This afternoon I got back from my week-long trip to Germany. I stayed in the Rheinland-Pfalz region and mostly in the same city where I studied abroad two years ago. Luckily I didn't have to pay for a hotel room, because one of the students studying at the Uni Landau this year from my former college let me stay with her - she'd gotten an air mattress from one of the German students we both know. It was more like a mattress with hydraulics; every time someone gets up from it it pops up, but very slowly and at random times. I was able to meet up with some of the students who had studied at my college last year, some of the students I had met during my year in Landau, and the family (and friends) whose 15 yr old I tutored. One week is too short... already the morning before I had to leave I was bummed out. It would be easier, it seems, if I could just live there.
A friend and former Coe exchange student drove me from the airport to Landau, which was extremely helpful considering the railroad strikes. I think the strike didn't actually start until my second day in Germany, but it was nicer traveling in a private vehicle. As soon as we got into Landau we went to the apartment of another friend and former Landau-classmate of mine, where we had a five-hour dinner, wine, and conversation evening. Later on the two exchange students from Coe joined us. There's something very European about just showing up at someone's house for dinner and staying for hours and hours, and having other people show up throughout the night and doing the same. I say this mostly because I've never done something like that with friends my age back in the U.S.A. Maybe it's time I start a new trend.
Thursday I walked around the Landau city center, took note of a few things that have changed (there's a new apartment building being built in one area, several old stores have been replaced with new ones), and generally just "was." It was awesome being back. I actually felt more like I had finally returned home, rather than feeling like a visitor. It's a feeling I definitely don't mind. Friday I went to Neustadt and walked around, did a bit of shopping, then came back to the good ol' Wohnheim and crashed. I haven't been able to take a nap on weekdays in a long time and my brain was thankful. Stasi, the student I was staying with, had classes (duh), so I was able to be on my own and not bother her with having to take me around and show me everything. It probably helped that I already knew my way around :-) However, the first train I tried to take to Neustadt was cancelled due to the strikes. Other than that, travel went on without a hitch.
Saturday Stasi and I eventually made it to Karlsruhe (I say eventually because neither of us woke up very early) and had an afternoon of walking around, checking out some stores, buying CD's, and waiting around the local Starbuck's for free samples of something, which we didn't end up getting. We also hit up a small Imbiss I know of on the main street, which is kind of an old-German style kiosk nestled in between modern things. They serve great bratwurst, currywurst, pommes, and beer. I also like the fact that the outdoor seating is topped off with heat lamps, so that even in the winter, you can enjoy your goodies in the fresh air.
Sunday was spent mostly in Speyer, where Chris (friend, former Coe-exchange student, and chauffeur extraordinaire) gave us a concise city tour. Carrie, the other Coe student at Landau this year, hadn't been in Speyer before, either. We saw the Speyer cathedral, which, according to Chris, is the widest cathedral in Europe. We also saw some lesser known "ruins" in the city, and had lunch at a touristy-yet-loved-by-locals restaurant in the city center. I had Sahneherringfillet, which is basically pickled herring on a dish and not cut up into bits. I like picked herring, but I don't think I've ever eaten that MUCH pickled herring in one sitting. Three fillets, albeit small ones, is a little more than I can handle. Later that evening I had a mini-reunion with the family I had tutored for then went along with the mother and her friends to their Sunday night Stammtisch (they all get together twice a week and go out to eat and visit, each time in a different local restaurant throughout the nearby suburb-cities of Landau). This time Stammtisch was up in the hills at a really nice restaurant, St. Annenberg, I think. The only weird part was the row of animal skulls along the top of one wall. I couldn't figure out what kind of animal it was...
Monday I headed by train to Heidelberg (*heart*) and just walked around the city center, in and out of shops, to the river, etc., for five or so hours. I'll never get sick of that city. I didn't go up to castle this time, but I did take a few minutes to stop and watch the river do its thing.
Tuesday... what happened to Tuesday? Tuesday Chris and Isa (friend, former Landau classmate) drove out with me to Germersheim, where I met with the Translation department representative. There I got information about the program itself, some pamphlets about the school, and more documents to fill out. After Germersheim we drove to Ludwigshafen-Oppau on a mission of mine to find some elusive hair conditioner. Which I found. And duly bought. Then Chris took us to what he called a "free zoo," but which turned out to be the coolest pet store EVER. They sold gigantic Koi fish (at €2300 a pop), small sharks, star fish, giant clams, coral, a flying squirrel, mice, and so on and so forth. The water-creature section was definitely the most developed and interesting. There's one kind of fish that basically looks like a skeleton. I also found it amusing that the parakeets being sold were FAT, at least in comparison to the skinny and sad looking parakeets sold in stores in the U.S.A. These things were rolly-poly, well fed. No need to clip their wings, 'cause they ain't goin' no where. Oh right, and Tuesday morning I sat in on a poetry class taught by Coe's contact professor in Germany. Afterward I stopped by to talk to him and found out that he had seen me sitting in the back of the class and was a bit thrown off by it because he wasn't sure what was going on.
Wednesday I bought what had to be 6 kilo worth of chocolates and Haribo candies to take home to give as gifts. That's right, nothing for me. Gifts for other people. Then I met for coffee with a student who had been at Coe last year, then finished the rest of my gift shopping in Landau. Later Carrie joined up with me and we headed over to Isa's for a Christmas themed farewell dinner. The Christmas theme comes from the fact that I will have just missed the opening of Christmas market season in Germany (it starts on the 26th), and they all know how much I love the markets. At least I'll be able to see the one in Riga on opening day! Then I got back to the Wohnheim, packed, and (once again) talked with Stasi until one of us passed out. It was like having a sleepover every night - I generally talk to my flatmate during the day or when she's not studying, so it was different but nice having someone to talk to almost all of the time.
Today, Thursday, I had a good flight back home, had a good lunch from Lufthansa (laugenstange bread with ham, lettuce, and tomato - now THAT'S a sandwich!), and a good time unpacking all the things I bought not for myself. My flatmate got home and hung around in my room for an hour and half or so (she had a bad week, and I think she's a bit grateful that there's someone unbiased to her world of university studies and to whom she can complain to), and then I made it out to buy groceries. Now I'm back in my cold room, waiting for my new Hello Kitty (ask no questions... they were cheap and soft at H&M) sweat pants to dry (hallelujah, clean laundry!). Tomorrow I go back to the basement of the Museum of Occupational History and watch and transcribe more movies. And then weekend!
Side note: it's much colder here than in Landau... I already started missing it as soon as I got out of the car at the airport (the mother of the kid I tutored drove me up this morning), but ended up being too tired to shed any more than 5 or so tears. Alas, exhaustion. Also, it's mandarine oranges from Spain season in Riga, which means endless supplied of tastiness for me. I loves them, I really does.