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Ashley's European blog

It's spring of 2006, so this must be Europe. For Ashley, that is. Ashley is spending the spring of her junior year studying abroad at the Freie University in Berlin. Unlike their counterparts in the US, German universities do not start classes until mid-April, and then they run through the end of July. So Ashley has been able to spend a faiir amount of time traveling and seeing the sights. Ah, to be young again!

To keep in touch wil ALL her friends, Ashley has asked that we post her missives from abroad. So here they are -- unedited!

In Full Bloom -- the last email [July 14, 2006]
Is...is that a moat?
[June 30, 2006]

Jeder Liebt Das Samstag Aben
Anna Wishart Doesnt Even Know (Damn yankees)
I want a Cesky Krumlov Holadeck (Instant Nostalgia) [May 19, 2006]
Kristin from Prague
[May 17. 2006]

We made party, oder? [May 6, 2006]
Who ate bob dole´s peanut butter [April 12, 2006]
Hvala sir, Se enkrat, prosim [April 4, 2006]
I see Venice, I see France
[March 18, 2006]

In Full Bloom- the last email

The WM has ended, and with it comes the last couple of weeks of my life here in Berlin. The German hopes ended not with the Argentine game, like everyone had predicted, but in the semi-final against the Italians. This is where in the email I would usually rail against the Italian team in their olive-oil-drinking, pizza-making, vespa-riding, and plumber-company-they-started-with-their-brother-Luigi glory, but I will forgo the usual diatribe their name now incites. Their superior acting skills might have won them the title, but that's not what my life in Berlin has been about anyway.

It was easy to get caught up in the WM euphoria, the glory and excitement that made me forget about life and all its woes for an entire month. The hope of the Deutsche Elf was something that kidnapped me and sustained me for less than five weeks. Ironically it let me go on July fourth, my independence day. I will spare you the metaphor. The mood that set in instantaneously around Germany was one of disappointment, of severe melancholy that reminded me of a watered-down version of what Middlebury felt like after Bush won for the second time in a row. But the mood matured into a more experienced hope, which is a nice way of saying an optimism that comes after one's faith has been dashed. This emotion was one that more reflects my life over the past six months: a more reserved and heavier love of life. Sannie, Mike, 750,000 Germans and I wore our German jerseys and put on our fan paraphernalia for the last time this past Sunday and spent five hours in the 95 degree heat and sun to thank our heroes, the German soccer team, the Deutsche Elf, for the last time. Waking up early on a Sunday to head down to Brandenburger Tor and be sandwiched between 750,000 smoking, sweating, and smelly Berliners may not seem like a perfect end to the madness, but closure always comes in odd forms. Mike and I made signs, chanted louder for our respective favorite players then we ever thought was possible (Podolski was was), and danced for perhaps the last time to the official 2006 WM songs. Our waiting, suffering, and sunburning was rewarded with just a glimpse of the men who captured our attention and who allowed us to escape through them for the duration of the WM.

The highlights of the WM they showed for the fans that got to the Fan Mile four hours before the team showed up invariably forced me to look back on my adventures abroad. I hate being a cliché, but it is impossible not to think of Charles Dickens when I say that this past semester was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Of course I had my escapades: trips to Teufelsberg with Dan, a search for a bar named "Bar Bar" with Kristin and a random Brazilian, discovering Venice with the Lasky girls, never being disappointed in Paris with Aysegul, Willa, Myra, Anna, and Kristin, conversations with my Bulgarian friends who are obsessed with America although they have never been, finding and surpassing my own limits in Slovenia, watching the WM in beer halls, beer gardens, fan miles, and at houses with beer, besieging castles with Sannie and discovering my love of Ludwig the II in München, and of course, St Stephen's hand. There were of course a million small moments that usually involved sunlight and he city of Berlin. But all these experiences were anchored by alienation, the struggle to convey a single idea in a language I have been learning for too long, the fear caused from being lost at 11 at night in a foreign city without any hostel reservations, working harder for school than ever before, only, for the first time in my life, to come up short, large arguments with friends that may never be resolved, and the loss of my physical  inspiration.

I was hoping that this would be able to end itself, that somehow the words would come if I just started and kept typing. I will be leaving for Croatia in a week and then home. I would like to thank all those who replied to some of my emails, even if the reply was just a single line about the joys of Wolof class or the joys of summer in Georgia or the joys of walking home barefoot from a long day of work. I also appreciated the kind words about my emails (and even the not so kind ones about my spelling errors...you know who you are). These emails were literally a train of thought, never proofread or grammatically correct, and the fact that most of you read through them pleases me immensely. And for those of you who never read a single one, but at least paused for a second before deleting them, I thank you for that pause, that moment when you debated whether you would have time to read, that moment when I occupied your thoughts. I kept this last one short for you.

And since I do not know how to end this, I will use the trick I learned in 5th grade for writing essays...when you can't say anything good, just steal. Love you all, and please please please keep rockin in the free world.

"If you feel discouraged, when there's a lack of color here.
please don't worry lover, its really bursting at the seems
absorbing everything, the spectrums a to z"

Ashley

P.S. I know Ben. I'm a tool. I just quoted Death Cab. As Square would say, I'm embracing the fact I'm an angsty teenager.

 

Is...Is It a Moat?
There is a relationship between moments and places, a wedding in our brains, where a physical landscape cannot be separated from the emotional ease associated at that moment.  My favorite places in the world are forever married to the pure pleasure experienced at that time, where my mind stops working overtime and thoughts cease to permeate.  My favorite physical location remains Marlborough Country in New Zealand, where traveling seven days with my sister I had various brain shutdowns and the beauty of the rolling mountains, the aggressive ocean, and the singular long white cloud took over.  Other places have touched me in the same way: on a boat in the Agean sea by the cliffs of Turkey, our nation’s capital dome suddenly appearing as I rise out of the subway station, and now inside a wall on castle hill in Buda, overlooking the heavy side of the city known as Pest.

I did not think my continuing Eastern European tour would produce one of my new favorite localities.  I honestly thought it would just produce a couple funny stories (which it did, don’t get me wrong), not a pretentious foray and subsequent essay into my own mind.  The trip started with a name- Operation: Marzipan.  It also started with a friend, Kylie, code name: Langsam.

Kylie flew out to visit me in Berlin for a night.  Berlin is a huge city, and although my parents spent a week here, they were unable to see the entire city.  So imagine me trying to show it in a night.  That night I was also visited by a Midd friend and her own accomplice, Dana and Laura.  I showed them the main sights, the World Cup celebrations, and a decent restaurant, before ending the night sitting on a curb drinking beer.  Europe has definitely made me classier.

I stayed up all night and caught my flight, eventually meeting Kylie in Budapest.  For those of you who don’t know, Budapest is actually two cities: Buda, and Pest.  It is in Hungary.  And I’m not saying which friend, but just to clarify for anyone who will make the same mistake as her- Budapest is not the capital of Budapest- Budapest is a city, and it is the capital of Hungary.

Although I was not really imagining what Budapest might look like, I already had a preconceived notion of what it was: Prague-esk.  But Budapest was nothing like Prague.  Unlike the beauty and dreaminess of Prague, Budapest was a heavier city, more assertive than the jewel of Czech.  Maybe it was the agrarian culture of Hungary, but I couldn’t help imagining the capital as a steady farmer, weathered by the sun and over taxation by a foreign power, beautiful in its strength, scars, and hands.  The buildings were old and stone, don’t get me wrong- there was nothing farmhouse like them in their design.  It was just the sense and feeling of the city that led me to this description.

Operation: Marzipan started off as a severed member tour of Budapest.  We saw a chopped off foot and a consecrated skull, but the best part was St. Stephen’s sacred hand.  Kylie and I made a second trip back to the church which had the hand on display because we couldn’t see it our first time around.  The hand, over 1000 years old, lives in a golden tomb, which looks more like a cheesy museum display case than a religious altar, in the St Stephens church.  For 100ft, or 30 cents, you can see the hand lit up.  The best part of the severed hand is not that it’s been visited by basically every pope, but rather the pomp and ceremony that surrounds it.  Pilgrims to this site are not trusted enough to put the 100ft piece into the box to see the hand light up like the wax witches in Salem, but rather a man stands there and takes the coin from the traveler and puts it into the box.  The Christian religion, for all its diatribes against paganism and the “uncivilized,” has lost the irony of displaying a decaying piece of flesh in a glorified box.

Perhaps it was seeing the fleshy remains of people of the past that made Kylie and I decide to take care of our own flesh, still attached and in all its glory.  We went to a Hungarian bathhouse, which although was recommended in the guide book, was devoid of tourists.  The building, rife with natives, lacked anyone who spoke English, German, French, Hebrew, or Spanish, Kylie and my collective languages. In fact, I am pretty sure we were one of 4 people who spoke English in the entire place.  When we asked questions we were always answered with the price of admission to the house or an indication where the baths were.  The building was very old, and although the foyer had beautiful mosaics and statues, the hallways and rooms inside were nothing but pragmatic tiles and old people.  I had seen pictures of changing rooms in the turn of the century American beaches, white with wooden slates, and I am quite sure that these were the same changing rooms pictured in those photographs.  And I mean exact same- no touch ups or paint jobs.  We got massages by a Hungarian troll, who had clearly just stepped out from under his bridge to earn some extra money for goats by working in a 1000 year old bathhouse giving massages on a metal table.  He was as tall as he was wide, which is both a testament to his girth and lack of height.  His hands were strong and large, and their chubby charm was not lost on me.  He grinned a lot, and his four teeth and pointed ears actually put me at ease.  The massage and experience was well worth the 10 euros.

But Budapest wasn’t all trolls and severed members.  The Danube Festival started while we were there, and Langsman and I strolled along the bridges witnessing typical Hungarian music and dancing, buying tons of crafts, and eating mysterious food because it smelled good.  It was nice to get away from the madness of the WM (well, at least a little bit…still kept an eye on every tv in sight).  I loved the Hungarian culture more than anything- the agrarian roots, the textiles and patterns, the sounds and smells, and the cautious happiness of a country that had been occupied by different forces since its inception.  Kylie and I decided that we would return one day, with a master of the language and even more money, although I suspect that the linguist will learn the language a lot faster then the girl who is still struggling with German even after 7 years.

Another highlight of Budapest, which actually can be connected to both trolls and severed members, was our exploration of the caves under the castle.  Beneath the Buda Castle on the hill exists a labyrinth.  It was never quite clear whether these caves were completely manmade or somehow connected to the natural springs all over the area.  After 6 or so, they turn out all of the lights that show visitors the way and give each tourist a real oil lamp for the caves.  Well, that was just too cheesy not to be experienced.  Kylie and I went through the long tunnels, taking many wrong turns with our lamps and seeing the doctored cave drawings and “primitive” statues put there for the German tourists and Operation: Marzipan to find. The best part of the cave, which would have been completely kitschy without the smelly lamps to guide our way, was the mysterious fountain of red wine.  Covered in ivy and hidden in a dark cave, the fountain was less spooky than I would have imagined.  It reminded me of something a really tacky Italian family would buy for their outrageous wedding…or something Middlebury would have at the Winter Carnival.  I took a couple sips of the wine cupping my hands under the fast moving faucet before getting ready to set out.  I encouraged Kylie to move along, and her words were, and I am paraphrasing here:

“I spent 1500ft to get into this place.  I’m getting drunk.”

1500ft, by the way, is less than 10 euros.  Also, like I said earlier: Europe has definitely made us all a little classier.  Or perhaps: you can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take America out of the girl.

I’m finishing this letter while listening to Billy Joel.  Keep on rockin in the free world, because Billy knows I am.

Ashley

PS.  Ah, explanation of the title of the email.  Don’t you guys get so excited to read the PS every time to finally figure out the inside joke I have with myself?  Kylie and I wandered around the greens of Pest after our massage before stumbling upon, yes, a castle.  I love how in Europe you can stumble on a castle.  Kylie turned to me and asked “Is..is that  moat?”  We looked at the castle and Kylie remarked how fake it looked.  I laughed at her and thought “that is just because you are an American who isn’t used to the wonder of Europe.  They have a plethora of castles here.  Haven’t you ever listened to Eddie Izard?”  As we were waiting a bike tour came up to us and the guide began to explain the history of the castle.

“This ‘castle’ started as temporary museum for Hungarian art.  It was first made out of cardboard in the 19th century, but the natives like it so much they made it into an actual building.  It never functioned as a castle.”

I’m an idiot.  Just be glad I didn’t title my email “Hungary?  Why Wait.”

 

 
Jeder Liebt Das Samstag Abend

Word up magazine,

So my parents came to visit for a week, and I had a spectacular time.  Now I know what your thinking: the phrase "parents" and "good time" do not belong in the same sentence unless there is a negating word or clause in there as well.  But honestly, it was amazing.  My parents arrived on Wednesday, my dad's birthday, and to celebrate I bought him THE german tshirt to have (an official Ballack 13 tshirt, both rare and expensive).  Not only that, but I also bought facepaint.  Why?  For the German game that was playing that night.  My parents, good sports that they are, allowed me to drag them to the Brandenburg Tor where they were pushed and squeezed before they got to watch the Germans play Poland on the big screen with tens of thousands of other Germans.

Now, this wouldn't be a good story without a Brazilian involved.  As I was putting makeup on one of my friends faces outside of the newly opened Hauptbahnhof, some Brazilians came up to us (still wearing their tshirts, despite the fact they weren't playing that day), and insisted we put German flags on their faces.  Tonight, they decreed, they were rooting for Germany.  You must remember that I am also wearing a German jersey and a painted German flag on my face.  One Brazilian, the smooth mother he was, turns to me and suavely said "I like Germans."  "Yes," I replied. We spoke in English due the fact he spoke no German.  "German girls are the prettiest girls in the world, yes?" "Um, sure," I said, trying to concentrate on the stripe of red across his face.  "I want to kiss a German girl tonight, yes?" He smiled.  "I'm actually an American" I proudly declared as I finished his flag and started laughing.  We saw him and his friends later and waved, but the humor of the evening could not be undone.

So, the game.  We watched Poland versus Germany on the big screen in front of one of the most famous symbols for Berlin and all of Germany, and all I could think was "I wish people were making more Blitzkrieg jokes."  However, Germans are ashamed of their conquering past, even if it was a tad funny at times.  The game started at 9, and the excitement was insane.  Literally- it was irrational and intangible.  The few Polish fans were never harassed but rather congratulated and hugged.  The game was an intense match-up, both teams not scoring the first half.  There were few close ones the second half, but no glory, no goal.  The last 2 minutes of injury time a beautiful shot is launched towards the goal by the Germans and tooooooooooooooooor.  The crowd goes wild.  Ever been celebrating a soccer victory with tens of thousands of Germans at the same time?  Orgasmic comes to mind.  As does mind blowing.  As does priceless.  And literally, it was (except for the facepaint, shirt, plane ticket...details, details.) Winning that game ensured that they advance to the next round, and it was all decided during the last 2 minutes of injury time in the second half.  I repeat myself not only for dramatic effect but so everyone clearly understands both the significance and true awesomeness of this game.  We all went out for a beer to celebrate, and the next day during sight seeing my dad proudly wore his Ballack shirt again, only to be congratulated on a great game by the likes of Brazilians, Swedes, Paraguayans, and Poles alike.

The next night was my big night out.  See, a year ago I fretted and fussed over trying to get a WM ticket.  And I succeeded. The ticket I finally won turned out to be a for a Sweden v Paraguay game.  Now, I have no connection to either country. However, soccer is not as much fun if emotions aren't involved, so I decided to choose a side.  My area has been invaded by wandering Swedes, complete with their yellow jerseys and funny language, so I decided to be a true human being and just conform to the crowd.  I bought a yellow jersey and painted the Swedish flag on my face and was off to cheer on my boys.  Plus, who doesn't like Ikea?

To say the Olympiastadiom in Berlin is impressive is to say that Italian ice cream is kind of good ice cream.  When I walked around the stadium I couldn't believe its scale and beauty.  The air was filled with testosterone and awe, a fun combination that makes me giddy and want to pump iron at the same time.  When I finally walked out of the awning on onto the bleachers, seeing the field below, I literally grunted with excitement.  Except I think my grunt came out more like a squeal (damn estrogen always getting in the way).  After a subsequent yell with some other Swedes who also had the same reaction, I took my seat and started to marvel at the enormity of the stadium.  A couple weeks back I remembered being floored that the WM in Berlin was being held in THE Olympiastadiom, the one built in 1936 by Speer to showcase the Aryan race. "Wow, shitty symbolism," I thought.  Past tense. I love the idea that it was in this stadium Jesse Owens, who was still persecuted in his own country, showed up Hitler on Hitler's home turf.  As I looked down at the center of the field I saw the WM's slogan- "A time to make friends...End racism now,"  I couldn't help but laugh thinking how far we have come.  What makes me happiest about the Olympiastadiom, other than it now lies on Jesse-Owens-Allee, is that it wasn't torn down.  That instead of being torn down and a new building erected, a building with a clean slate and whose meaning was waiting to be formed, this monument still stands.  I like that because this Olympiastadioms meaning has changed.  It no longer represents a showcase for a master race, but rather a venue for honest friendly competition among countries.   The German team plays here.  The German team has its Aryan poster boy Ballack (so hot right now), but Ballack wouldn't be anywhere without the fastest member of the team, his right hand (wing) man, a non white.  It means so much more that the symbolism of the Olympiastadiom has been transformed rather than destroyed. Ahhh, progress.

That night I made some friends with some Swedes and Berliners, who kept mocking the Swedes and me.  Sweden won in the last minute and the 80% yellow crowd went wild.  I was involved in a couple waves (did you know it only takes 12-24 people to start a wave of 10000. That's insane!!)  After the 1-0 victory me and my 72,000 closest friends celebrated.  Paraguyans drank with Swedes, and lowly Americans like me drank with Germans.  No violence, although nudity was involved.  It was marvelous.

The parents visit is going well and is concluding on Wednesday.  I'll be visited by Kylie on Thursday and on Friday we fly off to Budapest.  So hopefully the next email will be on an Eastern European country again.  I might write another quick one before then.

Keep on rockin in the free world,

Ashley

PS.  The title of the email literally means "everyone loves Saturday night."  A couple Swedes I was on a train with started singing the only German songs they knew.  One was the above email title.  The other was...drumroll please...Anton aus Tirol.  Yes, that was the title of one of my previous emails (I think it was "ich bin so schoen, ich bin so toll...").  Amazing.  I started singing with him and we got his friends to join in.  Ahhh, soccer fans.

 

 
Anna Wishart Doesnt Even Know (Damn yankees)

Toooooooor

Wow, that was a cheesy way to say this is my first WM themed email (World Cup, or Weltmeisterschaft in german, which I lovingly translate literally as World Master Schaft).  Sorry for the email hiatus, although these dudes come so sporadically and randomly I am pretty sure no one really noticed.  I had to fly home for a bit, but now I'm back in the Deutschland and feeling the Fussballfieber (football fever).  And the only cure? More cowbell.

Upon returning to the Deutschland one thing struck me: where did all these tourists come from?  I had heard about the tourist phenomenon in Europe, and even witnessed some of it during my travels (see "I see Venice, I see France").  However, I didn't really find them here in Berlin.  Sure, there were the occasional German tourists, visiting from other parts of the country, or the lost English family, who had come to see what all the fuss was about (see WWII)- but never to the large scale it is at now.

On the train my second day back I sat next to a family and, of course, began to evesdrop on their conversation.  I understood the first couple of German sentences they were speaking, but every now and then I would get lost and confused.  The words were harsh and wicked and I could barely make out that they were talking about their day's purchases.  I freaked out, thinking I had lost all my German comprehension during my two week hiatus in the America, but then I realized it: they weren't speaking German; they were speaking Austrian-German.  The German we all love to hate, the harsh sounding, extreme German, is Austrian-German.  Ever hear Hitler speak?  He was speaking Austrian-German (the greatest thing Austria ever did was convince the world Hitler was German).  I glared at those damn Austrians, who made me doubt my skills, who represented so much to me now: the invasion of those damn tourists.

Tourists have even taken over my area.  My area!  My area has trees and a wild pig problem and kids on unicycles and a school for deaf kids.  My area is not a tourist destination: it is a backdrop for a Vonnegut novel.

I'd hated the tourists ever since I had gotten back, angry that my trains have been full and I'd been forced to listen to drunken Brits in the streets every night when I return from a party or bar.  Even Berlin is bowing to the weight of the toursists.  New signs point to which train will take them to the Olympiastadium, the automatic train announcers on the S-Bahn have started speaking entire sentences in crystal clear German and sometimes even English, and the Berliner Fenster (the TV on the U-Bahn) even translates some of its commercials into English.  The tourists are changing a city to which I had just become accustomed.

It's funny that my own road to redemption (and by redemption, I mean acceptance) came from giving into vices.  The Saturday after the opening game of the WM, the day after Deutschland beat Costa Rica 4-2, I wandered into Charlottenburg to buy some groceries.  My favorite bum had returned to his usual resting place, the Supermarkt had everything I needed, and the outdoor market was buzzing.  Cherries are in season, so I bought 200g before sitting down in the center of the vibrant and energetic pedestrian zone with an iced coffee.  I sat there, drinking my coffee and nibbling on cherries, watching the throngs of excited people go by and a wave of acceptance and pure pleasantness washed over me.  Maybe it was the lack of oxygen in my brain, or the caffeine pulsing through my veins, but everything seemed perfect.  The tourists were excited to be here, just like I was, and they were enjoying the sun and culture and delight that was Berlin.  The scene was a little too perfect, with a kid in an oversized "Deutschland" hat running around, playing with people who wore Brazilian soccer shirts and being helped up by men holding Czech flag backpacks.  If I hadn't known, I would have thought I was looking at a Mastercard or Kodak commercial.  As Brigid says, it was fucking precious.

So why does Anna Wishart not even know?  Well, cause our dear friend Anna is rooting for the Brits. The only tourists I have yet to accept fully into my heart are the Brits, who try to start fights and speak loudly and who I have never seen sober and who cluster around Burger Kings and McDonalds.  Interesting fact: due to English Hooligans, they are not selling alcohol at any game in which Britain is playing.  How bout dem Apples.

The only fans I hate worst then the Brit fans are the fans of the Brazilian team.  I don't hate Brazillians. In fact, I love them, because they have taught me useful phrases like "ass of drunk has no owner."  But I hate people from other countries who root for Brazil for the same reason I hate Yankees fans: they are just rooting for a team they have heard of or for a team they think will win.  No heart, no connection, just a desire to be on the winning side.  It seems my two hatreds are in fashion here: Yankees hats and Brazillians tees.  Every time I see them I want to go ask the person "really, Yankees?  Who is Steinsbrenner?" or "Brazil?  Name a player OTHER than Pele."  The reason I hate these people most is they make me into a bitter individual who smokes and drinks coffee and curses others under my breath.

I am of course rooting for Deutschland, and after that, any team versus Brazil. Oh, and USA, and sexy sexy Beasley or McBride.  Mmmmm...Beasley.

The WM has brought more than a crazy amount of tourists. It has also brought a crazy amount of free parties and fests.  On Wednesday we went to the FanFest, an opening ceremony type thing at the Brandenburg Tor.  If you have trouble understanding globalization, you would understand it after seeing the FanFest.  The first act we saw was Boss Hoss, a band from Mississippi who's first song was a country version of the hit rap song "Hey Ya."  They played all sorts of covers, including the breakfast club's theme song, and we, meaning the Americans I went with, merrily sang along.  Everyone turned around and stared at us, these wierdos who seemed to know every word to every song and sang and danced ferociously, but by the end the people on our periphery had started to join in. 

The whole WM experience has been one of world's colliding.  I have watched Argentinean games with Germans and that sad excuse for an American game with Americans and Bulgarians (bz the way, my new love is the American player Beasley.  Soooo hot right now).  I feel like all in all that the WM has been one of the best cultural experience yet.  Why?  Because I am not just learning about German culture, but world culture, culture outside the US.  Thanks to Germans and assorted others I now know who Beckenbauer and Maradona are (not to be confused with Madonna, which I did), or who won the 1954, 1974, and 1990 world cup (and where they took place), or who has had the chances to win the world cup most second to brazil.  Not only that, I have also learned about countries I never would have learned about, like why Cote d'Ivoire insists on calling itself by the French name and not the English, or that Angola was once a Portugese colony, or that Sweden does in fact have some diversity.  It's truly been a learning experience, and I am loving every drunken, dancing, singing, screaming and kicking moment of it.

Will write a more profound, funnier stories later.

You know the drill.  Keep on rockin.

 Ashley

PS.  Anna Wishart is still cool.  So cool in fact she is the first person I have adressed in my email subject line.  I love you Anna!

 

I want a Cesky Krumlov Holadeck (Instant Nostalgia)
May 19, 2006

There is no such thing as a relaxing vacation when one travels with my friend Kristin. However, there is such a thing as a perfect vacation. This one happened to take place in the Czech Republic last weekend and included the towns of Prague and Cesky Krumlov. It has taken me three full days to recover from the madness that was Team Bar Bar (our name), and now I am finally ready to talk about it.

So I arrived in Prague on Thursday morning only to find out my beloved dog had died.  In a weird way, Prague is the best place to let the idea of a loved ones mortality marinate and approach the larger meaning of the end of life.  I put on my big pink sunglasses and wandered around the squares and churches, taking in the perfectly preserved buildings and pausing in the old Jewish quarter to admire the synagogues and old cemetery.  There is a word in German, auseinandersetzen, which means to take a good look at oneself from the outside, and Prague gave me the tools to do so.  After a while I felt like sitting down in a café and talking about the unbearable lightness of being while smoking cigarettes and drinking absynth, until I realized I not only didn’t have any money, but I don’t smoke cigarettes and don’t enjoy absynth.  I returned back to the hostel refreshed and ready for Kristin’s arrival. 

Kristin was getting into the hostel around 1 am, so I planned on doing German homework until she arrived.  However I made friends with three guys and a girl in my room and they convinced me to go out to various clubs.  I imagined returning around 1 am for Kristin, but the next thing I knew the sun was rising and I became the official guide for my new drunk friends back to our accommodation.  Czechs, Canadians and Absynth are never a good combination.  Plus, you know how I can’t say no the dancing.

I don’t believe in missing things, so Kristin and I still woke up early the next day to explore the city.  We wandered around, accidentally bumping into most of the sights and staring for a couple seconds before continuing to wander.  As I explained earlier, there is something about Prague that makes everyone become an instant philosopher.  The streets and buildings of Prague are conducive to long talks and walks and meandering feet and sentences.  We saw the castle, Charles Bridge, the Jewish Neighborhood, the clock and famous square, but it was all backdrop to a greater life experience.  We ate icecream and marveled on our abroad experience as we laughed at things that were ironic or wrong or not funny.  That night we debated on what we should do before dinner until Kristin looked at me with those College eyes and I knew we were on the same wavelength.

“Wanna go drink?”

So at 5:30 we went wine tasting, which may be the most deceiving title ever.  The wine tasting venue we went to was multi-leveled and had various rooms, a maze for drunk people with fun obstacles like stairs.  We bought ten samples, which turned out to be ten full drinks.  Our first “guide” spoke English, but he was soon switched with a stout man who would smile and say one or two words in English before pouring us more and more glasses of white wine.  Kristin tried to pour some out, only to be rebuffed by the man.

“Don’t waste the wine.”

He also stopped counting, and within an hour we had polished off over 12 full glasses of wine.  We stumbled out of the building with an immediate goal to sit down and eat something. We slurred all our words as we sat down at the nearest resturaunt and ordered anything that would make the spinning stop and the waiter back into one person.  After another hilarious dinner, and stumbling upon a John Denver cover band in a French bar (in Prague), we went back to the hostel only to find more peer pressure to go out drinking.  We then convinced our new friend Bonnie, a 57 year old Idaho mother who was traveling with her awesome son, to go out drinking.  She definitely made references to her marijuana days and mocked Kristin for mixing drinks (I think the exact sentence was “You shouldn’t mix drinks you stupid little girl).  Kristin and I decided there was a little Bonnie in all of us.

The next day we checked out of our hostel and went to Cesky Krumlov.  Cesky Krumlov…hands down, best Krumlov ever.  The only thing I knew about the place was that a guy I worked with over the summer recommended it and that it was UNESCO protected.  I laugh now on how I made us go there with no knowledge of how it would turn out only to be remarkably surprised.  Cesky Krumlov was like a dream.  Kristin, for those of you don’t know her, is an English major.  As a lowly poli sci major I can’t compete with her description of the place, so here it is:

Approaching it in the taxi from the train station was one of those moments where your perceptions all converge, and that feeling washes over you, and you just want to touch something to reassure yourself that your life is real. This place was so beautiful. The car wound over bridges and cliffs that emptied out onto the town, all little red roofs, winding cobblestone streets, set in rolling green hills, gentle blue mountains. There's a castle and a tower that gave it a distinctly Eastern atmosphere. Ashley and I just looked at each other with our mouths wide, gaping.

The hostel we stayed in the Krumlov was 9 euros a night but was by far the prettiest hostel I have ever been in.  The ceiling of our room was a 15th century painting of drunken gnomes and although it was chipping was beautiful to stare out after a night of imitating those gnomes.  The downstairs of the hostel became a lively bar at night that played European version of American funk music and all the hippies in the town came out in full force to dance like they’ve never danced before. 

After exploring Cesky Krumlov, which made me want to purr uncontrollably, we went to this old restaurant that had probably existed since the 11th century.  We sat on old wood benches by the river and drank mead, which is perfect after a hard day of raping and pillaging or lots of picture taking, and laughed about the ridiculousness of it all.  The slight rain chased us inside where we met up with our Brazillian friend from the hostel, who taught us many useful phrases like “ass of drunk has no owner.” 

We named ourselves team bar bar because my book suggested this bar with the self-explanatory name.  However, after searching endlessly at night with the help of our Brazillian friend, we came to the realization that Bar Bar no longer existed in reality.  However, the name and spirit lived on within us, and we adopted people to our team, such as the Brazillian, my friend Rachel, and the bears.

The Sunday we left the Krumlov we mounted the giant hill to explore the castle.  We had heard a rumor that there were BEARS in the castle, so I went up to the ticket lady and asked her to see the bears.  There were no bears in the castle, but between her poor English and my insistence that there were bears in the castle, we had a 10 minute conversation about who I paid and where I went to see the bears in the castle.  We finally settled on the castle tour, where we did see bears, although slightly dead ones that were made into carpets.  The tour guide explained that the old owners of the castle used to make guests drink 1.5 litres of red wine before they could eat, in response to which Kristin leaned over to me and whispered “College!”  Not only were we the youngest people on the tour by about 20 years, but we also laughed the most, mostly at the bears.

Sunday night we returned triumphantly to Prague and of course stayed out almost the entire night.  We sat in the dark corner of  crowded bar/club with my friend Rachel who was studying in Prague and talked about love, relationships, and other heavy pieces of our lives.  We returned for a quick hour nap only to wake up early to catch our flights. I went right to class, where I laughed to myself through “Massacres in the early time” and “intl relations” thinking back on random occurrences in Prague.

Prague and Cesky Krumlov was amazing and beautiful and moving and I there is nothing I would change about anything that happened over those four treacherous days.  Hope all is well, good luck with finals, and keep on rockin in the free world.

Ashley

PS. Oh, and the subject line is a line Kristin said.  If you aren’t a Star Trek fan, or have any awareness of the show, then you won’t get it, even if I explain it.

 

Kristin from Prague
May 17, 2006
[Kristin's description of her trip with Ashley]

Hello darlings,

I love you all. I spent my 21st birthday in Prague and Cesky Krumlov (best Krumlov ever...more like KrumLOVE)with the one and only Ashley Clark and it was one of the best trips I've ever taken. And then I came back to an email box flooded with nice birthday notes and facebook messages and wall posts - even from boys, and we know how boys are with communication - and that's pretty much the best feeling ever. Thanks for making me feel loved on my 21st, you are all amazing and I hope yall know how grateful I feel to have each and every one of you as friends. I'm a lucky girl, and I know that.

I'll give a summary of Team Bar Bar's (yeah, that's Ashley and me...snazzy, huh?) trip to the Czech Republic. I flew in to Prague from Paris on Thursday night. I got in after being ripped off by the taxi driver (he tried to charge me 900 crowns when it should be about 450, but I wrestled it down to 650), and go to our pretty awesome hostel...it was a lot like a freshman dorm, with a common room and dorm rooms with bunks, people meeting each other. Background: my phone was pretty much near death because on my trip to Nice the week before, I spilled yogurt all over a pocket of my bag, ruining my charger. So Ashley leaves me a message saying she's going out with guys from our hostel and to call when I get in. I can't make calls outside of France with my phone, only recieve them, so I was a little worried. Given, I made the awesome decision to use what little power I had left to text Jeff instead of trying to call Ashley (but how could I help it? He left a message that was so cuuuuuute...I had to respond) and my phone died. But she ended up getting in at 5am anyway, so we just met in the morning in our room.

The first day we explored Prague, and the weather was outrageously gorgeous so we spend pretty much all day outside. We saw the famous castle, and Charles Bridge, and the clock, and the Jewish neighborhood...we ate at an outdoor cafe and basically wandered around. At around 5:30 we were back at the dorm trying to decide what to do before dinner. I looked at Ashley and said, "You wanna just go drink?" and her face told me we were right on the same page. So we went to a wine-tasting. It shouldn't be called "tasting," because that makes it sound like you actually get a taste of each wine, rather than a full glass of 10 (and probably more but my memory is surpisingly fuzzy) different wines. I was about to dump part of one out and the guy was like "No, is waste." So naturally I got wasted out of my mind and had a blast doing it. We went to dinner and then went out with some guys from our hostel...and one of their moms. Yes, 57-year old Bonnie, staying in a hostel, travelling with her 22 year old son. Hilarious. We went to a bar where the waitress was comically rude, and got to bed around 3.

The next day we left for Cesky Krumlov. This is a small town that Ashley's work friend had recommended. Approaching it in the taxi from the train station was one of those moments where your perceptions all converge, and that feeling washes over you, and you just want to touch something to reassure yourself that your life is real. This place was so beautiful. The car wound over bridges and cliffs that emptied out onto the town, all little red roofs, winding cobblestone streets, set in rolling green hills, gentle blue mountains. There's a castle and a tower that gave it a distinctly Eastern atmosphere. Ashley and I just looked at each other with our mouths wide, gaping.

Our hostel was awesome. All of Cesky Krumlov has this medieval feel, and our place was no exception - it was all wood, including the dining room. Our beds were 270 crowns a night. That's about 10 bucks. I love the crown. It's like play money, only it's real. We went to dinner. The air had this rich, woodsy smell, and we sat on the water on wooden benches, drinking mead (yes, mead) as the town softened into that evening light. We shared our room with a Brazilian named Leandro. He didn't speak English so well but we hung out with him and struggled through the communication barrier. Leandro taught us a hopefully poorly translated "Portugese saying" as he was talking about playing pranks: "Ass of drunk person have no owner." Hmm. Also, as I was going to bed that night a little tipsy from my ginormous beer, Leandro kisses me on the cheek and says happy birthday. Nice, right? Then as I'm going back from brushing my teeth, he stops me before our door and says "I can give you birthday kiss?" and I'm confused and think he's going to give me another cheek kiss, but no, he goes for the gold. Ahhh. Happy 21, kiss-raped by a Brazilian in Cesky Krumlov. Ha.

The next day we explored the town. For those of you who have not travelled with Ashley, I highly recommend it. She's so much fun, and we spent the whole weekend laughing. We tried to buy a bottle of wine, and the guy working there told us not to buy Czech wine, "is not good." Which made me wonder why he was working in a wine cellar in the Czech Republic, but whatev-ski. We asked for a glass to sample and he waved us off when we tried to pay. As we left, Ashley turns to me and says, "Um, can we talk about how Team Bar-Bar just got free drinks?" We called ourself Team Bar-Bar because there was a bar with that very name in Cesky Krumlov, and we appreciated the stark literalness of its name. We found out it did not exist when we got there, but as Ashley concluded, we ARE Bar Bar and there is "something poetic" about it not being real.

We left in the afternoon for Prague again. I never thought I'd be spending my 21st birthday in a tiny town in the Czech Republic, but driving away I just couldn't imagine a better way to do it. It made me feel like you can pick any little pinpoint on the globe, go there, and discover a whole world that's been existing without you, and without your conception of the world, and it always has been. The world is so large, so incomprehensible. It makes you feel like you've been living with blinkers on, your whole life. The weather was changing when we left, becoming bright white, cloudy. I watched the village get smaller, the red roofs blurring into a spot in the green, thought about all the people there and staying in that little magic pocket and living out their lives in peace, thought about my own little pocket of the world and how inconcievably far away it was, how inconcievably different and yet at the same time exactly, exactly the same. I thought about how strange and wonderful it is, all the countless, different places that people call home.

We spent one more night in Prague, before I left and hanging out with one of Ashley's Jersey friends, and we left in the morning for Paris and Berlin.

So I'm back in Paris, trying not to stress to hard about the insurmountable mountain of work I have, and sorting through my torn feelings about wanting to get back to the US and having things that I don't want to leave in Paris. There's nothing to do but wait and see what happens. I will be in New York this summer, officially, but I still have to find a place to live. And friends. Because for now I am on my own there. I realized that it wasn't money that was holding me back from doing this internship (though phew, what a blow!), it was fear. So again, I'm doing something that scares me, but I think that's good. But I want (need!) visitors (please?)!

Wow, so much typing. I love you all,

Kristin

 

We Make Party, Oder?
May 5, 2006

I love Berlin. In the past few weeks I have partied in the basement of a palace, gotten a swollen lip at a german punk concert, befriended a guy named Sven, searched for an hour on Easter for an outdoor bonfire fest and discotheque in destroyed buildings, enjoyed a wine festival by the river in potsdam, traveled to Hamburg with 10 other loud Americans, and marched in various rallies while enjoying May Day. I have a feeling that this email will in fact ramble and become ridiculously long, so do not feel bad if you fail to read all of it. However, as an incentive, a teaser, if you will, I will tell you that if you do in fact read to the end of the email, you will find the answers to these questions:

1. Is there still a divide between east and west Berlin?

3. What was the age of the youngest German who mocked Ashley's German skills?

2. Why was Ashley shoved by riot police?

Last week I decided to visit my friend from middle school Audrey and go to a wine festival with her and two of her friends in Potsdam. We arrived at the festival around 4 and stayed until about 2 am. Do not be fooled: although the festivities took place on a river and by 500 hundred year old buildings, this festival was anything but classy. It was kitschy carnival meets horrible wine. And I mean horrible wine. The day started of lazy, but quickly picked up. While getting a drink at one of the stands (probably one painted with bright colors and random English words that didn't make a coherent sentence), we quickly became very loud, almost yelling in English arguing over wine versus beer. A guy came up next to me and yelled at the bartender (in german) "hey, when you are done dealing with the slow Americans, can you get me a beer." I turned to him, and in perfect German (at least what I thought was perfect) replied "You know, I can understand you. We all can understand you. We do in fact speak German." The guy was embarrassed and apologized profusely, but quickly started asking tons of questions. We met his friends and we all started laughing and "quatschen," my new favorite german word which means "shooting the shit." I bet Audrey she couldn't get free drinks from these other guys, and as she went off to prove me wrong, my new German friends turned to me and explained how the other guys were so "Ossi" (a word for east Berliners). In German they explained that the Ossis wore tighter pants and too much gel and had diamonds in their ears or facial piercings and wore clothes that were too trendy. Fifteen years after the fall of the Wall and I was being explained how East Berliners were comical and different. To me, Germany has always been one country. As soon as I learned to locate Germany on the map it was only one country to find, not two with a bizarre line down the middle and occupational forces. It made me think how long it would take for the people to consider themselves as one. I guess they did in a larger sense, but not enough not to explain to a foreigner the clear difference between them and "the others."

It is interesting how the issues of the day in Berlin reveal themselves to me. Dan, Sannie and I went to Wansee, a beautiful lake area in Berlin, with some UChicago kids and their German roommates for a picnic. People brought traditional German pound cakes, Turkish bread bought from the market, cheese, apples, choclate, a huge assortment of fruit, and nutella. The weather was beautiful and someone brought a soccer ball, and we quickly convinced everyone to play a pick up game of soccer. We drew a crowd, not of families but just children who quickly became envious of the yelling and laughing and poor soccer skills of all those involved. We started inviting the children to play with us, which not only led to more hilarity but let us all take a break from running too hard. The kids were not just German kids but clearly Turkish immigrants, all named Achmed and Mohammed, who would laugh as I tried to explain to them who was on our team. Apparently my German is funny to 5 year olds playing soccer. Whenever I scored a goal I would put my arms out like a bird and bend down and run in circles yelling "goooooooooooooooal" as the Americans laughed, the Germans looked confused and the children pretended I wasn't on their team and they had never met me before. After a while of tripping and kicking and laughing, we decided to split the teams into erwachsener and kids. Don't be fooled- the kids were good. However it proved to be a bad idea. The Turkish kids stopped passing to the German girl kids. The girls were good too- much better than the young German boys that were playing, but the Turks refused to pass the ball. It took us a while to realize what was going on, that the girls were only getting the ball if the German boys got it. The girls got very angry and we were forced to run interference.

May 1st meant absolutely nothing to me before Germany. However, here it means the National Workers Day, a version of labor day except with more protests and communistic themes. The city became one giant block party, with all types of music being performed every two blocks and outdoor grilles and the occasional march. I walked around Kreuzberg with Punks and preps, couples and families, turks and Russians, drunks and not so drunk people. Everyone was out enjoying the weather and the different stands and venues. It was very multicultural (in German, the only thing that Germans like more than big words are abbreviations for big words, so multikulturelle becomes mulitkulti, which is way more fun to say). I marched for a block with an anti-domestic violence womens group (and may have accidentally marched with some anarchists) but mostly enoyed the weather and crowds. Emily was visiting, so Dan, Dana, Emily and I all went out to dinner at an Indian food place in the area. As we sat in the back of our quiet resturaunt, the sun went down and the action outside began to increase. We suddenly noticed that the metal window guard was being drawn down and the door was locked. We got up to leave, the waitress unlocked the door for us. She made the sign of the cross and wished us good luck as we walked out into the crowded street. We looked to the right and noticed a giant bonfire in the middle of the street. All of a sudden we were surrounded by riot police, who reminded me of the scary orces that chased after Frodo and the gang, only with slightly less drool and more uniformed costumes. The punks started staring at the officers, getting closer and closer but never saying or doing anything. The music was still playing, and some people were flailing and dancing to the beat in front of the cops. We knew we had to get out. We all grabbed hands and tried moving together. We passed a man who was being pinned by about 4 officers and contourted into uncomfortable positions by the officers. All of a sudden, one of the lines of cops was on the move. They moved like a wall, not caring who got in the way. I was shoved and separated from half the group (we had met up with more people by that time). I was taken back by the sheer force, which sent my adrenaline pumping and made me suddenly aware of everything around me. Anika, Zooey's german roommate, stumbled into one of the columns of moving officers while talking on her cell phone and was flipped in front of us. As her feet went over her head, I suddenly realized that not only was I not in Kansas anymore, but that I had never been in Kansas before and I bet the officers were nothing like they were here. We quickly moved down two blocks away from the fire and officers and arriving firemen to the reggae venue where we danced the rest of the night away with a slightly less violent and more loving crowd.

Germany sure knows how to keep one of their toes. Multikulti, fascinating, and a hell of a lot of fun. I am having the time of my life and am so lucky that I get to spend another 3 months here. I started writing down everything that has happened to me in the past 3 weeks, and I could not believe how many positive memories I have. Come visit and I'll show you my favorite Indian resturaunt, take you to go picnic on the Wansee, go for a run around the pig infested Charlottenburg, go bar hopping and maybe even take you to a party in a palace.

Keep on rockin in the free world

Ashley

PS Germans are so cute.  In German, one puts "oder" at the end of statements to make them questioNs (sort of like our "right"): "We are going to Charlottenburg, right?" in german becomes "wir gehen nach Charlottenburg, oder?" And when Germans try to ask if we are going to party, they say "make party."  So, together, they ask us: "we make party, oder"

Wow, just read that PS over againb and realized I should NEVER be a german teacher.

 

Who ate bob dole´s peanut butter
April 12, 2006

Germany is the dorkiest country in Europe.

Seriously.

The weather woman wears leopard print shirts, leather pants and mullets have yet to go out of style, and no one can dance. The dancing here makes Ben Davis' dancing look like Pascal's. So, of course, I love it. People are awkward but genuinely nice. I now know why beer is so important to Germans: it is a social lubricant. I went to a German house party with Sannie the other night which was a lot of fun and I got to meet tons of Germans and I told them of my efforts to bring "what what" (or, auf deutsch, "was was") to Germany.

Speaking of woods- I live in a quasi-suburb of Berlin. I live in Berlin, but where I am is surrounded by woods. Dan, another Middkid, told me one day that there are wild pigs in the area that stick around because the kids feed them. I mocked him for that useless piece of knowledge until the other girl in our program, a Bulgarian, who had no idea about our inside joke about pigs, said one came up to her door the first week and she freaked out cause she was scared of pigs.
My favorite thing about Berlin is the outdoor markets. Tuesdays and Fridays is the Turkish market by Goerlitzer, which is super cheap. I got 12 tomatoes for 20 cents. Strawberries are 1.20 for a kilo. I love walking through the crowded market with people yelling out their orders for fresh fruit and fish and socks and books on either side. I love picking up all the spices and smelling them, or learning German words by exploring the vegetable and fruit stands and writing them down in my notebook. There is a market everyday of the week in Berlin, and you just need to know where to look. I go food shopping about every two days due to the fact I must share a fridge with 20 other people and can only store my cheese. On Saturdays there is a beautiful market by the church in Charlottenburg with 10 cent eggs and dozens of free samples. My favorite vendor is a Turk who makes fun of my German accent and tells me I should buy more things from him. I smile and tell him his apples are pretty.
Berlin is a very interesting city. I settled into Berlin after spending a week in the two most gorgeous and romantic cities in the world (Paris and Venice) which made my first impressions a little, well, skewed. I kept walking around and exploring different sections of the city trying to make Berlin look beautiful to me, but it just wasn't coming. It just is not a beautiful city. I would find singular houses or squares attractive, but on the whole I was, I hate to say it, disappointed. I always thought epiphanies were one of those things that only applied to essays and never really happened with worldviews or anything until one happened to me. One day I was walking through the market at Hackescher Markt and I came across black and white photos of the city from right after WWII to the fall of the wall. As I was looking at the destroyed city, the burned and bombed Reichstag, the piles of stones that used to be houses with families standing on top searching for belongings, a barbed wire and later cement fence being built and then torn down, it suddenly hit me all at once what type of city this was. This was not a Paris or Venice or New York or Wellington. This was a city that had been 70% destroyed by bombs and fire during WWII. This was a city that had been ruined, whose women were given jobs to literally pick up the stones and fragments of their old houses and friends old houses and pile them up outside the city or try to make use of them. This was a city that had been invaded twice, that had been divided by foreign powers and told to hate half of itself for fifty years. This was a city that had always been told it represented something greater than itself, a symbol it could never live up to, whether it be a symbol in german literature or to the rest of the world. A city destroyed, divided, torn apart, oppressed, and thrown back together.
I can't help but think of this church by the Zoologische Garten. It was bombed during WWII and its half remaining structure and broken roof stand as a memorial against war. This destroyed church, which breaks my heart everytime I look at it, sits in the middle of a bustling downtown metropolitan area. Life goes on around it.
That is what Berlin is. It is a city that does not try to make things as beautiful as they were. It is a city that is still lugging its heavy past into the future, that is constantly moving forward with its heavy burden. A city where the bright future, whether that be in the form of a new architecture or a business or government building, are literally facing the past. Berlin is not an aesthetically beautiful city, but it is an emotionally-moving city. It is fascinating and intriguing and welcoming and different.
That was a rather long email that I all hope you enjoyed reading. I do enjoy all your emails, even if they are just one liners about Andrew card or a funny thing Johnson said or the weather or any mundane details about Middlife.

Keep on rockin in the free world,
Ashley
PS Explanation of subject line: Peanut Butter is impossible to get here, and I went to 6 supermarkets before I found some. They only sell it at bio-stores, so its always super expensive and not filled with yummy fake sugar and preservatives like good ol US of A peanut butter. So if anyone wants to send me some peanut butter (erdnuss crème), I have included my address. Reduced Fat Jif is the best (not simply Jif- god save the person who sends me simply Jif).
Ashley Clark
WEN: 67.03.00.01
14 Harbigstrasse
14055 Berlin
Germany
 
Hvala sir, Se enkrat, prosim
April 4, 2006

Dober Dan and Hello from ( a free internet cafe in) Slovenia

Hopefully this is a more up-to-date list, and if i forgot anyone, sorry.  I have gotten some comments that my emails tend to, um, not so much ramble as become rather long.  if you wish to skim or flat out not read these, i am in no way offended.  I have realized over the course of the past few days i was not built to be a one for extended periods of time because my mind wanders and my life becomes one long inner monologue and pretentious description of everything happening around me.  so again, if you just want a short version of this email: slovenia is awesome, im alive, and 6 is truly my lucky number.

the vacation started with an overnight train to ljubljana from frankfurt.  if you have never been on an overnight train, i suggest one. it is like a fun sleepover complete with bunkbeds and a 4 am passport check.  i truly believe it is the only way to travel.

so i arrived in ljubljana at the ungodly hour of 6 am, and that is where my adventure began.  i changed some money, put my bag away in storage and set off to explore the city.  i took my patended "spires approach," also known as "big things" approach to exploring the city.  in this approach you never take out the map but rather just head towards something tall and big, usually with spires.  if you see an interesting street along the way, take it.   you usually discover the whole city with this approach, for there are many big things in cities and many ways to get to and from then.  to make a long story short, i discovered a lot of the city before i ascended the hill to check out the caslte of ljubljana around 8 am.  the rain kept coming down in a way that at first you didnt notice it until you and everything you own is completely soaked.  oh, and the hill that i had to climb up to thee the castle.  impossible.  i would rather go on the damn jearusalum trail with annas dog then climb that hill in the rain.  ok, so you got that mental image, of me climbing upa  big hill on winding streets, soaked and lacking an umbrella.  i get to the top and guess what...its not open until 10.  i look down at my watch.  8:40.  fuck.
so climbed back down the hill, sought shelter in another church which happened to be having a service.  so i attemded the catholic service which was held in slovenian and i was the youngest person in the church by about, lets say, 60 years. its weird.  although they sang and chanted and spoke in a a completely different language, i knew exactly where in the service they were and what the english equivalent was.  the tones of the prayers were the same as they were in me episcopalian church way back in south jersey.  after service (like a good catholic, i snuck out after communion) i finally found a coffee shop that was open and sat down and had some espresso.  as i drank my espresso that was ordered with poorly spoken slovenian i had learned from my book, it hought about how hard it must have been to invade tje ljubljana castle.  i saw the knights during medieval times trying to run up the damn hill with 60 pounds of metal armour and getting halfway up, turning to each other as if to say "fuck it" and retreating to the little coffee shop that overlooked the bumbling street i now sat at, drinking espresso while still wearing their armour and debating whether or not the collapse of the dubai port deal was due to racism while their littlest metal appendage pointed up.
i finally conquered the castle, or at leats looked at it, and explored ljubljana before i set off to lake bohinj.  lake bohinj and vogel, where i skiied, are beautilf.  they are breathtakingly, mind blowing, superlative winning beautiful.  def one of the most beautiful places ive been.  there is a lot of snow there, so i had to get used to the playful clumps of snow as they attempted to trip me as i skied down.  i have a lot fo stories about skiing, but since this email is getting long, ill give just one.
the first day i fell hard on # 6. I cursed it, and claimed that by the end i would master the god forsaken slope.  so my last day, which was the day the weather decided to become fierce and the wind harsh, i mastered it.  i skied beautifull and leaned forward and punched my fists the way claire had taught me and when i got to the bottom i had to laugh at how easy it was.  i then skiied over to the t-bar (t-bars ARE NOT my friends, and i fell ot failed to get on them correctly about 50% of the time i went on them, which is embarrasing) but it had stopped. i waited behind some brits for about 5 min until i got cold.  one lone man in a red jacket had begun to climb the mountain with the skis on his back as soon as i arrived, and five minutes later id ecided to join him.  have you guys ever hiked up a slope?  its hard.  due to the snow boots, i had to walk on my tip toes and jam my toes intol the mountain for every step, and launch myelf up as my skis became increasingly heavier and heavier.  i gained slowly on the man in the red jacket, and i couldnt help but laugh and curse the mountain at the same time.  i thought i had mastered it, and now it was taking all i had to climb back up it.  we, me and the man in the red jacket, finally reached the top as they were putting up tape tickets to stop people from skiing down.  the tape ticket was vibrating back and forth in the strong wind, saying nah nah ne nah nah with each quick flap.  as i started to pu my skis back on to ski down another slope, the man in the red jacket turned to me and said something in a luangauge i did not know.  but i understood what he said.  "ive never done that before" i replied in english, and he smiled and understood, even if he didnt know what i said.  at the top of the mountain a croation (from zaghreb) and an american college student tried speaking to each other in english and some broken german (which was hilarious since we both had strong accents).  i thought americans have no, have no, about slovenia. knowledge? yes, that they not knowledge about slovenia.  we dont have mountains like this in jersey.  you not have mountains in america?  yes, but not where i am from in america.  we joked and laughed at our communication failures and triumphs, purposefully taking a long time to put on our skis.  i skied that day until my face burned and i couldnt feel my hands or fingers four hours and my legs screamed and twicthed with every turn.  but the highlight of the day, and the trip, was hiking up that damn mountain with the croatian, the man in the red jacket, and bonding over our misery at the top.
hope all is well, and i love all your emails so keep sending them.
ashley
ps- the title of the email loosely translates into "thank you sir may i have another," which i thought was appropriate considering the amount of humilation i suffered at the hands of everything, including those damned t-bars and the hike up to see the castle twice.  but in the end, id do it again, and id go back to slovenia in a heartbeat.
 
I see Venice, I see France
March 18, 2006
 

Bonjourno, Bonjour und Hallo!

With a couple weeks until classes starting and an apartment already found, I decided to do a tid bit of traveling. I flew down to Venice to hang out with my favorite architecture major Daphne and her mom (momma Lasky). I arrived in the city of Venice around 11 pm and spent the hours between 11pm and 1 am being turned away from every single hostel and hotel I tried. After traveling for a week by oneself, arriving in another foreign city where you don't speak the language and being turned away so many times you start thinking of contingency plans for spending the night sleeping next to the canals, one can get pretty emotional. The next day Daphne was a little late, and when she did show up she found me pretty much a nervous crying wreck. But after some gelatos Venice was amazing (as Daphne explained- you were crying, what else was I supposed to do other than buy you icecream). Venice is beautiful and very much like a dream. Daphne and I would wander around the narrow scattered streets and along the canals at night, talking about how unrealistic Venice was, only to be rudely awaked by the random parking garage or gas station. We met a man who made beautiful paper and who claimed to be a reincarnation of Guttenberg. As my dad would say, he charmed the pants of momma lasky with his refusal to use internet or faxes. Momma Lasky and Daphne made sure I got culture and took me to a "best of" opera, which had random selections of all the Italian Opera hits. The random shopkeepers and abundance of gelato as well as the beautiful architecture made Venice one of the most amazing places I have been, even if the canals do smell a bit.

After more trouble at the airport (long hysterical story now, another breakdown causing story during) I managed to get back to Berlin just in time for an overnight train to Paris. I met Kylie, Mateo, Kristin, Anna, Claire and Ben on the steps of the Sacre Couer, which I thought would be nice and romantic. I was a tad overwhelmed, spending my time with no more than one friend for the past month. We got a quick cup of coffee and then I peaced out to go meet my aunt. My aunt, for those of you who don't know, lives in a little cottage in a quaint town on the outskirts of Paris. Her cottage is so cute it makes one want to cry. My aunt Mary is my cool aunt, the one everyone should have.
Anyways, so my aunt and I were walking down the Champs Elysee when we were approached by two Japanese tourists. They explained that the shopkeeper in Louis Vuitton would only sell them one of each wallet, and they wanted more. They asked if we would buy them two more wallets, and we agreed since we didn't have anything else to do. They then whipped out 600 euros. My aunt and I were schocked. We asked if they wanted to follow us into the store so they knew we weren't stealing the money (and because we were two blocks from the store). They declined because they hated the snooty shopkeeper. So we went in and were passed from clerk to clerk to the floor manager. The floor manager goes "sorry, we can't sell you anything." Apparently the "tourists" stand outside everyday and ask people to buy them things so they can make fakes. The Louis Vuitton security is soo good that we were spotted two blocks away and marked when we came in. The whole time my aunt and I thought that the tourists were the trusting ones. The irony.
I spent one day with Anna exploring Paris before heading into the Louvre. Not only was there no line, but we got one of our tickets for free. The Mona Lisa was beautiful, but the sculptures were amazing. The Nike descending on the platform on the ship made out of marble was awe inspiring, and Michalengelo's slaves warranted a couple pictures. I then had dinner with my favorite new Parisian Kristin and Anna then went to meet Willa Brown and Paul at a gay bar (French gay bars are hysterical because the French are already so gay, that the bars just crack me up). Paris is amazing, whether it is seen through clubs or the basement of bars or searching for the cheapest crepes or running out of restaurants after you use the bathroom or free tickets to the Louvre or food markets with your Aunt or stumbling home at night past the Notre Dame. Basically, there is something about Paris that many people have tried to capture through books and movies but its one of those things you can't explain. Oh, and it takes all your money, even if you do rely on the kindness of others for sleeping arrangements (Myra is my Goddess).
Oh, and I learned a new joke from a Swede I met in the basement of a bar in Paris with Myra, Aysegul, and Willa. So this Norwegian brings in his car and tells the mechanic that his turn signal is broken. He turns it on and goes "see, it works, it doesn't work, it works, it doesn't work, it works, it doesn't work."
Norwegians are so dumb.
So, after spending a little over a week in the two most romantic cities in the world, I have settled back into Berlin, the grafitti capital of the world. If anyone wants to come visit, my room is insanely large. It has two floors. Two. I have my very own loft where my clothes live. Hope all is well in your respective parts of the world.
Keep on rockin in the free world
Ashley
PS. Two floors. Two.
 
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