Tuesday, May 31, 2011

down by the sea.

This morning it was hot. H.O.T. hot. Sunny, cloudless blue sky, pressing humidity. Despite my konversation teacher's warning yesterday about a Gewitter (thunderstorm,) I thought I could really use a trip to the beach.

I felt that I especially deserved such a treat after the 45 minute disaster that was me trying to teach German 5th graders about the "simple past tense" in English.

So after I got home, ate lunch, washed up some dishes and checked some emails, I got ready for an afternoon in the sand. I packed the newest issue of Neon magazine, put a few new chuuunes on my Droid (most notably L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. by Noah and the Whale) shoved a banana in my bag and headed off to Markleeberger lake ≈≈≈≈≈≈ in my red Wendy Pfefferkorn bathing suit (bathing suit = Badeanzeug, thank you ubiquitous H&M ads.)

When I arrived at the beach after a 15 minute bike ride, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of space under the few trees- even though I am a fervent lover of beach-time, I have some skin issues and shouldn't really be in direct sun too much. However, since all the shady spots were snagged, I somewhat reluctantly laid out my blanket on a square of sand and laid down in the full sun.

I took a look around me, as I am want to do, and saw the unavoidable naked and/or half-naked bods.  Now, I totally understand and accept the German concept of freie körper kultur (free body culture) but when you're a naked 65 year old couple and you suddenly decide to start playing football on the beach, well, I feel like at that point you're just messing with us.

As it turned out, I didn't have to endure naked kicking sports for too long, because after about 20 minutes or so  the sky began to turn an ominous blue-black. I began to see streams of rain across the lake, so I packed up and cycled home, attempting to beat the storm.

I've been laying on my bed for a half hour now and still no rain. Although the thunder is starting to roll in.

I think the rest of today will be dedicated to re-watching the 1st part of the Doctor Who midseason finale, and finally watching the last episode. Might even squeeze in a nap, but after that comes...


Monday, May 30, 2011


This morning I woke up at 7:48 without an alarm clock and without any particular reason to do so. It felt amazing. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I did some writing on the train...

My eyes are barely open despite a 10 minute bike ride from Bellvue to get the blood flowing.  It’s 7:45 am when I walk into the McDonalds in the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and Best Coast is playing on the speakers. My thoughts inevitably shift to Tracy, and our Best Coast listening party, which unfortunately lacked the Flinstones champagne we intended to buy for it. The McKasserin asks me if I’d like my coffee big or small. We’ve been speaking German but her English throws me off so I say “Large” with a weird fake-German accent and immediately feel embarrassed. My mind is always fairly sluggish when switching between languages, but even more so when I’m hung over.

 I drank more than my fair share last night, between the lovely Becks Lemon (which, by the way, are no comparison to Bud Light Lime, my American summer beer of choice,) the Berliner Pils at Postbahnhof and the Tülpen at the “authentic” Berlin bar in Moabit that Peggy brought me to.

Last night the Tallest Man on Earth played at Postbahnhof in Berlin, and I’d been looking forward to it since December when Julia bought our tickets. What really sucks is that Julia herself didn’t make it here, but Peggy is an excellent best friend stand-in. She indulged me in yelling out random stuff during song-breaks, made me delicious breakfast and dinners, and even endured me speaking stilted German to her.
The show itself was fantastic, my only complaint being that he didn’t play longer, though in fairness he did play for about an hour an a half, which isn’t too bad. And he played the Dreamer, King of Spain, Thrown Right at Me, The Gardner and You’re Going Back, which are my absolute favorites. We missed the opening act which was disappointing in itself but also because we got there late we missed out on getting a good spot up front and we were pretty far back. I attempted to take a photo but it turned out rubbish so I made a couple of (also rubbish) videos instead.

(I didn't make this video, but I did find it on youtube.)

Now I’m on the train back to Leipzig, surrounded by gorgeous green German countryside. I wish I could just stay in Berlin but alas, it’s not to be. I do tend to miss Leipzig a bit when I’m gone, and now that I have a Fahrrad (thank you Annika!), it’s going to be even more awesome living there. I am already attempting to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable depression that will come when I leave Europe in July. Sadly, it just gets awesomer and awesomer here, therefore making it even harder to imagine leaving. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Onward and Westward!

From Florence we continued on to Pisa in our little black Ford Focus, carefully avoiding the expensive Superhighway marked on our map in blue. Despite taking the long way round, the drive was short, but unfortunately once we hit the outskirts of town we began to get lost. A few wrong exits, a few wrong turns, and we were pretty flustered. Finally we got some directions in very broken Italiglish and figured things out. When we arrived in the city, a chilly drizzle had begun to fall, but we piled excitedly out of the car to find The Leaning Tower (or, more correctly,The Tower of Pisa in the Piazza del Duomo) nonetheless.

We had parked the car near the bus station, and decided to seek guidance within. However, the lady behind the counter was less than thrilled to direct us, no maps were available and the Information Center she attempted to send us to was closed. Instead we did some clever manouvering, finding a map posted on a wall, photographing it and using the photo on my camera's screen as a map.

As we walked along the route, we unexpectedly and happily stumbled upon a GIGANTIC Keith Haring wall. Haring is one of my all time favorite artists, so this was nothing short of gasp-worthy for me. I stood in front of it, mouth gaping and entirely flushed with excitement, while the rain started to pour down on us. It was a really significant moment for me; the fact that we just happened to walk down this particular alleyway (it wasn't even a street, it was an alleyway!) and there happened to be a massive Haring mural was pretty flipping epic. After a few minutes appreciation and loads of photos, it was on to the final destination, the tower.

Along the way we encountered a book fair which was surrounded by plywood walls covered with really cool paintings. The book fair itself was inside of an open air market structure, whose vaulted ceilings were supported by wide rectangular columns with a floor and stairs made of grey marble.

After looking at our map and getting a better idea of our intended direction while under that shelter, we began to move on. We walked along the River Arno, encountering the beautiful, elegant and surprisingly tiny Gothic style church of Santa Maria della Spina. This delicate looking and ornate house of worship was originally built in the 1200's but was moved to higher ground to evade a threat of flooding in 1871. (Thanks wiki.)

Next we crossed a bridge over the Arno, and passed by the Orto Botanico de Pisa, which is Europe's oldest University botanical garden. We approached the Piazza del Duomo and saw in front of us the famous Leaning Tower, shrouded in a grey mist. It was unfortunate for my photographic purposes that we arrived in encroaching darkness and a thin drizzle. Most of my photos are fairly grainy and underexposed, as unfortunately I don't have a tripod.

After seeing the tower and taking the requisite silly/cheesy tourist pictures, we were headed back by bus to the place where we parked our car. After momentary panic and subsequent directions from a grandfatherly policeman conveniently situated steps from where we parked, we found the location of the hostel we had booked the previous day so as to avoid the Florence issue of having no place to stay. We checked into our hostel, ready to sleep as long as possible in order to wake up at 5 am the next morning for the journey to Rome.


Ok, sorry all, but we're going to go back to March now.  I feel like I really should document this Italy trip a bit, in case someone is remotely interested.

Mom, Annika and I journeyed from Venice to Florence in a lovely little rental car, which ironically (despite our predictions that it'd be 1. manual transmission and 2. a Smart Car or a Pugeot) ended up being a very American Ford Fiesta. The journey across Italy from easterly Venezia to westerly Firenze took about 4 hours and cost SEVENTEEN EUROS on the Italian "Superhighway." Which, in my opinion, (corny joke alert!) is highway robbery. However, the drive was straightforward and I think my mom had a pretty good time navigating the Italian roadway.

We arrived in Florence at about 10:30pm, and finding a hotel room turned out to be much more of a hassle than we expected. After we parked the car in an underground car park, we found ourselves walking around the city with our heavy bags for hours and asking for a room at nearly every hotel we passed (many of which had reception on the 3rd floor and no elevators.) At one point desperation set in, and we decided we weren't even concerned about price and were willing to lay down as much money as was necessary just so long as we found a place we could also lay our bags and bodies down.
We ended up, panting and exhausted at around quarter to three in the morning, at the Hotel Argentina, which lucky for us was still a low budget but also very lovely place near the center of town. 

After settling into the room, Mom and I made hitting the pub our first priority. (It had been a very stressful night!) Luckily there was a little spot called Pub il Trip per Tre right around the corner (thank you exasperated-overnight-hotel-clerk for the tip) that turned out to be kind of an 80's hair metal bar. Which was AWESOME. The bar owner, Guiseppe, came over to the table where Mom and I were enjoying our pints of Guiness and offered us free shots! Why? I DON'T KNOW! But it was great. I was drinking Guiness and a free shot in Florence with my rad mom, surrounded by rough old dudes with scraggly long dyed-black hair and leather jackets, and Guns and Roses "Crazy" was playing on the stereo. I'm hard pressed to think of a better scenario.

Next thing I knew, my alarm clock was greeting me, so after about four hours of sleep I sank into a hot bath at about 7:30 in the morning. The significance of the bathtub is this: when you're traveling on a very very small budget, you usually end up in places that have shared bathrooms (ie:hostels) but since this was a hotel (albeit a very, very affordable one) we had our very own bathroom IN OUR ROOM which we hadn't yet experienced and wouldn't again throughout the trip. Obviously I needed to make use of this!

The day in Florence whizzed by, and we made it a plan to leave the city around 4 pm for the short drive to Pisa and in order to get there before dark. 

We headed first to a flea market in a park along the river Arno (kind of a disappointment save the yummy breakfast of olives and cheese we bought from one of the lone food stalls) then took the city's street car back into the center to see the various lovely churches and cathedrals, including Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, Baptistry of Saint John, Santa Maria Novella and Basilica San Lorenzo. 

Santa Maria Novella
The architecture itself was awe inspiring, but when one takes into account that the buildings are made of gorgeous green and pink marble, one's perception of the majesty of such structures immediately skyrockets. The artistry, the beauty, the luxury of the materials, the perfection in execution... it's simply staggering. Interestingly, the facade of Santa Maria del Fiore was dismantled in the late 1500's and it wasn't until the late 1800's that the current facade was designed and completed.

Santa Maria del Fiore


Baptistry of St. John

Baptistry of St. John

Unfortunately having only a few daylight hours in the city made it impossible to see very much, and so, regrettably, we missed the Uffizi Gallery (which houses some of the most important Renaissance art in the world,) Ponte Vecchio (the oldest bridge in Florence) and, very sadly, Michelangelo's David.

Train station

Wearing the driving vest... for safety.

Soon after arriving (far too soon, unfortunately,) we left Florence and were on our way to the next destination; Pisa!