Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Barcelona

Day 1 17.2.06

     After classes and lunch, John and I headed out the door to catch our train to Luxembourg City. Guy popped his head out of his office and asked where we were going. We answered Barcelona, and his eyes popped out of his head, cartoon-like. Apparently we had somehow neglected to tell him sometime in the month that this trip has been planned that we were going. That was rather humorous. We got to Luxembourg without a problem, and boarded the bus to Frankfurt/Hahn Airport. There were a half dozen other MUDECers on the bus, headed to Stockholm and Edinburgh. We bought playing cards and boarded our plane. After we took off, we realized that the cards we bought only had cards from 7 to Ace, which made them entirely worthless. Why they sell such cards I have no idea, but we were pissed. Our descent into Barcelona Girona Airport was a bit harrowing. It felt somewhat like the pilot wanted to save time and just put us into a steep dive into the airport. That or randomly cutting out the engines to save gas. Anyway, as John and I told numerous off color jokes about dying horribly in a plane crash, we landed safely. About half the plane applauded when we were safely on the ground. We wandered around the airport and found a bus that takes us to the actual city of Barcelona about an hour away. It was run by Ryanair, so they correspond to flight times, which is quite convenient. Unfortunately there were a couple loud obnoxious American girls behind us that prevented sleep. We got to the city sometime after 11pm, and it seemed like it was about 6pm. The place was hopping. We got Döner kebaps at a little place near our hostel then hit the sack.

Day 2 18.2.06

     We woke up for breakfast, ate our normal continental breakfast and headed out. We first headed for La Rambla, the main street that is the center of tourists, chain restaurants and human statues. We then headed into Barri Gotic and saw a couple of Gothic cathedrals that were pretty cool. The major one was under renovation, unfortunately. Then we headed to a pretty cool park with a fountain that wasn’t operating, but still looked real cool. It was very nice, and we wandered for a while before we hit a natural history museum with an exhibit on dinosaurs. It was a disappointment. We walked down the avenue towards the Arc de Triumph, which was a very nice looking area. (As a side note: what the hell is the point of a Triumphal Arch? As far as I can tell they serve no practical purpose. Why not build a tower or a statue? Why an arch?)
     The next stop was La Sagrada Familia. This is the big structure with the towers that you see whenever Barcelona is brought up. It was started late in the 19th century, and is eventually supposed to have 12 towers for the Apostles, 4 for the evangelists, and then towers for Jesus, Mary, and possibly some others. Currently, it’s not there yet, so it is constantly under construction. It still looks very cool and I am always glad to see someone today trying to build a structure that is interesting and doesn’t look like the tin man fell over and fell apart on top of a building. The original Façade that was done by the artist that conceived of the project was of the birth of Jesus and was very well done. The other finished façade was done after the artist’s death and had a more modern tint to it. It was strange to see stylized forms of Jesus being crucified, but it turned out better than one would expect from that description.
We were then going to head up to Olympic village for the view of the city but decided it was too much effort and there was a beach calling our names. We went back to La Rambla where we bought Dunkin Donuts, and fresh pineapple from the GIGANTIC food market they have there. We then hit the beach, and chilled for a few hours. I spent some time skipping stones, and some other people nearby (I think they were tourists from somewhere in Europe) began trying as well. They failed. I succeeded. John rolled up his jeans, waded in, and promptly got hit by a wave and soaked his only pair of pants. I laughed. We eventually headed back to the hostel for a nap. While I was attempting to nap, I ended up spending more time talking to my brother who called to say how jealous he was and also text messaging with Molly. Molly is a friend of mine from high school, who I ran into in Brussels last weekend, entirely by chance. She is studying in Barcelona, so we made plans to meet up while we were there.
When we woke up, we headed out for food around 9pm. We hit up Pans (think Panera, but Spanish) for a couple good sandwiches, and then hung around til Molly showed up. We wandered for a while, then hit a wine bar for a while, chatting about study abroad and a bit of DP chatting. We were gonna hit up a club but they wanted too much of our money, so as Molly and a group of her friends went to find another one, John and I headed back to our Hostel. We got back around 3am, and had a 6am bus to the airport to catch.

Day 3 19.2.06

We got our two hours of sleep, got to the station and took the bus in, then sat around the airport for a while waiting for our plane. We got seats in the very back row of the plane, which is a good thing, as they use the back doors on Ryanair flights.
A quick note on Ryanair: We complain about and laugh at Ryanair and how cheaply they do things; for example, they write your name on a pre-printed boarding pass that just has the destination on it. They don’t use jetways, you walk out on the tarmac and up a staircase next to the plane. They jam pack as many seats as they can into the plane—there’s definitely no first class. They don’t give you food or drink unless you pay, and you fly into a tiny airport way outside the city you are going to. BUT despite all that, every flight is packed, they run on time or early on every flight, and very rarely cancel a flight. They get you on and off the plane faster than any airline I have ever flown and do everything in the most efficient way possible. There is no coincidence that despite people like me paying €.01 (plus tax) for a ticket, the discount airlines are just rolling in cash. They found a niche in the market, and fit it perfectly.
I got a good hour of sleep on the flight, and woke up to find that my glasses had turned up missing. I searched around for five minutes before finding them behind my seat somehow. We got on our bus back to Luxembourg from Frankfurt Hahn, and took a train back to Obercorn. (Planes, trains, and automobiles.) We showered, ate, and napped. The end.

Monday, February 20, 2006



My feast on the beach this past weekend in Barcelona

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Switzerland

Day 0 Thursday 2.2.06
     Emile Haag canceled his history class for Thursday morning and rescheduled it for Wednesday night, so on Thursday I had no class until 17h00. I managed to show up for lunch, which I ate, checked my email, and headed back home. I got showered and presentably dressed and headed back to the chateau for my hour of class. After class the program as a whole headed to the Oberkorn church where Georges Backes (music teacher of last semester, a tenor), Gerd Wachowski (organ player and professor in Frankfurt, friend of Backes whom I met last semester), and Pierre Kremer (a trumpet player I did not know existed before this night) were to play a free concert for us. The opening piece was a piece for a solo trumpet that was played in front of us, the rest of the pieces were played behind us where the organ is in all old churches. This made it strange, since you listened, but just stared at the alter where nothing was happening. It was a good concert, and Daryl, John, and I hung around to talk to Georges and Gerd afterward. I was flattered that Gerd actually remembered me. We had a nice little conversation then they took off and Guy (who is on the board of directors for the church) went around locking things up. We asked if we could play the organ and he flipped it on and let us screw around for a while. We then begged him to play something, having been tipped off by another host parent that he used to play. He eventually started playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and it was really cool. Guy then tried to get us into the reception at the Chateau, but Dr. Stiller vetoed it and we went home. John busted out the Kraft Mac n Cheese he had brought from home and we ate that, Guy came home; we played Euro monopoly, and slept.

Switzerland!

Day 1 Friday 3.2.06
Arriving at school, John and I headed to a computer lab to check email before class and we saw that Dave Kreager, an old buddy from Oxford was on. We had a long stimulating chat room session there until we had to go to class, which was the usual junk, then it was time for Switzerland
     Switzerland? You might ask, I thought you were going to Berlin! You would be right, but wrong. While hanging out in the Cave of the Chateau on Monday, a ski trip was mentioned, and a quick calculation in my brain decided that skiing with Rick, Whitney, and whomever else wanted to go would be more enjoyable than going to Berlin alone. The original group also included Jill, but then she dropped out and Abbie, one of Rick’s friends joined us. We had four, and we started planning. The idea of renting a car came to be rather attractive to us, with one small problem. You must be 21 to rent a car in Luxembourg and we were all 20. We set out to find a 5th person who was also 21 years of age. Allison toyed with the idea for a while, but it wasn’t until Wednesday night at the MUDEC Wednesday hangout at Halfway House that Whitney walked over and said that Ian had agreed to be our renter and fifth person. We had acquired a full car and a way to rent said car, we were set. Back to Friday.
     Ian, Whitney and Rick are all in the Business base course that lets out a half hour later than the rest, so Abbie and I had to sit and wait for them. Then we had to get directions. So we ended up getting to Luxembourg on the 13h30 train, a full hour after class let out. We grabbed a bus, and headed to the Budget car rental place. Then they had to find our reservation. Then they said Ian couldn’t drive because he didn’t have enough experience. Once we explained that it was just a renewed license and he has been driving for 5 years, they let us have our…Skoda Octavia. Made in the Czech Republic. Yay. I opened the door and it fell off. Not really. It wasn’t bad, it had a little diesel engine, so we were gonna get great gas mileage. I jumped into the driver’s seat (neither Ian nor Whitney can drive manual transmission) and headed off. I drove from Luxembourg deep into France, on Autobahns lined with beautiful snow covered trees. We eventually got hungry and stopped at an exit that said it had a McDonald’s. It was like three towns over, but we found it, and ate, and Abbie took the wheel. She drove for a while, then Rick took it from shortly before the Swiss border to Gryon.
     As Rick took the last leg it started to get dark and we were going up switchbacks in the fog, which was fun. The women were getting a bit freaked out, and Rick probably didn’t help matters when he gave the wheel a little jink for no reason, inciting a storm of curses from the women and laughter from the men. Once we were on the correct mountain, we asked for directions three times before finding our hostel. You would think it would be easy to find things when there is really just one substantive road,  but when the actual buildings are another 40-50 meters farther up the mountain, and hidden by trees, its not that easy. We eventually found it, and the Aussie who was waiting up for us. We were a bit later than we had expected. He was a funny guy, and we got checked in, got our skis and boots rented, and then he pulled out the ski map. He proceeded to tell us all the trails we should and shouldn’t go on, which ones would destroy the skis, which ones would be fun, and which ones the newbies should stick to. With that knowledge, we went to bed, so as to be somewhat alive at 9am the next morning when we planned to start skiing.

Day 2 Saturday 4.2.06
We all reluctantly woke up and got our ski gear on, and headed to the train station. Two stops later we were at the slopes. We bought lift passes for the student price of 77 sfr for two days, which is not a bad deal at all, something like $30 per day. The whole mountain seemed shrouded in fog when we got on the gondola. As we got towards the top we suddenly broke through the fog, and were speechless with the absolute beauty of the Swiss Alps. Look at my pictures on webshots. Wow.
We hit the bunny hills a few times and Ian (first timer) was having issues. Abbie, Whitney, and I left Rick to try to learn him, and headed farther down the mountain. We took a wrong turn at some point and had to ski off-piste (off the trail) for a while to get back to a lift. That was fun. We fell. It was ridiculous, and VERY tiring. We eventually made it to where we started, and Rick had gone looking for us. He came back, and we all went inside to eat lunch, having not eaten in like 24 hours. The prices were insane, but we were hungry and thirsty. Once we straightened up and pulled up our pants, we got back on the hill. We went down the way we were supposed to and Whitney managed to ski off the side of the trail (essentially a small cliff) twice. The slope was promptly renamed “Whitney Death Slope”.
She then decided to stick to the bunny hills for a while, and Rick and I went out to the other parts of the mountain. There were tons of trails, and some of them got pretty difficult. One of them was very narrow and crowded. I hit an ice patch, then had to avoid a little kid, on a trial that’s less than 8 meters wide. I was out of control; I went careening over three bumps, managing to stay upright before absolutely biting it on the fourth. My skis went flying, I went flying, one pole went flying and I rolled to my feet with my arms up expecting the whole slope to be laughing at me. They were glowering. Get a sense of humor, Swissies! I was laughing pretty hard. Rick arrived about 15 seconds after I stood up, also sliding on parts of his body and not his skis. We got up and kept going. We eventually made it back to the starting bunny hill.
My confidence was pretty shot, and I was exhausted, so I collapsed next to Ian and Whitney, the other ones lacking confidence at the moment, who were lying down near the lodge, and didn’t want to get up. Eventually we decided to do one or two more runs down the bunny hill before hanging it up for the day, and Whitney wanted someone to take pictures of her in action. I did a few jumps, got about halfway down the hill, set my camera to take pictures as long as the shutter is held down, and took a dozen action shots, a couple of which turned out all right. We all got home, walking instead of taking the train, and grabbed showers. We took advantage of our hostel’s kitchen and made pasta for dinner. It was good. We then collapsed in bed, needing sleep if we were to ski again the next day.

Day 3 Sunday 5.3.06
     We got up, checked out, and drove to the resort. Once again, we came up through the fog into stunning scenery all around. My first run down the bunny hill I used the edge to do a few jumps and decided I had the confidence and feeling back. Rick, Abbie and I decided to head over to the partsof the mountain we hadn’t seen yesterday. There were a ton of runs and we had to walk through a town to get to part of them. (We stopped for pizza, it was amazing.) The runs were a ton of fun and we all had a blast. At one point Rick and I decided to try to ski off the trail. It was exhausting and difficult. On our way back we took a wrong turn and ended up on a hellish run down narrow crowded trails in thick fog. It required all our attention, so at some point Abbie got separated from us. After some frantic text messaging, we figured out what was going on, and all got back to the car. We exchanged stories and headed for the Chalet to return our equipment and pay the rest of our bill. The Aussie (“Hostel Matt”) gave us brochures to bring back to MUDEC and also a list of hostels that they are affiliated with. Since this was one of the best hostels I have stayed in, I will be using that list quite a bit.
We then left sans showers. Rick took the first leg, then I took the leg from the middle of Switzerland to the middle of France. It was hellish. Basel was under construction and I wasn’t on an autobahn while I was in France for the most part, so it was not fun. I stuck it out until finally one of my contacts fell out, and I gave the wheel to Abbie for the home stretch. We arrived home around 3am, and dropped off everyone at home. I ate Guy soup and went to bed.
The next day I found out that Rick (the only one who lives in the city) had to sit at a gas station for over an hour for it to open and fill up the car, drop it off at the rental place, and only had time for a shower before he left to go to the Chateau; he got NO sleep. That sucks. Anyway, that was one of the best weekends I have had—the skiing was great, the travel partners were great, and the hostel was one of the best.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren.

Freitag 27.1.06

This weekend is Heidelberg weekend. I was traveling alone; Daryl and John lived there, and Audrey backed out on me, so it was just me. Thursday night, however, I was informed that there was a group of a dozen or two MUDECers all going this weekend as well. This was good and bad news, but I couldn’t do anything about it now. After breakfast and packing, we headed to the Chateau for the one Friday class, then came back to Guy’s where Daryl and John (who were going to Freiberg and the Schwarzwald) made sandwiches for the weekend. These things were works of art with loads of spices and other crap. I was hungry and ate Babybells and sausage. We got on the same train to Lux, where we went to get our Eurail passes activated. I filled out the info before getting to the counter, thinking I was doing a good thing—apparently not. I was told then that they had to fill it out and I would have to get a replacement pass. This wouldn’t cost me money, but I would have to wait for it and I would miss my train. With the unsettling feeling of having been screwed with my pants on, I paid for a ticket and decided to deal with the Eurail pass later. My trip hadn’t started and I was out €100, needless to say I was ecstatic. (I resolved the issue on Tuesday, getting a replacement one, which cost me another €30, but now alles gute.)
The train ride from Lux to Heidelberg was uneventful other than the French apparently no longer feeling like the Schengen agreement is in effect and asking to see my passport at the border and asking me “Was machen Sie in Heidelberg?” Apparently “tourism” was the wrong answer, since he repeated it and gave me a weird look, but it wasn’t wrong enough to get arrested. I got to Heidelberg, walked out the front door of the train station, and was promptly lost. I knew I wasn’t near the city center and I hadn’t found a useful map yet so I just wandered in the FREEZING cold until I found somewhere to eat. (My jacket has a zip-in lining, but since I had been wearing the outer part with a hoody all week in Luxembourg, I figured that would be fine in Heidelberg…WRONG.) I eventually found a Thai restaurant where I got some Cow Pad Gai, which was delicious. I headed back out and found a cab to get me to the Jugendherberge, which was also nowhere near the center of the city, but nowhere near the Hauptbahnof either. I got there, checked in without trouble, and tried to get to my room. The locks were a gigantic pain in the ass. They were key cards, but like none I had ever seen. You sort of held them against the lock which was also the latch and then jimmied it until it opened. It took me a while to figure out. I read for a while, and hit the sack.

Samstag (Sonnabend) 28.1.06
I woke up around 8:30 and headed down for breakfast. The usual cold cuts and marmalade awaited me. I saw a table of MUDEC people but just sat on my own, since I am a morgenmuffel and not really awake, and also not wanting to spend my day of sightseeing in a large group of Americans. I grabbed a bus into town and started to wander the city. I quickly became very cold. It was very obviously a college town—it seemed dominated by coffee shops, bookstores, and bars. There were a lot of young people walking and jogging around. It is a very pretty, very German town. I heard plenty of German, but also plenty of English. There is a US Army base outside the city, and I saw one or two Americans with military haircuts wandering around.
After I had wandered enough (and bought a sweatshirt for another layer), I headed to the Schloß. This large, partially ruined castle sits on a hill/mountain behind the city. It takes an invigorating hike up steep stone lanes to reach the Schloß. Once there, one has quite a nice view of the city. Inside there were two wine casks, labeled Kleine Faß and Große Faß. The Kleine Faß holds 45.000 liters. That’s the small one. The large one has a dance floor on top of it. It holds 221.726 liters. To put that in perspective, if the castle as a whole consumed 600L per day for a year, there would still be 2000L of wine in the barrel for hangover cures on New Years Day. As far as I have been able to tell, it has never been full. Understandable, as it would probably hold all the wine grown in that area of the Neckar River. Have I been able to impress upon you how big it is?
There is also a pharmacy museum in the castle. About half the displays had English translations and it was somewhat interesting. One of the rooms was in a tower and the walls must have been two meters thick. I heard someone say that the castle was never taken, and I believe it. I then headed out to the gardens beside and behind the castle. Seeing as there was 2-4 inches of snow on the ground, they weren’t exactly gardens, but it was still a nice area with good views of the city.
I then headed back to the city and wandered down Hauptstraße. As I walked by Heiligkeitskirche, I noticed that it was open, so I stepped inside. I was very surprised, because it was brightly white and painted a startling white. It was a quite nice inside, and also warm, which was very important. The organ or lack thereof, was a disappointment, though not a large one. I then headed back to the main street. I bought a newspaper and sat in starbucks reading it for a while. It was warm. A couple of German students sat down at the same table I was at and when I left, I said “Auf Wiedersehen” and they said “Bye.” Then I headed to the Kurpfälzisches Museum. There was a good collection of German art inside that was pretty interesting. The real highlight was the jawbone of the “Heidelberg Man.” This is a bone they found that is 600,000 years old. Reading about that was pretty cool, as was seeing it. I ran into some MUDECers when I left the museum and we headed up the Philosophenweg. This is a trail up the mountain opposite the Schloß. Goethe and Mark Twain were said to have walked it while looking for inspiration, among others. We eventually headed down the mountain and went to get food. We stopped at a cheap looking place that said it was Italian, and a couple of them stopped at the place next door that said it was Mexican. The Italian food was good, I had a pizza and a half, but the Mexican food looked rather Turkish to me, seeing as there were slabs of lamb roasting. Anyway, we then headed back to the bus stop and got on the bus to take us back to the Jugendherberge. Unfortunately, we got on it going the wrong way. An hour and a half later, we made it back. I went back to my room and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, when I wasn’t even trying to go to sleep. Unfortunately, the Brazilian in the bunk below me was competing for the Gold Medal in competitive snoring, so my sleep was interrupted from time to time.

Sunday 29.1.06
I woke up, confused as to when I had to check out, so I just got my stuff together and headed down. Checkout went without a hitch, I ate breakfast, and I headed into town. I had planned on stopping in a bookstore or something, but Hauptstraße was empty and everything was closed. I headed to the Hauptbahnof for something that is open. When I was there, I ran into five MUDEC girls. They were heading up Philosophenweg, and I tagged along, since I hadn’t seen it in the daylight. We hiked up the mountain for a long time, and had a good time translating all the things that were written on monuments near the trail. We eventually headed back into the city, and since my train back was a few hours earlier than theirs, I bade the girls goodbye and headed back to the train station. My train ride home was uneventful. While I sat at home, I got a text message from John telling me that their train was late and that they might miss the last train back to Obercorn from Luxembourg City. I told them that Guy was not awake, had to work at 6 tomorrow, and that if they wanted to ask him to wake up and get them, I didn’t approve and wouldn’t help them. It ended up not mattering, since they held the train for them, and they got home fine. Here ends Heidelberg.