the past month or so (well, broken up into two parts and hopefully becoming more detailed.)  Things have picked back up lately seeing as I have been traveling more and doing more things with friends.  But the first week I am addressing in this post was a bit different.  I was not feeling particularly well that week, so I decided to be the courageous person I am typically not and go to the doctor.  As exciting as that seems (*sarcasm*) I am mainly bringing this up to talk about the differences between GP’s in the US and here in Germany.

 

Before going I consulted many people on the topic of going to the doctor here in Germany.  Most mind blowing of all was just how easy everything was.  You call and make an appointment, go and see the doctor, and leave after discussing the issue at hand.  And no, I’m not leaving anything out.  There is no co-pay when you get done.  There is no paperwork you have to fill out beforehand.  You don’t talk to a nurse and tell her everything on said paperwork again.  You just tell the doctor what is wrong and any relevant information, he asks you questions and does any sort of test necessary, and then you simply leave.  Now, I know that there will be some sort of charge eventually (sent by mail and usually around the 5 euro mark), but compared to a doctors visit in America, I found everything very stream-lined, thorough, and cheap.  It’s also work noting that the doctors don’t have several rooms filled with awaiting patients, but rather they are called into his/her office with everything necessary already there.  This is also pretty nice because you aren’t sitting there just waiting for the doctor.  So my overall experience with the German health care system thus far has been extremely positive.  This also concerns the health insurance aspect of it as well.  It really sucks that I have to go back to the American health care system for at least a year, but such is life.

 

So that leads me to my VDAC weekend trip to the beautiful Siegen, or more accurately, this little village about 20 minutes from Siegen.  The trip there, while long and a bit taxing, was fairly uneventful.  I had to change trains a least a dozen times and occasionally I had a bit of a wait at certain stops, but nothing too bad considering it was about 5 hours to get there.  I ended up meeting a friend there and we slowly made our way to the hotel.  This was much more challenging than it sounds considering there were hardly any signs pointing us in the right direction.  After walking around the grounds of some school for at least 10 minutes, we were approached by a man, who happened to be one of the guys in charge.  He then directed us to our corresponding rooms and we went on our way.

 

That night we went to Siegen and took one of those night tours you can see in most cities.  This involves a tour guide with a lantern and a sort of Mideval esque costume telling us about the town, but in a more historical context.  These tours tend to be pretty fun and interesting, but this guide was a bit weird.  His favorite thing was insulting and teasing everyone in the group and just sort of laughing it off as well all smiled awkwardly along.  I don’t think he had any ill intent, but it was a bit off putting at times.  As far as the city itself goes, it is a really nice town.  I really like the different architecture compared with all of the typical Bavarian/Franconian style buildings I am constantly surrounded by.  But the city was a bit sketch.  There were so many people sitting around and drinking beer.  The worst was on the church steps where we were harassed by some guys for about 10 minutes while the tour guide mostly ignored them.

 

 

City tour: this is how squabbling washing women were punished apparently

City tour: this is how squabbling washing women were punished apparently

 

And example of the architechture

And example of the architecture

 

The next day we did some team building exercises, consisting mostly of a high ropes course.  So back in the wooded area behind our hotel there were several ropes strung high in the trees, which we had to cross either by ourself but with the moral support of everyone, or with their physical help (this one in particular consisted of several small and moving platforms which had to be held steady by a person holding a rope on each side.)  Being on the ground was pretty fun and the one course I did manage was pretty fun.  What was not fun was having to jump down from such a height.  While there was no chance we would fall, our brains didn’t tend to think we would be slowly lowered down to safety, but rather we would crash into the ground of death with a splat.  This would be the primary reason I did not chance the other two courses.  But after a lot of convincing I finally went on the last course.  Everyone said it was really easy.  You had to walk across a rope but you had another rope parallel to it which you could hold on to.  As my friends gracefully glided across, I thought, “yeah, I can do that!”  Nope! Chuck Testa. After several minutes of struggling and almost falling, I finally figured out the trick and shakily made my way across and then down.

 

Holding the platforms steady

Holding the platforms steady

 

Proof of my climbing misadventure

Proof of my climbing misadventure

 

Then we went to another station in which we climbed up a tree using several pegs tied to it.  It was a pretty far climb, but everyone, again, made it look manageable, and some even easy.  So I waited and watched and when it came my turn, I was full of enthusiasm.  I made it up about three pegs before “falling”, or rather taking a large step down.  Feeling like I wasn’t giving it a fair shot, I tried again only to make it about as far up before stepping down again.  Oh well, it seems climbing is really not my cup of tea.  But on the plus side I did manage to do the zip line with no issues!  Sure all I had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride, but it was my only success on the ropes course all day.  And before I move on I want to talk about how cool this zip line was.  Essentially it worked like a pulley.  There was one person attached to the line on the end who would then be pulled up by four colleagues who ran the opposite direction pulling on the end of a rope.  I have to say, the trip us was actually faster and more fun than the trip down.

 

The climbing tree

The climbing tree

 

After that we took a 5k hike around a large lake and up a small hill.  It was a really good chance to talk to everyone and to see some of the nature surrounding the small village, but I was super tired by the end as I lagged behind most everyone else blazing the trail in front of us.  My legs ended up being fairly sore most of the evening, but not having any real lasting aches.  We then all got dressed up and headed back to Siegen for the club’s election dinner, where all the Americans were presented with their program completion certificates.  It was a really nice banquet with what had to be some of the best chocolate mousse I have ever had the pleasure of eating.  And the view from the dining hall was absolutely beautiful.  We were perched atop a large hill with a nice view of the town as the sun set over it.  I could have gazed out that window for hours.

 

UA picture at the VDAC Dinner

UA picture at the VDAC Dinner

 

The next day was mostly filled with travel.  But before we left Siegen we went to the city museum and poked around for awhile.  It was pretty cool, especially seeing the mines beneath the building and getting to actually go through some of them.  The view from the garden was also rather nice.  The museum itself was on top of another hill which overlooked the city below.  If you haven’t figured it out, Siegen is located in a pretty hilly part of Germany.  Then a group of us went to the town center and wasted a bit of time waiting for our trains to come by eating a bit of ice cream.  Considering many of us had to go through Frankfurt, we all rode together, making the time pass more quickly and having some great conversations.  Then we decided that since our wait in Frankfurt was nearly 50 minutes, we had time to give the only Chipotle in Germany a visit.  While it was not a far trip and we got everything To-Go, we didn’t manage to make our original trains.  This was very disappointing, especially considering the fact that we watched our train pull away as we attempted to chase it down, gasping and wheezing as it ignored our feeble attempt.  But it was overall worth it.  I only got into Erlangen an hour later than I would have sans Chipotle.  And Chipotle is just awesome.

 

Beautiful Siegen as seen from the museum

Beautiful Siegen as seen from the museum

 

And that is about everything I have to say about the first two weeks of my month long break from writing.  I will hopefully get around to writing about the last two weeks, which were much more action packed than the previous two.

May 11, 2014: Eurovision!

For those of you who don’t know, last week was the Eurovision Song Contest.  This is a three night event (spread over five days) where the majority of countries in Europe enter a song from their home country and compete.  The contest has a reputation of having some really terrible entries.  For example: Ireland 2008 and Ukraine 2007.  Now don’t get me wrong, some of the entries aren’t that bad.  Most are just really mediocre pop songs pandering their usual four-chord, key-changing tunes to the masses, trying to be as unoffensive as possible.  And hey, there are actually some pretty decent songs as well, one of my favorites being Finland 2006.  That being said I did actually enjoy myself whilst watching the contest due to two major factors: 1. Friends and 2. Booze

 

We ended up playing a drinking game in both the semi-finals and the finals to ensure we would enjoy this year’s Eurovision.  And to my knowledge, everyone did.  We brought snacks and booze and made snarky comments where snarky comments were due.  We danced along with the more poppy tunes and made fun of most of the ballads.  We groaned with every key change and every four-chord song and we shouted for our favorite countries to go through to the finals/get enough points to beat the competition.  And through it all, Austria won with their entry, which isn’t a bad song at all, but I really didn’t think it was the best one in the mix.  And the dead last losers, I’m sad to say, was France with their mustache song (apparently the entire song is about him wanting to have a mustache, but it’s catchy and more memorable than some of the other songs.)  So upon the results we had the winner (or the highest placing representative we had there, which turned out to be Hungary) take a shot of strawberry vodka (less nice than it sounds) and the loser had to drink a dirty pint, which consisted mostly of off brand Jager (not nice at all) and milk.  Yum.

 

Honorable mentions (at least in my opinion) go to:
Poland
Hungary
Latvia
Iceland

 

Overall I would say it was a nice way to spend most of the week.  Unfortunately I didn’t do much outside of that, especially considering how much it rained all week.  Here’s hoping it stops raining so much, even though I should probably rest up a bit.  Soon I will be going to Siegen with the Verband.

May 4, 2014: May Day!

So we are officially in May now and let me just say, time has flown by so quickly!  It really makes me sad to think that I only have three months left in Germany before going back to finish up my Masters.  But before I get sentimental, let me talk about what I’ve been up to!  Apparently in Germany May 1st is the equivalent to their Labor Day, so in celebration of such a holiday, naturally most people don’t have to work.  Instead, what I learned you are actually supposed to do, is acquire a wagon or trailer, buy massive amounts of beer and load up said trailer, go outside somewhere, and drink until you can’t stand up straight.  It’s a pretty good holiday by any university student’s standards, if I say so myself.

 

In order to properly celebrate such an important day, Donald and I went to a small village about 40 minutes or so away from Erlangen with several of his friends from class.  There were six of us in all, but we met two later on for whatever reason.  The reason why we decided to go to such a small place was that they were hosting a beach volleyball tournament.  At first I was a bit wary of the idea: spending the afternoon with  a group of people who I didn’t know all speaking German and playing a sport I haven’t touched in over five years… well there was beer involved and Donald really seemed excited about it, so I decided to break out of my comfort zone once more and give it a go.  And overall, I’m really glad I did.  I met some really nice people, and we managed to come in 4th in the tournament.  Granted there were only 10 teams, but we only really had one seasoned player on our team.  And with our final match opponents’ matching shirts in the last round, how could we really beat color coordination like that?  However, if we had had a chance to practice a bit before hand, I’m sure we could have done better.

 

Other notable events from Thursday was the beer and the food.  We got there around 11 and started drinking some of the local beer (Hofmann beer for those interested).  It was the earliest I have every started drinking, and I will have to say, I’m not the biggest fan.  I still took it pretty easy until later in the evening, but something about my American brain just doesn’t see the point of getting drunk that early in the day.  I can understand having a beer or something with your lunch, but I don’t want to make drinking my only goal of the day.  Not that I am complaining.  People getting drunk so early in the day and continuing to down more beers throughout the afternoon provided me with some class entertainment, well with the exception of the older drunk guys who somehow thought it would be fun to attempt to play volleyball resulting in what can only be described as the most boring game ever.  The only bad bit of the day would have to be the drunk guy who, very early on, decided to play on the of the playground equipment and then proceeded to fall off head first within the first 10 minutes of his arrival.  We are pretty sure he had a concussion and soon enough an ambulance came to take him to the hospital.

 

Friday and Saturday were kind of rainy and cold, so they ended up being lazy days.  There’s nothing really spectacular or interesting to note here.  However, the weather on Sunday was spectacular.  And not wanting that to go to waste, Donald and I decided to go for a bike ride all the way to Forchheim, which is about 20km or 12 1/2 miles away from Erlangen.  And even though it is only one stop away from Erlangen on the RE train, I had never been there before outside of a weird train incident on my way back from Bamberg.  So after a really excellent breakfast, we started off on the hour long journey.  The bike trail we chose took us through the western part of Erlangen, over the river, and ran right by the Main Donau canal.  And because we decided not to go through a bunch of little towns, we had the most amazing scenery on the trip there and back.  There were meadows with all sorts of plants and flowers for miles.  We could see the little villages in the distance with the Frankische Schweiz (small hills in Franconia) dotting the horizon.  The sky was a brilliant shade of blue with little puffy clouds much like the ones in Toy Story.

 

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20140504_143554

 

Once we made it to Forchheim, we walked around the small town for awhile looking for a nice place to eat.  Forchheim is a pretty typical small Franconian town, at least architecture wise.  We ended up sitting outside of the city hall at what was the busiest restaurant in town.  The rest looked deserted and not wanting to end up like those people in Hostel, we decided not to try one of the ghost town eateries.  The place was nice, and after biking 20 km to get there, we really appreciated the food and beer, but the atmosphere was what was really nice (ie. being surrounded by all of the old Franconian buildings).  After that we walked around a bit more in order to try and find a nice postcard for my wall, with no luck seeing as it was a Sunday and everything was closed anyway.  Then we made the long journey back.  By the time we got back to Erlangen, I must say, I was pretty sore.  I would love to do a weekend bike trip somewhere, but I honestly don’t know if my body is up for it just yet.  Or my bike for that matter.  But we will see in due time I suppose.

20140504_162249

 

After that I met with one of my American friends and made her a typical southern U.S. meal consisting of fried chicken, peas and carrots, buttermilk biscuits, and bread pudding.  I must say, I have found a pretty good and pretty simple bread pudding recipe as well.  I might try and include it in the recipe section if I ever get the motivation to update that section of the site.  But it was her first time trying bread pudding and she seemed to like it well enough.  I know I sure did, heh.  And that is about all I’ve done this weekend.  I have no real plans for next weekend outside of a birthday party.  I may end up taking a day trip somewhere, either by bike or train, seeing as I have so little time left here which has made me realize I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of my traveling list…  Oh well, guess that means I’ll just have to come back, heh.

April 27, 2014: Śmigus-Dyngus

So this brings me to Easter Monday, which isn’t typically celebrated in American, but it is here in Germany.  The day started when Frau Arneth (the lady in charge of my program and who looks after me) came and picked me up at around 11 to go on a day out.  It was quite nice to get to spend some time with her since I don’t see her terribly often.  And she is a really sweet lady who kind of reminds me of my late granny in both physical features and demeanor.  Anyway, she picked me up and we drove around and through several small towns in order to see the fountains of each village which are typically decorated for Easter.  Despite most of the villages we drove through not having much done to their fountains, we did see several nice ones with their hollowed out painted egg shells and garland laced around the fountains.  It was quite interesting to see all of the fountains even though Frau Arneth kept saying how disappointing they all were this year.  After driving around for a while we stopped at a beer garden in Schwarzachtal to have some lunch.  It was typical beer garden fare.  I had a wiener schnitzel and a side salad.  It was pretty nice and the service was very quick.  Then we went hiking it what is called the Little Grand Canyon in the Frankische Schweiz.  For those of you who don’t know, they are just several little foothills of what I can only assume to be a part of the Alps to our South.  The hills are not even as large as those you might find in northern Alabama, but they are nice nonetheless.  And the Little Grand Canyon is a hiking trail (well more like a walk) through the small canyon made by a small river.  Given that it is such a small and calm looking river, it is pretty impressive how deep it actually is.  It’s a shame I didn’t get any pictures though, but it was nice.  And the weather was pretty nice as well.  So after our hour or so walk along the river and through the canyon, we headed back to Frau Arneth’s house to have so coffee and cake.  It was there that I met some of her family and we talked about a whole host of subjects, including marijuana, heh.  And eventually it was time for me to head back home so that I could meet up with some friends to do an Easter egg hunt in the sculpture garden on the “Berg”.

 

But first, we had to celebrate Easter Monday the Polish way, which meant Śmigus-Dyngus.  For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday it mostly involves guys pouring water over girls as a superstitious way to ensure girls will get married some day.  There has to be some sort of innuendo I’m missing here.  And since one of my best friends over here is Polish, well, we had to make sure she would get married some day.  So make shift water guns in hand, we made our way to Ela’s.  After ringing the doorbell we finally saw her coming down the stairs, rain jacket on and water bottle in hand, prepared for the soaking of her life.  After two rounds of water fights, we all finally headed up to the berg, about an hour and a half late and drenched.  But there was still a good 30 minutes or so of egg hunting before everyone was too drunk to do anymore.  It was pretty fun running around finding eggs, especially with all of the drunk people.  See the game was to have one person hide the eggs (the winner from the last round) and then everyone else had to take a shot of something, spin around on a stick 10 times, and then go.  I thought I was going to fall even though I decided against the shots.  I did, however, get into it (as I do sometimes get unreasonably competitive when there is a competition).  I ended up kneeing a stone wall and having a massive bruise, but I kind of deserved it for pushing one of my friends out of the way to get the egg.  Potato.

 

After that we decided to meet up with Tom in the park because he had not yet partaken in the fun that is Śmigus-Dyngus.  So on the way back we found a stream and filled our water bottles with some water and got ready for our sneak attack.  And sadly, as we crept up on Tom, we realized he had his phone out and we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to douse him until he had put it away.  But by then he had caught on and started running.  We then had to work together to corral him like a pack of hungry lions would do to a gazelle.  We still didn’t drench him as much as we had wanted to, but it was fun.  And he later got a hold of Donald’s water bottle and chased Ela and I to the square.  Several people looked at us as we squealed from the frigid water, but it was fun.  After that Donald, Tom, and I went to a nearby Donner place and we ordered what had to be the biggest pizza I have ever seen.  We struggled to eat it all between the three of us.  It was good though.

 

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As for the next two days we met Donald’s uncle and cousin who came to visit him in Erlangen.  It was pretty nice.  There was a lot of eating, drinking, and socializing, so it was pretty relaxing.  We also found some pretty good places to eat in Erlangen and Nuremberg.  I think the most interesting thing we had to have done was go visit the courtroom where they had the Nuremberg Trials.  And while the room was arranged differently than it originally was in the ’40s and ’50s, we still got to see where the Nazis were actually tried.  We also got to read detailed information about not only the trials, but also the defendants, attorneys, prosecutors, and judges.  There was even a brief exhibit on the Tokyo Trials, which was pretty interesting as well since no one really discusses the war criminals in Japan.  After the museum and lunch we walked around the historic part of Nuremberg.  Since his uncle didn’t feel up to walking up to the castle, we stayed in the square and visited a couple of churches.  We also saw a folk music band playing outside of one of the restaurants which also had an entire pig roasting in an oven.  We then made our way to a small cafe by the river and sat there for awhile and chatted.  It was nice and relaxing, and I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten so well for two days straight!

 

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Outside of that it was not a terribly eventful week.  On Friday Ela and I took a bike ride to try and find some lakes we wanted to visit on Saturday.  After getting lost for a bit we ended up taking a trail up this large hill and overlooking a beautiful valley with meadows and small villages dotting the ground.  We cycled around for a bit longer before deciding to picnic in a meadow.  After lunch we cycled up another big hill and made our way to Neunkirchen, which is a small town not terribly far from Erlangen.  It was nice, but we didn’t stay long before making our way back.  The on Saturday Donald, Tom, Ela, and I did end up going on a bike ride to the lakes we tried to find the day before about 45 minutes away.  We also took stuff to grill and even had chocolate and marsh mellows for dessert.  The only thing missing was the graham crackers.  And while most of the ride to the lakes was pretty uneventful, we began to have a bit of bad luck as we neared the lake.  While crossing a field Donald’s bike chain snapped in two, leaving us with either two options: we take a bus back home or we devise a way of towing him to the lake.  We went with the latter, or course.  Using two bike locks and the back of Tom’s bike, we made it safely there and even towed Donald all the way back to Erlangen in this manner, getting the most bizarre looks from people we passed.  Overall it was a pretty nice day.  I only had two complaints: I forgot to bring my swimsuit so I couldn’t go swimming and ticks.  We somehow managed to not get them all over us, but we did find a couple roaming around on our blanket, causing me to be quite paranoid the rest of the outing.  And while there were some light gray towering clouds threatening us with their rolling thunder, we stayed for quite a while before deciding to head back home.  And it didn’t even rain on us!

 

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