Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Ešte! Papaj!"

These words have been my Christmas. They mean "more" and "eat," respectively. Basically, I am discovering what it´s like to be an only grandchild. Mamama, who is essentially my Slovak grandma, has been putting plates of food, especially desserts, in front of me continuously for the past two days. I am well on my way to gaining approximately 21 pounds.

I am spending Christmas in Slovakia with relatives, my cousin´s family. I was in Bratislava from 21 to 24 December, and since then I have been in Levice, which is southeast of Bratislava, about 40 minutes from the Hungarian border.
The past two days have gone really well, though, considering our only language connection, Juri, who I am staying with in Bratislava, has been visiting friends in Levice. Through a mix of very broken Slovak, German, and English, the grandparents and I have been able to communicate quite well.

Today we went into Hungary, to a small town called Esztergom, to see a big church. It was very pretty, and the museum part contained a lot of cool, old, gold-plated relics. Then we went to a pool, not really sure if it had mineral spring water or not. But it had a hot tub of sorts outside, so that was fun, to just sit out there with all the oldie Slovaks and Hungarians and look up at the completely white-gray sky and think about how my life is interesting. And how I ended up in a ghetto pool near the Hungarian border where I would be hard-pressed to find anybody who could speak a word of english.

Tomorrow is back to Bratislava, where I will hit the post-xmas sales in one of the biggest malls I have ever been in, then onto Vienna, where I can finally realize my Christmas break dream of sitting in a cafe reading, though I may have finished all three of my books by then.

Veselé Vianoce!

Istanbul III

On Saturday, we had a late, laid-back breakfast at a nearby cafe with one of Kate´s housemates, Sahzene. Then, the three of us got on a bus, a rather lurchy experience, and went along the Bosporous, up past the first-ring suburbs, to the Sabanci gallery. They had a huge exhibit on Abitin Dino, a Turkish artist active during the 50s and 60s. It was a relaxed afternoon. It was also the first time I had seen the sun in probably about two weeks. And, just for the record, I have not seen it since.

On the bus back, Kate called a friend, Julie, to see what she was up to. Kate told me that she was at her friend Mike´s, which was decorated with lots of Uzbek stuff, and that I would like it. So we grabbed a sandwich and headed over to Sultanahmet. That was when my one not-so-wonderful taxi experience happened. I wasn´t nervous for my life at all, but it was so lurchy it made me wish I didn´t have a full stomach. Like most drivers in Istanbul, he would gun it, then two seconds later, stomp on the breaks to avoid hitting a person or a cat.

It ended up that Mike´s place was a hotel. And that Mike is a 65 year old guy who co-owns the hotel and deals in antiques/rugs/other Central Asian collectibles. We had an enjoyable evening drinking wine in what Mike calls his "museum." Kate saying that I would like Mike´s place was more than a bit of an understatement. It is a medium-sized room covered in things he collects. There are tassels and laterns all over the ceiling, rugs on the floor, walls, and in big stacks, and a few racks of clothing, etc. etc. It was awesome! I decided that until Uzbekistan is safe enough for me to visit, this room would have to stand in. With its semi-dim lighting and the wonderfully bring Central Asian colors, it could just as well be the real thing.

On Sunday, we took up Mike´s offer to go to an antiques market in Uskudar, on the Asian side. We had breakfast at the hotel, then hopped on a ferry with some other Americans: Katherine, Gretchen, and Ethan. The wares were in a space that was configured like a small mall, with tiny stores selling only antiques. It was really cool; we saw some beautiful items. The winners were a big set of wooden doors from the "far East," elaborately engraved and painted turquoise. They were 3000 USD. After poking around the market, Mike, Kate, and I bought vintage sunglasses. Mike bought 11 pairs! Almost all of them were 20 YTL, really cheap. I came away with 2 pairs of RayBan wayfarers... now if only there was some sun to necessitate sunglasses.

After a huge, delicious meal at Kanaat, which Mike thinks is one of the best restaurants in Turkey, we went back to the hotel. Kate and I had intended on going to see the Suleymaniye mosque, but we were sidetracked by wine and good company. I also got to see quite a few of Mike´s rugs, as a few customers came by while we were hanging out. Plus, missing the mosque is a great excuse to go back!
Sorry I didn´t add any photos, I am not on my own computer right now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Istanbul II

Looking back on my days in Istanbul from Sunday the 9th:
My head has been spinning nearly non-stop during this trip. Istanbul is so wonderful! One little thing, though: on Thursday, I was frustrated because I kept getting approached by guides. As I learned, though, that only happens around the touristy areas. When I went to Topkapı Palace on Friday, everything was fine.

Topkapı was amazing (ha, there's my word again)! I figured nothing could beat the Sultanahmet Mosque, but Topkapı might be able to. I got the audio guide, and while it wasn't outstanding, for 10 YTL (about 5€) for Topkapı and the harem, it was worth it. The architecture was pretty. In the old treasury (the whole thing is set up as a museum), they have various articles like turban pins and daggers with emerald-encrusted hilts. And the biggest diamond ever after the Hope diamond. It was seriously large, something like 60 carats. Well, I just made that number up, but I may be close. Also of note was the summer pavilion/ circumcision room. Very beautiful tiling inside-- I took an inordinate amount of pictures. Oh well, everybody else was, too. Then, of course, there was the harem. It was just stunning; it seemed to somehow strike me as it was intended to be low-key and elaborate at the same time. I know that sounds weird, but what I think I mean is that the gorgeous tiling everywhere that I was (and still am) so in love with was semi-commonplace at the time. If that makes any sense. Anyway, walls were tiled floor to ceiling, and then there were the ceilings. I will stop on Topkapı before I start repeating myself.

I then met Kate for lunch in Sultanahmet, and then we went to the Grand Bazaar. I don't care if only tourists go there, the Grand Bazaar was cool. I read that a lot less hustling happens there now than used to. It showed, but of course there were still plenty of men saying, "you want a scarf?" The first little shop we went into was the perfect experience. Kate was looking at some bracelets at a shop with plenty of Central Asian items, and the owner, Aziz, came out and invited us in for a tea. He was the sweetest guy-- I am serious, before anything else, he just looks nice. We had tea with him, his sister, and a German girl who was staying with them for a month. He and Kate chatted, and I pretended like I wasn't in awe of the entire situation. I found a necklace that I really liked, and Aziz said I could have it for 75 instead of 98 YTL (40/60€). I left it at first because it was the first place we went to, but later, I went back to grab it. I think it's really unique; I didn't see anything else that came close in the bazaar.

After that, Kate and I did more talking to people than buying things. It was great, the bazaar was not very crowded, and I started to sort of understand Kate's conversations! After finally finding some scarves we liked, we hit the trail. We ate dinner at a place up by the Galata Tower, called Enginar. Cool place with good food and an attractive waiter. We had some mezas, which are like Turkish tapas, and beer.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Istanbul I

Istanbul was wonderful! I have alternately described it as amazing, gorgeous, awesome, and beautiful. I think you may get the idea: I'm full of hard-to-articulate praise. I could talk, and write, I'm sure, about my Istanbul trip for as long as I was there, so I will try to do it semi-concise justice through a few blog posts. While I'm working on those, be sure to look at my pictures. Yes, I went a little crazy with pictures of tiles, but they were beautiful! The urge to whip out a camera at some of the tourist sites in Istanbul is often irresistible.

Here's something I wrote to my mom the day I arrived:
"Obviously i haven't really seen any of Istanbul, but it is full of character, I can tell, and the minarets are calling people to pray. The streets are all really narrow and everybody's honking. I think it will turn out to be like a Middle Eastern NYC.
I could burst I am so excited to be here."
That comment about NYC turned out to be a little off, but I think it gives a good idea of what my first impressions were like.

From Thursday:
Istanbul is beautiful and overflowing with character. It is the real deal-- grimy, with broken down sidewalks, beeping cars, unreliable trams, and guys just standing outside their shops on a rainy day out of boredom. I think it's a little like NYC, but without any polish. Seriously, even the touristy areas aren't obviously touristy (well, at least not in December). I got in yesterday, and after an almost two-hour trip, I arrived at my friend Kate's. It's really nice to see Kate-- who would've thought two years ago, when we were in Beginner's Turkish (at U of T), that we would be meeting up in Istanbul, with me in Berlin and Kate living here? We had a good, but non-Turkish dinner at a cafe, then went to a bar for a glass of sour cherry wine. Then we went to what Kate calls "her steps," which provide super view of the Bosphorous and the city.

Today I went to the Sultanahmet area, which includes the Sultanahmet (or "Blue") Mosque, Ayasofya (Haghia Sofia), and Topkapı Palace. I went to the Blue Mosque first. It was so amazing, the tiling in that place, that it's hard to believe it's real. And that it is as old as it is. I just stood there and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes at a time, and then moved to another place and did the same. It's incredible and so lush, especially in the colors (especially the blues). Ah, wonderful. I was bummed that I couldn't get good pictures due to it being big but not particularly well-lit. But it was gorgeous. I'd like to be able to go and take it all in whenever I wanted.

Then I went to Ayasofya. It's even bigger, and from the outside, it's more impressive, but the Sultanahmet mosque is more regal. The Ayasofya is now a museum, because it is not a working mosque anymore, and I thought it was pretty well done. It looks a little shabby inside, it's showing its age (originally built as a church between 532 and 537 AD). It also showed its age in the artwork, which is not as detailed. However, since it's a museum, there were lots of different things to see. Like tiles.

I also went to the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. It was great, seemed to be very unassuming but ended up having a very large collection. The Korans were stunningly gorgeous. They were my favorite part (and one of my favorite things from the whole trip). The intricate designs around the words were amazing.

Alright, you are getting a taste of what my vocabulary has devolved to. More in the coming days.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Meteorological Blues II

Berlin these days seems to have hit a new gray note: just when you thought it couldn't get too much more dismal, you realize it's not nearly winter yet, and February and March are bound to be worse. First there was a big storm system up on the North Sea, which gave us a decent amount of rain and a drop in temperature (ooh- and our first snow). But the low temperatures have stuck around, and so has the drizzle and the intermittent snowflakes. And today it was dark before 5, to which I say, wow.

Just checked the weather, though, and it's supposed to be back up to 50 before long-- what is up with this weather?

I don't really have the blues, though, it's just a little hard to get up and go when it's 34 and drizzling!

I am enjoying my Civil Rights movement class. My friend Elisabeth, who's in the class with me, and I bought David Halberstam's The Children to supplement our education. My copy came today and I can't wait to dive into it. One last little bit: the other day, BBCWorld, which I listen to all the time on my radio, had an interview with someone in Erie, PA as part of a small story on an anonymous donor giving a lot of money to Erie charities. It was very funny to think that I have been to Erie many times, and yet, here I am, sitting in Berlin, listening to the same radio story that people in Capetown and Kuala Lampur are listening to.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Prague was beautiful! I was there from 1-5 November, and met up with my good friends, Olivia and Meaghan, from Toronto. As beautiful (and refreshingly typically European compared to Berlin) as Prague was, it was wonderful to see my friends again.

Olivia and I stayed in a hostel in the neighborhood of Zizkov. After initially being a little worried that the hostel would prove to be too far out of the city center, we soon learned that pretty much all of Prague is very walkable. The entire time, I used the subway probably four times, and two of those were because I had luggage. Olivia and I spent a lot of time walking from one place to another, taking in the impossibly narrow streets and the oh-so-pretty buildings. Olivia is convinced that Disneyland was modeled after Prague. We walked up to the top of the hill in the old city where the castle and main church are, but were too tired to be interested in paying more than the cost of dinner to go in. That's one thing I really liked about Prague-- it's so cheap! It manages to make Berlin look expensive, which is very hard to do. One night, five of us (Meaghan knew some other people in Prague from Paris) ate dinner for the equivalent of about 18€, including a beer or two per person. Speaking of which, beer is the cost of bottled water there. No joke.

One sight that I did see was the Jewish cemetary. Well, we peered in through a door (it is walled), and couldn't figure out if it is possible to actually go in. At any rate, it was sufficiently creepy, as it was Sunday, so the city was fairly empty, dark, and you knew some of those graves are super-old. It was cool. We also saw the astronomical clock (smaller than you think it's going to be) and peeked into St Jacob's Basilica, but couldn't figure out how to get in there, either.

During the train ride home, I realized how excited I was to be coming back to Berlin. It's nice to like your home base!
Next stops: Istanbul, Bratislava

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Prague Photos

I have uploaded my pictures from Prague onto Flickr, and, if I remember correctly, there is a link to my Flickr on the right-hand side of this blog. There aren't too many, I know, but I thought for three out of four days that I was there that I had forgotten an outlet convertor. I finally found the outlet convertor on Sunday, but on that day my friends and I spent hours eating a late brunch, and when we left, it was almost dark. And then by the time we walked into Old Town, it was dark. Daylight Savings Time is killing me!- it was dark today by 5, and I mean completely, middle-of-the-night dark. So between the weakness of my battery and the weakness of the sun, I ended up with only a few pictures. I'm going to get some more off of Olivia, though, who became our official picture-taker when I thought my battery was going to die.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Am in School, After All

I know a lot of you want to hear about my classes, but, subconciously even, I feel like if I don't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything. I, along with many other people, was disappointed with my classes. Additionally, a lot of us had to scramble to get into a German class, since they filled up very quickly. It's also been a frustrating experience because the Humboldt system is so different from the one I am used to in Toronto. Then my credits got confused, and all of my schedule disintegrated except for three classes. So, as of Tuesday, I was only in three classes, when I should have been in about six or seven.

My classes are International Human Rights Politics, Contemporary British Fiction, Gender & Leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, German, and Turkish. I won't go into details, 'cause that's when I start to sound like a cranky foreigner. I will just say that Humboldt needs to build some bigger classrooms.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


After biking around with your bike basket full of Ikea goods and dressing for the deep freeze when it's only 52, nothing could be more Berlin than falafel.
Well, at least in my mind.
Falafel is so cheap and plentiful here that I often think of prices in terms of falafel, usually to help me save my money (e.g. that dress is 10 falafel, which, even as I think about it now, sounds like I should really not be buying that dress). I also generally refuse to pay more than 2.50€ (2€'s even better), though Elisabeth got me to shell out 3€ the other day to try "the best falafel ever." In case you're wondering, it was worth it.

Falafel is a serious thing. For example, don't get a falafel around Hackescher Markt. I had the disappointment of my life there: 2.50€ and bad. Even though it was 8 pm and it was my dinner, I couldn't finish it. Don't ever eat at a falafel place that doesn't fry up fresh falafel. I've also become friends with all the guys at Ali Baba, who so far are the winners. Ali Baba is 2€, prime location- right by the U-Bahn stop I use to get home, and 24 hours.

Now we've discovered falafel in Kreuzberg, and I think I might be making extra trips to Kreuzberg in the future. 1.50€ and just as good as the 3€ falafel that's in Mitte. Oh, Turkish people, I love you. Thank you for making Berlin your home.
I had a falafel for breakfast this morning on my way back from sleeping at Elisabeth & Jen's, and I was thinking about how nutritiously sound it is. You've got everything: protein, good carbs, dairy (yogurt sauce), veggies. Mmm. Perfection.
Without rereading it (because my internet is so unreliable), I'm going to guess that my last post was pretty boring. And I'm sorry for that. The thing is, I did have things to say, I just forgot them as soon as I sat down at my computer. Let's try again, and see if I can be more interesting.

I have done some cultural activities lately. Going back into tourist mode felt a little weird at first. As part of getting cultured, Elisabeth and I went to Martin Gropius Bau. I originally thought that this was the Bauhaus Archive, and that's why we went there, but I was wrong; it's a small museum with no permanent collection. When we were there, it had two photography exhibits from Eugene Atget and Roswitha Hecke. They were both really interesting, though I was baffled by how Atget managed to take so many photos of Paris streets with no people in them. Atget was a photographer way back in the day, so it was interesting to see photos from the 1890s, but there were rooms upon rooms of his work, and it got a little redundant. Hecke's work was much more thought-provoking. Most of her photos were from the '60s-'80s. I think I will definitely go back to the MGB to see other exhibits there.

I also went and saw the new Fatih Akin film, "Auf der anderen Seite" (On the Other Side). Another one of Akin's films, "Head On," is my favorite movie ever, so I was very excited to read all of the press he's getting for his new film and then go and see it. It was great! All of his films deal with the Turkish-German experience, and he says that the two movies ("HO" & "OtOS") are part of a trilogy he is making on "life, death, and the devil." Not sure what to make of that, but I would really recommend seeing "Auf der anderen Seite" if you have a chance (definitely would involve a trip to Squirrel Hill for those of you in Pittsburgh).

Another place I've discovered is the House of World Cultures. I think it might have an art gallery (still trying to figure that out), but I've been there for a few talks. They were having a conference on transatlantic relations of some sort a few weeks ago, where Hikmat and I went to talks on transatlantic law and global corporate responsibility. This weekend they are having a conference entitled "New York- Berlin: Cultural Diversity in Urban Spaces." I went to the keynote lecture, given by a prof from Columbia, on Thursday evening. With conferences like that, they have speeches in English and German, with simultaneous translation. It's a cool place that'll stand in as my Munk Centre (where I usually like to attend free talks) while I'm away from Toronto.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I don't have anything in particular to blog about right now, but I figured an update was overdue. The past 1.5 weeks have gone very quickly, even though we had last week off and a few friends went home. I've been enjoying the nightlife of Berlin, not enjoying the fact that the subways shut down at night, buying tons of produce at the Turkish market, and thinking about how great Berlin is. I felt very much like I fit in biking back after a trip to Ikea one day. It's easy to understand if you've been here: there is little that is more Berliner than someone biking with their bike basket full of Ikea goods. At Ikea my friend, Elisabeth, and I bought fabric to sew into tote bags for our Turkish market shopping. The fabric will definitely brighten things up when it's cold and dark, which, unfortunately, I think might be sooner than we'd like.

We started class on Tuesday, but I'll write more about my classes after next week, because I still have one tomorrow and two of them don't start until next week. I successfully used the laundry room again. Last week I hooked up with a pub tour group and decided to go on the tour with them after some American guys invited me along. It was fun to talk to Americans-- I must say, we are friendly. Some might be conservative, some might be ignorant, some might be obnoxious, but we've got personality. And you can find those traits in any country. I like all of the people I've met here, but it was nice to spend some time with the Americans.

I'll be going to Praha on November 1 (with a 29€ train ticket!), meeting my Toronto friends Olivia and Meaghan, who are studying in Paris, there. I'm very excited to see both them and the city! Now to find a hostel... Additionally, it looks like I'll be going to Istanbul, where my friend Kate is, for Thanksgiving. It feels great to be making these plans. I love Berlin, but I can't wait to see some more of Europe!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Today I finally made it to the famous Turkish market at Maybachufer, in Kreuzberg, the traditionally Turkish neighborhood. And I was in heaven! Good, cheap food, including ready-made stuff that all looked amazing plus boisterous Turks advertising their produce made a combination fit to make me spend every penny there. The best find were pomegranates-- which weren't really a find at all, since they were everywhere-- that are absolutely gorgeous. I bought two of the deepest red pomegranates I have ever seen, and I've since cracked one open, and it is unbelievably sweet.

My Fahrrad

Here's a picture of my bike hanging out in its parking spot at the subway station. After purchasing it for 40€, I quickly had to put the chain back in place twice in 21 hours. Things weren't going so well. Since it's an old mountain bike, it has finnicky gears. I'm not sure why, but that's what the mechanic who sold it to me told me. I went back to the mechanic for a quick lesson in how to not end up popping the chain off. We've since worked out a very amicable relationship, and enjoy squeezing past busses and riding off curbs together.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Adventures in Laundry

Laundry-- who knew it could be such an ordeal? After accidentally washing a load on the table linens setting, because you can't change the settings after you've pressed the start button, and some frustration due to the fact that the washing machine informed me that my clothes would be washing for 58 minutes, I finally got some clean clothes. But, no. They still needed to dry. I was trying to read the long instructions (17 steps, no joke) on top of the dryer when another guy came in. We quickly started chatting in English: he's from Venezuela, in Berlin for one month now, studying German. He could understand even less of the drying instructions than I could. After 15 minutes or so of standing around, slamming doors, sticking our laundry cards in the machines and randomly pressing buttons, we both gave up. I just decided to dry my stuff in my room. So last night and this morning, there was laundry hanging off of everywhere possible. Every hanger was taken up. There was practically no space in my tiny bathroom due to the fact that so much was hanging on the shower curtain rod. I don't know what I'm going to do next time. I do know, though, that I will leave much more time to figure it out; last night, Venezuela and I were pushing the time limits of the laundry room. Which brings me to my next question: why does a laundry room have a closing time?

My Movie, Finally

Amazingly, my internet held out long enough for me to upload a little movie I made of Berlin onto YouTube. Here it is:

Note that the statue is not of Friedrich von Humboldt, it's Friedrich of the Hohenzollerns, aka Freddy the Great.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Class

This is my class, as photographed by our teacher during our field trip to the Wall Museum. I'm not sure why I am so in the foreground. It looks like we are a big band and I am the lead singer. Huh.
I just realized that, if you are so inclined, you can click on it to see a larger version.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Today we (my German class, 14 kids total) went on a field trip! It was fun for a few reasons: I really like the class; it was like the old days of taking fields trips-- they don't happen too often at a huge school like U of T; and our teacher took us on this totally on her own, it was not planned and no other class did it. She's great, big-hearted. Anyway, our field trip was to the Berlin Wall Museum, which is a small, but nice, museum a bit north of Mitte. It is one of two places where the wall still stands in its original place. It was very interesting, and the exhibit there is in both German and English. Across the street, you can peer through cracks in the wall to see what no-man's-land looked like. The place where you would stand for this is gravel, so it's pretty effective in making the visitor see how hopeless escaping East Berlin felt/was. There is also a chapel across the street, and every business day at 12 they commemorate someone who died trying to get over the wall. We stayed for that, and it was quite moving. I think it's a little too bad that it's only in German, because I'd recommend it widely.

My teacher also said that she would definitely recommend this museum over the one at Checkpoint Charlie because the Wall Museum is more objective. I haven't been to CC, but the information laid out at the WM was very objective, that was plain to see. The visuals are also more effective at the WM because there aren't tons of tourists around; you're allowed to think.


Be sure to check out my photos by clicking on the link on the right-hand side of this page. Right now, they're typical touristy pictures of Berlin, but oh well. I'll get better ones.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I met up with my friend Viktor last night, who I know because he studied at Toronto last year. He’s been in Berlin this summer with an internship at the German foreign office. After going to a bar in right outside of Mitte, where we enjoyed the German special of light wheat beers mixed with either raspberry or some green flavor syrup, we went into Prenzlberg. On our way there, we met a guy from California, who was on his way to work at a club in the same area we were going. After parting ways with him, Viktor told me we were going to go to a hole in the wall that he’s fond of because it sells beer on Sundays. We walked for a while, glad it was no longer raining. Just as we were walking past some scaffolding, Viktor said, “It’s right here.” It was literally a hole in the wall. Imagine a break in the scaffolding to allow for an entrance, and then a shabby walk-up window selling only beer. It was hilarious-- I was imagining a dive bar, and he literally meant a hole in the wall.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

“Fremd is nur der Fremde in der Fremde.” - Karl Valentin. My teacher started the second part of class with this quote yesterday. You don’t need to know German to get the same out of the quote that my classmates and I did: fremd, fremd, fremd. Fremd means foreign, and the quote basically means that what is foreign is only foreigners in a foreign setting. Hmm. What we knew was that we had to write an essay about being a foreigner in Berlin and since then have referred to the essay as the “fremd, fremd, whatever” essay. In order to understand the quote fully, you need to be familiar with the intricacies of German cases and prepositions. Perhaps we should all be studying a bit more.

When I’m on the U-Bahn, the subway, listening to a “This American Life” podcast, I forget that I’m in Germany. It still hasn’t hit home. I don’t know if this is good (I have a positive outlook) or bad (I am deluding myself). I’m on the subway. Words are only symbols, after all, so after a few days with the U-Bahn, it’s not a foreign word. I can’t hear any German, two women across from me are wearing hijabs, and the guy beside me is wearing a jean jacket just like me, but his has seen more wear and tear. I could be anywhere. The train is pretty crowded even though it’s not rush hour. I imagine that most people are commuters like me, since this subway line only goes from outside the city to a stop in the center, it doesn’t go through the city like most lines. But then we pull into a station, and there is a “ß” in the station name, and I notice that the guy beside me is carrying a tote bag. Earlier, I was in a computer room in the Sprachenzentrum (language center) of Humboldt University becoming gradually more irritated with the German keyboard as a “ä” showed up every time I hit the apostrophe key and every question mark required a special “Alt Gr” (I’m not sure, either) button. Just as I was becoming reacquainted with the switched “y” and “z” keys, the monitor in the computer room told us computer users that she had to leave soon, then repeated her message in English, as if we ended up at Humboldt by some grand fluke.

So I was in Berlin, after all. I ended up writing in my essay that I don’t feel that Berlin is foreign. In fact, I feel oddly at home. Perhaps it’s because I am used to living in a big city-- after living in a suburb of Pittsburgh for a few months of agonizing sales work, Berlin- as a city- feels more comfortable. Maybe it’s due to my new hypothesis: Berlin is very welcoming. When I was here with my mom, I didn’t feel like a tourist. That was almost certainly due to fact that I will be here for ten months. But it was more than that, I didn’t feel like any city residents were scorning us as tourists. I know it happens, because I sometimes think mean thoughts about tourists in Toronto when there is a group of them clogging the sidewalk. And then came the clue that we really didn’t look like tourists: someone asked me for directions in the U-Bahn station. I had told my mom that I would really feel like I am a part of the city when someone asks me for directions, and it already happened. That only goes to show that there’s not a typical Berliner. You can’t see it in their clothes or their haircut, you can’t discern who’s a native by trying to guess their economic situation.

Instead, I am a foreigner. I feel conspicuously, but proudly, American here. Yes, as we’ve learned, on the U-Bahn, no one can tell the difference. It’s true: more than one person spoke German to my mom, who knows no German. She would wordlessly point to me. Especially in my class though, which is an intensive German class, I am a proud exception. I’m the only American. I’m the only one who speaks English without a British accent. I’m the only one from a country where we all eat ten donuts a day, according to the British boy I sit next to. And on the U-Bahn, I probably am the only one whose head snaps around when George Bush appears on the Berlin Transportation Commission subway news. For now, I’ll try to figure out why Berlin doesn’t feel like Germany, it feels a big city without a concrete location in a certain country. I’ll study my separable verbs and my prepositions. I’ll try to rely on a map less and impatiently wait until I can buy my bike used from a tour company. But then again, that is what every new Berliner is doing, no matter their country of origin.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bike City Berlin

Here's a great article on TreeHugger, a green lifestyle blog, on how wonderfully bike-friendly Berlin is. Once again, I am unable to make a link, so cut and paste, people.

Awesome Site For City-Lovers

Through, which is a great airplane ticket search engine, I was introduced to Right now I am totally unable to make the Kayak address a link, but I've added Gridskipper to my list of links on the right-hand side. Apologies about Kayak. Use it anyway.
Gridskipper only covers six or so cities, so it's not a total travel site. But if you are going to one of their six cities, it's a veritable font of information. Their authors pick a theme, such as great falafel in Berlin, and write little blurbs on their seven favorite falafel spots. Now, for the best part: the blurbs are accompanied by a Google map! I was very impressed when I saw this. Gridskipper has a variety of themed blurbs 'n' maps, allowing it to appeal to a variety of demographics. For example, I was interested in the "How to Dress Like a Berliner" blurbs, while I skipped right by "Jewelry in Berlin" due to its teaser's inclusion of the words "high-end." On my student budget, I'm looking out for the 3 € falafel.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Two Weeks To Go...

I feel like I should have something to say for this post, but I think I may be in a bit of denial about my upcoming trip. I leave two weeks from tomorrow, and it is just unbelievable, especially the length of time I will be overseas (ten months, if I decide to come back at all). It seems that school is coming up, what with my cousin moving up to Pittsburgh to attend Pitt and my brother starting again in a week, yet I'm not going to Toronto. It's an odd thought.

I bought a Moleskine City Guide for Berlin. Moleskine makes journals that apparently Hemingway and Da Vinci used, or something like that. They are too small for constructing novels, if you ask me. But my Berlin book is great! It is very minimalist and subtle, which is appealing as long as you don't need reading glasses. Otherwise, you probably won't be able to read any of the print in the book. It has 18 small maps of neighborhoods of Berlin, and one wonderful map of the U- and S-Bahn (subway/streetcar), plus plenty of blank pages for notes on things like yummy Thai restaurants.
My main guide is Moon Metro Berlin, which I really like the asthetic of. It has six maps, but they're pretty big, and pages full of recommended restaurants, stores, and attractions. Seems good so far, but only time will tell whether it's a worthwhile guide. I often find that travel guides are not overly student-friendly, i.e. everything recommended is pricey, in terms of a student's budget.

Right now, I find myself space-bagging winter clothes and making copies of my passport and debit card. Fun!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oh, the Places I'll Go!

Hmm. This is tough. Here's a preliminary list, with destinations grouped in a hierarchy of importance:

1st tier (I must go): London, Prague, Istanbul, Italy (Rome, Florence? Milan? Venice?)
2nd tier (I will try hard to make it happen): Stockholm, Dubrovnik or Split, Brighton, Ljubljana, Izmir
3rd tier (it's not a priority, but I would be thrilled): Spain, Tunis, Kas (Turkey), Greece, Finland

I will of course be going to Paris, since two good friends are studying there, as well as Bratislava and Levice, Slovakia, for Christmas.
I leave seven weeks from Tuesday.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Countdown

The idea that I'm going away to Berlin is becoming much more real. It's great, but since the trip has been in the works since February, it seemed surreal for a long time. I have purchased my ticket (why are one-way tickets so expensive?), and had a fun time at the bank trying to wire 220 euro to Humboldt's bank account for my residence deposit. AND now my mom's coming with me! Upon my dad's suggestion, we have put her on my same flight to come to Berlin as well. I think it'll be great, as I now have someone to buy cheapo bedsheets at Ikea for me.
We also may go to Dubrovnik for a couple of days (!).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Chicago Pictures

Here are some pictures are of cool old architecture (not sure if it counts as art deco) in Andersonville. Click on them for super-zoomed-in, detailed versions.

Chicago, I Love You

Chicago blew us away-- no windy pun intended. My mom, aunt, and I were there for a long weekend, getting back today. They participated in a twins study at the U of Chicago on Friday, and had invited me along. I now am a devoted fan of the city, and am most likely moving there, perhaps tomorrow. It was great.

On Friday, I was by myself while my mom and Steph were subjected to boring tests, interviews, and an MRI. After finally finding a place in the vicinity of our hotel where I could buy a CTA (public transport) pass, I went to Andersonville, which is on the Near North Side. I was starving by the time I got off the El after a 30-minute ride. The El was nice, but sort of scary because you are above the ground without being able to see the tracks beneath you. It was also very efficient; the CTA gets an A+ from me, considering that it's in the US. I loved that it was very straightforward, and I wasn't going to accidentally end up anywhere I didn't want to (last summer Olivia and I accidentally went to Brooklyn trying to get to Century 21). When I got down to street level, I walked as fast as possible through a really nice residential neighborhood to north Clark, the main drag in Andersonville. I ate breakfast at Ann Sather's, which I highly, highly recommend. It was basically my idea of heaven. I had a two cinnamon rolls, a wonderful omlette loaded with spinach and feta, and warm cinnamon apples. Oh, and a bottomless cup of coffee, thanks to my waitress. I drove Mutti and Steph crazy the rest of the weekend with my constant chatter about Ann Sather's.

After that, I went to a few stores, picked up some cool earrings and a scarf, and then got back on the El and went south a bit to Lakeview, a really nice neighborhood. There, I went to a few vintage shops, then went back into downtown. After catching my breath, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had a big photography exhibit on.We ate dinner at Cafe Iberico, which was recommended by my friend Kate. After some tapas, we were thoroughly exhausted.

The next day we shopped almost all day. That night, we ate at Papa Milano's, which is unfortunately being demolished next week. It was another great meal, full of fresh pasta. When we were walking back from the restaurant, we ran into Ja'net, who had helped us in the Macy's shoe department earlier. We started talking to her, but she was on her way to meet up with her husband, who just finished playing jazz piano at a restaurant. Instead of saying bye, we went along with her, and then ended up meeting her sister, LaVonne, as well. The ensuing conversations were full of laughter due to the effusiveness of the sisters. My favorite line was from LaVonne: "I can't drive, I don't got no license. The only thing I can do is drive men crazy."

I loved Chicago because nearly everyone was as friendly as Ja'net and LaVonne. Everybody says "hi" and smiles and talks to the people around them. It was refreshing, and it reflected some of the best of American personality, both in the city and in its residents. I'm so glad I was invited along on this trip, and I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Back in da 'Burgh

I am back in Pittsburgh, or, to be more specific, Mt Lebanon, for the summer, and it's quite different. I feel that this can perhaps be summed up by one feeling: an odd sense of relief whenever I see Asian people. Going from U of T, which is either half Asian or just seems like it, to all-white Mt Lebanon, is a change. Naturally, then, I feel right at home when walking past the CMU campus.
I'm also on a campaign to become a supercool commuter cyclist since I'm not able to do the same in Toronto (the parents won't let me take my bike, but I don't really need it anyway). I have biked uptown (Mt Lebo) twice, gotten weird looks all the way, and loved it! Finally, my dreams of being a well-dressed girl on a bike who doesn't sweat have been realized.
I've found a job: selling Pittsburgh Post-Gazette subscriptions. It's not glamorous, as my dad was quick to remind me, but by looking at the commission chart, it seems like hard work can really equal hefty earnings. Perfect for the various trips to Ljubljana and Tunis I've been planning. I was in the PPG building the other day, and I couldn't help feeling like a true Pittsburgher because I'm working for them. The best part of the job, though, will be spending lots of time in the city. Pittsburgh's great, always vibrant, and I have often wished I spent more time downtown. Now, hopefully, I will be manning a kiosk in the Strip every Saturday morning! Note that I haven't started work yet, which has led to my overly-romanticized view.
I am going to Oakland, home of the universities, soon, and would like to take some pictures and post again.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Second-Tier Cities in Europe

I saw this interesting article in the NY Times today. The basic idea is that forgoing touristy sites (and subsequently touristy cities) will save you lots of money, and even some sanity. Second-tier cities offer laid-back atmospheres and chances to sit in cafes with the locals. Looking back on my experience in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I can say that is accurate. Dubrovnik is somewhat of a tourist destination, but the beaches aren't overcrowded, and a delicious pizza is still under $8.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This Summer

Well, the State Department doesn't want me-- I was turned down by the Turkish scholarship people. I certainly was hoping to be selected, but I think I did a good job of preparing myself for this possibility. In my rejection email (disturbingly similar to those college rejection letters), I found out just how competitive the scholarship was: I had a 6% chance of being chosen. When I found this out, I got un-upset real quick. I had no idea it was so competitive! 550 people applied for the 35 Turkish spots alone.

There are a lot of upsides to these plans being dashed. Of course I'm not happy. But I was wondering a few days ago if it was really the best idea to not be working the summer before going abroad. Now, I will go back to having 2 jobs to make as much money as possible, and I know the motivation of being able to spend a few extra days in the south of Croatia will be enough to keep a smile on my face. I'll be going to Chicago and NYC, looking forward to seeing both. And then, come September, I'm off to Berlin.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Now It's Istanbul

I've also applied to go to Istanbul this summer. I would be taking part in a 2-month intensive study of the language at Boğazıçı University (or "Boz," as my friend Ece affectionately referred to it) that would be paid for by the US State Department. I'd love to go to Istanbul for 2 months on the State Department's bill, so cross your fingers! I should find out in about 3 weeks, give or take.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Meteorological Blues

The weather in the T-dot has been horrible lately, and it's truly getting everyone down. It snowed intermittently today, and is probably hovering around 30 degrees right now. I asked two friends if this is at all normal, and I received two emphatic "no"s. I will be fed up with this cold spell after about 2 days of it, but it seems that it isn't going to let up any time soon. There's a big party held in the quad next Friday to celebrate the end of classes, and I'm worried everyone's going to move indoors if the weather doesn't shape up.
Climate Change 1, Us 0.

"this beat gon' kill everyone"

Everyone needs to see this video by M.I.A. of her song "Bird Flu." She named the song as such due to the reason given in the title of this post. If it wasn't almost 1 am, I'd write about what M.I.A. means in the context of our society. Maybe later.

Inaugural Address

In light of being accepted for an exchange program at Humboldt University in Berlin next year, I've decided to start this so that those who are near and dear can keep tabs on what I'm up to. Or, it'll possibly be easier than mass emails that attempt to contain lots of pictures as I travel Europe.

A few words on my title: I feel that I don't really like staying in any place too long, and U of T has proved to be far from an exception. I'm thrilled that I'm getting a break from Toronto next year. I've certainly gotten a lot out of going to school in Canada, something that I will never deny, but I will be glad to graduate. Then again, I would be glad to graduate from anywhere. As the years have gone on, I've realized that typical schooling doesn't really agree with me. I'm quick to lose motivation if I don't like the task at hand, and at a rigorous school like my high school or U of T, that carries a lot of consequences. So when I get down on the idea of post-secondary schooling, I remind myself of my one goal: to join the Peace Corps. I hope to get sent to Central Asia (the 'stans), where I will start my NGO career. My interest in Central Asia started with an assignment to be the delegation from Uzbekistan for Model UN one year. Thus, when I'm tired of studying economics, I really start longing for the cotton field of Uzbekistan.