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!