Monday, March 26, 2012

Cultural Differences

This post is going to be where I will record some of the things during this trip that have confused, surprised, or delighted me with their differences from what I'm used to experiencing in America. I'll organize it by country to make it more streamlined for my 12 or so readers  =p

  • The keyboard: I literally had to Google how to type @! And y and z are switched around so I often tzpe things like this when I'm tzping quicklz.
  • Shoes: Apparently if you walk around the house barefoot or in your socks, you're insane or stupid. Always wear shoes.
  • Pillows: American pillow look like this- short but long and full of stuffing. European pillows (I've noticed this here and in Czech Republic) look like this. I had no idea how to sleep on them at first.
  •  It's very common in Europe, but all water is carbonated. And bottled. I constantly am being offered bottles of mineral water and carbonated apple juice! I can't figure out if you are allowed to drink carbonated water after you brush your teeth at night...
  • Bread is highly revered and eaten with just about every meal
  • Windows in the ceiling! I really love this, especially the one in the bathroom. You can take a shower with the window wide open and no worries about anything)) (these are not skylights, don't get confused. I will put pictures on Facebok)
  • Eye brow waxing? Ha. We all have perfect eye brows in Deutschland, who needs this?
  • Be on time. (I struggle with this one)

Facebook message me or comment on this if you have any questions or anything you want me to comment on! I will update as I travel.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"I've never felt so German!"

Today, my second day in Germany, Sarah and I went to Heidelberg! The plan was to start in Heidelerg, see the castle, et some lunch, then finish the day in Mannheim before we had to head back. There was just so much in Heidelberg, though, we ended up staying there the whole time! After many adventures with the GPS we got a pretty good driving tour of the city- still as beautiful as I remember! It's a university town, so very hip with lots of young people and bars, cafes, shops, parks to entertain both students and tourists alike. The castle is the city's biggest attraction, probably one of the most romantic places I have ever been,it took my breath away in the middle of the day, I can't even imagine it at sunset! Although maybe it was hard to breathe because of the giant extremely steep hill we had to trek up to reach the castle...on the way down though, Sarah and I broke out some pretzels/bread that her mom had sent us with and as we strolled and tried to keep our balance, a torrent of American high schoolers on some kind of tour came flying down the hill screaming and pushing each other and acting so...negative stereotypical American =/ At that moment I felt such a contrast between myself and them. Here I am, also an American high school student for the record, strolling down a narrow cobblestone path eating a pretzel from the local bäckerie with a castle framing me in the background and the Neckar River flowing below me and I had never felt so separate from those raccous Americans. I turned to Sarah and literally said "I've never felt so German". It was a nice moment. Now I'm getting ready to go soak up some nightlife with Sarah and some of her friends in the next town over. Maybe I should have brought some clothes other than t-shirts and cargo pants...oh well, I'll figure something out! Bis später))

Poison and Reunion

I think my toothbrush may be poisoned... I bought one of the little folding travel toothbrushes and I think it's for little boys- green and blue, thick rubber handle etc. Well the maker must have had it out for male children because it tastes like straight up arsenic when I use it. Add "new toothbrush" to my shopping list. Speaking of shopping- that's how I spent my afternoon! Landed in Frankfurt around noon and Sarah met me at the airport. After a traipsing around probably the entire complex once or twice, we got me some Euro cash and activated my Eurail pass! Then Sarah and I went to a giant, beautiful almost-outdoor mall in the city. This mall honestly had everything from H&M and Primark to a drug store and florist/open air fruit market. It was also where I had my first meal of the trip. I wanted it to be authentic German, and lucky for me there was an Alpen-style bratwurst restaurant in the mall! It was designed to look like part of a ski lodge with carved "wooden" benches, "snow" on the roof of the kiosk-type restaurant, and little woodland creatures displayed about the area (A lovely compliment to the LIVE chick petting zoo in the center of the ground floor for Easter!). Anyway, my käsekrainer was sehr gut) Our shopping trip was pretty reminiscent of the exchange program, since that's about 60% of what we did haha Unfortunately, this time around I have no room in my backpack or my budget for shopping =/ So Sarah drove us back to Zweibrücken and I fell asleep in the car before we left Frankfurt. When I woke up, I was so shocked to see the countryside. I had forgotten how startlingly beautiful Rhineland-Pfaltz is! Low green rolling hills for miles in every direction off the Autobahn. Maybe it was just that stretch of road, but it seemed like every inch of that land was planted and manicured perfectly. There were no crumbling farm houses, overgrown yards, rusting out card...I really love the character those things give to an area, but this was really wonderful too. It's just a pretty big contrast. I am so glad to be back in this house)) Surrounded by memories of 2010- I noticed right away that it has the same scent, the multitudes of bottled water and appfelschorle (my favorite) offered to me, the little palm tree in "my" bedroom, the tiny tiny shower. All of it just makes it feel like home! Of course I miss everyone from home and wish I could share this with them, but I'm not lonely or uncomfortable. This was the perfect place to start my trip because it is so familiar. Staying up much too late is also familiar! In Germany I always got the sense that days are longer, I figured it was a mix of the 24 hour clock and the sun patterns, but maybe it's because I consistently lose track of time and end up awake past midnight)) So, I'm safe in Germany! My toothbrush is probably slowly poisoning me, but all in all- I ate sausage, pizza, and German pretzels (for Kirstyn!), drank appfelschorle, stumbled out some German with the family- I'm good and glad to be home away from home)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

T-minus 25 Hours

        It's really an interesting feeling to know that 48 hours from now I will be in Germany...coupled with the fact that I have three tests tomorrow before I am free. So my rational instincts are screaming at me from two angles- one telling me that I need to pack, there is still so much to buy, what about snacks, did you verify luggage dimension regulations? etc. while on the other side I'm hearing "LH, FSH, estrogen, progesterone" repeated steadily in the attempt to convince me to actually read the biology notes that have sat in front of me for the past hour. As I'm sure you've guessed, however, a third instinct has thus far dominated: procrastination! So I'm writing this blog, checking my e-mail, walking up and down the stairs nervously without actually going anywhere...but as soon as I finish this post I will get to studying, I promise!
Me and my Deuter on a test run
       I finally bought a backpack last weekend. It is a 60L internal frame Deuter, beautiful green, top loading, and includes my most sought after feature- the fanny pack-like pocket on the waist belt. My fanny pack meant everything to me in Prague. I don't care how touristy or dorky I looked, it led to so many great things! Everything from the pre-meal hand sanitizer to chapstick to phrase book to stealthy hiding place for the stolen/bought Kofola mugs came from that fanny pack and it devastates me to leave home without it...but alas, moving forward! I think my backpack will compensate nicely))
       Today I received my much anticipated (and I think well earned, judging from the despair apparent in my last post) passport in the mail that included my RUSSIAN VISA! I admit, I broke out in dance for a few minutes. Now I am absolutely 100% going to Russia! My final itinerary looks something like this:
  • Germany
    • Staying with former exchange program partner Sarah
    • Trips to Heidelberg, Mannheim, München, Luxembourg(?)
    • Catching up with old friends and reminiscing on my time in Zweibrücken over smokey Schwenker
  • Prague
    • Staying with the family that facilitated my church's August 2011 mission trip to Prague
    • Being a tourista*
    • Dancing like a local ;)
  • Vienna
    • Meet up with the most amazing college student from St. Petersburg I have ever met- Roman (aka Russian boy)
    • Being a tourista
    • Hostel life
  • Budapest
    • Personal guided tours (Roman is a self proclaimed expert on the city)
    • Hostel life
  • Helsinki
    • Short stay
    •  Being a cold tourista
    • Abbreviated hostel life
  • St. Petersburg
    • Staying with Roman
    • Exploring the city like a local
    • Escaping from Roman and trying Russian on shop clerks who will hate me for smiling
    • Offending people repeatedly
So wish me luck! I truly appreciate your prayers and will also gladly accept kind thoughts, Facebook posts, blog comments, e-mails, cash or money orders.

*The word tourista is used in place of the more common "tourist" to represent a traveler rather than a vacationer and to remind the reader of the sincere appreciation the tourista has for the popular sites she is visiting.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I Had a Bad Day...

Today. My worst day of 2012 so far.
Mom: "See? Good idea! You're such a good problem solver."
And that's when I realized that the only reason I am mildly adept at solving problems is because I am extremely skillful at getting into problems. It seems no matter what I do, it absolutely never works out the way I planned. At first I thought it was just because I set my sights too high- planning a trip on my own, going to a country where I need a visa, acquiring a visa, taking a road trip, etc. but then I realized all the little things I have failed at: getting coffee in a city where there is a Starbucks on every corner, not turning the wrong way down a one way road, listening to my GPS, not paying way too much for parking, using the free Wi-Fi at the public library, not running out of gas, not spending all my money on useless purchases (cupcakes), not falling asleep in public etc.
This little problem of mine causes me to be indecisive, anxious, unreliable, and all sorts of other negative qualities! On the up side, however, I have gotten pretty good at solving let's chalk this (and every awful situation I get myself into) up to another good learning experience and move on!

For the specifics of why today hit me with an anvil:
-Refer to earlier post saying I had all my passport/visa stuff figured out for the TRIP
-Realize this was a blatant yet optimistic lie
-I got home around 7:30 pm last night (Monday) to find my new passport had arrived from Washington that I drove up last week to apply for. This trip was ultimately successful although it did involve getting lost, wasting money, running out of gas, and driving for 7 hours in torrential downpour conditions...
-So after seeing my passport had arrived, I immediately began to plan when I could come back to DC and apply for my Russian visa (while procrastinating my geography paper and studying for my bio test)
-I realized that thanks to lovely Russian holidays (Really, they're lovely! Just SO frequent...) either today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday) were the only days I could come and Wednesday afternoon was booked so I had now less than 12 hours before leaving to DC...again.
-I completely ignore my other assignments and get my application all shored up- ready to face the embassy!
-Leave school early, miss biology test (not too devastated), miss 2 meetings, have to reschedule my only source of income, drive 3.2 hours to Washington.
-Facts: 1- the Russian embassy website lists at least 5 phone numbers. You call any of them and 8/10 times it is either busy, rings endlessly, or plays the dial-up tone...if someone does answer, only 1/4 times will they be proficient enough in English to actually help incompetent Americans like me! 2- There is one address on the website (which you must rely on due to fact 1) 3- it clearly states that visa application will accepted from 9:00am-2:15pm
-Fact Evaluation: 1 is absolutely true. 2 is half true. 3 is absolutely not true.
-When I got to the absolutely terrifying embassy gates, the guard barely speaks English, hands me a sheet with the address for the consulate. He then tries to give me directions which result in my circling the 4 blocks of Wisconsin Ave that Russia has laid claim to until I find the door of the consulate- which turns out to just be on the other side of the embassy building (but like I said, it's basically a marathon to walk around this mammoth complex). Plaque outside the door: "Visitors from 9:00-12:30". Current time: 12:42.
-Turns out the website was all a lie! They only accept visa applications until noon. I shouldn't be surprised...but I literally collapsed against the concrete wall outside the consulate and stood there like melting butter for a good five minutes, shouting the most appropriate Russian phrases I could think of at the camera- na pol! (get on the floor), pashla von! (get out), konyechna! (of course), ya nyenavizhu sebya (I hate myself)...I hope this doesn't affect my, they were all at lunch, nobody was there to see my desperate outburst!
-I then trudge around DC for the next 3 hours with a 10 lb backpack trying to get my head together (it doesn't work)
-Anyway, sorry if this was boring, but if you read all that then good for you! I have family who live nearby, so I'm staying with them tonight and trying again in the morning. I hope to be back before 1pm tomorrow!
-I have to waste money on buying a new toothbrush's all just a cycle...
-Right now I am siting in the admittedly beautiful Georgetown neighborhood public library taking a break from my geography paper to write this. The Wi-Fi connection dies every 3-4 minutes, the guy across from me smells like an airplane bathroom, someone behind me has consumption, and I am slowly developing a migraine...good thing my phone battery is about to die! I hate contact with sane people who I care about))
-The worst part is, though, I already felt so guilty about driving up here wasting gas, money, time, missing school for MY all is starting to feel pretty selfish. I've got to pull this together.

"When you have a bad day always remember someone else's day is worse. Be thankful for what you have and what God does for you! It could be worse."
PS: as I read this quote I heard an ambulance siren whine by outside and felt like a total thanks God for letting me be alive today, at least I have my health and my family and friends!