Thursday, 18 August 2011

3 months!

It has been a summer to remember. The best one so far by a long shot. I don’t know if I am ready to go back to reality, but clearly no one is giving me a choice. 3 months of life outside the borders. 3 months of little responsibility. 3 months of unfamiliar streets. 3 months of last minute decisions. 3 months of not so much sleep. 3 months of very clichĂ© self discovery. 3 months of people from all over the world. 3 months of science. 3 months of serious conversations. 3 months of reminiscing about “back home”. 3 months of conversations about future grande dreams. 3 months of not wanting to go back home. 3 months of attempting to keep in touch. 3 months of going out all the time. 3 months of fantastic grocery shopping. 3 months of great yogurts. 3 months of sort of minimal cooking. 3 months of lots and lots of beer. 3 months of unforgettable friends.
Places (in a chronological order): Berlin, Stuttgart, (Chemnitz), Dresden, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, Rehovot, Tel Aviv, Rishon Letzion  (on the way to the beach!...along with Nes Tsiona), Beer Sheva, Jerusalem, The dead sea, Ein Gedi !!!, Massada, Ashkelon, Ceaseria, Acko, Rosh Ha Nikra, Tveria, Ramat Ha intense jacket weather to hard core bathing suits.
3 months of firsts.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

It only took me a month to write- Prague vs. Amsterdam, A Comparison

Eastern European, will say what they think and don’t just smile at you when they are not really happy
Very North American like, smile a lot and will try to help you (whether you need it or not)
...Amount of Tourists
...Authentic Ethnic Food
Easy to find, see “Typical Czech Restaurant” in blog
Hard to find...we still don’t know what Dutch food is...
Large bridges crossing the river
Small bridges crossing the canals
A wide river, the Vltava
Lots of canals & an open harbour
...Interesting signs
Street signs mounted on buildings, give not only the name of the street but also the district
Many houses say when they were built on them  (ie: 1608 AD)
-          Frequently in Roman Numerals!!!

Prague vs. Amsterdam, a friendly comparison
I have been promising to write about my time in Prague forever,  but  I also feel like I should report on Amsterdam, which is where we went this past weekend.  I think this might end up being a comparison between apples and oranges, but I will hope for the best!

We arrived in Prague last on Friday night and went for a short walk.  Our hostel was in the very centre of the old town, a 2 minute walk to the old town square that is home to the famous Orloj clock (the first few pictures in my Prague I album). What struck me almost right away was the amount of tourists and the amount of attractions catering for tourists. My favourite was a restaurant called “Typical Czech Food” (in case you wanted authentic Czech food and wasn’t quite sure you would get the real thing somewhere else). Needless to say, Prague never sleeps. We however, did fall asleep eventually. The next morning we got to talk to some more people staying at our hostel. It was actually a lot of fun...we sat in the kitchen and suddenly hear someone speaking in English. We of course had to ask them where they were from and turns out that one of the guys was from Edmonton (goes to U of A, is in mechanical engineering, but is writing his MCAT this summer...what??) while the other one goes to Pennsylvania State University (where our friend Luke, who was also on the trip with us goes as well)...Luke and the Penn. State guy didn’t know each other though (the schools is probably 20,000 people though, which would explain fact while I am side tracking: Princeton Review rated Penn. State as the # 2 party school in the nation!) One other funny story: Irene was with us on the trip and the guys at the hostel told us that they were doing a 4 week program in Frieberg, Irene was excited because that’s where her internship is too...or so she thought. Until, after talking to them at length about the geography of the city, they realized that Irene doesn’t actually live in the same city as they do. Irene lives in Freiburg (at the South of Germany, on the France, Germany, Switzerland border) while they live in Freiberg, which is in the East part of Germany, in between Prague and Berlin.
Back to Prague! We then went to the Old Town Square to see the clock for its 11am show. The clock (Orloj) does a show on the hour, every hour. During this time, the Skeleton on the side of the clock dances, a person at the top of the clock tower plays the trumpet, and more “magical” things happen. We then began our walk around the city. First however, we needed to convert some of our Euros to Czech Crowns. The Czech republic is set to switch to the Euro sometime in the next 2 years, but until then, you have to deal with dividing all prices by 24 to calculate their value in Euros. You also feel a little uneasy paying 120 crowns for something, even though this only adds up to 5 Euros (or 7.50 Canadian Dollars). The other thing with money conversion is that you need to choose wisely where you convert. While some places will give you a great rate (and charge no commission!...I have a feeling they make only a little bit of money per client, because their conversion is more like 1 to 23.3 than 1 to 24, but this adds up when you have many customers), other places  (Western Union) has a pretty awful rate (1 in 17)...we only made the Western Union mistake during one of our conversions so we didn’t end up losing that much money (but we were still clearly unhappy)...I think the important thing is to always figure out how much you will get before you give them the money, because with the Western Union places for example, they have a decent rate written on the board, but if you look carefully you see that you will only get this rate if you convert some absurd amount of money to crowns (like 1000 dollars or something!), otherwise you get the much less great rate...this is my piece of wise advise to any of you thinking about going to Prague in the near future...the key part of this lesson was to avoid all Western Union services forever and ever. At least in Eastern Europe.
We then walked around the city a lot. It is indeed a really gorgeous city which is hard to describe in words, so please go look at my pictures on facebook. The city is divided by the Vltava  river and many beautiful bridges connect these parts of the city across the water. We walked along the famous Charles bridge which has huge crowds of tourists walking through it in what was really a human traffic jam. From the bridges you can see the old city of Prague which is just amazing to look at. In Prague buildings are of different colours: blue, yellow, pink, green, white, and everything in between. We spent a lot of time just walking around the city and We then climbed (by a cable car, not stairs unfortunately) to the observatory which is located across the river from Staromesto (the old part of Prague, literally means “old place”... in Russian anyway, which is quite similar to Czech, I thought...oh yes Czech is in fact the language that they speak in the Czech Republic...we weren’t completely sure about this when we first arrived). The observatory is a place on a hill from which you can see the rest of the city. There are also lots of gardens to walk around, and all I really wanted to do was to lay in the grass (the weather was amazing...probably 28 degrees and not humid at all!). The main attraction of the observatory was a huge telescope that allowed you to observe spots on the sun...which we did. They looked black under the telescope.
After this journey up to the observatory (and down) we were incredibly hungry and wanted some authentic Czech food (NOT  “Typical Czech Food” though). Luckily, Irene’s friend Susanne was with us (she is actually from the Czech Republic!). She helped us find a place to eat and helped us order. This is what I gathered about Czech Cusisine:  It involves lots of meat...lots and lots of meat. Usually this meat is eaten with Dumplings. When I say Dumplings I don’t  mean your typical Dim Sum style or “stuffed” dumplings...I mean these big white circles that look like white bread but are softer...and they are not stuffed with anything. They usually absorb the sauce that the meat is in quite well.  I have a picture of them up in the first Prague album on facebook as well J).  All our dishes pretty much consisted of these dumplings and some sort of meat in some sort of sauce...delicious for when you are incredibly hungry (and even if you are not)!  After our meal, we spent the rest of our afternoon wondering around the castle district of Prague, and taking pictures of the city from above (the castle is on a little hill).
After a long afternoon we hung out at our hostel kitchen for some time (it was the place to be! has a huge window that opened up and from there you could see lots of old cobblestoned streets!). After this we were again hungry (so actually about 6 hours passed from our last meal...I am sure this isn’t clear from the blog since I focused on the food component so much J). This time we went to another restaurant that looked relatively Czech.  At the same time, this restaurant was also a microbrewery and so they ONLY served their own beer.  They also had “flavoured” versions of their beer, and so we tried the coffee, banana, ginger and caramel versions.  After we ate, we spent a large portion of the night playing King’s, which is similar to the King’s Cup we play in Canada, but more creative. If you pull a 5 from the deck you have to do the “Jive” meaning that you have to make up a dance move, the next person must repeat your dance move and make up their own, and so forth. Needless to say we were laughing so hard by the end that most of us still remember many of the epic moves we invented. After this game, we went out to what promised to be a “4 story club”. When we got there, it only looked about 2 stories high. Inside, on a poster, it indicated that it had 3 stories, but really we could only discover 2. Also, no one was really dancing which was disappointing for me because I was excited for dancing to good European music (okay, so I am pretty sure that many clubs actually play mostly American music heh...) After this “club” we left to go to another one, which seemed a little more lively. Once again though, I was disappointed to find a dance floor with great music, but no one dancing. By this time it was 3am, so the excuse that it was “too early to dance” didn’t fly (though clubs usually get exciting here around 2 in the morning). On the bright side the club had a room with the comfiest leather covered bean bag chairs I have seen, so those were fun to sit on. After this long and crazy day, we were very exhausted and so we went to our hostel and passed out in seconds.

The next day was our 2nd, and last day in Prague. In the morning Liz, Irene, and I took a tour of the Jewish Quarter with a guy named Roman Billy. This was probably one of my favourite things about Prague. The Jewish quarter is huge and has quite a few synagogues standing. Prague was not heavily bombed during World War II so most of the buildings are in great condition. Roman Billy told us about the history of the Czech Jews starting from around 10th centory or so AD. He told us about how times differed, in terms of how much freedom Jews had in the Czech Republic (and Europe in general).  Many times Jews had to wear distinguishing symbols and were forced to live in ghettos. The word ghetto came from Italy, it was first used in Venice, and has been popularized ever since.  The Jews in the Prague ghetto had to wear tall yellow hats, which ended up becoming a symbol of Prague Jews and are there are still pictures of these on many of the buildings and synagogues in the Jewish quarter. The Jewish Ghetto in Prague was dissolved in 1848 by Franz Jospeh, he was a much more liberal ruler than his mother Maria Theresa.  During our tour we saw the Spanish Synagogue (which has service only on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays) as well as the New-Old Synagogue * which has frequent service for more Orthodox Jews. Roman then told us about the history of Czech Jews during World War II. The majority of them were deported to Thererinsdat (Therezin) which was not in itself a death camp. However, conditions in Therezin were so poor that many people died of disease and Malnutrition. Children in that camp had a little bit more freedom and were allowed to draw. Their drawings are now stored in the Pinkas Synagogue, just around the corner from the New-Old Synagogue. Therezin served the Nazis as a “model” camp. On 2 different occasions, Red Cross delegations came to inspect and check whether “crimes against humanity” were in fact committed. During those times the Nazis disguised the camps as more of an educational centre. They said that Jews were shipped there so that they could learn how to adjust to European life better. During the visits, the Nazis opened fake cafes and shops to show that life was actually pretty grand. Of course all of this was completely false and was taken down as soon as the Red Cross delegations left.  Even sadder is the fact that people didn’t stay in Terezin for long. They were usually shipped to Auschwitz within a few months. Of just over 100,000 Czech Jews, 77,297 perished in the Holocaust. The fact that there was an actual count of Jews who were killed is in itself remarkable, because in many other places such as Poland and the Soviet Union almost no real counting at all was done, and people’s identities were not written down. It was sometimes hard to tell whether the Nazis embellished the number of Jews they killed in order to look good in front of their superiors, or whether they underestimated the number. Many people vanished without a trace.
Just a few streets away is the old Joseph Cemetery *. This cemetery is remarkable because there are places where people were buried in 10 layers! Because the Jews in Prague spent most of their time in the ghetto, they had little space to burry. This is when they started burring people in layers, vertical layers. The tombstones however are all visible on the surface, and you can see tombstone upon tombstone as you look at the cemetery. I have some decent pictures of this in my album. One last thing about the Jewish quarter- Many signs in Prague label the district as well as the street name on street signs (frequently found on buildings). It is quite exciting to see on one side of the street the district labelled “Starogorod” while across the road the street signs bearing the district name “Josefov” (which is the name of the district of the Jewish quarter). It is named so because of Franz Joseph, the Austrian Emperor who put an end to the Jewish ghetto in Prague in the 19th century.
After our tour, we wandered around Prague some more by ourselves. Our goal was to buy souvenirs and spend all our Czech crowns (its not like we had that many, but they are not really useful in any other country, and in fact will be obsolete even in the Czech Republic in a few years). Mike managed this whole “spend everything you have” thing best. At the end he was left with about 7 crowns (equivalent to less than 30 cents)...just enough for a beer at the Czech supermarket J . A few hours later Liz and I got on our train and started our journey back to a side note (and a quick German lesson) one of the 20 or so words I know in German is Hauptbahnhof (pronounced: How-pt-ban-hof) , which literally means Central Train Station. Many of the cities we visit indeed call their main train station the Hauptbahnhof (for example, Berlin Hauptbahnhof etc...) the short form of this long word is Hbf. In Prague however, their main station is called Praha Hln (I am assuming that Hln is the equivalent of Hbf in German...will look this up and report back!).

This past weekend, we took a (very) spontaneous trip to Amsterdam. Booking hostels even a week in advance was nearly impossible, and they were all quite expensive! Somehow, I managed to find a hotel in Weesp, which is a little city just outside of Amsterdam, 15 minutes by train to the city centre (so really its like getting from Glencairn Station to St. George Station in Toronto terms J). The price of the hotel was pretty much equivalent to the price of the hostels in the centre, but it has much better reviews and we would get our own we went for it!
We got on the train at 3:48pm at the Berlin Hbf. This in itself was no small feat. On our seat reservation it said that our train would be at platform 2 (the 1st of the FIVE (5) floor train station). We took this with a grain of salt, but still hoped that this would be true...haha. 10 minutes before our train was supposed to leave, we started looking for it on the screens located on the 2nd level that reported trains that would depart from the 1st level. None of the platforms 1 to 10 had this train departing from them...ah what? Luckily Luke got the good idea of going to the DB (Deusch  Bahn= German Railway Company) office, and so we frantically asked them where our train was leaving from...the answer was platform 13, a platform on the FIFTH floor of the station. At this point we began running up the escalators, and just made it to platform 13 5 or so minutes before our train was set to depart. It was standing on the platform and so we rushed to the conductor  so that he can point us in the direction of our wagon. He told us where to get on, and we started climbing the this moment, I decided to glance at the sign one last time...and well...this wasn’t our train. This was the train leaving to Stuttgart, 5 minutes before ours. We quickly got off the train and asked a nearby lady whether the train to Amsterdam will indeed stop on platform 13, she assured us that it will...just after the Stuttgart train departs. Breathless, we waited. About 2 minutes before our train was supposed to arrive, something happened. People from our platform began to move in response to an announcement. Our  newly made friend (the lady) was kind enough to explain- in the last minute the Amsterdam train was moved to platform 14 rather than 13. The platform was right next to ours, but it was still a little crazy to believe that they would move a train to another platform in the last minute. We were not big fans of the DB at this point, but we were happy to make it to our was a group effort!
On the train we started a great tradition- drink beer and fall asleep to make the time go by faster. Unfortunately I only slept for an hour, but the 7 hour train ride actually did not seem so long at all! The only downside of the train were the people who came around to check our tickets once we got into the Netherlands. They were rude to us and demanded to see our passports (which is actually what they are supposed to do, but usually when you show the ticket people your Eurorail pass they never ask for your passport...hmph!). At this point we made the false conclusion that Dutch people were rude...we were actually quite wrong!  We arrived in Weesp around midnight, and checked into our hotel. The hotel had some sort of party going on and so instead of inviting us to the reception desk and checking our Ids or at least asking for our names, they gave us an interested look, asked if we needed the quadruple room (we said yes) and threw us the checking or anything. We were totally fine with it of course J Our room turned out to be really awesome- I loved the showers most of could choose the temperature of the water you wanted!!! That night we went to a local bar, a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It turned out to have REALLY good music, but as always, no one was dancing L It was packed with locals though, which was a nice change from the swarms of tourists we usually see in cities we visit (yeah I know this sounds a little hypocritical J). After the bar we headed back to the hotel, completely exhausted. It was a good first day in Amsterdam, even though it was windy, a little, rainy, and no more than 15 degrees outside.
It has been a few weeks since I have looked at this entry, but I would still really like to finish it. Our second day in Amsterdam was pretty crazy. We walked around the city a lot and took a boat tour. The canals and bridges just blew my mind. It was still cold and cloudy, but we managed to have a good time. We visited the Anne Frank house, which I think is one of the best World War II exhibitions that I have seen. The house has live interviews with Hanneli Goslar. She was Anne’s friend who communicated with her, through a high wall in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp a few days before Anne died. They were actually childhood friends in Amsterdam, and amazingly they ended up in the same concentration camp at the end of the war. However, Hanneli’s parents managed to obtain citizenship from Paraguay shortly before the way and so she lived in less harsh conditions at Bergen-Belsen than the other prisoners like Anne. This video was especially meaningful to me because I have actually seen Hanneli speak live at Yad Va Shem (the holocaust museum on the hills around Jerusalem) during my birthright trip 3 years ago. The house contained posters and photographs, and most of the rooms were preserved in their original state. The furniture was the only thing missing from the house because after the war Otto Frank (Anne’s father- the only one who survived the war, in Auschwitz) said that he did not want the furniture to stay. There was also an interview with him. In the house there was also a book that contained the names of all the Dutch Jews who died or perished in the Holocaust. The book was huge even though all it was, was a list of the names and birth/death dates of Dutch Jews. Not all Jews- just Dutch Jews. Towards the exit there was also an exhibition dedicated to Margot Frank- Anne’s sister. The exhibition confirmed the already prominent belief that Margot was a model daughter. I think in today’s terms she would be called well rounded...but not just CV wise, she was apparently also a fantastic person.  Before the exit from the exhibition there were a few videos showing current controversial issues and what the general public that came to visit the Anne Frank house would do about them. The issues were quite contentious and it was fun to watch what people thought about political situations such as extremely nationalist parties in Romania.
Our last night in Amsterdam was a crazy adventure. For dinner we ended up sitting on the second floor of a really cool restaurant. The second floor was more of an attic with a window overlooking the bar so we had many a beer passed up to us through this window. It was great times. We couldn’t really stand up because the ceiling was really low. That night we went to an Irish bar where we met a bunch of Norwegian guys. They told us crazy stories of Norway...they kept telling us how it actually gets really nice in the 19 degrees Celsius...I no longer wanted to go visit Norway after hearing this. One think I probably forgot to mention before- the last train back to Weesp was at 1:30 am or so...the next one was at 7:18am the following morning. This essentially meant that we had to make an important decision- go home early or spend the night roaming the streets of Amsterdam. As you might have guessed we chose the latter J. The Irish bar closed at 3am. We still had 4 hours to entertain ourselves. We proceeded to sit at a Chinese fast food place until 4am...when it also closed. Lucky for us the Norwegian guys decided to hang out with us and so we had some entertainment.  We then walked over to a semi-club place where we danced for a bit...once again though, this place kicked us out at 5am because that’s when they close. We then proceeded to the nearest McDonalds in hopes that we could spend 2 hours there before heading to the train station.  We got to hang out in the McDonalds until 6am when...surprise...they closed down for a 1 hour cleaning session (23 hour McDonalds are kind of popular in Europe J). We spent our last hour in Amsterdam hanging out at the train station willing our train to come faster. When it finally came we were almost delirious, but we did somehow manage to get to Weesp at 8am and pass out until noon the next day. When we went to check out the next morning the friendly lady at the reception said: “Oh you are those kids that didn’t get back until morning!!!”...we were pretty famous by this point J. She did tell us that the same thing happened to her once so we didn’t feel alone. We spent our last morning in Amsterdam walking on the bridges and taking pictures of the canals. It is an amazing city. We also (as always) managed to visit a local grocery store and load up on food and beer for our 7 hour train back. It was once crazy weekend.

It took me a month of writing, but I have finally finished my friendly comparison. Now on to reminiscing about Europe...


Thursday, 30 June 2011

An Israeli Canada Day

Hi everyone,
So I actually wrote a similar blog entry yesterday, but of course it got deleted with no traces left. So here we go again...
I just arrived in Israel 2 or so hours ago, and am now sitting in my room at the Reisfeld Residence which belongs to the Hebrew University of Agriculture, and is across the street from the Weizmann Institute which is where I will be living.
But I really meant this post to be more of a reflection on Berlin. I think its crazy that I only spent 7 weeks in Berlin, but I will miss it so very much. It is a fantastic city, made for living. It is probably the least German city in Germany, but I think its by far the most exciting one. Each neighbourhood has its own personality, and there is something for everyone no matter where you go. But of course these past 7 weeks would not have been nearly as exciting if not for the other fantastic RISE interns which have made my stay in Berlin way too much fun. I think the lifestyle was amazing. The great thing about an internship (unlike a semester abroad, for example) is that you don’t have any homework, and so we went out as much as we liked and as much as we could. Beer in Germany is cheap and good, and this made life that much better. I was incredibly sad to leave and wish that I have done a 10 or 12 week internship instead...but I guess that’s life.
I was however, excited to arrive in Israel. As always, it felt like coming back home. Being able to understand the signs (unlike the German ones) was something new, and hearing all the Hebrew talk around me made me excited to be here. I got picked up from the airport by a family friend. He also gave me an Israeli phone, and when I got to my room here I could access the Wi-Fi right away. In a sense all of this was very different from my first few hours in Berlin when I was completely clueless to my surroundings. But the learning curve was steep. By the end I knew the names and order of many subway stations around where I lived...I also knew the names and personalities of many American universities, but that’s mainly due to the other wonderful interns who made that possible for me J
All in all, my time in Germany was incredible. Those 7 weeks had both some of the best and some of the most foreign moments I have ever experienced. But human beings are incredibly adaptive, and you adapt to everything that comes your way, especially when it is good.  A little off topic, I actually have an entire post about Prague and Amsterdam in the making, and its about 2 pages long so far, but not quite done I will post that when I can. I am also going to write a long post about my project in Berlin, describing what exactly we were studying and what we managed to accomplish. I’ll give myself 3 days to publish both of these...I know very ambitious when considering my previous track record.
I will also write something about my time in Rehovot so far once I get at least a little bit adjusted and start to unpack. REALLY not looking forward to unpacking considering I just finished packing less than 24 hours ago. Sigh.
Hope everyone back home is doing well. Please, please, please leave me comments, or email me, or send me facebook messages. They are all much appreciated J

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Vienna part II, Prague, and missing trains

Hi everyone!
Let me just mention that the reason I am able to write this post at this time is due the ridiculous timeliness (not quite sure if this is a real word) of German trains. We were supposed to leave to Munich at 4:36am this morning, but due to our own poor time management skills (and a lot of bad luck) we managed to miss our Munich train by about 2 minutes. That being said, this might actually have been for the better because this means that I actually got to sleep tonight in my own bed (versus trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep , sitting up, on moving trains). Of course by the time I actually got home and fell asleep it was 7:15am, so I now have a severely shifted sleeping schedule. All the better for skyping with people from back home :) Anyway, I figured I would finish my story of last weekend, and also upload some more pictures. I know I am uploading them in a sort of strange order (Prague first, even though I haven't written about it yet) but I promise all the pictures will be up at some point soon (including ones from Dresden from 2 weeks ago...)

On the second day in Vienna we explored the old city centre.  We climbed 385 or so stairs up to the top of St. Stephen's cathedral and also went inside it to look at the church (I will make sure to label these pictures so you know which ones are from St. Stephen's. Climbing the stairs was an adventure in itself because the staircase was ridiculously narrow, went up in a spiral, and was the method by which you both climbed up and came back down. So we spent a lot of time being glued to the walls of this particular staircase. We then had really good Gelatto (of the calibre of Il Gelatiere back home- a place at Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton), and walked around some more in search of Motzart's house. There are lots of pictures of other beautiful churches and buildings we encountered on the way some of whose names I don't remember. We went into St. Peter's church, which was actually very different from St. Stephen's...a true experience of church variety (Quick German lesson- the word for church in German is Kirche, pronounced "kirsha"...I managed to mess up this pronunciation about 15 times since I learned this word. In fact the way I learned this word is probably the funniest- on my way to and from work, I bike past a large glass building with a huge sign that says "Scientology Kirche" on I asked my somewhat German speaking friends and then confirmed my suspicion...and laughed at my pronunciation for half an hour :)) .

We finally ended up in the museum district. The museums themselves look like castles from the outside. We wandered around some more (the weather was amazing!) and finally ended up in what turned out to be my favourite thing in Vienna- the Freud museum. Located in his old apartment (where he lived for 47 years before fleeing to England in 1938 to avoid the Nazis). The best part about the visit to his apartment was that we managed to stumble on a lady giving a tour of it in English and so we tagged along. I was way too excited about being there, probably because I learned about Freud in so many different classes. I felt like my education hasn't completely gone to waste :)...I think that the pictures I will post will do much more justice telling his story than me. I do want to say how much I loved seeing the waiting room where his patients sat, the couch where he had his famous Wednesday night meetings, and some of his other possessions. There was even a room dedicated to the concept of Freud's couch in this museum. It had pictures of how far this couch concept has infiltrated (including Andy Warhol's work).

After this, we went to the market, which is ...well a market. It has lots of stands selling food (the funniest part is that most of them sell the same sort of food...not quite sure how they compete with each other). The best part was that we had lunch at this place called Tewa (means Nature in Hebrew), and after seeing the menu I got a feeling that the food was very Israeli. Sure enough, after asking, I got introduced to the owner and we talked a bit in Hebrew about Vienna...It was a lot of fun (I really miss speaking in Hebrew to people...). After the market it started raining quite a bit, and we somehow miraculously found a subway station, grabbed our backpacks from the hostel and left to Prague.

I think I will write a separate post about Prague because there is quite a bit to say...for now you can look at my second album of Prague pictures :)

Feel free to leave lots of comments!

Cheers :)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Vienna: The Beginning

Hi everyone,
It has definitely been a while! We had a 4 day weekend here in Germany, and so we went to Vienna and Prague for 4 days. I just got back late last night so I am still in the recovery phase. This post will be about Vienna, and I will write 1 or 2 more to finish off the story of Vienna and Prague.

We took the night train to Vienna. We did our best to sleep, but the seats did not recline (at all) which made this a little bit difficult...We got to Vienna nice and early on Thursday morning. After checking in to our Hostel (which by the way was amazing!) We went to a nearby Schloss! So Schloss is one of approximately 15 German words I have learned so far (10 of those are the numbers from 1 to 10 :)), it means...Castle!

Now a North American might think that this is single handedly the most useless word you can ever learn in German. However, in the last 3 weeks I have been to SO SO SO many of these Schlosses, that I am starting to think it is the most useful word I learned so far. This particular one was called Schönbrunn. Its a huge palace with any beautiful gardens, located in the south west corner of my map of the Vienna centre. We actually did a tour of its inside, and to be honest it was a little bit more impressive than Casa Loma. This specific castle was home to Franz Joseph, who I believe was a ruler in the early 19th century. His wife Elizabeth also lived there, and apparently she is famous under the name Sisi (There are movies about her under this name...). His mother (who also lived there during her reign) was named Maria Theresa, and she ruled the Kingdom of Austria before Franz Joseph. She was actually the mother of Marie Anoinette...and 15 other children. The interesting thing is that she would marry her children to the right people for political favours. And so Marie Antoinette ended up marrying into the French royal family. Anyway, we saw a bunch of nice rooms and the beautiful gardens. Pictures should be uploaded to facebook once I sort through them (there are far too many as you might expect...)

The other really curious thing about this palace is that it seems to be the place to jog. Almost everyone we saw could be grouped into 2 categories- tourist or jogger. It seemed like the place to be if you like to run. The same day we visited the Botanical gardens (plus a Schloss there...see pictures:)). We also walked around the Vienna centre for a while. One of the most impressive things was a World War II memorial erected by the Soviets (it was in Russian) will see pictures of that as well! All the buildings in the centre were beautiful. It will be hard to return to skyscrapers and rectangular buildings after this...

That night we went to the Opera. You can get standing room tickets for 3 euro, and you don't have to dress up super fancy which is a plus when you only brought one backpack of clothes. The opera itself was called Simon, and it was in Italian. The singing was beautiful, and we got really lucky in the sense that there were English subtitles on these small screens below where we stood. Yay! The storyline was still difficult to understand even with the direct translation. But the singing was great!

We finished the night with a ride on this ancient Ferris Wheel, in an amusement park. The amusement park is open 24/7, and unlike the CNE there is no admission fee to enter, you just pay for separate rides. This specific Ferris wheel is famous because it was built in the 19th century, and has been spinning ever since! You get quite a good view of Vienna from above...and that's when you realize that Vienna has very few sky scrapers. I think really the big (and perhaps only, in terms of aesthetics) benefit of sky scrapers is that they make the sky line look beautiful at night. So the ride on the wheel was fun, but not breathtaking like standing on the top of the Empire State building at night (New York has crazy sky scrapers AND ridiculous lights)...

We then went back to our hostel and practically passed out...walking around castles all day gets pretty tiring!
I will try to write about part 2 of Vienna tonight :) And will post pictures once I wade through them!

I also think I fixed the commenting. So comment away!


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Kreuzberg, The Zoo, The game, Dresden, and other adventures

Hi Everyone!
Sorry for the delay in writing, but it has been a busy weekend! I promise to post most of my pictures onto facebook tomorrow :) That was you can have visual evidence of what went on...
Friday night after dinner we went to Kreuzberg. Its a neighbourhood in Berlin that's big on nightlife, bars, and people. Its like the Queen street West of Berlin in the sense that you can find the strangest things there, but it is a lot of fun. Many of the bars we tried to get into were packed with people and impossible to enter...can't say I've seen much of this in Toronto (with the exception of the Bier Market on the Esplanade, but it serves European beer like the bars here, so I see a trend...) We ended up finding a bar with a pool table, and so I played what turned out to be the best pool game of my life. I managed to make some ridiculous shots and of course missed some of the easiest ones...I also developed a really great method for ordering beer. I just always order the first one on the menu since I don't know how they all taste like anyway...and this way I always end up trying a different beer.

Saturday morning I finally got to sleep in (!!)...I then went to the flee market which is apparently a popular attraction on Saturdays and Sundays for everyone, even non-tourists. I didn't really find much there though, but they did have many huge painting and heavy china which would for sure not fit into my already overflowing suitcases. I also found another Berlin Bear! I think I will just collect all my Bear pictures and post them into an album later this week!

We then headed to the zoo. I really, really love zoos, so this was quite the highlight :) I think there are a few reasons the Berlin zoo is great. For one, its located right in the centre of Berlin, unlike the Toronto zoo which is practically in the suburbs. The other really unique thing about the zoo is that it also has a huge aquarium inside of it, which we didn't make it into because we only had 4 hours or so. Finally, the zoo has this nocturnal animal pavilion which had some really cool animals that I have never seen before, including the Kangaroo rat (which lives in the dessert and has probably the most efficient kidney in the animal kingdom...thanks Animal Phys II) and another really cool animal that looks like a perfect mix between a kangaroo and a bunny. Watch out for pictures :) Besides that there were all the usual awesome animals: giraffes, rhinos, lots and lots of birds, flamingos, elephants, and many more. However, the whole time we were trying to find the polar bears. And so, after a 4 hour journey through the corners of the zoo, we finally saw the polar bears. Needless to say they weren't too excited to see us, and just looked like they were pacing around and swinging to some sort of inaudible beat... we were glad that we at least reached our much desired destination!

After the zoo we were all about as hungry as those polar bears, and so we had Doner kebabs. A Doner (pronounced Derner) is a lot like a shawarma, expect the bread is thick Turkish bread instead of a pita. Its probably the most popular fast food in Germany. There are some arguments about whether it came to Germany with the immigrants from Turkey, or whether it originated in Germany. It was really good. Possibly also because we were all really hungry. After this, we headed to a bar to watch the finals of the European soccer league teams. It was a game between Manchester United and Barcelona. We were probably cheering for Barcelona just because one of the guys who was with us had a Barcelona jersey. What I am trying to say is that we didn't have much choice...but we clearly picked a good team to cheer for because they beat Manchester U 3 to 1.

After getting home I managed to sleep for a few hours before getting up at the crack of dawn to get on a train to Dresden, which is this city southeast of Berlin. To be honest I haven't read up so much about it, but I do know that it was one of the last cities to be bombed by the allies during World War II, and that it was bombed when the allies were pretty sure they were going to win the war. Apparently most of it was destroyed, but the beautiful castles have been rebuilt since World War II. If you look at the pictures you can see just how blue the sky was today. It was pretty much unreal.

I think that almost as interesting, was our adventure to Dresden. We were supposed to take a 2 hour train from Berlin, and then switch over trains and take a different 1 for an hour to reach Dresden. Somehow...and we really still don't know how (and are blaming it on being hungry...) we got on the wrong train at our transfer stop...and found this out only about 1.5 hours into what was supposed to be a 1 hour train ride. Needless to say we freaked out a bit, but luckily we got some help from some of the ticket agents on the train, and so we took it to its final destination, Chemnitz, before switching over to a 1 hour train to Dresden. We got really lucky with this transfer because if we didn't catch that Dresden train, we probably would have had to spend the day in Cheminitz. Anyway, we somehow made it to the city, and learned to never trust print outs that tell you what platform to get on at. Just to reinforce this lesson, the platform we were supposed to get on for our train to Berlin was mysteriously changed to one next door to it, so we suspect this is what happened during our first transfer when we weren't paying much attention...:(

Okay, I am quite exhausted now, considering my early start to this crazy day. Hope everyone is doing really well back home! I have heard again that the comments tool doesn't work properly, and if it continues failing I might switch to a different blog website...I will see. But leave comments if you are able to do so, so that I know that it at least sort of works :)


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Some more Stuttgart, Berlin, and Work

Hi everyone,
I figured I would address everything at once for increased efficiency :)
Pictures from Stuttgart are being uploaded onto facebook as we speak! They are taking quite a while though because there are quite a few!
The last day of Stuttgart was fun. We went to this neighbourhood park (think any regular park in a regular suburb), but of course this one had the remains of a castle, some ducks and geese, some baby ducks and baby geese (see pictures for cute furry birds!) and some canoe type boats that we took a ride in!
I have a feeling that if this sort of park existed in Toronto, it would be a huge attraction, like one of the top 5 things to do in Toronto, it would be like the next Casa Loma...
We then visited another small town called Ludwigsburg which incidentally had a parade that day so there are some pictures from that :) This city also has a huge castle which we saw a bit of, it looks sort of like a mini version of Versailles. Then we went back to Stuttgart, took some more pictures, and then I got on the train and finally finished the Undercover Economist, which is like a slightly more technical version of Freakonomics, I think its almost as entertaining though!

Back in Berlin I finally met some more people from my program :) We went to Cafe Hardenberg (which is amazing, so this was the second time I was here) and had Berliner Weisse (I of course had to look up the proper name because I can't seem to remember the second half of most German words because they are quite long...maybe this isn't the best example for long word, but still). Its pretty much a light beer mixed with raspberry syrup so it turns pink and tastes great! Yay authentic food/drink! We then proceeded to wander around the city and I had to take 4 different trains to get home so that was sort of exciting.

I have been meaning to write some more about work. There is a really cool theoretical component to what we are doing which I will probably dedicate an entire post to later this week. But in terms of the actual mechanics of the work...well its starting to resemble some sort of design/architecture project rather than a psychology/ergonomics one, which is sort of interesting. We are pretty much trying to build a driving simulation that is realistic (so that the reviewers can't complain about that) but still tests basic assumptions. So for the past 2 days I have been trying to learn a bit of this program called Blender in which you can design pictures in 3D. I have been trying to add some things (like fog and text) to the pictures...but, since this program in itself is sort of a mystery and none of the people I work with really know it too well, we are sort of reluctant to use it. So at the same time, I am trying to export pictures out of it so that we can use them as frames in a simulation and insert them into my very favourite program Presentation (I have luckily worked with it before :):):))... Anyway the point of this long rant is that we are doing the same project in parallel on 2 programs because we don't know which one we will have to use...I guess its sort of productive...

Hope all is well! Leave comments...and if the commenting tool doesn't work (as I have heard from someone) you can just email me or message me on facebook)...

Talk soon :)