October 29, 2005

A Few More Fall Photos

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 6:48 am

Tree, PlatanenalleeI went out again yesterday, back to the Platanenallee, to try once again to capture some of the fall colors. Things weren’t as successful this time around, but I still came out with a few good ones. As normal, head over to the photo gallery through the link above to check them out.

October 27, 2005

New Photos — Fall Comes to Tübingen

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 2:56 pm

Family, PlatanenalleeWalking home from class yesterday, I noticed the warm fall afternoon light filtering though the golden leaves of the sycamores along the Platanenallee, the island park in the middle of the Neckar. I decided I would return today, camera in hand, and see what I could do. The light was gorgeous, but unfortunately I was a bit late, and the one really good picture I could have had was spoiled by a couple of different things. No worry; I’ll return sometime soon, maybe tomorrow, and try again… Nonetheless, here are a few I did get…

October 26, 2005

First Day of Class

Filed under: School, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 8:11 am

Yesterday was my first day of classes. I had three classes yesterday, two of them through the international studies program, and one regular university class. The first two went well; the latter not so well.

The first two classes, both ISP classes, are geared towards non-native speakers of German. They don’t speak English, but they do make sure to speak clearly, without strange accents, and without speaking in a high “intellectual” manner. The first class, “Ein Quasselkurs,” deals with German smalltalk and the differences between the German we had been taught in class and the way Germans actually speak it. It was a very interesting, and at times funny class, and I think I’ll definitely be enjoying it. The next class was called German Everyday Culture, and deals with German culture from a layman’s perspective–this isn’t Beethoven and Goethe, this is why Germans are such fanatical recyclers and what they do in their freetime. Again, this was interesting, and I had no trouble in the class.

The next class, my last class of the day, was an overview of medieval history. I love medieval history, and so was really looking forward to this, but the differences here in the German were far to great. While he spoke clearly, his sentences were so long and complex that I would often find myself understanding most of the individual words said, but not being able to get any meaning out of them. My brain was in overdrive the whole time trying to keep up, but in the end I walked out two hours later with three lines of notes on my paper. Not a good sign. And given that to get my grade (the German school system doesn’t require grades quite the same way the US system does) I’ll have to take the final, and that this will 100% be the decider of my grade, I don’t think this class is going to work out. I’m looking for another to replace it, but I’m not sure I’ll be successful. Worst case, I’ll stick with my three ISP classes and just have to take one extra class next semester.

Today, I have my third ISP class, “Panorama Deutschland,” another German cultural class. This one deals with things like the political systems here, differentiating itself somewhat from the other German culture class I’m taking. We’ll see how it goes–I’m not expecting anything bad, but it’s three hours long, which might test my mental capacity translating German.

And one thing I’ve noticed is that the mental effort expended in understanding a foreign language makes you tired. I collapsed into bed yesterday after class, barely able to move. Hopefully this will change as my German improves–I don’t want to be nonfunctional at the end of every day.

October 23, 2005

The Students Arrive

Filed under: Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 10:10 am

It’s the end of October, meaning several things. First, I’ve been here almost two months, something I find hard to believe. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been here two months at all. It’s only when I look at a calendar or realize how accustomed to life here I’ve become that I realize that I might indeed have been here that long. Secondly, it means that classes are starting. And this means that the 20,000 students of the Universität Tübingen have arrived.

My first inkling of how much this would change things came on Thursday night, when I went to a party sponsored by the university and thrown at one of its student-union-like buildings. I’d been into this building several times before, usually to get a cup of coffee during breaks in our Sprachkurs, and its slow, drowsy demeanor had done nothing to prepare me for this party. The sheer number of people that had managed to cram themselves into this building was astonishing. It was the sort of thing where in order to move, one had to literally shove his way around, stepping on toes and pushing people into each other and all in a vain attempt to part the Red Sea. I stayed there for about an hour with the friends I had come with, and then decided that I had had enough. Little did I know that it would take me 15 minutes to work my way the 20 meters to the door. The door was one of the standard swinging doors that you would see at any such establishment, except the problem was that it was seemingly the only open door in the place, and there was a mass of people trying to squeeze their way in as well as a mass of people trying to squeeze their way out. As you got closer to it, you lost all ability to move on your own, and were instead moved about in whichever direction the seething mass of people crushing the air out of your lungs decided to move. You would lean into the person in front of you, pushing as hard as you could just to keep from being moved the opposite direction, being successful as often as not.

I finally made my way out and back home. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened had there been a fire–not an impossible occurance, given that everyone smokes, even indoors, and therefore there are no smoke detectors anywhere. I don’t think I’ll be going back to any similar party; I find it hard to enjoy myself when I’m being forcibly smashed into the masses around me. It’s claustrophobic.

Another sign that things are filling up are the dorms. My dorm, once a wasteland reminiscent of the top floors of Davis Library on the weekend, is now full of people. All five of my other suitemates are now here, and I can actually hear other peoples’ voices on a regular basis. Also of note, all of my roommates are girls, something that has been an interesting experience, and something that I don’t expect to become any less interesting in the near future. There was one guy here living over the summer, but he must have moved out at some point–there is now a girl living in what was his room, and his posters on the door are now gone. Unfortunately, the side effect of having people in the dorm is that my internet connection, a shared wireless connection to a DSL modem, has now become unbearably slow, with it often taking minutes for webpages to load. Thankfully, campus internet is coming, but I don’t know how much longer that will take.

Anyways, classes start for me on Tuesday. I still would like to add one more to give me an easier semester in the spring, but that shouldn’t prevent me from keeping my Tuesday/Wednesday schedule, complete with five day weekends every weekend. Go ahead and start hating me now :) Also, Derwin Dubose, a good friend and fraternity brother of mine, has now started his own website that I have been helping him with. He’s already put out several insightful articles in addition to the articles he wrote as a columnist for the Daily Tar Heel, and I look forward to many more. Check it out.

October 22, 2005

Intelligent Design

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 5:08 am

I just had to post this link to a hilarious anecdotal column about intelligent design. I was laughing out loud reading this, something I’m sure my suitemates loved. Check it out.

October 20, 2005

My First Conversation

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 5:04 am

Yesterday was a momentous occasion. My first true conversation in German. I was cooking dinner, when one of my suitemates walked in. At first, it was just the standard, “I dont speak German very well, so we’ll just do the hi, how are you” routine, but we ended up talking for about 20 minutes about all sorts of things. It was the most incredible feeling being able to, for the first time, hold (and understand!) a full conversation with someone in the language you’ve been studying for the last couple of years.

October 19, 2005

More Wine

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 6:28 am

I went back to that wine store yesterday evening, and spent roughly an hour walking through the shop. I had a nice conversation (in German!) with a very nice employee. We talked about what kinds of wine I like, especially cabernets. We ended up having a little conversation about cabernets from different countries. As my experience with them is pretty well limited to the California cabernets, he recommended that I try a particular bottle of French cabernet, explaining that the taste was completely different–not as big and earthy, but still pretty distinctly cabernet. I ended up buying that and two other bottles, a dry (!) riesling Kabinett and some varietal called a samtrot, also Kabinett. For the uninitiated into German wines, Kabinett is a designation of wine quality. German wines are classified by quality and length of time left on the vine. A Kabinett is on the lower end of the high end of classifications, Qualitaetswein mit Praedikat (quality wine with distinction). That doesn’t mean that the wine is really any good, just that it isn’t total swill. I think I’ll probably go back today and buy some of the table wine from the barrels, because one, I think it’s really cool and want one of the bottles, and two, because I used the last of my cooking wine last night. Which brings me to last night’s dinner.

After the wine shopping, I wandered around to several of the market stands in the Altstadt, looking for something fresh to have with dinner. I found some sugar snap peas, one of my favorite vegetables. I headed home, and let them marinate in the last of my red cooking wine, along with some garlic, pepper, and a bit of salt. After 30 minutes or so, I pulled out the beans and sauteed them in butter, then dumped in a good bit of the wine marinade and some more garlic and reduced it down into a thick red wine sauce, which I then poured over the beans. It was one of the best meals I have ever cooked. Part of this is probably that I hadn’t really had any substantial greens for a while and so my body was clamoring for them, but rest assured that I’ll definitely be making this again.

October 17, 2005

Bad Day, Good Wine, and Roommates

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 3:26 pm

After starting off as one of the worst days I can remember, the day managed to cap itself off OK. I won’t go into details about the bad side, but there were several highlights:

1) I found an awesome wineshop. Living in wine country is definitely a cool thing–the sheer abundance of cool wine shops is testament to that. Today, I found what is, so far, my favorite. Sitting in the basement of one of the Altstadt’s medieval buildings with stone walls and exposed beam ceilings, it exudes the most wonderful atmosphere. It’s pretty small, so the selection isn’t great, but the coolest thing are the different liquors and wines that are basically on tap. For the liquors, they sit in large glass vases, for lack of a better term, with a sort of hose tap arrangement. You get a bottle (they have baskets of new, empty, unlabeled ones there) and fill it up, for rather affordable prices. For the wines, there are basically taps sticking out of the wall. There are, I assume, barrels of wine behind them (since you can see empty ones out back), and again, you grab a bottle and fill. The wines are all table wines, but are very cheap–the most expensive is around 4 euro/liter–but look perfect for cooking or just quaffing with dinner. I’ll be returning, probably tomorrow, and buying a few bottles of different types of wine. I may also break down and buy an Eiswein, a dessert wine where the grapes are left on the vine well into winter, where they freeze on the vine and are then pressed, making a sweet, very intense wine.

2) A random act of kindness by the woman working the bus ticket counter came at just the right time to keep me from exploding.

3) Pesto filled gnocci.

4) I formally met all my roommates today, and was pleasantly surprised at how much of their conversation I understood. We met to setup a cleaning schedule for the suite, and sat around talking for about an hour afterwards, which was nice. It takes away most of the awkwardness that came from me being a foreign student here that they didn’t know (they all lived together before) who doesn’t know their language very well and thus doesn’t speak much.

Also, I’m supposed to be getting campus internet in my room in the next couple of days. That’ll be nice as the internet I’m using now has gotten progessively slower as more and more people have moved in and begun using it. I’m not, however, crossing my fingers about the campus internet–from what I’ve heard, it’s not fast either. Internet access really just isn’t the necessity here that it is in the States.

October 15, 2005

Site Updates

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 8:14 am

There have been a couple small updates to the site you may have noticed: I finally got a link to the photo gallery working like I wanted it to, and I added a little blurb about the site to the right nav bar. Now you can easily browse through all the photos. Enjoy.

October 14, 2005


Filed under: Travels, France — Alex Ravenel @ 7:54 am

Back in Tuebingen after the better part of a week in Chapel Hill. It was a good recharge, and it was great to see everyone. I’m planning on doing a bit more travel later this week, but for now I need to take it easy for a couple of days, as I’ve been travelling for two weeks now.

Eiffel TowerSo, on to Paris. Maggie met me in the Paris-Nord train station after my uneventful trainride from Amsterdam. As I had in Amsterdam, we simply headed back to her place and crashed, being late in the evening. The next morning, we got up, and after buying my Metro ticket and a wonderful chocolate croissant, Maggie went to class and I headed to the Eiffel tower. I walked the grounds for a while, had an espresso in a nearby cafe, and gawked as much at the hordes of Japanese tourists being disgorged from tourbusses as at the Eiffel tower itself. Maggie and I then met back up for a late lunch, then spent a good bit of the afternoon trying to get the internet working on her laptop. She then had class again, and I went with her this time–it was interesting to see what her studio class is like. After that, we cooked dinner with her roommate.

Notre DameThe next morning, Maggie again was in class, so I headed over to the Notre Dame. I wandered around there for a while, touring the excavations underneath and then heading into the cathedral proper. It was impressive and has much history, which I enjoyed, but I must say that the cathedral at Cologne was much more impressive–larger and more detailed.Notre Dame, Interior After leaving the cathedral, I ate dinner in a restaurant nearby that my cousin had recommended, and ate a wonderful meal, including one of the best desserts I have ever had–a sort of thin cake topped with a custard and wine jam. Most excellent. I then walked around the island and the Seine for a while, before heading back to the flat to meet Maggie. That evening, we ate dinner in a nice asian place down the street from her, and then headed out downtown for drinks.

Louvre SculpturesThe next day, the Louvre. We got there at about 10 and spent 3 or so hours inside, which isn’t nearly enough time for a place so large. It literally defies description is it so massive. Afterwards, we did a bit of shopping for a gift for Lindsay and my parents, and grabbed some lunch. Church of St. Marie MadaleineMaggie soon had to go, but I walked around a good bit more myself, heading into a massive church built as a Greek temple, the church of Saint Marie Madaleine, then walking down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomph. After all this, it was getting late and I was knackered from all the walking, so I headed back home. That evening, we ate a delicious dinner at a small cafe, La Belle Histoire, that had again come strongly recommended from my cousin. A very cozy little place, with great food.

So that’s my time in Paris. The next morning, I boarded my train for Tuebingen, and then the day after that, headed to Frankfurt to catch my flight back to the States. I don’t really have much to say about that–really just a lot of hanging around and catching up, but a wonderful time nonetheless.

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