06 Jan

Returning to the Gym, again

Jawbone

 

Once again, Tiana and I have joined a gym. The last time I had a gym membership was at a 24-hour Fitness in San Diego—yes, the very same one that hilariously features an escalator ascending to the front door. We’ve been back in the States for about a year and a half now, and, speaking for myself, my waistband has definitely been increasing in size.

A few months prior, with the help of an Amazon gift certificate, I purchased a Jawbone UP24 to help monitor my daily “step activity.” It’s motivated me somewhat to get out and take walks (and the occasional jog), but there are definitely days where I come ludicrously close to doing just about nothing. (The above image is a screenshot from a day where we went to the gym and I walked/jogged on the treadmill for a couple miles.)

I honestly can’t remember the name of the gym, but it’s pretty nice. There are two locations within a few miles from us, and there’s more than enough for me to do in there—that’s for sure.

The gym downtown on K Street is a brand-new, multi-level location that has quite a bit of amenities, including multiple weight rooms, a cycle room, plenty of weight machines, stretching rooms, and—get this—two “cinema rooms” where you can watch movies while running on a treadmill. I thought Jim Gaffigan’s jokes about watching brownies being made on the Food Network while waiting in line for a treadmill to be hilarious enough; but on our first visit to this new gym, we had the option of speed walking while watching a fighting movie called Warrior or… Coyote Ugly. I don’t know which movie is the lesser of two stupids. I’m being harsh, I know, but it was at least one passable way to pass the time while getting some steps in.

03 Jan

Christmas 2014: Oakley, Sacramento, Merced

On this tenth day of Christmas, I thought it might be fun to share some pictures from our various Christmas gatherings around Northern California. We had a beautiful time in Oakley, Sacramento, and Merced, our respective homes where our parents live. It was a nice time to see family, relax, and take a break from work.

On Christmas Eve, we first stopped off in Oakley where Tiana’s Mom and Ron live. In attendance: Tiana’s brother Stevie and his wife Shan, Tiana’s sister Shalina and her daughter Katie, along along with Jason (Ron’s son). Not pictured, but they added plenty of excitement to the gathering: Gus the American Boxer, and Rosa the chihuahua, Stevie & Shan’s dogs.

(Below in each gallery, if you hover over each picture, it will pop up a brief caption underneath each. You may also click on a picture it will enlarge it to see the full size and you can click over to the next picture in the gallery.)

Then we traveled to Sacramento (with Stevie, Shan, Shalina, & Katie in tow) to spend Christmas day with Tiana’s Dad and Denise’s family. I didn’t take as many pictures here, but the Christmas cheer was no less in effect. We exchanged presents, ate a ton of delicious food, participated in a white elephant gift exchange (I received a white sock and an ornament), and even played games of Love Letter and Elevenses with Katie, Kevin Jr., and Shannon.

The next day on the 26th (Boxing Day), Tiana drove to my hometown of Merced to spend the day with my parents and my sister Jenna and her husband Kenny. Of course, Dexter the right-handed dog (hah, Latin jokes) joined them. My cousin Amy and her Mom (my Aunt Carol) also spent time with us. Amongst many kind gifts, my Aunt gifted me a bunch of flower seeds that I am excited to get started soon in our small greenhouse out back!

We were in Merced from the 26th to Sunday the 28th. Visiting Merced is always a welcome, extra relaxing time for me as my parents’ house is surrounded by an acre of lawn and blanketed in the crisp quiet of the neighborhood out in the countryside.

We’ve still been unpacking all of our stuff and trying to re-organize our house since we’ve returned in between daily chores and briefly returning to work (well, Tiana had to work yesterday on Friday). There are a host of exciting new (and silly and funny) books to read; calendars to hang up; mugs to drink out of; pictures to hang; boxes of childhood memories to go through; a puzzle to assemble; boardgames to play with fellow nerds; and even a home brew kit to get started. Our family has been far too generous with us; we are blessed. That reminds me: we hung up some stockings and forgot to see what is inside!

02 Jan

January 2015: Life in California & a Blog Reboot

As usual, it has been far too long since I’ve posted an update last. It’s been—what?—just a hair over three years since I’ve posted an update? I won’t regale you, my friends, with the tedium of catching up on every little detail since I last made a post in December of 2011, but here are some highlights since I’ve last checked in:

  • I’ve successfully submitted and defended my PhD in Theology, and graduated on July 9th, 2013 from the University of Nottingham.
  • In August 2013, we moved back to California, residing for now in Sacramento.
  • I’ve been working part-time doing website work.
  • Tiana has been working full-time at the head office of Catholic Charities of California.
  • We are renting a cute house in the “Alhambra Triangle” / East Sacramento / Oak Park / whatever area.
  • We bought a 2010 silver Prius. I am getting fatter.
  • But we’ve just joined a gym so that we can work on ourselves.
  • We’ve adopted a bunny and named her Piper.
  • Andi our tortoiseshell cat is cute as ever, but she just caught her first bout of the fleas.

In the meantime, I have continued to look for and apply for academic jobs while also keeping up with some editing and writing duties to keep my soul afloat. Also, boardgames have helped with that.

I’ve updated the theme apparatus of this blog a bit, keeping it simple. I’ll provide brief and occasionally frequent updates this year, to maintain some semblance of constancy in reflection on our lives as well. I think the practice is a good one.

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Graduation day. She makes every picture beautiful.

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Some beard growth in tow for the 2014 AAR/SBL conference.

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Piper Reinhardt-Lee, the bunny.

We had just moved into our new rental on January 1st, 2014, exactly one year ago today.

With the help of our family, we had just moved into our new rental on January 1st, 2014, exactly one year ago today.

 

23 Dec

Christmas Week

This is kind of a random puzzle that we did last night, but we like it a lot. In fact, Tiana remarked, “It’s too bad we didn’t do a cuter puzzle for Christmas!” It’s been a while since Tiana and I have just slowed down for a quiet evening of not watching a show or going out. A friend gave us a bunch of Christmas music and so we’ve incorporated that into a big mix MP3 CD to just let play for hours and hours.

This week, a lot of our friends and colleagues are going elsewhere for Christmas (some are scattering out across England, others have flown home to the States), but as for us, we are sticking around in Nottingham. Tiana actually works on Christmas day this year. For the past three Christmases while we’ve been abroad, she’d had the day off, but this time around, it was (basically) her turn to volunteer to work on the day. It’s only a 10am-2pm shift, which isn’t bad at all, and what’s more, I will be volunteering and going with her to work for those four hours, so it should be good fun. Christmas can often be a very lonely day for those whom she works with, so hopefully there will be enough people there to help them feel like they have some extra friends, at least for a few hours.

Tonight, Tiana and I are joining our friends David & Lauren Mosely to go hear the Southwell Minster Choir for a Christmas Eve service. We went a couple years ago, and it was absolutely gorgeous. The acoustics combined with amazing talent make for a beautiful evening. Tonight isn’t Christmas Eve (obviously), but apparently the Christmas Eve choir services have become so popular that they now have two of them, the second happening the night of the 23rd. So we’ve booked a restaurant afterwards to enjoy our night in Southwell.

Here is a two-part piece on the life and music of the Southwell Minster Choir:

A Happy Advent and a Merry Christmas to all! We miss you guys.

18 Dec

To Stay or to Go

Hyacinth and Muscari (called blue grape hyacinth in the States) bulbs

Above is a picture of some dirt in our back garden that I tilled whereupon I set out the placement of some hyacinth and muscari bulbs. It was a really cold day today, so I had to work really quick before my fingers became too frozen. Ideally, it’s a bit late in the season to be planting bulbs, but it seems like it will be okay (I hope).

On the opposite side of the garden is another area that a friend (Rob) helped me till where we then planted about 80+ tulips. I think we planed that area a solid two months ago, so I am less worried about that. And, underneath a damson tree we planed scads of crocus. The last time I planed so many bulbs, I think I was twelve years old!

At the moment, we are strongly considering moving to a new flat or cheap house to rent. We have had some never-ending, incredibly frustrating experiences with one of our neighbours over the past couple years, and this last year, thing have come to a head. At one point right before our visit to the States, we had to call the non-emergency police on our neighbours, for a metal hammer was thrown at me (or in my direction at the very least, and it is very difficult to tell what is going on in the minds of such small kids). At any rate, while there are many more details to retell, suffice it to say that we are looking for another place to live. Despite our best efforts, there’s really not many other options. (We have actually attempted knocking on our neighbour’s door a couple months back to ask the mother to instruct her children to pick up the loads of candy, toys, trash, etc., that they had thrown over, but not only was she not responsive, but Tiana basically heard the mother basically yell at her to ‘go away’ [more or less].)

For me in my last 9+ months of writing before my final deadline to submit my PhD, moving is less than ideal. In fact, books on ‘how to write your PhD’ actually strongly inform the reader not to move during the writing time due to the time and stress involved in such an undertaking. But, if we do move, we are hoping to hire our friends (with Pizza!) to make the moving day quick and fun so that distractions to my study and writing are kept at a minimum. I’ve known other PhD students who have pulled off such moves in the final years, and they seemed to have gotten along just fine.

We’ve only just begun to search online for places to stay. Some flats are opening up, but considering it’s mid-December, we can’t see ourselves moving until January anyway. In general, we don’t want to move, because we do like our place so much–with our decent rent, our big garden, and cozy house–so the thought of moving occurs half-begrudgingly.

On the other hand, our letting agency has become less and less responsive to our letters sent to them over the last year to fix certain things, and our place is dreadfully cold in the wintertime. None of our windows (save one) are double-paned, and so Tiana has had to sew thick curtain covers to help with heat transfer issues. Also, our bathroom, no matter how many times we clean it, keeps reverting back to its Lovecraftian abyss of unspeakable black mould horrors every couple of weeks. We don’t really know what to do yet except for continue to look online for new places.

I’ve planted nearly two hundred bulbs (with help) over the past couple months in our back yard, but these are the kinds of domestic practices that one does under the assumptions that–one stays around. That is, come Spring we could very well not be living here to enjoy the blooms of our bulbs and watch our cat Andi frollick around chasing butterflies.

But, assuming some decent (even cheaper) place comes up, we will likely move. We continue to live here where we are, however. We even happened upon a £1.99 artificial tree at a charity shop in Beeston that looks amazing, and are content to decorate it with the ornaments we’ve collected throughout the years from our travels.

In the meantime, keep us in your thoughts and prayers in this transitional year for us. We will most likely be moving to a new place, and then by September I have to submit my PhD thesis and then we may be moving (or staying) once more. We miss our friends from the States dearly, but were so thankful to be blessed with seeing them all in California these past weeks!

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

 

Our budget--but exceptionally awesome!--Christmas tree ornamented with our travels and our time together. The star on top comes from the Nürnberg Christmas market!

09 Aug

Continuing to Alter Course

Boiling beets and eggs

I commented not too long ago on my Facebook profile that I had lost 50 lbs since moving to England. In one sense, it’s been just adapting to the English way of life that I’ve set out for myself, and in another, it also has consisted of a lot of hard work. When we moved to Nottingham, I weighed about 250 pounds. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve lost about 20 pounds by just walking more, but at this point I hadn’t changed my eating habits much as far as portion size (although the constant injections of veggie burritos have been absent for a while, and those were huge). In the last 6 months, however, I have shed another 30 pounds thanks to inspiration from Tiana and her sister Shalina.

We’ve gone on this ’17-day diet’ thing, although we never bought the book, but have been following, more or less the regimen and the recipes that the books suggestions. In general we’ve found it to be quite different from most other things we’ve seen: it’s not gimmicky, doesn’t reduce to things like ‘only’ eating peanut butter or ‘only’ abstaining from carbs. It has a ton of ideas and isn’t interested (as far as I can tell) in also combining with a line of products (like Weight Watchers), but is really orientated toward inspiring one to just be healthy in a big-pictured way. (But like I said, I haven’t read the book and so have only gotten the inspiration and general planning mediated to us so this is not meant to be a judgement upon the book or diet.)

The biggest problem with diets, though, is that they are diets: we fool ourselves into thinking if we have the ‘diet’ version of the exact same things we already enjoy, then it’s okay. Like Coke? How about Diet Coke — or the stylish Coke Zero! Like a certain dish that tends to be overloaded with carbs? How about buying this Weight-watchers version, so that now we can be ‘guilt-free’ and have a ‘clean conscience’ about eating. Usually, however, these clean consciences remain haunted by the fact that our bodies are still pretty lazy and that really, we’ve gone from picking one thing off the shelf in the grocery store for that other thing three products over. We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that we can still enjoy what we want by making the minimum of real changes to our lives, as if it all boils down to consumer choice, as if it would kill us to be seen without that orange mocha frappaccino. I’ve even seen a ridiculous device (‘As Seen on TV’!) that you have to buy that you put on your plate that measures out the various portions of food — again, as if buying this one device will fool us into thinking that this was all that was needed to alter course.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has often commented upon this phenomenon, referring to the act of drinking caffeine-free diet Coke as drinking “the Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property that is in effect merely an envelope of a void” (The Fragile Absolute, p. 20). In other words, what we’re already consuming is a kind of pure enjoyment that doesn’t actually taste very good to begin with (yet we’re addicted to it), but we seem to actively fool ourselves by putting a ribbon on the proverbial pile of dung, by wrapping up this junky thing in “caffeine-free, diet” labels. Not to mention the fact that as Americans we tend to think that our Grandparents fought in World War II “for our freedoms” which include the freedom to consume and choose whatever we want, damnit! (Of course, the real reason for fighting in WWII–to defeat the Nazi’s and stop Japan from bombing us–seems to be lost, not to mention the fact that our Grandparents would rightly pour our bottles of diet Coke down the drain because they’re disgusting.) We get so caught up in thinking that the ultimate thing about existence is choice, let alone a kind of perverted consumer choice, that we feel entitled to all of our bad mistakes, as if making these stupid mistakes is a part of what it means to be American, or whatever.

Tongue-in-cheek paragraph to make a point: Did you choose to be born? Doubt it. You didn’t make the choice to be born, so in being born, you’re an enemy of freedom! Do you choose to go to sleep every night, or does your body take over ultimately over-riding your own choice to stay up? Your body is an enemy of freedom! Do you choose to urinate and defecate every day (or so, sometimes us enemies of freedom get constipated!), or is this an involuntary choice that you must ultimately succumb to, that you must ultimately do even though it interrupts your precious movies, your decisions about whether to buy this fragrance of perfume, or this cool tech gadget? You allow your American choice to be overcome by even your body? You. Commie. Scum. (Don’t let me get started on hiccups…)*

There’s multiple problems with all this nonsense. The first main one is that it denies the body and its needs and so in its ridiculous spirit of consumer choice it ultimately denies the body. There is much more that can be said about this, but the thing I really wanted to talk about in this post has more to do with the fleeting, temporary aspect of ‘diets’. A diet is instantly a non-commitment to do anything, really. Sure, you might lose a few pounds at the beginning, but the the main reason diets never ‘stick’, never remain is because we tell ourselves we’re “only on a diet,” as opposed to–and this is the point that I’m getting to–this is what I do now. Diets fail because they aren’t habits but are ways of conscience-cleansing. What really needs to take place is the constant forming of new habits over time. Call it a new lifestyle, or whatever, a new form of life, but everything has to change.

When I was vegan from 2001-2004 or so, I knew from the beginning that it would only be possible if there was no alternative in my head. The only real option was to do this 24/7. I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way, but I always grew tired and annoyed at everybody who said to me, “Oh, I could never do that.” “It’s too hard to give up cheese.” “I could never give up food X.” This is all utterly rubbish because, of course you can; you just don’t want to. People confuse their desires with necessity. (Note: I’m not a vegan anymore, so don’t read this as an apology for that, but about something more general.) I always found it easy to be a vegan, usually, and always thought the constant comments I got to be really odd. If this is just what I do now, then why the constant barrage of “oh, I could never do that.” I certainly did it, so why couldn’t they? I was never a vegan evangelist, but the reason I stuck with it for three to four years was because this was my lifestyle. Do runners run every day? Do gymnasts train? Don’t authors write and carpenters build stuff? If one is something, then there aren’t really many other options to not being that thing. It’s pretty difficult for me to be a cat. I’ve tried to be surly all day, but I’m just not that good at catching mice and moths for the 4 total hours I’m not sleeping.

In many ways I’m trying to create a mental space here, but it’s not a fake one, it’s something that bears fruit, I think. One has to stay with things, tarry with what it difficult (Plato says, “All that is beautiful is difficult,” [‘chalepa ta kala’, Greater Hippias 304e], or, think of the Indigo Girls’ “The Wood Song”). Tiana and I have, for example, taken to eating large salads nearly every day for lunch. This actually takes a lot of preparation, because we like our salads friggin’ tasty. We think beetroot (what America calls “beets,” hah!) are simply magic. So we buy beetroot from the market and then boil it in the evening so that we can cut it up and put it in our salads. We’ll boil eggs, or prepare turkey mince or fake turkey/chicken strips from our local Holland & Barretts. Then in the evenings or early mornings we’ll chop up cucumbers, spring onions, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and some nice green lettuce and/or baby spinach. We usually put in olive oil & balsamic vinaigrette for our dressing, but we’ll also use other lighter dressings. It’s kind of a lot of food in one sense, but it’s just tons of veggies (with a smidge of protein) and it’s delicious.

It does continue to be hard, though. We do sneak treats at times. There is a reason we’ve plateau’d at our current weights for a few months, but I have a feeling that at least plateau-ing takes work. I have been fluctuating between 200 and 204-5 pounds for a little while now. I don’t really know what my “ideal” weight is, and I don’t obsess over it, but I do think I still look a bit flabby, and if nothing else, I could use a bit more tone. One thing I haven’t done is more focused exercises. I do quite a bit of walking, to and from campus (mile each way), and to and from the Beeston high road; however, I think the next step is to do sit-ups and pushups and build some tone. I don’t think going to the gym is going to be a good use of my time (or the lack of money we have). There’s definitely some fine tuning that needs to be done.

And the thing is, in the end, limits actually are a part of what ‘freedom’ is–working within constraints. Freedom ultimately isn’t the freedom to choose from an infinite amount of choices, but what one does within certain limitations. We think ‘limitations’ are bad things, but as human, we’re already limited, but also, it’s the nature of creativity. Did Bach and Jimmy Hendrix moan over the fact that they could ‘only’ work within 12 semitones? As an example, I used to play around with electronic music a bit, but my problem was that I would sit for hours just playing with the infinite varieties of sounds that my soft-synths could make. But one time I actually gave myself some parameters: stick with one main instrument, make a melody, and then when you’re done, add any bells you want. When I did this, I had a half-way coherent little song. The same thing applies to actually eating healthy: we are told that we are limiting our choices, but the reality is that the creativity is now really beginning for the first time. There’s so much one can do with so few ingredients. (Just think of the myriad varieties of beer that use only four ingredients!) It’s all about how one combines them and what purpose they’re serving in the dish.

In one sense, meals are the ‘easy’ thing. What’s really hard, though, is snacking. One of the primary changes I’ve made since January was to replace most of my snack foods with just having some fruit. Initially it was clementine oranges, now it’s pears. Wonderfully tasty. And the thing is, even if you ‘indulge’ and have, say, three oranges, think about it: you just had three oranges. How is that even a bad thing? I mean, assuming your tongue is not bleeding from all the acid, you’ve had something amazing. No need to think about how much ‘Vitamin C’ (although it probably doesn’t hurt) because, as Michael Pollan reminds us in a very pithy manner, we should actually just “eat food.” Supplements can be helpful, and for some people they definitely come in handy, but it’s not a way to live by itself. Instead of taking a bunch of pills to get what you need, why not eat the actual foods that contain those things?

This has been long enough, but I’ve had some of these thoughts for a while now, and this is also a bit of an ‘open letter’ response to Shalina who asked me and Tiana how we’ve been doing with eating. Tiana has already responded personally over Skype, but I thought I’d flesh my own response out a bit more to work out my own thoughts a bit. For now, we’re maintaining, and it’s still a lot of work, and it takes planning, but if you have a friend or partner to do this with, it definitely helps. The important thing to remember is that so much of what we are bombarded with in the way of advertisements and even down the aisles of our own grocery stores are in fact false choices. Does this product only taste good? Then it could be dumb. And unhealthy, etc. This is the ‘Nothingness’ that Žižek refers to above.  The real choices are made creatively, look at the larger picture, and are choices that are continually made as an entire form of life–they are not merely ‘diets’. This is what we do now. That’s not meant to be pithy, but thus far, for the things that matter, it seems to me indicative of a form of life that bears fruit.

Links and a Note:

  • *Note: This is a ridiculous paragraph, but to be serious for a bit, obviously choice is important and crucial. Freedom in its most basic sense is what Christianity has bequeathed to us rather in the form not of pure ‘choice’ but of gift. We do not choose to be born, but it is a gift to be born and so it is something that, in order for it properly to be a gift, needs to be received. We receive this gift not by making any-damn-choice-we-want, but by attempting, prayerfully, to make the right choices, the most beautiful choices, and the most good ones.
  • Orange Mocha Frappaccino scene from Zoolander staring Brint, Meekus, and Rufus. Meekus, of course, is played by Alexander Skarsgård who is now well-known for his role as Eric Northman in the HBO series True Blood.
  • Meal Measure, “Manage Your Weight, One Portion at a Time.” (As Seen on TV!) This product is so stupid!
  • Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute: Or Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (London: Verso, 2000), chapter 3 entitled “Coke as objet petit a.” The first part of this chapter is reproduced in this lecture online: “The Superego and the Act: A Lecture by Slavoj Žižek.”
  • “The Wood Song,” by the Indigo Girls. Lyrics here.
  • Holland & Barrett stores
  • A short, simple, previous post I made about walking
  • My sister-in-law Shalina’s inspirational and helpful blog about her own journey: Sincerely Shalina
26 Feb

Germany, pt. 4: Freiburg

It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back from Germany but I’ve been so swamped with work that I haven’t had the time to think about finishing up our blog series on our visit. It’s a rainy Saturday, we’re doing housework, waiting for the mopped floor to dry, and so I have some time.

Our last stop together in Germany was Freiburg. This place was very different from the other places we visited. Mainly, it felt like all of the buildings in the main part of town were from another era. So much of the town felt like Christmas fairytale architecture. That is a ridiculous description, but this place was very special.

On the morning that we left for Freiburg from Wintersdorf, of course, the trains were delayed due to the weather. And then some people were occupying our reserved seats and my German wasn’t good enough to inform them that they belonged to us. We had had enough and just settled on standing in the onboard café. But when we arrived in Freiburg, everything was “coming up Millhouse” (things were good). We went straight to our hostel called the Black Forest Hostel, checked-in, and then got some food at a nearby pub/café and got some delicious food.

Our Hostel. Was a totally rad place. Highly recommended.

Inside the Black Forest Hostel. Very chill open area. Always smelled like nag champa incense. Reggae was usually playing on the stereo. Felt a bit like hanging out in OB, San Diego <3

Our tomato and Gorgonzola salad. Very simple but wonderfully tasty. We ordered other food as well at this café/pub and it was all surprisingly good. Oh, and a nice pilsner of course.

 

Then we headed to the main part of the city of Freiburg. The weather was quite nice and cold, there still being snow on the ground, but at least it wasn’t damp and humid like England. We set out, and first came upon one of the Freiburg gates (pictured below), and then we attempted to do a little shopping. The area near where we were staying was known for having a lot of cool shops. Of course, I gravitated toward the bookshops, but there was plenty of nice things to see. And then we headed for the Freiburg Münster which was absolutely breath-takingly gorgeous.

 

One of the main Freiburg Gates. I'll look up the name later.

So goth(ic).

Entrance to the Freiburg Münster

Inside the Freiburg Münster. We absolutely loved this place.

 

Upon exiting the Münster, I spotted a game store called Spiel am Münster (Game/Play by the Minster). The store was two stories and whilst the ground floor was decked out with smaller card games (and children-type games), the first floor above was filled with the more serious type of modern boardgames I love (all auf Deutsch, of course). I spent a bit of time browsing around, and even saw that there was an area set aside for the German Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) for 2010: Dixit (which is an awesome game that I highly recommend by the way). I came away not getting anything, mainly because it would be difficult to play games in German with our friends back in England, but more primarily because of space and weight constraints that Ryan Air imposes on luggage.

 

Basically this is boardgame heaven.

 

Also in the same area surrounding the Münster, we saw this crazy red building. We had no idea what it was, but Tiana posed in front of it. And around the other side of the Münster we went to this lovely wine shop, ordered some wine, and relaxed a bit while we wrote some postcards in the shadow (literally) of the Münster.

 

Tiana posing in front of this one building right next to the Münster.

At a very nice wine shop in the shadow of the Freiburg Münster

Writing postcards. Enjoying wine.

Tiana looking smart and cute.

 

We had the opportunity to go to a few microbreweries (they call them Hausbrauerei), both of which were excellent. The first one was called Hausbrauerei Feierling where we sat on the 1st floor and looked down at this big copper vats or whatever-they’re-called, and ordered some food which proved tasty. The beer here was probably my favourite of any place we went to. We also checked out Martin’s Bräu which was also very good.

 

One of the two microbreweries we went to, called Hausbrauerei Feierling

The other microbrewery: Martin's Bräu

 

The last morning in Freiburg we woke up very early, made ourselves breakfast in our Hostel kitchen, and left for the train station getting there on time (for once) because of our timely taxi driver. And then we were off for 7 hours of train rides. I can’t remember exactly, but I think there were train delays all day and it was horrible. But, we did finally arrive in Berlin where we spent the night in a hotel near the airport.

 

Last morning in Freiburg, just before catching the train

 

On the next day (30th of December) I bid Tiana farewell at the airport. She had to fly back to return to work, and I stayed in Berlin to attend a month-long German language immersion course at the Goethe-Institut. I stayed in a crappy hostel in Charlottenburg for about five days while I waited for the course to begin, but then moved into a really nice place in the Hackenshen Markt area right near the Institut itself. I don’t think I’ll be making separate posts about that time in January mainly because it would consist of fairly repetitious descriptions of spending 4.5 hours a day in class and then doing homework and reading every day, plus smoking the occasional cigar. Moreover, I really didn’t take a lot of pictures while I was there by myself. The course was top-notch, but I’ve still got a long way to go in learning a few more essential bits of grammar, not to mention vocabulary.

It is very, very good to be back in Nottingham with Tiana. We had a wonderful time in Germany with pristine couchsurfing experiences, not to mention a fantastic time of seeing and experiencing a wide swath of Germany itself. As for our upcoming travels, we’ll be in Kraków, Poland in June, and possible France in July!

 

Links from this post:

20 Jan

Germany, pt. 3: Baden-Baden and Wintersdorf over Christmas

On Christmas eve and for the next two nights, Tiana and I stayed in Wintersdorf, Rastatt (near Baden-Baden, just a few miles away from the Black Forest) with some couchsurfing friends of ours. Back in 2008 a woman named Christine stayed with us in Nottingham, and a couple years later, she returned the favour for us and let us stay at her place with her husband Michael and their new little baby Caroline. On Christmas morning we woke up to a lovely cute little tree, and the most snow I’ve seen in a while. It had snowed all night.

Christmas morning tree with a soft light coming through the windows

So, we decided to go for a hike in some fairly deep snow. Before setting out for the hike, however, we had to do about an hour’s worth of shoveling snow. At one point we even got yelled at by a neighbor for (what I think was) putting snow on the street next to his house. Even though he didn’t own this part of the street, he seemed incredibly angry — on Christmas, even! Vielen dank!

Once the hike begun: it was breathtakingly gorgeous. We hiked along a river and towards a waterfall. The whole landscape was frosted with a thick layer of fresh snow and the trails hadn’t been touched yet that morning. We were at times up to our knees in snow. Below are some pictures from that morning.

Christine and Tiana. Probably my favourite picture of them hiking along the river.

Tiana giving us an idea how deep the snow is.

Tiana and Christine posing with a waterfall in the background.

Hallo!

When we returned from our Waldswanderung (forest hike, although I just made that word up in German so I dunno!), some of Christine and Michael’s family had already arrived and so we ate the cakes they had set out for our lunch. Afterwards we took a rest in the other room and I off-loaded the pictures of the hike to our laptop and uploaded them to Facebook later that night. In the early evening we had a delicious Christmas dinner with home-made (hand-pounded) schnitzel and home-grown food. We were satisfyingly stuffed!

Michael’s father told many stories about his family, many of which included old tales of circus clowns! He spoke very well and it occurred to me that even though I really couldn’t understand what he was saying, that he could very well be like a voice on a German instructional CD/MP3 because his annunciation was so clear (and apparently he wasn’t even originally German–Austrian I think).  Then we watched as they all exchanged gifts and had a very lovely time enjoying their company.

We were very tired because of all the food and the very long day which began with a hike, so we didn’t stay up very late. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t get a chance to Skype with our families because none of us thought ahead of time to schedule a Skype date. Oops!

The next day we took a train to Triberg to attend the Triberger Weinachtzauber. The views on the way were gorgeous. Here’s a few of them.

View from the train. A bit dim but okay.

Another view from the train. Wonderful weather that day.

View.

Once in Triberg we took a shuttle bus to the top of a mountain where the festival itself was held. It was complete with many of the typical stands at Christmas Markets around Germany, although there were actually some incredibly unique booths with great hand-made items. Of course, as soon as we got there we got some food and some Glühwein! We did some walking around, and soon we spotted a cool local tradition: roasting a piece of bread on a stick!

on right: Christine (with baby Caroline in coat!), Tiana, and Michael (behind Tiana) roasting (baking?) their bread on sticks

As the sun was setting we wandered around to the decent-sized waterfall which was surrounded by snow and amazing icicle formations all around it. Such an incredibly unique and sweet look.

Wasserfall. There is a little bridge visible at the top of the fall where the pyrotechnic show was performed later that night.

Hallo! If we had stayed here much longer we would have looked like we were encased in carbonite. "I love you." ... "I know."

The evening was finished with a spectacular pyrotechnic show at the top of the waterfall. We headed up the hill surrounded in a tunnel of lights…

On the way to the top of the falls to get a view of the Rammstein music video--er, the Christmas pyrotechnic show!

…arriving to see this craziness, performed to electronic versions of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”: (my apologies for the not-the-greatest pictures: I’m not so good at night-shots)

'Playing' the violin with a fiery bow.

Auditioning for 'Stomp'

'Yes, I covered my body with oil.'

Grand finale.

Christine brought her camera along as well, including a couple of specialty lenses such as a telephoto lens (?) which I was able to borrow and put on my own camera to zoom in to take the above shots. We both have a Canon!

It was another long, but wholly enjoyable day. Christine & Michael (and Caroline!) were very gracious hosts and showed us a very nice time in their neck of the (German) woods. We had a lot of really fun conversations, as well as some serious ones. It seems like we share a lot of concerns in common (environmental, political, etc.). We will have to come back one day to do some mushroom-hunting (edible & non-hallucinagenic–I know what you’re thinking) with Michael & Christine when the snow has melted.

The next day we woke up early to board a train to Freiburg. Those tales and deeds will have to wait for another post.

Links of relevance from the above post:

02 Jan

Germany, pt. 2: Nuremberg

Nürnberg mural in the underground/s-bahn station.

Tiana and I woke up at what I like to call “butt-ass” early on the 23rd to catch a bus from Berlin to Nürnberg. The only thing was that we had to take a series of Underground/S-Bahn connections all the way to the other side of Berlin to catch the bus. We barely made it, but we did, and off we were to Nürnberg, arriving sometime in the early afternoon. We walked to our hostel called the Lette’m Sleep Hostel. It is built into the part of a castle, which was really nice, except, it was at the top of a steep hill so we were pretty tuckered out by the time we checked in.

Our accommodation: the Lette'm Sleep Hostel for backpackers Nuremberg

In no time though we went back into the middle of the main old city (Altstadt) to check out the Christmas Market there called the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt (Christ child market). Our friend Christoph said that the Nürnberg Christmas market was one of the best, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt in front of the Frauenkirche

The whole area is surrounded by the old, big, gorgeous architecture of Churches and other old buildings. The main part of the market itself was right in front of the Frauenkirche which is now the Catholic Parish Church of Our Lady. I think this was definitely our favourite market. Yes, there were plenty of repeat booths selling a lot of the same stuff, but we did see many unique booths with hand-made wares that were nothing short of spectacular. For example:

Hand-made (Handarbeit) houses. A unique style, but extremely expensive (I think over €200? zehr teuer!).

Hand-carved little drawers out of logs. This whole booth was astonishing.

Tiana was in awe of these.

Tiana thinks that anything that is a smaller version of its normal self is cute. So lo and behold this booth was an explosion of cuteness.

It really took us quite a while to go up and down all of the aisles as there were so many of them, and we double-backed a few times when we were deciding whether or not to get various items. Again, we had plenty of Glühwein to help warm us up. At one point it got so busy that there were almost too many people for my taste, but then it thinned out again the later it got. I guess it is to be expected at such a gorgeous Christmas market on the 23rd of December. We found a real Nürnberger restaurant off the beaten path for dinner, and we ended the night seeing a band playing in front of the Catholic church.

Hallo!

The next morning after a great night of sleep we awoke to a complimentary breakfast from the hostel. It was really good, and I’d say better than the breakfast we had when we stayed at a good hostel in Edinburgh once, i.e. there wasn’t a haggis option (no offense to those that love it, us Americans weren’t raised on it).

Nom om om om

Guten Morgen!

Before we left, we had the whole morning of Christmas Eve to ourselves before we left for Baden-Baden so we decided to check out the two big churches. At first, we went to the big Lutheran Church but even though it was supposed to have already been open it seemed like they couldn’t quite get up on time that morning. But, we did run into some Texans who were also trying to get in and they took a couple of pics of us (not pictured) but I did get a cool picture of the main door which looks a bit like other depictions of Christ’s harrowing of hell.

Door to the Lutheran church.

However, the Frauenkirche (Catholic Church of our Lady) was open and there was somebody playing some lovely organ music, so we took a wander, snapped a few pictures, and sat for a bit listening to the music.

Inside the Frauenkirche

Little alcove sanctuary (I'm sure there's a better name for it, but I forget)

The Christmas market was still open so we took one last 5-minute look (it was too early for Glühwein) and checked out an adjacent book shop before mailing off a bunch of postcards. Then we returned to our hostel and ordered a taxi to the Hauptbahnhof (central train station). The rest of our Germany travels were on the nice ICE trains (for the most part). Unfortunately due to the weather (I guess? they’re trains though I don’t get it) our train was delayed by about two hours and so we ended up taking three trains instead of one to get to Baden-Baden. As our friend Mike would say, it was a ‘nightmare’ of travel. We finally did arrive in Baden-Baden to stay with our couchsurfing hosts Christine and Michael who live in Wintersdorf. They’re fantastic people, but the tales (and pictures) of our time there over Christmas will have to wait for another blog post. Tschüß!

Links:

01 Jan

Germany, pt. 1: Arrival in Berlin + Christmas Market Hunt

At the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market. Probably the most 'touristy' of them all but it had this huge contraption thingy!

On December 21st, Tiana and I flew to Berlin to begin our Christmas holiday. We begun our trip together in Germany and then Tiana flew back to Nottingham on the 30th to go back to work while I am staying in Germany to start a German immersion language course in Berlin at the Goethe Institute from the 5th-29th. It’s currently New Years day and I am at a pub in Berlin called Roots. The free Wi-Fi sticker on the door drew me in, not to mention the designated smoking room in which to enjoy a cigar. In addition to a nice Erdinger on top, the lovely bar person served me up a Dju Dju beer. It’s an African beer that she then poured into a coconut shell — really good!  So that is where I am and now: onto where we have been.

German breakfast in Berlin at our couchsurfing host's place. It is served on little cutting boards.

We arrived in Berlin and ‘Couchsurfed’ at a place in East Berlin. The host’s name is Hanna and she was extremely nice and hospitable, and expressed her enthusiasm for her part of Berlin. It reminded us very much of the kind of areas of cities that Tiana and I are drawn to: Ocean Beach, City Heights, Normal Heights, and Hillcrest areas of San Diego, for example — areas that are full of culture, cuisine, and the arts, and not so interested in the touristy aspect of city living (however, you kind of have to do some touristy things when you visit a new country!). On our first night we walked around a bit on our own and happened upon a random bar called Bretterbude which is a place whose aesthetic is basically heavy metal + pirates. It seemed like they couldn’t get enough of AC/DC, Motörhead, and Iron Maiden while on the hunt for One-Eyed Willy’s ‘rich stuff’, if you catch my drift.

Enjoying some Glühwein.

The next day, we went to the East Side Gallery, which is about a 1km stretch of the remaining section of the Berlin wall. It is covered with murals for the whole length, and it gets repainted with new murals every decade or so (at this point: twice, 1989, and repainted in 1999, 2009). Then, we checked out a bunch of different Christmas Markets (Weinachtmärkte) all over Berlin. Tiana really likes the markets, and I enjoy the Glühwein (mulled wine) and taking pictures. Some of the markets were better than others that were more touristy whereas others were more quaint and intended for families. At one of the smaller ones we saw a little booth that wasn’t a booth at all but it was a place to warm up: it consisted of seats made out of heaters with big warm jackets draped from a frame where the ‘operator’ would come and secure you in all warm and snug. It looked like this:

Weinachtmarkt Human Defrosting and Heating

Weinachtmarkt Human Defrosting and Heating

We did a ton of walking that day (as well as extensively using the Underground and S-Bahn systems). We even went to some area called Karl Marx Allee where the architecture was all very big, blocky, and symmetrical. It looked cool in its own way, although it wasn’t my thing. The nearby tourist sign reads:

Symmetry and Harmony:

The architect Richard Paulick made many marks on the boulevard. His designs included the German Athletics Hall which was demolished in 1971. Typical of his blocks in section C are symmetry and harmony. With their façade arrangements and well-proportioned structuring they rank among the boulevard’s oustanding architectural highlights.
One of Paulick’s most interesting designs was the Karl Marx Bookshop in Block C. He not only successfully integrated a large-scale retail store with over 1,200 square meters on two floors in a residential building, his design also reflected the store’s social significance in the GDR where reading was very popular. Many people met in this bookshop for readings by authors and for critical discussions, especially in the final years of the GDR.
In 1994, after extensive restoration and detailed reconstruction, the Berlin Chamber of Architects moved into the main section of the fomer bookshop premises. The idea was to link up with the spirit and significance of the former bookshop by creating an “open house of architecture”. In 2008 the bookstore had to be closed down. Its name on the façade, “Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung,” has been put on the list of buildings and monuments to be preserved.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a dry description, but the translated prose itself gives a sense of the dry architecture on this block. Our host Hanna said that it’s one of those areas that you pass through, look at, take a picture, and move on. So with that, I will follow up with a description of our experiences of our next day in Nürnberg in the next post.

Links of relevance from this post: