A Travellerspoint blog

rain on rangitoto

all seasons in one day
View Studying in Auckland on ctamler's travel map.

i climbed a volcano today and it was flipping sweet. actually, here, they say "sweet as." originally i thought they were saying sweet ass but it was actually the option that makes even less sense.

you take a ferry to rangitoto, which is the most recent volcanic island here, formed about 600 years ago. and you hike up to the crater, which is absolutely huge, and not bare like i expected it to be but full of vegetation and just impossible to capture the enormity of it on camera. and then up to the summit, a bit past the crater, from whence you can see a far-off view of the auckland skyline, and sailboats, and so forth. it was raining and sunny alternately on the way up -- "alternately" is on a scale here that is totally foreign in the states, the weather changes ridiculously quickly, on the weather channel they don't really forecast only tell you what it's like right now -- but this turned out to be perfect because when we got to the summit the sun came out and there was this giant rainbow over the water and over auckland. gorgeous.

it's also kind of a strange little island, because before wwi, new zealand got nervous that somebody was going to invade, and so they started fortifying. amped it up during the war and during wwii, and rangitoto was one of their main spots, because of the great 360 degree view it's got. submarine nets, minefields, cannon, the lot. and of course nothing ever happened. nobody ever invaded. the remains of some of these things are still there.

it's a relief to be exploring during a non-tourist season. the weather is not bad, especially if you are used to pittsburgh -- it's basically like autumn in pittsburgh, except the weather changes more quickly and is more unpredictable -- and there's so much to explore, so the relatively small number of tourists who are here get spread out all over i guess. europe was so insane with tourists, especially italy. it was so crowded with tourists in italy that it was essentially not really enjoyable -- italy was the least favorite leg of the trip for all of us.

stuff is still really expensive here, though. i've just resigned myself to being painfully in debt to my parents when i get home -- i mean this is despite the fact that the program is almost completely paid for by my chancellor's scholarship/other scholarships. i save as much money as i can by never eating out, getting cheap groceries, not drinking in bars (a pint's usually $6 or $7, mixed drinks can be twice that), washing my clothes in the sink...but everything you do costs money and there is just so much to do here. when am i ever again going to get the chance to see the nz rugby team play the australians? or the royal new zealand ballet perform romeo and juliet? go skydiving in THE place that started it all? see a cave full of glowworms? i have to do it while i'm here. it's not like europe, where it's likely i'll be back many times. nz isn't really close to anyplace else or on the way to anywhere. so this may be it.

Posted by ctamler 15:48 Archived in New Zealand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

supermarkets and class schedules

rain 14 °C
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one of the first things that i learned when i got to auckland (the driver who picked me up from the airport told me this) is that a lot of german students come to study here. there is apparently some kind of exchange set up between u-of-a and germany where students from either country can attend university in the other country and pay the fees they'd pay at home. this is very attractive for german students, who tend to already have good english anyway. kiwis don't take advantage of it nearly as often because of the language barrier.

well, this bit of information was proved quite accurate when at the international student orientation, the orientation leaders were asking the audience "who here comes from (insert country here)?" american students were easily the largest group, but the number of german students was actually not too much less – especially considering how far behind all of the other groups were.

the upshot is that i have fallen in with a group of german postgrads (a dangerous crowd, i know, but i am trying not to let them have too bad of an influence on me), so the german experience lives on. i am also officially taking a first semester of german here, and now i have guinea pigs, oops, i mean friends, to practice on.

i always find it interesting how much you can tell about a place from its supermarkets. in germany, there tended to be a very small selection of pre-packaged, pre-sliced bread in grocery stores. this is because germans love their fresh bread (and rightly so, it's delicious there). there are bakeries everywhere and every day or two you go to a bakery in the morning to get a fresh loaf or rolls or pretzels. in new zealand, i haven't seen a real bakery yet. in the foodtown supermarket there is a long aisle of pre-packaged, pre-sliced bread...none of it any good, either. two of my german friends here, juli and thomas, were comparing the breads they had made their sandwiches with and were in general quite sad about the bread here.

however, what they do have at foodtown is the largest collection of yogurt that i have ever seen. in containers of all sizes, flavors of all kinds. my yogurt proclaims that "it's the acidophilus and bifidus that keeps your family healthy!" they even have an aisle full of dry yogurt cultures so that you can make yogurt on your own.

of course, there is also a lot of fish here. the other night we made sushi and it was delicious.

on a different subject entirely, we've all spent the last week wrangling our class schedules. most of the other ies students seem to be taking the "easier classes, more time to experience the country" route, and while i considered it for a while, being the school addict that i am i just can't bring myself to do it. i console myself with the notion that an important part of getting to know a country is getting to know its educational system, and one of the main reasons i came here was because i could directly enroll in the university and interact with actual students. plus, my classes are exciting: a class called "literature and science," which couldn't be more appropriate; a history of science class; an upper-level drama class that seems like it'll incorporate theory and performance; and the aforementioned german.

in the course of getting approval for these classes (classes come in 3 stages here, and anything above a stage 1, which all of mine are except for german, you have to get approved for if you're a study abroad student – most of them have prereqs), i've met and talked to a number of professors. they've all been super friendly and helpful. the response i usually get to "can i sign up for this upper level class?" is:

"well, let's see. what year are you?"

"um, this is my fifth year."

"five? is that normal?"

"yeah, no, four is normal, but i have three majors, so it's taking me a little bit longer to finish – "

"three majors? well, i'm pretty sure you'll be able to handle this course."

this is a little scary, because i feel like my prior education is being put to the test a bit here. hopefully it is up to the task. u-of-a is ranked in the top 50 schools internationally...

other fun things that happened in the course of talking to professors: i learned a bit of trivia from one of them, talking about the crazy different point systems that schools have (at pitt, 3 or 4 credits is a normal class; here, 15 points is a normal class, but about equivalent to 4 credits for us, so we take 4 classes here). he said that the reason they do 15 points is that normally, you would take 60 points per semester = 120 points per year = 360 points in 3 years, the normal time here to finish a "degree." it's kind of like a sick joke on the part of the educational head honchos: you need 360 points to finish a degree, like the degrees of a circle.

Posted by ctamler 15:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged educational Comments (0)

dachau

"arbeit macht frei"

rain
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on monday cassidy fell off of a table (he liked to jump from table to table in our rehearsal room, no matter how many times everyone told him not to) and hurt his arm. they took him to the hospital but couldn't x-ray it at the time because he was in too much pain; they finally did it today, and it turns out that his elbow is broken, and in a very strange way, apparently. we were all sure that it was just a sprain. nope, broken, and he hasn't really been able to sleep because he's a restless sleeper and when he moves, it hurts, so he wakes up.

melanie warned us today that there is a slight possibility that she may need to take cass home early. which i guess would leave me in charge. hope that doesn't happen, and don't think it will, but there's a possibility still, especially since we found out it is broken after all.

the rehearsal that i ran went well. the scene, which is one of the two trouble scenes, improved a lot. it was fun. this is always how i am with directing...i tend not to look forward to rehearsals, but once i'm in one, i have fun. at least, when i'm in charge. i'm kind of awkward and not-knowing-my-place as an assistant director at the moment. but i feel like i've contributed a lot to the show so far and that's good.

we had an american dinner on sunday, where we decided we wanted to introduce everyone here to a typical "american" meal...we chose grill-style, made hamburgers/hotdogs, potato salad, deviled eggs, chocolate cake, drank beer, caused a small ruckus. the burgers were delicious.

today (the 21st) we went to dachau. this is one of those things that one has to do as long as one's here, i guess. saw the famous "arbeit macht frei" gate; it's smaller than i thought it'd be. it all felt surreal. i get self-conscious in situations like that...same reason i don't usually cry at theatre or movies. i feel as if i'm supposed to be feeling something, and so i feel nothing. hollow. it's a frightening place. there were lots of german soldiers there, touring. lots of loud american tourists, too. i didn't take pictures. it doesn't feel like a place where you take pictures. i'll remember what it looked like. wide, and open, and sterilized. without meaning. like a stable. it's a huge stable; though it was one of the "work camps," you can't imagine anyone actually working on anything there. it's too huge and empty of anything productive. there are just flat, hard wooden bunks like stalls, a huge gravel courtyard like a pasture in drought, and the crematorium. two, actually, the "old" and the "new." i grew up reading about these things. it was almost as if i'd been there before.

also, dachau is the name of the town as well as what the camp's known as. i never thought of that. what must you feel, if you're a german born in dachau? living there? you know what the name means now to everyone -- it may never mean anything else. auschwitz, dachau, birkenau. and the people who come through to gawk at your shame. it's a sad-seeming, industrial place that reminds me of a lot of places in the states. one of those areas where it's not really a suburb, or a city, just businesses, outlets, fast food, no culture, no feeling of location, an inherent nowhereness, where you can't get around without a car.

tonight, we had a sushi and movie night with a lot of the cast/friends of the cast. i made sushi. my first roll was awful...then i got a little better. we watched two days in paris, which i liked a fair amount. except we had german subtitles on, and a lot of the movie's in french, so i had to try to read the german. i did ok.

Posted by ctamler 16:55 Archived in Germany Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

weekending

sunny
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christina says our days of sun are almost over. we have had frighteningly beautiful weather. at least it lasted through our weekend of adventuring. this has been like a tiny preparation for the long haul we will embark on at the end of the month, and it makes me a little nervous about our stamina.

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thursday night we got in and saw a play, pool (kein wasser), which is actually an american play (by mark ravenhill) but was of course in german. watching a play in a language you don't understand is exhausting. my german comprehension is improving by wee bits. i am much better than christina, anyway. however, nowhere near enough to watch a play. every 15 minutes, if i'm lucky, i will have a flash of understanding. then it's all gone again.

leonie and joel were taking the toefl on friday, so we spent pretty much the whole day on our own. we found our way to schloss schonbrunn, which is the hapsburg hunting-lodge-cum-palace where mozart gave his first public performance at six (the age, not the time). the palace was very nice, the grounds outside beautiful. stunning shrubbery. we walked a lot. the gardens were huge and we only saw a bit of them, in hours. then we went back to the city, wandered around, found the stadttempel -- the only synagogue in vienna to survive kristallnacht -- and the jewish district, and then found our way to the restaurant where we were supposed to meet up with leonie and joel. there, we had wienerschnitzel, which is not anything like i expected it to be, but pretty good. afterwards we saw another play in german. i don't know if i can see too many more plays in german, especially if i'm not familiar with them. and then we hung around until our train to munich came at 11pm.

slept badly on the train (not a sleeper train) and got in to munich around 6:30. leonie's dad picked us up and we drove to the countryside, had breakfast, and then joel, christina and i hung out in the garden most of the day, reading and napping. eventually we walked to the biergarten where leonie works to visit her. she lives in a little bavarian town in the bavarian countryside, the name's uberschweinsomething, something that means "waiterpiglittlestream" and is apparently funny in german, too. we had some beer and fried strawberries and after she got off work we watched grease. i had forgotten how bad it is. it's bad.

today christina and i went to munich; leonie stayed at her parents' to work some more, joel came back to augsburg. our attention spans had begun to wane. we did lots more walking; munich has the biggest municipal park in all of europe, bigger than hyde park and central park. it was great. made me want to go to school in munich and have picnics in the park. saw some churches, ate korean food, and then gave up and came home (40 minute train ride back to augsburg). so my point is, we will theoretically be doing that x 14 in a few weeks and we were exhausted after just two days of it. hm.

Posted by ctamler 10:34 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

compare/contrast

sunny
View Autobahn, adventuring, and Outside Inn on ctamler's travel map.

life here is very different from mongolia (well, of course, i guess). i felt like last summer we were sort of a unit, the pittsburghers against the world, trying to figure everything out on our own, because mongolians could be really shy, or had bad english and we had worse mongolian, or whatever. here, from day one we have spent a lot of time with the university of augsburg students. they like to go out and have fun, go to the theatre, film festivals, and that kind of thing. i saw a play all in german last night. i didn't understand most of it, but there was a lot of vomiting, and a big stuffed giraffe outside of the window, so i guess it was entertaining. the rest of the audience really liked it. anyway, we can communicate much better with everyone, and they are all so accommodating and committed to showing us a good time in the city and everywhere. leonie and joel, whose apartment we are living at, are probably coming to pittsburgh next year on a fellowship to pitt, if they pass their toefl exams. i hope so -- then maybe we can return the hospitality a little bit...although i will be gone until november, as we all know.

i wish i knew german. i have a german textbook, and i work through a bit of it most nights, but i feel like i'm very stupid with languages. i just don't think any of it really sticks. maybe i will try to take german my last semester at pitt. might as well, right? and then maybe i'll try to come back here, on a fulbright or something. i like it here a lot.

there's not much culture shock, though. from what christina says of italy, it's very different from the states there; here, it just seems like a cleaner, better organized, cooler, older america, in a lot of ways. i mean, there are definitely things that are different, but they tend to be minor. like don't jaywalk. and you bag your own groceries, and there's a 1 euro deposit for shopping cart use (it's an ingenious system, actually; you put the euro into the handle of the cart, and when you return it you stick a key in and the euro pops back out). and, you know, the kinds of things people eat and drink, and water not being free. and EVERYTHING being closed on sundays. generally, though, it all seems familiar in some way and i feel at home here.

Posted by ctamler 03:35 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

backaches from backpacks

sunny
View Autobahn, adventuring, and Outside Inn on ctamler's travel map.

my back hurts. i have had to carry my backpack/laptop while biking to campus the last few days and it is painful. i think i won't have to carry the laptop too often though.

generally, however, i like biking everywhere. this is a great city to bike in. the weather has been beautiful too. i was prepared for lots of german rain. i guess biking wouldn't be so fun in the rain. my mom emailed me: sara was in a bike accident. she's ok, but might have to have elbow surgery. her bike trip is in 6.5 weeks and without surgery her elbow will heal in 6-8, so the whole trip is up in the air now. sucks. my mom said to wear a helmet.

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there is lots of cheese here. they must have known i was coming.

also, delicious ice cream cone today for 0.80 euro.

i don't like traveling expensively. it is not fair. why is the dollar sucking so hardcore? i am very bitter about it. the students are sympathetic and we went to the grocery store today, so christina and i can pack our lunches, and there is always a nice big breakfast in the morning, and now we are going to start cooking for dinner as well. still, it's expensive, and my god, i can't imagine our upcoming month of travel. i wanted to have $2000 left by then. likely i will not, and even if i do, that won't go too far either.

we are going to vienna thursday-friday and i think maybe munich right after. also, i have to try to get to nuremberg, because it's where my parents lived and it's quite close by. our friend/compatriot eva is from nuremberg so we'll probably get there. it's amazing to me how much everyone here hops around from country to country. joel's sister just visited from switzerland, we're going to vienna, leo may come to italy with us to visit a friend, and so on. these are poor college students and they travel all the time, it's just normal. i wish it was like that at home.

so far i have only added a france stamp to my passport. stupid germans.

Posted by ctamler 13:41 Archived in Germany Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

first days in augsburg

bicycles and beer

sunny
View Autobahn, adventuring, and Outside Inn on ctamler's travel map.

augsburg is beautiful. i wish that i had taken some pictures already so that i could show you, but there's been quite a bit too much to do and process the last few days. i was deathly ill for about three hours the morning we flew out of pittsburgh -- though i pulled through, thanks to andrew and my mom. i didn't throw up on any airplanes, and felt well enough to have a sip or two of chardonnay, courtesy of air france. they give out a lot of free wine. i didn't even steal their airplane blankets.

thirteen somewhat grueling hours of travel later (our connections in jfk and charles de gaulle necessitated sprinting), we met up with melanie (our professor) and cassidy (her son) in stuttgart, and then took the train to augsburg. the train was sleek, clean, fast, nothing like the trans-siberian. glass sliding doors on the inside and everything smelling of new. two hours of that and we were in augsburg, welcomed by klaus and his small army of german university students.

we are staying with leonie, who goes by leo, and her boyfriend joel in their apartment. it's in a picturesque part of the city, all narrow, narrow cobblestone roads and ivy. they treat us too well: big german breakfasts and our own beds and they cleaned their books out of the bookshelf so we'd have a place to store our clothes. leo insists that we use her shampoo. she's one of the students performing in our production (the others are vinz, nora, steve, sebastian, 2 evas, and ulli, most between 24-28 years old). we went straight to her apartment to get rid of our stuff on friday, and then some things happened very quickly:

1. she told us they had arranged bikes for us.
2. she asked us if we wanted to go to vienna with the two of them.
3. she told us to put on our shoes and come to the train station.

so here we are on about 4 hours of sleep out of the past 24+, and our first introduction to the city not two hours after our arrival is navigating what seemed to be their rush hour on our new bikes. we dodged planes, trains, and automobiles and were only marginally terrified, or at least managed to make it appear so. after the train station (we bought the train tickets to vienna, so that's where we'll be on thursday and friday), we rode to the university, which was thankfully much less stressful. it's a very bike-friendly city; you can tell by the bicycle on the "walk/don't walk" lights, which might actually be better called "walk or cycle/don't walk or cycle" lights here. also, there are usually bike lanes. so we had the worst first and it's been much less daunting since.

we had our first rehearsal, which was really just a meeting, and then christina and i went to dinner with most of the students, at a bavarian restaurant, where i had kaesespaetzle, which is delicious and like fancy macaroni and cheese with fried onions on top. also my first radler, which is beer and lemonade. we had some schnapps that tasted like drinking concentrated mouthwash at a finnish bar and went to bed at a reasonable hour to kill our jet lag.

in the morning -- this is yesterday -- we did some rehearsal planning with melanie at her apartment. maybe you are wondering what we are doing in augsburg, exactly. well, we're mounting a bilingual production of neil labute's autobahn, sort of, except we are only using three scenes from autobahn. we're using a scene and monologue that nora wrote, and one scene that i wrote. christina is acting, and i am assistant directing and doing dramaturgical duties, as well as revising my scene. i do a lot of scene-cutting (some of labute's scenes drag), schedule-wrangling, note-taking, and such duties, at the moment. the german students are mostly inexperienced but also, mostly, quite game. german directors are apparently very dictatorial and melanie is not like that, but they're taking to it well.

did i mention that we bike? a lot? it's about a 20-minute ride to the university, and we bike everywhere we go, so yesterday after rehearsal it was to the park for a picnic, and then to another restaurant (this one italian) for dinner and beer, and then to the move theater, mephisto, for a short film festival. i am always hungry because i am always on a bike. also, my butt kind of hurts. i bet this will improve, though.

today, we rehearsed, and then melanie, christina, leonie, cassidy, and i went with klaus and his wife to a biergarten. these are absolutely fantastic things, a bavarian institution, big outdoor areas where you can buy beer and food and listen to music. this one was in the middle of a big park. there are bikes and kids everywhere, and lots of trees, and where there aren't trees, people barbecuing. leo says this is very typical of germans: first day of sunshine and they all try to barbecue. she is taking her toefl this week (in vienna), so our deal is to help her with her english until then; after, she will help us with our german. i ordered the beer myself for us: drei radler, bitte. we drank radler because it is the cyclist's drink -- less alcohol because it's mixed with lemonade, but still beer.

well hey, then we came back to the apartment and did some work for this coming week, and i'm taking a break from my cutting/wrangling duties to write a substantial blog entry.

Posted by ctamler 09:42 Archived in Germany Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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