königstuhl

königstuhl

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.

stuck

stuck

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!

pope world

pope world

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.

ancient reality tv

ancient reality tv

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.

city of carbs

city of carbs

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.

the eternal city

the eternal city

Last week I found myself in Rome, thanks to a global interrail pass given to me by the AJY program. My friend Liz and I explored the city for four full days, walking amongst the ancient ruins I had only ever seen in text books. Everything about Rome mesmerized me; the buildings, the ruins, the history and stories, the people we met, the food we ate, the language we heard and the weather that illuminated this wonder of a place. This is a photo I took above the famous spanish steps during a night tour, right before I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain (one coin over the left shoulder means I will make it back to Rome someday). Rome, for me, was an experience of absolutely and unapologetically living in the “now”. And, unlike other experiences where nostalgia doesn’t kick in until the ride home, I felt so enraptured by the life of this place while I was there that I found myself being transformed by the experience. And this may all sound over-the-top, but I can honestly say that I am a different person after having explored, navigated, gotten lost in, tasted, and photographed this ancient, modern, and ever-changing capital of world culture, history, art and human civilization.

party boat

party boat

On Friday night I was faced with a decision: to go to a party on a yacht with everyone from the Model UN conference and sail around the Mediterranean or enjoy the few precious hours of sleep I would get before having to travel back to Germany on an early flight. After my logical, sleep-loving self debated with my adventurous self for an entire day, my cousin Meredith and decided at the last possible second to go to the boat after passing a crowd of excited Pakistani high school students in the hotel lobby. We ran upstairs, changed clothes, hopped on the bus and found ourselves at the harbor with a couple hundred other high school and college students eager for a good time. After consuming the free Doritos on our table provided by the boat staff, sipping our complimentary drink and exploring the boat’s interior, we joined the party. I greeted the Turkish and Pakistani guys from my committee, talked with my new British friend by the bar and high-fived my French acquaintance on the dance floor. Meredith and I laughed to ourselves as the dance floor became a sort of global mixed salad. (I think the real UN should dump everybody on a yacht, crank up some music, provide free Doritos, set sail and see what happens.) The music ranged from German techno to Arabic house music. We took an hour-long nap on the plush couches downstairs in the banquet room then returned to the party after a look around on the top deck. The next day, as my beyond-exhausted self scolded my past self for choosing adventure over sleep, I stopped and thought of the Pakistani guy I saw who was wearing a panda hat and dancing to 50 Cent’s Candy Shop with his new Turkish friends and smiled to myself. Because sometimes, you just have to go to the party boat.