Wednesday, February 6, 2008

About that apartment...

So, I signed the contract thingy and got my keys and stuff to my new apartment today, and it's not nearly as icky as I remember it being. The kitchen is awful, yes, but the bathroom is reasonable nice, if small. The shower has actual water pressure, which is fantastic. The shower at my current apartment has about the same water pressure as the kitchen sink, only diffused over a larger area. I'd get a better shower from a plant mister. So, a shower with decent water pressure will be a welcome change. The living room is also bigger than I recall, although it's still teensy. If any of you want to visit me, you'll have to sleep standing up in the shower or outside. Yes, outside! I have a terrace! ...unfortunately, my apartment is underground, so it's really a cement-walled cell attached to the apartment. There's ivy growing down the sides, though, and if I look up I can see sky, so that's nice. The walls are neatly beveled, ostensibly so that any wayward kitties can climb out to safety instead of dying a horrible death trapped on my terrace. Pictures are here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I am the absolute height of awesomeness.

So, I've seen three apartments in the past two and a half days, and conducted business entirely in German, and I have an apartment! Woo!

The apartment search was interesting, to say the least. On Sunday I went out to the outskirts of the city to see an apartment in Cotta. The area was really cool - it's one of the oldest parts of Dresden, and there are cottages and stuff, and it's very interesting. The apartment itself was nice. Really nice. Nice enough that I wondered how the hell it was in my price range. It had four large rooms, heated floors, a big kitchen, two bathrooms (with a giant bathtub and a bidet!), and was fully furnished, including a big-screen TV and American-sized fridge. I had a very nice chat with the landlord, had some tea and cookies and discussed politics, and then figured out that the place that was in my price range was the apartment under this one, which was unfortunately not available until March. So, damn. That's one off the list. Ah well, it was a nice trip to a new part of town, anyway, not to mention some good language practice.

(on the subject of language practice: This has been great for my vocabulary. C'mon, say it with me: Mietschuldenfreiheitsbestätigung! This means something like "Confirmation of freedom from previous rent obligations." Any reasonable language would, of course, make a sentence, or at least a decent clause, out of that, but the Germans are wild! They're all like, "Hey man, you only live once! Let's make it one word! Yeah, I said it: ONE WORD!")

Yesterday I saw two apartments. The first is in quite a nice part of town - close to where Clemens lives, actually, and surrounded by little parks, pretty buildings, and all the niceties of German life (a Konditorei on every corner!), plus it was no more than fifteen minutes from pretty much anything in the city, and just around the corner from the Garten and zoo. The apartment itself, tragically, completely sucked. It was literally about a 3 meter by 3 meter underground cell, with a teeny kitchenette and bathroom, and no bed included in the furnishings.

The second apartment was quite nice - nicely furnished, reasonably large, pleasant and bright, and had a bathtub (what? bathtubs are important to me, dammit!). Unfortunately, the area was depressing as all heck. It was what everyone would think of upon hearing the word "soviet," I think. Picture a half-hour train ride through a scenic mix of bombed-out buildings, abandoned storefronts, and grimy factories, ending at a charming block of old-school GDR apartment buildings, one of which was still proudly emblazoned with "Volks Solidaritaet - Miteinander, Fuereinander." (translation: Peoples' Solidarity - With each other, for each other) The area was basically one big splotch of gray concrete, with a few spots of grungy yellow to break it up. Frankly, the train ride left me depressed for the rest of the day.

So, I picked the crappy apartment in the nice part of town. I'm going to do it up all Middle Eastern style, with some cool lamps and big pillows and stuff. I think it could be quite pleasant, and the area is really nice to walk around in. I move in tomorrow, and I may not have internet for a couple days, so if you don't hear from me, that's why. I'm really glad this apartment change happened right now - I'm in the middle of a two-week break from school, so I have lots of time to get all settled.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The adventure begins!

So, today my apartment building manager informed me that there's a time limit on the stay in this building and so I'm going to have to move out. In five days. So, I have to find a new apartment and be moved in in five days. That's bloody hard to manage in America, let alone in a foreign language with customs that I don't completely understand yet. Ah well, learn by doing, yes?

So, I'm mostly pretty lazy, but when I'm forced into action, by golly, I'm spectacular. I've been typing my fingers to the bone, finding classifieds and apartment sites and firing off emails like a SUPERHERO, dammit. I think I'm going to manage this.

Either that or you can all come visit me and I'll show you around Schloss Kardbordbochs.

Monday, January 28, 2008

This! Is! The painkiller!

You know you're in Germany's easier to treat pain with vodka than aspirin. My wisdom teeth are growing in, and it hurts like hell, so I went to the store today to get some aspirin or something, and I discovered that it's both cheaper and easier to just buy alcohol. So, I'm self-medicating with about a shot every hour and a half (except schooltime). Effective without leaving me tipsy or drunk.

Anyway, at school today we did a lesson on the current primaries. It was basically a large practical joke for my own amusement. I explained the basic system, including the electoral college (holy heck, that was hard), then handed out cards instructing six people to be candidates (I picked Romney, Giuliani, McCain, Edwards, Clinton, and Obama). Everyone else was divided into Democrats and Republicans, and they had to choose a candidate to run in the "general election." I played the Third Party. "My role," I said, "is to stand in the corner and complain about the system."

It actually worked very nicely. They were fairly above-board, although there was a cowardly mudslinging attack on Edwards' hat. Can't trust a Southerner in a hat. The general election was great - it was Giuliani versus Obama. Giuliani won, due to her impassioned attack on illegal immigrants.

Monday, January 14, 2008

No communists, kthxbye.

So, I got myself into a wee spot of trouble today in the brewer class. We were doing the passive, and I got really bored with sentences such as "The milk is left on the porch by the milkman," so I started making fun sentences. "The cat has been eaten by the dog" and "The cheese has been stolen" were all well and good, and they went over very well. Alas, I carried it too far with "Canada will have been invaded by communists." Enrico made me erase it, because apparently you can get into major trouble for talking about communists in school in Eastern Germany. The brewers thought it was excellent, though...

I also taught the 12L class by myself today, which was fun. I had a good lesson prepared, but the printer wouldn't work, so we played Kangaroo instead. Basically, you kick one person out of the room, then choose a word, and everyone has to replace that word with "kangaroo," and the person has to ask questions and figure out which word it is. It's kind of like a sillier version of 20 Questions, actually. But it went well, and it was lots of fun, and it was good English practice (or so I can say to justify it to the powers that be).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Prague pictures.

Slideshow - probably best for those of you with slower computers, and has my comments, to boot.
Album - all the pictures (160 odd) on one page.

Sächsisch slang of the day...

'Wurst.' Literally means 'sausage,' but the Saxons use it to mean 'All the same to me...' 'What do you want to do?' 'Wurst.' I don't care. Doesn't matter. Pronounce it Saxon-style and very sharply: 'Vorsht.' It's my new favorite thing to say. Saxon German is really fun-sounding. It sounds like drunk German - kind of slurred and a bit deeper and earthier than 'real' German. Dany and I jested that I'd teach him American English, and he'd teach me Saxon German, and then we'll both be able to wander around butchering the proper languages.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

In which our heroine leaves the country.

So, my apologies for my absence of posting recently - I've been in Prague. Isn't that fun to say? "Oh, so sorry you've missed me - I've been in Praaaaaague, dahlings." (say that with an affected upper-crust accent and your nose in the air)

But anyway, I've been Prague for the past couple of days. What follows is the text-based story of my adventures - I'll post a slide show or something in a day or two, once I get my seventeen billion photos sorted. Be warned that this will be extremely long and full of asides.

So, let's start at the very beginning (that's a very good place to start... ). I got on the train from Dresden at 5:10 pm Thursday afternoon and got things off to an auspicious start when I sat down in the compartment reserved for the conductor people and had to get off and find a new compartment. I had it all to myself for a bit, but then some guy (Dutch, maybe? not sure - English wasn't his native language, but I couldn't place his accent) joined me, and we sat in convivial silence until an older Czech lady sat down with us and turned it into an awkward silence, which was occasionally punctuated by the clicks of her incessant texting on her incongruously orange cell phone.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough train ride (except that it was dark so I couldn't see any scenery). It ended around 7:30 at the Prague main train station, which was bloody terrifying. Compare and contrast. German station: heated, well-lit, insulated from the outside, well-organized with seating and shops and platforms laid out in an orderly fashion. Prague main train station: cavernous, open enough that there was a soul-destroying wind and pigeons (also soul-destroying, if by soul you mean bread crumbs), laid out apparently completely randomly with no seating (so that people were sprawling everywhere on the concrete) and money-changing scams (they list the buy price of euros and pounds and dollars instead of the sell price on their signs, so that you are lured in by a rate significantly better than you'll actually get).

Anyway, the Prague station was extremely jarring and scary. I managed to get my money changed over at a decent rate (Czech coins are the prettiest things ever - very medieval-looking), and I then made my way to the metro to find my way to my hostel. Taxis are apparently a bad idea in Prague, according to a number of sources, so I didn't try them. The metro was a bit confusing, but not too bad, and I made it to my eventual stop with little difficulty.

(Side point: Czech escalators are absolutely terrifying. They're about three times as long as any I've ever been on in America or Germany, and about twice as steep, and they move at the speed of light.)

Unfortunately, there's where things started to get tricky. The address of my hostel was 7 Namesti Republiky (spelling errors are all my fault, since I'm trying to type a Czech name from memory). I assumed that Namesti Republiky was a street, of course, but alas, I could only find the signs for it on one building, which I promptly dubbed the Wedding Cake, due to its multitude of frothy white layers. So I went up and down that street and nearby streets for about an hour. It was dark, and cold, and my bag was heavy, and it was altogether miserable. Finally, I wound around to the back of the wedding cake and found, in this dark scary alley, a heavy wooden door, half-covered with wrought-iron bars, with no light inside and a single creaking crooked sign reading "HOSTEL."

Needless to say, I was nervous about this establishment. It took me about twenty minutes to work up the courage to venture into this forbidding entrance. Once in, I climbed two sets of steep spiral stairs and came to a plain wooden door with the hostel name on it. I opened it up and all of a sudden it's bright and cheery and pleasant, and best of all, warm. Freaky. So, I check in (280 crowns a night [about ten euro], not bad) and go to the room I'm assigned. Six bunks, of course. I picked the only empty lower bunk. It's all nice and clean, but very sparse - about what you'd expect for ten euro a night.

(Side point: I'm going to stop here to discuss the hostel and my nights therein. The bed was okay - lumpy and poorly padded, but okay. The pillow felt like it was stuffed with feet. Four feet, to be precise. Foot-sized separated lumps of padding, about the same texture you would expect from feet. The roommates were the real adventure. I shared the room with five guys, speaking four different languages. We didn't talk much. The first night I slept for about two hours, because the Chinese guy snored like nothing I've ever heard before, and because the two Spanish guys were openly gay. Normally this wouldn't be a problem with me at all, but the trouble was that they were being extremely openly gay at 2am in the bunk next to me. That's just annoying.

So, the next night was a bit better, and I shall tell you why. Around 3am, Chinese Guy starts snoring again, which wakes me up. It also wakes up the guy in the top bunk of my bed. So, Chinese Guy keeps snoring. It's loud. It's annoying. It goes on for an hour and a half, with me and the other guy both sighing and tossing and turning and sounding progressively more annoyed. I bang on the wall to try to wake him up a little. Bunk-above-me Guy claps his hands. I kick the ladder on Chinese Guy's bed. The snoring continues unabated. Finally, my companion in insomnia has had enough. He leaps from his bed, marches over next to Chinese Guy, and starts shouting at him in Russian. I almost peed myself laughing [silently, of course - I didn't want scary Russian wrath turned on me]. It worked, though. Apparently having an angry Russian standing a foot from your face screaming at you is terrifying enough to put off sleep for the rest of the night.)

So, back to the linear tale. The next morning I went to an Irish pub place for some sustaining breakfast (black pudding is delicious, as it turns out) and then embarked on tourism. I'm going to tell the details of that part with pictures, pretty much, so I'm going to skip now to general comments on the experience.

So, what can I say.... Prague is a beautiful city, but it left me cold. I'm not sure why. I think part of it is that it's maybe too pretty. You see scenic street after scenic street, and you quickly become kind of numb to it. The bigger part though is that it kind of feels like it sold its soul, not to rock 'n' roll but to tourism. And tourism and tourism and tourism. Yeah yeah, I know, I'm a tourist complaining about the tourism. Shush and hear me out.

The streets are completely packed with tourists, and this is what they call the low season. I can't imagine how there could possibly be more than there were this weekend. I don't think I spoke to two actual Czechs the entire time I was there. I heard more English than Czech, and more German, and more Spanish, and more French, and more Italian. Every street in a two-mile radius of the old section is packed with souvenir shops. It's like a repeating cycle: t-shirts, glassware, amber/garnet jewelry, nesting dolls, fur hats, scarves, chess sets, shirts, glass, jewelry, dolls, repeat repeat. How many bloody stores selling cheap amber jewelry does one city need?

(And while I'm on that topic: PRAGUE, you are not bloody Russia, do you hear me? Quit selling the China-made nesting dolls and fur hats! You're not fooling anyone! ...except the throngs of tourists, whoopsy.)

Rant aside, though, I had fun. It is a lovely city. I didn't get much sleep, but I did get a lot of shiny pictures, and some souvenirs, of course, though I tried to avoid the schlock. Got a pretty necklace near the castle, a couple of cool-looking chunks of agate and something else that were mined near there, and a few other things. Overall, it was fun. It just didn't leave me with a lot of feeling.