29 December 2011

Playing Tourist

"I'm going to England for Christmas." To me that sounds like a statement as normal as "I'm going next door to borrow a cup of sugar." (Actually, truth be told, the former comes more naturally than the latter for me) and yes, I know I am lucky, but this is my third or fourth Christmas in a row in England with my friend Ruth and her friends and family.... My extended British family. Much of the time is spent at home, playing with new toys (this years big hit with 4-year old Oz was the Gruffalo game from Oma), drinking tea, eating delicious foods and enjoying a moment to relax. Inevitably, a big household project begins - this year, Ruth's husband Jamie has chosen to rip apart and redo the kitchen layout. The goal: create a more efficient kitchen with more workspace. But after a few days we find it necessary to get out of the house, and not just to run to Tescos for milk.

This year Ruth and I thought we might go to the Bluebell Railway, a favorite place for Oz. when we suggested it, he said "no Mummy, I'd rather go for a walk on the beach." {who is this 4-year old and what have you done with our Oz?!?!?!??} so we headed off to Brighton to be tourists for a day. Along the way we collected Susan and Karen to join us for the day. Oz was in Auntie heaven!
Like any good tourists the first plan of action was to find affordable parking. We parked at the marina and from there we took our walk along the beach. A romantic stroll it was not, sometimes we raced (somehow Oz usually won - even when we were ahead!) other times we collected rocks and sometimes we just played a bit.
After about forty minutes of walking along the rocky shores of Brighton Beach in the cold, biting wind, we found a snack shack and stopped for a hot cup of tea. It was delightful. Then we continued on until we reached The Brighton Wheel.
The Wheel is a new attraction in Brighton, a bit like the London Eye. It is a large ferris wheel with capsules that allow you to see out into the distance, towards Brighton and out onto the English Channel. Oz was scared of the wheel, Susan and Karen did not wish to go - so Ruth and I went alone. The queue was short, yet we waited a while. During this time, Oz went into the arcade to spend "an extra 2£ that Susan just didn't need" and won a motorcycle - toy of course.

The ride along the wheel was smooth, narrated with information about what one could see. We went around three times. The capsules were designed to hold eight people, but Ruth and I had one to ourselves. We enjoyed the freedom to move about and take photos. We of course tried to take the ubiquitous "photo of ourselves holding out the camera in front of us" first with the pier in the background, and later with the wheel. All I can say is: epic fail! But we had fun doing so.

Afterwards as good tourists do, we went onwards to eat lunch out. Our favorite restaurant in Brighton is Donatellos. Great Italian food at a reasonable price. Wonderful! I had Fusilli Arabiatta, but the most loved meal was Oz and his Spaghetti Bolonaise. He ate every last bit and practically licked his plate clean!
After lunch, we joined other tourists looking around the shops. We first visited the Kath Kidston shop and the much to Oz's delight, the Lego shop. We finished up our day with cookies from Millie's Cookies and then a bus ride (top deck, front seat for Oz) back to the marina.

Being a tourist for a day was great fun, but incredibly exhausting!

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Location:Brighton, England

23 December 2011

A Mainz Minute

I have visited a number of cathedrals around the world. They are gorgeous, but they start to blend together after a while. Today I visited St. Stephan's in Mainz. It was simplistically stunning. The stain glass windows were the works of Chaguall or his students. The ones with more color at the front and back were his and the others (all blues and clear) were his students. I was told that they were so positioned, that when the sun shines through, the whole interior is bathed in a blue light. Unfortunately today was overcast, so I must take their word for it. There were however two windows that I did not think went along with the rest. They were much brighter and cut differently, they simply appeared new. Accompanying me was Y, the husband of my friend S, and he agreed that they did not appear to match the others. In fact he said he'd never seen them before, despite multiple visits to the cathedral in the past.

But there were two really unique things that caught my eye (other than the stained glass). First off the organ. Upon first glance one may think the organ stands there majestically, but on second glance one feels as if they are simply being duped.

No they are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, a new organ is in the works, to be completed in 2012. It is being erected to the tune (pun intended) of 900,000€. That's nearly $1.2 million.
The other unique thing that caught my eye was this cloth covered object (pulpit maybe?) at first I thought it was one of those street performers who dress up like statues!

Oh yes, when you open your eyes, you might just be deceived!
But all in all I had a great short visit to Mainz, and I really do hope to go back and visit one day when the sun is shining through!

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Location:Mainz, Germany

22 December 2011

Christmas Spirit

Those who know me, know that I am not a fan of christmas. I don't hang tinsel, decorate a reindeer or wait for St. Nick. Maybe that's a result of a Jewish childhood and a current Agnostic/Atheist adulthood, but I just don't consider it the "most wonderful time of the year". (however it must be mentioned that I support the post office whole-heartedly by sending cards, and love picking out gifts for friends) especially feel the need to bah-humbug when the stores start selling trees and playing carols in August!
But Christmastime in Germany is ENCHANTING! many towns across the country are host to a Weihnachtsmarkt or a Christkindlmarkt. These Christmas markets are a mixture of traditional decorations and modern art, they are host to craftsmen (and women!) from around the world. They are also a place to meet your friends, enjoy a glass of something hot to drink and nibble on something sweet. I love the way each stall and the general area is decorated. I find that nighttime in the Weihnachtsmarkt is the best - one can see the lights and the steam rising off of your Gluhwein.
But it is not only the Christmas markets that are enchanting, German cities take the time to decorate with lights and greenery. Around every corner is something to see. The evenings are filled with warmth from winter coats and soft glowing holiday lights. It's simply beautiful ..... And sometimes one is lucky enough to have a bit of snow.
These last couple of days I have enjoyed, nae relished in this feeling in Regensburg. On any given day I find Regensburg to be positively wonderful, but right now is the time to really experience this city in Bavaria.
I admit it, being here, I begin to have a bit of excitement, dare I use the word spirit of the Holliday season. And with that I'd like to wish you a happy solstice, happy hannukkah, happy kwanza or happy whatever you wish to celebrate.

Weihnachtsmarkt on Neupfarrplatz.

Weihnachtsmarkt on Neupfarrplatz.

Greenery (lit at night) on Ludwigstrasse.

Weihnachtsbaum in front of the Altes Rathaus

Yes we even saw a bit of snow, although it didn't last long.

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18 December 2011

The joy of the hot shower

Those who travel long distances will relate....
You step off the plane and despite the fact that all you really did was sit and vegetate, you feel dirty. It's airplane-stink.
Look around an airport - you can tell who has arrived, fresh from home, ready to start their journey. You can also tell who has been traveling. They are the travel-weary.
Right now I sit and type this, and I am of the travel-weary class. I just stepped off a long-haul flight, one that I undertook with a head cold and got exactly 0 minutes of sleep. But I do not appear to be a full-fledged member of the travel weary. I was able to utilize the BA Lounge (because I flew over business class with American) and the lounge has shower facilities! The hot shower I took was one of the most refreshing showers. Despite the facts that I put back on the same clothes, I am clean, smell nice and most importantly feel good!
And now it is time for a short flight to Munich --- let the adventure begin, I am ready!

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Location:BA Executive Lounge North, Heathrow Airport, terminal 5


I seem be having trouble with the blogging app, so I am just testing it out

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01 September 2011

I"m an unseasoned American, of course I know it all

The year was 1998. I was on my first trip to Europe.  5 days into it.  I had never travelled on my own before and had never been to Europe before. It was only my 2nd day truly on my own. I was on a train bound for Haarlem, the Netherlands. Why Haarlem? Well, Amsterdam was too scary for me, and I had met a guy on the internet from Haarlem.
Wait wait, its not like that at all….
I had met a guy (and his wife and kids) on the internet in New Zealand, who was originally from Haarlem. He had described his hometown as such a pretty place, I just had to see it. He was no where near the place anymore.
So there I was on a train bound for Haarlem. I did not speak Dutch and had no real travel experience. Therefore I knew it all!  As I sat on the train, an elderly woman (mid 70’s? ) tried to engage me in conversation. Her English was limited, however much more advanced than my non-existant Dutch. Through the conversation she was able to ascertain that I was an American (although I probably screamed it at the time) and that I was travelling to Haarlem. She was very friendly, and most likely we were able to communicate more than I recall. The train approached a station, Haarlem was part of the name. It looked very industrial.
But remember I knew it all.
I was ready to get off. I saw the name of the place, it was the only word I recognized. I stood up, strapped on my backpack, which weighed almost as much as me and began to walk to the door of the train. This was my stop. I was getting off.
Remember I knew it all.
The older woman stood up as well, she ran down the aisle of the train and stopped me. But I was still determined to get off.
Remember I knew it all.
She tugged on my backpack, holding me back, conveying that this was not the correct stop. I was going to get off.
Remember I knew it all.
But I was unable to be rude to this woman who clearly wanted to help. I decided that I could just get off at the next stop and take the next train back. That way I would not offend her. I figured the next stop would be nearby, because this was a local train.
Remember I knew it all.
As the train pulled into the next stop, I didn’t even bother to look at the station sign. Now the woman motioned to me to get off. She said “Haarlem” multiple times. I smiled and thanked her. All the while thinking ‘I need to find a train to get back.’
Remember I knew it all.
As the train pulled away from the station, I finally looked at the sign. Haarlem was all it said.
Clearly the woman on the train knew it all.

24 August 2011

The taste of another land

The school year began on Monday. Thus I officially have to declare summer over, and live in the memories.
It's no secret that I love to travel, I take every moment of my vacation time and live it to it's fullest. When it is over, I miss it greatly. (Please don't interpret this to mean that I don't love my job - I love my job, I also love the fact that it affords me the opportunity to travel).
So I try and recreate the experiences I had during the summer at home. It's about fooling the senses. I do so through taste. In every country I visit, I usually discover foods that I fall in love with, flavors that will forever remind me of that country. Whenever possible, I bring home whatever I can. Now there are many rules regarding what you can and can't bring back into the United States from abroad. No fresh produce, no meats, no seeds etc.
But what you can bring in tantalizes the senses. I consider myself lucky to have an international kitchen.
I make salad dressing with pumpkin seed oil fro Austria.
I use Knorr spice, soup and meal packets from Germany to cook my veggies with.
I dip veggies into Pebre from Chile.
I enjoy wine and reggio paramesano cheese from Italy.
I spice my food with Aji from Chile and with spices from Turkey.
I make my breakfast with English Ready Brek
I also make lemon meringue with Green's from England.
I've got Linsen Oil from Germany to cook eggs.
I have other oils and vinegars from Germany as well.
I have tea from Germany, England, South Africa and possibly other places.
And of course I have candy from around the world...gummys, chocolate etc.
But my international kitchen is not just about the food in it.
I cut with knives from England.
I have metric measuring cups from Germany.
I have a 'spätzle' maker from Germany.
I have several German recipe books.
And I am sure if I dug deeper, well I'd find more.....

I am lucky to have an international kitchen to fool my senses and let me take a mini vacation whenever I wish and not just when the school year allows for it.

11 August 2011

When travel is no longer travel

This comment may sound smug, condescending or even a bit flippant. It's really just a statement of fact and is not meant as any of the above:

I don't think of going to England as traveling.

Yes, obviously I pack a suitcase.
Yes, obviously I pack myself into a pressurized metal tube for over 9 hours.
Yes, obviously I need my passport.

So you might think all these facts above equal up to travel - right? Well in the literal sense of the word, yes going to England is traveling. But traveling to me is about the unfamiliar and the experience.
Wait don't take that the wrong way! I see new places in England and I have incredible experiences. BUT I don't go to England for those purposes.
I go to see my friends.
I go to enjoy their company and spend time with them.
When I go to England, some days we go out and about and do touristy things, other days we stay at home and play lego (the 'we' in this comment involves Oz and/or Edward who are both 3 years old). Sometimes I help Ruth with housework and sometimes we scrapbook together.
Its not about being a tourist, it's not about ticking little boxes off on the "to see" list. It's about spending time with friends. Thus to me, this is why I don't consider going to England to be travel.
I can't resist a few fun photos of my most recent non-travel to England:
Charlie at Guide Camp

Vee juggles at Guide Camp

Jamie and Ruth

Ruth, Paul and I

Alice sitting next to Edward

Bethan enjoys the sun

Oz, Edward, Christopher and I enjoying a sunny summer day next to the wading pool

Susan and Oz playing

Puddles are perfect for splashing - right Oz?
My activities here are not the activities of a tourist. Yes, I am a visitor,  but consider this - if I was just a tourist, would my British friends trust me to make a cup of tea?!?

Are you reading this?

Given that my blog is about travel, I thought it might be interesting to see to what corners of the earth my blog posts have traveled.
Below are the stats for this month. (Hmm...given we are only on Aug 11th, I wonder if this is really July or maybe it represents July 12 - Aug 11. I"m not 100% sure).

As you can see - my blog has been visited on most continents. I'm a bit confused by India and China - but if you are from India or China and reading this (or if you went to India or China and read this there) then hello and thank you!

Actually I"m quite humbled.

Some of the things I wrote were clearly more frequently viewed than others. This page shows the "all time" stats of which entries were most beloved. Apparently the Dirndl was quite popular. It's also interesting to see where these articles were viewed from.
I won't bore you with the next image, but I also can see where people are coming to my blog from. Most of the views have been referred through Facebook and are frequently accessed on your mobile device. A fair number come from couch surfing as well!  I can also see that most of you are PC users. I"ll forgive you for that :)

No matter which of these labels you fall into, I"m just impressed that you wish to read my blog and want to say 'thank you' :) Feel free to comment on posts - good, bad or ugly.

06 August 2011

This one time at Guide Camp...

This year I had the opportunity to spend time T Guide Camp in England - only 2 days, but tons of memories. As many of you blog readers know I have been a Girl Scout for 29 years and spent 15 or more summers at Girl Scout Camp. Camp is a part of me. So being able to go to Guide Camp was a fun experience and well I couldn't help but compare...now for fairness' sake, its really like comparing several variety of apples with just one orange.
I was at Come To Tomers with the Guides of my friend Charlie and the Rangers of my friend Vee. Guides are 10- 14 years old and Rangers are 14 - 26. The oldest of the Rangers was 21. The camp ground is an established site with several decades of history. CTT is a 2 week event for Guides and Scouts every summer - I have no idea what. Takes place the other 50 weeks of the year at this site.
Okay so let the apples/orange comparison begin:

(note: I am going to refer to a Guide Group as a troop in this post - although technically that is not the correct word)

My GS camp experiences have been camps with permanent / semi-permanent facilities. At CTT guide units set up their own tents and canopies. The only permanent structures were office and bathroom - maybe a few other facilities like storage sheds here and there.

My GS camp experiences, girls come to camp alone or with a buddy or two. It's not a troop activity. At CTT the Guides and Scouts (yes, those are of the male variety) come with their troop. At GS camp the campers were either in a unit that did everything together or in a unit that did some things together and other times the campers signed up for activities. At CTT the campers signed up for activities. However a troop could sign up for a common activity as well. But the troop would come back together for meals and sleeping. Plus the girls could work on badges in the unit space as well.

My GS Camp experiences typically included a large mess hall where the whole camp came together for most meals. Generally a unit would cook out only once a week - one dinner and one breakfast and over the weekend as well. At CTT every meal was a cookout! I loved it! While I was there we cooked eggy-bread (known to Americans as French Toast), soup, pasta, sausages, fried bread, jacket potatoes (known to Americans as baked potatoes), custard and more. It was soo good to be at camp cooking over a fire. Heck not having a burn ban and actually being able to light a fire was priceless!

Both GS Camp and CTT offer a variety of activities for the campers. Every camp offers different activities based on facilities, climate and age of campers. CTT had a lot of fun activities - many of which I wished I could do!
Slides, rock climbing, zorbing, fire lighting, rifle shooting, laser tag, rafting and so much more! Activities galore.

Camp is camp, no matter where you are, you've got to be prepared for the weather. At CTT this meant everything from shorts and T-Shirt to sweatshirt (in British-speak: jumper) and cap and don't forget your wellies and waterproof (rain gear to us Americans). In the 2 days I was there I needed it all! But the big difference was neckers. Everyone wore a necker to signify who they were. The campers had cow-patterned ones (western theme week), the Guiders and Leaders had bright orange (me too!) and staff had navy blue. This was not optional and MUST be worn around the neck, held on either with a woggle or a friendship knot. I liked knowing immediately what the role of a person was!

At GS Camp, often the unit would have a theme for the week - and the camp might hold an all camp theme dinner or theme night. At CTT there was a theme for the entire program: wild west / cowboys. Fun theme - hence the cow patterned neckers. Many people wore cowboy hats and had stick horses with them. They also had flags flying to signify the wild west. One was the American Flag. The other - well first I was told "we have the Texan flag up", then they said "that's the one with stars and bars - from the Dukes of Hazard, right?" uh. No. Yes that's correct the Confederate Flag was flying. I must admit I was less than thrilled. I was telling my friends Charlie and Vee why I had problems with it and they explained that everyone there thought of it as the "Dukes of Hazard" flag. I was amazed at how strongly I was opposed to it flying at the same level as the American flag -after all when I was a freshman in high school this was the flag of my high school. (that's a whole other story - quite a year it was as it was removed) heck the school I teach at now even used to have this flag as their school flag. I live in the south. I am not a stranger to seeing the Stars and Bars - but I really did not like it. I know that the flag was flown at CTT for completely different reasons.

At GS camp the girls come to camp and the leaders do not. Instead there are paid camp staff. I was part of that camp staff for many years - loved it! We worked our tails off and had as much (if not more) fun as the campers. At CTT the Guiders and Leaders come with their troops, but are not responsible for the activities. We are responsible for meals and campsite. That meant we had more time to relax. (relax at camp? Crazy isn't it!) We also did more of the cooking because girls had activities. So my day went like this:
Wake up, help cook breakfast, eat.
Girls to sign up for activities, we enjoy a cup of tea
Girls return, finish clean up.
Girls to activities, we straighten camp site, walk around watching activities, work on badges (yes - there were badges that even a leader could earn), talk to/ do crafts or badge work with girls who had a free period and well enjoy the time
Elevenses - we'd prepare a snack of squash (it's a punch), fruit and biscuits (cookies) for the girls
Girls off to activities, begin prepping lunch.
Cook and eat and clean up from lunch
Girls to activities - more relaxing etc as in the morning. Wander up to camp store for an ice cream
Cook and eat dinner, clean up
Head to main camp for flag lowering and announcements
Girls to evening activities
Evening activities for leaders (we had a pub on camp - seriously - with beer, wine and sodas. One night we had a trivia night at the pub - fun but the questions were all a bit easy!)
Good night!
Yes, quite an easy day for the leaders...... The staff ran everything.

In comparing. GS Camp with my experience at CTT, I am not saying that one is better than the other. I love camp and am so glad I had the opportunity to spend a few days at CTT!

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05 August 2011

Diverting plane, part deux

The flight was going well. I was spending time, as I often do, in the back galley chatting with the flight attendants. This crew was unique in the fact that they were 100% male. The air was smooth and a small group of passengers were back in the back, when one flight attendant, he looked to be in charge, came back and used the phone to speak to the pilot. I didn't hear what he said, but no sooner than he hung up, the fasten seatbelt sign came on. Coincidence? I didn't think so. I thought possibly he just wanted to clear the galley. I returned to my seat and a moment later, a flight attendant came to talk to the man opposite me in the aisle. Eavesdropping, I quickly learned why we were all seated. The flight attendants came to this man because they knew he was an MD. A first-class passenger pregnant with triplets had begun to bleed fairly heavily and there were concerns about her miscarrying. The girl next to me asked me what was going on. I told her and she said "oh my god, that's my boss." (note: it was actually her ex-boss, she had been fired on this trip) She then told me that the ex-boss had had problems and also a reduction surgery two weeks ago and that all of her doctors had told her NOT to travel. So, I suggested she tell this info to the doctor seated next to us who was about to go look at this woman. She did, plus she tried to go up to the ex-boss. Why? Well the ex-boss had a 1 year old daughter traveling with her. The girl next to me promptly returned, they wouldn't let her into first class. However a few minutes later the flight attendants came and got her and a few minutes after that she returned with the one year old. The *crying* one year old. We both tried to calm her. The best solution: looking at my photos of Chile on my iPad. The girl next to me comments that she's been fired but is still having to do work! Then after a bit she returned the girl. Fast forward twenty minutes and they decide they need her again up there. She leaves for first class to go amuse the one year old and comes back about 30 min later. She tells me they had been discussing diverting the plane and making an emergency landing, but decided against it. We only had 1.5 hours to go at this point. As the air actually began to get a bit bumpy, the fasten seatbelt sign was finally turned off. The doctor returned to his seat and nothing more was said until just before landing. The flight attendant came back to the girl next to me and discussed her moving to first for landing, but also told her that the paramedics would remove the ex-boss last, so she could stay in economy and just walk up as we disembarked. Bueno. We landed and most of the plane was apparently clueless to the situation and began to line the aisles. Then once the majority of the passengers were standing, they announced that we should all sit down because paramedics were coming to remove a passenger with a medical emergency. No one sat. Not a single one person. Oddly they all began to de-plane almost immediately after that announcement. The two of us waited. After a bit a flight attendant told her that the one year old was with another colleague (presumedly one not fired). In the end, I have no idea what happened to the woman. I commented to the girl next to me that maybe she'd get her job back, her response: I don't want it!
Ah adventures on an airplane.....

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Location:British Airways Flight 69 LHR to PHL - somewhere over the Atlantic

28 July 2011


Many people questioned why I would learn Spanish in Chile. They told me it was the same as going to Scotland to learn English - hard to understand and many unique words that are only in use in Chile...
But, as I countered, if I could understand Chilean Spanish, I could understand most Spanish around the world....plus I liked it.
Chilean Spanish is musical. They speak fluidly and run words together. Once on the subway I heard a man singing, or so I thought....he was just talking on his cell phone. Chileans speak beautifully.

Now what about the differences..... Well of course they exist, but I liked them.
Chileans often drop 's's from words, so for example Buenas Días becomes Buena Día. Actually they would more likely just say Buena. But I also learned this is a class indicator. People who drop the s are thought of as lower class / less educated. But honestly, I heard it frequently.

Another difference is the pronunciation of 'll'. In Chilean Spanish it sounds like a soft j in English, such as the g in the word giraffe. So for example llaves (keys) sounds like javes. Milliones sounds like mijones. It's correct pronunciation for Chile, but incorrect for other Spanish speaking countries.

And finally we come to words. I'll give the word in English and Chilean.... And if I know it, I'll put the word in Spanish as well in parentheses.

Boyfriend/Girlfriend - Pololo/Polola (novio/novia)
Corn - chocolo (maiz)
Pumpkin- zapallo
Zucchini - zapallo de Italia (zucchini?)
Caramel - manjar (dulce de Leche)
Mini bus - migro (autobus)

There are others, but I just can't recall them at the moment.

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I could live here

I was home. Well that is how I felt. The last couple of years I have had a desire to live in another country. I'd always thought it would be Germany or England. Germany because I love it there and I speak the language, England because I have such good friends there. Going to Chile I didn't even put the idea of living there on my radar. But it crept up on me until it became a big flashing beacon shouting out "look at me!" I love Chile and I could live there.
The first time I explored Valpo, I found that my favorite Cerro (hill) was Alegre. I felt safe there, I liked it. I went back and realized that if I lived in Valpo, I'd want to live on this Cerro. The houses have character and history. The walls are bright and colorful with art/graffiti. The streets are clean and charming. Even the funicular is a fun one! I love the charm of Cerro Alegre. On my second visit, I mentioned to my teacher from ECELA that I would want to live here if I lived in Valpo. She told me it was a pricey area. (jeez that figures). My third visit I was walking around with two gringo friends, and I mentioned again that I wish I could live here. One of my friends simply said: you can.
He's right. I can.

Me at the lookout of the Cerro - ocean and Andes in the background.

One of the charming corners of the Cerro. This house was actually the scene of a soap opera that was simply called: Cerro Alegre.

Some of the incredible graffiti in the Cerro.

Calle Tempelman - one of my favorite streets. Posed for this photo are Brishon and Carolina.

Cafe Brighton - they make a mean Pisco Sour!

I knew that this was my home when I saw graffiti in German that reads: we can do everything!!

And a few more pics of the Cerro.....

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Location:Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

Where am I?!?

Often it is said, "I don't know if I am coming or going". This morning that was the truth. About 10 mins before my alarm, I woke up to my phone alerting me to a text. The text was from American Airlines updating me on gate info etc. I read the info and saw that the flight was departing from DFW. I went into a momentary panic: I'm not in Ft. Worth, this is wrong! Then in a moment of semi-lucidity I wondered.... Where am I? I looked around the mostly dark room, trying to figure it out. Finally I realized the answer: I was in my own bed in my own room in my own home! Such a strange place to wake up.....

¿Yo spreche good, não?

This has been a summer of confusing and confounding myself linguistically.
I started out with a three week exchange with my students in Germany. There I spoke mostly German, although occasionally English was used as well. This was simply a pleasure, not a challenge.
I returned home, spoke English for about three days and boom, headed off to Chile. In Chile I was plunged immediately into Spanish, a language I learned in high school and a bit in college and have seldom used since then. My first week couch surfing I mostly spoke Spanish. But I would somewhat frequently use a German word without even realizing it. The more Spanish I spoke, the less I used German words. Throughout this I continued to communicate in both German and English as well. I also discovered that as my Spanish improved, I became more fluid in my speech and used it more readily. This actually harmed my German, I can't seem to say a whole sentence in German right now without including one Spanish word. Most frequently used words: pero (but) and yo (I).
Two weeks after I arrived in Chile, I took a trip to Brazil. Yes that's right, another language to input. Portuguese. While I was in Brazil I spoke Spanish, listened to Portuguese and read a novel in German. Confused yet?
Now I was not trying to learn Portuguese, but I soon found that I could have a fair conversation if they spoke slow Portuguese and I answered in Spanish. Plus, I began picking up words and realizing patterns.
For example, frequently a word that ends in -tion in English, ends in -ción in Spanish and in -não in Portuguese.
L's in Spanish are often r's in Portuguese. Example: Playa - Praia (beach)
Plus there are just a whole bunch of similar words.
But in was not (intentionally) learning Portuguese.

I returned to Chile and it was back to Spanish.

I am writing this in my airplane bound back to Texas. It's Monday around 5am in Texas. On Thursday I head to Philly, where I have an AATG committee meeting and expect it will be all German through Saturday. To wrap up my language adventures for the summer, I will fly to England and speak British English for a week this coming Saturday.

In the end all I can say is who knows what I will say next time we talk!

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Location:Germany, Chile, United States

21 July 2011

Even I liked this church!

When I travel I visit churches and cathedrals frequently. For an agnostic with atheist leanings, I certainly spend an extraordinary amount of time in houses of worship.
You may ask, "if you disdain religion so much, why visit churches?" there are several reasons:
1. Artistically they are amazing
2. Architecturally they are amazing as well
3. I like climbing massive amounts of stairs to the top of a tower (seriously - no sarcasm here) the views from the top are amazing!
4. In the hot season, they are usually quite cool and refreshing.

In Brazil many of the cathedrals we tried to visit were closed. This was a bit surprising..... But in the town of Penedo, one was open: Nossa Senhora Concente Church. (the name is in Portuguese, it pretty much mean our lady of something - the virgin Mary I assume).
Walking in the church, which was plain and unassuming from the outside, I was struck by it's beauty on the inside.

But that is not why I dedicate a whole blog post just to this church. Take a look at this next photo and notice that there appears to be a door or part of the wall with a not quite flush board.

This was a door to freedom. When opened, we saw a space between the wall. Just wide enough for people. Before slavery was abolished in Brazil, this church was part of their underground railroad. Escaped slaves would hide in this opening during the day and at night could roam freely in the church. The town is on the San Francisco River which leads to the ocean. The slaves would hide until passage on a ship to freedom (away from Brazil) could be arranged.
This is one church whose actions I not only approve of, but find quite admirable!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Penedo, Brazil

18 July 2011

Let's go surfing now...

Several of y'all have asked some of the following questions:
How can you afford to travel so much?
How do you have friends in all these countries?
Isn't it lonely to travel by yourself?

Now there are multiple answers to all of these questions, but there is one answer that I want to focus on: couch surfing

Right, so couch surfing is an organization that connects travelers to the part of the world they are visiting. It's totally free and a fun way to meet people (and no it's not a dating website).

Basically the way it works is you set up a profile (like facebook) and you indicate your couch status:
Able to host
Might be able to host
Meet for coffee

You join communities for the area you are in or of a topic that interests you. For example, right now I am in the communities for: Ft. Worth, Chile, Santiago, Last minute couch in Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valparaiso and Language Exchange. Each community has a message board, and you post or respond.

You can also seek people out individually - searching by name, region and other factors (such as couch availability).

The third way to meet people is that when you log in, you see a link to other profiles of people who have logged in near you.

Couch surfing takes a degree of trust. After all you are potentially going to the house of a stranger and or inviting them into yours. But the system is set up to safe guard this: every member can choose to be verified, messages and couch requests are recorded, feedback is left and one member can vouch for another. Is it perfect, no, but I am comfortable with it.

My first couch surfing experience was through Hospitality Club www.hospitality club.org in 2004-2005. I stayed with 4 different members in Germany, even being invited to Christmas / New Years celebrations. It was great, I met some people who I am still in contact with today. But after a while I stopped being involved.

This past year, I met several couch surfers and decided this was a great idea for Chile. In Chile I have been hosted by two different Chileans (one of them twice), have traveled with a CS member from France for a day trip, met up with a CSer in Viña who quickly became a friend of mine and met with a group of CSers in Santiago to go see the World Press Photo exhibit. Additionally I've exchanged messages with several others, but for various reasons, meeting up did not work out.

It's a leap, trust is involved. You don't have to travel to couch surf. If you are only comfortable with meeting a traveler for a cup of coffee or to show them around your own city, I totally recommend it - it's great!


Below are a few photos of my CS experiences in Chile.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Martín,Viña del Mar,Chile