A Peninsula Jam-Packed for Laid-Back Days [San Francisco]

Personal Life, Sport, Travel

Wow, it’s been quite some time since I’ve written. From time to time I think of my blog and how my little changing day-to-day life doesn’t provide much inspiration for a post. I also think that my Instagram and Twitter accounts hold smaller snippets of my life, even if that’s 140 characters or less.

Well, now I have something exciting to write about! This might as well turn into “Michael’s Travel Blog,” as I find my trips more interesting to write about and generate the most site traffic.

As you can tell from the blog post title, I spent some time on a long Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco, Calif. Last October was my first time on the West Coast when I visited Seattle and had a great visit. This being my second time to the West Coast, I knew that I wanted to visit California. A former coworker from Chicago recently moved to The City by the Bay when her agency account moved offices. We used to work together briefly on the State Farm account in Chicago, before she switched over to Nintendo at Zenith.

Our agencies were gracious enough to grant us Friday off, making the weekend four days with the Memorial Day holiday.

Thursday evening, the night before I left for California, I participated in the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge 5K Race in Chicago. Wearing OMD-designed neon yellow shirts, we ran the 3.6 mile race downtown on Columbus Drive. I felt pretty good the whole race and ended up with a time of 30:15 and a 8:39 min/mile. This was a personal best for me, so I was content going into vacation mode. The weather was most odd compared to neighboring days, with the temperate in the high 40’s during the race. Regardless, I went home, packed, and got a few hours of sleep before waking up to depart from Midway Airport.

When I woke up the next morning, my ankle was a bit sore, but when I looked, the bottom of my foot toward my heel was purple and a little swollen! I knew it felt a bit funny at the end of the race, but didn’t realize its severity. Nevertheless, I departed about at 8:30a CT. On the flight, I sat next to some newly-engaged, newly-married, and hopelessly-single ladies who were on their way to another wedding in Napa. Toward the end of the flight, a line of small vodka bottles lined their tray tables, until the flight attendant came by and forced them to finish, as the plane was descending.

Throughout the flight, I saw some amazing mammoth lakes, mountains and basins:

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Upon landing, I retrieved my bag and rode the BART train to my friend Meredith’s apartment at the north part of the peninsula. The trip from the airport to downtown reminded me a lot of Seattle, with lots of green hills and clean air. Moving north, I was surprised to see what seemed to me like favelas, a shantytown of bright-colored boxed homes. All homes were of pastel colors, with a few less daring with natural/earth tone colors. Moving into the city, I got off the train and trekked to Meredith’s place. I was well-warned by those who had been to San Fran, advising to wear comfortable shoes for the steep hills. My time at the University of Kansas prepared me with the daily climb up Mount Oread, and San Francisco certainly had a few “Mount Oreads.” Chicago, being flat, doesn’t require much calf usage, but with my semi-sprained ankle, I was sweatin’ bullets upon arrival to Meredith’s. She lives in a quaint apartment near Japantown, but a great and accessible location for all of our excursions. I sat down for a breather, hoping my calves would recover in the moment.

Hungry and anxious, Meredith and I went to a restaurant nearby called “Dunya” for some nice Mediterranean food. I got an adana lamb kabob with a Coke as a refresher.

The weather was perfect. If you’re not familiar with San Francisco, the weather really doesn’t change all year. Highs around 65 and lows around 50. After lunch, we took a walk to Delores Park in the Mission District. The park boasts a fairly-steep hill where citizens can relax, play with their dog, or hang with friends, all while viewing a panoramic of the cityscape. Meredith and I took some time to catch up and people watch.

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After a rest, Meredith and I walked down to get a good view of the north peninsula at sunset, with view of the Golden Gate Bridge. To round out the day, we enjoyed dinner at a Peruvian restaurant called “Fresca,” where I had sangria and Chuleton y Carapulcra – grilled pork chop, sun-dried potato stew, peanuts, sautéed spinach, tamarind glaze. Running on a few hours of sleep, a long plane ride, and a pretty-eventful Day 1, I was glad to check in for the night!

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Sleeping in a few extra minutes was nice on Saturday. After gathering ourselves for Day 2, we took the cable car transit to Open Market at the Ferry Building. In the courtyard in front of the building, local vendors, farmers and performers showcased the best of San Fran. We browsed for a bit before smelling food and thus, became hungry. Several options were available, including seafood, Mexican, vegan, pizza and American. I chose Mexican, where I ordered carnitas tacos, homemade tortilla chips and a strawberry lime drink. We sat next to the bay on the dock and devoured our food while enjoying live music. Walking down the dock to get a closer look at the bay and crosstown neighbor Oakland, we snapped a few pictures before noticing that a man on a bench was doing a few lines of cocaine. We thought this was a bit public, but admired his audacity!

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Meredith had booked day tickets to Alcatraz Island weeks before to secure a spot on the tour. We had some time to kill so we walked up and down the numbered piers until our time was called for the ferry to Alcatraz. San Fran has their own “Navy Pier” of sorts at Pier 39, across from Meredith’s work. We boarded the ferry to Alcatraz Island, along with a bunch of foreigners. On the ride across the bay, the wind was almost unbearable, but we got fantastic views of the city and Golden Gate bridge.

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Upon arriving to Alcatraz, we walked up a sloped hill where some of the prison buildings remained in ruins. Our audio tour inside the prison itself, though, was well-preserved and educating. The cells showed minimal conditions for inmates, and some of the stories on audio indicated the creativity and insanity of the inmates. Outside was a recreation area for inmates, as you can see the patch of grass for baseball is still intact. Some of the stories on audio included the few but intense attempts to escape. A couple of men actually did escape the prison, by using a steel kitchen spoon to scrape away at the concrete and escape through the utility hallway. To this day, these men have not been confirmed dead or alive. Stopping the audio for a break, the panoramic views of the city were best from Alcatraz. The dining area was called the “gas chamber” by inmates, for gas nozzles were in the eating area in case any nonsense broke out. The prison was later closed because of high costs to operate.

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We took the ferry back to the peninsula and caught a cab to the nearest (and probably only) Chicago bar (called Monaghan’s) to watch the Chicago Blackhawks play in Game 5 of the playoffs. They ended up winning, forcing a Game 6 and hopes alive for the Stanley Cup. The bar was interesting, as we were planning to just watch the game. Upon walking in, a golden retriever and an English bulldog were hanging out and catching any popcorn crumbs on the floor. Apparently the crowd was pounding drinks while Meredith and I were at Alcatraz, because it turned into a bunch of messy girls and desperate guys! A Game of Thrones themed party later showed up, giving us our cue to leave. We went back home, got some pizzas from Whole Foods and called it a night. We both enjoy the show Parks and Recreation, so we took some time to catch up on the episodes.

Again, we slept in a little bit. Little did I realize I got a little tan color from being out in the sun! The temperature was never hot, but I think being outside all day gave me a little flavor. We knew that Sunday was time for baseball! Similar to Meredith getting the Alcatraz tickets, I had purchased Giants tickets weeks before for the Sunday game against the Colorado Rockies. I strategically-planned the location of our seats, so that we could see the field, the Bay Bridge, McCovey Cove and all of the sights. I had a margarita and burrito bowl for lunch. One of my goals, for those of you who don’t know, is to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. My proof is to purchase a pint glass from each stadium, in which someday my kitchen cabinet will only have MLB glass pint glasses. After finding that, we found our seats and “oooh’d” and “awwwe’d” at the view. So far, it’s the most beautiful stadium I’ve seen. Located right along the bay, a homerun will splash the water. The fans are attentive. The reigning World Series champions are beloved in the city and it was great to share that feeling. AT&T Park marks the sixth park I’ve been to (Kansas City, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee and Minnesota being the others). I have quite a way to go to get to 30! My friend Luke and I (who I previously traveled with on an MLB trip), plan to do another trip soon, so maybe I’ll get to 10 by then.

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We went back and relaxed for a bit, before dinner came around and we went to B Star, a Burmese restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood. We had a starter Tea Leaf Salad (romaine, ginger, garlic, peanuts, sunflower & sesame seeds, tomatoes, lentils, jalapenos, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and fermented tea leaf) and I had some Dragon tea. For an entree, I had Pumpkin Pork Stew (natural tender pork stew with kabocha squash & ginger with coco rice.) It was one of the best plates I’ve had! We took a look around the neighborhood before going home and having a cider before bed.

Monday – my last few hours in the city were here! I cleaned up and packed my things up to have ready for later. Meredith and I had a final meal at Toast, where I had the Polk Street Omelet (avocado, spinach, bacon, onions, and cheddar). After that, we made a long walk to “The Painted Ladies” which are across from Alamo Square and are well-known as the intro background for the TV show Full House. Fun fact, the actual Full House house is actually about a mile away, and is commonly mistaken as one of the Painted Ladies. This was a unique part of my trip for sure. It started to rain lightly for the first time all weekend, and we made our way back to Meredith’s so I could get my things to leave.

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Knowing that the walk back to the BART was downhill, I was a bit relieved going into my departure. Riding the BART from downtown, through the “favelas” and finally to SFO, I browsed through my Instagram at some unique and amazing photos I had captured during the trip. I had a connector flight in Los Angeles (LAX); I arrived in LA at 6:45p PT. The Blackhawks were then playing in Game 6 against Detroit in a must-win situation. I had to shut down my phone before the third period had started, so I did not know the result until I arrived in Chicago at 1:15a CT (they won!). I couldn’t sleep on the flight, so I read my KU alumni magazines from front-to-back and failed miserably to complete this one level on Angry Birds. It did pass the time, though!

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Riding in a cab back to my apartment past downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan, I realized how much different San Fran is than anywhere I’ve seen. I enjoy expanding my views of the country and world, and San Fran certainly was unduplicated in my eyes! My next day at work was filled with “How was San Fran?” questions, and I was excited to talk about it <and show off my slight tan!>

Much thanks to Meredith for the hospitality and being a great friend/tourist-in-crime!

Until the next adventure…

Michael xx

Packing London and Bringing it Home [London]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Hi there,

I’m no longer writing you from six hours later time. I returned to the United States on Saturday evening to the welcoming arms of my parents and sister. Even though I’m back, I want to update you through my final days in the Kingdom.

Wicked: Right after I last wrote, I went to Wicked The Musical at the Apollo Victoria. The EUSA program provided us students with free tickets to random events across the City. I chose Wicked as my free event because I had heard a lot of good things about it, and why not see something that relates to the Wizard of Oz being from Kansas? Wicked is the preface to the Wizard of Oz and explains how Glenda (the good witch) and Elphaba (the bad witch) came to be, as well as the tin man, lion, scarecrow and Dorothy. Like the last musical I saw, the voices were outstanding and acting was spot-on. I still think that the original Wizard of Oz is better though.

  

Last day at M2M: Thursday was my final day at my internship with M2M. Most of the people during the day were packing up, much like me, although, they were heading to the floor above. The company has grown and expanded enough to add another floor. My last day consisted of pulling some final reports and chasing clients for documents needed to make deadlines. At the end of the day, the agency surprised me with a gift. Everyone had signed a card with nice notes. Along with the card were four movie DVDs, all Momentum Pictures productions, one of our clients. One of the movies was The Fighter, a movie that gained rave reviews. From there we went to a social at a park not too far away. Awaiting us was Pierre, a Frenchman who works in digital media. His job was to inform us how to play pentanquet, a game similar to boules. Each team alternates trying to throw a heavy ball near the “jack”. The closest team’s ball at the end of the round wins. My team did quite well to start out with, but was defeated on the last throw by the opposing team. It was a great time, and I got to know some people even better. Drinks were provided, and of course I had some Pimm’s.

Farewell party: From pentaque, the other intern Grace (from Buffalo, New York) and I went to our student farewell party located near King’s Cross station. The place was called Smithy’s, where we were served bangers and mash for dinner as well as free drinks. I spent the rest of the night watching British television at our place.

Friday’s class and field trip: I entered my last full day in Britain with a lecture about power and sovereignty. The final field trip was to Tate Britain, a modern art gallery. A lot of the modern items included objects, lighting, abstract art and perspective. One of the pieces was literally a trash bag with pink paint on it, although, the pink ‘paint’ was made of women’s products like toothpaste, cooking ingredients, cleaning materials, etc. My favorite item was an Native American headdress made of the metal from a wash bin.

      

Hyde Park picnic: Friday afternoon, Paige, Chelsie and I created a wonderful end to a great trip with a picnic in Hyde Park. The weather was near perfect, and the swans were out on the lake. Our meal included brie cheese, salami, baguette, English black grapes, beets, pasta salad, chocolate minstrels and boxed French wine. We all spent a while laying in the grass looking up to the British sky for a last time. For me, it was a time to collect my thoughts before the subsequent day of jet lag. From the park, you can also see Kensington Palace, an official residence of the Royal family.

    

Dinner in Soho: Not long after our picnic, it was time for dinner. We went to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Soho where we would find a nice Italian restaurant. I ordered a sausage pizza and olives with wine. After that, we went to none other than Snog, the recurring location for my late night frozen yogurt cravings. I needed to go home to pack, and so I did. I made a pile of what I needed to take home, things I needed to throw away and things I wanted to donate.

The day of departure: I woke up to finalize my packings and to clean up the room before I left. To be honest, I will not miss the room I stayed in because of its size, along with the bathroom for the same reason. I said goodbye to Chelsie, who was staying several weeks past the program to peruse Europe with her mother. My suitcase was quite heavy, but everything fit that needed to. Paige and I, who traveled together, made our way to our Gloucester station and headed to Heathrow Airport. We arrived in plenty of time and waited to board the plane to Minneapolis, our first and only stop. The nine-hour flight nearly drained me. First, the audio did not work on my screen, so I couldn’t watch the movie to pass the time. Second, I’m too tall to have sufficient leg room anywhere. I was able to doze off in 30-minute increments, but that’s about it. We arrived in Minnesota safe and sound, but goodbye in-shape people and British accents. The Minnesota airport greeted us with thick northern Midwest accents and unflattering clothing. There wasn’t much of a wait until we headed to Kansas City. The flight to KC seemed like a car ride across town, after surviving nearly half a day on the first flight. I sat near a baby once again, but the flight was short enough to keep my sanity. After walking off the plane, I was back home. My mom, dad and sister stood waiting for me, probably expecting me to look different. I don’t think I did, but I’m sure I looked a bit weathered. We left, got a quick snack, and after a while, I was back in my childhood home; back in my 6’5″-friendly bed; and back to rural life.

And welcomed by American debt politics on TV.

Lucky me.

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.)

125 years of Wimbledon [London]

Personal Life, Travel

As you have probably seen on TV, Wimbledon is in full swing in London, and the players are heading into the final weekend. Before I came abroad, I knew I wanted to experience the Championships. After getting off work, I rushed to the train station to take the train down to Southfields, where I walked about five or six blocks to Wimbledon Park. I entered a queue line where you get a numbered ticket (so no line-jumping!), and I waited and waited to just get into the grounds. I was in line for about an hour and a half and was only able to see the top of the tennis court buildings.

Once Andy Murray beat Feliciano Lopez and Rafael Nadal beat Mardy Fish, officials opened the grounds to the rest of the people in line, which were thousands. I got in the grounds in enough time to experience a Centre Court match. Gentlemen’s Invitational Doubles was playing the final Centre Court match of the day. It was a fun atmosphere, as doubles usually is, and I was glad I got to see the world’s most famous grass court stadium. After that, I stopped by match on a smaller court that featured USA’s Lisa Raymond.

From there, I met up with some friends and had some pizza, a beer and some Wimbledon-famous strawberries and cream. It is literally strawberries with heavy cream on top, but still delicious. I got a few things at the store on the grounds to mark my experience at the 125th Championships at Wimbledon.

                    

Today was my last day of work for the week, as I have a How Britain Works class on Fridays and an afternoon field trip.

Who do you have winning it all? Sharapova or the underdog? Murray, Nadal, Djokovic or Tsonga? I can assure you that the Brits are pulling for Murray.

MRF

Stoned in History and Club Beats [England]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

Just as I was about to write about the wonderful 85° weather the past few days in London, it started downpouring midday. I’m sure the folks out at Wimbledon aren’t too happy about this. Anyway, the past week has been full of nice weather, an unbelievable historical venture and the first use of my shorts. I hope all at home near the floods are staying safe and above ground!

Internship: Work has been going great, and they have me doing a lot of DFA research using AdRelevance, which measures the specific amount of clicks, impressions, costs and orders from advertisements and campaigns on specific websites. It requires a lot of Microsoft Excel input and formulas that calculate averages, sums, percentages and cost (£). The experience in digital ad research will give me a head start understanding how media planners and buyers work in an ad agency. I’ve started to browse jobs for when I return, but I’m torn between going the agency route or sticking on the corporate side. Like many professors and friends have said, one’s first job may not be the ideal one, but it sets a foundation for what you do later in a career. Oh, and we all went out for about an hour during lunch for drinks on Monday!

Early weekend: Thursday night a bunch of us went to Mrs. Q’s in nearby Earl’s Court. For those who know Lawrence, it’s a mix between Quinton’s and Tonic, a vintage-looking building with modern lights and music. A bunch of KU folks joined us, so it really did feel like Quinton’s. The place also had a few pool tables, so I was able to use my skills from the pool table back home. Oddly enough, when I went the restroom (toilet), I rinsed off my hands and there was a guy waiting there to squirt soap in my hands and provide me with a towel. I’m still unsure who exactly he was supposed to be to this moment…

Friday’s class and trip: The class lecture on Friday discussed political systems in Great Britain. The country has three main parties: Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats. The lecturer discussed how our meaning of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ completely differs from theirs. Another major difference is the polarization of the parties. He said that Britain’s political parties work more together even though they have different platforms. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Dave Cameron were all of discussion as Prime Ministers. Let’s just say that Britain doesn’t spend as much money and time with elections as we do in the U.S. In the meantime, I’m receiving emails from the Obama 2012 campaign… The afternoon trip was to the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of London National Gallery adjacent to Trafalgar Square. The gallery included Tudor, Elizabethan, Stuart, Civil War, Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, 20th Century and contemporary portraits. We were able to map the political evolution of figures. Old portraits include stern faces and emotion, good posture and elaborate clothing. As you move toward modern era, portraits become more emotional and relaxed with more of a focus on setting than bodily features. I saw artwork by Andy Warhol, the portrait of William Shakespeare and contemporary art of Susan Boyle, Tony Blair and nude beaches. Oh, and on our way to the gallery, I spotted a transit ad of a boy wearing a KU shirt. I forget what it was promoting, I think a charity or world fund, but it was a Kansas Jayhawks 2006 football t-shirt. Odd, huh?

                    

Saturday’s trip West: Early Saturday morning our KU group headed west about an hour and a half to the countryside, where sheep and cattle grazed the land. Over the hill stood a circular wall of rocks, one of the Wonders of the Middle Ages, Stonehenge. Before going to the rocks, I walked by a rock near the entrance known as a magical rock. I touched it of course, and seriously felt something surge through my arm. (No, I’m not crazy!) Walking up to the rocks, everyone receives personal audio guides for markers around the rocks. You can only get within 40 feet of the rocks, which is frustrating, but it’s still so surreal to see it. A manmade ditch still somewhat exists from prehistoric times (3000 B.C.), as it protects the rocks. Stonehenge literally means, “hanging stones.” Some sources say they were meant for sacrifice or hanging persons and animals, and the ditch served as the “burial” of the dead. The 360° walk under a clouded sky created a great experience. The site isn’t interactive, but rather an emotional, surreal experience for everyone. Druids were around to celebrate the summer solstice at the rocks.

               

After Stonehenge, the group traveled to Salisbury, a nearby city with a lot of history. We had lunch at a local pub and gathered to our next destination. In the meantime, some of us watched a wedding couple walk out of a cathedral as people waited to celebrate outside. It was interesting to see the dress of people. Women wore derby-like hats, much like Kate Middleton. After that, we headed to Salisbury Cathedral, a gothic style church constructed in the 1200’s. The outside is standard gothic, with the tallest spire in England. In the entrance, we could hear a choir and orchestra of about 200 practicing for an upcoming performance; goosebumps as I walk to a reflective fountain in the middle of the church. Next, I studied the gears of the world’s oldest working clock, dating back to 1386. The nave and transepts have enourmously-high ceilings with ribbed vaults and pointed arches, a signature to gothic style. Stained glass adorns the side chapels and tombs lie in any open side space. In some areas, one can see modern art combined with ancient, a great experience for artists and architects. On the way out, a courtyard with gothic arcades made way to a quite important room. The room included one of the four copies of the Magna Carta. THE Magna Carta. The document is beautifully scribed on lasting paper, and the lines were straighter than lined paper. After the cathedral, we wrapped up and headed back to Londontown. Stonehenge, the Cathedral and the Magna Carta in one day, unbelievable.

                                                  

Top-rated Saturday night: After returning from a long day in the countryside, a few of us wanted to enjoy more of the day. Late at night we had planned to go to Ministry of Sound, one of the top nightclubs in the world. We found ourselves not there, but at a nightclub called Fabric, the #2 nightclub in the world. The experience was amazing. The bottom floor contains the dance floor, the nucleus of the club. It is rated so great because it’s bass and subs are located under the dance floor. So, you seriously feel vibrations of the music flow through your legs to your torso. The music is electronic/house/techno genre, so no words, just beats. The above floors are casual drinking areas, and their balconies overlook the dance floor below. Unbelievable night, and yes mom, I made it home fine. 🙂

Sunday market: After resting up from Saturday, a few of us went to Camden Town, a large market full of food, souvenirs, stores and tourists. It was almost too crowded and touristy for most of us, but we enjoyed the unbelievably warm temperatures and Thai food. Later that evening, I made the best food I’ve had here with my friend Chelsie, a stir fry of whole wheat noodles, peppers, pork, teriyaki sauce, onions, brown sugar and spices. I haven’t talked much about the food here, but everything is bland. The carrot cake doesn’t taste like anything. The spaghetti doesn’t have any spice, the cookies have little to no sugar. Maybe it’s good to locals, but I feel like almost all the dishes could have been enhanced with some sort of spice, herb or ingredient. I can’t wait to have food in Paris and Germany.

Monday after work: I recently implemented some planned trips around London in my iCalendar in my MacBook Pro, and yesterday included one of those. After work, I went to Abbey Road to see the Beatles’ home. Had to take a picture of the crosswalk of course and of the walls in front of the studio. The studio is getting a bit of a facelift, but you can still see all of the writing and graffiti that lines the gates in front of the building.

          

Nothing is planned for this afternoon, as I might try to get some laundry done. Tomorrow I will try to go to Wimbledon, even though I know it will be packed. I really wanted to see one of the Williams sisters, but unfortunately they both bowed out on Monday.

My five London tips/fun facts of the week:
1. Gas prices around these parts are ~£1.35. Think cheap? Not so fast. That’s per liter, and there are 3.7854118  liters in a gallon, making a gallon of gas here about $5.11 USD.
2. Cell phone numbers here do not use area codes. Instead, they replace area codes with the cell phone provider code. Because I have an O2 phone here, my code is 776. If one has Orange or Vodaphone, they will have a different code.
3. You don’t have to tip at restaurants. Glory, right? Waiters are paid regular wage, and you only really tip at a nice place, but only 10%.
4. Brits sign text messages with an ‘x’ or two at the end if they are texting someone they love or are interested in. It’s similar to xoxo at the end of a letter, but now just one ‘x’ can symbolize endearment.
5. Cilantro is coriander. Detergent is non-/biological powder. Sketchy is dodgy. Ground beef is mince beef. Ovens are hobs.

Cheerio from the 2012 Olympic host city,

MRF

Climbing and Surviving [Scotland]

Internship, Personal Life, Travel

It’s 11:11, make a wish! Well, I know at this time you are in bed (or at least should be), but I wanted to share my Scottish experience from the past weekend.

Before making a travel up north, last week was my first week at my internship at M2M. I’ve been working on clients like Estee Lauder companies, Historic Royal Palaces and Momentum Pictures. My coworkers are quite nice, and I enjoy the sarcastic nature of Londoners. Work for me begins at 9:30 and lasts until 5:30. I usually take my lunch break at 13:00, or 1:00 p.m., as most do. For those of you who struggle in the afternoon, try to extend the morning by taking a later lunch, which makes the home stretch not as long and drawn out. Most what I’ve been doing so far is making screengrabs of advertisements that have been placed online to prove to the client that the campaign is live. For a few days I also created URL links for parts of a website, advertisement links and images. This week so far, I’ve been working on a social media review of Estee Lauder competitors. – Friday class last week was about race and immigration in Britain. The lecturer was quite outspoken about America’s past of slavery, putting it in company of Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. He praised Britain for banning slavery before it could start, and he suggested that America is still “race conscious.” I wanted to ask how western Europeans, including British, were excluded from the conversation in regard to settling in America and wiping out the Native American population (oh well). The afternoon trip was to the Museum of London, which included the chronological advancement of the city. Here are some snapshots of the museum.
                   
I spent early Saturday taking a bit to sleep in, and then walked around the Chelsea neighborhood for a while. In my first celebrity sighting since the queen, I saw Jesse Metcalfe, known most as the young gardener on Desperate Housewives and his role in John Tucker Must Die. After that, my friend Chelsie and I packed up and headed to Liverpool Station, where we’d catch a train to Stansted Airport north of the city. On the way to the airport, it was really our first view of abundant grass, and we saw sheep, horses and cattle on our way. Once arriving to the airport, we boarded a plane and headed to Edinburgh, Scotland. Why Edinburgh? Well, from the beginning I thought a trip up north would provide a better understanding of Great Britain than just London.

Once arriving north of Edinburgh, the weather was dark, rainy and quite chilly as expected. A busride took us into the city at about 9:30 p.m., where we saw Edinburgh Castle and the skyline in a mist, creating a mystical feel for the city. We headed up to the main street after briefly looking around to begin a search for a hostel to stay. Let’s just say that Edinburgh’s streets were not laid out like America’s gridpaper. One street diverges into four, then comes a roundabout that creates even more confusion. After finding our way around, we found a decent hostel, but come to find out, it was film festival weekend, one of the most busiest weekends for the city. We spent the next half hour calling about 12 places, all of which were booked. It finally set in that we would be homeless in Scotland. Neither of us really panicked, so we went out for a few drinks, first at Grassmarket then to Picardy Street. The places then closed, and we were hungry, so we found the only place open at 4 a.m., a quite busy place. I ordered a standard hamburger and fries to get me by. The eatery closed. What now? Well, my friend Chelsie had gone outside while I was using the toilet, and she started making conversation. I came out, met a couple of Scottish guys with her, and within 15 minutes, we had a place to stay. My analytical nature immediately questioned the situation, but the aura and nature of the guys seemed inviting and welcoming. We arrived at the apartment of Umberto, a Scottish-Italian 23-year-old who works at his dad’s Sicilian bakery and pastry shop. His apartment was quite nice, and much to my surprise, he had a massive wall banner of a Native American chief. He said he thought it looked cool, so he bought it and placed it in his dining area. We spent a while chatting, then he gave us blankets (and even his comforter off of his own bed) to sleep with…

Awaking in the afternoon, I opened my eyes and wondered where I was at and how I got there. Don’t worry, I completely remember all that happened, it just seemed unreal that we would find a place. On the kitchen table, two water bottles sat atop a note that said he had to go to work and that we were welcome to anything. Had this guy just left his apartment free to two strangers he had only talked to for an hour or so? Yes. And that’s when I started to get an understanding of Scots. Chelsie and I had a list of things we wanted to do, so we set out on a touristy quest. We walked to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city and then to a large kilt factory. From there, we split up for some alone time. I walked down the Royal Mile toward the Palace of Holyroodhouse and enjoyed street bagpipes and shops. I later made it to Parliament, a futuristic building next to the Palace. Arthur’s seat, a dormant volcano, is located near both buildings.
         

Later that evening, we met back up with Umberto and went out for some delicious pizza. He said that we were his first American friends, and he was impressed with our vocabulary, poise, politeness and demeanor. We asked why he opened up his place to us so easily, and he said he could just tell we were nice people. He certainly has something great coming for him for doing this great deed! We spent hours chatting about our experiences and thoughts about the United States and his comparison to Scotland. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve met someone as genuine and friendly as him. We later went out to a club for some drinks.

The final day, Chelsie and I had planned to get up and climb Arthur’s Seat, the dormant volcano. Little did we know, this landmark has a 360-degree lengthy path, but we made it to the top. It was one of the most breathtaking, rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Along the path you can see the whole city of Edinburgh, luscious golf courses, the shoreline and the ocean. While at the top, I took several photos and took a moment just to think and relax.
                             
The way back down was obviously much easier. Hunger set in and it was time to eat… haggis! I wasn’t sure how much of this I had preferred to eat, but I tried it. My coworkers said I must try them when I was in Scotland because they are a traditional Scottish food. I had a small haggi sandwich. Want to know what they’re made of? Definition: a dish containing sheeps heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. Wow. Family, I can honestly say that it was similar to a Mutt&Jeff burger from Falls City. The texture was mushy, but it was not bad. – We waited around for Umberto to meet us for a more ‘normal’ meal, and we ate Mexican burritos for lunch. He wanted to show us his family’s pastry shop, so we went to meet his family. The shop makes and decorates cakes, pastries, sandwiches and coffee. They gave us a box of pastries to take with us, another generous offer from the Scots. Earlier in the day we had missed a scheduled Scotch Whisky Experience, so we went back to see if we could get in. Luckily we got there just in time, and we saw how scotch whisky is made and how different regions of Scotland provide different flavors. A test-tasting session with a free glass was given, and we got to see the largest private scotch collection in the world.

It was then time to leave. Umberto, being who he is, traveled with us back to the airport and hugged goodbye. We exchanged emails and Facebooks, and he might come visit us while we are still here in London. The whole experience in Scotland was phenomenal, going from nearly homeless to gaining a lifelong friend, seeing castles and climbing a volcano, and seeing small-town folk at their best. I traveled back the way I came, and then continued back at the internship again the following morning.

MRF

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