Thursday, July 2, 2009


Pictures of Berlin and Jena can be looked at here:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Berlin and Jena

I have been taking my time updating this thing, so I have not one weekend adventure to tell you about today but two. We will start with the weekend before last, during which I had planned to visit Dresden but due to the inability to find a room I found myself taking a day trip to Berlin instead.

I had an absolutely wonderful time - I really do love Berlin. This time I did an Alternative Berlin tour, which is the kind of tour that looks at cultural icons, street art, and things popular among the locals rather than going to monuments. I enjoyed it immensely - I liked seeing another side to Berlin and feeling like I got to know it a bit more. We saw all kinds of really cool street art, and some buildings that had been taken over by artists (featuring some really cool art), some bars (although they weren't super busy because it was midday, it was more like 'you should come here later'), and a lot of other cool things. There was also a protest that was going on that day that they took us to at the end - I think they were protesting gentrification, but the actual act was squatting an old airport. However, at the time I had to leave to catch my train back to Cottbus they had not yet successfully gotten into the airport, so I am afraid I cannot tell you how the story ended. It felt like most of the people there were more spectators than anything else - it was a very laid back protest. But anyway, as I said, I had an absolutely lovely day in Berlin, and before I left I even managed to snap some shots of a few important touristy things. All the pictures from the day can be found on my facebook - I will post the link (which works for non-facebook users also) after I put them up.

Then just this past weekend I went to go visit my cousin Dolores in Jena! I had a great time. Jena is really cute - it is kind of like Cottbus but significantly bigger and surrounded by mountains (or at least hills). For dinner we all climbed up one of them to a restaurant. It was very very foggy, or else I've been told the view would have been lovely. What I could see was very nice though, and dinner was good. I also enjoyed hot chocolate at a cute cafe thing with Dolores in the afternoon, and after dinner we went to an ice cream shop and I FINALLY got a massive ice cream sundae like I have wanted since I got here (pictured on my facebook). It was GREAT. Then on Sunday, Dolores and Michael were having a little birthday party for David's first birthday (!!), so in the morning I helped (er...watched) Dolores prepare for that, and then a bunch of people came, and it was very good fun meeting everyone. I liked it especially because when people speak German to babies it is usually very simple and I can kind of understand. I also liked it because Dolores made a delicious cake. I felt like I had to leave Jena too soon - I had a lot of fun getting to know David for the first time and seeing Dolores and Michael again!

So as you may or may not know I am actually leaving Germany two weeks from tomorrow (Thursday) - good heavens that was quick! In between now and then, I will be spending a weekend in Dresden and 4 days in Heidelberg for a conference for my scholarship. I will update about those things as they come along - I am especially looking forward to the conference. Until then friends, ciaociao! Look at my pictures!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pictures! Finally...

Pictures of Milan are here:

Pictures of Cottbus, here:


Milano!! (not the cookie).

So last weekend I went to Milan! Despite getting on the wrong train and going 20 minutes in the wrong direction, I still managed to catch my flight and the trip went smoothly from there. I did have some trouble finding my hostel, which made me anxious because I was alone and it was late, but fortunately i utilized my Italian skills (which came easily due to anxiety) to ask for help. A cool old cigarette-smoking italian lady who clearly had no idea where it was either was happy to tag along and have a look helped me out. So then I was officially in Italy!!!! I will say that that was basically the end of my Italian-speaking during the trip. Whenever I tried to speak to order food or anything the Italians heard me speak and switched to English because i was clearly not Italian. They were trying to be helpful but it was slightly disappointing.

Anyway, I mostly spent my time wandering around Milano and taking pictures of EVERYTHING. Especially of the Duomo, because honestly there isn't a lot to see in Milan besides the Duomo. I climbed up to the roof (on the stairs, not like spiderman, silly) and walked around the roof, which was cool. I also went to Castello Sforzesco and wandered around the museums looking at the art to get some culture. I went to the church that the Last Supper hangs out in, but unfortunately I couldn't get in to see it. Apparently you need to book like a month in advance, which I didn't know. I did try to see if there was a cancellation (at the advice of my hostel) but sadly it was not to be. I also spent a fair amount of time walking around looking in the windows of the expensive shops. Two rounds of my favorite game, "guess how much it costs" can be found in the photo album I'll be posting along with this entry : )

In addition to touristing, I also ate a lot of delicious Italian food, especially pizza and gelato. I went to the place that was supposed to have "the best pizza in Milan" (according to google). It was DELICIOUS, but salty and very heavy. On my last night i went to the Naviglia with a girl from my hostel - it's like a canal with a bunch of bars and restaurants around it. They all have happy hour deals where you buy a drink for 7-10 euro (depending on the bar) and you can eat all the aperitifs you want. In this way I got to sample a wide variety of delicious Italian food. You'd think in a situation like that the food would not be good, but it really was delicious, probably because the Italians are so hardcore about food. I read somewhere that Milan is known for its aperitifs, and I don't know if that's true but if it is I could see why.

By the end of my last day I was kind of running out of things to do, and it was seriously hot so I was tired of walking, so I was kind of just hanging out in the city center. All in all I think Milan itself is very cool but not super-interesting to a tourist...but I loved being in Italy in general! I can't really say what I loved so much about it, but I really did. I had a great time and really want to go back and visit the country properly. So overall, good trip! And props to anyone who stayed on and actually read this whole thing : )


So here is an interesting tidbit regarding my last post about the numerous American diners in the area. I mentioned the diners to Annika and she told me that Cottbus, and East Germany in general, has foreign food places (like American and Asian) in abundance because East Germans really embrace foreign culture, in response to not having had access to it for so long. They also travel much more than other Germans do. So I thought that was interesting.

Post about Milan to follow later on today.

Friday, June 5, 2009

American Food

I have a few observations to make here relating to American Food. First of all, within a two block radius (approx) in the town of Cottbus, I have actually found THREE restaurants called some variety of "American Diner." Why? I don't know. I haven't actually tried any of them yet, but if it ever strikes me to do so I'll keep you posted.

I also wanted to point out that there is a brand here called something like "Mcennedy's"(?) that has a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it and sells American food in grocery stores. It really makes me laugh. Things I have seen that they make include cheeseburgers, fully formed including the bun and cheese and vegetables, white bread, buffalo chicken pizza, blueberry muffins, and chocolate chip cookies. I think the reason I am so amused by this is because I never really thought of any food as being particularly American, except maybe apple pie or something.

But then yesterday! I found an entire COOKBOOK in the dollar store dedicated to the art of cooking American cuisine. I briefly flipped through it and found basically all variety of food, including things like caesar salad, cobb salad, bagels, egg sandwiches, doughnuts (come on now Germany, I know you have doughnuts here too), and ribs (which were featured on the cover).

As a concluding and unrelated note, I very nearly bought that cookbook because it was only one euro. I am definitely of the variety of people who should not be allowed anywhere near discount stores - I am always like, "i DEFINITELY need this toy gun with accompanying plastic holster, and also this cookbook that is entirely in german, because look at how cheap it is!!!"

Okay that is enough for now. If anything interesting happens before I go to Italy in ONE WEEK (!!) I will let you know, otherwise I will talk to you then to tell you about my trip : )

Monday, June 1, 2009


This weekend I took myself away for a little trip to see some more of Germany. On Saturday I got up (very very early, sadly) and took the train to Potsdam. As far as I can understand, Potsdam is where the kings used to hang out in their spare time, so they built a lot of palaces and gardens there, which I looked at. I'd never been to visit any castles before, so it was an experience. There was a lot of gilded stuff, and a lot of large statues of people, and a lot of fountains in the gardens. I went into the palace called sanssouci (which means without cares, apparently) and it was very nice. Very fancy. It all seems very bizarre to me that people took all this time and energy to build all these fancy fancy places. I mean, there were hundreds of those statues and each of them must have taken a really long time. The town of Potsdam was really cute, but clearly a tourist city. There was a lot of shopping, and it was nice because it was all outdoors and everyone was out and about enjoying the nice weather (before the huge rainstorm that night). There's also an area called the dutch quarter that was apparently built to house dutch workers, and it's all identical red brick houses, that now have shops in them. That was cute too.

That night I went to Berlin and immediately loved it. Unfortunately as soon as I got to my hostel it started POURING, so I didn't do much that night besides hang out in the bar downstairs in my hostel with some people who were sharing my room. The next day I did a walking tour of Berlin and saw a lot of things. Berlin is weird because they keep destroying important things, and then occasionally rebuilding them, and then sometimes destroying them again. History keeps being rewritten there, and it's weird. But on my walking tour I really learned a lot about the history and the war and so on. I'm glad I went on it because otherwise I wouldn't have had any idea what I was looking at. I did see a piece of the Berlin Wall, and also the site of the book burning, museum island, a bunch of churches, the Brandenburg Gate, the site of Hitler's bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, Reichstag Dome, the memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust (which at first I didn't like but then my tour group talked about it a bit and I changed my mind, but it is weird), and bunch of other stuff. After the tour I walked around more and went back to a few of the things I wanted to see again, and then unfortunately it started POURING again, and anyway I had to catch my train back to Cottbus, so that was the end of my weekend. I really really liked Berlin and would really like to go back and get to know it from the non-historical perspective. We'll see how it goes.

PS. I didn't know what a bunch of the things I listed from Berlin were until I went there, so if you are like me and curious feel free to ask lol.
PPS. I haven't gotten a new camera since I broke mine in Australia, so sadly I have no pictures for you, but hopefully I'll get one soonish to improve future blog entries.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Abrupt Change of Topic: Germany?!

Well I hadn't decided whether or not I wanted to blog about this particular adventure, but today I decided that 6 months from now I will probably regret it if I haven't written anything about it. I am presently in Germany (Cottbus, approx 2-3 hours South and kind of East of Berlin) for an internship that will last from May15 to Jul 16. I got here about 2 and a half weeks ago, and as I said I am here until Jul16. I won some kind of scholarship that pays me to come to Germany (except the plane ticket) and learn some stuff about science by helping out a phd student in a lab. I am working in a soil physics lab, learning about things like water retention curves and hydraulic conductivity. My phd student person is super nice and is called Annika. Another key piece of information here is that I do not by any means speak German. Ok, here we go:

Hallo from Germany!! Cottbus is a nice city in east germany. The architecture at the university (BTU) is super modern and weird, it's all glass and metal and concrete. Lots of gray. Also, the library, it has to be said, is truly horrendous. If you were looking at it from above it would look like an amoeba or something, and its just seven stories straight up in this weird shape, all glass with giant letters, and the inside is enthusiastically decorated in hot pink and lime green. The main feature is a giant spiral staircase and mysterious chain link fences. I'm not sure I understand art. But anyway. The rest of Cottbus is very cute with european-looking buildings and a river (Spree, it's called). Apparently there's a big foresty thing nearby, that I am going to visit at some point I hope. It's not a super exciting city though, it has to be said, so I'm kind of bored as I don't really know people at all. I do know people at work though, and they are very nice and I enjoy going every day. Which is good, because I have to lol. There's an unusual amount of graffiti around - I don't know why or if that's typical. People bike a lot here (as you probably have heard), and do in fact eat a lot of sausage. They also eat something mysteriously white and gooey looking with potatoes. It looks frankly gross. Other things I have noticed since I got here:

1. older german women have a strange tendency to dye their hair a weird shade of very dark red
2. pretty much all male germans have really nice shoes
3. most of the german people i have met have been super friendly and helpful if you talk to them or clearly need help (like when i asked a stranger if he could please translate the cooking directions on my frozen peas), but they mostly don't smile as readily as americans, which sometimes makes me feel like i'm in trouble or something because everyone looks so serious.
4. people biking have these nifty yellow things to keep their pants legs away from their pedals, that are like slap bracelets for their legs
5. putting dogs on leashes when you take them out and about is apparently not such a big deal, and they can follow you onto public transportation it seems. and the dogs never run away or get distracted. interesting.

i think that is enough for now. i am off to explore Potsdam and Berlin this weekend, and will tell you about that when i get back. ciaociao. er...tschüss!