This past Friday my lovely aunt and grandma visited me in Heidelberg and on Saturday morning we enjoyed a beautiful day with friends from Stuttgart before they travelled onward. I couldn’t go with them because I had to study for the DSH, a five-hour-long comprehensive language exam given by the University and required by AJY. The test is consists of a reading and comprehension portion, a grammar section, a listening and comprehension portion and a text production portion and is 100% auf Deutsch. I took it in the fall and it was like being dunked in ice cold water…I simply didn’t have the knowledge or tools to be able to understand and produce enough of what was needed. I took the DSH again yesterday, and while I don’t yet know the results, I can safely say that I understood everything and was able to keep up with the concepts. No matter what I end up getting as a score, I know that I have learned more than I thought I could at the beginning of this year. I wish my current self could tell my beginning-German self that everything would be ok. That I would learn, with time and constant effort. Even if I didn’t pass, I’ve already won. Because risking failure again and again in pursuit of learning what once seemed impossible is about as real as it gets. That’s my view from the top. Pictured above is a view from our Saturday morning hike. My house is the white building closest to the river and right in the middle, next to the playground.
Last Wednesday there was an AJY excursion to Frankfurt. The full year students were given the option of going but weren’t required to. With the knowledge that one of three chipotles in Europe lay in the heart of Frankfurt, I earnestly agreed to go. In the morning we saw the Opera House, The Bank of Europe, and toured the Goethe house. Goethe was born in Frankfurt, as it turns out, and spent a decent chunk of his life there. Now, I love literature and I love that Goethe made such a huge contribution to it. The thing is, I hadn’t had Chipotle in over eight months, and that lunch break couldn’t come soon enough. So the whole time we were hanging out at Goethe’s house, I was daydreaming about whether I would get tacos or a salad bowl. As soon as the tour let out, a mass of AJY students power-walked it (and I mean POWER-walked) for about 30 minutes, past the Hauptbahnhof, past construction sites, with only the guide of my iphone’s directions and our chipotle intuitions to guide us. We entered an upscale mall, found the Chipotle, paid way too much for what would have cost us less than half in the States, and enjoyed a piece of heaven. And it was good. Sorry, Goethe. Next time it will be more about you, I promise.
Over the course of the past week I have been taking an intensive language course at the AJY center, just like the one I had last fall before the semester started. The goal of the course is to prepare us for the DSH, a five-hour language exam I will be taking next Monday (yippee!). Every morning we have loads of grammar and then the afternoons are free. On Wednesday I was having lunch with some of the new AJYers and they told me of their plan to hike to to the highest point in Heidelberg, called Königstuhl. I admired their ambition; their fresh, young energy. I didn’t know anyone who had actually climbed it before, all of the Germans I had talked to had taken the tram. It was with this knowledge that I hesitated at first, then agreed, willing to do just about anything, including climbing a mountain, to get a break from the world of Partizip II and Passive Voice. I would be kidding myself if I said the hike wasn’t too hard. It was, for lack of a better word, intense. And steep. And hard on the knees. But oh-so-worth-it. This is a photo of one of the new AJY kids, Tom, and the Neckar far below.
It’s Saturday afternoon, the end of our trip in Rome. Liz and I begin the journey from downtown to the main train station, where we plan on getting our things from our hostel and catching our night train with plenty of time to spare. As we walk toward the metro station, we are continually having to re-route due to the inordinate amount of police cars and….SWAT vans. Then a few helicopters overhead. Then the stopped traffic. We cross this bridge, pictured above, but are met by an Italian police officer who indicates that the road has been closed. I ask him in English what’s going on. He answers in Italian. We have no answers. Exhale. We turn around, and I see this man. He is playing the iconic Italian street music I had expected to hear more of but, surprisingly, hadn’t until that moment. I stop for a second to snap a photo before continuing on the search for a route to the station.
There is an art to remaining calm in the midst of chaos. This is a skill I have had to learn and hone through my travels, and is one of the most valuable things I have learned in life. Panic does no one good, and makes it difficult to problem solve. With the musical encouragement of Bridge Man, we head toward the Vatican and hop on a bus headed toward the station. The bus becomes packed to its fullest and moves about six inches every ten minutes. We end up missing our train by five minutes, due to, we find out later, the demonstrations against the new government. We stay another night and head back on Sunday morning. It’s exhausting and a bit stressful, but o.k., because we didn’t have to endure another dreadful night train. And we were 100% fine with that. Here’s to the art of calm re-routing!
To get to Rome, Liz and I took a 12-hour night train from Munich. We chose this method of transportation because we had inter rail passes, and our friend Herr Bard at the travel agency told us that would be “the easiest way”. In our minds, it was time efficient and economical…why waste a day of travel when we could step off the train, be in Rome, and start our trip immediately? Hindsight is a funny thing, really. The train was loud, cold, uncomfortable (no reclining seats on this 1970s regional) and slow (twelve hours is a long time). We shared our car with three German ladies and an old man who spoke German and Italian and kept whipping out his Bible to brush up on stuff. He didn’t say much but expressed concern when our train was late arriving in Rome on Wednesday morning. Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with Pope World, aka The Vatican, but the Pope does a public session in the square on Wednesday mornings. This guy looked Pope-ish, spoke German and Italian, was very obviously Catholic, and in a hurry on Wednesday morning. Now, I’m not going to say we rode to Rome with the Pope, because the Pope is Argentinian (I later found out), not German, but I think he may have been one of Francis’ buddies. After we arrived in Rome, sleep-deprived with cramped necks from attempting to sleep at 90 degree angles, we checked into our hostel and headed out to the Vatican. Best part? Sistine chapel, hands down. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos because some Japanese television company owns the rights to the chapel (it’s super unclear). Sadly we did not run into our train friend while there, but I’m sure he was in a very important meeting with Francis’ other main homeboys.
Last week, at the end of a four-hour walking tour through Rome, my tour guide parked us on some rocks on a hill next to the Colosseum. He started with the basics: “The largest amphitheater in the world, construction began in about 70AD and, upon its completion, could hold 50-70,000 people…” On the one hand, the Colosseum was a brilliant business strategy on the part of the Imperial Roman government: Provide your citizens with free, cutting edge entertainment and they will both 1) love you and 2) have more pride in the empire, therefore pouring their daily efforts back into the strengthening of the empire. On the other hand, this strategy seemed to actually work, as thousands of citizens poured into the Colosseum on the DAILY to watch theater productions, musicians, entertainers, oh and MASS EXECUTIONS. Yes, that happened too. My tour guide described (in great detail), the many ways in which the Romans would execute their enemies, including slaves and prisoners of war. These unfortunate souls were known as gladiators, and were made to fight animals, each other, or were sometimes just grotesquely executed without any fighting chance. White sand from Greece was imported to fill the bottom of the Colosseum, just so that the massive audience could better see, well, the blood. I’ll spare you the other facts I learned, because they are not for the weak of stomach. As our tour guide was describing the physics of a giraffe-versus-gladiator combat, I couldn’t help but notice that, although some days it seems as though our society today is pretty viscious with our cheap reality tv shows and violent video games, we as humans have come a long way over the years. We have a long way to go, but we’ve made some serious progress.
I’m not going to lie to you, one of the main contributing factors to Rome’s splendor is its food. I put my running routine on hold, wore pants that had room for, well, a hearty meal, rolled up my sleeves, and ordered some GOOD food. It was like I was re-doing the EAT section of EAT, PRAY, LOVE. My favorite food item, (unfortunately not pictured because I was too rapped up in how awesome it was to remember to take a picture)? The Nutella calzone. Inside? Nutella and ricotta cheese, warm and oozing, straight from an old Italian oven in a hidden alley we found thanks to Liz’s friend who is currently studying in Rome. The gelato was everything I had imagined it to be and more, the pizza was appropriately fresh and thin-crusted (Roman pizza is notoriously thin-crusted) without being crunchy and. the. ravioli. was. a.m.a.z.i.n.g. While I probably could never live in Rome for an extended period of time due to my love of its food+ the fact that Italian food is 90% carbohydrates, I was happy to enjoy the lifestyle for a few days. And, as long as you avoid the tourist traps, the food in Rome/Italy in general is far cheaper than it is in Deutschland and is pretty much universally delicious. Way to go, Rome.