The Fourteenth Week (Family Visit!)

Family visit to Ireland!

Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures to post, we took all the good shots with my dad’s nicer camera (rather than my phone) and he has all the pictures.

Cork
My parents and brother came to see me on their spring break. We met up in Cork Sunday afternoon and spent almost two days just wandering the city. I took them to a few of my favorite places to eat and shop (English Market, Gino’s), I showed the around the UCC campus. We went into the church on campus (my first time being inside) and it was beautiful. The floor was this huge mosaic stretching all the way down the aisle. One of my friends from UMW had to make a mosaic, I think about 18 inches in diameter and she was telling me how long it took her to create so I can’t even imagine completing a whole church floor. Anyway, I showed them my apartment and it was so wonderful seeing them after over three months. They got a little apartment about five minutes from the City Center which made it easy to explore. I’m still impressed by their lack of jetlag; it took me at least two weeks to sleep through the night after I got here. They rented a car and my dad did an excellent job driving as my mom navigated us through the week. Only one U-turns most days which we all considered successful.

wpid-20140415_104053.jpgthe waterfall outside the hotel in Cork

Cobh
Tuesday morning, after several delayed attempts to leave Cork, we headed to Cobh where there is a great museum about the port there. This was the site the majority of the emigrants would leave Ireland, it was the last stop for the Titanic and several convicts ships headed to Australia all left from this harbor. We were only here briefly, just for lunch and the museum but it looked like a great town to explore for an afternoon or two.

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Blarney Castle
From Cobh we headed straight to Blarney Castle, because my brother was the only one of us who had not kissed the stone yet and he should be in on the “gift of eloquence” the weather was beautiful (much nicer than when I went in February). After we did the castle, my mother and I skipped kissing the stone, we wandered through the poison garden, filled with various poisonous plants with varying degrees of deadliness. I’m still not entirely sure why rosemary was included because I put that on chicken…frequently. Again, we did not spend too much time here as we had reservations at the Holiday Inn in Killarney.

Killarney
Killarney is beautiful, such a cute town to visit (and I expect to live in). We got a recommendation for dinner and ordered the American Pizza, just throwing ourselves into the stereotype. What is on an American pizza? Three kinds of meat and extra cheese. I’d be offended if it wasn’t delicious and my favorite kind of pizza. We were based in Killarney, but spent most of the two days in the area driving around and exploring the Dingle Peninsula.

The Conor Path
This part of the drive consisted of some crazy windy roads. The road is carved out of a Cliffside and is technically two ways, but should a second car come one of them has to reverse into a ditch off the side of the road spaced every hundred yards or so to pass by one another. Not my idea of a relaxing drive, but the view was beautiful and my dad did an awesome job keeping us safe and in one piece.

Cliffs of Moher

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The hurricane I was in on Inch Beach in February was nothing to the wind we experienced on the Cliffs of Moher. Thankfully I had a bag of winter clothes packed in the trunk to be sent home with my family which at least gave my mother and I some options for extra layering (scarves, gloves, a winter coat) to pile on top of our clothes. The Cliffs are out in the middle of mostly nowhere but if you are ever in the area, or not in the area I don’t care, you should make it a goal to go. The walk up is quick and painless and the view is absolutely breathtaking. If time, or the weather, permitted I would have loved to do the walk along the edges which the sign said takes an hour or two. As it was we were only there about forty-five minutes which was too little time for my taste. Unfortunately it was foggy so we couldn’t see much of the islands off in the distance, but the cliffs were spectacular regardless. We walked to two of the ‘viewing platforms’ to get different angles of the cliffs and the gorgeous ocean waves, and then we were too cold and had to leave.

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Galway
We stayed at an adorable bed & breakfast, the first Irish bed & breakfast I’ve stayed in during my time here. The house was right on the water. We did not have nearly enough time in Galway, just dinner Thursday night and breakfast Friday morning before we were back in the road

wpid-20140417_134121.jpgWe saw these adorable ponies at some castle along the way, I don’t remember the name

Dublin
The trip ended on a bit of a bummer, it didn’t occur to me to find out if museums (or pubs) would be open on Good Friday. For anyone planning on traveling to Ireland during the Easter season in the future, they’re not. We only had one afternoon in Dublin and all the museums were closed, except the Book of Kells but that had 100+ people in line so we didn’t bother trying to get in. on the upside, it was a relaxing end to the trip. It was absurdly sunny so we wandered through Graften St. and watched street musicians and then strolled through a park (I didn’t see any name) which was just exploding with all these brightly colored tulips. So the end of the trip wasn’t as much of a bummer as I thought when we found out all of our planned activities were closed.


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Final Week of Prep Course!

The second week of April was our third and final week of the preparatory course and meetings. During that week, Lourdes and Laura both were in Italy visiting their former roommate Fede, so I had the whole flat to myself. 

On Monday, we had a meeting about understanding and learning about all of the cultures here at University. We talked about German stereotypes and what “culture” means to us. Everyone immediately considered punctuality as the main German stereotype. We eventually finished the meeting and went our separate ways to eat lunch. Since it was a girl’s birthday in our exchange group, we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant “Roma” that evening. There was a total of 17 people who showed up to celebrate Jill’s birthday. It was nice to see how close each of us had actually become. The service at the restaurant was wonderful, for the server gave us all a free round of drinks and dessert. Because I had been cooking pasta as my main meal for the last three weeks, I decided to order pizza. It was fairly cheap and decent, and I had enough leftovers to eat it for both lunch and dinner the next day. I tried Jill’s gnocchi, and while it was good, I didn’t think that it was the best I’ve ever had. All-in-all, it was a really good night, and it was really nice to be able to bond with so many of my classmates. 

On Wednesday, we were supposed to meet to get a visa, but the appointment time was changed to April 30th. Therefore, I got to sleep in a little bit and just spend my day participating in the prep course. 

Valentin, an exchange student from Argentina, had a birthday as well, so we all met after class and had a picnic. He made us traditional Argentinian tea, Mate, and we played charades.

Afterwards, Nora and I went back to my dorm in Plauener Weg and talked for three hours before she went back to eat dinner. During that time, an exchange student from Russia, Dima, came over and asked to borrow sugar and butter so that he could make pancakes. When he brought back my supplies, he brought me a few of the pancakes he made, so I had breakfast for the next day. They were really good, but I found them more like crepes than what I would consider a pancake. 

It got hard for me that week to motivate myself to cook since it was only me. I also found myself doing dishes less since I didn’t have anyone depending on me keep them clean. I missed my roommates even though I had only been away from them for a few days. I missed talking to Lourdes about my, usually uneventful, day.

That week really showed how close the exchange students have grown as a group and how great the semester will be with all of us together. It also gave me a chance to spend more time with them since I got lonely without my roommates. 

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Sicilia

view from castle

view from castle

Greek amphitheater

Greek amphitheater

Isola Bella

Isola Bella

 

view from Gambino vineyard

view from Gambino vineyard

Suzy walking around isola bella

Suzy and I on crater

Suzy and I on crater

Sicily!!!

 

On Thursday, Suzy and I caught a 6.30 flight from Bergamo to Catania, Sicily. When we arrived at the airport, we made our way to the taxi/bus area and caught a bus to Taormina! During the ride, we checked out the countryside, which was sooooo pretty. The island is composed of rolling green hills, almost Hawaiian ‘rippled’, which are covered by olive trees and desert shrubs. From the road we could see the beautiful coastline to our right and Mt. Etna, Sicily’s volcano, to our left. When we reached Taormina, we checked into our hostel, and then headed to the beach.

 

 

Taormina is situated on a cliff overlooking a small island…. Isola Bella, so getting down to the beach is a bit of a hassle…that is if you re cheap like us and don’t feel like paying 3 euros to get the cable car down. So about 400 stairs later, we arrived at the rocky beach near Isola Bella. We were able to walk over to the island because there’s a thin sand bar linking Bella to the beach. However, waves from both sides come crashing between, so it’s almost impossible not to get wet when it’s high tide. We explored the little island and then went back into town where we then made our way up to the castle….400 stairs later…lol we made it to the top! The views from the castle were sooooo spectacular! You easily see Etna and Catania from here. After hiking down from the castle, we checked out the old town! The town is very small, but it’s sooooo ‘Italian” and beautiful. The streets are narrow with little terraces overlooking the alley ways. We bought some groceries and headed back to the hostel.

 

 

The next day, we went up with a small group to Etna! We all piled into the jeep and drove for about 1 and a half on winding roads with beautiful scenery and the occasional man on horseback. When we got to the base of the craters, we got out of the car and hiked around several of them. Our tour guide was very informative about the geographical and geological nature of the volcano, and also the island itself. He told us that the Sicilian flag, which is Medusa with three legs coming out from her head, was actually associated with Mt.Etna. Medusa represented the volcano because it turned everything into stone…and the legs represented the three corners of the island. He also talked about the rich soil around the volcano, which allowed for excellent farming of all different kinds of plants, including apple trees, vineyards, olive trees, hazelnut trees, almond trees, etc. The closer you are to the volcano, the better the soil, but higher the risk of natural destruction.

 

 

After hiking around the craters for awhile, we went to Gambino Vineyard. (Not associated with Maffia family in States…i asked lol)Here they fed us and also let us all try several different Sicilian wines. My favorite was this red wine they they grew at their vineyard, which tasted nothing like red wines I’ve had before. It had a nice, light flavor. Once we finished eating and drinking, we took a ride to the latest lava field. You could literally see the end point of the lava flow. The tour guide told us that people would come up the mountain to the slow moving lava and cook food on sticks over the hot molten rock. People would have a small festival around the lava flow, bringing there coolers and picnic lunches and watch the lava move down hill. Lastly, we went to a lava cave and explored inside for a while. The cave was produced from when the lava melted the earth beneath it, causing a hole in the ground…then the earth from either side of the hole eventually came together to form an underground cave. The cave ground was the hardened lava river that had cooled after it ceased moving. Many years ago, the cave was actually used by the villagers to store ice. They would bring snow into the cave during the winter, and by summer, the snow would have condensed into ice. The villagers would then bring the ice from the cave down the mountain to put their fish in.

 

 

The next morning we went to the Greek amphitheater, which was originally constructed in 200 BC. It is situated on the tallest hill in Taormina, which allowed for amazing views of the island. Also, several of the pillars have been knocked down over the years, so you can easily see the volcano and the surrounding hills between the remaining ones. After, we went down to the beach and swam in the cold water around Isola Bella. It was about 60 degrees, but it was well worth it! The water was soooo clear, you could see all these sea urchins, fish, and beautiful rocks. I noticed though that the water was especially salty. I guess that’s how the Mederterranian Sea is? After swimming, we warmed up in the sun for awhile before heading into town and listening to some music in the piazza. The performers sang ‘Amore’, which is probably the most stereotypical Italian song I can think of haha. We shopped around for a little until it got dark outside. We headed over the piazza again and saw the red glowing lava from Etna…. that was beyond cool! The next morning we caught a flight back to Mi-lame-o. Lol haha ;P

 

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Appointments Galore

My second week of the prep course gradually got easier and easier. However, throughout the week, us exchange students had several appointments to attend for one reason or another. 

Our first appointment was for non-European students to purchase German health insurance. All would have been well if not for the fact that every American already had some sort of insurance previously provided to them. For instance, Nora, Jordan, and I each had purchased insurance from Mary Washington, but we were told it was better to get the German insurance since our coverage information was not clear. We emailed the study abroad office at UMW and eventually got it all figured out so that our original insurance is enough to cover us for our time here. 

In order to prepare for my next appointment, I needed a passport photo since I had forgotten mine at home. I met up with my tutor, Lukas, on Monday to set up my German bank account and get passport photos. We went to Deutsche Bank and ended up meeting with someone who spoke English so that I could fully understand everything about my account. Afterwords, we walked to a photo shop and both got passport photos since he needed them as well in order to come to Mary Washington in the fall. I was surprised by how many photos I was given for such a cheap price. We parted ways so that he could continue working on his paper he was writing and so that I could begin getting all of my paperwork together for the next appointment.

The next day, I brought all of my paperwork to the international office where I filled out my foreigner information so that I can later get a visa. Nothing eventful really happened there since all we did was make copies to save for an appointment for another day in the future. That afternoon, Lourdes and I went to a Steve Mccurry photography exhibit in the art hall in downtown Erfurt. 

Throughout the week, we learned more about the process of registering for courses and opportunities to speak and practice German offered to us around the Erfurt community. 

The registration process is much more difficult than I had ever imagined, and I now feel guilty to have ever complained about registering for classes at Mary Washington. Basically, you must pick your classes you want to take and register for them before they begin. However, if you want to receive any credit for them, then you must book the class after it has begun and visit your adviser provided to you so that he or she can sign it and give you the allotted credit points for the semester. After that meeting, I went back to pick my courses and just used trial and error, for the most part, to actually figure out what courses I wanted to take and where to find them. 

Nora and I met up that afternoon and went to the park outside of the Dubliner since we had recently discovered that there were trampolines.

Sadly, after those pictures, my camera decided to not work, but did Nora took some pictures of me jumping on a trampoline for the first time.

My weekend ended up as pretty average. I just went to the Dubliner (the Irish pub) with other exchange students on Saturday. There, karaoke was sung again and this times a few people had enough courage to actually choose songs and sing them with the microphone. It was comforting to know that I’ve become pretty close with all of the people there and that we were able to go out and just have fun with each other. On Sunday, it was a beautiful day, so my roommate Lourdes and I went to a nearby park and read. To my wonderful surprise, the park had hammocks right in the sun.  

Lourdes on her phone before reading her German book she brought with her. I sadly forgot my book, so I ended up studying for our test in the prep course and just enjoying the wonderful weather. 

I was starting to get used to life and studying in Germany, and I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with Lourdes. 

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Experiential Learning

You know, my understanding of the whole “experiential learning requirement” is that it’s supposed to be about learning about life in some way.  You can get it from doing an internship.  You can doing it from studying abroad.  You take the experience you learn from doing something in the, “real world,” and apply it to your life in some way that you couldn’t see from just going to class.  But I kind of think the whole institution is a joke.  We’re all going to learn about the world in our own time.  There’s no reason to require us to take some stupid class, or work for some asshole, or go to some random country, just to get it done.

I think my girlfriend is going to dump me.  And I must be honest, the terms of this blog requirement are rather vague.  I have to talk about whatever I experience here.  Well, I’m experiencing that the girl I’ve been dating since before she left for Ireland is about 2 weeks from leaving Ireland, and wants to leave me.  We made it over the gap.  We both made it to Europe, and were happy until last week.  And I didn’t do anything wrong.  She’s just found time for everyone else other than me.  What else can that mean?

Experiential learning…  That’s a little redundant, isn’t it?  Isn’t ALL learning experiential?  I mean unless you’re still deluded enough to believe that “rationalism” is the real, functioning, way that the human brain works, you’ll realize all learning is empirical.  So why make it required?  Tabula Rasa.  I mean Jesus, John Locke figured it out about almost 400 years ago, why are people still contriving to find it otherwise?  And it’s not even though he was the first to think of the human mind that way.

The liberal arts education is a joke.  Why did I even go to UMW?  Well, because it was either Rutgers University, or TCNJ, both of which were essentially high school round 2, and I really wasn’t about that life.  Plus, I hate meeting people.  I really do.  I find it absolutely abhorrent.  That’s what I’ve hated most being here.  I got into both Rutger’s and TCNJ, by the way.

They say a liberal arts education prepares you for life.  I think that’s false.  I think most people would agree that’s false.  What prepares you for life, is life.  Not learning about how Amoeba reproduce, or about how Hegel was far more of a deist than a Christian, despite what many older interpretations may consider him, or how Stephen Crane was a naturalist, not a realist, a slight, but important distinction.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane

I’ve always been an absurdist.  Albert Camus started the tradition, in case you didn’t know.  It’s the belief that ultimately, life is absurd, in that any attempts for human knowledge to attempt to make sense of it will ultimately fail, since we do not have the capacity to understand life on a fundamental level.  If there is a point to life, we’ll never know for sure, so why care?  That’s what I believe.  And I’m proud, that even if I’m wrong, I promise you right here and now, that I didn’t even look up that definition as I wrote it.  Even if I’m wrong, that’s what I believe.  But I digress.  As Camus said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  The rock drops from all our hands at some point.  I’d imagine Stephen Crane would find that philosophy rather enticing, even if he didn’t believe it entirely.  Naturalism is hardly a stones throw from absurdism.  One’s more of a nihilism, and one’s a sort of existentialism.  All that really differs is the meaning to life.  I guess that’s a big one, though.

Bob died recently.  He was my friend.  A good friend.  I won’t pretend we were the best of friends, but he always was able to make me happy, and I always looked forward to his company.  That’s a rare quality, in anyone, really.  And I say that sincerely.  I feel like people say stuff like that because someone’s dead and they feel they should, but Bob really was one of the best men I knew.  He was smart.  I was in One Note with him.  It’s funny, I remember Ian once called him, “The Sage of One Note.”  He was nice.  I never ever was angry at him.  Everyone knows how easily they’re offended.  To never offend me, someone that’s easier to offend than a damn bear, is a damn accomplishment.  I’m sad he’s gone.  I was supposed to live in his apartment next year, after he graduated in the spring.  I don’t want to anymore.  I’m not a superstitious man, but I don’t want to live in a place where your friend has died.  Everyone lost a lot when Bob passed.  He was one of the few people that truly deserved to be remembered, even if he didn’t DO anything to be remembered by.  He was just a kind soul that made everyone happy.  That has always been a rare quality.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones lately.  As such, I feel as though I’ve gained a bit of a penchant for being dramatic.  But this is what experiential learning means to me: it means going to a country to learn a language you don’t speak, to have your girlfriend dump you, and your friend die, and come back alive, and eventually find the courage to be happy just the same.

I’m past the point of “culture shock.”  I know I’m not unhappy because of GERMANY.  But my life has gone to Hell in a hand basket since I’ve been here.  Well, Jesus.  This is a BLOG about LIFE.  Professor Rotter, if you truly find my post offensive, I will deter from doing anything like this in the future.  All you need do is let me know.  But I haven’t been this unhappy since my grandmother died my Junior year.  Granted, I’m a kid of no small privilege.  But still.

So I ask you: what is the point of an experiential learning requirement if you don’t talk about your EXPERIENCES?  And forgive me, I’m hardly being sarcastic at you, but more the whole institution.  This has been on my mind the past few days.  It’s been eating away at me.  I have to say something.  I hope you understand.

My friend told me this once: everyone is the center of their own Universe.  Ain’t it the truth, though?

 

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Buona Pasqua a Tutti

Pasqua is upon us and with it comes a whole slew of traditions and cultural norms that are far different than those that I’m used to.  In America, Easter has transformed from a sacred holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ to a day of chocolate and eggs and the giant bunny who hides them.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the Easter that I know and love.  I love a hollow milk chocolate Easter bunny and Cadburry eggs.  In fact, it doesn’t really feel like Easter without these comforts from home.  In Italy, however, the religious tradition remains strongly in  the way in which Pasqua is celebrated.

Standing on the main street in Sorrento in the chilly 3 a.m. air, I hear a solemn song begin to waft from the side street a few meters away.  Around the corner comes a full band, solemnly marching in time to their music.  They slowly pass by within inches of the crowd on either side, and goosebumps run up my arms.  I know that this is only the beginning.

The band continues down the street, and around the corner come hooded figures, dressed in white, carrying torches on long gilded poles.  I finally understand what the Italians have been talking about: the hoods cover the face, save for the eyes, and are pointed at the top, just like the KKK.  It occurs to me how sad it is that I cannot look at this procession, so holy and solemn, without feeling uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

The figures pass by, shuffling their feet as they follow one another down the long stretch of street.  Behind them come more, one after another. Many are holding items that hold religious significance.  Some, such as the crown of thorns, I understand.  Others, such as the rooster, I do not.  The music fades away as the band disappears into the night air and their is an eerie silence, broken only by the footsteps of hundreds of hooded individuals.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Someone laughs.  I’m immediately angry.  I may not be Catholic, or even highly religious, but even I know that this is an important, sacred moment.  It should be treated with respect.

The mass of people seems to never end.  I wonder where they’re coming from; are they lined up down the side street? Are they coming from the main cathedral?  Men with crosses slung across their shoulders, men with incense that burns my nose; men with books and flags and men with lanterns, endless men with lanterns.  The glow from the fire in these lanterns illuminates the eyes of these men, visible through the holes cut in their hoods.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Then the children come, all dressed in white.  They follow a hooded adult, clustered together and holding baskets of flowers. I wonder if they’re confused.  I wonder if they’re scared.  After them comes the choir, chanting a haunting recitation.  I don’t understand it fully; perhaps it’s latin.

The last men fall into line from around the corner and follow the enormous procession down the street lined with sleepy-eyed people.  As the last man passes, the lookers-on are suddenly in motion, crossing the street and heading home.  I look down at my watch.  It’s 3:30 a.m.

This type of procession happens the Thursday before Easter at 9 p.m., the next morning at 3 a.m., and the following evening at 9 p.m. again.  The first procession is a mixture of both black and white, the 3 a.m. one is all white, and the Friday procession is all black.  This procession is a part of the Easter celebration that all Italians expect.

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Photo by: Morgan McCaskill

Pasqua also means food, as with any holiday in Italy.  People eat massive lunches in the early afternoon and exchange enormous chocolate eggs.  There is, of course, Catholic mass.  The day after Pasqua is also a holiday, called Pasquetta.  As it’s been explained to me, Pasquetta is a day for families to take a picnic to the beach or to the mountains and enjoy each other’s company.

Seeing such an important holiday through the culture of another country was something that I’m so glad to have been able to experience.  So while I didn’t get to have my Easter bunny, I got to see another interpretation of a major holiday, which seems like a pretty good trade-off to me.

Buona Pasqua a tutti, e anche una buona Pasquetta!

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Money

It has been a while.  I’ve been out and about getting to know people, seeing things, and just overall getting acclimated.  But one of the things I didn’t realize was how damn expensive it is here.  You pay more money for less food.  I recently went to a Bavarian style restaurant and I had to pay 16 Euro for my dish.  It was just some Schnitzel and fries, but still, that’s roughly a 22 dollar meal, and I can tell you right now, I wasn’t exactly full.

And travel isn’t exactly cheap, either.  I can take the Greyhound from NJ to Fredericksburg and back for a round trip ticket of about $60.  That’s a five hour bus ride.  But here, the two and a half hour train ride just to get to Erfurt from Frankfurt was 56 Euro.  And that was one way…  The only saving grace of transportation here is that we have free access to the trams, but that came at the cost of around 195 Euro for our semester contribution.  If schooling is free here in Germany, then why am I required to pay that much for a piece of paper with my name on it saying I’m studying at the University?  I’m not saying it’s unfair, it’s just counter intuitive almost.

It’s hard to make friends unless you’re spending money, too.  You have to go out and meet people at pubs and things of the sort.  So far that hasn’t been too many, “let’s just hang out in each others rooms” hangouts yet.  Maybe that’ll change with time.  For my financial stability, I certainly hope that it does.

At this rate, I’ll bankrupt my parents in a matter of weeks.  It’s so strange that everything at UMW is covered in tuition and housing costs.  You get a meal plan and you get to eat so many meals and even though the food isn’t great, at least you won’t get hungry.  You pay for your apartment for the semester that you are going to be there.  Here, you pay everything at a monthly rate, and it’s rather inconvenient, to say the least.  All of this clerical stuff isn’t exactly fun.  80 Euro per month for German health insurance.  200 Euro a month for my apartment.  You have to pay for your “semester contribution” just to have a student ID.  I just feel like there is a better way to get all of this stuff done as opposed to make a million little appointments on a monthly basis.

Because at least if you pay for all of this stuff at once, in a huge lump sum of money, it may be a lot, but you don’t have to worry about it for later.  Your finances are what it costs for you to do whatever it is that you want other than eat, or live in your apartment.  I will say, even if I hate it, I do appreciate how actually living on your own is now.

I have to plan out everything.  I should have been the entire time, but I just recently took a look at my bank statement, and it is not a very large number.  And I guess in a way, that’s a good thing.  It’s teaching me responsibility.  But I can’t say I enjoy having to estimate my monthly costs on Schnitzel and ground beef alone.  It’s quite a bore having to see if I have enough money to buy another beer, or what have you.  It’s definitely not fun having to take out 200 Euro once a month and give it to someone just so you can live in your apartment.  It’s rather sad.  Well, maybe sad isn’t the right word.  But I don’t know the right word.

 

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Never-ending Paperwork

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog, so I’ll be making a few posts of my activities and thoughts that I’ve had from week to week. The main reason it’s taken me so long is that my camera hasn’t really been functioning very well, so I haven’t been able to take many of the photos I’ve wanted. With that said, I’ll start by sharing my experiences with that paperwork I’ve done here and the beginning of the German preparatory course. 

Before we started the prep course, we took a placement test to see in which group we should be: Group A with Frau Völz or Group B with Frau Färber. I thought the test was fairly simple, although I realized my vocabulary is still not very good. Afterwards, the group of exchange students took the fastest tour I’ve ever been on of the campus since no one ended up asking any questions. I’d say it’s about the same size as Mary Washington, but in more of a square than a rectangle. 

The next day, I began my prep course in Group A (the beginner course) with Jordan and a few other exchange students I had previously met over the weekend. Nora was in Group B, though I thought it made sense considering Jordan and I were at the same level before we came here and Nora was already ahead of us. Over the week, it was very simple since I had already learned what we were doing, but I was happy for the review. The course also helped me study different vocabulary that I’ve had a tendency to forget. 

That week, I bought my semester ticket, or Semesterbeitrages, which allows me to ride the public transportation in Thüringia for free. I also set up my rental and internet agreement with Frau Lindner, the head of Plauener Weg where I am living. On Thursday, Nora and I went downtown so pick up some essentials. She also helped me register as a citizen in Erfurt for the time being. I was surprised at how long we had to wait since the appointment didn’t actually take more than ten minutes, but the time went by quickly as we shared our first experiences of Erfurt. We ended up eating our first Thüringen Bratwurst, which was amazing, and eating an ice cream cone for dessert, which was also amazing. 

I concluded my week with a “Pub Crawl.” I met Jordan and my tutor Lukas at the University tram stop and went, for the second time, to Cafe Neerly where several other exchange students were.

Here’s the group of us before we walked to the Dubliner, the Irish pub. It was a karaoke night, so a few of the group wanted to participate though were afraid of trying a German song. I found karaoke fascinating since even though we are in a different country, the whole idea and feeling of it is very much the same. The night, and my weekend, ended with me, Jordan, and Lukas leaving around 1 in the morning.

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La bellezza delle cose esiste nella mente di chi le osserva

Before the stress and studying of the last few weeks of the semester set in, my friend Nitsa and I decided to take one last trip out of Sorrento to Catania, Sicilia.  We both wanted to see Sicilia and decided that while we were in Italy, it only made sense to visit.

Upon arriving in Sicilia, we found the bus to take us close to our B&B, and the driver gave us vague directions before letting us off.  While walking down the street at 10:30 p.m. looking for “a bridge” where we were to “turn left” and “ask someone else” (no, seriously, those were the bus driver’s directions), we turned into a large piazza to ask for directions.  We approached a group of fifteen-year-olds who told us we were “lontano” (far away) from the B&B.

It was Paris all over again, as we asked for directions from about fifteen Sicilians in all.  Luckily for us, thought Sicilians sense of direction and navigational skills leave something to be desired, everyone was friendly and willing to help.

Eventually, after many wrong turns, we stumbled upon two twenty-something girls, named Angela and Martina, who were kind enough to help us.  They pulled out their iPhones (because some things are exactly the same no matter where you are) and put our address into google maps.  These girls had no idea where we were going, but it was close, so they told us to come with them and we’d find it together.

After finding our B&B, we all took a picture together and traded Instagram and Facebook account names.  Throughout the rest of the weekend Angela and Martina continually “liked” our photos and commented on our statuses, asking if we were enjoying their hometown.  We were stunned and touched by how friendly and kind they were.

The Instagram that one of our new friends uploaded with the hashtags #american and #california

The Instagram that one of our new friends uploaded with the hashtags #american and #california

We went out for dinner, starving, at around 11:30 p.m. and found a restaurant that we chose solely based on the fact that the portion sizes looked large.  We went up to the door, but it was locked.  One of the employees inside opened the door and let us in, leading us to a table near the back. We ordered seafood pasta (mine with clams, Nitsa’s with shrimp and mussels) and ate the entire basket of bread they brought to us.  We topped off the evening with a plate of fried calamari.  It was only as we were leaving that we realized that the door had not been stuck; the door had been locked as they were closing for the evening, but the owner had seen we were hungry and tired and stayed open so that we could have some dinner.  Sicilians really are unbelievably kind.

Spaghetti with clams

Spaghetti with clams

The next morning, we decided to spend the day at the beach.  After a long walk down a busy highway, we bought some canoli and found a large expanse of sandy beach to lay out our towel.  We spent the entire day watching Mount Etna from the warm sand and marveling at the beautiful sea.

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Several hours and a massive sunburn later, we went out for our second dinner at an inexpensive restaurant where we ate our weight in carbs.  We briefly contemplated staying out late, but quickly decided to get enormous gelatos and watch a movie in the room.

Saturday morning we spent another day in the sunshine, this time wandering through the open markets of Sicilia.  There is a fish market that’s open everyday except for Sunday, and we were lucky enough to stumble right into the middle of it.  We laughed and took pictures with many of the people running stands selling everything from eel to bread to toasted nuts to fresh fruit to fresh squeezed orange juice.

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After we had stuffed ourselves with fresh food, we took to wandering around Sicilia.  Apparently, Sicilia has quite the affinity for open-air markets, because we stumbled on one with everything from clothing to electronics to shoes.  We headed down this side street, anticipating a block or two of fairly inexpensive stands.  We were shocked and pleased that the market extended into a labyrinth of winding side streets that never seemed to end.  We wandered for hours, lost among three euro shoes and illegally downloaded CDs.

There were several street musicians who captured my heart on the cobblestone sidewalks of Sicilia.  One particular girl had a suitcase next to her with the title of this blog post written across it.  It translates to: “The beautiful things exist in the mind of those who see them.”

Our final dinner in Sicilia was, once again, seafood pasta, and afterwards we met some kind American Marines who were stationed in Sicilia before heading out somewhere else.  We showed them where the best granita (Italian Ice) was and they kindly bought ours for us.  We thanked them for the generosity and their service and headed home for the evening.

Pasta with salmon and cream sauce

Pasta with salmon and cream sauce

Sunday’s wandering led us to many churches and cathedrals, as it was Palm Sunday, and the sound of hymns echoing from the massive structures was indescribably beautiful.  After one more canolo, we caught the bus back to the airport, where I’m writing this post.

Palms for Palm Sunday

Palms for Palm Sunday

Sicilia was a wonderful last trip during my Italy experience, and I’m so glad to have visited such a beautiful place with such friendly and warm inhabitants.  I only hope I can return someday for another glass of fresh squeezed blood orange juice.

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Lüneburg & Hamburg

On Friday I arrived in Lüneburg and Ryan showed me around the town. It is busier than Erfurt and has less public transportation. There are more cars driving around the city and it reminded me of the USA. Ryan told me that Lüneburg was one of the only cities in the area that was not bombed or completely destroyed during both world wars, so most if the buildings in the city centre are original. Most of the buildings in Lüneburg are brick, whereas most of the buildings in Erfurt are ‘typical German’ half-timbered buildings. I still think Erfurt is prettier, but it’s nice to see different regions having different styles of architecture.  I do like the fact that there are parts of Altstadt Erfurt that only pedestrians or the Straßenbahn can go.

On Saturday Ryan and I met up with his other friend Nick and the three of us took a day trip to Hamburg. It is a nice place to visit and say ‘I’ve been there’ but I wouldn’t want to live in Hamburg – it’s too busy. While in Hamburg, we went to the spring festival. It reminded me of county fairs growing up, however they did not have all-you-can-ride wristbands. You had to pay for every ride you wanted to go on, and some of them were not cheap, but some were definitely worth it. Ryan and I only went on two rides and of course the Ferris wheel. It was a neat perspective to see the city from way up in the air.

To view pictures of Lüneburg and Hamburg, visit the ‘Photos’ page.

After a pleasant, but long afternoon in Hamburg we returned to Lüneburg and just relaxed after dinner.  Sometimes it’s nice not being on a jam-packed sight-seeing schedule.

There will probably be one more post about Lüneburg before I leave – I’m planning on visiting the Lüneburger Salzmuseum tomorrow. :)

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