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.

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