Wednesday, Mai 1, 2013 - 10:30 AM GMT
I have now been awake for about 22 hours. I woke up yesterday morning at 8 AM EST and finished packing. I took a train from Wickford to South Station, the Silver Line to Logan, and now here I am at Heathrow. I tried to get a little bit of sleep on the plane, but in my experience it's not really worth trying.
I will be arriving in Berlin around 4:00 PM German time, then have an hour or so of public transportation to go to get to Haley's house. I'm staying there for two nights, then at a hostel in Kreuzberg for another two nights. And since my Eurail pass got lost in the mail, I really don't know what I will be doing after that.
I'm sorry to whoever is reading this that this is so boring. I'm a little out of it and having trouble forming creative thoughts. It always tends to go like this though. When I write a paper for school, I can make it sound really great, with colorful vocabulary and complex sentence structures. But when I sit down to write a journal, I end up just dryly reporting the facts about what I have been doing. Looking back at some of my old travel journals I've realized that they are so BORING. I'm going to make the extra effort on this trip to try and make it a little bit more fun to read. I mean really, who cares exactly what time I boarded my flight, or what I ate while I waited at the terminal? No one wants to hear about that. Instead, how about the surprisingly gorgeous view out the 50-foot windows behind me? Now that's something. Through these gigantic looking-glasses I can see the hustle and bustle of every-day Heathrow life, from planes taxiing around, gas tanks being filled, and busses carting anxious, exhausted and frazzled passengers to wherever it is they might be going. It's kind of cool to watch, but what is especially pretty is the landscape behind it. I should say "city-scape" instead of "landscape" probably, because I just mean the view of the city behind the airport. I'm not sure what it is specifically, but I just really like how you can cast one glace out the window and know that you aren't in any airport in America. Every country has its own unique look.
Okay, enough rambling. I didn't even proof-read that last paragraph so god only knows how it came out. So... what to do with the next two hours? *plays TinyWings*
Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 - 3:40 PM CET
So I've been in Germany for a little over a week now, and ironically haven't had the opportunity to speak much German. First I was at Haley's apartment, where we spoke English most of the time, then I stayed at two hostels where almost no one I met spoke any German. Even when I have gone out to bars and clubs, I very often will say something to someone in German and they won't understand and will ask me if I speak English... Kind of frustrating, but oh well. I'm on the bus on my way to Braunschweig right now to my friend Andy’s house and will be speaking German there for the next few days. Finally, a good chance to practice!
I'm finally almost over my jet lag. It's taking longer than usual considering I was up for more than 30 hours before finally sleeping at Haley's. After arriving there I very quickly went to sleep, but only for about two hours because we wanted to go out. It was May 1st, which is a very popular holiday in Germany. It's kind of like Labor Day, but with a lot more drinking. We went to downtown Kreuzberg and the streets were filled with drunken people, loud music, and random parties all over the streets. Apparently the really crazy part of the party was during the day but there was no way I could have made it after my trip.
We didn't stay out long and I soon went back and slept like a log. However, I had to be up at 7:30, which my mind and body still thought was 1:30... I managed though, and spent the day walking around downtown Berlin. I'd been there twice before so it was fairly familiar. I started at Alexanderplatz and walked down Unter den Linden, through the Brandenburg Gate and into the Tiergarten park. Somehow I hadn't really discovered this park before even though I had walked down the street right next to it. It was great! Anyway, I kept walking until I came to the Spree River in Charlottenburg where I ended up going for a little touristy cruise down the river, back to Alexanderplatz. It was fun, but kind of cold and cloudy.
Once Haley got out of work she and her boyfriend Moritz and I went out to a bar for a few beers, but again didn't stay out too late. Haley had to work every day around 8 or 9, so she can't go out too late on weeknights.
On Friday I packed up everything I might need for the next week and a half into a big hiking backpack. Moritz gave me a ride to the hostel I'd be staying at for the next two nights, Jetpack Alternative. It looked really small and cramped, but the rooms ended up being in a totally different building across a terrace outside. It was very clean and comfortable, and it was really easy to meet people and chill with them in the common room.
After spending some time walking around Kreuzberg I went back to take a nap. When I got up everyone was in the common rom drinking and making plans to go out. They all wanted to go to all sorts of different clubs, but I was sure they wouldn't get into any of them. We were about 14 guys and maybe three or four girls. I was also the only one who spoke German. Not a chance. I went out to the bar with them though, then me and another kid decided to ditch and see if we could get in with just two people... Nope. Denied at the door because there were too many guys there. We ended up walking down the street to a club called Cassiopeia, which I had remembered from a couple years ago, and I ended up staying there until about 5. It was great. I didn't end up meeting anyone really but I had a great time dancing anyway. I stumbled back around 5:30 and went to sleep.
Only managed to sleep about 3-4 hours so I was pretty beat all day. I did some research about things to do and decided to go to the swimming pool, but instead, on my way in, I saw a sign for massages, 30 Euro for 45 minutes. Not bad. I did that instead, and left feeling pretty refreshed. I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in Goerlitzerpark, which is a park built on what used to be a central trail station in Kreuzberg before being destroyed in WWII.
Everyone was ready to go out again on Saturday night, but I wasn't. I was way too beat. I felt kind of lame to be in Berlin on a Saturday and not want to go out, but I was still jetlagged and hadn't slept a whole night since getting here. In the morning I was VERY glad I made that decision.
Since my Eurail pass was lost in the mail I have been forced to find other means of travel, but it has actually ended up saving me money. There is a really well-known carpooling site in Germany where you can get halfway across the country for less than 30 Euros usually. I got from Berlin to Hamburg on Sunday for 15. A bus would have been 39 and a train would have been 69. Plus it was kind of cool to get to ride on the Autobahn and to meet the people in the car.
After taking the S-Bahn to Hamburg Altona, I checked in at the Meininger Hotel. While technically this was a hostel, it was pretty much like a hotel with bunk beds in the rooms. It was really clean and nice though and I had no problems with it.
Unfortunately my stay in Hamburg didn't really involve much nightlife because it was from Sunday-Wednesday. I did go out with a few people from my room on Sunday night, but I ended up leaving around 12 to go back and sleep. Again, I figured I might as well keep resting if not much is going on. No point in going out and tiring myself out while not having much fun.
What WAS interesting though was the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's red light district. You're walking down a normal street when suddenly it opens up onto the Reeperbahn, where there are flashy lights, various strip clubs, and of course, brothels. They even had a very small street, Herbertstrasse, which mimicked the glass-door style of the red light district in Amsterdam. The BIG difference between here and Amsterdam though is that street prostitution is completely legal. You can't go down that street without at least ten different girls grabbing your arm and trying to get you to go with them. It was a very surreal experience considering all of this is such a huge crime in the USA (Which is really dumb IMO). The girls are all apparently licensed and have to get checked every month or so to renew their license. Not really a bad system considering it would happen anyway even if it was illegal.
I spent most of Monday just walking around and taking pictures. I didn't really feel like doing any of the touristy things like museums and the dungeon tours because I was alone. What I really enjoyed though was the park called Planten un Blomen, which is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen. There were flowers and fountains everywhere, and it was all very artistically arranged. In the middle there was even a botanical garden with different kinds of pants from all over the world. Definitely my kind of thing.
That night I walked around the Reeperbahn a little more to see if it was much busier on a Monday, but it wasn't really. Apparently on Saturdays you can barely move on the entire street. I feel lucky to have missed that, but it did kind of suck that I didn't really get to see Hamburg's famous night-life.
Yesterday I did the same kind of cruise I did in Berlin, this time down the canals of the Elbe and around Hamburg's harbor. The weather had been fine beforehand but got a little chilly later in the day. It was a good way to spend a morning though. I spent the rest of the day walking around again, this time near the Rathaus (town hall). I got some great pictures.
Last night I did go out for a little bit. There was a free club down the street that filled up pretty well for a Tuesday night. I flailed around in my usually style until around 2:00 then headed back and to bed. I packed my stuff up this morning, took a train to the central station, and am currently on the bus to Braunschweig.
*phew* that was a lot. Blah. I knew I said I'd try to make this more interesting but, as I said, I have a hard time making a story out of what's happened to me. It always just ends up being cold facts about what I have been doing. If you are still reading though then maybe you are still interested, so at least there's that!
I will try to work on it a little. Maybe if I write more often I can spend more time on individual things, but I haven't had time this week. I will try to write every couple of days. Well, until then!
Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 - 3:17 PM CET
Well, apparently I didn't write every few days. I've been way too lazy. Well, at least I am keeping it on a weekly basis.
So I'm on a bus again, this time from Berlin to Prague. Last I left off I was on my way to Braunschweig right? Okie then. Not too much of an eventful night the day I got there. Andy picked me up at the station, we went back to his place and chilled a bit and got reacquainted, then his girlfriend came over and we had dinner and a bottle of wine. I had been looking forward to meeting Lena, and she was very nice. It was such a great experience to finally be immersed in German again. I asked both of them to try not to use any English unless they had to.
Thursday was the Day of Ascension (Christihimmelfaht) which isn't celebrated in the states. It is the day that Jesus ostensibly ascended to heaven and for some reason also a day on which much alcohol is consumed. The tradition, for some reason, is to gather a group of friends and walk around town with a hand wagon full of all different kinds of alcohol: beer, schnapps, rum, vodka, whatever people wanted to bring. Ours was fairly impressive; we probably had 40+ beers and 10-15 different kinds of spirits.
So around 11 we headed out. We met up with maybe eight of Andy's friends, a few of which I remembered from the last time I visited Baunschweig 2 years ago. Again, it was great to be in the presence of so much German, and not only that, of so many people who barely even spoke any English. They kind of gave me shit to begin with; always calling my "Yankee" and making fun of anything that I did that even resembled an American stereotype. But as I talked to each person individually, they realized that I actually spoke German and am not just some ignorant Ami who has no idea what's going on. It was funny at first, because I could hear them whispering and kind of making fun of me, having no idea I completely understood. I don't hold that against them, because they all ended up being pretty cool. I probly would have done the same thing.
We weren't exactly in Braunschweig, but in a small village nearby called Rethen where Andy grew up. How most parts of Germany work is you will be driving down the main road past farm after farm, and suddenly a small village will sprout up. You’ll go a few kilometers, and then it'll be just farms again. It's pretty crazy. So, we spend the day trucking the alcohol-laden wagon through the ruts between the fields. After 5 hours or so, around 3, we ended up at Andy's friend Dennis's house, where we chilled and grilled until around nine, when we headed to the local bar, die Hexe (Witch). We didn't end up staying very late since we had been out all day and were tired, and went back to Dennis's house until about 12, when we got picked up by Andy's dad and went back to his parents' house to sleep.
On Friday Andy, Lena and I went into nearby Wolfsburg to Autostadt (Car-city). Wolfsburg is pretty much an entire city in itself that mostly belongs to Volkswagen. The workers there have their own shopping malls, restaurants, and all the perks of daily life. In the middle is a park called the Autostadt, which is kind of an experience-park for all of the different companies owned by VW. It is particularly known for its artistic landscape and very unique architecture. Each company (Audi, Porsche, SEAT) had their own buildings where a few cars were on display for you to sit in, and professionals in the field were there to answer any questions. I'm not usually that big of a car fan, and I will be the first to admit that I have no clue when it comes to specific models, but it was still all really cool to see. I just let myself look around and didn't get too caught up in the tech aspect.
That evening the three of us went to another friend of Andy's house to watch movies. After maybe an hour of discussing, we first decided on a Danish movie whose name I can't remember. It was about two butchers who accidentally kill someone and the person's flesh ends up in their product. The people love it and come back for more, and you can guess how it goes on. Kind of a Sweeney Todd type movie. It was okay, pretty funny and entertaining. After that, we watched the horror movie Mama, which was kind of corny. I'm not a huge horror fan in general, but this one must be below the usual par.
Saturday we got to sleep in, which was really nice. We watched Star Trek to prepare ourselves for seeing the second one that evening, then went to Lena's house, where her entire extended family was there to celebrate her younger brother's birthday. Andy had just told me that her mother had invited us over for coffee, so this was somewhat surprising. However, it ended up being great because I sat next to Lena's older brother Philip, with whom I had a lot in common. We talked a lot that day, and Lena thought it was insane because we both have similar hobbies, similar tastes, and long blonde hair. She kept remarking on that all evening, it was pretty funny.
He ended up coming to the movies with us, and the movie was awesome. Especially considering the fact that it doesn’t come out in the States until tomorrow. I won't give any spoilers!
We joined a group of Lena's family and Andy's friends for bowling afterwards. After an hour of bowling, we planned to go next door where an annual carnival was taking place. Not the holiday kind, but the kind with rides and Ferris wheels. Since it was the last day of the carnival, there were fireworks around 11:00, which was great to see. Having seen plenty of Atlas shows, I was mildly impressed.
We decided to not even bother with the carnival because it was so crowded and expensive. Instead we headed to a nearby bar called Cafe Bar Celona (Get it...?) where it was happy hour, so it wasn't too expensive. We spent an hour or two just talking and whatever, then Philip (As the DD) gave Andy and I a ride back to his place.
In the morning, it was time for me to leave. At 12:00 I left with a Mitfahrgelegenheit which ended up being a 40-something musician in a VW Bus. My days of immersion had come to a close, and I haven't spoken much German since then. I was here over two weeks and only had those few days to practice. I'm hoping to head back before I go home from Prague.
Back in Berlin at Haley's, I slept in Monday morning. I then headed to Kreuzberg where I had hosteled a week before and hung out in the park and got a bite to eat. Then I took the U-Bahn across the city to the Berlin Zoo, which ended up being pretty fun. They had all the typical animals you would expect in a zoo: elephants, giraffes, monkeys, kangaroos, lions, zebras, polar bears. It was an interesting experience alone because I usually do this kind of thing with other people. But it was definitely worth the 10 €.
I met up with Haley at a cheap cocktail bar in Kreuzberg and we ended up spending a few hours there just talking. I'm pretty sure she was excited to have someone in Berlin to talk to that she knew from home, which I very much understand. You might meet plenty of people who speak English, and even some Americans, but we got to reminisce about Wheaton and about our Regensburg trip. It was really nice.
I slept in again yesterday and decided to just spend the day getting ready for Prague. I didn't want to go out because I had been spending far too much money. I finished up my pre-course assignment, packed up my stuff, and made sure I was ready. I finally did a little bit of Czech study, but it's kind of useless to look online because I can't even READ the language. It has to be written out phonetically for me to be able to say it. So far I've got "Yes, No, and Please." That will have to be enough. I'm trying to master "Do you speak English?" but it's really hard to say.
I'm still on the fence about how hard I'm going to even bother trying to learn Czech. I'm just going to play it by ear and see how it goes. If I end up staying I will definitely try to learn more, but I think key phrases will be plenty for my first four weeks.
Anyway, as I said here I am on the bus on my way to Prague! I'm excited to finally be able to unpack all of my stuff and actually have my own room. I know I said this last time, but I will try to write again before next week. Wish me luck!