Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home for Christmas

We made it back, yay! Our journey was long, but we didn't have to worry about flight delays or weather trouble, for once. After the 90 plus degree weather in Bali, we were pretty shocked to walk outside into 30 degree Chicago. And the snow! I was not expecting the snow!

Anyway, we'll be leaving tomorrow for Matt's parents' house, and then will make our way into Arkansas the next day. I can't wait to see everyone! It's going to be wonderful! I know last Christmas just wasn't the same without us. It must have broken your hearts. Never fear, this one will be amazing. I'm exhausted, but the goal for tonight is 8pm. After that, all bets are off.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


The day has arrived!  We're leaving Dumai today, and hopefully will never return.  I've waited until the last possible minute to write this post so that I don't jinx it.  We leave for the airport in an hour, so I'm pretty sure I'm safe now.  We'll stay the night in Jakarta tonight, then fly to Singapore and then Bali tomorrow.  Have to fly back to Chicago on the 22nd because all flights on the 23rd were booked.  Something about people traveling for Christmas... I wouldn't know anything about that.  Matt wants to drive to Arkansas because he says we don't know when we'll need to get back to Chicago for his work.  Mostly I think it's that he hasn't driven in 6 months and he misses it.  Anyway, we'll figure all that out later.  Having just finished a month of mostly sitting on my biscuit at the computer, I probably won't really update this in Bali.  Well, maybe I will.  If something really amazing happens.... and how could it not?  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Capital City

Mr. Muchsin finally tracked us down again (he stalked us while we were eating lunch) and roped us into coming to another English class last week.  This one was at 7:00, and we brought Swapnil along to take some of the heat.  This time was actually a lot better than last time.  There were a lot more students, maybe 40, and they were a lot more talkative.  We didn't really teach at all, but it's probably good for them to just get comfortable talking with English speakers.  

We went to Jakarta for a few days last week as promised.  The refinery was doing some cleaning up and apparently didn't want UOP all up in their biz, so they told Matt and Swapnil to leave for a few days.  No complaints there.  There are only two flights from Dumai to Jakarta per week, so we had to wait to fly out on Wednesday.  Matt and I stayed in Jakarta and went to the U.S. embassy to get extra visa pages in our passports.  Now, maybe I'm naive, but I always thought that embassies were nice places.  Fresh and modern, like an expensive hotel.  So, we made our appointments, put on all our finery, (I wore a t-shirt with sleeves instead of a tank top, and Matt wore a button down with shorts and sandals) and went.  What a dump!  It was just a big wall with razor wire around it from the outside, and then inside a bunch of random buildings spaced out around a basketball court.  There were hundreds of people there, and thankfully we didn't have to wait outside in line with everyone else (not because we were Americans, and not because we had an appointment, but because we only needed visa pages, and not an actual visa).  Even with our appointments, we waited there for 2 hours.  And man are those people rude!  You'd think they were being forced to work there against their will. I guess it's possible that they were.  But they all spoke English, and most of them spoke Indonesian, too, so it seemed like they made their own choice.  No one was rude to us, but the woman taking fingerprints of the hundreds of people applying for American visas was.  She treated everyone like dirt, including her coworkers.  I wish I knew her name so I could publish it and give her a bad reputation.  It doesn't really matter.  If you go to the embassy, you'll know who I'm talking about.  

Anyway, two hours later, out we went clutching our little passports, now bursting with fresh pages.  We wanted to sightsee, so after 10 minutes of trying to cross the street, we got a guard from the embassy to stop traffic for us, and we went up to Jakarta's most famous monument.  Luckily, we could see it from far away, but when we got close, we realized that, like everything else in the city, it was surrounded by a 10 foot tall fence.  We couldn't find the gate, and it was too hot to mess with it, so we went back to our hotel, which
 is also surrounded by a fence with multiple guarded gates.  Even the shopping malls and business towers are fenced and gated. It may have something to do with the bombings there in 2005, but it seems a little excessive.  Every time we came back to the hotel in a taxi, five or six guards would open all the doors and check that we weren't carrying anything.  Then at the front door, we had to put our stuff through a scanner and walk through a metal detector.  Every time.  It was like flying, except we didn't have to take our shoes off.  Anyway, we didn't enjoy Jakarta too much, for these reasons and others (there are no sidewalks and no public transportation, so you have to take taxis everywhere, and traffic is horrible all the time.  It takes at least 30 minutes to go ten
 miles).  So we tried to book a flight to Yogyakarta, at the cultural heart of Java, but because we wanted to go within 24 hours, we couldn't find any website to give us tickets.  And we didn't know where to go to find a travel agency.  So we were stuck.  We ended up spending most of our time at the hotel.  I stayed by the pool or watched TV and Matt had lots of work to do on his computer.  Pretty exciting.  We did go to one "antique" shopping street, which was fun, but we were the only ones shopping, so people were kind of pushy.  

So that was our Jakarta vacation.  We had to come back Saturday (Matt's choice), and because the only other flight to Dumai was on Sunday, we had to fly into Pekenbaru, which is about 160kms from Dumai.  Pertamina arranged for a driver to pick us up, and we thought the trip would only take about two hours.  It took 5 and a half.  It was the curviest, hilliest, most vomit inducing trip I've ever taken.  No one threw up, but we were all feeling more than a little sick by the time we finally rolled into town.  Needless to say, we won't be doing that again.  If Matt finishes on Sunday and we can't fly to Jakarta from here, we'll probably take the ferry to Melaca, Malaysia, which could be fun in it's own right, I guess.  If the boat doesn't sink.  

So our current plans are this (and keep in mind as soon as I write this Matt's going to call and say they're delayed again): we will leave here either Sunday or Monday, depending on the job. Go to Singapore, via Malaysia or Jakarta, and then fly to Bali either Monday or Tuesday.  We'll stay there for about a week and then hopefully fly back to the U.S. on the 23rd, then maybe to Arkansas on the 24th.  That's our current plan.  We don't know how long we'll stay in Arkansas yet because Matt might get assigned somewhere else for the beginning of January.  Time will tell.  Anyway, can't wait to see everyone!  My plans for the day include walking to lunch and trying an Indonesian specialty: avocado shake.  Sometimes they put chocolate sauce on it.  I'll let you know how it goes.  

I just got back from lunch (they didn't give me an avocado shake... translation error).  After lunch I went for a walk and got stalked.  This guy wasn't stalking me as much as he was just walking next to me... very closely... stopping when I stopped... turning when I turned... for 30 minutes.  Anyway, I'm sure he was just trying to make everyone think I was his girlfriend, or maybe he thought he was escorting me home, but it was really annoying.  Took his picture in case he kidnaps me later.  If I get taken, he's your prime suspect.  More on this as it develops.  

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just like the pilgrims

Our feast

Thanksgiving for us this year was surely almost an exact replica of the very first one.  First, just like our ancestors before us, Matt and I trudged through the dirty and treacherous terrain to meet the natives on common ground: KFC.  We brought our knowledge of crispy fried chicken, and they supplied us with a new twist on potatoes: mashed and fried cakes.  We then road back to our homestead at lightning speed in a mini-van taxi, the sticky night air rushing in through the broken door and cooling us on the way.  We set up our feast outside where we could bond with the environment of our native friends.  Declining our offers to share the Heineken, fried chicken, and peanut butter M&M's, the natives merely stared at us in disbelief as we broke bread with each other, toasting our good health and our good marriage.  Then, our bellies full of greasy meat and cold beer, we retired to our simple room and treated our monstrous mosquito bites, then fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of the day we could return home. Just like the pilgrims.  

Islam stole my Thanksgiving thunder today.  Today is the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, or "Festival of Sacrifice".  Apparently here t
hey sacrifice cows and then give the meat away to their families and friends.  Also, apparently they pray all day.  Prayers started at literally the crack of dawn, and have only stopped for short periods throughout the day.  No one is praying right now, I guess, which is why I'm taking this opportunity to update my blog.  Normally, I wouldn't mind because it doesn't concern me, but the speaker on o
ne of the mosques is pointed directly at my window, so it's unbelievably loud.  You've gotta hand it to them, they've got good sound systems.  It really sounds like the call to prayer guy is right here in my room with me, screaming into my ear.  I've been doing my best to ignore him.  
This speaker is pointing straight at my window.  It doesn't look like much, but it's incredibly loud.

Matt and I went to "teach" at the Grand English Course a couple days ago, and it was less than stellar.  There were only four students there that day, and they were really nervous and shy, and didn't want to talk.  Mr. Muchsin tried to get them to ask us questions, but he ended up talking to us more than the students.  Now he has taken to stalking me, finding me out on the street or coming to the hotel and calling my room to get me to come teach again.  I understand that this is just a cultural difference, but it's an incredibly annoying one.  People here (and in China, and probably many other cultures around the world) don't have a sense of pushing too hard for something.  They'll ask the same question a hundred different ways to get the answer they're looking for.  I hardly ever give it to them.  You'd think I wouldn't be popular here, but I am.  It's probably my charming personality.  Or my light skin/hair combo.  

Matt's job has been going fine, but today they're falling behind because of the holiday.  Apparently everyone takes frequent breaks to go pray.  Their religion is really screwing up my time table.  Hopefully we'll be out of here in two weeks, and we could feasibly get a break between the reload and restart (don't worry, I don't know what these terms mean either) so we might have time to go to Jakarta and get more passport pages.  Only if we're lucky... and we never are.  And now I'll leave you with a picture of Matt's unit that we took from our hotel room.  Impressive, isn't it?  He's very proud.  I would explain it, but I lack the technical terms... and the knowledge.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


So, as Gram was nice enough to point out to me today, apparently, a ferry sank or capsized or both off the coast of Dumai a couple days ago.  It was coming from Malaysia, or right around there, heading to Dumai, and was carrying more than its designated load of people in bad weather.  I read that most everyone was rescued, but at least 30 are dead and another 15 or so missing.  No one we know, of course, because we don't know anyone, but still it is really sad to think that something this drastic could happen so close...

Although, come to think of it, apparently drastic things happen near wherever we are in the world.  Think back to 2008, we just arrived in China, and bam, massive earthquake strikes in Sichuan, killing 700+.  Fast forward to Dushanzi, I had only been there 2 weeks when yet again, disaster strikes Urumqi and rioting locals kill 200+.  I can't really think of anything disastrous that happened when we were in Germany, but it's possible.  Maybe Matt and I are just bad luck.  Tragedy follows us, but sidesteps our exact location.  Thankfully.  Probably these things happen all the time, all over the world, but I only notice them when they're in my backyard... and with as many backyards as we have, trouble is bound to find us again.  Lucky for us we haven't been directly affected by any of these happenings, knock on wood.  Needless to say, we probably won't be tempting fate on this one and will leave the ferry trips out of our plans.  

On another note, I finally got a hold of the teacher who runs the "Grand English Course" here, or rather, he hunted me down at the hotel.  Matt had a half day today (thank you, Lord for small miracles) and he will be accompanying me - possibly against his will - to "teach" this afternoon.  From what Mr. Muchsin told me, his students just need someone to practice English with.  "Just to get comfortable with the speaking"... wait, I think I've heard this one before.  Who knows, this could be another opening for a teaching job for me for the next couple weeks.  In any case, if all goes well today - I'll even settle for not terrible - I'll surely return to the class for lack of anything else to do.  I'll keep you posted.  

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dumai, Sumatra, Indonesia

Okay, so the shock has subsided (mostly) and I'm starting to love it here.  Not true.  But I don't hate it as much as I did yesterday or the day before.  I went for a long walk today, and while I did get yelled at (called out to, whatever) just as much if not more than before, it didn't bother me as much.  I got a lot of "hey miss" and "hey mister", and even 2 "hey Mrs.".  I must be looking old.  And like a man.  I had three men try to take me around and show me their "beautiful city"... I declined.  I believe I saw most of the beautiful city in the hour that I walked around.  Mostly everything is really dirty and rundown, and very hot and humid.  But beyond that, the people are incredibly friendly.  And lots of people know at least a little English, which is a nice change from China.  Almost everyone who yelled at me at least knew "hello, how are you", and I got in the habit of saying "hello, how are you" back to them, figuring they probably wouldn't understand anything else.  However, after a few strange looks and "I'm fine, how are YOU"s, I realized they know more than I thought.  I only had one guy ask me to give him a kiss, and only one guy shook my hand and then wouldn't let it go.  And I only saw two men following me... one on a bike, and one on a motorcycle.  The one on the bike never said anything, but he kept appearing miraculously in front of me, and the motorcycle guy kept stopping me and trying to talk, but he didn't speak any English, so we didn't really get anywhere.  We resorted to signing, and I think we had a nice conversation, although I may have told him too much.  

I took a bunch of pictures, maybe more than I should have because the Fire and Rescue Unit got concerned and stopped me on the side of the road to ask what I was doing.  When I told them that my husband is working at Pertamina, that assuaged them.  Yeah, I got clout.  I found a lot of these random clothesline-esque things crisscrossed in fields with ran
dom scraps of plastic hanging from them.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what they are.  No one spoke enough English to explain it to me.  It may remain forever a mystery.  

So, all in all, I think this may not be the longest 3 weeks in my life.  It might be for Matt, though... his job is going really poorly already, and it's only the 2nd day.  Oh UOP, why do you do this to us?  Also, I have huge quarter-sized bites on my legs that itch horribly, and I don't know what to do about them.  Of course I googled "huge bites from indonesia" and got a whole plethora of sites relating to typhoid, dengue fever and malaysia, so now I'm fairly paranoid.  At least it's not as bad as it was for Jen in the Dominican Republic, when apparently both her legs swelled up to monstrous proportions.  That's what I heard, at least.  Anyway, more tomorrow when I will hopefully venture out once more into the few remaining unknown parts of the city.  

Monday, April 13, 2009

1 Year Down

Well friends, Matt and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary yesterday, which was also Easter.  And what better way to acknowledge the wonderment of this religious holiday than by going downtown and watching Mary Poppins at the theater?  I can't think of one.  

It all started because I found this great deal on a 4 star hotel in the Loop a couple weeks ago, and so we went downtown Friday and spent the weekend shopping and eating, mainly.  And seeing Mary Poppins, which was so amazing I can't even describe it.  I've only ever seen one major show on stage before, Rent, and this one overwhelmingly shot that one out of the water.  Probably because it wasn't all depressing and no one had AIDS at all.  Anyway, they had Mary flying around stage with her umbrella and Bert tap dancing on the ceiling and all kinds of other great performances.  So that was our anniversary.  I can't believe it's already been a year!  It seems like just yesterday we were in China and miserable.  But things have been really amazing since then, and I figure if we can last through China and food poisoning, we'll be able to stick it out through anything that comes our way.  

One thing that has thrown a wrench into our wonderful marital life is now Matt is heading off for his third assignment without little old me, this time to Korea.  He has had all kinds of difficulty today booking tickets and figuring out the schedule, but as far as we know at this point, he's leaving tonight (or tomorrow morning) at 1 a.m. and arriving on the 15th at 5 a.m. in Seoul.  And then he'll fly from Seoul to whatever city he'll be working (it starts with an O, I think) and I guess they'll just sit at the hotel until the Korean refinery decides exactly when they'd like to start. I think we've already established I don't really understand all the delicate intricacies of UOP and oil refinery relations and paperwork, but really I don't think anyone does.  Why is it a better idea to fly out in the middle of the night for Korea and sit there for several days until you go to work than to fly out when you know you're needed?  Don't ask.  I did, and I got in trouble, so I'm keeping out of it.  Anyway, when he actually starts work there, he should only work for 5 to 7 days and then come back.  So I'm using this time to go see Aura in Wyoming on UOP's dime.  I guess there are some perks to this job after all. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Home Again

So, I guess it's close enough now that I won't jinx myself if I tell everyone, but we're coming home "for sure" this weekend!  We're flying out Sunday at noon, and we'll get into O'Hare Sunday at 3 p.m.  We're already all packed and are planning to go to Munich Saturday to have a special Valentine's event... which I'm sure will consist of Mcdonalds, wine, and TV.  We know how to do it up right. Also, I have been looking at a particular link Matt found on the Internet for some time now, and I can't stop laughing at it, so I thought I would share.  It may be in bad form, but even now, just thinking about it, I'm dying.  Beware, it's a link about farts and the history and science about them.  If you are, or think you may be at some point, offended by farts, don't look at this link. But let me tell you, you're missing out.  I've been laughing uncontrollably for about an hour now.  Who thinks up this stuff?  Anyway, here's the link: http://www.heptune.com/farts.html . Hope you're all doing well.  Can't wait to see everyone again!  Also, I hope if our plane goes down, we have that guy from the Hudson River "miracle flight" and he can maybe land us on a mountain top, or maybe a cloud or something.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Visa Run: take 2 or Istanbul for free

Last weekend Matt and I went to Istanbul on our second visa run ever, the first being Korea, of course. Basically, all we had to do was leave the EU, and then come back.  Sounds so simple, right?  Of course not.  We were flying out on Saturday morning at 10, so, naturally, Matt being who he is, and me being who I am, we were at the airport a good 2 and a half hours early, just to be prepared.  And, in our defense, it was probably a good thing we were so early, because an hour into our adventure, we ran into some "very serious" problems.  First off, the line for check in was ridiculously long (and we shouldn't have been in it anyway, but because we still can't take liquids in carry-ons, we were) and so we amused ourselves by playing I spy and counting the ridiculous amounts of luggage these Turks were carrying.  Is that racist?  I don't feel like it is, because I've never really heard stories of Turkish people with crazy amounts of luggage, but if it is, I apologize.  They over-packed.  All of them.  End of story.  After about a 45 minute wait, we were on our way through passport control, just trying to leave the country, for God's sake, and of course we got delayed again. Apparently, the law in Germany is as such that you cannot be in the country for more than 90 days.  Period.  In fact, the way they were acting, they were surprised we were even still alive after 90 days.  Apparently most people just self-destruct on the 91st day.  So, honestly, we weren't trying to break the law.  We (and by we I mean Matt) sincerely thought (and by sincerely thought I mean, we didn't research it at all) we could be in the country for 3 months or 90 days, and didn't think about the fact that it doesn't always match up.  So here we are, in passport control, being told very politely, several times, that we can only be in the country for 90 days, but it was our 93rd day.  What do we do about this problem?  It seemed there was no solution.  After deliberating for a few minutes, our very polite German airport security officer told us he must write us a citation because we were 3 days over (because you can only be in Germany for 90 days, you see?  It's annoying, isn't it?) Now, this citation, as far as we could tell, would have no effect on our travels, we wouldn't have to pay a fine, and it wouldn't stop us from re-entering the country. So as far as we were concerned, bring it on. Somewhere in there he asked us if we had been in Germany the whole time, and thinking it was an EU rule, and not just a German one, we said yes. So after deliberating for a while, he escorted us back to the security office, and on the way, we told him we had been to Austria twice since we've been here, if that made any difference.  Well, this just astounded him.  I thought he might fall over.  He said, well, I don't understand, because when I asked you, you said you'd only stayed in Germany.  So we tried to explain it to him, but his only response was, well, only 90 days, and you are here for 93.... Anyway, he took us back to his office to talk to his peeps, and we had to sit in this tiny little "interrogation room" with 2 benches, no windows, and a somewhat scary man waiting for his judgement as well.  We sat in there for some time, when finally another man came and started asking us questions, like, do you not understand the 90 day rule, and why have you not told us you went to Austria before... how did you get there? By train.  Where did you go?  Vienna and Salzburg.  What route did you take?  Through Linz (this one I didn't know, but Matt figured it out).  So where is your hotel reservation?  We didn't bring it (didn't think we'd be interrogated by the German police did we) but we have a copy on our computer.  Well, where is your laptop? We didn't bring it.  Well, isn't that convenient?  No, it obviously isn't.  The whole time, this guy is rolling his eyes, squinting at us, and shaking his head.  Finally he said, "is this the truth?" And we said, yes.  He shook his head and glared at us some more, and then he let his "good cop" friend come back in and tell us it was okay, that we could leave.  Before handing us our passports, he gravely reminded us, again, of the 90 day rule, and next time we needed to leave before 90 days.  We got it.  Oh, and that scary man who was sitting next to me in the holding cell?  Some security officers had to come in and escort him away... hope he really was guilty of what he was accused of, but I'm not so sure.  
Anyway, so we made it to our gate, and then we made it to Istanbul Saturday afternoon, and checked into our rather nice hotel.  The thing that's so amazing about visa runs is this: it's free.  It's totally free!  We get to leave the country, and go somewhere awesome, within reason, and UOP will pay for it!  And for our hotel, and for our food!  So it's pretty much a win-win.  Actually, we had to pay for our hotel because UOP won't pay for two hotels at once, and we still had the room in Germany, so we just paid for the Istanbul hotel because it was cheaper.  So then went down to the Grand Bazaar, which is this huge, well, bazaar, where they sell everything from knock-off t-shirts and shoes to really cool cultural stuff like lamps, rugs, jewelry and wall hangings.  This place was huge! Naturally there were hundreds of people yelling at us... do you need new jeans?  Do you need lamp? We didn't buy anything there because we were too intimidated and didn't know even a starter price for any of this stuff and we didn't want to get blind sighted... and for good reason. We are really bad bargainers and even worse at saying no... in China we paid $20 for paper hats at the Great Wall.  Paper.  We're awful.  Sunday we got up early and went first and foremost to the Hagia Sophia, which was incredible.  It is all self-guided, and a lot of the information is written in English, so you really don't need one of those guides who try to poach you on your way in.  It really is just an amazing piece of architecture, not to mention all the history.  It was the most important Christian church for like 900 years, from the 4th century, until in the 15th century someone took over and transformed it into a mosque, and covered up all the unbelievable tile mosaics on the walls and ceilings.  They have been renovating it and uncovering the Christian elements since the 1930s, I think. I'll have to post some pictures, because there just really is no way to describe how beautiful the mosaics are. Across the street is the Islamic answer to the Sophia, the Blue Mosque.  It is quite an impressive sight itself, and I think it was built maybe in the 1600s?  We went into the courtyard there, but there were all these signs that said women needed to wear long skirts and head coverings, and naturally I wasn't, so we thought it was safer to stay out. Also, the line was huge, and that may have deterred us a little.  From there we went to the Underground Cistern to the palace, which I guess is this old water holding tank from forever ago, and it has all of these stone columns running through it.  There are two in the very back that sit on top of two Medusa heads, and no one has ever figured out why they are there.  One is upside down, and one is sideways.  Again, they don't know the reason for this, but they do think it was intentional.  It's all very mysterious.  After this, we went walking around trying to find this huge bridge, but got lost, and then went shopping... I knew it was a bad idea.  We went into this shop to look at these little ceramic plates, and we got cornered and the salesman was just so amazing and friendly, and he said "There is a saying in Turkey that if you have a cup of tea together, you will be friends for 40 years." James had told me about this tea drinking, and what it can lead to, but I thought, no, I can enjoy my cup of tea and not be persuaded by this man's salesman charms.  But I was.  He showed us so many beautiful rugs, all hand woven antique rugs, of different sizes, shapes and textures.  He finally zoned in on one we really liked, and we asked the price, and lo and behold, it was $800.  On "sale".  We were flabbergasted.  This thing was smaller than a coffee table!  It was gorgeous, but not $800 gorgeous.  We told him we couldn't afford it, and he said, well, you tell me what you can afford, and we will see if we can meet in the middle.  So, we said, we don't want to offend you, but we can't spend more than about $100.  And we thought that was the end of it.  But no, he simply smiled, put the rug away, and got out another rug, a "college student rug" he called it, and said he could give it to us for $350.  Anyway, we struggled and kept trying to walk out, because, let's face it, we didn't even want a rug, we don't even have a house!  In any case, we talked him down to $140, without really trying, and finally we gave in.  See how bad we are?  We should not be allowed to shop in these countries!  Anyway, we're pretty happy about it, and it is beautiful, it's wool, and hand made, and I know we couldn't get it for that much in the U.S., and we didn't really have a choice, did we?  I mean, the guy came over and took both of our hands and said "Listen to me, from the bottom of my heart, I can give this to you for $140, and I am making almost no profit off this, but I know you are nice people, and you have friends, and I will give you business cards and you will send me your friends so I will get business." From the bottom of his heart!  So we did, and he made us feel really good about ourselves... which is their way, i guess.  He should win a metal.  I have never been so sold on something I didn't want before.  It was surreal!  So now we have a Turkish rug sitting on our hotel floor, and after we leave here it will sit on our boxes in our storage room.  Good purchase.  
So, that's about it.  Oh, and the hotel in Istanbul had 8 English channels, and we watched every single one of them.  For hours.  And upon our return into Germany, we didn't have problems entering, but we did have to wait in line for an hour and a half to get through immigration.  Not the best.  But still, free trip.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Street our hotel is on.

Our hotel is one of those.  

...And then I threw up

Last weekend, Matt and I wanted to do something really special, while simultaneously using the remainder of our Eurrail passes, so naturally, we went to Rothenburg... for the third time.  I was actually really excited about it because we have never stayed the night there, and this time we were getting to stay 2 nights in a 13th century "mansion" that was used by nights and other courtly people in the 1200s.  Saturday started off pretty rotten... I was in a really bad mood because I had gotten up late and didn't want to take the train because it would cause me to miss my shower, thus cramping my style pretty gravely.  However, we finally made it to the train station and sprinted to the train, which left exactly 30 seconds after we stepped on.  Good thing we've been training.  I don't think we would have made it otherwise.  We were scheduled to take 3 different trains for our 2 and a half hour journey (a journey that takes a maximum of 2 hours by car, mind you) but instead, they were doing some work on the tracks or the trains or some form of transportation equipment, because we had to stop after an hour's ride and get on a bus that took us to our next stop (which would have taken 12 minutes by train, but took 45 by bus).  Needless to say, we missed our next train and had to stand around for an hour and a half while we waited to take a train that would get us to Rothenburg in approximately 45 minutes.  What a waste.  But we finally did make it, 4 hours later, and the sun was shining for the first time in at least 2 weeks, and it was reasonably warm, so we were in great spirits.  We walked the half mile to our hotel which was conveniently located inside the old city walls on the main street of town. Our hotel was really beautiful!  Aura and I had been in the lobby once before to warm up and have a drink when we had visited, and I was impressed then with this building, especially the "chandelier" featuring the city of Rothenburg carved out of wood.  Our room was really small, but quaint, with the 700 year old timbers lining the floor and the original stonework showing through the paint.  Oh, and there was a plasma TV on the wall, which didn't at all detract from the ambiance.  
So for the rest of Saturday we walked around and shopped for last minute gifts (although probably we still have weeks and weeks) and around lunchtime we stopped into a little cafe and got a mulled wine, or gluhwein, to go.  I didn't really understand their heating method, as they were just ladling the wine into cups and then pouring it into a big "heating" contraption. But I didn't really care.  We took our wine and left, and I was really excited because mine was only warm and not piping hot, so it was easier to drink.  Little did I know.  We kept shopping and then around dinner time I started to feel pretty sick to my stomach and had a bad headache.  I kept telling myself I just needed to eat, but when it came down to it, I couldn't eat much, which should have definitely tipped me off.  I tried to ignore it, and we went ahead and went on the Night Watchman's tour (where the "night watchman" takes you around the city at night and tells you all the interesting facts you never knew, and never wanted to know, about the city's history), which I had taken before with Aura.  This time was different though because we had a different night watchman (who wasn't nearly as good... but don't tell Matt) and he told us different interesting facts, such as: the reliquary that is in St. Stephen's church that supposedly holds Jesus' blood actually holds some of the wine that Jesus changed from water... Although I'm not sure how anyone would have packed it away and kept it that long.  But it's only supposed to represent Jesus' blood.  I must say, I was a little disappointed.  I was sure it was blood.  Even though I couldn't see it.  He told us a bunch of other interesting facts, but I'd have to think really hard to remember any of them.  After the tour I was feeling really rotten, and went to lay down... and then I threw up.  Apparently the gluhwein we'd had earlier was really old or something, because Matt and I both got sick, but lucky me, I got the worst of it.  I spent pretty much all night Saturday lying on our centuries old bathroom floor praying to die.  And we both spend all day Sunday laying in our soft, modern bed.  And Monday we left.  So that was our romantic Rothenburg weekend.  It could have been worse.  At least we had a pretty good Saturday.  We're still sort of recovering, though, because we both haven't really eaten much since, which is probably a good thing because we've been dropping weight like crazy.  I've lost 5 lbs, which I can't be too upset about.  
This weekend we're definitely going to Istanbul, which should be really interesting.  I hope the weather there clears up a little. There's been a lot of really terrible weather going through pretty much all of Europe recently.  I'm pretty excited about Turkey, though.  I'll be sure to pack my own jar of peanut butter just in case I run into a Betsy situation.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We have a new president!  I am unbelievably excited!  I watched the inauguration here on CNN and while I was sad about not being in the U.S. (or, at the ceremony, for that matter) it was really exciting to watch it live all the way across the world.  I thought it was really great that he used the Lincoln bible to take the oath as well.  Admittedly, I only just now (literally, the second after I wrote that sentence) figured out the importance of using that particular bible.   Also, I really liked Michelle Obama's dress.  I was impressed.  She looked very classy and stylish.  (They've been showing inaugural fashion specials nonstop on CNN today.)
Well, I guess now is as good a time as any to make some corrections on my most recent (and awesome) post.  Matt told me that he read that the Veil of Veronica at the Schatzkammer in Vienna is actually just a well made copy.  Apparently the real one is at the Vatican.  But there's hope...he also said there are 3 out there, and no one is sure which is the real one.  Our audio guide mentioned something about Veronica having folded her veil into thirds and the image being transfered onto all three.  I wouldn't trust that audio guide, though.  He steered us wrong with the narwhal horns.  
Matt is having a really boring and lonely time at work.  Apparently they're holding temperatures and everything steady for the time being and because he works evenings, he works with all Germans who don't speak English, and he's alone in his office.  So we've been chatting online and surfing the Internet "together".  At least it gives me something to do!  There are some really good Family Guy episodes coming on right now, but they're all in German, so I can't partake.  Brent, the new chief, was saying today that he thinks we will stay here past February 6th, which was supposed to be the absolute final end date... go figure.  We've all heard that one before!  At least now we're in a fun place this time! We're going to have to make a visa run probably next weekend, so I'm excited about that.  I think our choices are Istanbul and London.  Don't ask me why those are the only two... something about the EU and cost.  My choice would probably be Istanbul, but Matt's never been to London, so we might go there.  Either would be wonderful, so I'll leave it up to him. We'll probably end up doing paper rock scissors.  That's how we make most of our decisions.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

Veil of Veronica 
Agate bowl (aka the Holy Grail)


Matt and I just got back from our weekend trip to Vienna, Austria, which was incredible!  For one thing, it was just so nice to have a weekend alone together.  Also, in case you aren't aware, Vienna is amazing!  It's a really beautiful city, even though it is a lot bigger than I had anticipated.  It's also interesting to see a city where the main attractions are museums and buildings of the State instead of always churches and cathedrals.  Although they had a lot of those too.  I was not aware that Vienna was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire for a couple centuries.  I think.  Considering that my European history is even worse than my American history (which is really saying something) you probably should not take anything I post here as fact.  But I'm going to continue to spout information as I see fit.  
My favorite thing in Vienna (and probably my favorite place I've visited in Europe so far) was the Schatzkammer - the Imperial Treasury.  They house lots of royal um, memorabilia, for lack of a better word.  There are jewels and crowns and coronation robes from the Holy Roman Empire as well as those from the Austrian empire and other empires that they owned.  I'm pretty fuzzy on all the details.  The really cool stuff was mostly religious, or the things they believed to hold mystical powers, like the "unicorn horn" that was about 7 feet tall, and was actually discovered to be a narwhal horn, (which is really a tooth and not a horn.  See, I've got tons of this stuff).  This little beauty was assumed to be magical, and doctors would grind up these horns into a powder and then sell it, and it became the most sought after remedy for all kinds of illnesses.  I find this very entertaining.  There was also a sword there with a "unicorn" handle, and the case was also made out of unicorn.  
One of the best things there (and yes, it was very hard to narrow it down) was this huge agate bowl from the 4th century that was carved out of one piece of agate.  It is said to have mystical powers, and at one time it was thought to be the actual holy grail because apparently the name of Christ, "XRISTO", is spelled out.  It's not carved in, but it actually appears in the veins of the bowl.  But, apparently it is only visible in certain lighting... so of course we couldn't see it.  Still, it's gorgeous.  Also, there were at least a hundred religious reliquaries that the Catholics believe house pieces of bones, teeth and clothing (among many other things) from saints and even from Mary.  There were some that were said to hold thorns from Jesus' crown, as well.  I thought this was really cool after I saw the first one, but then there were at least 20 with thorns in them, so it looks like they just picked up the whole crown and boxed it.  One of the other amazing things (I know, I'm giving all the good stuff away) is the Veil of Veronica, which is a shroud that Veronica used to wipe the sweat off of Jesus' face on the way to Calvary  and his face was imprinted on the veil.  It's pretty unbelievable, but I took pictures, and if you look really close (and maybe squint a lot... and really really want to see it) you can sort of tell it's there.  The Catholic church has venerated all these items, but of course, there's no way to know for certain, and therein lies my only problem with the religious items in the treasury.  How will we know if we just got cheated out of 20 euros?  I guess we'll never find out.  In any case, all of this stuff was really, really old... older than old, so that automatically makes it interesting.  
The rest of the stuff we did in Vienna was kind of boring, compared to the treasury.  Just touring St. Stephen's Cathedral and Karlskirche.  The latter was pretty amazing because they're doing restoration, so they have all of this scaffolding set up everywhere, and a "panorama elevator" that they let visitor's take that goes all the way up to the frescoes on the domed ceiling so you can get an up-close look.  There is also scaffolding that goes all the way past the painted ceiling to the windows so you can look out at the city from the top... I was probably 200 feet up and 30 seconds away from the top, and I got nauseous and had to go back down.  Who knew I was afraid of heights? I didn't.  Anyway, the rest is all boring couple stuff like watching Flavor of Love 3 on MTV.  Super romantic.  Did I mention it was also our 4 year anniversary?  Flavor Flav really sets the mood.  Remember that the next time you need to impress someone.  Almost as good as the late night sex commercials they start showing here after 10 pm.  Almost.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On the St. Charles bridge in Prague

First Blog Ever

I couldn't figure out what to name this blog, and after many hours, She's Gone Rogue is the best I can come up with.  I find it topical (think Palin), humorous, and semi-appropriate for my situation.  And thus begins my first official blog post. I've decided to start a blog after many long nights writing feverishly in my journal, thinking all the while that there has to be a better way.  I'm basically just hoping to document Matt's and my travels while he works for UOP.  
Things are going well so far... as well as can be expected, I guess.  We have been in Neustadt, Germany for a little more than two months now.  We've been having a great time galavanting around Bavaria and Europe, but I'm coming to realize I'm not what you might call a "natural traveler" or, in other words, Aura.  I'm okay going on weekend excursions for two or three nights at a time, but beyond that, I get exhausted and stressed out, and I just want to have a home base.  Yet, at the same time, I'd rather be worn out and stressed out and still see all the glorious sights than be sitting comfortably at home... or in whatever hotel room I may be calling home at any given time.  I'm also learning that three months is about as long as I'd like to go without visiting family.  Maybe it's just that I missed both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I have been feeling very homesick and just missing everyone tremendously.  Hopefully we will get some time off soon and will have a chance to visit everyone before the next assignment.   Well, I think that's enough to whet your appetite for now.  I'm really going to do my best to update this every day (which will probably turn into every week, or maybe every month) in order to keep a detailed portrait of my life abroad so I'll have sufficient material for the novel I'll be writing in, oh, the next ten years or so.