Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ich habe es geschafft!

I'd been meaning to see the "real" touristy things since my first trip to Berlin. As this is my third trip back in less than two months, it was about fucking time. Don't ask why I've been here three times, it's a long story. But I'll probably be making this my "hood" in August. Or should I say my "kiez"? Even more, I did it by bike! In a city! And I didn't die! Having grown up in the suburbs, only biking in my neighborhood with big, wide streets and occasionally in the woods (where I tried to go over a jump and ended up head first over the handlebars, oops) I don't really know anything about right of way for bikes and what to do when a stop light happens, so this was actually rather impressive. Amy picked a good day, so win all around.

Alexanderplatz and I'm not sure what I'm doing!

Amy documenting her new bike's trek through Berlin. Right before I took this some really creepy dude OPENLY stared at her and her bike for like 3 solid minutes. We weren't sure if he was waiting for an opportunity to steal it, or was a little bit wrong in the head, but it was WEIRD.

Berlin Cathedral (on the left)? I think. I saw all the important places, but I didn't promise I'd remember what they were.

Brandenburger Gate. The internet says, "It was originally part of a wall surrounding Berlin and was the main entrance to the city. It is the only gate that remains of this former city wall."

Helpin' Germany out by holding its flag in place, clearly.

Holocaust Memorial. Basically, this is a set of some 2,711 gray stone stabs with no markings or dates in different shapes or sizes that you can walk through. The architect, Peter Eisenman, designed it to evoke a feeling of groundlessness, instability and disorientation as your're walking through it. I think he succeeded. It's sort of interesting, as although there are often tons of people also walking around in there, you still feel like you're all alone.

Same as above, but from the top!

Unrelated, but I feel like this describes my life perfectly right now. The world at my fingertips, and all I want are some chips.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The only thing you ever grasped from your music theory class 7 years ago is that you like minor chords. There’s something about that sound, leaving you wanting more, a bit off from the whole note it’s leading up to, that gets you. Today you heard a beautiful sound and wondered how it worked. Kind of like you realized how the velociraptors were singing that night at Cross Club. Sometimes things just make sense.

You’re not sure if it’s normal to sleep in 25 different places in 7 months, but you don’t really care. Mostly, you’re not sure how you’ll explain this year to anyone else. You won’t. What did you do? You lived, like everyone else, like everyone. But in 25 places. Twenty five spaces with hundreds of people, some whose names you’ll never remember but are etched into your memory regardless. Mostly you remember the lights and the feelings you had that just don’t muster up any words. So it’s just for you. You’re in a foreign country that is quickly becoming not-so-foreign, learning a language you only heard spoken aloud for the first time in January. It’s funny how life works, isn’t it?

You get down sometimes, but then you take the hour walk home from Rosenthaler Platz to Weberwiese because you don’t want to wait 8 minutes for the U-Bahn and regain the feeling that you're in control of your life. There's one thing you can always figure out and that is how to get home. Home being the surface that you'll be sleeping on that night. The world is your oyster. You don’t even know what that means and you don’t even fucking eat oysters, but it will be your oyster anyway, goddamnit. Life is hard. Growing up is hard, but you can’t help but think there’s something beautiful about it. It makes you sad when people talk about the “best years of their lives”. They say, “Those were,” past tense. You hope every year is the best year of your life, and if it isn’t then you’ll damn well make it be. After growing up around no one who ever really seemed happy, you’re determined. You don’t want to be one of all the Adults, almost every adult you met before you were 19, who got trapped in themselves. By themselves. By what everyone told them they were supposed to do. Inertia. The word inertia has been stuck in your head ever since you asked your friend two years ago, heartbroken, how she thinks people can ever stay in relationships forever, how is this possible? Forever is a long time and you weren't feeling very hopeful.



You’re definitely lacking that. If “ertia” was a word, it would describe you perfectly. We always asked each other in Prague, "This isn't our country, why are we here...what makes us want to just up and leave everything we know to go live in another country?" It was a running joke, something you asked every new expat you came across, "So...what are YOU running from?"

So what are we running from? That's a good question.

You think sometimes you’re either completely broken, or the only one whose got it right. Both, depending on the day. Lately you’ve been trying to figure out what your biggest fear is because you’ve wanted to ask other people the same question. Being an English teacher has sort of primed you to go right for the pressing personal matters. They lead to extended discussion, after all, and your TEFL school told you you talk too much. Skip the formalities and get to the good stuff. Who are you? Tell me.

It took a few weeks of thought, but it’s simple. You’re afraid that all the reasons you’ve built up for how things are, your understanding of the universe, is wrong. Subjectivity is no objectivity, but it’s all you’ve got. You’re starting to think that happiness is just a decision. You decide to be happy. Sometimes, the time is wrong, but in the end it’s just a new way of looking at the same things. You don’t believe in religion, but everything in your life has fixed itself to make sense eventually. It’s only those times when you were a stubborn sonofa that you missed it. Everything happens for a reason, maybe. Maybe you just give it a reason because that’s the only way you can live with it all, but it’s still eerie how things work sometimes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm (not) From Barcelona, get it?

On the morning of May 5th, I woke up bright and early at the wonderful hour of 6 am to catch a train from Bilbao to Barcelona. With directions that managed to be vague and quite in depth at the same time, taking up an entire page of my little travel notebook, I got to the hostel around 14:30 and checked in to plug into my much missed internet. My first thought was that Barcelona was freaking huge, so I needed a few hours to lock myself away inside and get over being overwhelmed before venturing out and exploring. As my months of traveling go on, I'm beginning to turn into a horrible tourist, but it's okay!

Crazy awesome building near my hostel!

Plaça de Catalunya

The first night I met up with Marlen's friend Maria from Germany whose studying in Barcelona for the year, who I ended up stealing and seeing every night of my trip. That night Maria, her friend Christina and I went to two bars, one called Oveja Negra and the other whose name I forget, before I had to go home and pass out around 2 due to my early wake up that morning.

On Saturday I got up and headed to the Boqueria, which is a massive market that pretty much had be jizzing myself. I immediately proceeded to spend €5 on delicious chocolates, then bought some fresh pineapple-coconut juices, a pepper and an onion and wandered around for at least an hour. It was basically the best hour of my life. I love food. And vegetables. And chocolates. I saw vegetables I'd never seen before in my life and crazy mushrooms. If I was in Barcelona longer and had more money, all of it would definitely be spent on food from there! So--if you're ever in Barcelona and enjoy eating...go to the Boqueria!

The entrance to the Boqueria! Noms!

Very wrinkly tomatoes in the Boqueria!

In the Boqueria, I really wanted to try one of the pitahaya's (I think it was cactus flower, but not sure), but I didn't because I didn't want to spend 2 euro. I sort of regret that now.

La Rambla, the main street in Barcelona.

Cool street with lots of laundry hanging out the windows in el Raval and a guy carrying an orange tree.

In the courtyard of a medical hospital research something (I think) in el Raval, as I was trying to find a specific vegan restaurant, and failing. But! I found orange trees and pretties!

On my wander around el Raval, I found an orgasmic store. No, literally. See? Apparently organic food = orgasms. I think so.

That night I met up with Maria again and her friend Sina, who was also German and studies dance in the city. I am apparently collecting Germans, yes. We went to a bar sort of by the water and then on to a lesbian party at a place called Lolitas, which was definitely the poshest lesbian club I've ever been to, but it was fun. Maybe I'm just a big stereotyping asshole, but I'm not used to lesbians looking so...straight.

Sina and Maria, I'm not sure what's going on with the spotlight effect.

My drunk face and Maria.

After Lolitas, Maria and I went on an epic drunk bike ride to Sagrada Familia on one bike. I'm still not sure how we got there or how we didn't die, but it happened! Wir können es schaffen! I think my ass is still bruised from sitting on the metal frame of the bike though, oops. Unfortunately I don't really have any good pictures since it was dark, but it was super intricate and pretty! Here's a picture I stole from the interwebz, though:

My last day in Barcelona was Sunday and everything was closed, which was silly. So until later in the afternoon I only ventured out on a quest for pasta sauce. At night I attended part of a harpsichord concert with Maria and her friend Albert, key word...part. One guy started clapping before it was time and everyone gave him a death look...including the harpsichordist, which sent us into a fit of laughter that we couldn't stop. However much I tried to hold it back, I ended up bursting out laughing in the very quiet filled auditorium. The worst part was when the harpsichordist STOPPED in the middle of a song to scold the audience and say, "I can't go on...please be quiet and cover your mouths." I hope it wasn't just us he was scolding, but at the break we definitely scurried away from there. I think I shat myself.

As for the rest of the night, it involved watching a couple have some intense sex in the back of a bar and this picture, which pretty much sums it up:

I give Barcelona two thumbs up except for the freakish snow storm that delayed my flight back to Berlin by over 3 hours. Wtf was that, anyway? It was so sunny and nice, otherwise!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Bienvenido a Bilbao!

On Monday the 1st I hopped a train from Toulouse to Bilbao to stay with the lovely Emilie for the week. I had never been to Spain before and I'm still not quite sure how I got to Bilbao saying as my train went into a different town than it was supposed to (Hendaye instead of Irun), all I had was a crude hand-drawn map without street names for the location of the bus station, I only knew about 15 words in Spanish and most people didn't speak English, but somehow I did it. It's funny to watch the progression of my itinerary planning skills. At the beginning I had every detail mapped out, but now I'm lucky if I have the full address of my destination. I'll tell you one thing, long-term travel definitely chills you out. I generally figure everything will turn out okay, somehow, it might just take a helluva long time.

One important landmark of Bilbao is the Guggenheim modern art museum. It's definitely the craziest looking building in Bilbao, but I liked the outside more than what was contained within. Maybe I'm just uncultured, but I have a hard time appreciating most art. It was cool to see some Picasso's, Manet's, Van Gogh's, etc. in the flesh (or should I the canvas..har-har?), but the giant spider filled with eggs outside was infinitely more interesting to me. But, when in Bilbao I felt it'd be a sacrilege not to drop the 5 euros to go inside.

Giant spider filled with eggs! Baby spiders!

PUPPY MADE OF FLOWERS. This is almost as good as a real puppy.

We went shopping for vegan things for me. Spain really likes its meat. Here is me with some soya yogurt and vegan chicken nuggets under a giant dead cow head.

Since Emilie didn't have an oven we decided to make cookies and forgo the baking. She got so into chopping up the chocolate that she broke the plate. CookiesxCore. Oops! In the 4-5 days I was there we maybe made two whole batches of cookie dough to eat, but we won't speak of that.

I think the highlight of our culinary genius, however, was making pizzas in a frying pan. Win! I even had vegan cheese!

In the Guggenheim, this reminds me of some stuff we were shown in our Intro to Computing and the Arts class my last semester at Smith, am I right?

For our second batch of cookie dough, we decided it was definitely a good idea to fry our cookies. It sort of worked.

Me and my little food babies about to go in my tummy. Nom nom nom sugar.

On Thursday, my last full day, we caught the metro out to Algorta--a small Basque village near the sea in an area called Getxo (pronounced something like 'getcho'). It was really pretty and old.

I made three doggy friends! Briefly. Then their mommy came out and I ran away.

Euska = Basque Country

It was very ominous that day, with the clouds eating the mountains and all, but that didn't stop us.

The best thing about Getxo was the GIANT OUTDOOR GYM/PLAYGROUND! We had waaaay too much fun here. This is Emilie on one of the weirder machines.

I really am not very flexible. I have long legs, it's hard!

This was Emilie's take on this machine.

Mine interpretation was a little bit different. But what muscles does this one work?

If I lived here, this is all I would do. Forever.

What a workout.

I decided that I should just pretend it was a canoe.

It took me awhile to realize it was broken. Oh no!

After our "workout" we braved the wilderness! And by wilderness, I mean lots of steps and steep slopes with trees in between! We definitely deserved our dinner.

Emilie on the left, her friend Georgeanna on the right and Gergeanna's daughter at the restaurant.

Her other daughter decided to give Alex a bath while he was clothed. Dirty boy.

Basically, if you fall in front of the train you get fined 6000 euro. I'm not sure how you'd pay it though, since you'd probably be dead. Logic?

Emilie's street in old town Bilbao, Artkale. Bilbao is freakishly clean.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Couchsurfing in Toulouse

I ended up leaving the Chateau in Lautrec a few days earlier than planned to couchsurf in Toulouse for the weekend. It was the only day Liz's friends could drive me to the Vielmur sur Agout train station and there wasn't much work for me to do anyway, so off I went! I'm very good at straying from my itinerary. Thus, a few days before I arrived a post was made to the Toulouse Emergency Couch group and that's how Thibault came to be my host! After hoisting my over-sized suitcase up to the flat he shares with his two friends, also students, he took me on a tour of the city. The picture above is of Place du Capitole, the main town square.

The sky looked really cool.

Thibault took me to a really cool and quaint tea place with old school decor. I then proceeded to get delicious rose tea and spill a large portion of it all over the table, but it's okay because...

I invoked the powers of camouflage with my green cardigan against the green wall. The white cup may have given it away, though.

Thibault had better tea etiquette than me.

He also had mice! I decided they were my new friends even if they were just snake food.

We drank a lot of wine at their flat with his friends, during which point I quizzed them on French curse words and music. Just in case you were wondering, if you want to piss off a French person you can tell them "Va niquer ta mère!" (Go fuck your mother), "Enculé" (Asshole), "Batard" (Bastard), "Salope" (Bitch), "Pute" (Whore), "Espèce de comnard de mes couilles" (I was told this meant something like 'asshole from my bollocks", okay!) or "Sac à merde" (shit-bag).

I'm not sure why they had these giant face cut-outs of this famous French rapper, but they did!

I went for a walk by myself on Sunday because it was so sunny and wonderful out . I found the water and it was pretty! Unfortunately, everything in existence was closed. I hate Sunday, but I liked Toulouse! Once again, couchsurfing did not let me down! I mean, how else would I ended up in the flat of some French boys who listen to awesome music and also program in Processing? Small world.