Thursday, February 02, 2006


Germany, a land of mountains and valleys, education, efficiency, and of course, most importantly, Nina & Kara!! Andy and I left work and met at Liverpool station to catch the Stansted Express to the airport on Thursday. I had left a bit early from work (where I had been storing my backpack all day right by my desk) and was very ready to leave. Andy arrived shortly after I did, and went to buy a ticket. I was feeling lucky… I had an old ticket from the time I went to Scotland with Kara and Steph so I went to the worker at the gate and showed it to him, and miraculously, I was let through! HAH!

One free ride for Trace. I rock. I was pretty damn happy because a return ticket just for the train was £25… the same as the damn flight to Scotland had been, and (if you remember) I actually bought the return ticket on accident, because I wasn’t flying back through Stansted from Scotland! So, it would seem that it all worked out even better than I could have guessed. We boarded the train, and 45 minutes later were in the strange Stansted Airport North East of London. I say the airport is strange because it is so quiet, and yet it is almost like a huge metal tent. Supported by gigantic white poles, the whole airport is one fantastically large room filled with divider walls to create smaller spaces. It is by far the oddest airport I’ve ever heard of.

After a time in the airport we finally got on the plane, laughing and joking as we normally do. Andy and I are such a good pair, sometimes we need to be separate, but we almost always get along really well. The flight was uneventful, I bought Memoirs of a Geisha at the Books Etc. in Stansted (a subsidiary of Borders) and had to finish Plot against America first, so I worked heard on it. It was an excellent book and I was ready to start reading the first chapter of Memoirs before the end of the flight, but waited just for my own sake.

We arrived in Germany 20 minutes early in Baden-Baden, Germany (near the border of France) and as we were walking out of the plane we were met by the strangest bus I’ve seen yet. It was really wide! Its whole purpose was to transport us from the tarmac to the terminal. The walk would have been 10 minutes because you had to go around a section of fence. We commented that this was the most foreign country we’d been yet because we couldn’t understand anything at all. At least in France we could read the signs, but German was so different there was no way.

We walked into the airport and found the crowd at passport control, probably over 100 people waiting for the two guys in the booth to stamp their passport. There are always two lines, one for EU Nationals, and one for Non-EU Nationals. We squeezed by everyone else in the mass of bodies speaking a combination of German and sporadic English and headed for the Non-EU booth… it was empty. Not one person was over there. No waiting, but also no passport officers. I stood all alone in front of the booth, while Andy laughed at me from the mass by the EU booth. I pretended to be lost and looked at the ceiling and read all the little signs with an exaggeratedly close inspection and when no one came over after 5 minutes of laughing about it I shrugged and headed back to the mass.

Nina was waiting for us with her large boyfriend Andy. He was big, but he’s really cool, and funny too as it turned out. We got big hugs and headed out into the cold chatting and laughing about old times on the drive back to Tübingen. We got to her flat around 11 and said, “So what are we doing? Since the pubs are closed…” They laughed at us, as we said this and realised that we were no longer in England and the bars and pubs stay open much later here. We went to a pub called Hades and Nina and Andy ordered after we picked out what we wanted (because we couldn’t speak the language – so crazy) and sat in the mostly empty pub (enjoying our German beer) and Most (Mosht) which is kind of a strange wine-like drink that is popular in the region.

Before we’d gone to the pub we went to McDonalds (yes we were that hungry) and I had a Royal with Cheese (just like in that movie). After we’d finished eating we went back to her flat for sleep.

The next morning we woke up a little later and went to the store to get food for breakfast. We had decided the night before that I was going to make french toast! After a tasty breakfast we left the house and went to wander Tübingen with our German tour guides. But before we got to see the town we got in the car to go to a castle. It was about a 40 minute drive to the castle which was perched right at the exact top of this sleep mountain. The view from the highway was spectacular so I could only imagine the view from the castle.

After parking in a cark park full of Audi’s and VW’s we started our hike. It took about 20 minutes to walk all the way up the mountain by road to the castle’s massive outer gate. Walking inside and through gate after gate you could tell these guys were worried about security. We arrived at the top and enjoyed the free parts of the castle before Nina bought us tickets to the tour. While we waited for the tour I made a snow angel and we all admired the amazing view from the top of this mountain.

The tour was great; however it was in German so I didn’t really understand most of it. I saw most because at this point we’d been exposed to German for about a day so I was getting used to hearing it and could start to pick out words. I picked up from the tour guide that we were in the Music room with Italian marble floors and that it was used for entertaining guests and something else. There was a lot of other information but I was really proud I got that much since I speak almost no German.

After the tour of the beautiful castle we were left in a room full of relics including the Crown Jewels of Germany (this was apparently the King’s castle for a while and the Keizer’s used to chill there too) and right next to them was a letter in English. I read who it was from first (like ya do) and was shocked that it was from George Washington!!! A letter from Washington! Right there on the wall of this German castle in Swabia! It was incredible. I read through it at least twice and found that it was the last letter he ever wrote as President of the United States. One of the generals that volunteered to help train the American forces during the War of Independence had lived in this castle! Washington was writing him to thank him. He even mentioned that it was the last letter he would be writing as President and that at 12 noon that day he would no longer be in office, and if he could have he would have come to the General and bowed to him to express his thanks for a debt that he could never repay. It was amazing.

After walking back town, driving back to Tübingen, and getting back to Nina’s flat we called Kara (courtesy Nina’s mobile) and the four of us wandered the town looking for some fun. We found a restaurant and had traditional Swabish food (which is really great) and sat for a long time while Kara and Nina talked in German (with spurts of Engish) making plans for the weekend. Somehow at the end of the meal it turned out we’d be going to Stuttgart the next day. So after dinner we walked around the city a little stopped for a beer at this really modern German hang out. We were going to try and see a live band, but there weren’t any. Kara went to a show with Amanda and Andy, Nina and I found another place and played a board game (abalone) and waited. After thair show we went to this über modern part of the same pub (I had to get that word in there). The downstairs was a bumpin’ German relaxation area, with a bumping repetitive beat and after a long while there enjoying each other’s company we eventually went home for sleeping.

The next day we got on a Train for Stuttgart and Kara brought a friend named Amanda. The train was two stories and quite fast. We passed the time talking and trying to decide what to do in Stuttgart. We had to go shopping which we did for a long time that day and I am not even going to get into it… but we wanted to see the Old and New Castles, and maybe see a few other things while there. We thought about a movie (but they were all in German) so that fell through and after we went to the two castles we spent most of the day shopping. Andy bought two pair of trousers, a coat and a hat, I bought a scarf, a wallet and a pair of new shoes. It was a fun day wandering the city. We even had a REAL bratwurst in the city square (where they had a HUGE football in honour of the World Cup, complete with digital Countdown to the Cup).

The train back was uneventful, but we decided to have wine while Nina cooked dinner when we got back. We bought three bottles and Nina bought some food. The 5 of us ate and drank and drank, and before we knew it we’d had a salad, some Swabish food that Nina had made and even drank two one liters of wine and two 75cl bottles… we were all really happy and having a great time. Kara and Amanda went home around 330 and we all passed out.

Sunday was the day to see Tübingen. We got up later in the morning and had agreed to meet Kara and Amanda for the walk around the city at a breakfast place. Germany is not well known for breakfast so most everything was closed, but Nina knew a place. At this place you ordered food in pieces (like a certain type of meat, bread, nutella, etc) and then built it yourself. Andy ordered like 5 plates of food without realising it, and I had a few things including black forest ham and even a nutella sandwich. It was really scrumptious.

Post-Breakfast the 5 of us wandered the city taking in the sites and talking. We went to the town hall and town square, and then up a huge hill to Tübingen castle (spectacular views) where there was even an archery club practicing up by the castle. It felt very medieval. Back down in town we decided to go to the church and look around inside after services ended. It was small, but nice, and then they had an idea and asked the curator if we could all go into the tower.. to my surprise he opened the door and the left. We were free to rome the inner workings of this ancient structure. I found out as I ventured into the back areas that this was not a touristy area. The stairs were old, wooden and rickety; we walked right by the clock mechanism in the tower and even right past the GINORMOUS bells that were set to ring within 15 minutes… we went out onto the tower and marvelled at the view for 10 minutes took pictures and enjoyed the cold bustley day, but we didn’t linger because we wanted to get away before the bells rang.

After the church we went down into the city and saw the colourful house-fronts that are the most photographed part of the city, and walked down the island in the middle of the river that the ‘lovers’ go down in the summer. Nina told us about a University game day when all of the boys in the Uni make teams and get these boats to go down the river around a bend and right back again (called ‘threading the needle’ that took a long time to explain without knowing the term). The loser has to eat this gross mixture of things and they always vomit all over. She thought it was funny, as did the other German in attendance (her boy Andy) but I thought it was gross… ‘it would be fun to watch the game though,’ I thought.

Eventually our day had to be over so Andy and Nina could accompany us back to the plane. We walked up to Nina and Kara’s university (but only to Nina’s building) and saw where she spent all of her time. We got a group photo, I stole a poster, and then we headed back home to burn some German CDs and get to the airport. American Andy had a nap and then we left. All in all it was a great time and a fun trip. It was fun to see Nina again, and Memoirs of a Geisha (which as of writing this I have actually finished) was a really great book.

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