Saturday, June 30, 2012

Project Urlaub

OMG! Two posts in one day?! Aren't you guys super lucky. Or, my posting schedule has gotten a little off from keeping busy playing hostess.

As you might remember, tomorrow marks the first day of my 17 day Italy/Scotland journey. I'm not sure I mentioned that I won't be taking my computer. Among other reasons, I'm going to be packing 17 days worth of everything in one small suitcase with a weight limit of 10kg/22lb, so the heavy computer just did not make the cut.

But, the thought of going without internet (and without blogging!) for 17 days makes me all woozy inside - and not in the good way. (yes, I realize this points to larger issues, but let's just ignore my sad addictions for now)

But all hope (read: internet connection) is not lost. I'll be taking my fake iPhone - or my iFauxne, if you will (why is it fake? well, it's my sister's old 3g that I was going to but never did get unlocked to use on German networks, so no it only has internet capabilities). This combined with my obsession love of instagram are going to help me with a little something I'll be calling Project Urlaub (btw, Urlaub means vacation in German).

Internet permitting, I'm going to try to post one picture a day with just a short commentary (typing on iPhones is annoying/I won't have time or energy, probably) from our trip. Again, this really all hinges on the internet (that we're supposed to have at all our hostels) working properly. So hopefully we'll see each other soon!
in Cologne with Matthew Boyle last Sunday

the time has come to say goodbye

well guys, after 2 years on the job, I'm officially no longer an English teaching assistant. I'm still not completely sure it's registered yet (both that I won't be returning to my school and that my time in Germany is all to quickly drawing to a close).  My official last day was Wednesday, but it was sort of a stretched out process, so yesterday ended up being the last day I was physically at my school. It went something like this:

Wednesday was my last day of classes. This was really the big day in my mind because I had to say goodbye to some of my favorite students. The first was a fifth grade class I've been with all year. They are pretty much the most adorable kids I've ever worked with and I had so much fun with them! To put it into perspective - I think they are the only class (you know, of more than 5 students) I've had in the past two years where I knew every student's name. They gave me an awesome class picture that they all signed and some chocolate and individual cards. You better believe that pic will be hanging in my grad office next year! 

Then - at the very end of the day - I had to say goodbye to my 10th grade Cambridge Exam prep class. It is a little group of 6 students total who all faithfully waited till the 9th lesson (which is suuuuuuuper late) every Wednesday to have this class. In fact, they took the exam in early May, so for the past month or so they've been coming to that annoyingly last class time just for fun. I was going to bring our favorite game to class for the last lesson, but I accidentally gave it to my teacher before it's last use. But I'm so glad I forgot it. I brought them cookies and they brought me brownies and cake (two delicious cakes that I got to take home and probably won't finish before our big trip tomorrow), and we ended up chatting about everything from the Euro Cup to the weirdest German dialects for the last 45 of my ETA career. It was pretty much the perfect way to end our time. 

I'll miss a lot of things about my school and being an ETA in general, but I think I'm really going to miss those students (and some others I didn't get to see on Wednesday) the most. Though, I have promised my 5th graders I'll come to their Abitur party in 7 years!
some of the gifts from my students, teachers and school for my last day
Thursday I returned in the evening to play in the spring concert with my school's band. I'm really glad I got to do that one last time, because playing with my students (however infrequently) and seeing how music classes are done in Germany has been just as interesting to me as learning German (or English) over the past two years. And I got to say goodbye to some of my students again, which was nice.

Finally on Friday, I made the 25 minute journey to and from school for the last time. Again to play with the school orchestra, but this time for the - well, basically the equivalent of Graduation. I forgot to ask people how long they've done something like that, because I've always been told that Germans don't have anything resembling an American graduation - but maybe I just heard wrong. But it was cool to see their take on the process. An interesting comparison - perhaps for another post. In the end, I handed over my keys, gave my final hugs goodbye, and left the school for the last time. 

Having been an ETA for 2 years, I've known a lot of other people who've had really bad experiences at their school (not many, but enough). People who either just didn't fit in with the faculty or had problems with the students or didn't ever feel welcome. I still can't believe how incredibly lucky I was not only to have an awesome experience, but to have 2 amazing schools and 2 years of welcoming teachers, friendly and often enthusiastic students, and nothing but good memories.

Ok, I know I don't really post the gushy, heart-felt posts a whole lot, but I felt like it was necessary for a bittersweet goodbye - really the first of many bittersweet goodbyes to come in the next month. Before we get bogged down in those sad things, though, it's off to Italy tomorrow! But more on that later.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Amsterdam: the bicycles

Ok, words do not even begin to explain how many bicycles there are in Amsterdam. 
Seriously. Our tour guide told us there were 850,000 bikes in Amsterdam for 750,000 residents (however wikipedia disagrees with this figure). But even if it's incorrect, it's still entirely believable. There are so many people riding bikes all over this city. Even through all the tourists
Trust me, to get through the hoards of out-of-towners, you have to be a very aggressive rider. And aggressive they are. The clinging of bike bells is sort of a constant background noise in Amsterdam. But if you hear it coming from behind you, you basically need to spring dive out of the way or you will get run over. In fact, by the end of our 3 day trip, we could barely walk down the street without anxiously looking over our shoulder every 30 seconds, just in case! 
Amsterdam also has a really unique selection of bikes. We saw so many different bikes, and I'm not even sure we scratched the surface of all the strange kinds of bikes out there! 

We saw blue bikes
and green bikes
and yellow bikes on a bridge (a personal goal for Katharina).
We saw bikes with built in baby carriages in front,
and (my favorite) even a bike growing a garden! 
So many bikes everywhere! Which begs the question: if everyone is riding their bike and running you over, how are there still so many bike locked up everywhere?!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Amsterdam: the drugs

Out of all the things Amsterdam is known for, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that legalized marijuana is probably the most well known. In fact, when people tell you they're going to Amsterdam, this is probably the first scenario that pops into your head:
And it's true. Marijuana is a pretty prevalent part of Amsterdam. I'd say you can avoid it if you want to, but you can pretty much smell it every time the wind changes. 

But here's a fun fact guys: marijuana is technically illegal in the Netherlands. However, since the Dutch are the most amazingly tolerant people ever, they just sort of overlook it as long as it's not hurting anyone. But that's why you can't just find signs like "buy your weed here!!" Instead, you have to go to "coffee shops." And trust me, they're not hard to find. First, because they're on every corner. And second because the smell is unavoidable as you walk past. 
But what happens if you really do just want a coffee without an ensuing high? Then you go to a Cafe.

Of course, if can't remember, just walk up to the door and ask yourself 3 simple questions:
1. is everyone inside smoking something?
2. are there pictures of marijuana leaves all over the decor?
3. is the pungent stench of weed permeating into the street?

if your answer to any one of these questions was "yes," then it's safe to say you're at a coffee shop. 

Oh, and here's one last fun fact to think about: The Netherlands is starting to make it illegal (as in actually illegal and enforced) for non dutch residents to use coffee shops. This has already been implemented in most of southern Netherlands and is supposed to take effect in Amsterdam in 2013. Just so you know.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Amsterdam: the sex

As I mentioned yesterday, one of Amsterdam's most notorious attractions is the red light district. 
We've all heard rumors and whispers of the goings-on of Amsterdam's red light district, but just what really is it about? 

If you said sex, you're right. Seriously people, pretty much 24 hours a day you can find naked  (ok, not really naked... Well, by American standards yes, but otherwise you could just say "erotically dressed") women hanging out in windows all around the red light district. Of course, there are considerably more women workin' it at night than in the morning. But don't be caught off guard when you're making your way through the city at 10am and are greeted by boobs on the other side of a glass door. In fact, if you see glass doors out of the corner of your eye, it's best to just keep looking forward and avoid awkward eye-contact. I'm not really sure how one procures a prostitute, but in the event of it being some secret eye signal, I'm just going to keep my bashful American gaze on the ground in front of me. 

However, at night the red light district doesn't sneak up on you quite as much. Somehow between all the neon lights and middle-aged creepers it kind of gets the message out: "oh hey, there's some legalized prostitution going on here.

Now you might notice I'm not posting any pictures from the red light district. This is for two reasons: 
1. No. just no.
2. If you take pictures of them they will come out from behind their glass door and smack you and your camera down. 

If the red light district is something that is going to offend you or upset you, I would suggest just not going to Amsterdam. Of course there are plenty of other things to see, but because it is located right in the middle of the city, it's hard to get from one side to the other without walking through it. Also, there are lots of - how shall we say - novelty shops that are not discreet in their advertising. They even have a tribute to the red light district conveniently placed right in front of one of Amsterdam's beautiful old churches. easily overlooked, yet unmistakably clear. 
The sex culture is just a part of Amsterdam you've got to roll with - you just leave it on the streets if you want to. Unless of course you've got a group of nasty British kids in your 14 person hostel room. But that's another story for another blog.

So, before this post gets too uncomfortable to continue (must I remind you that I am still American and typing a whole post about sex is a big step for my people), I'm just going to leave you with a novelty condom shop in the middle of the city with a pretty hilarious display window. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Amsterdam: Sex, Drugs, and Bicycles

Way back in the beginning of June, Katharina and I went to Amsterdam for a weekend. I've been there twice before, but only for a combined total of 24 hours - so I was excited to finally get to really visit this city I'd only gotten a glimpse of. 
Of course Amsterdam has a bit of a reputation for sex and drugs - what, with the infamous red light district and well known "coffee shops." Of course, one thing you might notice before the sex and drugs if you ever visit Amsterdam is all the bicycles! Eventually all this led Katharina to proclaim Amsterdam the city of sex, drugs, and bicycles.
I'll touch on all 3 of those subjects. But not today. 
I wanted to start Amsterdam blogging by clarifying that that place is an amazingly beautiful city that has a lot more than just sex, drugs, and bicycles! Of course you should visit the red light district and/or a coffee shop if you want - they're definitely interesting bits of culture. But if you ever go to Amsterdam, make sure to get off the beaten path. Get out side the city center. Walk along the canals until you don't know where you are anymore. And that's where you'll find the most beautiful side of Amsterdam. And you'll understand why I think it's such an amazing city. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

the return of beer on a boat!

If you ever do anything with your life, you should go find yourself a boat and enjoy a beer on it. And if you just so happen to be in the Düsseldorf area, I've got just the boat for you. 
My history with the beer on the boat is a long and sometimes heartbreaking one. But about 5 minutes after experiencing the bar on the boat for the very first time, I swore right then and there that I would be back! And that's exactly what Katharina and I did a few weeks ago.

If you've talked to me at all in the past month you've probably heard me whining endlessly about the weather. For the past 3 weeks it's been cold and rainy. COLD! like 14ºC/57ºF. In June!! Talk about seasonal affective disorder much? But before the summer cold set in, there was one glorious weekend that was both appropriately sunny and warm enough for the season. So Katharina and I jumped on a train to Düsseldorf, headed for the Rhine, found the bar on the boat, and claimed a corner with a view as our own. 
We had such an amazing time - as one is wont to do with a beer at a bar on a boat - that it only took 2 days for us to return to that magical place. So if ever the weather gets nice again and you can't find me at home (or on Facebook), you'll know where to look! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

don't worry, I'm a professional.

At least that's what I pretend when it's soccer tournament time.
As I admitted yesterday, 4 years ago I knew next to nothing about the game of Soccer. In that first summer, though, I learned quite a bit after watching 3 solid weeks of match after match after match. I even managed to win the favor of most of my students last year when I could correctly define offsides

but let's be honest, I still don't really know all that much. I watch it for 3 weeks every other year (world cup and euro cup, people!). 

I don't know anything about the players in the regular season, yet I still yell "SCHWEINIIIIIII!!" with the best of them. I couldn't tell you who plays for which club regularly, but I can name almost every player + position on the German national team (and I don't even know what the positions really mean...).

During Euro Cup/World Cup season, I'm probably on the UEFA home page just as often as Facebook, checking the stats, ready to debate each possible outcome of the group points and remind you that Germany was the only team to finish the group round with 9 points (meaning they won all of their games) this year. 

And when the rest of Germany watched this adorable scene of the German coach during the match against the Netherlands, I was there with them sighing "ach, der Jogi!"
Here's the thing. I pretend to know a lot more than I actually do about soccer. But for 3 weeks every other year, I can carry on a pretty convincing conversation! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How I learned about Soccer

We're currently in the middle of the 2012 Euro Cup. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's like the World Cup, only - you guessed it - just for European teams. Just like the World Cup, though, the Euro Cup happens every 4 years. Which means the last one was in 2008 - during my year in Zürich

Oh, and what's that? Not only was I in Europe for the Euro Cup, but Switzerland and Austria co-hosted it that year. So I was really in the middle of the action.
For the month of June the whole country turned into soccer-mania. Zürich had souvenir, food, and drink booths lining the streets and giant screens all around for public viewings. Public viewings are great, and something they really need to implement in the US. It is exactly what it says - a big screen put up in public to view the game. You don't have to pay anything, just show up, find a place to stand, and join in the masses cheering on your team! It's really one of my favorite parts about tournament season in Europe. 
Before that summer I'd never really seen soccer, and my knowledge of the game ended at "kick the ball into the goal." But, of course, after 3 weeks of soccer madness, and a social life that consisted almost solely of going to watch the matches together, I learned quite a bit! 
I loved watching the 2010 World Cup with my friends in Athens, but since the Euro Cup is where it all started for me, I have a particular fondness for it. Especially since I will always associate it with that summer in Zürich - which may or may not have been one of the best of my life (depending on how cheesy that sounds to you). 
giant captains from some participating teams set up in the Zürich main station
Of course Switzerland was in full support of their team, this basically means "Go Switzerland" 
My favorite public viewing screen, out on the Zürisee
The Fan Zone was always bursting during game time!
Limmatquai lined with fan booths and football enthusiasts
Heja Sverige! Shahida and I in full support of Sweden during one of their matches
Enjoying some post-match foosball, you know, cause there were just foosball tables on the street.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I have the worst timing ever.

Remember that time I told you Dortmund was on their way to becoming the German soccer champions? 

Well, way back in the beginning of May, they made that happen! The night of the winning game, it was complete madness in the city. Since I could hear the celebration from my bedroom window, I decided to go check it out. 
But that was only the spontaneous, post-win celebration. The official celebration would be an all day party about a week later. And even though they won the championship last year, this year was a big deal too, because they also won something else. I'm not really sure what it was, or how they won it. I just know one win was decided by the points of the season and came with a big silver plate looking thing. And the other was decided by one game and came with a big golden trophy cup.

And what better to do for the celebration (Meisterfeier, to the locals), than gather everyone, offer them beer, and parade the silver plate thing and golden trophy with the team through the city. So Katharina and I grabbed our BVB cups of beer and joined the masses to wait for the show.
they even turned the fountains yellow for the occasion
In retrospect, bringing that big cup of beer with was probably a bad a day. No, it was definitely a bad idea. It didn't take too long for me to realize I really had to pee. And about 15 minutes before the parade was supposed to roll through our area, the pee-dance set in (you know, when you bob up and down because you have to go so bad). But I figured, 15 minutes - I could make it, snap a few photos, then make a mad dash for our apartment that was maybe 200 meters away. 

But the city was overrun with people in the streets, so of course, there was no way they were actually going to show up on time. The minutes rolled on so painfully slowly. And I continued dancing in my spot, convinced that as soon as I left to seek a bathroom, they would turn up. Finally, after about 40 minutes of agony, I decided it was no longer worth it and headed off in search of a bathroom (I couldn't get back to our apartment because it was impossible to cross the street at this point). 

Of course, the only place with a bathroom was a tiny little pizza place with a line out the door. So I got in line and waited (and danced). And sure enough, about 15 minutes later, someone runs in the door "They're coming, they're coming!" Well too bad, I had already put in too much time in this line, and I was going to see it through to the end. 

I was able to catch the very end - at least saw the silver plate thing and golden trophy with my own eyes, which counts for something, right? But you can thank Katharina for all the pictures of the sacred soccer parade. 

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