In a Nutshell...

Trip Start Aug 29, 2009
Trip End Jun 20, 2010

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Flag of Germany  , North Rhine-Westphalia,
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    I have watched in growing horror as the months have passed and I have still written no new blog entry. As the weeks continue, the task has seemed more and more insurmountable. Since my last entry I have traveled to Hamburg, the USA, Poland, and Amsterdam. How am I supposed to cram all that into something remotely readable?? And with Karneval fast approaching, I can't afford to stall any longer!! Okay, I'll try to break it down into some more digestible sections. Feel free to skip ahead to the locations that interest you most...

Hamburg, Germany:
    I was lucky enough to get one more reunion with a Cave member and best friend. Pat was still in Europe, staying with his brother in Denmark. On a free weekend we decided to meet up in a perfect middle ground--Hamburg, located in central, northern Germany. Hamburg is a large harbor city, and was, at  one point, the gateway to the West. Whether that was the gateway to the West as in America, or as in Western Europe now escapes me, but a gateway it certainly was! Every import and export came through Hamburg. Now, in addition to continually thriving docks, it is home to many corporations and, in a different part of the city, artists. Pat and I spent most of our trip braving the cold on the streets--checking out Christmas markets, the famous street of sin, the Reeperbahn, the docks, the canals, and old bombed churches. Mostly, I was happy to spend time with my friend. Neglecting the many museums, my favorite excursion was to a laundromat/bar, where people could do their laundry while drinking  a cold Astra (the local beer) and watching the Hamburg soccer team. In lieu of seats, the clientel perched on the various machines and drying racks. I think this is the greatest idea I've encountered so far in Europe.

    I won't linger on this country, as most of you are rather familiar with it. I will just say how wonderful it was to spend much needed time with my friends and family. The ten days I spent here passed far too quickly. I'm so happy to be having this adventure in Europe, but never fear, Mom and Dad, my heart is firmly American.

Back in Germany:
    I was incredibly fortunate to return to Europe with a friendly face: my boyfriend, Shane. It was exciting being able to show him my city. I'm feeling more and more at home here, and am better able to show guests the ins and outs. Outside visiting the church and a museum or too, Shane and I got to finally try out what turns out to be my new favorite bar (are we seeing a theme in Jen's European activities?)--Der Wahlfisch, literally "The Whale." There one can order giant glasses containing three or five liters of beer. There is a little spout at the bottom of the glass where you can pour out the amount you want. Shane and I visited several times and tackled several of these giant glasses. Shane and the bartender became fast friends and he delivered us a constant supply of new schnapps to taste. At the end of the night, I think the bartender was walking as wobbly as we were.
    Shane and I also engaged in a classic Cologne tradition. On the Hohenzollern Bridge near the main train station, couples lock a padlock onto the chain-link fence before throwing the key into the Rhine River. My understanding is, if you place a lock on the bridge you will remain together and one day return to Cologne. I forgot if I explained the significance of the lock to Shane before or after the ceremony... My train goes over the Hohenzollern Bridge on my way to work, so seeing the lock every day is a nice reminder of a pretty cool kid.

G'dansk, Poland:
    While in Europe, Shane and I wanted to take a trip. Finding the cheapest flight was to G'dansk ("Where?"), that was where we decided to go. Incidentally, G'dansk is on the shore of the Baltic Sea, and January is perhaps not the best time to travel there. But despite the frigid cold, we had an amazing time! G'dansk is beautiful, having been completely rebuild in the traditional style after World War Two. It is also brimming with history. Germany's first attack of World War Two was in G'dansk, as was the first resistance movement against communism in Eastern Europe.
    Although a fairly well known tourist destination (among certain circles--the name was completely unknown to me until I bought the ticket), almost no one we met there spoke any English or German. And Shane and I quickly learned that Polish is unlike any language that either of us know. To make things more difficult, the written language seems completely unrelated to the spoken language, rendering the helpful phrases I'd written down before departing completely useless. In fact, on our English tour of the city, there were only three of us: Shane, myself, and an Australian woman. We had a fun time using body language, pointing randomly at indecipherable menus, and nodding blankly. But really, regardless of language, everything about Poland seemed pretty do-it-yourself. On a trip to a local castle, Shane and I were confronted by a sprawling building with no maps and no signs. We literally ran around the castle testing all the doors, some of which were locked and some of which opened up into expansive exhibits. It was quite an experience!
    My favorite American moment of the trip: on our English tour we three were offered a special Polish liqueur. Our tour guide served it to us three in tiny plastic shot glasses. We enthusiastically cheered our cups, using the Polish word for "cheers" which I forgot as I was saying it. Then the two Americans and the Australian downed their samples in a single gulp, drawing an alarmed oh! from our guide. Apparently we were supposed to sip and savor. Leave it to the Americans and the Australian...
    I have so much more to tell about this amazing city--the pleasant "conversations" that sounded like shouting matches between the owner of our hostel and his family, Shane getting his feet soaked in the Baltic Sea, us very nearly missing our flight and sprinting across the tarmac to our waiting plane--but I'm going to need to get on with it if I still want to talk about

    A wonderful friend of mine from Portland was on his way to a wedding in India, and as luck would have it he ended up with a lay-over in Amsterdam. Being a four hour train ride away, I dashed over to meet him. Amsterdam is also a beautiful city. Largely missed by World World Two, it has retained it's original and interesting Dutch architecture, and is riddled with canals crossed by graceful little bridges. On the day my friend, Zubin, arrived, a fresh inch of snow was on the ground and the sun was shining for the first time in weeks. It was incredibly beautiful. Of course later, that inch of snow would become unrelenting ice which would cause me to go flying across the cobblestones and onto my back, much to the amusement of the stoned kids gathered in front of an herb-dealing "coffee shop"--but at the time it was beautiful.
    Neglecting the Anne Frank House and Rijks Museum, I found several wonderful breweries and took a much needed hiatus from pale German ales and lagers. Zubin and I did make it to two museums, the Heineken Experience and the Van Gogh Museum. Both were amazing and well worth the admission. Aside from those two detours, I don't regret a moment I spent wandering the streets aimlessly. Amsterdam is the land of aimless wanderers, and that experience I found much more rewarding than waiting in line for 90 minutes in front of the Anne Frank house.
    If you travel to Amsterdam, I offer you one word of caution. Amsterdam is famous for its film culture, and being a film nut, I was eager to taste the local flavor. I was recommended by a number of the locals to a theater that had been recently done in the art deco style. It was fabulous, I was assured. Not being familiar with the concept of art deco, I imagined an old wooden theater, decorated with bold colors and vintage moldings. Perhaps there would be colored glass chandeliers and rich velvet curtains. As it turns out, art deco translates into neon signs, chrome accents, and stained concrete--aka. every modern movie theater. I watched the new Sherlock Holmes movie and was thus disappointed twice in one night.

Back to Cologne:
    I'm now back home, cleaning house, stocking up on food, and preparing my costume for Karneval. Thursday marks its beginning and also the arrival of three more Americans (how do I get so lucky to have so many guests?! It's so cool!), my friends Alex and Brea from my home town Olympia, and Alex's friend Sarah from Bellingham! I'm so excited to experience Karneval with those three. I know it will be a wild adventure for all of us. There are some amazing traditions connected with Karneval, but I'll save those for my next entry.
    I hope everyone is doing well, and as always, I send my love. Germany is wonderful, but I do miss those nearest and dearest to my heart. And M&Ms. I miss M&Ms.
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Leanne on

JEN! I must say, I love your posts so much. You are so thorough and descriptive in each of your entries. It makes me feel like I'm right there with you. It all sounds amazing. Can't wait to hear about Karneval :)

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