Last night was two-fisted ice cream night...our first true bargain! After the museum, the zoo and our adventure in game procurement we had a dinner of great soup (suppe) at "inter soup" and stopped in for icecream at the "eisladen" by our hostel. Burr ordered rhubarb flavor, while I had a flavor with a long complicated name that simply turned out to be chocolate chip, or something like it. When we paid we were surprised to find the cones were only 50 euro-cents each! Excited by the prosepect of this bargain we grinned and asked for another scoop, but the woman explained that since we had already licked our cones we couldn't have another on top--but we cold have another cone each of an additional flavor. So that is how we walked away with two cones each (rhubarb, mango-yoghurt, eierlikor--sp?--some sort of egg liquour we supposed was egg-nog, and the complicatedly named chocolate-chip). MMMmmmm.
I know Burr has alread told you about our zoo adventure yesterday, but am still so amazed by that place! I've heard for years about te Berlin zoo, and I am even more impressed after seeing it. They didn't just have one species of any given rare animal in their collection, but it was was typical to see 3, 4 or even 5 species of any given type--hippos, marmots, guinea pigs, armadillos, ox-like animals, bears, seals, etc, etc... The free range guinea pigs were hilarious! The little "meerschweinchen" had approximately 6' x 15' to run with moss, rocks, grass and bushes. Mind you, these were simply your average domestic, pet-type guineas, but wow were they lively in a little roaming heard! If you've ever seen a grop of guinea pigs run--rumps in the air, ears bobbing--you have seen the full meaning of the word "cute".
To top it off we saw representatives of one of our other favorite pet-types--rats. (We have a couple pet rats at home staying with their "grand-humans"--my folks.) There was a renegade nest of wild rats behind the guinea pig and rabbit runs. The rats were acrobaticaly climbing the fences down to the feasts provided by the Berlin zookeepers for the featured animals. They had an ideal spot located next to the rodent cages where they had easy access to the ideal diet. The rats looked so similar to our "Corbett" and "Lucien" that we were amused to watch their antics of the youngsters and their parents; however, another visitor, a German woman, screamed when she saw a particularly large one scale the fence to the rabbit run...oh well, for some not all rodents are created equal...:)
I spoke with Jan, my friend from Poland last night and we are all set to see hima nd his family later tonight. He kindly offered to puick us upform the train station, he and his family are hosting us while we are in Poland...it has been approx. 6 years since I have seen Jan, his family and my other friends in Poland. It will be good to be back.
Lessee... I would have made an entry last night, but there was a long line of people waiting to use the internet computer here at the hostel, plus folks were smoking in the common room. That's one downside to Europe: many more people smoke. And more publicly. So I just went back to the room and hung out with Natalie and our new friend Abigail (a girl from Boston who went home before we woke up this morning) until bed-time.
Yesterday was a very full day! On Thursday we tried to do all the outdoor stuff we could think of because the weather was supposed to be good, and Friday it was supposed to rain. So yesterday we planned to do museums (indoor) and we did... we got up and bought a day-pass for the trains and visited the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art. Boy, do they love their Warhols. The collection was impressive enough... they seemed to pick a few heavy-hitters and dedicate rooms to their work more than get good coverage of the contemporay movements... I was disappointed that they had nothing (at least on display) from the following: Close, Calder, Giacometti. These are probably my 3 staple favorite artists to see in contemporary museums. Oh, well! After that, we bought today's tickets for Poland (only €36 for both of us... our Eurail pass doesn'cover Poland) and ate a lunch of Döner-Kebaps. Mmmmm... and since the sun was shining, and clouds were actually prett scarce, we decided to visit the Zoologischer Garten and it was amazing, sprawling, and massive. We started in about 1pm and stayed until they closed at 6pm and still only saw about half of it. Natalie was stoked that we got to see 4 different species of Guinea pig (they're fascinating when they're "free-range," social animals). We also got to see a 9-banded Armadillo (auf Deutsch: Neunbindengürteltier) in the noctournal aminal house, but the Giant hairy armadillo was either sleeping or out for care/exercise because we couldn't find him, *snif*. In general, the animals seemed much more interactive than we're used to compared to the Madison zoo. Maybe they're better socialized? Dunno, but it was a fun experience.
After that, we decided to get a game. You see... family board games are a big deal in Germany. Every year there is a coveted award given to games released in German called the "Spiel des Jahres." We already own the English version of the 1995 winner, "Settlers of Catan," but thought it would be cool to collect some more recent winners in the original German. the 2003 winner was called "Alahambra" and is also some sort of tile-world building card-trading-based game, best we could tell. The 2002 winner is "Villa Paletti," a sort of stacking tower-building game. The 2001 winner is "Carcasonne," which we actually played with our friend Matt before leaving on this trip. Even though the game is cheaper here, the USA version comes included with a set of pieces that the German version doesn't that make the game more interesting, so we decided to get one of the others. The fnal deal-maker was that "Villa Paletti" also came with rules in French, so that if we couldn't figure out the German rule we'd stand a better chance of actually figuring out how to play the game! This translation task will be our project on the train to Bydgoszcz, Poland. OH!! More to the story... so we were standing in this bookshop on a major tourist stretch in downtown Berlin (Alexanderplatz) having just decided on "Villa Paletti," and made our way to the counter. It turns out that you can't buy anything at this store (Der Club) unless you're a member of "der club." So she wouldn't let us buy it. At all. We were shooed from the store. Great business model: have a bookstore in touristtown and don't allow tourists to shop there.
But Natalie quickly noticed a sign across the street near the train station that read "Kaufhof" (or "buying station," roughly speaking) which turned out to be a department store. And low and behold, in the Spielwaren section they had all the Spiel des Jahres winner from the past 8 years or so, some of them even on sale! So we got our "Villa Paleti" there, along with some plastic animals (Guinea pig, Norwegian fjord horse, rat, and Neunbindengürteltier) that all say "Made in Germany" on them. Yay! I still need to decide on my German contribution to the music collection, but last night I got a list of suggestions from the hostel workers here of good stuff that wasn't just techno. European music shops will often let you sample the music from even new CDs, so I'll try out these 4 or so and pick one before heading off to Poland for 4 days or so. This will be the farthest east I've ever been!
Last night we quietly avoided waking our roommates here at the Lette' em Sleep, and this morning we did the same...we wondered how much of Germany our roommates would see. Our day started off with several trips to local bakeries (as soon as we finished one pastry we would stop for another, and so on until we chased it all down with some pfirsiche (peaches) and bananas). We made our way to the longest remaining portion of the Berlin wall where we translated grafitti and looked at the art on the wall. It was odd to see the remaining barred windows in buildings that had been divided by the wall. I was tempted to buy a small piece of the wall, but Burr says it doesn't mean as much unless you chip it off yourself; one more thing to do before we leave. After a lunch of curry wurst and french fries (pommes frites--sp?) took the S bahn to the other side of town to see the Brandenburg gate and the Englishe Gartens...Oh! and I forgot to say that we saw Alexander platz today too--so many fountains an a detailed fountain of Posiedon held up by these mermen/centaurs with duck feet.
Right now Burr and I are in the common room of our hostel talking with two Americans and two french about music, german eating habits, language and all sorts of things in between. Burr has had a chance to brush up his French with a Parisianne woman. His ability in French is admirable. I think I need o pick a language and develop it...hmmm, now which one should i choose--Polish, German--Latin!?!
I think I'm going to fully join the conversation now...here in the comon room.
"Snow Brigade" (mp3)
"untitled #4" (mp3)
After some CD and souvenier shopping, we made for the train station where we were given a 7-hour, 4-train itenerary to go from Aarhus to Fredericia to Padborg to (Germany now) Hamburg to Berlin. Only the Hamburg-Berlin connection was an hour late so we didn't actually make it here until about 22:30, which made for a full 9 hours or so of travel. But on that last leg we sat with a lovely old lady, in her 60s I'd say, who spoke no English but we managed to have a conversation nonetheless. This is what I missed: the random, strained, multi-lingual conversations. Last night, in Aarhus, Natalie was commenting on how disappointingly boring the trip has been so far (since we left Ozzy's family, anyway). And I agreed... scandinavia in general wasn't much like my previous adventures in Europe. It (1) was much more expensive, (2) the people were not less friendly, but generally less engaging or interesting, (3) had lousy architectural aestetic, and (4) the culture just seemed... well... most of what the Danish culture did have to offer was kinda getting lost on us, I guess. And the hostel is usually a much more social place, a lot more talking, getting to know strangers, buying each other drinks, etc. Denmark just wasn't like that.
But thankfully, Germany is. As soon as we crossed the border Natalie perked up! At the stop in Hamburg she was eavesdropping on conversations and frantically looking up words in her Deutsch/Englisch disctionary, letting the 3 years that she studied (8 years ago!) flood back. She tried quite a lot of things out on our 60-some year old cabinmate. All I could say was "Ich habben en kline bissien Deutsch gelernt." If that's about all I could say, then that's pretty evident (I'm sure that's not even spelled right). But she's having a blast, and as long and she doesn't end up getting all her German and Polish vocabulary mixed up, I think she's be surprised at how much she picks up over the next few days here and any time we spend in München later. (Note: she keeps saying "tak" for "yes" (Polish) instead of "ja" (German)... which is of course doubly confusing because "tak" means "thank you" in Norwegian and Danish.)
So here we are. Germany's so cheap, too! We just bought 2 felafels, 2 fruit juices, and a bottle of water for dinner for just €7.60 total (about the same cost in dollars... I think the Euro, or €, is a bit stronger than the dollar these days, but they're still roughly equivalent). That's about half what I'm guessing it would have been in Denmark. Well, the TV's off, Natalie went to bed about an hour ago, and I'm pretty tired after a full day of train-riding. Though I did knock another 125 pages or so off of the book I'm reading (You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, a fictional travelogue in and of itself... sort of makes this trip kind of like a meta-adventure). Ja, ich muß jetzt schlafen. Guten Nacht!
We saw the domkirke, the oldest church in Danmark. It struck me as I walked though this massive cathedral that so many of the hand carved reliefs and vingettes (sp?) are based on the themes of death...morbid, really, for a faith so based on the hope of life. However, as I sketched I resonated with these images. Over the past few months my own art has been very overtly based on the themes of life and death and the awareness of the immanence of death, but the images in my own work and in the church are, I think, very beautiful. In a way I think the creation an appreciation of these images are kind of resolute boldness that diminishes death, even though it is still possible to fear of the process of death...even the Christ didn't look forward to the process, though he knew the outcome. I crammed a lot of food for thought into my sketchbook today.
We saw some other images today at the Århuskunstmuseum (art museum) It was a little underwhelming. So many of the pieces seemed like copies of works from other famous artists in the same movement...I'm not sure what I was expecting. One room was a little creepy; it was filled with black iron statues the were lit from below. I entered the room through a door made of hanging rubber flaps that kept light out of the room. The first couple statues gave me a start--full-size human figures only 3 feet from me, in the dark I thought they were real! The figures as well as the other abstract sculptures were all fairly traditional forms and were crammed tightly into the center of the room. it was an odd set-up since I couldn't tell if that was the way that each artist had intended his or her work to be shown...maybe it was a style of lighting that artists used here at one time? Weird.
Tonight we may walk down by the sea...I'm tired and done walking for now.
We're staying at the CitySleep-In here in Århus, which is a bit pricey, but all I think prices have been higher than in southern Europe... at least compared to what I can recall from my last backpacking trip. This morning we got up and walked about the streets to familiarize ourselves with the town. It's remarkably modern, and a university town, so it's kinda hoppin', too. I haven't bought my Danish band CD yet, but I think it will be by a band called "Mew." The CD shops here are so expensive though (about 150 DKK = about $25 US).
After hitting the information center we went to the Viking Museum that was basically the basement of a downtown bank filled with artifacts that were excavated during the building of the pier in the 1960s. There was a lot of interesting information that archaologists have deduced from the layers about the Vikings and the Middle ages (the earliest artifacts were about 3 meters = 9 feet deep). The city was founded about 900 AD, they believe, and was originally calld Aros (at least that was what was inscribed on a coin found from about that era). Then we went to the Århus Kunstmuseum (art museum), which was free for Natalie as an art student, but 20 DKK (about $3) for me. It was pretty bad, really, but we could all do worse. We then loaded up on groceries for the nest 3 meals or so that we can prepare in the hostel's guest kitchen (that's cheaper than buying a meal at these restaurants). For dinner we ate curly noodles and meatballs in a curry sauce. The hostel doesnøt have any room for us after tonight, so tomorrow we're off again (just as well, Århus isn't all that interesting), we're not 100% sure where though. We don't have time for Copenhagen, so we're probably Germany-bound (it's cheaper there), but from the websites it looks like all of the hostels in Berlin might be full for the next few nights. We know that's the general direction we're going next: Berlin and then on to Bedgodscz (I am sure i misspelled that) in Poland to visit a pastor who Natalie knew from her summers working with a church camp there. Who knows... we may be in Hambourg tomorrow night or something!?!?
Brief rant: there's some major inconsistencies going on with how things are spelled in Denmark. Specifically, you are supposed to type "aa" if you're using a keyboard or something that doesn't have a "å" character. However, they use them interchangably here... for example, one map I saw has 2 major Danish cities: Århus and Årborg. But the map read "Århus" and "Aarborg." Why? The world may never know. Why do I care? More of the same.
Note that these blog times are posted in GMT time, which is 2 hours earlier (less) than the time it is here. Just in case you care about that sort of thing...
In Norway they tend to eat 4 small meals a day instead of 3 medium-sized ones, as we often do in the USA. I've found that It gives a bit more energy throughout the day... you don't eat so much that you want to take a nap right afterward, but you do eat enough that you aren't distracted by hunger. But you do get hungry again much faster. For example, I am hungry right now, even though we ate a small pre-lunch in the car en route of "Tykklefse" (thick lefse, a sort of potato-pita smothered in butter and sugar). Natalie and I bought it at a grocery store near a gas station. It said it was "tradisjonell og smakfulle," so we'll have to take their word for it.
"Winning A Battle, Losing the War" (mp3)
I don't think Natalie mentioned this, but last night for dinner Øzzy took us to an aisian restaurant. Why did we go to an asian resaurant in Norway? (a) Apparently Norwegians aren't terribly proud of their food heritage (ludefisk... which means "lye fish"... need I say more?) so for the most part they borrow restaurants from other nationalities. (b) Asbjørn himself grew up in Japan (from age 3-8 and again from 9-15) so he often feels the need to eat Japanese. So what better to eat with a Japanese Norwegian than Norwegian Japanese food? We had a tasty beef fondue (I forgot the Japanese name) that was so... so... sooooo good. We were quite full. And it reminded Natalie and I that we were given a fondue pot for our wedding and have yet to use it. Right now it sits, pristine and in a cardboard box in a storage unit some 6400 km away. Fondue is such a fun and social way to eat. We really need to use it...
As we were cleaning up and moving more of Øzzy's stuff out, I came across a decrepit Japanese classical guitar that is missing the high E-string (and desperately needs a new set of strings anyway) and has been painted all over with an obnoxious looking flower and says "Rock 'n' Roll" on the back of it. But is sounds okay and the action is good, even though it's a wee bit out of tune (but then again, crappy classical guitars usually are). I might take it with me as a little travel guitar... Something to pass the time with on the trains but won't break my heart if it gets lost or destroyed or doesn'æt quite make it back to the states with me. Heheh.... that's about it for now. We have an early morning tomorrow!!
(Brief detour: I didn't say enough after seeing the Norske countryside from the train to Kristainsand and the drive to Stavanger.)--About the look of the Norwegian landscape:
It appears to be no mistake that the Norwegians who immegrated to the US settled down when the came to MN--;it is so much like Norway! Many of the plants, the seasons, and the rocky terrain of Rochester and Duluth. In turn they left their marks in the MN architecture (you know, the four-sided barn-roof design?--that's Norske), the food (ah, lefse!) and the northern US accent!--ya, shur you betcha!
The one thing I wish we had back in MN are the gorgeous fjords! This entire country is a solid, deeply carved piece of granite covered in vibrant green, bristling textures. The fjord hills surge up from deep, clear, peaceful lakes and sea inlets. It was amazing to whiz in an out around the hills and through tunnel after tunnel into one valley after another. (The norske solution to any obstacle is a tunnel.) One of my favorite things to see in these valleys were the long tailed sheep. Lexi, a friend of mine back in MN told me about this odd sight; the sheep here never have their tails docked as they do in the states and as a result have foot-long tails that trail behind them. It's funny to see them run, their tails bobbing on the breeze!
Today we finished packing Aussie's stuff before church and now the apartment is pretty bare. (I'm sitting on the floor right now since the desk is gone.) All three of us are glad to have the job done.
Church was at 5pm in Sandes 20min from Stavanger. Aussie graciously did a little spontaneous interpreting of the sermon this evening while we sat in the back. Our Norske is getting better and we're starting to understand more words and even the basic ideas of whole sentences. All the same, Burr and I still can't speak very well and can't be totally sure of our interpretations. It was interesting to sing the songs from the overheads projected in front of the congregation, I think singing in church has always taught me the most about a language and a culture. I can't remember who told me that "Prayer always reveals you heart language." I think song is a pretty close second. Norwegian definately isn't our heart language, but I guess this is where God heard some of those jopyful noises he likes so much!
Tomorrow we will be leaving at an obnoxious hour in the morning to get back at 10am, unload the trailer of stuff we're hauling from Stavanger to Kristiansand and catch ferry in K. by 12pm.