Mainz and Strasbourg and Heidelberg, OH MY!
Last Friday Andi, Joanna and I joined one of the former exchange students to Coe (also our friend), his girlfriend, and 20 elderly people on a trip to Mainz. Upon arrival, Andi< Joanna and I split off from the rest of the group, because whereas we had been led to believe that we would be paying 9,-Â for a city-tour, it turned out to be more of a "History of Parliament" seminar thing. We were dressed for the weather, walking shoes, etc., so we made our excuses, found out where we were to meet the rest of the group in 3 hours time, then booked it to the city center. We took a stroll through the Weihnachts markt (Christmas market), checked out the cathedral, ate a wonderful garden vegetable pizza at Pizza Hut (table service, too!), walked a complete circle around the city, helped the economy by purchasing cards at the Gutenburg gift shop, then went to stand by the Rhein to wait for the bus. After the group was brought together again we were brought to the main television station in Mainz. And I am sad to say, that even though I got a free pen out of the deal, I cannot remember the name of the station off the top of my head. But Google tells me it is ZDF.
The ZDF station was the best part of the day, minus the fact that the lack of air circulation in the building gave me a terrible headache and nausea. We were given a pretty cheap tour, where the guide proceeded to tell us what his purpose was in the station, and how extremely crucial it was to have the correct lights and combination of lights pointed on the people in a program, or objects in the programs. Excitement all around. I got bored quickly and took pictures of the ceiling (see below). Then we became a studio audience, and were witnesses to the filming of a Saturday morning TV program called "Logo", where a semi-energetic blonde man with minimal skills in improvisational body actions named Andreas relays news bits, presumably for children. Among the important news topics were the now starting soccer championship and how the charts for that work, a 12 year old skiing kid, and a baby panda that was very cute and played with a ball. Watching how it was all taped was fascinating. This guy was positioning himself in certain places on purpose. He doesn't sit on the couch because he's tired, or because that's where he gets to kick back during the video clips that come between his monologues -- he walks across the set and positions himself artfully so he LOOKS like he's been relaxing there for a few minutes. It's crazy, but very cool.
After we left the studio we drove back to our starting point, and then the three of us were brought back home.
Mainz Landtag building.
View of the Cathedral -- unfortunately you can't see the main tower.
This fountain statue thing we saw. Turns out that all of the little figures represent many different characters from fairytales and children's tales.
A footpath that runs along the river. The Polish kid in the corner is Joanna.
Shot of the lights on the ceiling in one of the studio rooms at the TV station.
The set of "Logo."
Sunday Joanna and I made a trek to Strasbourg, France, to see a Latvian play, Long Life. Our day started off incredibly well, as we turned up in one of the local (and my favorite) cafÃ©s, Cafe am Markt, for some "Kaffe zum mitnehmen" (coffee to go). We weren't sure if the cafÃ© was open yet (it wasn't), but Joanna opened the door (it was unlocked, so hah.) and asked if they were open. The response we gequaledled to "Come in, come in!" We ordered, I looked at a menu and saw that we it would 30 minutes before the cafÃ© actually opened, our coffee was handed to us (by the friendly and always cheerful man, who we think may own the place -- his dog, Hugo, was there as well), we started to hand the man our money and he tells us no, just take the coffee. We stare at him blankly. He smiles and keeps nodding, waving to the coffee cups with his hands. We take the coffee, he tells us to have a nice day in Strasbourg (we had told him where we were going so early on a Sunday and what for). In case you missed what happened in the past 7 or so sentences WE GOT OUR MORNING COFFEE FOR FREE FREE FREE.
I love that cafÃ©.
On the way to the station Joanna and I gushed between the two of us how the free coffee had made our mornings, and how incredibly nice the man and the other workers at the cafÃ© are, and how they know us and remember that we're exchange students, etc., etc. And they can afford to do that as well, because they know we'll come back. And, truth be told, since I've been to C.a.M (CafÃ© am Markt), I haven't taken my coffee at any other real cafÃ© in Landau since. I just can't.
Anyway, we made the train to Wisembourg with a minute or so to spare, successfully found seats, successfully purchased tickets for Wisembourg to Strasbourg, successfully got back on the same train we had just gotten off of, stood for almost an hour, then finally made it to Strasbourg. The only thing out of the ordinary on the trip there was a man arguing/lecturing random people around him about how it was unfdespicablespicable that he, his wife, and 3 kids had to stand during the trip (Too bad for him, because the number of old people outnumbered the number of people with children, and there is no way the train system can guess or control how many people are standing on the train. True, there are max. capacity rules, but if all seats are full, and all standing locations are full... there were some people at other stops who approached the train, saw how full it was, turned around and walked away. This same man dragged his wife and kids to the travel help center in the Strasbourg train station and filled out a complaint form. Nice effort.), and a woman standing behind me who fainted and fell off the step she was standing on and onto a man in a wheelchair. Other than that, smooth sailing.
Because we had 5-6 hours before the play started, we took our time walking around Strasbourg. Saw a church, the main cathedral, a pony wagon, a bit of the Christmas market, and some stores. Lunch was at an amazing little Crepe restaurant. When we got back to the National Theater building it started to set in that maybe the play wouldn't be held there since it was a Sunday. Then a guy a bit older than us came over and asked if we were also going to the play, and if we knew where the building was where the play would be held. He spoke in French, so it was Joanna's department to talk to him, and after she answered his questions, he said that he was waiting for someone who would hopefully know. Then a girl runs over (turns out she's half Latvian from Canada, studying in France at a space school) saying she's figured it out. The four of us finally find the building (several blocks away from where we were), we get our tickets, all is well. The play was virtually wordless (which made it easier for me, because I didn't have to sit and translate everything for Joanna), but 100% good. I won't write about it here, but if there are any questions about it, I'll write a separate note via e-mail, or wait and explain it in person. The jist of the play is 5 flatmates, elderly Latvians, and a "day-in-the-lives-of" situation.
The play ended about five minutes before 18:oo, giving Joanna and myself approximately 15 minutes to get back to the train station to catch our train. We walked half of the way, and ran the rest. We should have run for 3/4ths instead. We got to the station, quickly figured out which platform we needed, ran like hell, and managed to make it to the platform just in time to see our train pulling away. Joanna starts to swear, and I lean over a fence and draw deep breaths of cold air because a) I just ran 2 blocks worth of distance in heels and b) I am asthmatic. Cold air + strenuous physical activity = what I consider to be the closest thing to death. My only thought at that time was how glad I was I had eaten my lunch more than two hours prior, instead of 30 minutes ago.
I had told Joanna earlier in the day that because of how good everything was going, something bad almost NEEDED to happen in order to balance it all out. I had no need to say, at that time, "I told you so." We missed a second train option we had, and did so due to the unhelpful and semi-rude nature of the Train Information attendant (who spoke only French -- what help is that? At least speak two languages, jerk). We had no clue how to work the ticket machines, but we finally got some information that might get us home. The station's "Immediate Departure" ticket counter was much more helpful and gave results. I'll just add a quick note about how each person who worked behind the I.D. ticket counters spoke at least two languages. There are these T.V. screens above each counter that show little flags of which languages the attendant spoke: French, English, German, Sign Language. That made it easy to choose lines. After some deliberation (and being told good-naturedly by the attendent we were speaking to that, if we didn't decide soon, the [rude] people in line behind us might lynch us) we bought tickets that would get us home. The train would leave 45 minutes from then, and the man even told us that we needed to validate our tickets at the yellow stamp stations before we get to the platform. Mean Mr. I only speak French didn't even tell us that much.
I'll also skip the trip-home details, except that we had to book it once again when we got to Karlsruhe, but we made the train.
Nice, wide, windy French street. The narrow ones were just as windy, but...more narrow.
One of the smaller churches we went it.
Pony wagon that seemed to go everywhere we went. Must've been the "stalk someone city tour."
Picture of one part of the canal. Strasbourg city center is actually on an island with the river canal winding around it.
A huge clock in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Kind of like a smaller version of the huge clock in the main square in Prague.
The sign says "Beware of pick-pockets." This was in the CHURCH. It was sad having to be careful of my belongings while walking through a holy building.
View of the main part of the church. There really were a lot of tourists there... pick-pockets, ahoy!
One of the main arched entry ways at the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Umm... Heidelberg was pretty. That's all I've got. I'll be going back for sure, and then I'll write more. We were there for 2.5 hours, which isn't anywhere near enough time. Joanna, Andi, and I joined up with one of Joanna's classmates (and the classmate's boyfriend) to walk through the Christmas market. The interesting thing about the Heidelberg Christmas market in comparison to other markets I'd been to, is that it's spread out around the city in various squares and open spaces. I brought a cup home :)
Outer edge of one of the larger Heidelburg Christmas market squares.
Some building with a tower. Didn't pay much attention to what I was photographing here.
Then here are two more random photos. The first one was taken from what I like to call "the valley of the nerds", which is a huge section/row of tables in the basement of the University library where there are two ethernet jacks per table, for laptop computers. Most of the people who sit with their laptops are doing it for gaming, presumably. Then there's Hanane, one of the ERASMUS students from Paris, who sits for hours at her computer watching news reports and looking at pictures of famine and disease around the world. She told me she does it to bring a sense of reality to herself, that there are such terrible things happening in the world, and that the cannot and should not be ignored. I just do normal internet stuff. I swear.
The second photo is of my Christmas candle set. I had fun spelling XMAS. Now the other kids laugh at me.
Our lovely library/
My lovely candles.
Tomorrow morning I leave for my plane to Latvia, where I'll spend the few days of Christmas. Then it's back to Germany for several days, where I'll meet up with my father, then after New Year's we'll head back to Latvia again. Merry Christmas to everyone, and a happy New Year as well! My next note (or in this case, freaking novel) will come to you from 2006.