24 September 2012

A+ for everyone

I don't know what it is about the world today, but everyone is just being excellent in lots of little ways.

I took the bus from our station to where I needed to be for my first lesson as an English instructor in Germany, and the excellence started right there. First, I saw this great sign (above), which I may have passed before, but probably not more than once or twice, since I've never taken the bus from our village. We're much better connected by train. Anyway, I made a mental note to take a picture of the sign when I got back.

The point is, my destination being pretty much the only place we're connected to by bus, I took it this morning. The driver seemed generally upbeat and truly proved it before we set off: after everyone had boarded, he first got up to wave to us and bid us all a good morning before sitting down again to drive. When we got to the main road he made some funny noises and then did a U-turn. He wasn't up for what he considered to be a "Stau"—traffic congestion or a traffic jam. I realised this because after his manoeuvre he flagged down another bus driver coming from the opposite direction to inform him of the trouble ahead. "Turkish-Turkish-Turkish-Stau-Turkish-Turkish." We cut through our village to get to the main route we needed to take, and made our first stop. I have to admit that the ride many had taken from the station to this IBM-stop seemed rather silly just then. All that drama for what could have been a 1 km walk? Anyway, once we reached the small village neighbouring our destination, we were in a real jam. The driver even got up to get his snack and paper from another seat in the bus—"What a Stau! Might as well read the paper!" The situation being what it was he made a proposition some minutes later: those who wanted to get out and walk were welcome to do so, he'd pick them up again if they got to the train station stop at the same time and wanted to continue on. Movement being as slow as it was, we didn't see the two people who took the walking option on the bus again.

When I got back, I remembered to take my picture. Then that bus driver, waiting around until his next departure, insisted on taking a picture of me with the sign—"Isn't that so much nicer!" We got to talking, since I suppose one has to assume "You're not from here, are you?" if you see me taking weird pictures. He's also Turkish, but has lived in Germany for forty years. Despite having completed his schooling here, he still struggles with the German language. "How do you find writing in German? My boss sends me an SMS, right. So I have to reply in German. But I can't even write an SMS without making some silly, small error. One word or two words? Or sometimes I get one letter wrong. It's hard!" He thinks it's nice that Germany is generally a safe country where a woman—or a man for that matter—can be on the street at night without too much worry. He does however worry about the far-right, particularly about the damage they could do to the country's image. If people develop a negative image of Germany they might be like, "I want to buy this handbag—oh no wait, I don't—it was made in Germany".

And that was just the bus drivers! The ladies who showed up for what will be a very small group of English learners (even when all are present) were also just the best. I was wise enough this time around not to ask odd questions like "How old are you?" My Japanese adult students had schooled me when I did that four years ago—"As old as your mother" or "Older than your mother" were the two answers that everyone in the group used. I wish they could join us. I can just imagine the animated discussions on gardening and grandchildren.

23 September 2012

Reporting for duty

Well, tomorrow I'll report for English-teaching duty. And from Tuesday to Friday I'll be back at German class. So "school" is officially on again. For after school activities I'll continue working on the Coursera course I'm doing, so even more "school". Hurray!

Here's something fun from last weekend.

19 September 2012

Another goodbye

Found these in the vault recently, by which I mean the uncleared SD card. It wasn't quite two weeks ago, but these pictures evoke memories of warmer times. The days aren't so bad yet, but the nights keep getting colder. I think tonight marks the first possibility of frost, hopefully not around these parts though. At least there are apples, pumpkins, and the last few berries to keep us happy.

14 September 2012

Goodbye, summer

I mean, I hope it isn't truly and finally goodbye, but it sure seems that way. This past weekend we were on a DIY mission, but I forced us to interrupt it after we got back from shopping on Saturday, because you never know how many sunny days are left. We spent a relaxing late afternoon at the Gärtringen public pool. The lawns stretch out forever and the atmosphere is heavenly, even if the water is a tad cold.

I simply had to repeat the trip on Sunday—because again—you never know about the sunny-day supply. Seems it was a good call. Since then we've been plunged straight into much lower temperatures, wind, and rain.

Here are some more phone pics from short walks and cycles around the area in recent times.

Notice that burnt down shed? Lots of messy, messy arson damage. Friends happened to have told us about it, and then I came upon it the other day. Poor farmer.

13 September 2012

Parisian passages

I won't lie: it's with a considerable amount of joy that I realised this morning, "Final set of France pictures!" So this overly stretched-out narrative is finally at its end.

We started our morning by finally biting a get-in-line-and-wait bullet. The travel team had its heart set on the Catacombs of Paris, no matter how long it took to get in. Our first stroke of luck was that our other friends had made it to the queue before us, so we got to skip ahead immediately. Then... there was lots of waiting. I took the time to write some postcards, stick insufficient postage on, and then went in search of a mailbox to drop them in. I don't know if they arrived in the end (family?). While I was off on my mission I also found a souvenir that I could go and purchase later.

After our morning in line, we made it inside the Catacombs at around lunch time. There was lots of interesting information about the geology and the fossils, and then of course there were all the skeletons. I trust you can do your own background reading. Bottom line, it's a pretty excellent place to visit, even if you have to spend hours waiting to get in. Take some snacks, good company, and don't forget sun protection.

We emerged from the cold of the underground passageways somewhat frozen, but it was nice to have a bit of a delay on really feeling the heat that had taken over the city. Lunch was served at an excellent takeaway joint with the nicest Algerian guys you ever will meet. One of them had spent some time living in the US, so he spoke English and we had a good chat.

I forget if it was before or after lunch that I dragged our whole party to the tiny book store where I had found what I wanted to take home from Paris: a book on French folk art. The owner spotted me and said something in French, which turned out to be "I remember you from this morning". My friend had had to translate that, but the next bit I got, "You looked at a book on French history or something". I was taking it over to him to pay, so, "Aha! Yes, this one!" It's actually funny how much one can understand even when you technically understand nothing. (More on that in a minute.)

For the afternoon our two parties split up again and we went to go blitz around on the Seine on a Batobus. We took a break at one point to get some three Euro colas at the Louvre shopping centre. I think the only person who served me a suitably cold beverage the whole time we were in Paris, was the Algerian guy. And I'm pretty sure that wasn't three Euro. So, basically, Europeans seem to like most drinks at something just below room temperature. Blegh!

For dinner we finally had a timely meet-up and successful supermarket picnic in the Luxembourg gardens. We finished in time to slowly leave as the guards with their whistles were walking around, urging all the lazy readers and sun-sitters to get a move on.

Seeing as how sunset happens after dinner in the summer, we used our Batobus passes to the full to enjoy some sunset and night time cruising. We finished at the Eiffel Tower and took some more compulsory touristy pictures. It was great when the tower started doing it's flickering lights thing. Literally everyone, i.e. hundreds of people, GASPED.

The next morning we drove out to Charles de Gaulle to bid our friend farewell. Too sad :((( to say more about. We sent off another postcard—with sufficient postage this time—and then set off for Germany.

Buying that stamp was actually one of the adventures in communication. The lady at the tobacco shop knew the word "stamp", so we were off to a good start. I knew that Japan is "Japón", even if I didn't pronounce it correctly. The only other hurdle was figuring out how many I want, but that worked out somehow too.

Stopping for lunch on our way back, we actually made it pretty far into the ordering process before making the waiter switch all his complicated questions to English. I think we got as far as two of the burger special, both with regular Coca-Cola, and then I didn't understand the next question at all, but I had this feeling that he was asking about how we wanted the meat done so the answer of "medium" worked... and then we got stuck with do we also want dessert and whatever else. But hurray for context up to that point. It was the same at museums. After the regular business of getting a ticket has been conducted, they will always ask you where you're from. I have no idea how the question goes, but I know what it is.

That's all from the all-knowing smarty pants traveller for now!

12 September 2012

Under Paris, over Paris

I would never have thought that a cemetery would be something to put on a travel itinerary, but there you have it: lots of famous people lived and died in Paris. Thank goodness for friends who plan my sightseeing endeavours.

Our hostel was quite close to the Père Lachaise Cemetery, so that's where we started our first morning in the city. You could probably spend all day looking for your favourite deceased statesman, writer, philosopher or artist, but we opted to focus on finding Oscar Wilde's grave. Notable ones spotted along the way included those of Rossini, Delacroix, and Géricault.

Before lunch we popped by the Notre Dame again to take a look at the inside. The treasury had some cool and some weird things. The cathedral as a whole had lots of noisy tourists.

A lunch of buckwheat crêpes was served in a café nearby. It's always amazing to see what nice places people manage to run with just one of them in the kitchen and the other serving customers.

With our bodies refuelled, we took to the streets with the mission of covering pretty much every major tourist landmark. The other two, having both been to Paris before, led the way. We started outside the Louvre, made our way through the Tuileries Garden, past the Place de la Concorde and its Luxor Obelisk, up the Champs-Élysées and to the Arc de Triomphe.

Next, we had to meet up with some friends at—yes of course—the Eiffel Tower...

After some compulsory touristy pictures we arranged to meet up again later, and then the three of us made our way to the Montparnasse Tower. If you don't have your heart set on going up the Eiffel, this is the place to get your Paris view on. I mean, were there even five people in the ticket queue in front of us? Their website has a fancy intro thing showing how the tower is located across from the Eiffel.

That's about it! We wanted to have our supermarket dinner in the Luxembourg Gardens, but those nutters with their whistles chase everyone out long before the summer sun goes down. We ended up having our picnic on a regular streetside bench. We did better the next day.

11 September 2012


Eiffel Tower giggles Paris streets

Now that the rain and wind has taken over and there's no more reason to run off to the nearest outdoor pool, there will be more finishing-up of Paris blogging duties.