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.