Monday, June 30, 2008

Dubrovnik, Croatia

George Bernard Shaw called Dubrovnik paradise on earth. Hes a famous poet, and Id have to say he is correct. Truly amazing, picture perfect, laid back and beautiful. Weve been here for the past 2 days, forgetting how to use punctuation, I mean check out this keyboard čžšđć.

Ive explored all of the old town, full of a huge city wall surrounding the city, even on the water. The inside has fortresses, monestaries, churches and much more. There is a huge street in teh middle with tons of shops and restaurants, serving the traditional risotto along with seafood.

Today I hiked to the highest point around, with amazing views of the nearby islands and the city. Up top was also an old bombed building from the wars in teh early 1990s, bullet holes, random used landmines nearby crosses and lots of rubble. A different side than the amazing, tourist filled old town.

We are staying with a hilarious old Croatian Couple, getting a room with a balcony for cheap.

Tomorrow we travel on to Montenegro, Kotor to be exact, to meet up with a friend there for a few days and stay with him. Supposed to be better beaches and crazier cliffs. Pretty excited about it as we make out way down to Greece over the next week.

Hope all is well.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Croatia pics

Jumping into the Agean Sea, which I cant spell right now due to water in my head

Morning breakfast in Split, juiciest watermelon around

SPLIT!

Overnight train from Zagreb to Split

Zagreb and its cathedral

Split, Croatia

Im in Split right now, an amazing city right on the Adriatic Sea.

Paige and I flew from Stuttgart on Thursday to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Slight delay for a new tire, which luckily was in stock. Slept the whole flight to stock up for exploring the city. A pretty cool city that is often just a stopping off place for the coast. Graet cathedral, amazing food (the meat platter was huge, which way too many types of meat for one person). Then we watched the Spain vs. Russia game which Spain won and headed off to the train station to go to Split. We did what my guidebook recommended for 2 days in 6 hours. Thats how we roll.

The overnight train was delayed as well due to mechanical problems, unknown to us in Croatian. Lots of men hopping into the car, underneath it and walking around. Hot as hell in the cars, wtih no ac, and no lights on until we left. We had a whole coachette to ourselves which was nice to spread out.

We woke up going through the mountains, and then arriving at the sea in Split. After exploring the palace, temples and bell tower, plus finding an amazing statue, we checked into out hostel at 12pm, now its time for the beach.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Travels

Right now I'm in the middle of traveling through SW Germany visiting friends and seeing some new cities. Different culture than Erfurt, although it's only 4 hours away. I'm in Freiburg right now, which is pretty sweet, in the Black Forest, with an awesome church and a little stream running through the whole city.

On Thursday I leave for Croatia with my friend Paige. It's the start of a long, amazing trip through several countries in Southeastern Europe. Here is the itinerary:

Thursday: Fly to Zagreb (capital of Croatia), see city and take night bus to Split
Friday: Enjoy Split all day, arriving at 6am
Saturday: Take a ferry to the island of Korcula which looks amazing
Sunday: Take a ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia, a famous port town with city walls
Monday: Explore more of Dubrovnik, which George Bernard Shaw called paradise on Earth
Tuesday the 1st of July we head to Montenegro for a couple days
Thursday the 3rd we head to Albania for a ngiht before taking a bus to Athens
On the 5th we explore Athens all day meeting up with Elizabeth and Ashley
The 6th we go to Naxos, a Greek island for 3 nights
After the several days on Naxos, I go to Paros island with Elizabeth
Elizabeth and I fly to Bratislava, Slovakia on the 11th
On the 12-13 of July, Elizabeth and I will be in Vienna
The 14th of July I head back to Erfurt.

And that will be the end of 3 and a half weeks on the road.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kramer Brucke Fest

A lot of cities have a city fest. Erfurt has a bridge fest, celebrating our Merchant's Bridge, the longest bridge in Europe with houses on both sides. It's full of small shops selling ceramics, books, art, local goods, a chocolateria and a few cafes. An old Methodist church anchors one end with a large tower standing tall. Underneath runs our mighty river, the Gera (mighty as in Mighty Mouse (small, but awesome)).

The festival started Friday and went until Sunday. The highlight was Saturday with fireworks over the Dom (cathedral) at midnight, capping off the longest day full of action. All over town were stages with live music, medieval shows, markets, random guys in knight suits and food tents. Wherever you went in the downtown, it was packed, as it seemed most of the 200,000 people in town came out at some point. About 10,000 were on Domplatz for the fireworks.

The medival section as usual was the best, selling goods from the old days, cooking in huge pots or pans over a large wood fire, everyone wearing clothes from back then, knights in armor walking around, sword shows and gypsy bands playing. You never knew what you were going to see, from the prices being in the Taler (very old currency) or a pirate ship bar, next to 3 bagpipers on stage at the same time.


Sunny side view of the Merchant's Bridge

Looking down from the church tower with the Erfurt Dom and church in the background

Lots of action on the bridge

Sword fight at Wenigemarkt

The Domplatz and the festival

Live music at the Domplatz right before the fireworks

Musicians on the Kramer Brucke

Old fashioned cooking

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Going away party

I'm in my last week in Erfurt. I leave next Friday for the southwest of Germany to visit friends for a few days before flying to Croatia. Last night I had a going away barbeque with a bunch of friends. At the high point, we had 19 people there, plus my roomate Stefan and I. It was awesome, grilling outside with good company, watching soccer on my laptop (Netherlands whooping up on France). Towards the end of the game, it started to rain, so we rushed everything inside, cramming into the kitchen and my bedroom to watch the rest of the game.

After the game was over, we bumped some German music, and then set off for the action in the city, where a huge festival is taking place this weekend. More good times with great people. I'm going to miss everyone here, having made many good friends after just 9 months in Erfurt. The good news is many are still at the start of the university, so they have another 2 years, meaning I can come back for a visit in the near future.

With Ernie, Max and Christian and some local beer from Baden Wurtemburg

Watching the Netherlands beat France outside, streaming it live

Inside the kitchen after the rain started up, with Irish and bald Brendan in the foreground

Kicking it in the bedroom, watching the game

Downtown Erfurt with the crew

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tounge Twisters

My roomate Stefan and I try out German and English tounge twisters
video
video

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Deutschland Fussball (German soccer)

Our group after the grill party, ready to go to the game

Lukas Podalski scores the first goal and the crowd goes nuts

The crowd

Goal!!!!!!!!!

On Sunday evening, Germany played Poland in their first game of the European Championsihps. This isn't something where a few people watch, it's where everyone watches. The question isn't if, but where. After having a grill party with a bunch of friends at my place, we headed up the university to watch on an outdoor screen on the makeshift sandy beach. We got there a half hour before the game and it was packed, but luckily we squeezed into a spot in the middle, where we could see most of the screen. There were an estimated 2000 people there watching the game.

The game was highly entertaining from the start, with Germany almost scoring in the 4th minute, but Gomez messed up. He later messed up again, but was saved by Podalski who scored 2 goals. Over the past year, I've gotten to know most of the players on the team through many games on TV and one in person. Finally on the big stage, Germany came out and whooped Poland 2-0. Lots of cheering, flags and face paint all around. On the walk back home, everyone was honking horns and going nuts, although it was just the first game and was 11pm.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Berlin

Last week after the Baltic sea, I headed down to Berlin with my friends for our final seminar. Our program, Parlimentarisches Patenshafts Program (PPP) is almost over. It's a bit early for a final seminar with still over a month remaining, but the schedule was determined by the Bundestag. We were going to get to get inside their congress and meet some congressmen, and since they are paying for our time over here, when they say come on this day, we come.

We got in, met up with Steffi, my foreign exchange sister from Germany. I had last seen her right before Christmas with my parents. Great to see her again, having fresh watermelon and all of us talking German. Quite entertaining. Then off to our hostel, where all 73 of us in the program were staying. So sweet to see everyone again, as I know all of them and I have a lot of good friends in the program. Felt like a family reunion, with the oldest 25 and the youngest 19.

We had several planned excursions throughout the week in Berlin, with some of the highlights being the boat tour where we saw more than expected and learned a lot in a 3 hour tour; exploring the real Berlin, where the toursits are not to be found; going to a theater where they wore masks, didn't speak and was just plain old brilliant physical comedy; and just hanging out with everyone.

The seminar itself was pretty boring, but I offset that by meeting with my congressman at his personal office. Awesome guy who I've met before and always tries to give me something. This time it was a huge book on Migration, in German, that weighed a ton. I turned that down, but ended up getting a smaller novel in German to read. We talked about Erfurt (where he's from), where to party in Berlin, politics, what I've been up to and where the best currywurst in town is. I got the Bundestag goody-bag on the way out, with a DVD, CD, papers and book on the Bundestag. Not too shabby for a half hour of time.

Me and the Rostock boys Austin and Sean on the boat tour

Cruising on the boat tour with Katie and Reggie, Museum Island behind us

On the Spree River

PPPlers from the Cologne group

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, bombed twice during WWII
Group of PPPlers in front of the Brandenburger Tor

A walking, talking Bratwurst stand. Amazing!
Chilling at an abandoned building, that now has a beer garden in back

Check out the bar in the bus

Berlin's Popstar, Angela Merkel

Friday was our big day at the Bundestag, arriving at 7am, along with almost 300 high schoolers in a similar program. We got to watch congress in action, with people shouting back to the speaker and talking to other people and not paying attention. It was more exciting to watch what the congressmen were doing until Angela Merkel came in. Seeing the Chancellor from afar was awesome, and we all watched her every move, from person to person talking the talk.

After the session was over, several of the congressmen came up to a large room to talk to us and answer questions, such as what is happening with the US dollar and Euro. All in German and interestingly entertaining.

Then off to the Bundeskanzleramt, basically their White House, where we were told we would have a photo taken with Merkel. All 360 of us stood on stairs, waiting along with 7 video cameras and several photographers. When she came in, everyone went nuts, putting a standin ovation to shame. She went right next to where I was for the photo, about 6 feet away. Nuts. So close. Then she said a few words, ended with wishing us the best and saying "bye bye" in her cute German accent. Next up was the US Ambassador Timken, who talked all in English as he knew no German. After the big shots left, we had a buffet and were able to wander around the grounds. Quite an entertaining time there, enjoying a gala at the German white house, all dressed up and looking spiffy.

Waiting to see Merkel with the camera crew behind me

Becky and I feeling the excitement

Here she comes!

The one and only, Merkelnator

Giving a short speech about our year in Germany

Vice-president of the Bundestag talking to us

PPPlers in Berlin!

Donta and I about to meet Angela Merkel