18 December, 2009

Yep, still in Germany.




Right, so it's not been for lack of things to write about that I haven't updated this blog in six weeks. I've just been a little busy. Since Halloween I have gone caving in Budapest, seen the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, gone to the Louvre in Paris, eaten escargot, sung at Karaoke night, played the drums in a worship night at church, acted in two performances of a stage play, finished all but one of my finals, had an interview in German, lost my roommate (no he's not dead, he just went home), gone bowling with a bunch of people from my floor, and drunk a fair amount of Glühwein (this stuff is everywhere).

Yes, it's been an eventful month and a half.

We took a class trip to Budapest because our program's director lived there for a few years. It was raining most of the time, but the subway system is pretty good in Budapest, so we didn't have to walk around much. The Budapest opera house is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Find some pictures of that trip here. I went to an opera and a performance of the Symphony Orchestra because the tickets were dirt cheap. Also while in Budapest I went caving with three of the others. That was an interesting experience. I actually blacked out at one point after pulling myself through a hole. A little scary, but I'm okay now. Everything was a little cheaper in Hungary, so that was nice. There was a little pastry shop in the subway station by our hotel that made these amazing rolled donut-like things (video link).

A week or so after we got back from Hungary we had a class trip to Paris. That trip was guided by our Art professor, Herr Springer. He showed us around the Louvre and the d'Orsay. Everyone in class had prepared a presentation on a piece of artwork. I had The Coronation of Napoleon. This painting was massive. It was really cool to see it in person. I stayed in The Peace and Love Hostel with some of the other guys. As you can imagine, that was a ton of fun. I ended up in the 14 bed dorm room. They had a bar as their lobby. Herr Springer took us out to dinner at a cute little restaurant, the Chartier, in the Montemarte district. That's where I had escargot. The Eiffel tower had a really cool light show installed. I think it was for its 150th anniversary or something. Here's a video so that you can see it for yourself.

Didn't do much traveling after the Paris trip. Except for a small trip to the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt with Ryan. That was really neat. The market was huge. Just about every large town has its own Christmas Market. They have vendors selling roasted nuts, wool socks, wooden ornaments, clay incense holders, anything you want basically. And every third stall has Glühwein (hot and spiced wine) which comes in mugs unique to that market. You can return the mug for a small deposit or keep it as a souvenir. I now have a small collection of such mugs.

This whole time I was also preparing for a stage play. The show was an original script written and directed by one of the faculty here at Reutlingen University. The project's aim was to give non-native English speakers a chance to improve their English skills while learning about acting and putting on a show. Since I've done a little bit of acting in the past, I offered to help. They needed some native speakers to help with pronunciation. Well as it turned out, I played one of the leading roles (MacBeth) in the show. It was really a fun experience and it's nice to know that I can still memorize lines and remember them in front of an audience if I have to. We performed it this week on Monday (the other Valpo students' last night in Germany) and again on Thursday.

Melanie Dark (graduated from Valpo last year and is currently working as intern in the Reutlingen International Office) and I are singing with the Reutlinger Liederkranz this Sunday in their Christmas concert. I think I might have mentioned this group in one of my earlier posts. It's basically a singing club. Mel and I are probably 30 years younger than the average in the group. It's been really fun learning some traditional German Christmas tunes. And old people are always fun to hang out with. Another perk is that the concert is going to be in the Marienkirche which is like 600 years old. It's fabulous.

I'm currently looking forward to a visit from my family. They are flying into Paris on Saturday, doing the tourist thing there and then taking the train to Reutlingen. Then we're going to visit Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna. I think on the itinerary is La Boheme in Munich and Beethoven's 9th Symphony in Vienna. It's okay, you can be jealous. I can't wait to see them all again and visit some beautiful cities with them.

Sorry for keeping you hanging for so long. I'll try to update with news from the family trip soon after we return. That's all for now I hope you had fun following all of those links.

31 October, 2009

A Study Abroad Spooktacular!

Ten days ago, Michi had this great idea that everyone on the floor should carve pumpkins together to get into the halloween mood (a little prematurely maybe, but it was a good idea nonetheless). So, everyone who wanted to be involved, the cool kids mostly, bought a pumpkin down at the Penny and we all gathered on the evening of the 21st to give them all a bit of character.
First everyone had to finish dinner of course.


Don't we just look like a big happy family?
Then the mutilation began.

My pumpkin was having a little trouble sitting up on its own, so I just went with it.



And a wide shot...

And the finished products...


For more pictures visit: Pumpkin Carving Photos

20 October, 2009

Ireland and Sweden (and Denmark)

I'm currently in the midst of a two week break from classes. I'm not entirely sure why we get a break now. I think it's supposed to be a combination of Thanksgiving and Fall Break. But anyway, last week I went to Ireland and Sweden and stopped in Denmark on the way home. I didn't want to miss too much here in Reutlingen, so I'm staying home for the second week of the break.



I went with Erin and Hilary. Our first stop was Dublin. We flew there from Memmingen, a little airport near Munich. Just a word of warning for anyone planning on traveling in Europe: Ryanair has really cheap flights, but you have to read the fine print very carefully. I think we each payed something like 20 Euros for the ticket. The catch is you have to print your own boarding pass and you have to pay for each checked bag. If you pay for the baggage before doing the online check-in it's only 10 Euros, but if you want to add a checked bag after checking in, it's 35 Euros. Bummer. I didn't read the fine print until it was too late. So I ended up paying a little more 20 Euros. But whatever, Ireland was beautiful.

We got to Dublin in the evening on Friday Oct 9th. First thing that really threw me off when we got there was that everyone was driving on the left side of the road. Whenever I went to cross the street it took me a few seconds to figure out which direction the cars would be coming from. So anyway, we wandered around the city for a little while before turning in. Visited the campus of Trinity College. That was really pretty.

On Saturday we visited the Christ Church Cathedral. Definitely take a look at the pictures I took there. I especially enjoyed the detailing around the ribs of the vaulted ceilings. Very unique. Then we went to the Guiness Storehouse. This was basically a museum all about Guiness. It is situated on the grounds of the Guiness brewery but you don't get to actually see any of the brewing. The price of the ticket includes a pint of Guiness, though, so that was nice. I bought a pair of special edition 250th Anniversary Guiness pint glasses. I don't think there's anywhere in town that actually sells Guiness in bottles, and I don't even like it all that much, but it is a legend and I needed some glasses.

On Sunday we took a train to Killarney, a little touristy town on the South Western coast of Ireland. The hostel we stayed in there was very quaint. I liked it. One of the other people in the hostel was a college student from Stuttgart. That was fun talking to him for a while. We visited the Ross Castle on Monday. That was really neat. It was recently restored using only medieval materials and techniques. I liked this castle because it was actually built as a fortress to protect livestock. Unlike Neuschwanstein which was built just to be pretty.We wandered around the country near the castle too. There were some massive fir trees.



On Tuesday, we took the train back to Dublin to catch a plane to Stockholm (another 35 Euros down). Stockholm was also beautiful. It wasn't bombed at all during WWII so all of the old buildings are still intact. I also appreciated that most of the streets made right angles to each other. A lot of the German towns I've visited are still laid out the way they were in the middle ages i.e. completely randomly. It's much easier to follow a map when the streets are straight. Stockholm was really cool too because it's situated on a bunch of islands, so there's a lot of bridges and docks.

The first attraction we went to in Stockholm was the Vasa Museum. I absolutely loved it. The Vasa was a warship built by one of the Swedish kings back in ~1620, and this guy went all out on this ship. It was covered with carvings and gold leaf and it had 64 cannons. The problem was the shipbuilder didn't give it enough belly to counter the weight of all of those cannons. So after launching on its maiden voyage it promptly keeled over and sank in the middle of the Stockhom harbor. Epic fail. But since the little wormies that usually eat through oak shipwrecks can't survive in the Baltic Sea, it was pretty well preserved in the 1950s. So they floated it back up and into a dry dock and doused the whole thing with polyethylene glycol which replaces the water in the wood. So the whole thing is now in a museum. Bummer that it didn't sail long enough to blow any other ships out of the water with its 32 gun broadside, but it sure is cool to look at.

After the Vasa Museum, I wandered off on my own and managed to find the Swedish Army Museum. That was pretty interesting. They had quite a collection of artifacts from the 30 years war: something I never really learned much about because, well, the Civil War kind of takes precedence in the American history curriculum.

The next day I went to the Museum of Modern Art. That was a nice change of pace. I'm not sure I understood much of what I was looking at, but when do you ever really understand modern art?

On Thursday I began making my way back to Reutlingen. This entailed first a 5 hour train ride to Copenhagen, Denmark. Apparently my Eurail ticket wasn't enough for this train and I was supposed to have made a seat reservation, but I didn't know that. So the conductor just told me to find a place in the vestibule. That was fine with me because I would have expected to get thrown off the train at the soonest stop. So, made it to Copenhagen and then had 4 hours to walk around before my next train. I checked out the city hall and a couple of the cathedrals. I got a sausage from a street vendor. The sausage was about twice as long as the bun he gave, so I don't know what the deal was there, but it was good.

I took a night train from Copenhagen to Mannheim, Germany. I was in a 6 berth cabin with fold-down beds. There was a man and his 12 year-old daughter in my cabin from Switzerland. That was fun listening to them speak Swiss German. We played some pictionary and a Swiss card game that was pretty much Uno. I actually slept pretty well once I found a comfortable position. The bed was about half an inch too short for me so I had to kind of hang my feet off the end. We got to Mannheim about 12 hours after leaving Copenhagen and then I got to Reutlingen another 2 hours or so later.

When I got back I had an email asking me if I could play drums at the Baptist church I've been going to. Of course I couldn't turn down a chance to play drums. We had rehearsal on Saturday and I didn't know any of the songs, but I managed. None of the songs demanded much rhythm anyway. It was fun, though. I'm glad I got a chance to get involved in a church.

So far I've planned a trip to Wiesbaden on Thursday. I have to go there because it's the capital city of the German State that I'm doing a project on. But other than that I'm just going to relax for the rest of this week. I volunteered to participate in an English Theater project so I wanted to be around for that. We're going to finalize our script and start rehearsing soon.

I think that's all for now. Keep in touch!

06 October, 2009

Dresden and Stuttgart Volksfest




On Friday and Saturday this past week I went to Dresden with Erin Dillon. We left right after class on Thursday and made it to Dresden after ~7 hours on various trains. I'm not sure if I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I got into reading the Dune chronicles by Frank Herbert. I just about finished the second book on the train ride to Dresden. The hostel we stayed at wasn't too far away from the train station in the "Old City" neighborhood. Old City was completely destroyed by bombing in 1945 but many of the old buildings have been rebuilt to their original condition.

On Friday morning we wandered around the city awed by all of the amazing architecture. One of the most prominent features is the Frauenkirche which was just rebuilt in 2005. It has a 600ft tall stone rotunda. One of the goals of the reconstruction project was to use as many of the original stones as possible - about 30% of the structure remained after the bombing. So, most of the facade is made of new stonework, but there's old blackened stones scattered throughout. At first I thought it was kind of ugly, but then I realized that the old stones stand as a reminder of the destruction humanity is capable of bringing upon itself. The inside of the rotunda is decorated in the Baroque style with lots of pastel colors. We weren't supposed to take pictures inside. We went up to the observation deck. I basically go up to observation decks whenever I can, if you haven't noticed already.

We wanted to go to the Opera, but unfortunately it was the premier night of La Traviatta and it was all sold out. And there was nothing else going on musically that evening probably because nobody can compete with a premier at the Semper Opera. We spent most of the day looking around the exhibits in the Zwinger Museum. There was an old masters painting gallery, a ceramics gallery, an armory gallery and a sculpture gallery. And the building itself of course. I took lots of pictures.

On Saturday we went to the VW Gläserne Manufaktur. It's a factory VW built specifically for the final production of their luxury class Pheaton. Most of the walls in the building are glass so you can see the entire production line. The whole thing is basically a customer service gimic. They have a really fancy lounge where you can go to talk with a sales representative and pick out the colors and stuff you want your car to be. Then 3 months after you order the car you can go back to the factory and watch them put it together. The production floor is the cleanest I have ever seen. Granted I haven't seen a ton of factories, but I've seen enough to know a clean one when I see it. The floors were all hard wood and there were only three robots in the entire line. Normally each cycle in assembly line like this is 30seconds to one minute. That means that if the workers task is to mount the main wiring harness, he/she has 30 seconds to do it before the car moves on to the next station. In this plant the cycles are 16 minutes long! I'm not sure if they just do more things per station or they just really take their time, but at that rate they can only put out 33 cars per day. And they only run one shift. Sounds like a recipe for failure to me. But then again VW is supposed to be "The People's Car" and it is more personal to have everything done by hand rather than with a whole bunch of robots. I don't really know why they spent so much money on a factory that only produces 33 cars per day, but it sure looked cool.

After the tour of the VW factory we went to the Frauenkirche for the Midday prayer service. The organ sounded beautiful and I understood most of the message. After the service some guy gave a short history of the church and explained the symbolism in all of the artwork in the sanctuary. I thought it was really neat. Then we hopped on a train and arrived in Reutlingen about 8 hours later.

On Sunday I went to the Baptist church again. We didn't sing any songs I recognized, but I was able to understand most of it anyways. After the service there was a congregational lunch I'm not sure exactly why, but someone made these really tasty stuffed bell peppers in tomato sauce. And I got to practice speaking German again. I think a lot of the people at my table could speak English, but for the benefit of everyone else who couldn't, we all just spoke German. It was a little tedious at times, of course, but I'm getting a lot more comfortable with just speaking and making lots of mistakes. People are usually very patient and will even correct my mistakes.

Last night I went to the Stuttgart Cannstatter-Wasen. This is the annual Fall Festival in Stuttgart very similar to Oktoberfest in Munich. A bar in Reutlingen sponsored some table reservations in one of the beer tents and extremely reduced beer and food prices for all Reutlingen students. I think something like 800 students went. It was pretty much crazy. The beer was delicious and came in 1 liter mugs. Thanks to this sponsorship we got two mugs of beer and a half a chicken for only 5.50 Euro. I had a really good time (as you can imagine).

I just made Kaesespaetzle on my own tonight except I only had one onion instead of two. But it turned out okay anyways. Mel Dark came over and helped Ryan and me eat it. On Friday my Fall Break starts, so I won't have classes for two weeks. I'm heading to Dublin first for a couple of days, then Stockholm and then I'll probably just kick back in Reutlingen for a little while before classes start again.

04 October, 2009

Käsespätzle!

So, this Wednesday Ryan and I decided to try our hand at making a popular local (Schwäbische) dish called Käsespätzle. It's basically a kind of baked macaroni and cheese with a little German flair. We had a lot of help from one of our German colleagues, Michael. Here follows the recipe/directions with picutres:

Zutaten (ingredients):
1 500g bag of dried Spätzle noodles (or make your own)
1 220g block of mozzarella cheese (we used some kind that was swimming in juice)
1 1/2 bags of grated white cheese (swiss maybe? or colby jack?)
2 white onions
1 Tablespoon vegetable bullion

Cut onions into thin strips. Boil noodles, sautee onions until lightly browned, mix vegetable bullion with 1/2 cup warm water, cube mozarella.
 

 




Drain noodles. Make three layers each of noodles, onions, cheese in a deep casserole dish.


Before the last layer of cheese, pour the vegetable bullion mix over the noodles. There should be a lot of cheese on the top layer. I mean really cover it with cheese. Bake for ~30 minutes at 200°C (~425°F) or until cheese turns golden brown on top.

Serve this baby hot. If you want you can thrown on some really carmelized onions for garnish. This would be great with a pork chop or steak! For more pictures check out this album.

30 September, 2009

Living conditions


I just wanted to make a post describing the living conditions here at Reutlingen University. Here's a link to a picture of my room. I'll just say I never professed to be an exceptionally neat person. There's some other pictures of my room and the common room in that album. Every person is assigned a space in a refrigerator-cabinet and a regular cabinet. The Valpo program provided us with a set of dishes and silver-ware. There's one oven and four stove top burners in the kitchen. A cleaning lady comes through twice a week or so and disinfects everything so it's usually pretty clean.

There's 18 people on each floor, co-ed. There's four showers per floor which are in private stalls, not like the showers in the freshman dorms at Valpo. Probably to save money on water the showers only stay on for about 1 minute at a time, except one of the showers on my floor is broken and stays on as long as you want. Whatever, it's running and it's warm and that's what counts. Oh and every floor has a nice large balcony. I like sitting out there in the morning while I eat a bowl of cereal. I'm on the 7th floor so I have a pretty cool view of campus.

One of the biggest differences between here and the states is a lot of the students are much older than me. Like, one of the guys we've been hanging out with a lot who lives across the hall is 26 years old and is in his 3rd semester at the University. I think a lot of people here work for a couple of years before going to school to get a degree. So it's a much more mature attitude all around.

There's a floor speaker who is kind of like an RA, but they have much fewer responsibilities e.g. there's no front desk, they don't go on rounds every, they don't decorate the floor. I think they're just supposed to be there to make sure the trash duties get accomplished and to mediate problems between residents. Everything's a little more relaxed here compared to what I'm used to at Valpo. There's no set move in day, so people have just been moving in whenever they want.

The laundry system is a little strange. I think I finally figured it out, though. There's three washers and driers on the top floor of our building. You put money in a little box which turns the machine on for 30min for every 50cents you put in. Then you select the cycle you want and press start. The problem is if the cycle you select takes more time than what you paid for it shuts off mid-cycle. Sometimes that means it doesn't go through a spin cycle so the clothes come out sopping wet. And if the person who used the washer before you didn't pay enough, you end up paying for the rest of their cycle because there's no way to reset the machine to start at the beginning. It has to complete a cycle before it resets. The driers just don't dry very well so the norm is to hang your clothes to dry. After a couple of tries I found a cycle that only costs 1Euro and includes a really fast spin-cycle so my clothes come out nearly dry.

There's a bus stop just around the corner from my building. The bus runs every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. It's about a 10 minute ride to the city center. I bought a semester bus pass which is valid in Reutlingen and some of the surrounding towns. It only takes about 30-40 minutes to get to Tuebingen, a town with a huge University (30,000 students) and lots of cool old buildings.

Oh yeah, I gotta mention the windows. All of the windows can either swing open on a side hinge or tilt open from the top on a bottom hinge. I love it. The doors to the balcony are the same way. It's great because we can leave them cracked open while it's raining and during nice weather open them all the way for lots of fresh air. Also, there's a hand-winch operated metal shutter on the outside of the window that can be shut completely to allow no sunlight through. That's really nice for midday naps or movie screenings. I'm sure we'll also appreciate during the winter because it'll keep out the cold air really well.

All in all, college life here is not all that much different from at Valpo. Most of the people just speak a different language. There's a lot of other international students living in the dorms. Just on my floor China, Croatia, Ghana, and of course the USA are all represented.

20 September, 2009

Berlin, Potsdam, Kassel, Frankfurt in one week


I just got back to Reutlingen last night after a week and a half of traveling around Germany. We went to Berlin as a class (ten Valpo students and our director). It was a 5 hour train ride on one of the ICE-Sprinter trains. I think they said the top speed was 230kmh which is about 150mph. It's a very smooth ride too.

(I would recommend that you open this photo album in a different window and follow along as you read. Start with photo #67.)
The first night we were in Berlin (Friday) I went to see Die Zauberfloete at the German Opera house with Ryan Behrends and Erin Dillon. We got seats in the second row for the student rate of 13.50€ which is 50€ less than those seats usually cost. It was fantastic. We met a couple of American graduate students in set design doing a study abroad program from some California school. That was fun talking about music and theater with them over dinner before the show.

On our first day in the city (Saturday), we went on a 2 hour bus tour. We saw most of the international embassies, the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery, and the Holocaust Memorial. We passed some other things too, but those were the highlights. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin wall which has been preserved. Every 5 years or so the city whitewashes the wall and invites the artists who originally painted the wall to return and renew their artwork. It's a strong reminder that only 20 years ago Berlin was still divided into two starkly contrasting sectors.

That night most of the group went on a "Pub Crawl". I'll just say beer was drunk and fun was had.

On Sunday we went on a walking tour of the Sachsenhausen Memorial Concentration Camp. I intentionally didn't post pictures of the camp because I don't think pictures do the experience justice. You really need to go there and see it for yourself, but even then there's no way to comprehend how life truly was in the camps. Sachsenhausen was a labor camp and housed something like 40,000 prisoners at the peak of the war. It was only a 20 minute train ride from the capital.

On Sunday night I saw a Konzerte der Bigband der Deutsche Oper, that was lots of fun. Again I sat in the second row. This concert was highlighting the music of Ray Charles. Which means they had a guest vocalist from New York who sang a few Ray Charles tunes with the band. She was a very good performer and she was very good at singing Ray Charles. Oh and the barisax player played a solo on the Duduk a very beautiful instrument. Take a look at this video for a sample of Duduk music.

(Please remove the tape and continue on side 2)
On Monday we went on a walking tour of Potsdam which is directly outside of Berlin. I guess a bunch of Prussian Kings lived in Potsdam. We walked up to the Sans souci palace built by Frederick the Great. After that I went up to the observation deck of the TV-Tower with Hilary and Austin. That was a really cool view of Berlin. Tuesday saw a couple of Museum tours and a real visit to the Holocaust monument. There's a fairly extensive museum underneath the monument. And I went up to the top of the German Reichstag, the seat of the German government.

(Continue with pictures here)
Wednesday was a free day, so I sat in the Tiergarten for a couple of hours in the morning went up to the observatory decks in two buildings and the packed for my trip to Kassel. When my mom was in high school, she spent a summer in Kassel. I went there to visit her former host mother, Frau Kunsch. Frau Kunsch doesn't speak a word of English, but she is also very patient so we were able to get along alright in German. I'm glad I was able to stop by and meet her. She still maintains a very fruitful garden with apples, plums, raspberries, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, and a fruit that looked like currants. And they were all ripe except the strawberries. So I got to Kassel on Thursday and spent the evening chatting with Frau Kunsch. On Friday I wandered around Downtown Kassel and then up to Schloss Wilhelmshoehe which was built in 1785 by Wilhelm I, Elector of Hesse. It's a very stately building surrounded by beautiful gardens. Inside the palace is a large gallery of paintings of the Old Masters. I spent 3 hours in there. Then I hiked up the hill towards the Hercules statue. I didn't make it all of the way to the top because I got hungry, so I stopped for dinner.

On Saturday morning I left Kassel and took another ICE train to Frankfurt am Main to visit the 63rd Internationale Automobil-Austrieb the world's largest motor show. Basically there was a lot of cars. I was very interested in the Renault zero-emmision vehicle prototypes. I'll be very happy to see such cars on the road finally.

On my way home I experienced a rare glitch in the German Rail system. In general German Trains are very prompt and reliable. However, when I got to the Frankfurt airport where I was supposed to be transferring to an ICE to Stuttgart I found that the long-distance trains' terminal was on lock down for some reason. I didn't really understand why becuase the police officer was speaking very fast. I had to go back to the platform I had arrived on before walking the 500 or so meters to the long distance trains to find the right train. Then when we got to Mannheim I had to transfer to a different train because apparently the one I was on wasn't going to stop in Stuttgart after all. Whatever. I made it home. It's nice to be back in Reutlingen where I know the bus schedule and the names of all of the stops.

I went to the Baptist church again this morning. Erin Dillon came along this time. The sermon was given by a theology professor. He was a little hard to follow. And by that I mean that I only understood about 40% of what he said. But the rest of the service was easy to follow. I really feel like I've found a church home here in Germany. After the service the worship team leader asked me if I'd be able to play drums for them because their regular drummer is going away to school soon. I hope I'll get the chance to teach them some songs.

I ordered a Discraft Ultrastar Frisbee from Amazon.de and it came while I was away. There aren't any German companies that make Ultimate discs so I had to pay 18€ for this one that was imported from the States. But it was totally worth it. I went and threw it around with a couple of the other Valpo guys and a German guy that lives down the hall from me. That was a good time. I'm going to see what I can do about starting some pick-up games of Ultimate once the German school semester starts.

Thanks for reading. For reading this entire post, you get a cake. Actually, the cake is a lie, it's really just a wikipedia article about cakes, but you get the idea.

06 September, 2009

First full week of classes (and travel) complete



Well it's been quite an eventful week. I started classes on Monday. They were mostly pretty easy. That's a big change for me in comparison to my usual Engineering course work. I'm so used to staying up late working on homework assignments that I really don't know what to do with all of this free time.

I've spent a lot of time wandering around Reutlingen stadtmitte. That's like the downtown area, with lots of shops and restaurants and Kebab stands, the staple fast-food joint here in Germany. The main bill of fare at a kebab stand is the doenor, which is half a pita with the pocket filled with gyro meat and lettuce, cabbage, onions, and cucumber sauce. Delicious. And probably healthier than most American fast-food.

On Wednesday after class Rian and I went for a stroll through the neighborhood surrounding the Hochschule. We stumbled upon a quite large park and forest reserve with lots of trails through the hills. Very pretty. You should check out my photo album for more details.

We were planning on going on a trip to a nearby castle on Thursday but the weather was gross so all of us Valpo kids stayed inside and watched a movie. On Friday Rian and I went to Stuttgart to see the Mercedes-Benz Museum. We took two buses and a train (S-Bahn) to get to Stuttgart and then walked about 4 miles from the train station to the museum. We walked through a Schlossgarten with paths lined with huge birch trees. Again see the photo album for pictures. The museum itself was very cool. It was only 4 Euros to get in thanks to the student price. The bulk of this week's photo album as you can see is dedicated to photos of cars.

Saturday (yesterday) I was going to try to go to the Castle by myself, but I accidentally missed the bus. I was waiting on the arrivals side of the station instead of the departures side. Oh well, that's how we learn, right? So instead I took a train to Rottenburg am Neckar to visit Christine who was the R.A. in the German house last year. I got a private tour of the town which is about the size of Urbana. It's a predominately Catholic town so there are many houses with Saint figures mounted in their walls and of course big pretty church buildings.

Today I went again to the Baptist church just down the road. There was a large group of kids who, from what I gathered, had been at a summer camp for the past two weeks. They sang "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" one of the favorite classics in contemporary Christian worship. That was fun to be able to sing along to. After the church service I stuck around and had lunch with the kids and talked with a few of the counselors. They were a very welcoming group of people.

I'm looking forward to another organ concert tonight, but until then, I'm going to take a little sabbath. Thanks for reading. Keep in touch.

30 August, 2009

The First Weekend

My first weekend in Germany is coming to an end. We made it to Reutlingen only an hour later than scheduled. We spent the rest of our first day in town walking around so that we wouldn't fall asleep before nighttime. I was definitely dragging by bedtime.

On Friday we filled out some paper-work to register with the city of Reutlingen and then went on a tour of the downtown area. After the tour I decided that I couldn't go any longer without a cell phone, so I bought a pre-paid phone for €50. A mobile phone is a very reassuring thing to have in a foreign country.

On Saturday we (by the way, when I say "we", I'm usually talking about me and the other 9 Valpo students who are currently studying in Reutlingen) took a bus trip to the Black Forest. We stopped first at Triberg the home of the world's largest cuckoo clock. That was a quaint little tourist town. We had a very German picnic lunch of bread and cheese. The next stop on the tour was Titisee another tourist town with a very beautiful in-land sea. Erin Dillon, the other VIEP-German participant, and I had some tasty ice cream.

Today I got to really test my German language skills when I went to church on my own. I went to the Evangelisch-Freikirchliche Gemeinde Reutlingen. That means something like Evangelical-Free Church. A lot of the older members didn't speak any English so I had to make my way around in German. It was a challenge but very rewarding at the same time. It's nice to know that if I have to I really can speak a different language. Thankfully the preaching pastor was very good at annunciating so he was very easy to understand. After the service, Gottesdienst, I went out to lunch with some of the young adults from the congregation. They were a joy to be around. They were curious what my favorite food was to which I could only truthfully respond "Macaroni and cheese or PB and J". They said "typisch Amerikaner" and I don't blame them. I can be a typical American sometimes.

After lunch we went on a tour of Tuebingen, a close by town. We had dinner at a local brewery, delicious. I've definitely been enjoying the German beer.

Feel free to check out all of the photos I took which correspond to this post here. If I manage to figure it out, there might be a slideshow of this album on the right side of this blog. For now, though, just click the link.

26 August, 2009

Packed and mostly ready

Well, there's not much to say about my study-abroad experience yet because I haven't actually left the country. I will say that it was a little tricky trying to pack everything I think I'll need for the entire next year in two bags and a carry-on and staying within the weight limit. Thanks to Pastor Scott for loaning me a large hiking backpack in which I crammed as much clothes as I could. I'm really hoping I don't get slapped with over-weight baggage fees. My duffel bag is really close to the limit.
The international studies office recommended that we bring some little items we can give as gifts to host families or Professors. So, Mom and I stopped at Curtis Orchard in Champaign and got some popcorn-on-the-cob which was grown right here in Illinois. I thought that would be a fun and unique gift that I can give people I meet along the way.
I will do my best to update this blog at least monthly. Here's a link to a full description of the program I am participating in, just in case you're interested. Check back here for periodic updates on my experiences or just subscribe or whatever and you'll get an email when I post something.