A lot for one post, but I feel I will never catch up otherwise. I finally finished classes today, and tomorrow starts a week of hosting three friends from the US, so I probably won't be writing much then! So, here are all the things I had hoped to post fresh, but must now post a bit stale, and a bit in a hurry. I hope they still hold some interest to someone! Sorry for the lack of pictures within the post, but you can see them all on the photos site! (Click THE PHOTOS to the right.)
On the Middle Rhein and the train ride north:
Holy mother of Edison. I thought it was gorgeous where I lived, but I would relocate to Mainz or Koblenz in a second, just to have easy access to the Middle Rhein. There wasn't a good way to get photos from the train (we were en route to Schwerin on the IC), but it's just unbelievably beautiful. A perfect combination of river, rocks/cliffs, trees, vineyards, towns, and castles. I hope to go up there as a destination rather than a ride-through next time.
The IC wasn't a bad way to travel - a little slow, but we didn't have to connect - but I don't recommend the bathrooms. A bit on the nasty side.
Damon felt that as we continued northward through the Ruhrgebiet, the clientele changed to a more working-class look, and stayed that way for the rest of the ride. I thought people started to look even more like they do back home. (I come from an area that was predominantly settled by Germans.)
Speaking of looking like home, Niedersachsen does. It's really more like Illinois than Iowa, I supposed, but it all seemed very familiar.
On the way there we shared a table area with a former psychiatrist and his very young daughter. I asked him why he wasn't practicing anymore and said I'd noticed there seem to be a lot of physicians in Germany who are not practicing. He said about 50% of them do not practice! I wonder what the US figure is. He was also very forthcoming and honest in his answer about why he left the profession, which was a little unexpected, though I guess I should know by now to expect the real answer from a German (and I very much appreciate it).
* It's clearly got a tourist industry going on, but isn't as spic 'n' span as the other tourist towns we have seen. There's a hideous gravel parking lot right in the way of one of the nicest views of the castle, for instance. Things are in a bit more disrepair in general. The area around the train station is surprisingly uninteresting, with not much in the way of food/shops.
* Where are the crosswalks? Cars rule Schwerin and drive like crazy, too. We also didn't notice any bike lanes and there were far fewer bikers. Maybe it has no university.
* One of the interesting things was being able to see a town still in the process of renovating itself to tourist-attracting perfection. It felt so much more realistic than other places we have visited. The Schloss was all painted on the outside, but still only halfway done in the courtyard. The Dom had a few sections renovated, but some not at all, and the difference was really interesting to see. It would be a great place to go in the summer and if you had a car to really get around to all the lakes and engage in summery water activities.
* No photos allowed inside the castle. Why? Also, I got in trouble for taking a cookie photo at a bakery while standing in the train station. These were the first times I ever had trouble with photography in Germany.
* Brick, brick, and more brick! It also is slightly reminiscent of Strasbourg, as its old town is set in a river, surrounded by water. It was great to see such different architecture than what we are used to in our area. The use of brick for Gothic structures is apparently specific to this area. I'm not sure how well these structures hold up, though. They are very old, but all seemed to be a little tilted!
* Marzipan! Luebeck is the marzipan capital of Germany. Now we are asking ourselves, "Why didn't we buy more!??"
* We weren't here for long - we didn't think we were going to make in there but we ended up with a bit of time so we did get a few hours there. With limited time we ended up doing a kind of lame tourist bit of a walkthrough from the Green Guide plus a port boat tour, but it still was pretty fun!
* It reminded me of Chicago in some ways, perhaps because it also had a big fire and was rebuilt so it doesn't have much really old left, or perhaps because I've become so accustomed to living in smaller places now, and Hamburg is a huge city!
* And is not without city problems. First time I've been panhandled in a long time, too. And harrassed on the street. And why is everyone always spitting?
* Overall, however, Hamburg felt like a pretty good place to live, and seems to be at a good point economically, if all the construction going on is any indication. There were cranes everywhere. I wish I could say more, but it really was a quick trip through.
* No taking photos inside Hamburg's most famous site - the Michaeliskirche. This was getting to be a theme.
The Pension vs. the Hostel:
We spent one night in Schwerin at a Pension, and then two nights in Luebeck at a hostel. They were virtually the same price overall. But here's what we got:
* Pension: They provide towels. Hostel: You drag your own sorry towel with you.
* Pension: Breakfast laid out on each table specially for the number of people in each room, with an egg freshly cooked right before you arrive. Cute little old lady doing all this and cleaning up. Hostel: Buffet. Bus your own damn table. And hurry up, because there aren't any tables left and the family with the screaming baby who kept you up all night are on their way down.
* Pension: Your own bathroom. Hostel: Dorm-style arrangement. Good luck with the hot water. No paper towels, although there is an empty dispenser there to mock you.
* Pension: Hear 5 minutes of next-door-neighbor traffic in the hall the whole time. Hostel: Entire conversations from the next room are as clear as day. The yelling kids down the hall sound like they are right next door. Every person going up or down the stairs sounds like a herd of elephants.
* Pension: You have a key and you're an adult. Live your life. Hostel: Get here by midnight or we lock you out in the street until 7 am, kiddo.
* Pension: No weird rules. Hostel: No alcohol allowed on the premesis, whatsoever.
I'm sure it's obvious which I preferred. I'm sure I'll whine through more hostel nights though, since it's quite a bit cheaper than most other options. I think we got lucky with the Pension price because Schwerin is a little cheaper. And it's called a youth hostel, but I think I saw 4 other people under 30 the whole time. It was mostly families with lots of kids, single older granola ladies, and skinflint-looking older couples. (And us, the skinflint-looking younger couple.)
Up There in General:
* They are egg-crazy! It seemed like there were a lot more various egg sandwiches and such at the bakeries, including these open-face things with just a layer of hard-boiled egg slices and a little bit of garnish. Mm!
* I didn't believe it when people said it is less relaxed in the north, but it turned out to be true. People we interacted with seemed a bit more stiff and a bit less friendly overall.
* Where are the Rolladen!?? We didn't see them anywhere! I don't think there's a house without them down here!
* Finally, to be in a true city after so long. To be in a place where no one feels left out. To be in a place where you can think of probably anything in the world that you might want, and know you can find it.
* But, you pay the price in light pollution. It never gets dark.
* If a German had asked me if they could put up a sign for the exit that said "Way Out" I would say it's technically right, but a little silly and no one uses it, so it's not a great idea. How wrong I would have been. Apparently "Exit" isn't really used at all in London!
* I didn't realize how much I missed English. At first I kept trying to speak German to service people like the flight attendants. Then I realized I didn't have to! After a day of adjustment I felt urges to just start talking to anyone on the street, just because I knew that for the first time in months, I could. Luckily I did not act on these very unBritish urges.
* Everyone there looked absolutely sharp. It's nice for me to live in a place where there's not much going on in the way of fashion, because I can wear all my old crap without feeling like a frump and feeling like the scum of the earth for not being able to afford anything new. But, it was also nice to see people who were looking so snazzy. How do they afford it there, though!?
* So freaking expensive. Entrance to Westminster Abbey: 10 pounds (=14.72 EUR, =$20.03). Add another 5 pounds (7.35 EUR, $10.01) for a guided tour to see the stuff that the others can't see, and to get a brief reprieve from the maddening crowds, only to instead be assaulted by American tourists who want to share their great knowledge of Europe with the whole tour group while the guide bites his tongue and grimaces. And by the way, no photos in the Abbey. Entrance to the Tower of London: 16 pounds (=23.55 EUR, $32.05). At least the museums were free. And the sandwiches at the shops are cheaper than in Germany.
* To be a tourist or not? Who doesn't want to see Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London? But who can stand to be in them, when the enormous gawping crowds just make it feel like a faked-up amusement park? How can one really appreciate the grandeur and history of places like this when they're being poked ever onward by the dopes behind them who aren't really looking at anything but are here by some kind of tourist obligation, while hearing the racket of a screaming group of 15-year-old schoolkids?
* Getting between London and here is no small trip. The train might have been just as good! Our trip home was as follows:
Leave apartment and walk to find bus stop - departure 4:50 am
Bus ride to Paddington Station
Heathrow Express to Heathrow
Bus from gate to plane
Plane to Frankfurt
Bus from plane to gate
Bus from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1
Train from Frankfurt to Heidelberg
Bus from Hauptbahnhof to near home
Walk to house - arrival 1:30pm - over eight and a half hours later! And London is a short flight. It really makes me wonder about flying to other European destinations and how much vacation time I would need to allow.
* Getting a Doctor in the US:
- Get health insurance.
- Get list of approved primary care providers from insurer.
- Call special number for appointment.
- Get an appointment, probably about 2-3 months later.
* Getting a Doctor in Germany:
- You already have insurance because they don't let you live here without it.
- Go to insurance place to get approved list. They laugh and ask if you want to take their phone book. Go ahead, they have an extra. You ask if they can recommend anyone. They're not allowed to make recommendations.
- Call whoever suits your fancy in the phone book. Get seen pretty soon.
* Don't buy the red towels. You'll be cleaning a red dust layer out of every room in your apartment for months. Don't buy the white towels. The little hairs that don't come out of your clothes because you don't have a dryer? Yeah, those show up really well on a clean white towel.
* The GEZ is still stalking me under my nickname, which they only could have gotten by stalking my personal mail. GEZ, your methods disturb me.