Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summing it all up

So I'm now sitting in the apartment all alone. Everyone has left except for me so its given me some time to think about everything up to date. First the usual updates:

Two weekends ago I was in Switzerland visiting Jackie from valpo. I met her in Bern and we walked around the city a bit (it was raining for most of the day) and then went to a soccer game which was pretty exciting. Fans get way more into soccer over here so it was fun to be in the midst of the action. We weren't able to get a hostel or hotel for the night so we just went back to Villagen (where she is doing research for the summer) and I stayed in her room. On Sunday we went to see Roman ruins and also Basel (which is half in Germany so I could use my rail pass). Basel was a really pretty city along the Rhein. It was interesting being in Switzerland because I could understand almost nothing of what people were saying the German is so different there. Luckily, if I spoke Hochdeutsch (or standard German) they would understand and then speak so that I could understand also.

During the week I was very busy working on my final presentation and analyzing my data. On Friday I gave my final presentation to our PhD. advisors in FZD as well as Prof. Winner who is chair of the department. My presentation went very well and they through us a barbeque afterwards as well as taking us out to the Ratskeller.

On Saturday Darcy and I left for Berlin and Leipzig along the way. Leipzig is a decent sized university town where some very large rallies were held during the time of the Soviet Union and the wall. These rallies contributed signigicantly to the eventual collapse of the wall. We went to an interesting free museum that documented some of this. After Leipzig we hopped back on the train to Berlin to catch a free tour of the city. It wasn't quite as good as the free tour we took in Prague but it was a good way to see most of the highlights of the city without paying a lot of money to get in. After the free tour we climbed to the top of the Reichstag (the German Parliment building) and got a beautiful view of the city at dusk. Berlin is an awesome city! It is super artsy and international and very unique. I won't detail everything we did on Sunday but we went to a bunch of museums/memorials that were free and a GIANT flea market where we found vegan burgers then we went to the Jewish Museum and the area of Berlin where most of the immigrants live so there was awesome food there. We went to a Moroccan restaurant which was delicious!!

On Monday morning I went separate on the way back to Potsdam, a city near Berlin that has a beautiful palace and gardens. I did a lot of walking then I hopped back on a train to use the last day of my German rail pass and finish my final paper for the summer. Tuesday and Wednesday were a mad rush to get everything finished. On Tuesday my advisor, Fabian, took us to a go-kart place in Mainz which was a blast. Go-karting in Germany is WAY more fun and of course the cars are much faster! On Wednesday we had to give our presentation AGAIN to the Virginia Tech group then we all went out for cocktails with our incredibly awesome German teacher! Wednesday was very hard for me because I had to say all my goodbyes to wonderful people we have had the opportunity to work with this summer. They all welcomed us to come and stay with them if we ever come back but it's so sad to leave. I feel so blessed to have been able to work in the department that I did because all of our advisors went out of their way to welcome us and give us a good experience. I am sooooooooo sad to leave!!!!

This morning I finished up my paper then walked around Darmstadt for a bit and did some shopping. I felt a little better after this and I started getting excited for my next set of adventures. On Saturday I leave for Sweden to visit some friends from our church, I will be there for about 4 days then I take a train to Copenhagen, Denmark where I will stay for two days, then I fly to Nice, France to chill on the mediteranean coast for two and half days, then another train to Milan, Italy for two days then back to Darmstadt for three days. I basically went online and figured out the cheapest places I could go and just started buying tickets. My total travel costs are only a little over $100 (not Euros!)! I have been contacting locals through couch surfing so hopefully I will have to pay very little for housing as well!

All in all this has been an incredible summer. I have learned so much about the world (maybe not so much related to engineering) and I have been able to see so much. I am so, so sad to go back. For the first time (and I really mean it this time) I feel like I have found a home and a place I fit in. I am going to come back to Germany for sure next summer and maybe this will eventually become a permanent home where I will actually settle down after I do all the others things I want to do in life. I don't know what my internet access will be like the next couple of weeks so this might be last post but I will see most of you within the next month likely!

To sum everything up to date I have been to these cities so far this summer: Germany: Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, München, Nürnberg, Köln, Bacharach, Oberwesel, Sankt Goar, Bonn, Ulm, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Berlin, Potsdam; Netherlands: Rotterdam, Delft, Den Haag; Czech Republic: Prague; Spain: Madrid, Cerdecilla, Segovia; Austria: Salzburg; Switzerland: Bern, Brugge, Villagen, Rheinfeld, Basel; and next to come: Götheberg, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark, Nice, France, and Milan, Italy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mission to meet more Germans and more adventures!

Whoops! Haven't updated in forever. So two weekends ago I started off my weekend with a lovely bike trip along the Rhein with Darcy. We were supposed to take a train from Darmstadt to Bacharach but we accidentally missed the Bacharach stop so we got off at the next stop (Oberwesel) and decided to rent bikes there instead. This turned out quite well because the bikes ended up being 3 € cheaper! First we biked to Sankt Goar (St. Goar), then took a ferry across the Rhein to climb the Lorelely Cliffs. It was a steep 20 minute climb to the top but the view was gorgeous! There are castles everywhere along the Rhein and lots of really cute, quaint little villages. After climbing back down and taking the ferry across again we biked to Bacharach. Bacharach was cute but a little touristy. We found a Birkenstock store there and we both bought a pair of Birkenstocks! Then we went to a little restaurant/winery and took a wine tasting test--15 different types! The Rhein is the wine country of Germany and mostly everything we tried was very good. Then we hopped back on our bikes and returned to Oberwesel to return our bikes. Only glitch occurred due to me not fully understanding the bike rental man's German because he specified where we were supposed to return them and I think I missed part of it because we couldn't seem to find the place. Instead we just left the bikes by his shop and rushed to the train station only to miss our train. Luckily, because we both have German rail passes we just hopped on the next train to head to Bonn for a huge outdoor concert. Bonn was a very different city. Much dirtier than any of the other German cities I've been too and perhaps a little livelier night life too. We went to this HUGE outdoor park that was filled with Germans! There were three different stages with different bands playing. We were supposed to meet up with David but it was impossible due to the large crowd. Instead we just enjoyed the atmosphere. The music wasn't great but it was interesting. In the morning we walked around Bonn a bit, walked by Beethoven's birthplace then hopped back on the train to go to Mainz. I had wanted to see the Gutenberg museum in Mainz but by the time we got there it was closed so instead we just walked around then headed back to Darmstadt for Heinerfest. Heinerfest was quite the affair! Basically the streets of downtown Darmstadt were transformed into a mini amusement park with rides, roller coasters, vendors, a Ferris wheel and much more!

Our next weekend trip was Salzburg, Austria, Ulm, and Stuttgart. On Saturday we took a train to Salzburg then spent the day wandering around the city, seeing some of the sites from the Sound of Music (the Sound of Music was filmed here) and hiking in the foothills of the alps. It was really quite a small city but BEAUTIFUL with the backdrop of the Alps. I really miss mountains!! Salzburg is famous for Mozartkugel, which is a round chocolate (kugel means ball in German) with an inner core of pistachios, then covered in Marzipan, then an outer layer of chocolate. Very delicious!! We also got Apfelstrudel for dessert which is another speciality of Salzburg/Austria in general. Back at our hotel they had non stop running of the Sound of Music so we watched it before we went to bed, which was cool because we saw all of the sites in the movie. On Sunday we spontaneously decided to stop in Ulm to climb the tallest cathedral in the world (161 m, 768 steps). It was quite the climb but a very beautiful view from the top. Next we hopped back on the train and headed to Stuttgart to check out the Mercedes museum. Stuttgart felt a bit more like an American city because it was much more spread out than most German cities. For once we couldn't walk everywhere. The Mercedes museum was quite interesting even for a non-car fanatic like myself. We figured we should see something that somewhat related to our research and Mercedes was really the founder the car/most technologies we see in our cars today. We then barely made our next train and headed back to Darmstadt. I'm thoroughly enjoying the flexibility of having the German rail pass because we never need set plans and we've managed to average at least 2 different cities per weekend.

Besides our weekend travels lots happened during the week. Work has been going slow. Between my advisor being gone/busy, and my data logging system not working properly I've been rather bored. Plus as cool as driving BMW's is at first, its really not that new and exciting and for me gets old after a while. However, this week we get a Honda Insight to test which should be interesting/fun because its a hybrid. I'm excited to prove that hybrids really aren't as fuel economic as people are led to believe. In other news I have finally been able to meet some Germans!! For the finale of Heinerfest, David, Darcy and I and some Germans that he met went out and watched the fire works and talked for a while (all in German of course). It was great! I have been so incredibly sick of how lame and American the rest of our group is that my new mission has been to meet Germans. It's a rather difficult task because Germans by nature kind of mind their own business and we are very secluded due to the fact that we all live together. On Sunday I spent time searching TUD's website of all the sports they have going on. Darcy and I found Frisbee and we went on Monday! It was GREAT!!! Everyone was super friendly and we already made a new friend! Yesterday, Daniel (our new friend) came over to our apartment and we tossed a Frisbee around for a while, then we came back to the apartment ate some popcorn and talked for a while. There is Frisbee again on Thursday so I'm super pumped to hopefully meet some more people! Plus there were only about five girls out of maybe thirty people so the odds are fantastic ; )

The other highlight of the past couple weeks was a trip yesterday with my German class to Burg Frankenstein (Frankenstein's Castle). It is only about 20 minutes from Darmstadt. We enjoyed a beautiful hike through the woods to get there. It was a fairly small castle but nice because it wasn't touristy at all. I've really been enjoying German class because our teacher is the coolest lady ever! She is the happiest most energetic person I've ever met! In August she is biking from Darmstadt to Hungary and I'm pretty sure she's over 50. It's so cool to meet people like this! In the states I get accused of being crazy to want to bike across the US and here you can simply bike through like 5 countries in the same amount of time no big deal!

A few cultural notes: way more people are into organic food here. Every single grocery store has some kind of organic section (even the stores that aren't advertised as "bio" (organic)). Daniel, our new friend is also a selective vegetarian like myself because as he put it it's too expensive to buy ecologically sound meat. I've also started to come up with a few conclusions as to Germany is so much greener. For one thing public transportation is much easier to implement here because everything is so close and the cities are much denser. But even besides public transportation there is a website were you can ride share! You simply type in your starting and final destinations and you can either search for a ride or post a ride. I'm planning on making use of this site in August when my rail pass expires and I don't know what to do with myself. The other thing I've been thinking about is how every German city has a fantastic park system. Many people I've talked with in the states say that they like living in the country because it gives them more space and more closeness to nature, yet in Germany you are so close to some of the most beautiful and secluded, parks/trails even living in a city. This because the Germans realized a while back that their forests were disappearing and they needed to make an effort to preserve them. I think part of the problem in the states with all of these issues is our very different lifestyle. In Germany people are very efficient yet they also seem to know when to separate work from relaxing/fun. Because of this, its not a big deal to have most stores closed on Sundays, and have shorter hours during the week (the majority of stores besides restaurants and bars close around 7 or 8 here). Its also not a big deal to maybe do their shopping at more than one store rather than a cheap (but also very poor quality) one stop store like Walmart or Meijer and above all people seem to value quality over quantity or price. I also think this goes back to the simple fact of how difficult Germany's history has been. In the US we have been given everything and have enjoyed immense prosperity. I think this is all about to change and I think the whole idea of the "American dream" is not necessarily a good one because to me its all about getting rich, and getting rich fast without any thought to the consequences. Anyway that was kind of rambling but in conclusion I think it would do us some good to learn from other cultures (this is why traveling is so important) and be very open to change. Personally, I am in love with Germany, its culture and the way of life. The weather is terrible here but for some reason it hasn't even bothered me that much, perhaps because it is so easy to be active here all the time even if I'm not running 8 miles a day. Well those are my thoughts from this adventure so far. This weekend I'm off to Bern, Switzerland to visit Jackie (a friend from Valpo), enjoy a Swiss festival, and see a soccer game.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bullfights in Spain, sleeping in airports, and seeing old friends!

So I should probably be working right now but I know I won't write in this if I don't do it soon and there's lots to write about this time.

So the highlight of last week was Darcy and I buying bikes! They aren't the most high quality but it was a good deal and we can sell them back at the end of the summer so we aren't losing much. Now the two mile walk to work (because I refused to buy a bus pass) takes no time at all and I'm considering biking to France in August if my bike will hold up (yeah in Germany rather than biking to another state you can simply bike to another country, no big deal). The rest of the week I spent figuring out how the data logging system being used for my research works so that this week I can start driving!!

On friday I flew out of Frankfurt to Madrid to visit Lily! The flight there was smooth and Lily and I just spent the night walking around Madrid. She's living with a young Spanish couple, so we talked with them for a while. They are super cool, and funny and laid back. Saturday we took a train to Cercidilla for some hard core hiking in the mountains. I consider myself a pretty active person and pretty hardcore when it comes to exercising, but this hike was intense. We hiked for 5 hours 2.5 of which were steady steep uphill with loose rocks. It was gorgeous!!! The only problem with Spain is that the Spanish don't seem to like making nice signs all over with distances to places like in Germany. Our only guide on the hike were random red dots on trees and I believe we ended up taking a very long way back because this was the only signage we could find. Fortunately I always seem to have a good sense of direction and was able to get us back. Back in Madrid we went out to enjoy some of Madrid's night life (this city seriously never sleeps and apparently Spain is also the least productive of all the EU countries). Jorge and Miriam, Lily's host family, bought us drinks and we hung out at a cool Brazilian bar. It was nice having locals to show me around and then I got a better taste of the culture too which is completely different than German culture! I asked Miriam what she thought of Germans and she said "they are very straight, I don't have much interest in Germans". Haha! The Spanish people are SO friendly! Anytime you pass someone in the street it's standard to say Hola! whereas in Germany everyone just minds their own business and does their own thing.

On Sunday Lily and I headed to Segovia for the day to see Roman aqueducts! It was a very cool, old city. We also went out to lunch there and Lily tried to order me a vegetarian dish but she didn't understand what she was ordering so I ended up getting whole shrimp! They were good but very messy to eat. The way you eat shrimp is first pull off the head the suck out the meat (pretty much the brains) from the head, then you peel off the shell and eat the rest of the meat. Interesting experience! I love not having a clue what I'm going to be eating. The rest of Sunday was spent at a bull fight!! This was like nothing else I've ever seen. I definitely did not realize that they actually kill the bulls at the fight. I do not understand how people are entertained by this. They fought and killed 6 bulls at the fight and it was essentially the same procedure everytime. The last fight I almost had a heart attack because the head matador (who finishes off the fight) slipped and fell and the bull just rushed at him. I closed my eyes thinking I was going to look up and see a bloody dead mess for the matador but somehow he got up (had lost his shoes) and kept fighting!!! It was crazy!

Monday Lily and I just did some shopping and then I headed off to the airport for my 3:15 flight atleast that's when it was supposed to leave. I ended up being in the Madrid airport or on the airplane from about 2 in the afternoon until 11 pm at night!!!! So awful and this is when I decided that as fun as Spanish people are they can be incredibly annoying and I would prefer to stick around in Germany. There is a bus that runs from Frankfurt to Darmstadt as well as trains, and the subway, however, none of these option run at 2 in the morning so I hung out in the Frankfurt airport until 5 so I could take the bus back since I didn't want to pay 100 euros for a taxi. Technically the airline should have reimbursed me but 100 euros is a lot of money and I didn't feel like waiting for a unguaranteed reimbursement all summer. I got back to Darmstadt at about 6:30 went to bed until 8 then headed to work. Somehow I didn't feel tired but I think if I ever slow down at any point I'm just going to crash and die.

Yesterday, I finally hung out with David, a friend from Ann Arbor who's going to be here for the summer. I gave him a tour of Darmstadt and we walked around for a while. We live super close which is crazy and exciting and the house he's staying has an extra room so maybe I won't be homeless in August!! I'm so happy he's finally here because he somehow has connections with a bunch of Germans in Darmstadt so hopefully the days of being stuck in our little American bubble are over. I am seriously going to go crazy if I spend anymore time with our lame group, except Darcy of course!

The rest of the week I am test driving a BMW with our new system by myself at the test track. This weekend Darcy, David and I are headed along the Rhein for a bike trip, then Bonn for a huge free concert, then Mainz on the way back and Heinerfest in Darmstadt for the rest of the week. Heinerfest is a huge festival in Darmstadt that apparentely is the second largest in Germany, second only to Oktoberfest!

Other notes: for the second time on my travels I tried to get away with being German. Lily would introduce me as her friend from Germany so people just thought I was German. Although, maybe in Spain that's not necessarily a good thing because the Spanish seem to like Americans better since they're friendlier apparently. But really the Spanish just love everyone and love to talk. This was another interesting observation in Spain: comparing the Spanish and the German trains. In Germany, with exception of some large groups that will bring their beer and have a party on the train, trains are very silent. In Spain on the other hand, there was nonstop chatter the whole way. I don't think there was a single person not engaged in conversation. We got little old ladies blabbering away to us in Spanish randomly and for some reason they always spoke to me even though I understand very little of what they were saying. I also decided to try and learn Spanish again. It is really quite a simple language and I was surprised by how much of my Spanish came back to me in one short weekend. I also decided that maybe I should try slowing down a bit. Between traveling every weekend, trying to do as much as I can during the week in Darmstadt, doing my Stats homework completely last minute every Sunday, and trying to fit in some running in, and of course doing research, I've pretty much been going full speed ahead 24 seven. I'm still waiting for my body to crash from this weekend but likely I just won't give it a chance. Anyway, as usual I'm cramming as much in as possible and when it comes down to it loving every minute of it! Bis später! Alles gut in Deutschland!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Europa ist sehr wunderbar!

Well another week has passed and I have some more awesome adventures to report! Starting at the beginning of the week: Monday Daniel invited us to free salsa dancing lessons so Darcy, Alex, and Ivan (with some convincing) all went. It was a blast! There were a lot of international students there and we got to meet some new people. Darcy and I will for sure be going every week from now on. Tuesday, we had our first German lesson. Our teacher is very peppy! Our first assignment was to go out into the nearby park and ask random people a list of questions that she gave us. It was scary and embarrassing. I would not do that in English let alone in German!!! I did end up talking to some friendly girls for a while though which was cool. We had a good conversation. I could understand everything and gradually more confidentely was able to respond. These lessons should be great and we don't even have to pay for them! Darcy is not allowing me to speak English at all on our travels and says I have to be fluent by the time I'm done. We'll see! Wednesday, our group got invited to a German frat house for a cookout by some random American who's living here for the summer. It was interesting... In some ways similar to an American frat but a little nerdy and weird too. We spent a little too long for my liking talking about fluid dynamics. Wednesday night, Darcy and I attempted to meet up with Daniel and Ivan at a party in the Schloss (castle) here which was unsuccessful because it was so crowded. Interesting nonetheless.

Originally, our plans for this weekend were to bike along the Rhein stay in a castle hostel in Bacharach then stay see Köln for the rest of the weekend. We weren't able to book the hostel so on Thursday we randomly changed our plans and decided to head to Rotterdam, Netherlands for Friday/Saturday then Köln for Sunday. This weekend turned out being the best trip by far partially because Darcy and I just make our own separate plans now. We got into Rotterdam on Friday night and stayed in a four star hotel for only €54 a night!!!! It was awesome!!! We got the best breakfast ever! Full out spread: every kind of cheese, every kind of bread, nutella, every kind of jam, fruit, eggs, yogurt, etc. We stocked up on food for lunch then headed to a bike rental shop and rented bikes for only €6.50 for the day. We first biked to Delft (where the Delft pottery is made) which was a super cute Dutch town. We walked around the flea markets, went shopping, ate our lunch from our hotel, then figured we'd hop back on our bikes and head to the Haag because it only another 10km away. We biked through the Haag stopped at a gay rights festival which was interesting, then noticed that the coast was only another 8 km away so we just kept biking. We reached the coast then turned around came back, ate pancakes in Delft, and biked through the dutch countryside to Rotterdam. AWESOME day!! I am in love with Holland! In the course of a day we biked through four Dutch cities. It's definitely a different culture than Germany. Everyone was really friendly and more than willing to speak English yet none of the cities we visited felt touristy. Dutch is similar to German so I was able to understand a lot of the signs but not really any of the speaking. We got back to Rotterdam at 10:30 pm and dropped our bikes off (it was still light out!). At the bike shop the address we used was our Germany address so the owner just spoke in German to me and thought we were German. It's awesome having a German address and trying to get away with not being American. The rest of the night we walked around Rotterdam at night which was pretty.

Sunday we enjoyed another awesome breakfast, hopped on another train and headed to Köln. We spent about four hours in Köln and climbed to the top of the Dom, got some Kölsch beer which is only allowed to be brewed in Köln, walked along the Rhein to the chocolate factory and browsed through a flea market where they had awesome GIANT pickles. I also bought the first Harry Potter book in German which I'm pumped to read. Darcy and I are incredibly efficient travelers. It was an awesome weekend! Overall I think we biked about 40 or so miles, climbed 533 steps to the top of Dom, and walked all over five cities. Next weekend is Madrid, Toledo, and Seguvia (spelling?) and visiting Lily.

I also came to the conclusion with Darcy that if I ever settle down in life (after Africa and seeing the rest of the world) Europe is the place to be. I think it would be almost impossible to get bored here. Take Germany for example: just within the country the big cities are clustered much closer together so you can be in a new big city within no time at all. Also, Germany borders eight countries!! A short train or drive away and you are in a new country and new culture and those are only the bordering countries. It's funny how much Germany feels like home to me now after just over three weeks of being here. Coming back from the Netherlands it was a relief to hear a language I could understand and read.

Another interesting observation: with the exception of Prague which was basically just tourist central, all the places I've visited in Europe so far have seemed to have a much larger percentage of guys than girls. I haven't quite figured it out. Maybe guys are just the only ones who know how to have fun around here. Either way the odds are good! Oh and Happy Father's day to anyone that applies to!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Munich, Darmstadt breweries, Nürnberg, and Prague

So like I anticipated I'm pretty bad at this whole blogging thing. Here's an update from the past two weekends:
Two weekends ago 5 of us headed to Munich for two days. Saturday was rainy and cold which made things not as fun but we saw the Glockenspiel, which I thought was incredibly lame (sorry to anyone who thinks it's cool). I was expecting a great show, especially with all the people standing around watching. We were going to take a free tour of the city but we missed it because our train was late. Next we got lunch then headed to the Deutsches Museum which I also thought was lame. It's supposed to be this great science museum but it wasn't interactive at all so none of the exhibits kept my attention. Luckily it didn't cost too much to get in so I wasn't horribly disappointed. After the museum we walked to the very crowded and somewhat Hofbrauhaus. I wasn't too excited about it because I heard it's more of a tourist trap then traditional German. It was a fun experience though. Everyone was dressed in Lederhosen, and they had a Bavarian band playing. I got a Maß of Radler (sprite and beer mixed together). After the Hofbräuhaus we split up. Darcy and I wandered around some more then we all met up at an Irish pub to watch the Bulgaria versus Ireland soccer game (Ivan didn't want to miss the game). This is where I had the most delicious veggie burger in the world!!! Darcy and I have really managed to eat quite well as vegetarians here.
We spent the night in a nice hostel then navigated (all without paying too) Munich public transportation and walked all over the Olympic park, Englischer Gartens, and for a short while the Nymphanberger Palace. In short we managed to atleat briefly cover ever part of the city. The weather on sunday was much better: sunny and warm!
Last week on Wednesday, our PhD advisers took Ivan, Darcy, Mandy, and I (the FZD crew) on a tour of the Darmstadt breweries and bars. It started off with the most intense game of Fussball I've ever seen in my life! The Germans do not mess around when it comes to Fussball. I thought they were going to break the table. We ate dinner at the Darmstadt brewery and Darcy and I shared the "kleine Bierprobe" which was a sampling of all their different varieties of brew. Next we headed to the Ratskeller for a Maß of beer. We finished up the night at a bar with another traditional drink called Laternsche. It was a great night! We spoke lots of German, learned more about the culture and had a great time. Darcy and I didn't get to bed until 3 am then had a train at 7:43 to Nürnberg for a long weekend (thursday was another random German holiday).
Nürnberg was awesome!! My favorite city so far hands down! They have a beautiful castle and the entire city is very old. It's also where the Nazi party rallying grounds are so we visited the place were Hitler addressed 100,000 people! It was incredible and rather chilling to think that he spoke there with so many people supporting him. There was also a great interactive museum wth lots of information on Nürnberg's part in the war. On our way we got hit on by our creepy bus driver. I can't decide if in cases like this knowing German is better or worse. Later Darcy and I took a tour of cellers and passageways under the city in German. I understood about half of what they said simply because it started getting exhausting listening so closely. It was really interesting though and afterward we ate dinner at a microbrewery. We decided to order something we had no idea about from the menu and were pleasently surprised. They were called baggers which were kind of like a potatoe pancake. Later we stopped for dessert at this really quaint restuarant inside part of the underground cellers. We again ordered something that I didn't know the translation for and again we happily surprised. It's really a great way to try new food!
The next day we had a train connection at 5:40 in the morning to Prague. Darcy and I had a hotel but the rest of our group came from Mainz and didn't get to Nürnberg until midnight and we felt bad making them sleep in the train station when we had a hotel so all seven of us crammed in the hotel for the night. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all Prague and overall I was not super happy about the trip. Prague is a beautiful and very old city but incredibly touristy especially at this time of year. I heard about the same amount of German spoken around me (just from the tourists) that I do in Germany. It was really, really annoying!! Friday Darcy and I took a free tour from this absolutely hilarious tour guide from LA. Saturday, we explored the castle which was pretty but a complete scam! You had to pay for everything. Sunday was a slightly better day. Orignially Darcy and I planned on taking a bus to a concentration camp about an hour outside Prague. Unfortunately the bus wouldn't get back in time for our train so instead we just bought day passes for the tram system, hopped on a random tram, got off at the last stop and ended up at these really pretty hiking trails around some rock cliffs/hills. We spent most of the day there. The rest of the day was rather hectic. To make a long story short it consisted of almost missing trains, missing trains, people being extremely difficult and not going with the flow, and getting back to Darmstadt at 3 in the morning. I concluded after this weekend that my travels with the rest of the group are done. Darcy and I have planned out travels for the rest of our time here. I can't handle traveling with certain members of our group and considering the fact we had originally planned on going to Berlin for the long weekend but got convinced to go to Prague against our wishes I'm not allowing something like that to happen again.
On a cheerier note Darcy is an awesome travel buddy. She is all about saving money like me, walks fast, is vegan, and can have fun doing just about anything. Our diet this weekend primarily consisted of bread and peanut butter (that I brought from the states) and dried fruit. We were able to save a lot of money this way because eating out all the time really starts to add up!
Some other notes outside of my adventures these past couple of weeks:
I have decided the only thing I actually miss about the states right now is free water and drinking fountains! I hate spending money on water but unless you want to get dehydrated you pretty much have to buy bottled water because I have yet to see a single drinking fountain anywhere. Also, in restuarants, water is almost the same price as beer or pop. Last note, while my research should be better than last summer I am currently going through the same frustrations as last summer with regards to ording parts. Our data logging system was ordered over a week ago and still hasn't arrived even though they said it would come in two days. So frustrating, because everything I could do in the meantime I've already done now. Hopefully it comes tomorrow and we can get started driving some more sweet cars. If anyone wants to hear more in depth stories feel free to e-mail or skype me. I've decided writing on this gets really frustrating so I don't know how often I'm going to want to write. As for the picture situation I'm attempting to slowly upload pictures on facebook but my patience is running short so we'll see if they ever get up. Hope all is well stateside!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting paid to drive nice cars

So here's an overview of the past few days:
Wednesday was an amazing day! Darcy, Mandy, Ivan and I who are all working with the Fahrzeugtechnik Darmstadt (FZD) research institute were taken for a ride in the morning with my research adviser Fabian in a brand new BMW 750i. It was incredible! I may sound like a nerd with all of my excitement but I don't even care. Let me describe just a few of the many amazing features this $180,000 car had. I sat in the back and both Darcy and I had a TV screen in front of us with options to view the GPS system, internet, music, movies, and radio. In the front of the car there was a moniter that had the same options but also allowed the driver to change from the different driving modes (sport plus for example which was for high speed driving), view outside from any angle of the car (to aid in parking). It also had a night vision option. The coolest feature of all was automated cruise control (ACC). When this button was pressed the car essentially drove itself with the exception of steering. Because the car has cameras and sensors all over it, it would detect the speed limit in an area, detect if there was a red light or stop sign as well as cars in front or behind it. Sooooooo incredible!!! After getting all of these features and many more demonstrated to us we headed onto the autobahn. Unfortunately there was some traffic in a few areas so we only reached a top speed of about 220 kmh (about 140-150 mph). During the entire drive I never even felt like we were going fast either because the car is so incredibly smooth. After returning back to TUD for a lunch break we headed out again to the airport where they test drive cars. This time all four of us drove on the track. I reached about 200 kmh or 120 mph and I felt like I was going about 50. It was truly an awesome day!! And do make matters even better my research for the summer is essentially test driving cars (maybe not all as cool as the BMW).
Thursday, Fabian and I just finalized our research goals and I spent the rest of the day shopping for data logging systems that we can use to measure the acceleration of cars so that we can compare this information with fuel consumption. FZD gets cars from various automotive companies and is asked to drive them around and review them. Because fuel economy ratings are based on perfect conditions and don't account for acceleration or stopping and starting we want to come up with a way to better way a car's fuel consumption. Fabian called Honda in the morning and they will be giving FZD an Insight for us to drive. This is a hybrid car just coming out on the market and we get to test it! Pretty exciting stuff! Thursday, Darcy and I also bought tickets and booked a hostel for 5 of us to head to Munich for the weekend. I also went running in the evening and found some great running trails that seem to go on for a while! The weather has been kind of cold for me lately but good for running. Hopefully it gets warmer soon!
Today Fabian and I ordered a data logging system. As seems to be the case with all of my jobs to date I was told that I work too fast. So he and Stefan brainstormed in German on what else I could work on while waiting for the system to arrive. Stefan was surprised when I understood most of what they said. It was great seeing how much they both cared that I get something out of this experience and wanted to make sure I had meaningful work to do. Definitely a different experience from the past two summers. I think I am going to cave in and attempt to put pictures on facebook so those of you who have an account feel free to check them out. It takes forever to put pictures up on here so I will see if facebook is faster.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heidelberg and the first day of research

I feel like so much has happened since I wrote last I'm not even sure where to begin. Sunday was a pretty chill day. In the morning Mandy, Darcy and I went to a nearby catholic mass then afterwards Mandy and I went running. We found our way to the only body of water in Darmstadt-- a small lake. We found some trails near the lake and enjoyed a nice run through them.
Monday was a random German holiday so we took the train to Heidelberg for the day. It a short 50 minute train ride there then we all split up and spent the day walking around and exploring. Darcy and I were the speed walkers as well as the more fun and adventurous of our group (in my opinion at least) so we went off by ourselves and found this delicious and cheap Falafal place. Darcy doesn't speak German so I got to practice my German. It wasn't perfect but I managed fine. Next we walked up a very steep hill to get into the castle. It was beautiful! We spent a while exploring and taking pictures and finding areas that were blocked off to climb over and explore. Then we snuck into the "Studentenkerzer" or student prison for the university back in the day. It was a place where students who were caught drinking or being loud or performing other "illegal" activities were sent. The walls were covered in graffiti which was interesting but it would not have been worth it if we hadn't snuck in and not paid the entrance fee. On our way back to the train station Darcy and I crossed to the other side of the river that runs through town to avoid the touristy section of town (where there was too much English and were we saw a Claire's Accessories!!). The area we walked by on the other side of the river was residential with some cool German looking homes as well as a nice public park. It was fun to people watch.

Today, Tuesday, was my first day of research. Darcy, Mandy, Ivan and I are all working with one of the research centers at TUD called "FZD" (I forgot what I stands for). We had a large group meeting with our PhD student advisers where we got a presentation on some of the research projects that they are working on. All of them are young, funny, and laid back. My adviser's name is Fabian which I was pumped about! Talk about a very German name! After introductions and the presentation we all went to lunch along with Daniel in the cafeteria. After lunch we drove with Gunther in one the brand new 6 series BMW's they have (they also have a 7 series BMW) to the testing track. The testing track is an old airport where the US used to be stationed until just last year. On our way to the other side of the track Gunther casually asked us if we would like to take a test drive across. Naturally we all said yes. We got up to 100 mph and 60 mph around some VERY sharp turns. It was so awesome!! After just getting to ride in a Mustang last summer and having to where a helmet and sign a million release forms, getting casually asked to drive in a BMW super fast was pretty incredible.
Later, I met with Fabian to discuss my research for the summer. I am working, primarily on my own because it is separate from his main research, on designing a trip recorder for a vehicle. I need to find the best measurement device to measure the acceleration of the vehicle then we will begin testing a car at under different driving conditions. I will actually get to do some tests myself and we will likely be taking a 100 km drive through the German countryside on the autobahn. He is giving me a lot of freedom and really wants the project to be mine. I'm actually really excited. After meeting with our professors we all headed with our professors to the nearby Bier Garten (actually part of the cafeteria) for a beer or ice cream. I love the laid back atmosphere here! My adviser is super chatty, he doesn't speak the best English and I insisted that he could speak German so I could learn more but he wants to practice his English. Daniel (our "babysitter") and the other professors were teasing him that he needs to be careful of what he says in German because I can understand it. Which is true because I have surprisingly been able to understand good majority of the German conversations around me. Fabian also was very interested in Engineers without Borders. They have it in Germany too but it sounds like it is very different than the American EWB. He is hoping to head to Ethiopia to work on a project soon so he was very excited to hear about my project. Also, he is a runner as well as Benedict another one of the PhD students so he said we could go running sometime. There are some nice trails on the other side of town where the engineering building is. We also found the athletic center that has a nice soccer field and beach volleyball courts.
So in conclusion, a GREAT day! I am really excited to have a whole new group of people to hang out with. All the PhD students have plans on teaching us about German culture and taking us places. It was nice to split off from some of the rest of the REU group and now I think I have a real chance to work on my German. Also, Daniel is checking into to seeing if we can have 1-2 hour German lessons. For the more advanced German speakers of the our group we could begin learning technical German. I hope this works out because I was really bummed that I won't be able to take technical German at Valpo. Lastly, the outlook for the tomorrow: Riding in sweet German cars on the autobahn. Rough life for me. Oh and sorry about the lack of pictures. I finally downloaded my pictures to my computer but it's super slow to put them on this blog probably because my internet is slow.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Zweite Tag

I don't know if I will update this everyday but I have some time right now so I figured I would write while things were still fresh in my mind.
Today we met up at 10 am with Professor Bohn who is in charge of the program. He talked to us for VERY long time, in fact few people could get a word in, and he took out to lunch at a German bakery for sandwiches. I had a nice crusty roll mit Kaese, Gurcken, Tomaten, und Salat (cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce). Es schmekt mir gut! Next Prof. Bohn took us to one of the few areas in Darmstadt that existed pre WW 2 (the entire city was vaporized during the war). It was a beautiful Catholic church that was built for the wife of one of the Hessian (Darmstadt is in the state of Hesse) leaders. She was Russian so the church was built in the russian style with the gold turrets. We also climbed the bell tower and were able to look out over most of the city and see Frankfurt. After walking around a bit more and getting fed more trivia and non stop chatter from Prof. Bohn we went grocery shopping again since the stores will be closed tomorrow since it is a sunday. We also found out that Monday is a holiday so we won't actually be starting work until Tuesday. I atleast am going to try and visit either the castle that Frankenstein lived or Heidelburg. Another plus I found out after meeting with Prof. Bohn is that we're getting paid more than I originally thought and we get meal money (which means I will be practically starving myself to save that money also). This just means more money for travel!!
After returning to the apartments, Mandy (another girl from the REU) and I decided to go running. We ran through a park nearby as well as through part of the city. We didn't get lost once and it was super nice out! I actually feel like I can get around fairly well on my own now. Later we went to the store to buy a frisbee and soccer ball but it was closed already. Tomorrow we are going to head to a nearby lake which I am super pumped about since I originally thought there would be no water nearby. Mandy and I are also going to go to a Catholic mass tomorrow and a church we found on our run.
Some more observations I had today: In grocery stores you must bag your own groceries and the cashiers are VERY efficient! You need to have everything bagged immediately when they're done checking you out. Also, you pay for grocery bags, meaning just one more incentive to reuse bags! Why oh why can't we do simple things like this in the states??? Also, we got the low down on recycling. You get 25 cents for bottle returns here and when you only pay about 50 cents for half a liter of water this is pretty good! Food waste is composted and there are separate bins for plastic goods (including all containers) and paper. This is all fantastic! Just another one of my frustrations with the states! I have only taken a few pictures so far but I will put some up soon of the apartment.

Friday, May 29, 2009

First day in Germany

Guten Abend von Deutschland!!
As all of you know by now I am spending the summer in Germany doing research at Technische Universitaet Darmstadt. I decided to attempt to keep a blog about my adventures. I arrived safely today (May 29th) after lots of delays! My first flight from Detroit to Newark was delayed over an hour but somehow we only arrived about half hour late. Then my flight from Newark to Frankfurt was delayed another hour because of bad weather in Connecticut. Right before we got on the plane I was able to meet up with three of the other REU students: Ivan from Pennsylvania but orginally from Bulgaria, Rebecca from Virginia, and Kris from Michigan also. I was able to sleep a bit on the plane and it felt quite short after my 16 plus hour flight to Tanzania. We arrived in Frankfurt an hour late and were greeted by Daniel, a grad student who spent a year at Virginia Tech, and now is finishing his masters at TUD (Technische Universitat Darmstadt). It was interesting getting around the airport lugging my three suitcases! Six of the REU students were on my flight so next we waited for the two other students who weren't on the flight from Newark to arrive. There are eight of us in total: 3 guys, and 5 girls.
After barely making the next bus from Frankfurt to Darmstadt (about a 30 minute bus ride) we stopped in the Darmstadt city center to buy city bus/tram passes for the summer. This took quite a while and was quite a hassle with so much luggage. The first thing I noticed about Darmstadt were the massive number of bikes. In the city center there were rows upon rows of bikes all full! It really made me quite happy along with the fact that all of our transportation taken was mass trasit. Finally, we made it to our apartment. There are four girls in one apartment and then one in another. One girl is nice but a little bossy so she just kind of got the one person apartment. I wasn't too worried and didn't see any reason to make a big deal about it. I figure I'll just go with the flow on this whole trip. The apartment is nice but VERY cozy. There are two rooms with two beds crammed in each one. The rooms are probably smaller than my freshman dorm. Our kitchen, however, is actually pretty good sized but the rest of the apartment is small and cozy. Everything about the place is very quaint and European. Getting to the apartment dragging suitcases along the very narrow cobblestone streets was probably a comical and quite a ridiculous ordeal.
Finally at 2:30 after quickly cleaning up a bit we headed to lunch for Doner (with an o umlaut) Kebabs. They are actually a turkish dish but are all over in Germany due to the large population of Turkish immigrants. I got a falafal doener and it was delicious. Three other students of our group speak German but haven't really used any of it which slightly bothered me. I was the only one who spoke German at lunch. So far I've understood pretty much everything that I've heard and I can read all the signs which is quite nice but my speaking is rather rough. After lunch Daniel took us to the store to buy German cell phones which turned out to be very complicated. Some people had phones that could work in Germany but needed new SIM cards. Daniel went out of his way to make sure we got a good deal which ended up taking a very long time. Then we went grocery shopping. Groceries are actually quite cheap here! We have a very small fridge so we only got stuff for a few days. I bought cereal, honey, cheese, and yogurt all for 6 euros. Then we went to the bakery and bought some DELICIOUS, thick, wholesome, crusty, and very FRESH wheat bread. . After that we went to the farmer's market and I bought strawberries and apples. Daniel spent the whole day with us until about 6 where he took off from the grocery store. It was really nice having him there to explain things and I felt really bad having him waste his entire Friday walking us around. Three of the other students and I navigated our way back alone. Already I've had to translate for people, so my German has definitely come in handy.
Back at the apartment I finally showered and then all but Mandy, and Ellen (two of my roommates) headed into town to check out this free music festival. It was very crowded but fun to walk around. We ended up buying beer and sitting in this nice park situated next to where the festival was going on. It was quite interesting and entertaining to just watch all of the young drunk Germans having a good time in the park. There is a bier garten there that is open almost all day! The festival is all weekend so tomorrow we plan on picnicking in the evening and listening to music.
Some more notes about Darmstadt: no big supermarkets in sight! Everything is small and there are places where you can just buy cheese, or just a bakery, or just the butcher. It's fantastic!! Darmstadt seems like the perfect sized city. It definitely has that german feel with all of the streets downtown being cobblestone and narrow. Everyone has been very helpful and friendly so far. Perhaps because we are in an area near the University and there are a lot of young people around it seems like people are more open and friendly than what I encountered in Koeln. This weekend we are planning a trip to Munich and then the weekend after that I will likely be in Madrid/Morocco. I am going to have a very hard time leaving this place!! Gute Nacht!