Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ein Herde von Schafen in der Stadt . . .

So I really ought to keep my camera with me when I am out and about in Cologne. Today I had a small errand to run on the complete opposite part of town, and my route to get there involved riding my bike along the Rhine River. There is a path that runs along the whole river, and there are lots of bikers, runners, rollerbladers, and weekend strollers scattered along the whole way. The really strange part was that I was riding along and there is a bit of grass in between the path and the grass, and in this grass I heard a simple "baaaa" coming from behind some bushes. I investigated further down another little path towards the water, and there was a whole entire heard of sheep grazing in the grass and in the bushes! This is in the city mind you, with the Dom Cathedral only a few hundred meters away. I asked some folks who were also checking out the curious critters, and they told me that it is completely normal. The sheep graze along the river from a neighboring town, and they are seen quite often apparently.
Sorry I don't have any photos. It would have been cool to show the sheep with the city in the background. If I see them again, I hope I will have my camera. That's all for this post, I just wanted to share!

EDIT: Thank you to Stephan for finding a great link to the photo that I didn't get!  Click Here!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Amsterdam and Brussels . . .

Well I've been meaning to post about my weekend trip to Amsterdam and Brussels all week now. It has been a crazy few days with trying to work some extra hours, and also moving to a new apartment here in Koeln. Now, I am all settled in, and it's the weekend, so I have a moment to finally crack down on this.
To start things off, this was the second weekend that Kelly and Matt were here, and we planned out a trip for the weekend to see some new sites. We originally wanted to include Paris in our plans, but France, being the way that French people are, require reservations on their trains, which were all full. For the other countries, even if the train is full, you can still spread out on the floor somewhere and get to your destination. Anyways, so we had decided to take an afternoon on Friday and go to Amsterdam, and then spend the rest of the weekend in Brussels.
Since we were only in Amsterdam for a few hours, we didn't see a lot of it, and I am sure that there were many things that we had missed. We went there without any kind of plan, and after leaving the train station we found ourselves in the red light district by complete accident. It was different (that's all I will say on the red light district, because everyone already knows what is there). After finding our way out of there, we found ourselves pleasantly strolling along canals and over bridges since Amsterdam is made up of about 900 islands, much like Venice. The one thing that we did in Amsterdam that was really worthwhile was we visited the Anne Frank House. It was really fascinating to walk through the hidden rooms of the house, and be in the same place that Anne Frank wrote her famous diary. It was definitely moving, and before long we were also moving along our way to Brussels, Belgium, not really knowing what to expect!
Brussels is a very odd city to say the least. It is the seat of the European Union and so therefore, a very international city. Belgium has two official languages; French, and Dutch, and in Brussels, French was most prominent. People were very friendly and helpful, and the city was a blast to explore. Our first stop was in the Delirium Cafe after we arrived in our hostel. The Delirium Cafe is a world famous bar due to the fact that it houses the most beers in the world in one place. With a menu the size of an encyclopedia, the Delirium Cafe boasts almost 3000 different brews from around the world. We tried a few, and had a great time mingling with locals and other foreigners alike. The rest of the time we spent wandering around the city. Brussels is a beautiful city, but none of it's architecture seems to fit each other. A beautiful building would have an ugly building just added directly onto it, and that sort of thing. However, as in order not to disappoint anyone, I did buy some German chocolate, and I did eat a Belgian Waffle for breakfast. Both were delicious!
I had a great weekend, and after a long week, I have finally moved into my new apartment. I am living in student housing here by the University. It is a large suite for 5 people, and I seem to have great roommates. My room is bigger than before, I have a larger kitchen, and all in all better place for cheaper rent. It should be a good few months!
I'll be giving more updates soon! I am going to try and post in here more often. I also have some more trips up my sleeve within the next couple of months.
I hope all of you readers are well, and everyone from back home, I am thinking of you. Oh, and in case you thought I was avoiding the subject, the answer is "No, I didn't try any of the wacky weed in Amsterdam!" Y'all know me better than that!
I look forward to reading comments!
Leibe Gruesse aus Koeln!

Amsterdam Photos
Brussels Photos

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Visitors, Interlaken, and Munich . . .

Well, as usual here in Deutschland, I have been busy doing this and that. I have been working hard at work, and in addition I have some visitors here from the United States for a couple of weeks! Kelly and Matt arrived here this past Thursday, and things have been quite busy since.
Thursday night we did a little bit of celebrating in the park nearby, and also at a party hosted by my new roommates. We then got up early on Friday morning to get going on our big trip to Interlaken, Switzerland!
Interlaken is nestled in the Alps in a valley between two lakes. It is in the middle of the country, so the spoken language is German with an extremely heavy dialect. The German there was definitely a bit hard to understand. I realized before going to Interlaken that there would probably be a lot of tourists there, and the one only disappointing part about it was that it seemed like it was virtually all tourists. Sometimes it felt a bit like a college frat party even. All in all though, people were friendly, and we enjoyed our activities there.
Our one major activity in Interlaken was going canyoning nearby in the alps. It was a really cool experience that I wish I had some pictures to prove what we did. The purpose of canyoning is basically making your way through a small mountain canyon by rappelling, walking, sliding, and of course, jumping. The best part about the adventure was a seven meter jump down into a narrow canyon into a shallow bit of water. I'm not really sure how I did it, but there was no hesitation for me jumping off, and I wish that I could do it again!
Besides the canyoning, we did a lot of exploring of the town. Everything, and I mean everything is really expensive there. The Swiss Franc and the US Dollar exchange is almost equal however, the average meal at McDonald"s was about 11 Francs (yes I looked at their menu, and no I did not eat there). For our sleeping arrangements, we actually slept outside in tents, and had tentmates from both South Korea, and India, so it was a fun international experience. Before going to bed I asked my roommate how to say "Goodnight" in Hindi, and he looked a bit puzzled and replied "well we just say goodnight." Then in the morning, I heard him say goodmorning to his buddy among the garbled foreign words. Of all the words I could have asked him to translate, I sure picked the wrong one!
We arrived in Interlaken by way of train.  We had bough Eurail tickets, which allow you to pick different countries and a set amount of traveling days, and they basically give you unlimited access to trains.  This is good because, last minute traveling decisions are made very easy.  With virtually no security in train stations, and a Eurail pass, one can literally just walk onto a train and head off wherever you want within a few moments of deciding where it is you want to go.
So Sunday morning, we decided we had seen enough of Interlaken, and we decided to hop on the next train to Munich that morning.  About 6 hours later we arrived and had probably the most rushed travel experience ever.  We saw Munich in under three hours!  We saw lots of buildings, biergartens, etc. and snapped some pictures and moved on.  It was a lot of fun, and we are definitely glad that we got a small taste of this famous, beautiful city.  One of the rules with our Eurail pass is that we have to be back by midnight, so we hit the next train ride back to Cologne exhausted, and wondering what just happened!
This coming weekend we are headed off to Paris, Brussels, and Luxembourg.  I'll have info on that later!
Here are some links to photo albums from both Interlaken and Munich.  Enjoy!