Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zürich

Exploring Zürich! This message is being dispatched from the Zürich ETH (polytech). More on this later.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Köln

Anna'a party was exciting! There were so many cakes and sweets to eat at the party! Someone gave Anna a hot-air balloon for her birthday. Later that evening we took it outside and launched it, and it sailed off over the neighborhood until it looked like a star in the night sky.

Mandie and I took a daytrip to Köln (Cologne) via train. As soon as we exited the train station we were standing in front of the magnificent Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). An impressive sight, the Köln Dom is one of the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. Construction of the Dom began in 1248 and ended in 1880. It was the tallest building in the world for four years. We went inside and walked around. There are lots of sclptures, pictures, artifacts, and stained glass windows. This is the home of the remains of the Three Wise Men which are kept inside a golden sarcophagus. One of the oldest crucifixes also resides here, as well as the largest bell in the world: St. Petersglocke. We met a Polish lady who gave us her address and insisted that we visit her in Poland. We are still not sure why. We stuck around for midday prayer. Winfried Bönig played the pipe organ which was a real treat! There was more than one organ playing, or maybe the pipes were just placed in two different locations, and it sounded as if the enormous cathedral vault had pipe organs in surround sound. After prayer, we climber the tower which was 509 steps up to an openwork tower platform with a breathtaking view of Köln.


Official cathedral website with tons of info!

Kölner Dom on wikipedia!

Following the Cathedral we had lunch at a sidewalk café where we ate delicious sandwiches and I tried a Kölsch, which is the beer of the city. It tasted sweet and sort of hazelnutty. Having never really liked beer, have no idea how to describe it properly. When lunch was over we made our way down the Rhine to the chocolate museum. I learned so much about chocolate including, history, processing, packaging, advertising, and etc. Inside they had a climate controlled garden (which was hot and humid!) with chocolate trees! There was a great chocolate fountain with golden decorations, and free chocolate bars, wafers, and truffles! Oh it was so good! On exhibition were processing machines that were in operation making chocolate bars, hollow chocolate figures, and truffles so that we could see how the entire process worked. One of the rooms had vintage chocolate advertisements playing. They were funny in that old commercial sort of way. There was a walk-through exhibit of historical things relating to chocolate from its Mayan origin all the way to modern-day aspects. I even found a chocolate phonograph from 1903 that came with chocolate discs with 38 second recordings on them each.

Walking around Köln, I saw these bikes periodically that were labeled, “Call a Bike.” The deal was you call a phone number and it unlocked the bike so that you could ride it around wherever you wanted, for a fee I am sure. What a clever idea!

Historically, the Romans at one point in time had expanded their empire into Germany. The origional doorway to the city and parts of the roman wall are still in Köln. We both passed through this door. Of course thinking back, that would have been a good picture to have taken, but at the time we were just like, “Oh thats cool!” and then ran off (as we do often).

I was walking ontop of this wall, and when I got to the end I looked down and saw the ost peculiar thing: a large rat that had been squished by a substantial brick! What an odd thing to stumble upon!

We went into a string instrument store to look around and the cellos caught my attention. The girl working in the shop showed them to us. There was one cello from 1900 France for over 6000 Euro, and a German one from 1920 that was equally expensive. I'm sure that they sounded as lovely as they looked!

Alternately, I found an electronic instrument store which is a bit more in my price range and practical interest. I am already looking at ways to expand this street music, and have been considering going partially electronic.



I have enrolled in the Sprachenatelier in Berlin. This is a language school as well as a culture and art center. I plan on taking several of their German programs. The school is located in the middle of downtown Berlin And should make the perfect opportunity for meeting people and obtaining a firmer grasp on the culture of Germany. After all, if I am going to go back to school it might as well be fun!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

International Musician

September 12:

Sarah and Anna are here! I've been waiting a long time to meet Sarah. She is awesome! The similarities between she and Mandie are evident.

Mandie and I went downtown earlier to hang out and wonder about in the rain. Everyone was setting up for a fair and we found a guy selling waffles on sticks. I thought it was hilarious and had to have one just for the novelty. So there we were walking around downtown Solingen eating waffles on sticks. We went into a store to get some socks and the lady at the checkout counter thought we were German (I was not talking) and then Mandie tried to use her card to pay and the lady looked confused and asked if we were from England since the card was in English. She was surprised when we told her that we were from America and told us that we did not look like we were from America. I have also been told that my last name sounds very German. I think that we will fit in here nicely.

Later, after Anna and Sarah arrived on the train, we went back downtown for the fair. It was fun, there were bands covering American songs, techno with people talking over it on the microphone (in German of course), people selling items. I found a green Hohner soprano Melodica and I bought it for 4 Euros after a bit of haggling. This was very exciting for me! Actually, Hohner is a German company so I am keeping up with the running theme so far. While I was waiting for everyone outside of a building, I sat down and started playing it and low and behold, I made my first Euro! It was also my first time as a street performer!

September 13:

Plums! We sliced up 12 kilos of plums to make plum cakes, which sound delicious. We will be celebrating Anna's Birthday, and there will be lots of people over. I am excited. We walked to the French store (Sarah, Mandie, and I) but it was closed.

Mandie has a new post. The address again is robotvsvelociraptor.blogspot.com. It has pictures of everyone being silly! Mandie also seems to be very worried about the kitchen thing. I think that it will be much easier than she thinks it will be.

DHL delivered the tickets that I ordered today for International Battle of the Year! This is the final competition for breakdance teams from all over the world, and it is being hosted in Braunschweig, Germany. I have no doubt that the event will prove to be amazing.

Battle of the Year 2008

Also, check out the site for the 2008 documentary film Planet B-Boy

Fred, Regina, Anna, Mandie, and I went back downtown for more of the fair. We watched an outdoor comedy show where these guys dressed up and acted very silly. They pretended to be the Jackson Five, a magician and the lovely assistant, skydivers, and classical singers. It was hilarious! Everyone was laughing! Regina found a really old jacket (100+ years) that fit me surprisingly enough. It was a long overcoat looking jacket with a split back. We looked in the pockets and there was an old pack of Middle Eastern/Asian cigarettes that Fred told me had opium in them. I'm not sure if he was joking or not. The man selling it wanted way too much money for it so I ended up not buying the jacket. In the car on the way home, everyone was trying to get me to say this tongue twister that I couldn't get, because 1. I don't know the words, and 2. I seem to have trouble making the right sound. I need more practice!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Itsa me!

Today I helped Fred get rid of a large pile of scrap from around the house. I got to wear red coveralls and looked very much like Mario! First all the glass and yard scraps went to a sorting facility that had all sorts of bins that were for specific materials. Recycling and composting in a very organized fashion was the main focus of this facility. We should have them in America, but alas! they are few and far between. Then we went to the incinerator to drop off the rest of the scraps, mostly wood. This facility made my excitement about the last one subside a bit as I remembered all that I learned in school about incinerators and how incredibly awful they are for the environment and people. However, it was here that I found some electrical cords that I can use on some of the electronics that I brought (keep in mind the different voltage and plug ends in Europe).

For those of you who want to see the town of Solingen, I found a webcam of the city.

Also, Mandie has a blog up that you can check out! Right now there are pictures up there of some of the people that we visited on our trip around the Southeast. It can be found at http://robotvsvelociraptor.blogspot.com/. Check it out and book mark it along with Space Bats!








There is a particular vegetable that I think deserves mentioning; Kohlrabi. I have never heard of it untill the other night. Maybe it is more common than I thought and I just somehow missed it. The round part there is delicious, similar tasting to broccoli, and as I found out is delicious when sliced up and baked with cheese!


One more mentionable is the yellow raspberry. I have never seen these either. As a dessert we had these along with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries (all from the back yard) over vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Down to business: I have begun looking into language schools. There are so many options. Most of the Private schools are way too expensive, and the universities seem more interested in a full schedule that includes language but is more comprehensive in terms of Germany (think of learning English in an American econ/law/culture class). I have found a few leads and have sent out some emails. This is my current project since I need to find someway of kicking it here legally. Since I do not know the language I the odds are sort of against me in the reals of school and work. After several months learning German I should be ready for anything that comes my way.

I've been drinking a lot of mineral water lately.

Oh snap! Today I heard the doorbell ring and ran downstairs to answer. Opened the door, said Hallo!, and the guy (in work garb) said something and I just stood there all awkward. I had no clue what he wanted. Of course I called Mandie down and she handled it and explained to the man that I do not speak German. Oh man, it was so awkward. The same thing happened the other day at the post office. I opened the door into this lady and went to apologize, but only froze. I had no idea how to laugh it off or tell her I didn't mean to slam the door into her. She probably thinks I am a jerk. It is a funny thing, my brain recognizes things around me; buildings, signs, books, people, and all the normal everyday things, but then I go to read said sign, label, building, book title, or understand and talk to people and that is the moment when my brain realizes, "Oh yeah, not as familiar as everything seems." I know with time I will get used to this and even begin to understand and communicate, but as for now it makes me very dependent on others which is frustrating because I am typically very independent.

Two things I've learned, one in the kitchen and the other at the dining table:

1. Cooking with metric units is awesome, because instead of volume based measurements, you use mass based measurements, this means that you can mix everything in one bowl situated on a scale and never have to use spoons and cups. Much less clutter and mess!

2. In Germany, and apparently in France, if you leave your knife and fork crossed on your plate it means that you plan on having more food. If you position your knife and fork parallel to each other in a diagonal fashion on the plate, it means that you are finished. This may explain why the server is not taking your plate, or running off with it instead. I came about this bit of knowledge after a bit of post-eating conversation. I was asked well after I was finished if I was going to have anymore. It was then explained to me that the way I had my knife and fork positioned that I was suggesting to everyone that I was going to eat more and not to put away the food yet.

On a side note: I've noticed that piercings aren't really as big of a deal here. Perhaps it is in the way that people here regard each other culturally. I'm not sure exactly. Downtown I noticed a girl with a bridge piercing. Yesterday the new neighbors stopped in to introduce themselves. The lady had a smiley! If you don't know what either of these are you should look them up. I guess my point here is that I usually am not one to think so much of piercings, especially since I have had mine for so long. Usually it is other people who mention them or make dumb jokes about them which I can usually understand, but I think what strikes me here so far is that no one has called attention to my piercings or made a big deal about them at all. Not even curious inquiries regarding how much they hurt or funny looks. I think what I am noticing is the impressive level of acceptance and the harmonious perspective that the Germans have towards each other. This is of course my reaction to what I have encountered so far.

I really like it here. I have a feeling that I am going to love Berlin! It is late and Mandie has already fallen asleep. Everyone Stateside is hopefully enjoying their Thursday evenings. I am going to go drift asleep to the sound of the rain coming through the open window.

Gute Nacht und traum schön!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let's get out of this town!


This is a general representation of our flight paths from Greensboro to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Düsseldorf. I used the New and Accurate Chart of the Western Ocean from 1788 for complete accuracy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gutentag!

Hallo all!

We have made it successfully to Germany! Currently we are living in Solingen which is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is called the City of Blades because approximately 90% of all German knives are made here in Solingen. Solingen is beautiful and the people here are very generous.

Mandie and I, before our departure made a road trip to visit friend and family along the way. I would like to thank Quile McCamerson, Tanya & Sarah, Daniel Robinette (congrats on the novel), Brett, Erin & Skip Campbell, Cleo and crew, Roy, Brock (best of luck in Belize and Nicaragua!) Linda & Joe, Trish & Rochdi, Mr. and Mrs. Pietranski, the sharks in the gulf at Venice Beach, Nanny, Aunt Sandy & Uncle George, Richard & Kelly, Rich and Ginger (and the mittens), Debbie, Doug, Nick, and Kaye for your generosity and making our road trip and last few weeks in the US exciting and meaningful. Our road trip was long and extensive. We put over 2000 miles on our rented silver pontiac G5. Also in Venice, we found about 500 sharks teeth! It was exciting to get to see everyone before our departure. We miss you all and are thinking of you!

About three days before the day of our flight, we realized that we did not know where our passports were. We searched through everything, our room, our cars, the attic, the fridge (you never know), and our storage unit, turning up nothing. So we made an appointment in Washington DC at the passport office to get new ones. After a long day of searching, exhausted from both the road trip and the unpacking and repacking of everything we own, Mandie found them in an obscure kitchen drawer. Of course the memory of me thinking that this drawer was the perfect safe-place to store our passports came rushing back to me. So thus, I almost lost our passports and thankfully a trip to Washington was avoided.

Our flight out of Raleigh was canceled. Since we were flying standby, and the hurricane scared the airlines into canceling certain flights, and all the people on the canceled flight moved to the other airplane. To remedy this we went to Greensboro and switched our standby status to a different flight going to Atlanta and it worked, we flew out on schedule and made the connecting flight to Solingen. We were seated in first class! This was exciting. We were wined and dined the whole way through. As soon as we boarded they were serving champagne. It was the first time that I actually wanted to eat all the airline food. It was delicious. The flight was long, we reached altitudes of 40,000 feet and outside temperatures of -17. It as an amazing feeling looking out as plane rose above the clouds. As everyone was sleeping I listened to the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails on the touch screen display unit. Over England, I watched the sun rise over that wide arc which is the faint curve of the earth. We landed here early in the morning. and Anna picked us up from the airport She brought us home and gave us a tour of her family's beautiful home.

Solingen is wonderful! Aside from not knowing the language, I feel right at home. It is much cooler here. Feels much like autumn. We went to a diner party with some of Fred and Regina's friends. It was fun to meet people and spend time talking and sharing stories. It is very different not knowing the language. Random people will talk to me, not knowing that I am foreign, and I just stand there looking all confused. I tried saying hello to strangers, but Mandie laughed and said that it sounded like I was yelling the word Tag at them and that I need to try it a bit softer and quicker. I have noticed that through body language, volume, and random bits of information I am able to follow along much better than I thought I would, but I obviously do not know the language so I am looking into language classes. The food has been delicious! I have not had a single dish that I have not enjoyed.

I have noticed that all the cars around here are for the most part very small. It is awesome, there are so many makes and models that do not exist in the states. I will make a list of names later. Germany seems to be keen on efficiency. As we were landing I noticed a wind turbine in the distance, and solar panels on some of the houses. This is a good sign for me, at least that is if I do pursue a job within my field of study. I have been in two homes so far and noticed that the fridges are smaller than they tend to be in the states. More energy efficient and healthier too. Lots of the food I have eaten so far came from local gardens, either in the community or from the back yard. Delicious!

The home that we are staying in is a four story house that is divided in half vertically in a sort of duplex style. We are staying on the attic floor in a room that has a window that over looks the garden in the back, and also has a nice view of some of the homes in the neighborhood and off into the countryside. Mostly there is hardwood floors, but there is tile in the kitchen and the bathrooms. The house it decorated in a sort of modern/traditional blend, at least if I were to describe it from an American viewpoint. There is a sun room that opens out to the garden that is nice for sitting and enjoying the company of others. In the basement there is a wine cellar and a sauna. It is a very comfortable home.

Thank you Fred and Regina for opening up your home to Mandie and I. We appreciate it very much! Also, Thank you Anna for meeting us at the airport and for the generous welcome gifts! Sarah, we will see you soon!

(The photos are, in order, me on the plane probably over canada, back yard and garden, Klosterkiche in downtown, view from bathroom, house we are in, view from our bedroom, view from music room, Fred and Regina's home, garten, und Anna in das garten)

Hopefully I will be able to post frequently and I will try my best to not make it sound completely like a diary. I miss everyone and am thinking of you all! Keep in touch and spread word about this blog to anyone that you think may be interested in our travels in Europe!

Tschüß!
Phil