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plasmawhore

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Nov. 3rd, 2008 @ 12:46 pm
There needs to be separate water fountains for people who are filling up water bottles, or washing out their coffee/tea cups. I shouldn't have to wait 2-3 minutes while someone fills their giant water bottle at the drinking fountain.

January 27th Aug. 9th, 2007 @ 05:53 pm
It snowed last night and we had a big snowball fight in the middle of the street. A few people that passed by joined in a for a little while too. We then walked up to the castle after midnight, eating Doener Kebab. Then today I woke up to even more snow, so we hoped on the Funicular Train, which goes all the way to the top of the hill. There was quite a bit of snow up there and we were finally able to make a snowman. by the time we got back down to the city though most of it had melted and it started to rain.

a few pictures of snow:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rstoker

January 21st, 2007 Aug. 9th, 2007 @ 05:52 pm
We were playing board games a few days ago and after finishing up the game my Finnish friend Henna showed us a game she learned at some Global Politics conference thing she was at awhile ago. She said they used it for team building. The funny thing is that when I did a search for it on google I only found two mentions of it: once on a Finnish site and another time on an Estonian girl's Blog. This game is simple enough for a 5 year old, but tricky enough to stump anyone. Anyway here is what you do:

You will need at least 2 to 3 other people to show it to. Memorize this line: "This is the pointing game, listen very carefully and tell me who it is". And say it while pointing randomly at different people in the room, pointing at a different person as you say each word. Everyone then guesses who "it" is. The trick is that you have no control over who "it" is, the "it" is the first person to talk after you say your line. If no one gets it after repeating it 2 or 3 times you can put a little more stress on "listen", but you must under no circumstances tell them the secret.

I went to a British friend of mine's house last night on the way to a bar last night and she had a friend from Ireland over for the week. The Irish girl was very very obnoxious, but also funny because she said "Top 'O the Marnin' to ya"; just as a joke though. The British girl's accent is pretty good too; it's really thick and difficult to understand sometimes. I think she said she is from Whales.

I haven't been taking my camera with me very often lately, but today we are meeting in about 30 minutes to see an interesting sculpture and take some pictures of it. They may be online later today.

Something else about Rome Aug. 9th, 2007 @ 05:50 pm
Another funny thing that we saw by the Trevi Fountain were the street Vendors who sell knock-off purses, belts, etc. They lay their things out on sheets and harass everyone who walks by. Alexandra actually ended up buying two fake Gucci purses though. It's actually a very good deal if you haggle with them since the purses are actually very high quality and look very nice. She managed to get 2 for only 25 Euro. The funny thing is that when the cops walk by all of the vendors just pick up the sheet with everything in it and stand there until the police pass by and the moment they walk past they lay it down again. Not after they are out of the area, but seconds after they walk past. There were two cops walking back and forth around the Trevi Fountain and all of the vendors just constantly picked up all of their stuff and then set it down, and picked it up and set it down, and picked it up and set it down. over and over and over. It was really funny. We stood there and watched for about 5 or 10 minutes. Another strange thing about the vendors is that it is mostly the black guys selling purses, the middle eastern looking guys selling toys and other little junk, and in Milan it was asian women selling remote controlled cars.

Here is a video that I made of the vendors picking their stuff up as the cops walked by:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvVon3wqW8Q

Summary of the Rest of my Italy trip Aug. 9th, 2007 @ 05:46 pm
I haven't felt like writing much lately, so here is som quick info about the rest of my trip.

We woke up at about 9am on our first real day in Rome. Alexandra was still tired since we went to bed so late, so she stayed in bed while I went downstairs to steal a bunch of food from the breakfast buffet. Our plan was to take a bunch of food from the breakfast at each hotel to eat later that night and for lunch we would find a grocery store. That was the plan anyway. What we didn't know is that Rome doesn't have any grocery stores. None. We walked 25 kilometers around Rome and never once saw a single grocery store. I know we walked this much because my cell phone has a built in pedometer.

After breakfast we went wandering around and ended up at the colosseum. It is so strange to walk up from the subway and immediately see this huge structure that looks so familiar, yet so much more impresive than I could have imagined. Everything is just so much bigger in person. We got to the Colosseum around 11am and there was already a enormous line wrapping halfway around it. There were also a lot of people trying to get us to join a tour group, which we did. I wish I could see everything as a part of a tour group. It makes it so much more relevant than just looking at the building. We learned a lot of the history and why the bricks were different colors in different places, etc. And our tour group leader was really funny and kept the tour very interesting. AND, the best part is that we didnt' have to wait in the huge line. The tour lasted a bit longer than we expected, so we didn't have much time to see the ruins of the roman forum.

After the Colosseum we headed over to Trevi Fountain and then the Pantheon. The tour group hustler guy said that those are 2 of the coolest things to see in Rome and I would have to agree. The Pantheon is interesting because it is one of the best preserved ancient structures in the world, because it was turned into a church so early on. From the floor to the ceiling it is 42.5 meters, and from one end to the other also 42.5 meters. So, when you are standing in the middle you are 42.5 meters from any wall or roof. Trevi fountain was also very cool and very big. There was a store near the fountain that sold water for only 80 cents a bottle; everywhere else it is about 3 euro a bottle.

After the Pantheon we tried to go straight to the Vatican, but got a little lost along the way, so we made our way to the river and walked along it until we reached the Vatican. This was another shocking "oh wow" moment. We turned the corner and just stopped at the sight of just how large St. Peters is. It was still probably almost 1 km away, but it is so huge. We spent some time wandering around the Vatican and then went down in the crypt and saw the caskets for all the popes, including the last one that just died. Unfortunately Joey Rats(Joseph Ratzinger) was nowhere to be seen.

At this point it was starting to get late and we wanted to make sure we could get back to our hotel easily. On the way back though we stopped at a little cheap restaurant across the street from the train station and had pasta for only about 5 euro. We had already had Pizza for lunch. It was fairly late by the time we got back to our Hotel and we were both really sore and exhausted from all the walking we had done so we just stayed in and watched TV the rest of the night. At some point we got hungry and ordered a Pizza from room service since there are no restaurants anywhere near our hotel. I acutally thought I was ordering it from a pizza place since it was only 7 euro, but it was delivered by a hotel employee on a fance tray and covered by a white plate thing. It was pretty fancy.

Day 3 - Venice

The next day we got up about the same time and headed straight to the train station to get a train to Venice. Unfortunately the trains in Rome are nothing like they are in Germany. In Germany they will continue to sell tickets no matter how full the train is and if there are no seats available you can stand or sit between train cars. In Italy though everyone has to have a seat and all the seats on all the trains going to venice were sold out until 5pm; and there were only 2 seats left on that train; and they were first class. We hadn't planned on spending that much money, but it was either that train or no train and we had already paid for the Venice hotel. Another convenient thing about German Train Stations is that they have luggage lockers everywhere, but in Rome there were no lockers to be found. Anywhere. We looked. For an hour. At the point we had about 5 hours to kill before our train left and we didnt' want to waste them sitting in the train station so we dragged our bags up and down the streets of Rome. We had seen most of the major sites on the first day, so this day we just stayed in the area around the train station. We didn't want to get on the subway again because that is where everyone trys to pickpocket you, which had already happened to Alexandra the night before. We did see a really cool church that looks like it's just a big mound of dirt on the outside, but gorgeous on the inside.

1st class on the train was pretty nice. It was very quiet and we got free juice. The ride was 5 and half hours though and mostly pretty boring. We arrived in Venice a little after 10 and stood outside waiting for a Bus for about an hour before finally calling a Cab. The Bus system in Venice(and generally in all of italy) is terrible. In Germany they annouce what the next stop is going to be and the buses are almost always on time. But in Italy there is absolutely no way of knowing when your stop is coming and the busses don't have any set schedule. Sometimes they come and sometimes they don't. Our Hotel in Venice was actually in Tessera, which is about 10km from the Island, but it was the only hotel available in our price range when we booked it. Next trip we are definately going to book the hotels earlier and make sure we get ones that are within walking distance of the city. Once again we didn't get to the hotel until pretty late at night and went right to bed.

Next.. Venice.

Venice was nice for the first day. We wandered in an area with no tourists for the first 4 hours or so and for awhile didn't think there were many people there. Then we arrived at Basilica San Marco and there were thousands of people and a lot of pigeons. Almost everything in Venice was very very expensive. 4 or 5 Euro for a can of Coke. That is like spending $6 or so on just one can of soda. We didn't eat or drink often. Wandering around Venice is a lot of fun because it is basically just a huge maze. There are streets that go on to dead ends and signs pointing in the wrong direction, or both directions. It's really impossible to describe what it's like walking around Venice except that it would be like walking around in a Hedge maze except with buildings. There are no straight streets and no easy or quick way to get anywhere. It takes about 40 minutes to walk 1 mile because you have to walk about 2-3 miles since you're walking around in circles most of the time. According to my pedometer we walked 26.4 kilometers the day we were in Venice. That is a lot.

We didn't stay out for the Fireworks because it was so cold; I really need to buy a better jacket. And we didn't know if the busses would be running late. We got to the bus stop at about 10 and the sign said that the busses run until 11.30 on holidays. Apparently on New Years Eve, or Natale as they call it in Italy(Silvester in Germany), the busses take a break until after midnight and between they only have the night schedule and it was all horribly confusing, even to the Italians who were also waiting at the same Bus Stop as we were. We waited for about 1 hour until we finally got on a Night Bus just hoping to get off the island and then call a cab from the other side of the bridge so that it would be cheaper. We ended up getting really lost, but were able to call a cab and we ended up back at the hotel shortly before midnight. We watched New Years stuff on TV, but it was weird since it wasn't New Years in New York yet, so we didn't get to see Dick Clark. I also went outside a few minutes after midnight and watched the fireworks in Venice from about 10 miles away.

I wish I had been in Heidelberg for the Fireworks over the Castle though. I heard that it was amazing. Here are some pictures I found:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=heidelberg+feuerwerk&m=text

The next day in Venice we tried to go to a nearby town, but the busses were running on a strange schedule so we ended up just walking around Venice a bit more. It was really cold and misty and wet and miserable that day though, so we went back to the Hotel early and I did some homework.

The next day we left for Milan. We learned to buy our tickets early and actually bought them already when we were still in Rome. The train left at 8.30, so we left very early. The hotel offered a "free" shuttle to the aiport, which was only 500 meters away, and from there we got on a Bus to the train station. The problem with the "free" shuttle is that the driver made us pay him 5 euro and even followed us to the door when I didn't pay him. The website for the hotel, the broschure in the room and the man at the front desk all said it was a free shuttle. When I got home I emailed the hotel to ask what was going on and they said that they don't have a free shuttle. So, of course, I emailed them back with the services list from their webpage and then they asked where I found that list because it isn't on their "easyjet advertisment". I sent them a link to the website that they didn't even know they had and then they replied that the "free shuttle" is only for guests that book the hotel directly and not through a third party and since I was paying a lower rate for the room I didn't get the free shuttle. That is total BS so I put up some negative reviews of their hotel on a couple of websites like tripadvisor.com and I filed a complaint with the BBB. Before the incident with the 5 euro I was so impressed with the hotel and staff that I was planning on writing a positive review.

The busses in Italy are terrible and there is no way of knowing what stop is coming up or where you are. In Germany the bus announces the next stop and often has the route plan listed somewhere on the Bus. In Italy there is nothing. It's impossible to know when to press the button to get off, or even where to get off. 40 minutes into our ride from the airport to the train station we were getting very worried, but 5 minutes later to our great relief we arrived. The train ride from Venice to Milan was only 2.5 hours or so and very uneventful. Our Hotel in Milan was actually in Bergamo, which is 1 hour away, but near the airport we were leaving from the next day. Instead of going all the way to the hotel to drop off our bags we just dragged them around the city. Milan is a lot like Rome except much cleaner, more smoking, much much fancier clothes and many more rich looking people. We spent about 3 hours wandering around Milan and saw pretty much everything we came to see. We then hopped on a train to Bergamo.

Before we arrived in Bergamo I assumed it was just another crappy little town that is only known for it's airport. I was very wrong. I wish we had spent at least 2 days in Bergamo; it's beautiful. We didn't get there until it was almost dark so we didn't get to see much or take many pictures. Here are some I found on flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=bergamo&m=text

The Hotel we stayed at there was actually a Bed and Breakfast and the woman running it was very nice. She gave us a map of the city and told us how to get up to the old town. The Old Town of Bergamo is amazing. It's very similar to some German towns I have seen, but it is completely undamaged from anything it seems. It's up on the top of a big hill and has a completely intact city wall. I was told that there is no city in Germany that still has an entire Stadtmauer, or City Wall. Bergamo also has 2 Funicular trains. We walked up the first part, but took the train for the 2nd. Funicular is actually an English word that I didn't know until I came here; in German it is Bergbahn. Since it was out last meal in Italy we went to a fairly nice restaurant for dinner and I ordered something that I had no clue what it could be and it ended up being a rabbit leg. It wasn't very good. The Polenta that came with it was really good though.

Our plane from Bergamo left at 6am so we had to leave our hotel at about 4am. The flight back only took 1 hour, but the bus from the airport to Frankfurt took 1.5 hours, then I had another 1 hour train ride home. 2 hours on the train for Alexandra since she lives in Stuttgart.

We learned a lot about travelling from this trip. Next time I think we will spend more time in the small towns and away from the crowds of tourists.
Other entries
» January 4th, 2007
I woke up late the day we were leaving, probably about 10am or so. The flight wasn't leaving until 8pm and I wanted to be awake and rested when we had to find the hotel. I met up with Alexandra at the Hbf(Train station) at about 1.30 and we went to buy tickets to the Hahn Airport. I had planned out our trip online and figured it would only cost 9 euro each for the trip to the airport, but when we tried to buy the tickets the guy at the counter said to take the bus for 18 euro. According to the website though it should only cost 9 euro total if we took the train to Mainz and then a bus from there. We got our tickets to Mainz and hopped on the train. Mainz was cold and wet. The bus arrived on time there, but it cost 11 euro! There is no other way to get to the Hahn Airport so we had to do it. The bus ride was about 1.5 hours and we arrived at the airport more than 3 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. We got checked in and wandered around the tiny(about the size of Medford's airport) airport for a couple hours. The plane boarded about 40 minutes late, even though Ryanair's motto is "The On-Time Airline" in addition to "The Low Fares Airline". Once on the plane the captain came on the loudspeaker telling everyone to sit down because if we didn't leave within 10 minutes we would be stuck there for 2 hours before there was another take-off slot open. Seating on Ryanair flights is pretty stupid. It's more like a Bus than an Airplane, where no one has assigned seats and it is just a free-for-all. Luckily everyone sat down right away and we were able to take off quickly. During the flight we could order food or drinks and for each thing we purchased we got a Raffle ticket and at the end of the flight they drew a ticket and one person won a free flight. I found the cheapest thing on the menu(Cookies and Twix Bar) and Alexandra and I each bought won; we didn't win the raffle though. After food they tried selling Scratch-it lottery tickets, perfume, toys, etc. The flights are so cheap that they must make most of their money by selling stuff on the plane. We arrived in Rome later than I had planned and the Trains from the Aiport to the city were no longer running, so we had to get on yet another Bus for a ride to the main station in Rome. Once there we found out that the Metro was no longer running and we were forced to take a cab. The haggled with some guy that didn't have a real taxi and got our cab ride for only 20 euro, it probably would have been about 25 euro as a metered ride. We were able to check into the hotel quickly and went up to check out our room. The beds were terrible, more like box-springs than beds, but we were tired enough from travelling that it didn't matter. Before checking the softness of the beds we walked straight to the bathroom to have a look at it. We didn't know it yet, but it was very typical of hotel bathrooms in Italy. It had a toilet and a Bidet, the bathtub/shower had no curtain and was pretty much out in the open in the middle of the room. And hanging on the wall next to the bathtub was a string that looked like it might be the string to turn a light on so I pulled it right away. I heard a quite noise coming from somewhere and told Alexandra to be quiet for a minute so we could listen. I pulled it a couple more times and I heard a buzzing coming from the hallway. I felt around on the wall a little more and found the regular light switch and the lights came on and I was able to see the sign on the wall next to the string I had been pulling which said "Only pull string in case of Emergency. An alarm will sound at the front desk." We had been in the room for less than 2 minutes I had had already pulled the alarm! I didn't want to make the receptionist walk all the way up to see if we were okay so I called down to let him know what happened. They probably get that a lot from Americans. We hadn't had a chance to eat all night and I was starving, unfortunately there was nothing open in the area and all I had for dinner that night was my Bisc and Twix which I had saved from the plane. We finally got to bed at about 1am.
» January 3rd, 2007
Well, it wasn't all bad, but we had a lot of problems. Leaving Rome all the trains were full until late at night and on that train there were only 2 1st Class Seats left, so we had to pay a fortune to get to Venice. In Germany trains are never full and I have never had to buy a ticket in advance, but in Italy everyone has to sit in a seat so they can only sell a certain number of tickets. Often on German trains I just stand in the area between trains if the train is too full. Then in Venice the busses were rarely running so we ended up spending a fortune on Taxis, and all the restaurants were ridiculously overpriced and all the grocery stores were closed so we had to pay 3 euro for small bottles of water. The tap water tasted like Chlorine.

There were a lot of fun things we did also, but about half the trip was spent waiting in the cold for busses that never came and eventually calling taxis after 2 hours. I posted a ton of pictures on my Flickr, and I will write up a longer description of what we did later, but right now I am really tired after getting up at 3.30am and travelling (1 hour airplane plus 2 hours waiting in the airport, 1.5 hours bus and then another 1 hour Train) to get home.

Pictures(I filled my memory card. I don't post all the pictures I take on flickr though, some of them didn't turn out that great.):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rstoker
» December 27th, 2006
So, I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow, so I guess I should write about christmas before I go since I may not use the internet for the next week.

We arrived in Hayingen about 7pm or so on the 23rd and had bread and cheese and lunchmeat for dinner, which is what most German families have for dinner just about every day. On the 24th we went to a breakfast brunch at Steffi's friend's house because it was her birthday. Her friend lives in Riedlingen, which is about 20 minutes away. We passed through a really cool town called Zwiefalten on the way, which has a really big church with 2 bell/clocktowers, something that I hadn't seen before. The town also has a monastary where they make beer and other juices and beverages. The breakfast was more bread and cheese and whatnot and I also had spiegeleier with bacon, which is just eggs, sunny-side up. They also served what looked like hard boiled eggs, but they aren't cooked as long so that they yolk is still liqued. The were served in egg dishes and were opened with this thing that goes over the egg and a weight is dropped down to cleanly crack the top, which is then removed and the inside is eaten with a spoon. There were about 15-20 people there total and the birthday girl's parents sat with us for awhile too. Everyone there is from the area and they all went to school together and they usually only see each other during christmas.

After brunch we went back to Steffi's house and later that night we went to the Catholic church, which is the largest church in town. Steffi's parents are Protestant, but Steffi likes to go to the Catholic church because it is more interesting and they sing better songs. Her favorite is when they sing silent night, but between a lot of the lines there is a choir that sings the word Gloria, so it goes "Silent night....GLORIA!... holy night... GLORIA!" It was pretty interesting. We arrived late though so we had to stand in the back and didn't see anything. An altar boy walked around at one point and I put some money in the basket and then a little while later an older guy walked around giving everyone Wafers as the body of christ. He passed right by us though so I didn't get one.

After church we went back to Steffi's house and had her Dad's World Famous Potato Salad. Potato Salad here is really good. It just has sliced potatos, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and maybe another spice. I'll have to get the recipe. After dinner we had to go out of the room while her Dad lit the tree. Once lit we went back in and opened presents. Her parents gave me Carcasonne, which is a popular board game, and a book about Micronations. Steffi got me a Giant map of Europe and some Pins to put on the map. I got her Dad a bottle of wine from Heidelberg and her mom some american pancake mix. Steffi suggested I get both of those things. German pancakes are a lot different.

After presents we drank some more wine and sat in Steffi's sister's room talking and drinking until about 2 or 3am. Her parents were up until 1 or 2.

The next day, the 25th, we went to Lunch, which is basically like our dinner, at about noon. Lunch was at a Bed and Breakfast that Steffi's parents were married at and they eat there every Christmas. The traditional thing to get is the christmas goose, but I don't like to pick something so expensive when someone else is paying so I got some Schnitzel with Mushrooms and Spaetzle. Also on the menu were wild Deer and Wild Boar.

Later that day we took a drive to the Nature theater in Hayingen, where Steffi used to perform in the plays every year up until just a couple years ago and her Dad has been invovled with it since 1949, when he we only 9 years old.

Later on the 25th we went to the Mayor of Hayingen's house because Steffi is friends with his son. We hung out there for a bit and then got a ride to Riedlingen where there is a big concert every Christmas. Most of the bands that played have been playing there on christmas every year for 20 years or more. Most of the music was pretty awful though, it was just a lot of cover songs of Michael Jacks, Bon Jovi and so on. The last song was the new song for the Soccer team, which I included in a previous email.

The next day, the 26th, is also a Holiday here. Actually the holidays basically go until after "Silvester", which is what they call New Years Day. For lunch on the 26th we went to a restaurant in Hayingen where Steffi's Dad knows everyone. They give him extra large portions. He insisted that I get the Christmas Menu there, even though it is the most expensive thing on the menu. The first course was a gigantic Salad with all sortos of vegetables and about a 1/4 lb of meat on it. I was pretty much stuffed after the salad, but next was a huge plate of food with 2 large pieces of cow meat, 3 pork things wrapped in bacon, a bunch of brussel sprouts(which I ate for the first time the day before and actually aren't too bad) and a bunch of a green beans. I was able to finish most of it except all the bacon and brussel sprouts. I also ate a lot of Steffi's Kaesspaetzle, which was the best I had ever had. And for dessert they brought out another huge plate with 5 kinds of Mousse and 2 ice creams topped off with a lot of cherries. I wasn't able to eat much of it and a couple of them weren't that good, especially the Lemon and Rum Raisen mousses. After the meal Steff's mom and dad both had a shot of schnapps, while the rest of us had coffee.

After Lunch, which took 2 hours, we went back to the house where I had to pack to catch a train at 4. I arrived in Heidelberg shortly before 7pm and managed to get some groceries at the store in the train station, which was lucky since everything else was closed. The buses were also running on the holiday schedule so I had to wait about 15 minutes for the next bus(normally they come every 5 minutes).

Okay, I'm tired of writing and now I have to pack my bags to leave for Italy tomorrow. I managed to get my clothes washed today, even though I couldn't find anywhere to buy the wash coins for the laundry machine in my building because all the school buildings are closed until the 5th. I had to pay double to get them washed at the laundromat, but they do everything for you there including folding them. I think there are only 4 or 5(out of 40) in the building right now. It's really quiet.
» December 26th, 2006
I posted some pictures today that I took over the last 4 or 5 days. I will write a longer description of out christmas was later, but I'm including a link in this email that so that you can see what it is like when they play the 54 74 90 2010 song. A few of the pictures I posted on my flickr are of all the of band members singing this song and everyone in the audience singing along. It was the most popular song in germany after the World Cup and it is still played quite a bit. 54 74 90 are the years that Germany won the world cup, and 2010 is the next time they are having it here and are planning to win again, I think. Anyway, here is the song. It is really catchy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3Jrv7qPC7w
» December 25th, 2006
Everyone in Germany celebrates the day before christmas more than christmas itself, so we did presents already and then today we went out to a restaurant for lunch. they have been going the same place for more than 30 years. we are going out tonight, so, if you call and iäm not here..... merry xmas!
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