Perusing the City Subdued by European Tragedies [London]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Heading into the last few days of my time here in London is a little bittersweet, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty to do. Since my big trip to Germany, I have embraced my current home in the UK’s capital.

Cricket: The week I returned from Germany, I planned an excursion to a cricket game at The Kia Oval south of Central London. I had heard about cricket from many of my Indian friends at KU, but had never seen or understood the game. So, one day after work, Chelsie and I made our way to the Oval to watch Surrey and Kent battle it out. I spent the first half of the game trying to figure out all of the 50 numbers on the scoreboard and why people cheered when a “batter” hit the ball on the ground past the oval markers. Kent ended up beating Surrey 181-166, but I really had no idea what happened. The atmosphere was very sophisticated with many people in suits and dresses. England recently played India in a multi-day match.

    

Imperial War Museum: Many of you older folks who are reading this blog would be thrilled to visit the Imperial War Museum in London. The museum, as part of our weekly class trip, includes artifacts, videos, facts and information from many of the main European Wars, conflicts and worldwide relations. When first approaching the museum, large cannons surrounded by a garden set the scene for visitors. My first look before entering the museum was a section of the Berlin Wall that says “Change Your Life.” I didn’t spend much time in the museum reading about every war, but the Holocaust exhibit drew my attention. While walking through the dark rooms watching video after video of survivors, my mood shifted swiftly. Leftover items from the concentration camps absolutely show the distress and anguish the Jewish people experienced. Helga, who I visited in my Germany trip, honestly said, “It’s our fault,” [‘Our’ referring to the country of Germany.] I don’t know if she as an everyday citizen should take so much blame, for the rise of Hitler was through public officials.

    

The National Gallery (again): The first time I attended The National Gallery, our class assignment was to look at the portrait portion of the gallery. Don’t get me wrong, the portrait gallery has a great collection, but the “beasts” are found in the main entrances. This was not a required trip, but I had studied several items that are located there, so I wanted to see them first-hand. My courses in Italian Renaissance art provided me with the knowledge to properly understand the items. Works from the hands of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Monet, Titian, Rembrandt and van Gogh amazed me. Unfortunately the gallery has a strict policy for taking pictures, so you can check the items on its website if interested. My favorite painting at the gallery was “Venus and Mars” by Sandro Botticelli. Google Image the work if possible, and take a look at the ornery puti who are hypnotizing Venus and Mars. Below is van Gogh’s “A Wheat field with Cypresses” made with actual nature and a quick snap of Leonardo’s “Madonna of the Rocks.”

  

Portobello Market: I had been to the area once before briefly, but this time, I wanted to spend a bit more time looking through the quaint shops. On the way to the main market street, you can see George Orwell’s former home, a black door small home in Notting Hill. I didn’t get anything besides two things that I wanted to get in France and Germany. For each country I go to, I get a flag (ironically I need to get a USA flag when I get home!) Much to the displeasure of the local Brit clerk, I purchased a French and German flag at a British store. I’m surprised I made it out alive!

Last week’s pubs: One of Chelsie’s guy friends visited this week. Matt works in Canada at Archer Daniel’s Midland seed (competitor of Cargill’s). After work, we helped him become accustomed to London afterwork life at the pubs. We purchased Pimm’s, ciders, beers and food. Surprisingly, last week was the first time I had fish and chips. And many of you who know me, I do not like fish, although, the fried taste of the fish didn’t taste too bad! At least I can say I tried it, as I’m sure many locals will ask about it when I return home.

Victoria & Albert Museum: The past week’s slate included yet another art gallery, but I didn’t complain. The V&A Museum is a world-renowned gallery located near my London home. The class lecture before the trip was about the difference in sport, fashion, music and leisure between the U.S. and the UK. The lecturer criticized the U.S.’s inability to ‘export’ its sports. We took all of Britain’s sports and made them our own: Rugby > Football, Cricket > Baseball, Association Football > Soccer. It’s true, but it goes back to when we differentiated ourselves from Britain with anti-monarchy policies. Our sports were made our own, but they aren’t worldwide sports like soccer and rugby. In terms of music, a video in class highlighted the rebelliousness of British youth against a music swing in the U.S. And in fashion, it is said that Americans dress ‘down’ to show rebellion, but the British dress up to do so… The museum trip included many items like the British Museum. Again, I was most interested in works of the Renaissance period, including flattened reliefs by Donatello, Medician medallions, casts of Michelangelo and cartoons by Raphael. After a day in the museum, I spent a while in a central courtyard, where the sun actually felt warm for a change…

          

Spitalfields Market and Tower Bridge: Saturday I spent alone. Chelsie traveled to Italy for the weekend, so I spent time browsing my interests. I slept in after a long night out in Fulham Broadway. At Spitalfields Market, I browsed through neat stores and sat down to eat some Burmese food. It’s like Chinese and Indian foods combined. After that, I walked by Camden Town and then over to Tower Bridge. I had seen the bridge from distance, but wanted to get a few snapshots close-up. It’s a beautiful bridge with a lot of tourists. Adjacent to the bridge is the Tower of London, a Robin Hood-looking old stone fortress. I didn’t go inside, but it was neat to see the outside architecture.

    

I went home and heard the news…

Amy Winehouse dead at 27: I logged onto Twitter and saw the news that singer Amy Winehouse had died in her home at none other than Camden Town. A little bit eerie that I was in the area at the time she was found, but reports say that she had been dead for nearly six hours before being found. Tragedy in London. London had lost one of the most unique and famed female voices of all time. Her apartment in Camden Town later became the home of piles of flowers, pictures, alcohol and cigarettes. Unfortunately for Amy, drugs got the best of her. Her family was even aware that she could be dead in the next few years if she did not begin rehabilitation. She had started but later quit, leading to her recent demise. To celebrate her life, some of us went out in Camden Town that evening. “Here’s to Amy,” we said. RIP.

A day before in Olso: Tragedy hits to the North. I also caught this one when it was recently reported. Like most, I thought it could be another terrorist attack on innocent people. At first, I heard about the bombing in the city of Olso, Norway, but was surprised to hear more damage was done on an island with teenagers. The Prime Minister came out with a strong statement saying that Norway would not relinquish its democracy and government. I found it an unusual statement because no details had been given about the attacker. Recent reports of Anders Breivik in London shed light on his inability to admit guilt or remorse for his killings. One statement hurts the most: “It’s better to kill too many than not enough.” It was the headline of a daily newspaper in London. Think about this: The event is a complete dichotomy of the al-Qaeda attacks. This man is right wing, Christian Fundamentalist and anti-Islam. He warns the world of a Christian war in the future. I, like the rest of you, send my thoughts and prayer to the victims and families of the attacks. The weekend was a somber one with both the attacks and Amy’s passing.

Entering the last week abroad: Saturday marked a week before the return to America. Sunday, I organized some of my items and prepared for a smooth transition home. I wrote out an agenda for the final week to complete any last-minute events. To be honest, there isn’t much left on my wish list for London. I conquered this city, and I’m glad the last week won’t be rushed.

M2M work picking up: The past couple of weeks at the internship, I’ve been unusually busy with several projects occurring simultaneously. I’ve been doing a lot of Microsoft Excel work with trafficking and coremetric sheets for clients, social media monitoring, contacting clients and compiling creative files. I’ve been moving desks quite a bit, as people come and go from holiday. Friday, after my last day at the internship, the company is expanding to another floor and moving. Too bad I couldn’t be there to help, but instead, I’ll be packing my own bags. The job search is still in progress, as I’m just beginning conversation with potential employers. It’s hard to get too involved, as I won’t be readily available when I return because of my planned wisdom teeth extraction.

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. To say five ‘bucks’, you say five ‘quid’.
2. Common words/phrases of English: “To be honest…”; “Basically”; “You alright?”; “Thanks, cheers, bye.”; “Wicked”
3. Almost all galleries and museums in London are free [and full of tourists!]
4. Public display of affection is very common in London. Couples will be quite intimate on transit, in stations, at restaurants, etc.
5. M&M World just opened in Leicester Square. Yellow M&M shopping bags are taking over London!

  

Hope all is well and that you are bearing the U.S. heat. You may think I’m crazy, but I’m looking forward to it. 1) because I want a summer tan and 2) because I want to wear shorts again!

MRF

Inside the Natural, Charming Lives of Rural Germans [Germany]

Personal Life, Travel

(continued from previous post…)

Helga had given us a fantastic look inside German lifestyle, but the Heldusers were just about to add to that. We took a train from Neustadt to Marburg, where Jürgen would pick us up. Before arriving, we stopped in Manheim and Frankfurt. The train view was outstanding, with green crops and bloomed wildflowers along the way. A small layover in Frankfurt allowed me to get out of the station to see the large city, soon to be the location of the Women’s FIFA World Cup final.. I had never met the Heldusers before. Unlike Helga, they had not visited us in the U.S. because they recently found out we existed. My parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents though did stop by their homes in 2008.

  

Once arriving in Marburg, Chelsie and I exited the station looking for Jürgen. Having no idea what he looked like, we looked for someone who was looking for visitors. I spoke his name loud enough to be recognized and then we met. He seemed excited to meet us and take us around the country. He suggested that we see a bit of Marburg first, so we loaded into his car and winded up on the hill of the city where we would see nothing other than a Schloss! From my previous post, you would know that Schloss means ‘castle’ in German. Jürgen spoke decent English, and we were able to communicate our thoughts for the most part. At the top of Marburg was Marburger Schloss, the castle where the two main religions split into a new reformed faith. We took several photos overlooking the city and of the castle, and our host showed us the area where his wife Ingrid works as a gynaecologist. We sat down at a restaurant on the hill for a beer (Paulaner and Veltins) and then headed off to the small village of Bromskirchen. Another winding car ride it was, but we arrived in the village, noted by a small sign like my hometown.

    

Bromskirchen has about 2,000 inhabitants, several which include my family. The city looked like a master hand had dropped a handful of houses on the top of a hill and they settled in the valley. Red roofs and white houses dominated the town. Only about three streets into the city and we turned left up a hill, and we were there. The house looked familiar from old photos, as my ancestors from Germany had lived in the home centuries ago. The home of course had been modernized, but the outside aesthetic looked similar to the photo. The first house we went to was home of Heinz and Helga Helduser (yes, another Helga!) They welcomed us in, and we immediately went to the back porch where the host served us coffee. We quickly met Thomas, a quite comical character, who was headed off to work at a nearby sawmill. He constructs pretty much anything with wood in a modern technique. He discussed how Germans like American music, but none of the lyrics make sense. I’d have to agree! Manuel and Thomas are brothers and the sons of the house. Manuel volunteers as a firefighter for the village. Daniel, the son of Jürgen, came roaring in on his motorcycle. He and the other young boys spoke decent English, but Heinz and Helga did not. Daniel tried to translate as much as possible.

  

Three desserts stared us in the eye. All were wonderful, especially with a cuppa coffee. We visited for a while, then Heinz and Helga gave a tour of the home. They had recently added onto the side of the house with a new dining room and space for more furniture. The basement is still in old-fashioned condition, but it seemed like Heinz’s “man cave” as Americans might say. A garage connects to the side of the building and a shed holds a tractor and farm tools. Around the side of the house is Heinz’s pride of a garden. He picked sweet cherries from his cherry tree, and carefully crafted rows of vegetables and herbs lined the back yard. Later we would see how the garden provides most of the basis for the organic meals.

    

We then left for a special behind-the-scenes tour from Daniel and Manuel while the family prepared for an evening barbecue. The BMW SUV started down the countryside through meadows with sheep and farm buildings. We got near the bottom of a valley where couple of random small buildings appeared. A semi-steep slope was green, but it is where Bromskirchen’s Ski Club performs in the winter. They both enjoy the winter months in the village. We weaved through the countryside as if it were a bus tour. A large pond at the bottom of bluffs lies near an old saw mill. A cabin-like house sits on the lake, where natives hold parties and functions. Two horses greeted us at the top of the city, and we could see the red roofs in the valley. We petted the horses and snapped some computer wallpaper-like photos and headed back to the village. The Bromskirchen church bell still powers at the hour at the very old building. Daniel showed us his tractor project, where he was painting and replacing parts much like my grandpa Marvin does. At the home, Jürgen was out grilling the meat, and Daniel invited us to help feed his five goats. Four of them were more than eager to eat, but the baby goat was not excited about the company and stayed her distance. Three of the names included Yoshi, Mo and Thor. In the house, the ladies prepared one of the best meals I think I’ve ever had. We sat down for an organic feat. The meat was barbecued on the grill, the salad greens were unique and decadent, a pasta salad with pine nuts was a personal favorite, and grilled tomatoes with goat cheese topped it off. The potatoes were native of the family farm, and it’s admirable that they use no chemicals when farming to keep produce more natural and fresh. German beer and fine Austrian wine lined the table. We had a great visit with the whole family, half the table in English and the other half in German. Heinz gave me heck for being so tall, while Jürgen told me I needed to eat more. Believe me, I was being fed well but was getting no shorter! We said goodbye to most of the family, as Jürgen was taking us to the train station early the next day.

               

Chelsie and I got a good night’s rest and woke up to another good breakfast with coffee. We traveled quite a way through winding forest roads to Cologne (Köln), a large city in western Germany. We arrived and bought our train tickets to the airport. Jürgen took us to the Cologne Cathedral (Dom). It’s a large gothic-style church that took more than 600 years to complete. It still looked like some construction was going on. The height of the church was amazing, almost as if it was touching God. After that, we said goodbye to the host and grabbed a quick meal to eat before the train departed.

      

We crossed the Rhine River on the way to the airport and arrived within 20 minutes. Chelsie and I had some trouble going through security, as we had to check the wine bottles as a bag instead of part of carry-on. When we arrived to the men who checked the passports, we also had to stop longer than usual. When we took the train from Paris to Germany, we didn’t have to go through immigration, therefore, we didn’t have a stamp on our passport. They understood our situation and stamped us there so we could get through when we arrived in Britain.

The plane ride was quick into Gatwick airport. and we took the train home.

It was the highlight of a trip within a trip, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to see my family and the country of Germany. I hope to go back someday, but for now, I’d like to bring back some of the lifestyles and practices of the German people.

To sum it up, live simply.

Biologically German, Realistically Foreign [Germany]

Personal Life, Travel

(continued from previous post…)

Helga, an 82-year-old cousin of my grandfather who was wearing a pink Lacoste polo, stood waiting for us outside of a large garage-like door while the taxi pulled up. I got out and embraced her, as I had met her in the early 2000’s (I think 2003) when she and her son Helge traveled across the pond to our Kansas home. She was more than welcoming of my friend Chelsie, and we proceeded through the outside door into a courtyard where her home stands. It’s a four-floor slim building that is mirrored by her neighbor’s similar-style home. Finally, we had a place to call home, even if it was for two days. She showed us her home briefly. A tall winding staircase connects the floors. The ground floor contains her bedroom, the first floor stands the kitchen, living room, dining room and porch, and the third includes a guest bedroom and living area. Antique trinkets surround the walls. Her fondness for art and painting was evident with the Northern-style landscape paintings. The American presence was quite obvious as well. On the wall was a bird pin that my great-grandma Esther had given her, and on the dining table was none other than an American flag-painted wood star that my family had given them on their USA visit. After acquainting myself with the unique German home, she quickly warmed up a meal she had prepared earlier. The meal, called Tafelspitz, is a common dish in Germany. It consists of meat slices, potatoes and horseradish, mushroom and leek sauces. After finishing a full plate, the host insisted I eat another. (Let’s just say we were well-fed with the Germans.) Helga’s husband Dieter was not present because his sister had died, and he was attending to those needs. Her son Görge is married to a Slovakian and has a daughter named Laurean. Another son Helge was busy at the North Sea Jazz festival or else he would have been present. Her daughter Inke sees an older British man and lives in Brussels.

      

We were completely satisfied with a meal, so we prepared to clean up. Oh no. Helga had desserts lined up. Rice pudding topped with fresh raspberries and a dutch-style cake stared us in the eye. One modern thing in Helga’s house was her espresso machine. She whipped out cappuccinos and Americanos with ease. Chelsie saw quick to head to bed after a nice Paris-cleansing shower. Helga and I were the night owls. We stayed up until 4:30-5 a.m. chatting about the things we missed since her last-decade visit.

She has a strong interest in politics. She keeps an opinionated stance on Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her street is too busy for her liking. As a former interpreter, she enjoys studying languages and lectures. Late night programs about art are interesting to her. ‘The War’ seems to define time, either before the war or after the war. Or maybe because of the war. She shared some Nazi Germany stories. She thinks my English is hard to understand compared to my family. Don’t know why. I made a promise to learn German before I return. Better start now. Ladies and gentlemen, she texts. I’ve texted her twice. She wears a Kansas state quarter necklace (the buffalo and sunflower). Again, she takes blame for the war.

We made an agreement to go to bed. I also showered to remove the Parisian filth.

We woke up to none other than a feast. Helga had prepared fried eggs on King Louis toast, topped with mountain cheese. Croissants in a basket tasted well with her homemade raspberry jam. Coffee again was present, as well as the european standard mineral water (carbonated water). Next to my place sat a packet full of family pictures, most black and white and few in color. She explained the story of how we became related. She knew everyone in each picture and their stories. So-and-so died after getting struck by a falling tree. A widower married a widow to extend the family tree. Surprisingly, we aren’t too far away in relation. I took photos with my iPhone of the pictures she had. Most important to me was a family tree that was designed recently. The history lesson ended with a tour of her porch, which had perfectly-bloomed flowers and bushes. Atop the newspaper headlines of Die Rheinpfalz was Germany’s loss to Japan in the FIFA Women’s World Cup playoffs.

            

That day we loaded into her Mercedes, and she took us across to a connecting town called Hambach. The cities lie next to a large green wooded forest. Through spaghetti-winding roads, we found our way near the top of the mount, where Hambacher Schloss still exists. It is a castle that overlooks Hambach and marks the birthplace of democracy. Chelsie and I spent the time above taking in the clean air and the view. After that, we drove back to Neustadt and went the other direction to Bad Dürkheim. On the way, we saw endless fields of grapevines preparing for a new wine festival. Helga knew how to fly on the ‘Bahn. She parked near a wooden structure that looked like quite eccentric. She earlier had said it was a spa, but my idea of a spa is women laying down with cucumbers over their eyes. We paid a small fee to walk up to the ‘spa’. The place was called Saline Jradierwerk. I will try to explain this, but I think the pictures will be more revealing. Bundles and bundles of black thorn branches from the Ukraine are tightly fit into the tall structure. Water drips from the top through the branches, releasing a salty, sea breeze smell. It seriously smells and feels like you are seaside, and it is good for your skin or if you are sick. The branches last almost yearly, and it adds to Germany’s organic lifestyle. I think in English these are called graduation towers. Wikipedia it.

                

It was about time to eat (again), and Helga drove a couple of parking lots over near the world’s largest barrel called Dürkheimer Riesenfass. Inside the barrel is a nice restaurant, where we stood out as Americans. Several people noticed because we had the waitress wait until Helga explained the menu items in English. Germans in general, were receptive and welcoming, but maybe it was because we were visiting a small non-touristy town. We ordered three dishes (pork, chicken and sausage) and shared them all. Chelsie was fond of the sauerkraut, and I liked the wine. Helga of course insisted we had dessert, so we ordered Black Forest ice cream. During dinner, Helga chatted about her friendships and the people she’s met in her years. She said she met a man at St. Paul’s cathedral in London who would still remember her. She also visited a former classmate at a lecture. I get the feeling she makes lasting impressions. She had studied and worked in Scotland, as they had better education and books for her to utilize when Germany was depleted. She also knows French and Italian quite well.

After yet another filling dinner, we went back to Neustadt. Chelsie and I had to find a place with Internet to do our weekly assignment for our study abroad program, so we found a casino with access. Ironically, we sat next to a couple of Texans who were ‘just biking through’. From there, we walked home to Helga after the heavy rain stopped. We sat in front of ‘the screen’ (or TV) and chatted a while about our next trip north to the Helduser family. Helga had an album of her Kansas trip on an old boat ladder she made into a bookshelf. After sipping on some coffee, she surprised us with gifts she had secretly bought at Hambacher Schloss. She had purchased two pint glasses for Chelsie and me and a bottle of wine that was native to the area. She also gave us some tin glasses she’d never opened that were similar to her place setting. We were so grateful of her generosity. We didn’t stay up very late that evening, as we had to get up to catch a train.

Again in the morning, she had a similar breakfast ready. We loaded the car and prepared to leave Neustadt. Before our train arrived, we had time to spare. She told us to visit her town church near the city plaza. Most German churches have two spires, and this one overlooked the main city centre. We made a quick return back to the station where she walked us to the platform. It was hard to say goodbye after such a short time there, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to see her life. We hugged goodbye, boarded the train to Manheim, our first stop. She waved aimlessly as the train departed and headed back to her Neustadt home.

          

She told me to fulfill my promise. I promised to learn German. Like I said, I need to get started soon.

Danke Helga for the memories.

(Stay tuned for the next German family.)

Battling the Parisian Dawn [Paris]

Personal Life, Travel

Welcome back! I’m sure you’ve been waiting to hear from my most recent trip to France and Germany, and I certainly have a lot to share with you. First off, I want to say that it was the most brilliant trip I’ve ever taken, so much as I need to break it into separate blog posts.

When I last left you, I had gone to see a musical in London. Last Thursday I spent packing and preparing for my journey south. Some of you may know my analytical personality, and naturally I made a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to map out the important times like train/plane times and check-ins.

Friday’s lecture and field trip: Despite being overshadowed by eagerness of the upcoming trip, the Friday lecture and field trip still found its way onto my Canon Powershot camera. The lecture demonstrated and compared Britain’s class-conscious, liberal and secular society with America’s individualistic, conservative and religious lifestyle. Taught obviously by a Brit, the lecturer blatantly described each situation. 70 percent of Americans say they are middle class when 40 percent actually are. This is because one-third aspires to be part of a group in which they do not belong. In the UK, 35 percent define themselves as middle class, a more accurate guess that shows that Brits are class-conscious and do not live ‘the dream.’ Another point the lecturer made was the struggle for America to combat simple issues like abortion and gay marriage. Unfortunately for the USA, its conservative mindset and use of religious context hinder the progress of such issues… So, on to The British Museum we went. The museum looks a lot like The National Gallery and its artwork is quite similar. The museum is full of artifacts from different regions of the world and different periods. My favorite exhibit were the Latin American carved stones.

        

Paris trip begins: After a rushed experience at the museum, I scrambled home to gather my belongings and head to the station to buy train tickets to Luton Airport, a small port west of London. Whist arriving at the station to buy tickets, my travel buddy Chelsie and I became worried we would miss our flight. We boarded the train and made it to Luton in decent time, but we waited in the check-in line just minutes before it closed. Fortunately for us, several were behind us, which made us feel not as behind. The plane included us, as it took off on time, headed to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

This was my first time in a country where the native language was not English. How would I fare? Chelsie had been to Paris before, but did not speak French. Gradually the frequency of English fell to French. It was our second time flying EasyJet. EJ sounds like the Dollar Tree of planes, and in some ways, it is: cheap but decent. The plane landed fine, and we waited for a bus to take us to the city centre. By the time we reached midtown, it was quite late. The bus dropped us off just a look away from the Arc de Triomphe. I snapped a few night shots of it, then headed down the streets with Chelsie to find a decent hotel or hostel.

Another journey began within a journey. Chelsie is one to go right up and ask, which is helpful when I’m tired of asking for things. Place after place, we were disappointed with the outrageous pricing. After checking several, the cheapest place was €75. The place looked like cockroaches were slowly sucking away its time on earth. Tired and hungry, we stopped at a restaurant called Hippopotamus. It sounds like a kids playroom, but it served decent food for the time being. I ordered a margarita to get me through a few more hours. By the time we finished, it was nearing 2 a.m. Chelsie wanted to go to a hotel of €120. Being rational as I am, I thought, why pay that amount for just about 6 or 7 hours of sleep on a bed we don’t know? I got her to keep walking.

We made our way through the Champs Elysees and crossed by several palaces in the dark. Eventually we made it to the Seine River and crossed it to where we could still somewhat see the Eiffel Tower in the city lights.

We agreed to be homeless.

First we wanted to potentially sleep under the Arc de Triomphe, but it was blocked off. Then, we thought a night under the Eiffel Tower would be quite unique. The park near the Tower had whispering voices through the bushes and drunk teens going about weekend business. Mind you, this whole way we lugged our bags in this foreign city. Eventually we needed to sit down. Chelsie used a skirt to wipe off a wet bench overlooking the Seine River, where we would station for the night. We knew we would not get much sleep, but it was the best thing to do because we had to get up early to prepare for the journey to Germany, or so we thought. Chelsie laid down with her head on my chest as I sat up and chatted while she dozed off. A police car approached to check to see if we were homeless people on public property, but because I was upright and chatting, he thought we were just a couple chatting under the moonlight. To pass time, I took her book, ironically called ‘An Idiot Abroad’, and read it aloud to pass the time. We alternated dozing off phases, and watched an actual homeless woman haul her hoarded cardboard boxes to her bench near us. Time actually went by, and Chelsie suggested we wake at 5:30 to ‘get ready’. I looked at her with my blackened eyes in an are-you-kidding-me gaze. Get ready? It’s not like we had a water supply or changing room to exactly prepare for the day. Anyways, we wandered around, the first ones awake to see the city. First we went back to the Eiffel Tower to get better snapshots and then looked for a breakfast place. It seemed as if the owners were pressured by us to get their businesses running. The Eiffel Tower is quite tall as expected with a beautiful garden surrounding it. Chelsie took advantage of morning tea and toast, while I took advantage of a bathroom sink.

      

Moving back toward the Seine, we saw the Esplanade des Invalides on the Pont Alexandre III. We wanted to take a boat tour of the city, but it was only 8 a.m. at this time. Across the bridge was the Grand Palais, where I fell subject to the psychology of homelessness. I was too exhausted to wait up, so I found the back of a statue and curled up and slept as Chelsie towered over me in disgust. A decent rain moved me. We skipped the boat tour and went straight to the Louvre Museum.

    

The French army was up practicing throughout the city and singing its French chants. Disinterested, we moved on to a park before the Louvre. The line was quite long for an early morning at an art museum, but we made it in and started the tour. We go separate ways at museums because we have different interests. I had studied Italian Renaissance art at KU, so I wanted to see several paintings and statues from that period. The museum is massive, and it took about three hours for me to get a decent look. I got to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory statue, paintings by Leonardo and Raphael, statues by Michelangelo and Egyptian art. I wouldn’t have time to sit here and write all about it, but I can expand on it some if you ask me nicely.

          

We were eager to shower and leave Paris. We made it to the Paris l’est train station to get ready to go to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, where cousin Helga lives. After waiting an hour in queue, the horrible French customer service told us that there were only two seats on the next train to Germany: both first class for a total of €375. Um, no thank you. We had to get the later train, which came at 7 p.m. At that time, it was only 1 p.m. Again, we were hungry, so we thought, why not get a bottle of wine and cheese in Paris? Chelsie can explain how I became narcoleptic at the restaurant. I was seriously falling asleep mid-sentence. We got out of the main public eye back at the station. We became quite rowdy off of no sleep, but became homeless-ish again. I found a small nook in a baggage claim office where I could plug in my phone. We sat our alarms to get ready for the train later in the day. I slept some, and so did she. The alarm went off, and I phoned Helga to let her know of our arrival time.

The train to Saarbrücken, Germany was decent and fast. I don’t remember much of it. We had about an hour layover in the city, so we took extra advantage of large bathrooms at the station. I changed clothes even though I was unclean as ever. A neat market area had some country fries at a good price, so we spent our first euros in Germany there. Time was going quickly now, and we took a short train to Kaiserslautern. Luck again was not on our side, as the rail between Kaiserslautern and Neustadt was being repaired. We took a sketchy bus from there to Neustadt, arriving an hour later than planned. In the back of my mind was, “I hope we are not keeping Helga up too late…” Boy, was that not true. We finally arrived and looked for her. No sight of her. I phoned her and she said to take a taxi, which was about four blocks to her house.

We greeted the 82-year-old woman and then began our fondness for Deutschland…

(Stay tuned for a sleep-included German post.)

Independence and Freedom in the UK [London]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Well, we’re now in July, and you know what that means. I’m coming home this month! Good news for you, bad news for me. Not that I don’t care to come home, but London and the other places I’ve traveled have been brilliant. I write this blog post less than 24 hours until my next big trip, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about within the next week. This week though, I stayed around these parts and did a few things on my bucket list.

Last Friday’s lecture and trip: The previous week’s lecture taught the topic of Britain becoming a world industrial power. Britain’s rise was split into two periods, 1945-1979 or post-World War II and 1979 to present day. Enough with the lecture, I was ready to go to the National Science Museum, which was only about a 10 minute walk from home. The museum, located in South Kensington, was our first modern technology museum, but it did include quite a bit of history. The first floor had old steam engines and machines that Britain used first as an industrial power. The floors progressed in time as you went up, the second describing how human anatomy works. Small peanut-shaped learning modules helped put science into simple terms. After checking out how the brain works, I made my way over to the ‘sex’ exhibit. No, not sex, but gender. One module had a sex change application where one takes a picture of himself and watches as the computer changes into the opposite sex. The only thing I gathered from that was that the computer made the male figures box-headed, and gradually got fatter and rounder when changing into female… After that I headed to the atmosphere floor, then on up to the future floor, which described futuristic events, such as men having children, global warming, etc.

        

Even though it was not a required trip, I had desired to go to the Natural History Museum next door. It is an absolutely stunning building from the outside, and it’s seriously as big as it looks. When you arrive inside, it seems as if you are part of the movie, The Night at the Museum. A long, stretched dinosaur skeleton elongates the entrance. Side hallways stretched to exhibits of prehistoric dinosaurs, birds and mammals. Most of the museum shows the evolution of life, and its father Charles Darwin sits as a statue in a chair on the way to the second floor. Despite the animals, I held more interest in the architecture of the building. Take a look at some of the images I snapped.

            

That evening I went out for some Pimm’s, my new favorite drink of choice. Pimm’s, native to Britain, is a ginger-tasting liqueur that is mixed with lemonade and fruit to make the special Pimm’s. A pitcher of it makes about five glasses, so it’s economical! After a few of those, I headed to a bar called Strawberry Moon, a laid back club with modern hits, classics and 1990’s tunes.

Saturday shopping: Dad, you might not want to read this as my bank account might have taken a hit on July 2, 2011. Ok, I was in need of a few pairs of pants. The jeans that I brought are outdated and ill-fitting, so I decided to spend a little on a few nice pairs. Oxford Circus is an area full of modern stores: River Island, Urban Outfitters, Zara and New Look. I bought a couple pair of chinos, or colored khakis as you might call them. They were only £29, or roughly $45. Not bad for a pair of nice pants. I also got some nice dark jeans that go well with work clothing. Needless to say, I was exhausted at the end of the day, so I spent the evening updating my resume to prepare for a job search the next week.

Sunday sports and worship: Because I was able to get some rest, I woke up early on Monday to do a few items on the bucket list. First, I headed to Emirates Stadium up north, where the football (soccer) team Arsenal plays its games. It’s a beautiful stadium in a rough area, and it was cool to see the jerseys and items in the store as well. I know my roommates in Lawrence would be jealous! It’s disappointing that football season here isn’t happening, but I hope to see a game someday. After that, Notting Hill was on the list. No, I was not interested in finding the door where the movie Notting Hill took place. The vintage shops and unique stores caught more of an interest at Portobello Market. I didn’t buy anything, but I had a great Moroccan and chorizo burger for lunch. Next on the list was a church service at Westminster Abbey. The evening service started at 6:30, and we got second row seats. The service took place where William and Kate got married and where Charles Darwin and Dickens were buried. Goosebumps covered my body as the small congregation alternated prayer with song. The bishop’s voice echoed through the height of the abbey and it was an unforgettable experience. I kept a program of the service, but I was not allowed to take photos.

      

Fourth of July: Now, how was I going to celebrate the independence of my home country in the country it gained independence from? Well, after work on American Independence Day, I found an ‘American’ bar in Chelsea where flags were flying. It had a beautiful garden in the back where we ordered burgers and chips, but unfortunately they did not have American beers. On to the next place. A couple of us found a rooftop where red, white and blue balloons moved with breeze. Then we stumbled upon a VIP section, where we met the cast of Made in Chelsea, a reality TV show about the lives of Londoners (sort of like Gossip Girl or the OC). We somehow ended up in a mini photo shoot with the cast. Maybe they thought our American-ness would boost viewership? Not sure where these photos ended up. Maybe a magazine cover? The photo below is us Americanos.

Internship: I spent most of my internship this week getting my required assignments done, and then searching for jobs online to apply for. I’m mostly looking into advertising agencies or marketing firms for a career in client or account service. My passion for sports could also play key in where I end up. I’m hoping to hear back from some contacts this next week, so I’ll keep you posted if anything looks good!

Wednesday at the theatre: Part of our program for KU included a trip to the Victoria theatre to Billy Elliot: The Musical. It’s about a young boy whose dad wants him to grow up as a boxer during the troubled time of mining strikes in Britain. Billy instead draws interest in ballet and has a unique talent. Because of unemployment, his dad is angry, and becomes angrier when he hears his son is involved in ballet. Through all the hardships, his dad helps him get to a famous ballet school in London with the help of his coworkers. It was all a dream for Billy, as he’d like his late mother to see his accomplishments. The play was absolutely fantastic, and I think it’s something London does best. I recommend seeing a show here if you ever travel to the UK.

It’s getting quite late here, but I couldn’t bear without writing a post for so long. Getting so close to my big trip!

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. The ABC’s. We say the letter ‘z’ as “zee.” The English say “zed.” Don’t ask why.
2. Common welcoming and departing phrases are similar to ours but slightly different. Bye is sometimes changed to bye-uh, and hi is sometimes changes to hi-yuh.
3. The News of the World scandalous publication is closing after 168 years on Sunday, due to a phone hacking allegation.
4. Snog is a frozen yogurt place I like to eat at. ‘Snog’ means ‘kiss’ in British English.
5. Campers set up tents outside of Parliament (Big Ben) to protest top worldwide issues.

I’ll be back soon after my trip!

Best,

MRF