April 20, 2014: It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!

I know I have been doing a terrible job of writing every week as of late, and really, I have no excuse.  But let me try to amend that by doing some catching up.  My plan is to be completely caught up by Tuesday of next week.  So hopefully I will write like mad until I get there.  And hopefully I will remember everything I’ve done…

 

Going to Saas Fee for a week of skiing was awesome, but unfortunately going meant that I missed the entire first week of classes.  Well,  more like the entire first Monday of classes.  Yes, that means that I only have real classes on Monday, with my belly dance class late in the evening and my poi class happening to fall on a Thursday.  Before you think I am super lazy and actually did this on purpose, let me explain.  I actually signed up for six classes, but the others were wait listed by the time I got to it and sadly, I did not get in those other classes.  I thought about branching out and taking some in the English department here, but that didn’t pan out either.  So I just decided not to worry about any of it (like I was going to anyway) and devote my time instead, to earning money and using that money to do a bit more traveling.  As for my classes, I like most of them, especially the belly dance and the poi class.  I also really like my German dialects class and have even managed to make some friends in there.  Although I do have a hunch that foreign students tend to have some sort of gravitational effect on other foreign students considering two are from Brazil and one other girl is from the Ukraine.  My other two classes… well it’s going to take some convincing to go back.  The literature class is rather boring, and to be perfectly honest, now that I have access to the materials online, it really makes me not want to go.  I really only decided to take the class in order to get an overview of the various literary movements in German literature for my comps next year.  The other class has the potential for being interesting, but I don’t think I like the professor all that much.

 

That aside I had a pretty awesome week.  We kicked off that last Sunday by meeting Ela and staying all afternoon in the park, juggling, talking, eating ice cream, and playing guitar.  It was also the first time I had seen Ela in about a month because she had to go back to Poland for awhile.  It was nice.  As for other things I did that week, I spent a lot of time outside, especially juggling, since the weather was so great, and I also spent a lot of time riding my bike to random places.  I also realized that the forest behind my dorms goes back way farther than I had originally thought.  I also watched some movies and caught up on Game of Thrones.  We also had a barbecue, which originally was in a park, but was moved after the police came and told us, along with several others, that we are only allowed to grill in non-grass areas, which really takes half of the fun out of it.  So we moved to Ela’s and grilled out in her courtyard.  We had sausages, pork chops, several veggies, and some grilled feta.

 

And of course I can’t talk about this week/weekend without mentioning Easter!  And let me just say, Easter is a pretty big deal here in Germany.  Not only do they get the actual holiday off, but they also get the Thursday and Friday (Green Thursday and Good Friday) before, as well as the Monday after (Easter Monday).  So we had a pretty long weekend (not that I didn’t already, heh.)  And on Sunday, not only was it Easter, but it was also Ela’s birthday!  Our small celebration started off around 2 when we went to the aroma garden and had wine and cake (which I made the night before.  It was some sort of sponge cake with cream filling and I topped it with some mandarin oranges.)  It was very nice.  But having our luck, soon dark gray clouds loomed over our heads, with Tom and Ela assuring us that it wasn’t going to rain, or at least according to the Norwegian weather forecast.  We decided to pack up anyway, not wanting to ruin the second half of our tasty confection.  We had almost completed our 10 minute walk back to Ela’s, when the heavens opened up and drenched us with buckets of water.  The cake was okay though, so don’t worry.

 

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Grumbling about the rainy weather and promising to write the Norwegian weather forecasters a nice letter, we made it back to Ela’s and made an early dinner consisting of pasta, feta, tomato sauce, tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, and mushrooms.  We all ate until our stomachs groaned and still somehow managed to have leftovers.  And since by that point the sun was shining, we decided to go out and play Frisbee and juggle.  However, we did decide to stay close to shelter considering the torrential downpour earlier.  So we found a nice square right beside Ela’s and stayed there until dark.  We continued to drink our wine and cherry vodka (from Poland!) and we eventually finished off the rest of the cake.  There was also a bit of tree climbing involved since Tom took every tree’s presence in the square as a challenge to his tree climbing abilities.  After it had gotten dark we watched a couple of movies, one of which was the basis for the American remake, Dinner for Schmucks.  You can watch the trailer for the original French version here.  Then that was about it for the day.  I think we might have ended up watching something else as well… maybe Death at a Funeral?  But the details are getting a bit fuzzy and we have watched several movies together recently.  Unfortunately I can’t seem to keep them straight.

 

And that about sums up the first part of my Easter holiday.  I will get to posting the few photos I have later on and hopefully I can catch up on my blog!  Until then!

A Pause from my Normal Posts to Remember April 27, 2011

Before getting back to my overdue travel blog posts, I would like to take a second and talk about something that happened 3 years ago today which had a profound impact on the state of Alabama.  That would be the tornado outbreak of 2011.  While most of April was filled with deadly tornadoes across the U.S., the 27th was especially bad, and especially for both Mississippi and Alabama.  For those you you who aren’t familiar with this and want to read up on it a bit more, I’ll link to the wikipedia page here.  But for a lot of you, you already know the details.  Many of you may have even been in one of those devastated areas.  I have heard many interesting stories from many friends and family about that day, and luckily, no one that I knew was hurt.

 

But before I talk about my experience on that day, I want to talk about what it means to grow up in Alabama with such strong storms ever present on our minds.  It is pretty commonplace for youngsters to be able to read a weather radar and know what a tornado warning is.  I was able to point out exactly where I lived and where I went to school on a weather map at a young age.  Later I was also able to discern where my grandparents lived as well.  I remember on one instance, when I was quite young and my sister was babysitting me, she pointed at the tv and told me to tell her if our county in the bottom right hand corner of the screen turned red while she called our neighbors to come and get us and take us to their basement for shelter.  I remember being horrified when about 30 seconds after she left the room, it started flashing red.  I also knew how to read a weather radar from a young age and what a hook echo is.  And I am sure everyone in the South knows exactly what a tornado siren sounds like and what they should do, even though most people run outside and try to look for the tornado.  Some of us probably even grew up with those annoying weather radios which screamed every time it threatened to sprinkle in the neighboring counties.

 

Every child in Alabama is also taught at a young age what to do in case of a tornado.  Several times throughout the school year we heard both the signal for the fire drills (which we luckily never had to use) and the signal for the tornado drills (which on several occasions we did use).  We would always line up, thrilled at the fact that we were missing class for another drill, and file out into the halls.  There were always hushed whispers among students as we crouched next to each other, with the teachers hushing us and telling us to cover our heads.  And during the drills it was all fun and games, but when these drills were actually put into practice, there was a whole different atmosphere.  When I was younger other children would be crying as frantic parents rushed to school to pull their kids out and rush them home to safety.  Some days when the threat of severe weather was looming, they would cancel school altogether or send kids home early.  I know now that they are trying to avoid a law suit if a tornado does happen to directly hit the school, but I can’t help but feel that some kids are safer at school than they would be at home.  Many families in Alabama live in mobile homes, which not only seem to be a magnet for tornadoes, but are also one of the worst places to be in one.  Political opinions aside, I always grew up thinking this is normal.  That everyone grew up knowing how to read a radar and that every child had tornado drills in school.

 

And this is something that has been so drilled into my head, I sometimes subconsciously do things like pick out my hiding spot if there were a tornado warning.  I have even found myself doing that here in Germany, where there are practically zero tornadoes.  I have yet to even experience a decent thunderstorm here actually.  But I have been in my dorm or in my friends’ dorms and thought, here is where I would hide, and then laughed at myself for thinking I would ever need to take shelter from a tornado in Europe.  I have caught myself staring at the sky looking for wall clouds.  And to most of my friends here (and probably to most back home if I’m being honest), I seem overly cautious during the threat of a storm.  I have been raised to be prepared for these storms, which seem to hit Alabama more and more often and increasingly at bizarre times of the year (like November and sometimes December), likely due to climate change.  But it is not without reason.  I have had some close encounters with these storms, and some close calls when it comes to family members being caught in these storms.

 

Several years back (2009 or 2010) in April a tornado hit about half a mile from my parent’s house, destroying a lot of our neighborhood, but luckily not injuring anyone.  My dad recalls being home for lunch that afternoon and taking all of the dogs to their bedroom closet with nothing but a motorcycle helmet to protect him should the tornado hit our home.  He didn’t have time to get to the neighbor’s basement even.  And in November 2011 I was caught on campus during a tornado warning.  This was particularly strange because it was on a Wednesday at 12.  Now for those of you who don’t know, that is when they usually test the tornado sirens.  I remember standing outside and seeing some pretty ominous clouds, but that is kind of common in Alabama, so I didn’t think much of it.  It had yet to start raining or lightening.  Then the sirens went off.  For awhile, I thought this was just the normal test.  Then I realized the deep voice which usually announces to the world that there is nothing to worry about was not present.  Then the heavens opened up a let forth the wrath that is an Alabama thunderstorm.  The tornado that day was pretty small, only destroying a few trailers in mine and the neighboring trailer park.  I still do not know how all of the the trees down managed to miss both my car and my trailer, but what I do remember is running home in complete panic after hearing where the tornado was in order to check on my dog, falling out of my trailer after seeing she was okay and that the trailer was only mildly damaged in order to check on my friend’s trailer and then going to the doctor to make sure I didn’t break my arm after hitting the concrete after about a five foot drop.

 

But none of this compares to the outbreak from April 25th to the 28th across much of the United States.  I was still in Auburn during this time, going to class as if it were any other day.  The weather was fine for much of the day where I was owing to the fact that I was in the southeast part of the state.  I remember waking up and doing some stuff on the internet before going to class and seeing a video of one of the first tornadoes of the day in Cullman, Alabama.  I honestly didn’t think too much of it, even though it was early in the morning.  Usually there is one wave of bad weather and then it is gone.  So I thought the danger was over for the day, at least for my family and friends in northern and central Alabama.  So I went most of the day oblivious to the peril, even brushing off the text from my parents saying the weather was pretty bad (they do tend to exaggerate these things in my defense).  I continues to ignore it until about 5 or 6 o’clock when I got a call from my sister, asking for me to check the weather radar for her.  This immediately put me on alert as she described what her day was like.  She had lost power, like most in the state, early on as they were hit by wave after wave of tornadic storms.  She had spent most of the day with her cat and in the bathroom trying to ride it out.  And every time she thought it was over, the tornado sirens would go off once more, and she would have to call my parents to let them know that the carnage was not yet over.  Eventually, even the weather sirens stopped working, which was why she had called me.  At this point I was in panic mode and raced back home to check the radar for her and frantically try to get a hold of my parents as well.  That was when I realized the complete devastation of the day’s weather.  Some of the hardest hit areas in Alabama being Harvest/Madison, Cullman/ Arab, Fultondale/ Birmingham, Phil-Campbell, Cordova/ Blountsville, Rainsville, and of course, Tuscaloosa.  Not long after this I had to pack an overnight bag and load Precious into my car because I then realized that the storms were headed for Auburn.  I remember thinking I had about 30 minutes to make it to my friend’s house after glancing at the radar, and then I realized, these storms were racing through Montgomery at an incredible speed.  By the time I had made the 10 or so minute drive to my friend’s house, the storm was already upon us.  Luckily for Auburn that day, the tornado which was produced in that particular supercell was north of us, and we were soon out of danger, but for many that day, that was not the case.

 

I am really glad that none of my friends or family were hurt during the 2011 tornado outbreak.  Today I pause to remember the complete devastation throughout the Southeast and hope that everyone back home stays weather aware this tornado season.  My thoughts are still with those communities which are still picking up the pieces three years later.

 

And anyone who wants to share their own story of the April 27th, 2011 tornado outbreak, please leave a comment below.

April 12, 2014: It’s a Holiday Post (Part II)

So the ride to Saas Fee was somewhat long (about 6 hours and most of the journey was by bus).  It was, however, very nice scenery, so time passed fairly quickly.  That and I was pretty excited about going to the Alps.  We ended up transferring to a train in Zürich, at which point we entered into some kind of weird time warp.  We had about 45 minutes until our train and I suppose most of that time was spent searching for a bathroom, which was pretty far off it turned out.  We looked at the time while considering finding a bit to snack on only to discover we had 10 minutes to get to our platform, which was of course on the other side of where we were.  Two giant suitcases and skis trailing along behind us, we booked it to the other side of the station, only to find a decently crowded double decker train.  We ended up leaving the luggage downstairs because who really wants to carry it up the stairs to the proper luggage rack and then have to stuff it among the other suitcases.  But that aside, the train journey was pleasant in and of itself.  We were sitting across from a girl, who was dressed in some pretty frumpy clothing, and for about an hour she proceeded to use what must have been an entire bottle of eye liner and mascara as she constantly fine tuned her make-up.  I couldn’t help but stare, probably making her obsessive need to do her make-up worse.

 

Once we got in to the station we exchanged some money and waited for our friend Tom to arrive so that we could catch the 40 minute bus up the mountain to where we were actually staying.  The ride was pretty curvy to say the least.  I am really glad I have a strong constitution, otherwise I am sure I would have been downing the Dramamine like there’s no tomorrow.  Oh, and let me give you an idea of what my face must have looked like for the first couple of hours in Saas Fee.  I have grown up in North Alabama where there are plenty of round topped hills, covered in thick woods, but I had never before seen such mountains!  They were absolutely breathtaking!  If it were raining, I probably would have drowned with my big gaping mouth pointed up to the sky.  And there was so much snow!  All of the times I have ever seen snow would never even compare to how much I saw on those peaks.

 

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So by the time all of the initial wonderment wore off it was time to learn how to ski.  It was my first time even seeing skis, much less putting them on and trying to move with them.  It was pretty awkward for me.  Our ski instructor was pretty nice and the group was fairly small: me, Tom, and a family of four.  The first day was pretty good.  We worked on parallel turning down what the Germans call the Idiot’s Hill (or the baby slope).  I could ski down the bottom half pretty well.  I fell a lot but always got back up.  I was never taught by this instructor on how to snow plow (or pizza), which is a pretty important skill in my opinion.  So I managed to crash into a bench full of people before calling it a day.  I really should have kept at it and ended on a good note though, because as encouraging and nice as everyone was, a small pigeon hole formed in my confidence dike, which on the next day completely broke down.  We immediately went to the slightly more challenging Idiot’s Hill the next morning.  And without fail, I managed to fall every turn.  And by the time I was moved to an easier class, I was so upset with myself and frustrated at not being able to do anything I was able to do just one days time before, that I couldn’t possibly learn.  So the next day I decided to take a break and rest from my skiing adventures.

 

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Tom, who started off in the same class as me but was quickly moved up, was at this time skiing down some of the hardest runs in the place with absolutely no fear.  We were pretty much exact opposites when it came to skiing.  He was Stan Darsh, racing down the K-13, and I was Ike, French frying when I pizzaed.  Fortunately for me, Donald offered to teach me in the afternoons, and lesson 1 was how to pizza.  This really helped because instead of relying on my lack of turning skills to slow me down or stop, I could just wedge my skis together.  I even developed a harmless rivalry with another lady on the slopes who, like me, pizzaed the entire way down the slopes.  She ended up beating me on the last day.  I knew I should have tripped her up on that last run and she skidded by me in a perfect pizza formation, smirking down at me as a slid on my bum to the finish.  I all actuality though, she probably didn’t even know I existed.  And by the end I was not as bad as I could have been.  I was finally starting to get my confidence back by the end of the trip, when we sadly had to leave.  Next time I go I will hopefully get to ski on something a bit better than the Idiot’s Hill, but we’ll see.  My brain just doesn’t think I should be going that fast with two slender pieces of plastic and my own coordination keeping me from what my brain has interpreted as certain death.

 

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Other interesting things to note on the trip: I met almost all of Donald’s family in one go.  And of course, like Donald, they were all incredibly nice (and pretty hilarious as well.  I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much with a group of people.)  His mom cooked for everyone several times and with the price of food there, that in and of itself was awesome.  Which brings me to the insane prices of anything up there.  Granted I know we are in Switzerland, and I know we are on top of a mountain, and I know that most of the resort is on a glacier, but damn.  Most food at a restaurant was around the $30-$40 mark.  I never quite convinced myself to splurge on buying actual meat, even though I originally wanted to make a casserole for everyone.  I just couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on meat.  We did manage to make fondue one night, which included the worst bottle of wine I have ever had the (dis)pleasure of tasting.  There were only two labels.  One on the front reading, “Vin Blanc” and the one on the back reading, “Assembled in Switzerland from wines across Europe” (i.e. This is the shit no one wanted anyway). It tasted fine in the fondue though, so no complaints.  Aside from skiing and cooking, we played a decent amount of cards together and just generally enjoyed each others’ company.

 

Overall it was a really nice holiday with some really nice people.  And even though my skiing was shoddy at best, I even ended up enjoying that.  It’s too bad Alabama doesn’t have any skiing options because I will probably have to wait until I come back to ski again.  But I look forward to the day I can actually ski with people and not bore them out of their minds.  And photo of the trip:

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Photos courtesy of Donald.  Also a special thanks to Eva, who graciously loaned me her skis :)

April 5, 2014: It’s a Holiday Post (part I)

So it’s been a couple of weeks since I last sat down and wrote a blog.  The first week of silence was intentional considering I didn’t really do much during those weeks.  But now it is time to play some catch up and talk about my super eventful week and a half or so!  Considering how eventful my travels were, I’ve decided to divide them into two posts: part I, my trip to Munich and part II: skiing.  Yeah, you read that right, skiing, but more on that later.  First, beautiful Munich!

 

Last time I went to Munich I was only able to stay for one night, and considering how much there is to do in such a big city, I decided to go back.  This time I went with Donald because he had never seen Munich outside of Oktoberfest and it was already on the way anyway.  So we ended up staying at my friend Eva’s again.  Sadly she didn’t have too much time to hang out because I was a bit late in figuring out our exact plans, but we did eventually get to hang out.  The first day we sort of took it easy and left in the afternoon.  There was really only one thing worth mentioning on the train.  When we got on the train from Nuremberg to Ingolstadt (we had to change trains there) we noticed two very obviously non-German guys surrounded by three German officials who were interrogating them about their passports in what was at least on one side, very broken English.  The officials even went so far as to search one of their bags in order to try and find a specific document, later scolding the young man for not having understood their request sooner and producing the document himself.  Even though the issue was resolved, it made me reflect a bit.  I am also a foreigner in this country.  I have to have a visa and I had to fill out a decent amount of paperwork and jump through the required hoops.  And I probably got through the process a bit more easily because I am from the U.S.  But that still does not change the fact that I am also a long term resident in Germany.  That being said, I have never been harassed by any official here.  Not when the cops pulled me over on my bike (yes, that is a thing) and not even when I went to the hospital.  Now maybe it’s because I am on a student visa or maybe there are some other factors I haven’t really taken into account and maybe there was really a problem with these guys’ visas, but why on Earth were there random officials on this train checking their visas to begin with?  I have never seen anyone on a train checking passports.  It was just bizarre and even if it was not the case, the outward appearance of the situation would lead most to believe the darkness of their skin may have come into play at some point.  It also made me think of Louis C.K.  That aside, we made it safely to Munich at around 6 in the evening and since we needed to wait for an hour or so to go to where we were staying, we decided to wait in a nice little park by the justice building.  After that we managed to navigate the public transportation and arrive at Eva’s, where her brother greeted us.

 

The next day we decided to go to the Olympic park since the weather was relatively nice.  And while the gray sky didn’t make for the best photos, the weather was nice and warm.  So once we got there another somewhat curious thing happened to us.  We were walking along and this lady in a motorized wheelchair comes speeding towards us asking if we could take her to the Olympic Tower in the middle of the park (in German of course).  Of course we agreed since we were already headed that way and so we set out.  Only I think she was in some kind of a hurry as she had her lever pressed so far down if must have been the equivalent of flooring the gas pedal of the car.  We practically had to jog in order to keep up with her.  And on random occasions she would turn around and say something, and even though we were clearly struggling to keep up, she maintained her speed.  This went on for close to five minutes before we reached the tower.  At that point she thanked us and then proceeded to speed off in the opposite direction from the tower.  Outside of that event the rest of the day was pretty touristy and unremarkable.  We climbed to the top of the large hill in the park, where we could see the entire city.  We took several panoramas along with many regular photos and then leisurely made our way around the park.  We were hoping to see a couple of paddle boats in the pond lose a few of their louder crew members to the water as they jumped from boat to boat, screaming as if they were aboard the sinking Titanic, but we had no such luck that day.

 

At the top of the hill in Olympic Park

At the top of the hill in Olympic Park

 

After that we walked around the city for awhile.  We went to one specific place Eva’s brother recommended, but I don’t remember what it was called anymore.  It was pretty neat though.  There were all of these museums there which were built in a sort of Roman architecture.  So we took some pictures and eventually made our way to a McDonalds, mostly for a bathroom break, but then we felt obligated to actually buy something and take a short rest.  So frozen milkshake disguised as a coffee in hand, we sat outside and enjoyed the wonderful view of passing cars.  After that we wandered over the to town hall and saw the clock play, which usually included several figures dancing around as the clock chimes.  Then we made our way over to a nice river with a man-made island and walked on that for awhile.  It was really pretty.  After walking around that area for awhile we met up with my friend and went to the English Garden to enjoy a nice beer with some overpriced food at the Chinese Tower.  Food was eaten, beer was drunk, and the company of friends was enjoyed.  We then proceeded to continue the party at a Mexican joint not far away with half priced cocktails (which by American standards are still somewhat expensive).  But it was good fun.

 

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The next day, and our last full day in Munich, we got up and after having what can only be described as a breakfast of champions, we ventured to a little castle called Nymphenburg.  And while we didn’t actually take a tour of the palace, which would have been nice but probably much like any other Baroque palace I’ve seen, we picnicked on the grounds and then wandered around for at least an hour.  There were geese, swans, and a various assortment of other water foul.  We even saw a fight between several swans on an island in the middle of one of the ponds.  The grounds were pretty nice, but not everything was in bloom yet, so it is probably a bit nicer when everything is green.  And like the previous day, it would have been nicer if the sky wasn’t the color of slate.  But we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.  Then we went to back to the center of the city and I showed Donald several things which Eva showed me on my previous trip to Munich (churches, the Residence, etc.)  We also managed to find the surfers at the English Garden.  There is a canal which runs through the park and at the very edge, there is a sort of permanent wave made by the water flowing from underneath the bridge which surfers like to practice on.  We watched for about 20 minutes, mesmerized by their skills.  Some of the surfers were even children, and trust me, they were kicking ass themselves.  Then we met with Eva and some of her coworkers for another beer.  We sat around and chatted for awhile before deciding to go eat at a burger place.  Luckily for me the list of veggie burgers was extensive.  I finally settled on a Mid-west inspired creation with black beans and avocados.  I was not disappointed.  In fact the only veggie burger I can think of that beats it is the black bean burger severed at the Hound.

 

Nympehnburg

Nympehnburg

Surfers in the English Garden

Surfers in the English Garden

 

And that pretty much sums up my second edition of Munich.  The next day we breakfasted, and then hoped on our bus to Switzerland, skis in tow.

 

2014-04-05_09-51-28Photos courtesy of Donald :)

March 23, 2014: Saying Good-bye to Some Amazing Friends Already…

My stay in Germany is not yet done and gone (thankfully!)  I still have until the end of July, but sadly some of my international friends aren’t as lucky as me.  I’m talking about all the people who could only come here for a semester.  And while several have already left in February, the next and final wave of homeward bound friends this semester has either left last week or are going to leave this week.  Well one technically leaves at the end of March, but he has sort of been back in Slovenia for about a month already and just came back to finish some exams.  It’s sad to say good-bye to some wonderful people.  And not only because of the fact that they are leaving, but also the ever looming feeling that our paths may have only crossed for these brief 6-7 months.  I really will try to see them all again, but it’s just something that is too soon to really plan out at the moment.  Anyway, to those of you who have already left, I miss you already and I sincerely hope that we will meet again someday.  I also wish you luck in your endeavors even if we don’t manage to see each other again.  Leb Wohl!

 

All of the sad good-byes aside this week has been a fairly uneventful one.  I somehow manages to play a lot of pool and juggle a bit.  The weather was absolutely wonderful for a couple of days last week (think German summer weather or Alabama early spring with a lot of sun!)  This meant I got to juggle for a bit outside.  I am slowly improving and since I don’t really have anyone to pass with (or enough clubs to do so) I’ve been working on throwing some double spins while I’m juggling.  It’s a bit trickier than it may sound, but I’m getting used to it.  I sadly haven’t been doing too much on the hula hoop front lately.  I guess I’ve just been taking a break because I feel like I’m at a bit of a plateau at the moment, which is really frustrating for me.  I suppose the solution is to probably just push through it, but I wanted to give it a week or so before I picked it back up again.  I’ve also been working on my belly dancing as I continue to go to my class.  It’s pretty fun to dance with a veil, I must say, but it also makes my arms pretty tired.  Anyway, I might make a video when all is said and done, but then again even if I do, I’m not very likely to post it publicly.

 

I think the highlight of this week would have to be the barbecue I had with some friends on Thursday evening.  We bought one of those cheap, disposable grills and some meat to throw on it and then went to the park along with a couple of beers and some snacks to munch on while our food cooked.  On the menu was some sort of chicken burger, lamb sausage, and some chicken Tom prepared for us.  There was nothing too exciting to write about, just a bunch of friends together around a fire cooking, eating, and enjoying each other’s company.  I also think it was a fine way to see off Arielle, who left for home the next morning.  I would like to do something like that again, only next time I might also suggest grilling some veggies or maybe even making my own black bean burgers to grill.

 

Another event from last week was the 65th anniversary of my exchange program’s club (Verband der Deutschen Amerikanischen Clubs), which if my math serves me correctly, means that it was founded in 1949.  Its original purpose was to connect Germans and Americans together even though it was prohibited after WWII.  Today there are several chapters throughout Germany (although mostly the former West), so you can imagine, there was a celebration for the club’s 65th birthday.  This translates to free food essentially.  Not that it wasn’t nice, it was just a really awesome buffet.  I’m not entirely sure what all I ate, but some things included sausage, salmon, blue saurkraut (blaukraut for those who speak German), carrots, duck, and many different kinds of salad.  For dessert we had chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream and fruit.  It tasted wonderful.  And I got to talk to all of the nice old ladies in our club, all of whom seem to be really interested in my stay here so far.  We also got to hear a speaker talk about German and American relations.  The most interesting part of his talk was probably when he introduced the topic by talking about his experience as a 17 year old fleeing the war in 1945.  He remembers the kindness of the American soldiers the most as they helped get him to safety.  ‘Murica.

 

Well, I suppose that is all I have to say about this past week.  Nothing much happened, but it was nice all the same.  I may not be up to much this next weekend either seeing as I have an exciting trip coming up in the beginning of April!  But more on that later I suppose!

Snapshot 8

The woman she once was was carefully hidden behind girlish giggles and rosy cheeks.  As hands clasped hands and rogue kisses ventured further beyond their bounds, she slowly lost herself in the sweet perfumes of pink and rose.  Suddenly everything was lost in one glance.  One laugh.  One smile.  And time slowly slipped through her fingers, but instead of clinging to every moment, she found a melancholy beauty in the impermanence of it all.  For who was Father Time really, to stand in the way of their beautiful memories?

March 17, 2014: Haben Sie gehört das Deutsche Bahn

For those of you unfamiliar with the Producers, here is the song I was referencing there.  Yes, I know it’s supposed to be Band, but for those of you also unaware, the Deutsche Bahn is the train company over here.  Yeah, I need to stop making jokes I have to explain.  Anyway, the Deutsche Bahn will come into play a bit later on, but first what I did leading up to last weekend!

I suppose the most interesting occurrence would have to be me getting run over by a bike last Tuesday.  It’s not entirely my fault, but I was admittedly mostly to blame.  You see, what happened was I was riding my bike to juggling, which was around 8 o’clock at night.  It was already dark and I had decided to go alone and in my usual way I was probably not paying attention like I should have been.  Sometimes I just get so focused on what I’m doing I get a sort of tunnel vision.  Well I needed to make a left turn into E-werk and there were about three or four cars coming from the other direction.  I started to slow down to wait for them to pass and eventually came to almost a complete stop waiting.  Once they had passed, I decided to go for it, failing to notice the other cyclist who was trying to pass me.  So I turned right into him, falling off my bike and hitting the street.  He was fine and didn’t fall or anything, but I just sort of laid there in a daze for a second wondering what just happened before I got up.  Luckily he was just on a bike (and not a car) and also not going very fast, so I just had a couple of scratches.  But I really need to pay attention to the world around me.  I can’t tell you how many friends I have inadvertently ignored because I didn’t see or hear them trying to get my attention.  I usually only find out a couple days later when they bring it up in conversation some how.  I’m not sure why I am so spaced out most of the time… oh well.

That was probably the most interesting story of last week though.  I did meet with some of my friends, most notably on Tuesday when I had lunch with Arielle at a nearby Turkish restaurant.  It was positively amazing!  I wish I could remember the name, but I wasn’t paying that much attention at the time.  However, the chicken that we got was so juicy and tender it practically melted in your mouth.  It made me realize that I really need to go out of my way to eat Turkish food more often.  I haven’t really had any outside of Dönner since my trip to Vienna, where we had some at a Turkish mosque which was to die for.  So the moral of that story is that I will definitely have to go back to this restaurant before I leave.

I also met with some friends on Friday because sadly, some of them are about to leave.  In fact, one just left today.  So the original plan was for everyone to go visit Neuschwanstein, but unfortunately due to some complications in our traveling plans, we had to cancel that last minute.  We did, however, manage to meet for some ice cream that afternoon.  It was a really nice place and I’m sure the food was delicious, but sadly I was still really full from a giant breakfast to really eat anything.  But I did look at the ice cream menu, which was several pages long and included things like ice cream spaghetti.  It looked pretty interesting, but the trade off is that it was pretty expensive.

Afterwards I headed to the train station with one of my friends to go to Munich together.  Well, really just split a train ticket seeing as we both had different plans for once we arrived in the city.  But it was really nice to have company on the train ride, which is a bit over 2 hours.  And while I am still American enough to think that isn’t a very long ride, it is nice to spend that time in good company.  Once there we went our separate ways and I met up with Eva, who studied at my university back home with me last year.  We ended up not doing too much that evening since I was tired from the journey and she had worked all day.  She did cook me a rather nice dinner followed by some wine.  Then she told me about all of her travels in America after she graduated.  Some of the places she went looked/sounded amazing!  It really made me want to see more of my own country.  It’s a bit sad how little I have actually seen of the states.

That next morning we got up somewhat early (9ish for those really concerned) and had a nice breakfast together.  We headed out around 11 or so and first went to the Olympic Park in which Munich hosted the 1972 Oympics.  Now the entire two weeks prior to my visit the weather had been absolutely lovely.  However on the day I decided to travel and do some sight seeing the weather decided to be somewhat uncooperative.  It wasn’t terrible, but it was cloudy and kind of cool and the wind was a beast.  There was always an ever looming threat of rain as well, but luckily we never got more than a few sprinkles here and there.  So we decided to see what we could of the park without really getting wind swept.  This included the soccer/track stadium, which actually looks pretty awesome.  There are some pretty awesome tours where you can walk around the roof and even repel down inside the stadium, but considering how windy it was, we decided we had better wait until next time.  We also took a look at the Walk of “Fame” (Eva’s emphasis, not mine).  Essentially anyone relatively famous who comes to Munich is asked to make a hand print in the side walk and sign their names.  There were some pretty cool people there though, mainly being Sir Elton John and Roger Waters.  Unfortunately the city doesn’t really seem to tend to them so some were a bit rough around the edges.

 

Eva and I in the Olympic Stadium

Eva and I in the Olympic Stadium

 

Roger Waters

Roger Waters

 

So since the weather wasn’t super nice we decided to bypass the more nature/park oriented scene of Munich and look at the downtown area.  So we saw a number of things which I will try to remember, but sadly if I don’t write names and such down I won’t be able to remember them so well.  It doesn’t help that I’m writing this about a week later.  We saw the “Walking Man” which is a huge statue of a white man walking, which is supposed to symbolize moving forward.  No the color of the statue is not lost on me, but I really don’t want to get into that debate.  Then we walked further into the bowels of the city and saw the Ludwig Maximilian University where most notably, there was a student opposition to Hitler in 1943.  The group the White Rose made and distributed fliers against the Reich, which ultimately led to their arrest and their subsequent execution.  If you don’t know anything about it, there is apparently a movie about it, which I haven’t watched but I am definitely planning on it, called Sophie Scholl–The Final Days.

 

Ludwig Maximilian University

Ludwig Maximilian University

 

After looking around the small museum for a bit we decided to pop into some nearby churches.  Of course they weren’t all packed in together, but I might as well talk about them all at once.  The first was the rather large Ludwigskirche which was a neo-romanesque style church built in the early 1800s.  It was nice but nothing really stood out once we were inside the church.  The second was Theatine Church which was a baroque church built in the 1600s.  This one would have to be my favorite of the day.  Upon walking inside you are surrounded by beautiful white carvings which led to a dome close to the altar.  The third was one of the tackiest churches I think I have ever seen: Asamkirche (late baroque).  Apparently it was originally built as a private church but was later forced to be open for the public.  I think that is sort of how it got most of its… character is not the right word but it’s the first word to come to mind.  It sort of looks like a bunch of old hoarders got together and decided to cram their entire collection of cats into one of their small basements.  Only replace cats with religious art with only the gaudiest amount of gold allowed.  It was just way too much to pack into such a small space with only a limited amount of windows to boot.  My pictures sadly can’t do it justice.

 

Theatine Church

Theatine Church

 

Asamkirche

Asamkirche

 

Somewhere in between the churches I also saw the “Wunden der Erinnerung” (the wounds of the memories) which is a preserved patch of walls where you could see the damage left by gunshots as the Nazi’s executed people on the streets.  It was rather chilling reminder of Germany’s not so brilliant past.  It was also amazing to see just what kind of damage these gunshots did to the wall.  The craters were much larger than I would have thought.  On a much brighter note, we also visited Milka World.  For those of you unfamiliar with Milka, it is a brand of Swiss chocolate, which is also available in the U.S., so go try some because it’s much better than a Hershey’s bar anyway.  There you could find everything from chocolate, the Milka dirndls, to Milka skis along with any necessary skiing equipment.  It was pretty fun, but I’m still kicking myself a little for not getting any chocolate while there considering it was much cheaper than it usually is in stores.  I also saw the city hall, the opera house, and several different gates.  Like most old German cities, Munich, too, was surrounded by a city wall, which is no longer there but there are still several gates around for everyone to see.  Oh, and we also saw two very right leaning protests, one of which was being protected by the police as they shouted Neo-Nazi garbage to passersby.

 

Die "Wunden der Erinnerung"

Die “Wunden der Erinnerung”

 

Milka Welt

Milka Welt

 

At some point we finally stopped at a small cafe and got a light lunch, since neither of us were terribly hungry after such a large breakfast and I wasn’t particularly keen on breaking the bank for lunch.  We had some pumpkin soup, which was quite good, but not really the same as other pumpkin soups I’ve had in the past.  It was a bit less pumpkin flavored than I would have liked.  I guess what I really mean is they didn’t quite take advantage at the whole host of spices out there which really serve to enhance the flavor of pumpkin.  Oh well, it was nice to get to have lunch with a good friend.  After walking around for the entire afternoon we were both feeling a bit tired.  So we went to the store and I got some provisions for the train and then caught the next one heading back to ol’ Erlangen.  It was a pretty nice, although short, trip to Munich.  I am definitely planning on going again when the weather is nicer so I can see all of the wonderful outdoor things Munich has to offer.

As far as the rest of the weekend, I was mostly pretty lazy.  I was originally going to a birthday celebration of a friend that night (which is why I didn’t stay in Munich until Sunday) but a bit of bad luck got in the way of that.  I wish I could have dropped by and said hello at least, but oh well.  As far as this weekend I don’t really know what I am going to do.  I am feeling a bit restless, but I also need to save my money for another trip.  We will see, but the next post may not be an extremely exciting one.  Until then!

March 11, 2014: A Day in the Life of a Potato

So for the week following my return from the tropical islands I did almost nothing.  It was like I never really came back from vacation.  Yes my body was physically back in Erlangen, but my brain was still frying in the iridescent sun underneath a painted blue sky mural.  Not that it wasn’t a completely awesome week mind you, just terribly unproductive, even by my standards since I’ve been in Germany.  That should give you a clue right there.

 

Tuesday as you may or may not know is Fasching here, which I guess is kind of similar to Mardi Gras, but not really.  It’s more of Halloween though in the sense that everyone dresses up in costumes (many of the female ones being a bit scant) and has an excuse to drink.  I didn’t really have anything to dress up in, but I did get my face painted and then left it on the entire day because it was pretty epic.  I did not really partake in most of the festivities outside of helping with the Kinderfasching (children’s Fasching) with my juggling group.  I think they do this every year, but we set out all of the juggling and acrobatic stuff and sort of let the kids have a go at everything.  While I think the point was for us to try and teach them how to juggle and do some other simple things, in reality we just tried to make sure the kids didn’t end up killing themselves.  And some of the kids were pretty great, actually the majority of them were.  But there were also some demon children to be had.  I had to take my hoop away from one little boy who had made it is goal to bounce on it until it ultimately broke.  There was also a little girl who decided to find every single balloon and proceed to pop them.  And after about five hours of this, I was pretty done.  It’s sort of like this

 

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Later that evening we decided to make pancakes, which was really exciting at first because I thought Donald meant real pancakes like these.  Nope, pancakes in Europe means crepes.  Every time.  Not that I don’t like crepes, they are amazing.  I have nothing against crepes and to be honest, I am more of a waffle fan back home anyway.  But something about being in Germany makes me fairly sentimental about every American food.  I honestly did not eat all that much grits back home but since arriving here I started to crave them so badly that I had my parents send me a package with them.  But all that aside, the crepes were pretty awesome.  I think the winning combination for the night, and also the combination that screams ‘Murica, Fuck Yeah! would have to be strawberry jam, ice cream, and cookies crumbled on top.  One of the guys there even commented on the amount of ice cream on my plate as a sort of side dish to my already sweet crepes.  Yeah, it was a night of fun and diabetes.

 

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The weather here (for those of you back home enjoying slightly better weather at the moment) was absolutely gorgeous.  The highs hovered around 60F and most days there was not a single cloud to be seen in the sky.  One of the highlights of last week actually was getting to go for a little hike near Erlangen one afternoon.  Essentially you go north on Gebbertstrasse until you find the trails that go up the large hill, which eventually plateaus as you are met with some sort of agricultural field and several trails with benches scattered throughout.  Donald and I just walked about for awhile finding random trails which didn’t venture too far from the hill.  Then we found a nice bench, but only after the best bench was swiped right from under our noses by a pair of smug bike riders who got to not only enjoy the marvelous view afforded to them by the bench, but also got to gloatingly stare down at us from their perch as we were harassed by the swarm of flies attracted to the trashcan nearby.  Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but it still felt planned considering they left at the same time we did and rode past us on their way down, almost as if to rub in their victory.

 

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Outside of that I have done a bit of walking and a bit of juggling and hooping.  I have also managed to watch a decent amount of movies/tv shows.  I think one of my favorite shows so far would have to be Still Game, which is a Scottish show about a group of retirees and their antics.  I would recommend it, but it does take a bit of getting used to the dialect.

 

So outside of that there really isn’t all that much to talk about for this week.  Next weekend should be entertaining though.  I am going to Neu Schwanstein (think real life Disney castle) on Friday with a group of friends and I am potentially staying with a friend in Munich after that.  Hopefully everything will pan out nicely, but it will be an early and long start on Friday.

March 5, 2014: Paradise Comes in a Dome Shaped Package

So not this past week, but the week before that was insanely busy.  I’ll try and sum up everything I remember, but to be honest everything has run together during what I would like to call this past week of potato, I might miss a couple of details.  We will see I suppose.

Tuesday evening I went to celebrate the end of exams with two of my girl friends (i.e. an excuse for us to go out drinking and dancing).  We ended up going to the student night at a local bar and we ordered a meter long special of gin and tonics, which despite being 10 drinks and what we thought would be a huge mistake was pretty manageable between 3 people and not too hard on the wallet.  I think I got out of there spending around €6 and I had 3 1/3 drinks.  We then made our way to Zirkel, which is a club and talked and did what girls do best, dance.  It was nice to get to hang out and do a whole mess of girl talk for an evening.  I was pretty glad I decided not to drink anything else after the meter long gin and tonics though.

The next day I decided to get up and go for a walk/hike with one of the girls from the night before (the other wasn’t really feeling it at that point I suppose).  So we walked north essentially and then found some awesome trails to explore for awhile.  I had been craving a bit of nature for a bit, especially with the trip to Kaiserslautern and seeing all of the pretty wooded mountains from the train.  After thoroughly exhausting ourselves we decided to have some dinner together.  I really feel like I am learning a lot of new and interesting ways to combine food over here, which is awesome.  Something to try if you love cheese: get some Camembert cheese and throw it on a grill or on the stove top (coated with a bit of oil and wrapped in aluminum foil).  Then once it has cooked on both sides (and hopefully melted in the middle) put it on a plate with some cranberry sauce (yes, you eat them at the same time) and enjoy.  Absolutely delicious!

Thursday was pretty awesome as well because instead of celebrating Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras) we celebrated Fat Thursday, which essentially means you go eat a bunch of dough nuts.  From what I heard the more dough nuts you eat, the luckier you will be.  If that’s the case, well I will be one lucky girl this year.  We started out by going to a bakery and getting 6 dough nuts to split between 3 people (our 4th still wasn’t feeling well from Tuesday’s night of drinking and fun).  These were probably some of the best dough nuts I have ever had.  I am not even sure what all the different kinds were that we got, but there was quite a variety in our mix.  Later Donald got several more dough nuts to share, which I think I had two of.  Okay, so it felt like more dough nuts than it actually was, but that is probably because we cut each one into fourths so everyone could try a bit.  Then at the end we picked through the last of the pieces in order to finish them off.

After all of that dough nut eating I went to belly dancing.  Nothing much to report there other than I got my veil for dancing! It’s pretty nice but was a bit expensive sadly.  I still love it though and now I get to practice our dance at home, so that’s awesome!  Then I met up with everyone again and we made our way to Fürth to go to a swimming pool.  Actually, swimming pool is not quite the right word for what that was.  There was about a dozen different pools there, some indoor and some outdoor (but almost all were heated).  Some were for sport, some were for fun, and some were purely for relaxing.  There were even some water slides, and no I don’t mean dinky little ones which look like they have been taken from a children’s playground, these were pretty legit.  We must have gone in every pool at least once.  And at the end we went into an extremely salty pool which you essentially can’t not float in to just lie there and relax.  When you put your head underwater you heard music playing and there was a projector which played a soothing animation while you relaxed.  Ela said it looked like a Sex Ed. video where it shows sperm fertilizing an egg.  My only complaint was that it was a bit itchy because of the massive amount of salt in the water.  We stayed for about 5 minutes and then decided to get out.  It was about that time we decided to try the sauna, which was my first time.  I decided I didn’t really like it.  It just felt like Alabama on a summer day.  Maybe a bit hotter, but definitely still not something I want to sit around in.  So that was pretty amazing and I recommend that to anyone staying in Erlangen.

Going home after the Schwimmbad.

Going home after the Schwimmbad.

This brings us to the weekend, which I must say was pretty amazing as well.  Donald, Lucia, and I got up pretty early Friday for the 8 1/2 hour train ride to the Tropical Islands Resort near Berlin for what can only be described as a juggling invasion.  There were still plenty of normal vacationers there, we just sort of decided to juggle there as well.  The train ride was long and a bit tedious considering how many times we had to change trains, especially since we could only take a certain kind of train (Regional trains for those who car) but it only cost €20 per person (which is why it took over 8 hours instead of 5).  It was worth it though, especially since I got to spend it traveling with two pretty awesome people.  Highlight of the trip there would have to be the massive pile of sandwiches we made on the train to eat while we were at the convention (maybe 25 total).  We had a bit of an assembly line going with someone cutting the cling wrap, someone laying down the bread, someone buttering the bread, someone laying down salami, ham, cheese, someone putting on the mayo, and finally someone wrapping the sandwich.  It got pretty efficient.  Then we had to pack them in Donald’s guitar bag very carefully with the other food he brought so as not to be caught entering with our weekend’s worth of food.  It turns out that didn’t matter at the gate.  They were rather busy and did not take care to check our bags.  It was pretty awesome though.  Considering how expensive food was inside, we saved a bunch of money and didn’t even have to switch our car insurance!

Donald with the massive pile of sandwiches.

Donald with the massive pile of sandwiches.

 

Once we got there with two more members to our traveling group, who we met up with in Leipzig, we claimed some beach chairs and started juggling and hooping.  It was pretty cool, but a lot more difficult to hoop in the sand than I would have thought.  I constantly had to wash the sand off of my hoop so as not to feel like I was dancing with a hoop made of broken glass.  I also got to do some juggling, mostly with clubs.  I even got to do some passing with Lucia who gave me some tips to work on.  I managed to do passing 5 with her pretty decently and then started working on 6, which for those of you who don’t know passing 5 isn’t continuous while 6 is.  Essentially with 5 you have 2 clubs in your hand and start juggling when the club is passed to you.  Then after you finish juggling one time through you pass a club off to your partner and wait for it to come back to you.  With six you throw and catch essentially at the same time, so you are juggling 3 clubs constantly and throwing every fourth time to your partner.  I have a video but I don’t actually have it on my computer to post for you.  If I manage to acquire it I will definitely share though.  I also got to attend a hooping workshop, which I think was actually done by the resort itself.  They have a show every night with acrobatics and hooping which we deemed a bit too pricey to justify seeing, but it was cool to learn some more hooping tricks.  Well I say learn, but more like get some theoretical knowledge which I’ll have to work a bit harder to actually be able to apply with any sort of skill.

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Juggling at night.

There was also a decent amount of swimming involved, especially considering the air and water temperature was around a constant 80 degrees F (26-30C).  They had two very awesome pools which were huge!  While there were a lot of people around it never really got too crowded, even while swimming.  And when not hooping, juggling, or swimming we were walking around the dome.  In the middle there was a part deemed the “rain forest”, which had all sorts of plants and birds which sort of wandered around on their own.  There were all sorts of winding trails to explore and things to see.  And when it came time to sleep we just grabbed a beach chair and our sleeping gear and crashed right there on the “beach”.  I felt a bit like a vagrant the entire weekend, although a clean one.  I did take a shower every day in the big open shower room, despite how uncomfortable random naked strangers in a big room make me.  The only complaint about the stay was the fact that the roof was a bit leaky at times.  So at night there were all these random drops of water splashing you.  Oh, I guess that and this as well.  There was also a group of American tourists there who were very loudly.  I use loudly as an adverb here only because everything they did was done in a loud and somewhat obnoxious manner.  Now I understand that they were in a group together and had probably had a bit to drink, but it sort of made me a little embarrassed by association.  Another weird step in this culture shock I suppose.  It may just be a precursor to how I will feel once I get back to the states.

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So that was about it for the actual stay there.  Words can’t actually describe how awesome of a trip it was.  Let me pause here to talk a bit about the derelict train station we arrived and subsequently departed from.  I kind of felt like I was in a horror movie at this point and that we would soon be shoved into a windowless van and shipped to the nearest warehouse where they would harvest our organs and never be heard from again.  There were just a lot of half demolished houses with the windows broken out of it.  The train station was boarded up with graffiti all over it and this wouldn’t have been an issue for a normal person who wasn’t on the cusp of her monthly cycle, but I was not that sane person that Sunday morning when we were catching our first train to leave.  We did not buy our return ticket in advance and I had just assumed that every little train station in Germany had a place to buy tickets, namely a ticket machine.  Behold my surprise when we got there and there was no ticket machine to be found.  Cue my overreaction, which Donald could only describe later as this.  Only later when we were successfully able to purchase our ticket on the train did he feel safe enough to chide me about my slight overreaction.

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Outside of that the journey home was long and uneventful.  It was again nice to travel in good company, but there was a bit more sleeping this time around considering the excitement from the beginning of the weekend had passed.  And I think that is about enough for this post.  I am slowly starting to catch up on them.  Maybe sometime this week I will succeed in that mission.  We shall see.

February 24, 2014: Kaiserslautern Photos

Better late than never…

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Weird fish mascot statue thing that was painted outside the Atlantische Akademie (which deals with German American relations, hence the coloring).

 

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The city is somewhat well known for soccer and had all of these statues near our hotel.  Alcohol was consumed and the fun began there…

 

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Special thanks to Eva Schmeidl for the pics!

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