Friday, April 30, 2010

Stadtrundfahrt (city tour)

Wow - didn't know about this site.  The link just provided should hopefully give you a better idea of the scale of the Dom.  For those of you who have not yet been to Cologne, go ahead and make your own tour of the city.  While Google is still battling legal problems here, a local company seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.  I always like how nice and clean Streetview is.  It is simple and easy to use.  This one seems a bit more cluttered but also offers a whole lot more information.  When I have a bit more time, maybe I'll find a few other viewpoints.  But for now, I'm off to work!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

So Runs the World Away

I'm going to do my best to keep pushing this guy on everyone.  When you have a good 55 minutes to sit back and listen, be sure to check this out:

NPR First Listen: Josh Ritter, "So Runs the World Away."

You can listen to the whole thing above via NPR until the album comes out next week.


Updated May 7, 2010.  You can go to NPR's site above, or just use this:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door

Spring is finally here. I'm reminded of that every morning when I look out our balcony.  The sunsets are even better.  Of course I can't be allowed to enjoy the scenery like just about everyone else.  Yes, with all beauty came some of the worst allergies I've ever had in my life.  I've always had fairly rotten allergies, but I've become accustomed to them.  Until now.  The past couple of weeks have been pretty rough, but I think I'm finally getting over it.  I've read that this was going to be a particularly bad one here due to the long cold winter.  Instead of certain types of plants slowly waking up one by one, they've all gone and done it at the exact same time.  Lucky me.  Fortunately I've found a few sites which show how bad the day should be.  I prefer this one if only for its use of cute little bumblebees, or as they are called in German, Bienen (pronounced "bean-in"). Now when it looks bad, I can say "uh oh, it looks like another three Bienen day."

Other than the allergies, life here has been pretty good lately.  How good?  Well, for starters we survived that whole volcano ash monster situation entirely.  Without going into too much detail, She works in transportation and would have been swamped at work dealing with all the canceled flights and crowded trains.  Instead, She was a bit under the weather and was off work during all of Volcano-lypse 2010.  She returned to work the day everything went back to running smoothly.

We also found something I was ready to give up on long ago.  Italian sausage.  Despite living in a country that prides itself on its wondrous array of encased meats,  I could not for the life of me track down any Italian sausage.  This is hardly a staple of my diet, but it is definitely something I want on a pizza from time to time.  We asked everywhere.  Everyone just looked at us like idiots.  If you order "Italian style" pizza here, maybe you'll get something with salami on it.  If you're lucky, pepperoni.  But still, no Italian sausage.  I've eaten pizza with tuna fish only because the baked tuna fish has the appearance of sausage.  I was once so desperate I even ate this:

I began to think that maybe "Italian sausage" is just something that comes from the US.  Maybe it was made by Italian immigrants in the US?  I asked an Italian colleague in school however and he confirmed that it is very much an Italian product.  He also confessed that he was shocked that he couldn't locate it anywhere either. I made one last search online and found this place not too far from us.  Tucked away in a rather industrial neighborhood, they probably exist mostly for restaurant owners.  It took several tries and descriptions but we finally got it.  If you're jonesing for Italian sausage and think you might know a place to find it, don't ask for "Italian wurst," instead ask for "Italian bratwurst."  Who knew?

And yet, things continued to get even better.  Last Saturday we stopped at the local bakery to get a quick bite to eat before running some errands.  We found 20 euros on the floor on our way out.  We figured that was a good sign, seeing as later that day we would be announcing to our families that we will be getting married.  Whoa.  Did I mention that?  More on that later...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One Banana, Two Banana, Three Banana, Four!

Watching VfL Wolfsburg vs Fulham right now in a UEFA Europa League game.  Besides the underdog factor, I also find myself pulling for Fulham because they have a pair of Americans on the team.  (They had a few more in past years.)  Of course now that I have the opportunity to watch, neither are playing tonight.  With just a few minutes left, it looks like Fulham has this one and is moving on in the tournament.

I wanted to watch a lot more games here, but unfortunately very few games are on regular TV.  League games require a subscription package.  Only these international games seem to be on regular TV.  Now, I'm not changing sides here but I have noticed something that creates a soft spot for Wolfsburg.  Every now and then the crowd breaks into a song whose melody was obviously stolen from the old Banana Splits show.  Yes, those Banana Splits.

I don't know if this song is common in German games, or just specific to Wolfsburg.  Nevertheless, Wolfsburg, you just might have a new casual fan.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Change of Time

Change of Time - Josh Ritter

I had a dream last night
I dreamt that I was swimming
And the stars up above
Directionless and drifting
Somewhere in the dark
Were the sirens and the thunder
And around me as I swam
The drifters who’d gone under

Time, love
Time, love
Time, love
It’s only a change of time

I had a dream last night
And rusting far below me
Battered hulls and broken hardships
Leviathan and Lonely
I was thirsty so I drank
And though it was salt water
There was something ‘bout the way
It tasted so familiar

The black clouds I’m hanging
This anchor I’m dragging
The sails of memory rip open in silence
We cut through the lowlands
All hands through the saltlands
The white caps of memory
Confusing and violent

I had a dream last night
And when I opened my eyes
Your shoulder blade, your spine
Were shorelines in the moon light
New worlds for the weary
New lands for the living
I could make it if I tried
I closed my eyes I kept on swimming

(rough seas, they carry me wherever I go)

P.S. You can download the above song for free off Josh Ritter's website.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 4th, 2007


Yes, I've been more than a little bit negligent. Those of you who may have followed regularly have probably given up by now. I wouldn't blame you. I nearly threw in the towel on this blog as well. There have been several times in which I wanted to post something but I never did.

It was a long, cold winter here and I'm glad to say that it is over.  Between our opposing schedules, the incredibly short daylight hours, and the surprisingly cold temperatures, I was in a bit of a funk for the last few months.  I never really believed in that whole seasonal affective disorder, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had displayed some of those symptoms over the winter.  Fortunately not only has the weather been changing lately, but so have our schedules.  We've been able to spend more time together and we've even gotten out for a few day trips.

For the moment I'm taking a break from German lessons.  I recently took the B2 level exam.  I have no idea how I did, although I have a pretty bad feeling about this one.  If I have time this week I'd like to stop by the school and see how I did.  While my daily lessons are done for now, I am still working a few days a week.  But if you are looking for an updated score, I'm afraid to say this game was probably called on account of the slaughter rule and stupidity months ago.

It has been nearly a year since I started this blog. Back in May I wrote about what brought me to Germany. It was a long story and one that I never got around to finishing.  Tomorrow is the fourth of April, an important date for us and one that gives me as good an excuse as ever to resume blogging and finish what I started.

Three years ago today I boarded a plan for Paris.  Up until this point, my life was pretty ordinary.  I worked.  I went to too many ballgames and concerts.  I hung out on Tuesday nights at a bar playing dominoes and pinball with friends.  I was approaching 30 although it might well have been 22.  Not much had changed.  But now I was on my way to what could very well have been the most awkward blind date of all time.

She took the train from Cologne to Paris.  I had to find my way from Charles De Gaulle to the center of the city.  We agreed on a time roughly an hour or so later than my flight's arrival.  The plane arrived on time and I made my way to the train.  Things seemed to be working out perfectly until I got to the train station at the airport.  The automated ticket kiosks were out of order and there was a monstrous line to buy tickets at the counter.  Fortunately we did not count on my mobile phone being able to work.  It didn't. 

I finally arrived at the St-Michel/Notre-Dame metro stop at least two hours later than planned.  I hustled up the steps and looked for the first glimpse of the Cathedral.  I guess when you plan something like this, you see it in your head like a movie.  Sunshine, blue sky.  Just the right amount of people walking around in the background like extras.  Stereotypical french accordion music.  I walk towards Point Zero and we see each other from across the square.  Happily ever after and all that stuff.

Instead I reach street level and what do I see?  Hundreds if not a thousands of tourists crawling all over the square.  "Well, yeah, stupid.  It's probably like the second most visited site in the whole city," I must have said to myself.  And it is cold.  And windy.  Really windy.  I make my way through the crowd, searching the ground for Point Zero.  It wasn't all that hard to find.  But now I'm standing there, nearly on top of the mark scanning the surrounding crowd for a somewhat familiar face.  I don't think she's here.  I wouldn't blame her, either.  It is cold and I'm several hours late.  Did we have a backup plan?  Looking back now, I am not really sure we did.  Now what?

And just then, when I am about to curse Charles De Gaulle airport and my mobile phone service (or lack thereof), she began to walk through the crowd.  She was there the whole time, sitting on a bench nearby.  In fact, she later told me that she saw me approaching the whole way from the Metro stop. 

I couldn't tell you what our first words in person to each other were.  I don't remember.  I know we hugged.  The whole moment was so surreal and, yes, even a bit awkward.  We had become such close friends through emails and phone calls but now we were finally face to face.  Where do you begin conversation in a situation like this?  She had been waiting a long time outside and I still remember how cold she looked.  I suggested that we find the nearest cafe and have a cup of coffee so that she could warm up a bit. 

After the coffee we went to find the hotel.  I had been to Paris a few times before so I fancied myself somewhat of an expert on getting around the city via the Metro.  Just a few stops later she asked if we were going in the right direction.  "Of course we are."  And so we continued.  A few more stops and I realized she was right.

Navigating the Paris metro with cumbersome luggage is not a fun experience.  Switching trains often means wandering down long hallways usually filled with small sporadic flights of stairs.  What I remember most from these first few hours together was the heavy rolling suitcase she had brought with being dragged up and down these stairs. 

So, I was several hours late.  I took us in the wrong direction.  What else could possibly go wrong?  We found out after checking into our hotel.  Way back when we first discussed meeting, I kept suggesting that she come with a friend.  I thought meeting up might be awkward enough and then being alone together might compound the problem.  But she persisted in coming alone.  We agreed to share a room in the hotel.  I booked a double room online - meaning a room with TWO beds.  What we got was a room with one double bed.  Exactly.  Now I felt like that guy.  Rather than dwell on the situation, we dumped our things in the room and immediately left in search of something to eat followed by a walk around the city. 

We found a bistro near the metro stop and took a table in the back.  At this point, I still remember everything seeming so unreal.  We really weren't talking much, or at least not like we had talked over the phone.  Eventually our food came.  The small talk and awkwardness continued.  I noticed she kept staring at something across the restaurant.  I finally asked what she had been staring at.  It was the pinball machine near the front door.  I hadn't noticed it when we walked in.  "I think it is Elvis Pinball," she said. 

Over the past year of getting to know each other, I told her about my Tuesday nights at the Skylark lounge in Chicago.  My friends and I would meet there somewhat regularly to play dominoes and pinball and generally have a few too many beers to drink.  We would call it the "Tuesday Torpedo" because it pretty much killed any productivity the next day.  Recently the bar had acquired this Elvis themed pinball machine.  It is a great game.  How could it not be? It has a hip-swivelin' Elvis built right in.  See for yourself.  I'll admit it, I'm an Elvis fan.  Though to be honest, maybe only a little more than casual.  She, on the other hand, is a big fan.  And the thought of my friends and myself playing this game must have left an impression on her. 

So there we were in this restaurant, having been together in person for only a few hours and not knowing what to say to each other.  "Elvis Pinball?  Really? Here?!"  I turned around and looked.  Sure enough it was. We quickly finished our meals, paid the check and went over to the machine.  We played several games over the next half hour or longer.  That was all it took.  The King had worked his magic.  We left the restaurant laughing.  All the awkwardness of the past several hours melted away and it was like it always was in emails or on the phone.

We boarded the Metro to head into the center of the city for a walk.  It was rush hour.  Crowded.  No seats available.  We were shoved into a corner by the door and had little space to move.  She couldn't reach for anything to hold on to.  I put my arm around her to keep her safe.  The rest as they say, is history.