Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Last Hurrah

Lisa and I had planned to go to her sister's wedding on August 21. But when we called our usual doggie lodging place, it turned out they were full up! That had never happened before. We even called the two other similar establishments in Portland, and they were booked during the dates we'd be gone, too! Of course, somebody had to stay home to take care of Buddy, so I was unable to accompany Lisa to the festivities. Darn it! I'd even learned a "The The" song on guitar (Love is Stronger Than Death") that Liz had asked to be played.

But because I'd already bought the ticket to Chicago, I decided to make the trip last weekend, which offered one advantage: if I had gone with Lisa, I would not have had time to visit my family. But this way I could make it the focus of my trip. The highlight of the weekend was that my sister had tickets to last Sunday's Cub game, which happened to be the day that the Cubs retired Ryne Sandberg's jersey number. As some of you may know, the Cubs have been around for more than 100 years, but Sandberg's was only the fourth jersey number they've retired. So that gives you an idea of how special an occasion it was. Plus, it was a beautiful day, the Cubs one easily, and I had a chance to visit with 5/7ths of my family, which, because I have siblings living in all U.S. time zones, was also a pretty special occasion.

And that was good, boy, because it was the last hurrah. No longer can I be a free-spending, globe-trotting, carefree son-of-a-gun. Now I must be a budget-minding, stick-close-to-home, nose-to-the-grindstone-with-my-fiction-writing son-of-a-gun. But that's okay. It was a great summer filled with many memorable experiences. Lisa has finally had a chance to post pictures of our European sojourn.

Actually, I'm looking forward to getting into the routine of class-taking, writing, shopping/cooking and snuggling with my wonderful wife. Like Dorothy said, there's no place like home. And as no less a vital personage, Henry Rollins once said, "You're just talking a bunch of sh*t, man, until you DO IT!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Holy Krabbensplaat! I'm back!

Okay. I have finally got off my duff and done a whole bunch of updates in a row to summarize my European experiences. I thought for a while about organizing it all. But that way lies procrastination. So I'm just gonna do a stream of consciousness series of updates, unorganized as they may end up being.

So first. Amsterdam! Coolest city I ever saw. But first, as an adjunct to my previous post about Amsterdam, here's proof of the made-up language-ness of Dutch:

Hee hee! That just cracks me up! It sounds like Ren of "Ren and Stimpy." "Steek kaart een you stooopid eediot!"

Of all the cities that Lisa and I visited during our stay in Europe, I think Amsterdam was our favorite. You get a bit of everything. Elegant architecture:
The beauty of the canals:

Breathtaking museums, including the Rijksmuseum, which houses a ton of paintings by folks (or is that "volks"?) like Rembrandt and Vermeer:

And of course, kick ASS public transport. Everyone rides bikes because the city is densely populated, compact, and also extremely flat, having formerly been at the bottom of the North Sea. But there's the added convenience of being able to take your doggy with you!

Getting to the city from other major cities in Europe is a breeze, because you can take the Intercity Express, or ICE. Here's what it looks like from the outside:

Here's a shot of the futuristic cockpit. I never really saw anyone "driving" the thing, although one crew member shut himself in to have some lunch.

Which is a bit scary considering the speeds at which the train travels:

That translates to about 180 mph.
Lisa may end up studying her post-graduate linguistics at Amsterdam or at Utrecht, a Dutch city about half-way between Amsterdam and Germany. If that happens, I think it will be okay by me!

Things you won't see in the USA

Because Lisa was attending classes and theater-group rehearsals for most of the time I was in Heidelberg, I had a chance to bum around the old part of the city and also do some hiking in the surrounding wooded hills. So here's a brief record of some of the things I saw. First, something you won't see in the USA:

In the USA, people seem welcome to drink at a bar and then drive home. But WOE be unto him who walks around with an open container of booze. Stoopit!
And in keeping with my recurring silly words theme, here's this, pasted on the top of a computer at a local Internet cafe:

Lisa translated this as something like "priority for floppy disk drive users." If you say so, honey.

Another thing you don't see in the USA is 14th century ruins! As Heidelberg is a city with a history dating to the Middle Ages, the surrounding countryside is dotted with relics. I tended to want to hike to places with a view, which, not surprisingly, is also where lords and monks tended to build their watchtowers. Here's my favorite, the Heiligturm (Holy Tower), which, I believe, was part of a Franciscan abbey. The tower had a spooky but very cool internal stairway, and an unbelievable view of Heidelberg from the top.

One last thing you won't find in the USA is medieval structures COVERED IN GRAFFITI!

If I had my way, anyone caught "tagging" would be tossed off the top of said structures. And with luck, they'd land on people who don't pick up after their dogs. Then we could eliminate two scourges at once!

Things I'll miss about Germany

It's not a surprise that, after spending two months in Germany, there are many things I miss about it. Like enormous portions of unbelievably delicious beer! Here's a liter of Dunkel Hefeweizen (Dark Wheat) beer from "Vetter in Schoeneck," a microbrewery frequented by H-berg "townies" who know their suds:

It's well nigh impossible to find a really good light beer in the USA (and by "light" I mean a lager or weizen, not one of those abominable "lite" beers). This is especially true if you want said beer on tap. As Germany is the land of great light beers, I enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in that department.

I'll also miss the view from Lisa's student apartment, which looked over the courtyard of her building and from which you could see the hills beyond the Nekar river. When her fellow students weren't making a ruckus (which they would sometimes do but not TOO often) it was quite a restful scene.

Of course, I'll miss Heidelberg itself, a truly historic city with the added attraction of having been visited and written about by a hero of mine, Mark Twain. Here's a photo of the "Bergbahn" (Mountain Train) tracks, which MT rode, and the city beyond, with the Holy Ghost Church in the middle and the Old Bridge across the Nekar in the distance. As you may guess, my little PocketPC camera doesn't do the view justice, but you get the idea.

I'll also miss the immediate cultural diversity. Lisa's fellow students in the theater group were from Hungary, France, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, China and other points. It was a lot of fun talking with them about their home countries and what they missed and what they didn't miss. Plus you have a chance to rub elbows with some crazy folks, like these Tibetan monks in Salzburg who sang two tones at the same time!

And finally, I'll miss really old, historic structures, like the Gaiserturm, which I visited on one of my hikes in the region.

Lisa and I are still struggling a bit with a bit of "post-parting" Europe depression. It's tough to return to the monotony of daily domesticity. But we made many great friends from all over the world, friends that we hope to visit in the future. And of course, there are things that help soften the blow, like the stuff we missed at home: