Flight back home

Forgot about this post -- written during the flight back home from Germany to the US...:

A word of advice to those planning on traveling with Icelandair in the near future -- they have suddenly become extremely anal about the number of carry-on items each person has. We spent close to 10 minutes at the counter until everything was taken care of. I had a backpack and my violin, and the woman at the counter told me that instruments in general are forbidden as carry-ons. I then asked her how long that had been in effect; she said for as long as she had been working there. I then told her, that it wasn't even a year ago that I flew with the same airline, and the same items (backpack, violin), and it was allowed. She then said that the flight was full, and that they were limiting the number of carry-on items as a result (nice change of story, by the way). It would then be up to the crew of the plane as to whether or not I would be allowed to bring my violin on board. The final decision was that I had to choose between checking my violin or checking the backpack. There would be absolutely no insurance possible for the violin. We checked the backpack. Still, I had to sign a waiver stating that it would be no fault of the airlines if my backpack ended up damaged (due to the straps). Lose-lose. But on the plus side, I'm certain that my violin weighs around 3 or 4 kilograms, so joke's on them.

Right now I’m on the six-hour flight back to Minneapolis. There is a man sitting in front of my father who is somehow managing to lean his chair back far enough to be annoying, all without actually pushing the reclining button. The plane is filled with Americans, Minnesotans. My mother will be delighted to know that one of the on-flight entertainment options was once again Lazy Town. A very involving show. I have suspicions that Sporticus and Robbie Rotten are one and the same person. But then again, if they are, how do they manage the fight scenes? What a tricky situation... (**hindsight note: after the second episode of Lazy Town, I think they are two different people. I am, unfortunately, not motivated enough to actually confirm or bust this theory/decision**)…

I started to cry like a little girl (grown up girls, I think, don’t have belly-wracking sobs muffled by scarves or sweaters) as the plane took off from Germany. All I managed to say was, "Here it goes.” I think that the final push was actually seeing Germany grow smaller and smaller and eventually disappear, reducing me to an emotional scarf-mumbler.
The man across the aisle kept looking over at me. Yes, I'’m crying, on the plane, across the aisle from you. I am on-flight entertainment.

Has anyone else noticed that they seem to serve drinks from (flight attendants') left to right on the flights? Has anyone also noticed that there are at least four layers of clouds?

I'm already bored of typing.

My pre-leaving night in Landau was spent going to an uninvolving tango music concert, eating an ice cream, and drinking a glass of sparkling wine and kiba (cherry and banana juice mixed together).

During the tango concert intermission we took photographs of ourselves--—group and individual shots--posing with "The Lady of Landau." The statue is of a naked woman balancing and leaning back on one foot, holding grapes to her bosom. We were fully clad, I'm thankful to say, but we all got our chance to pose and copy the statue. Pictures...…um...maybe never :p

Ice cream was one Kügel (scoop) tiramisu, and one Kügel Rafaelo. RAFAELO ice cream, Rafaelo as in the tasty coconut-almond-white-chocolate goodness. Ooooh so good.

Leo's: one of the workers there, Rader (I'm not entirely sure how to spell it) made our drinks on the house, as it was my last night. Very very nice of him. Leo’s is the best café for late-night chilling, hands down. And we're not the first group of people to think that, either. The ambiance is nice, the staff is nice, and the food is good, too. Then Sonia, Carmelinda, and Sonia's friend Ilaria (who is there to visit Sonia --– they leave Thursday) walked me back home, singing Italian songs all the way. It was loud, confusing, but amusing. We got back to the Wohnheim, said our teary good-byes, and parted ways. I went up to my room, started moving things around and finishing up final cleaning. Then I hear voices coming from the garden in-between the apartment buildings. Sonia, Carmelinda, and Ilaria are singing Aerosmith's "I don't want to Miss a Thing." I'm being serenaded by three wound-up Italians. It made me teary again. I think stuff like that only happens during study abroad. I can't imagine anything like what happened (or what I experienced) this year ever happening anywhere else. I'm so incredibly thankful for everything all of the ERASMUS students have done for me, and I’m grateful for having so many new people in my life that were, are, and will be important to me for the rest of my life.

From the bottom of my heart, I urge and recommend that everyone spend at least one term in a study abroad program. It changes your life for the best, and the knowledge you gain about yourself and other people is something that you really can't find anywhere else.



Everything is very big here.

Other than that, because my first real day was spent in the quietness of my grandparent's home (they live outside of the city, in the woods, so there is no shock-factor for me), and now at home where I'm very used to things, I haven't had any problems readjusting. Maybe a bit of jet-lag, around noonish yesterday, but I'm always jet-lagged after the return trip.

But I love the WLAN, the wireless internet. LOVE it.


Last Whole Day

Today marks not only my final full day in Landau for the year (I say for the year because I am very certain that I will one day very soon come back to Germany and pop by Landau for a visit), but also the day I have more spam-mail in my inbox than ever before. I have no idea how that came about.

I think I would be more sad and depressed about everything were my Grandmother not habitually pessimistic about almost everything. Usually I'd say it's borderline endearing, but not on my final run here. On the up-side, at least I'm not an emotional wreck. So maybe I have her to thank for a bit of balance in the brain area.

Also, the remnants of 10 months worth of living is a tight squeeze when it comes to packing. I have sent 4-5 boxes, each between 10 and 20 kilograms, home over the past months. There is another box waiting, along with my IKEA chair, waiting to be sent out today. My hiking backpack and other large suitcase-duffel bag thing are literally stuffed full, and there is little room left in another large bag my dad brought with him. I will be pushing the limit this time around.

There have also been a lot of last-minute-doing-of-things-I-need-to-do-one-more-time-before-I-leave moments, and they've all gone relatively well.

The thing with the blog now, is that once I get home, I can still keep it current by comparing the transition back into American society to what was left behind. Over the past year I've thought of and anticipated many reactions, but now I'm not sure how it will be. The best thing now is to just not expect anything and go with the flow.

My first few days will be spent at my grandparent's house, which is in the US, but in the countryish outskirts of a city, so I won't be rushed with people and society. I think it's a smart move.

So, tomorrow are the flights home, and the re-introduction to the States. Expect the next post no sooner than Wednesday!

From Germany, peace out.




Today we're going to the zoo! The weather is, for the time being, stable and nice. Because of the constant rain for the past few days, the temperature has finally made it back down to the mid 20s. Nice.

Either tonight or tomorrow morning I'm heading up to Frankfurt to meet up with my father and my grandmother. Then tomorrow we hang around Frankfurt, see what there is/n't to see, and then Monday it's off to....PORTUGAL! Then on 03.08 it's back to Germany for a bit.

My apartment has been cleared as "acceptable", and I don't need to pay anything extra for non-existing damage. My finals were passed as well, better than expected. So, I officially made it through my year of school in Germany without screwing up once!

My mind is too scattered to write much; I'm extremely excited to go pet the goats.



The Final Countdown (dah nah naah naaaaah, dahnahnahnahnaaaah, dah nah naah naaaah, dahnah nah nah naaah...)

I am in official stressed-out mode. I even have the stress-break-out as proof. Beware: GERMANY GIVES YOU PIMPLES.

I have my first of two final exams at 18:00. In little more than half an hour. Just thinking about it makes me have to pee.

The weather in Germany is full blown summer. But not as bad as in California. I hear on the radio that it was 49ºC, and that people have died. As for my area of Germany...there was severe weather damage and possible tornado touch-down in Karlsruhe (20 or so km south of Landau). There is construction between Neustadt and Landau, creating traffic problems, and generally making train travel a pain. There is also a 3-meter long snake loose somewhere around Heidelberg, most likely by the river. People who see the snake are advised to keep their distance and contact the police--who have already stated that capture of the snake is highly unlikely.

I want to know what a 3-meter-long snake is doing in the south-western part of Germany.

Now... a bit of info on Landau. As I've mentioned before, the best bakery is the Discount-Bäker, because the products are cheap and good. The best (in my opinion) café for morning/afternoon coffe, as well as breakfasts (waffles with vanilla icecream and hot raspberries...OOHO!), is Café am Markt. The best restaurant/bar for salads and overall "cool" factor is Green, which is located at the southern end of the city center. Irish pub: Brennan's. Best café/bar for drinks, relaxed hanging out, and dinner foods is Leo's, which is located at the northern end of the city center. Best store for cheap housewares, tools, paper towels or TP is Kodi. Best store for cute, colored and stenciled canvas bags is Schlecker, which is right next door to Kodi. Not to be confused.

The worst place for anything beverage like is what I call the "red and yellow bakery". The only perk of it is that it is also open on Sundays, and has good Johannisbeer struessel cakes. And two-for-one deals.

The best (and only, really) book store to buy school books from is Buchkaiser, but specifically the one on Marktstraße. You get a complementary canvas bag when you purchase several books. The other Buchkaiser (on an intersecting street) is good for everything else, specifically travel guides.

The only two clubs I know of are Freiraum (good for prices, crappy for dance floor situation) and Logo (meh for prices, but great for dance floor situation; a.k.a. more places along the wall to sit and take a breather inbetween good songs). If you want to go to an all-night club, like one that's open until 5 a.m., it would be necessary to travel south to Karlsruhe (and, in turn, spend the night, because trains don't run that late), north to Mannheim, or west to Straßbourg.

The only (known) place where you can get free ANYTHING is the University's main campus. The University has the only free parking lot in the city, as well as free internet connection. The downside of both is that it's not safe to leave your car for more than a day (maybe not even that long) in the parking lot (winter break left three cars with passenger windows smashed in by thieves. Thieves. What a great word. It's not used often enough!), and the library is only open 9.00-19.30, Monday-Thursday, and 9.00-16.00 on Fridays. NO WEEKEND HOURS. If you need internet during the weekend, it's down to trekking to the city center to a T-Mobile HotSpot location (Café am Markt is one, but it's €8,- an hour, and that's BOGUS), one of the internet cafés (prices unknown to me), or making sure you have snagged yourself a Rechnenzentrum card, which allows you off-hours acces to the Uni's three stuffy, dusty computer labs. The card costs €10,-, which you get back upon return of the card. I don't own one.

30 minutes to test time, and I'm done here, for now. Quick tips, but tips nonetheless. Maybe I should ask those who read if they have any questions about life in Landau, or Germany in general. That would, at least, give me something concrete to write about...


The In's and Out's of Getting In and Out (short blurb)

Getting registered for (pretty much) anything in Germany--or at least in Landau--seems to be much easier than getting out of the system.

For example: At the beginning of my stay here, I had to register at the Auslandsamt to gain a temporary citizen-of-Landau status, my student visa, as well as fill out a stack of forms. And pay €50. Other than the immediate language barrier (which is now nonexistant), the sudden need to pay €50 cash, and needing to come back a second day to finish everything, the process was painless and simple.

The same thing goes for the University. We went to the Student Affairs Office, waited in line, nodded our heads a lot, and were registered at the University for the first semester, and later automatically for the second. Simple.

Insurance wasn't that simple -- we were more or less bullied into signing up for German insurance, regardless if our US insurance promised full coverage or not. True, insurance here is cheaper, but the lady didn't have to be so aggressive and condescending about the whole thing. But other than that, it was "sign here", "bank info here", and finished.

But now... I went to the insurance office yesterday to notify them that I needed to cancell the insurance plan as of the payment in August, and things were not that simple. After waiting for almost 10 minutes without anyone offering to help me (Latvian banks and Polish post offices have little stations where you push a button for the respective department you want to talk to -- very nice and organized. At the insurance office here in Germany, all you have are lots of chairs and potted plants), a younger woman asked if I was waiting for anyone in particular (does it LOOK like I am, slick?), and then proceeded to help me. After telling me information I already know ("it looks like you're on our normal insurance plan"...YOU THINK?), she went away to talk to someone who knew more than her. When she came back she told me that they would need, when it boils down to it, a written confirmation (I hear that and am reminded by doctor's or parent's notes as excuses for being late to school) note that states I will actually be leaving the country when I say I am. And such a note can be attained from my University here in Landau.

I ask, what, pray tell, does the University have to do with when I leave the country?

I managed to leave the office without crying in frustration and swearing (that happened outside), discussions with both of my parents followed, and I still thought that it was stupid to go the Uni to get this paper. Wouldn't a photocopy of flight tickets and passport work? I told the girl at the insurance company "I still don't see how the University has anything to do with this" (to which she replied, "Yup, okay! But we need a note like that, and you can get it from the University."), but it was like anything I said or asked bounced off of her face.

THEN, later, Sonia suggested going to the Auslandsamt. GREAT! Now THAT'S something that makes sense! Go to the office where I registered as officially staying in Germany for an extended period of time, and get a note from THEM! SOMEPLACE THAT HAS SOMETHING DIRECTLY TO DO WITH MY ENTERING/LEAVING THE COUNTRY! So, getting out of the insurance plan is difficult, because I have to go around to several offices just to take care of this.

Other than that, my student status expires in September. I've also to make stops at the bank and at the post office. Hopefully those will be easier things to take care of.

Until then... a little over two weeks left. Conversations with others are even more so filled with contemplative silences where it's understood that for those few minutes no one is allowed to look or talk to each other, because it might end up in a teary mess.


The Story of the (un)Stolen Bike(s)

Two days ago (Tuesday for those who have trouble thinking back that far) I went to our Hausmeister to get a new light bulb, new vent filters, and to tell him that I was fairly certain someone had stolen my bike. I said "fairly certain" because I had checked the area around our apartment end several times over, as well as the bike cellar, but with no results. I was more baffled than upset, because how--tell me-- how does one person get TWO bikes stolen in five months? The first bike (yes, crappy, upside-down bike that I never ended up photographing, sorry guys) was noticed as missing during my mom's visit. Which was upsetting, because I never had the chance to even try and sell the stupid thing. €35,- that I'll never ever get back.

With bike No.2, I was half upset, as mentioned, because of the number of bikes now stolen from me had doubled, and because I wouldn't get my €20 deposit back from the Bike Man. Which would only be fair, but still. On the other hand, I regarded the bike being gone as one less thing I'd have to take care of before leaving the country. Mixed emotions, as you may be able to tell.

So, Hausmeister informed me of the following: 1) it's nothing new that bikes are stolen from the apartment area 2) sometimes the thieves will pull a bike into the bushes, cut off the lock, and then ride it away, and 3) sometimes the thieves will drive up in a car and just hoist the bike into the trunk and drive off. No consolation, no suggestions on what to do. It gave me a general feeling that calling the police would just end up being a waste of €0,19. (I'd like to make a quick mention that the day before I had found out that yet ANOTHER one of my favorite bands, Mest, had disbanded. So I was already in an iffy mood) So I went to class on foot, which is no problem, told fellow group-workers that other than Mest being through and my second bike being stolen (they found that amusing, and I don't blame them), I was doing great.

After class I ended up talking to Hanane, Kathy, Andrew, and Anya, and told Hanane how there was nothing that could be done about the bike being stolen. She expressed her sympathy and we continue talking. Then I stop talking, and Anya said jokingly "Oh, my bike!" But there it was. My bike, with my Apt.# sticker (silly Hausmeister), and my lock, was across the alley from the University building. Just standing next to the wall like it had been there waiting for me. I was speechless, dumbfounded, surprised. Confused beyond all reason. The last time I had used and seen my bike was Wednesday. Friday and Saturday I went to Heidelberg, but used public transportation both days to get there and back to Landau. Sunday I didn't use it, nor Monday, because by then it had established itself as stolen. I had been racking my brain to remember what, exactly, I had done Thursday, but kept drawing a blank. A perfect blank, which is scary, but funny at the same time. I remember leaving the apartment and going to the library, but around 1 P.M., and I don't ride my bike to the library -- and besides, the bike was in the city center, which is twice as far. I have no receipts from Thursday, which means I didn't do any shopping of any kind. Unless someone played a very very cruel (aincidentallytly stupid trick, because who would drag a locked bike all the way to the city center just to make me sorry?) trick, or if something so terrible happened Thursday that I completely blocked it out of my mind, I've got memory issues. An entire day, gone, just like that. I'm still left in wonder about it today, as I write.

So my bike has been unstolen, the classmates informed (the one teasingly accused me of drinking too much Weinschorle, the other congratulated me and said "One bike in your garage is worth two in Landau"), and everyone else amused and probably as confused as I am.

The world has turned and left me here...(and taken my sanity with it)