Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Greetings from Capetown!

The story begins with my alarm clock waking me up at 1am in the night. This leaves me about an hour to get ready and drive to pick up Irena in Bochum. Unfortunately, I had to repack my bag again in the middle of the night because all of a sudden it seemed to weigh more than it did the evening before. A pair of pants had to go and also a couple of other things until the bag weighed just a little less than the allowed 20 kilograms. By 3.15am we were all on the road and heading to Frankfurt.
The drive was quick and fun and we got there in less time than planned. I am more familiar with Terminal 2 of the Frankfurt Airport but our flight today departed from Terminal 1 – and this was also where the check-in was to take place. Unfortunately, it was rather difficult trying to figure out in which line we could wait. Not all of the service personal was competent. In the end we did manage and were able to check our baggage in and right through to Capetown so that we would not have to pick the bags up again in London. There was not very much time left and the walk to our gate was more difficult than expected. I knew that security was tight but I did not expect it to be this intensive. All in all, I had to send my bag and my personal belongings through various scanning machines before we were able to step into the bus which brought us out onto the tarmac to where our plane to London was waiting.

Lufthansa has always been known to offer one of the most reliable products in aviation and again their reputation proved correct. The flight left on time, the cabin was fitted with the new light grey leather seats and the little snack was also more than welcome – nothing special, but good enough. After what seemed to be not more than 10 minutes we were already descending into London Heathrow airport. A couple of minutes later we were on our way to customs and made sure that we did not have to pick up our bags and informed ourselves just what was the best and cheapest way to get to London. Two very friendly service staff gave us the needed advice along with the advice that we should be back at least 4 entire hours before our departure time – and did not forget to tell us not to "spend too much money in London" accompanied with a friendly smile. However. we could not find lockers to put our hand luggage in for safe keeping while we would be in London. So we ended up standing in line at the ticket counter of the Underground. Since we would not have very much time in London itself Irena and I just decided to get off at Covent Garden, take a quick look around, grab lunch and head back to the airport. We did know was that the ride would take close to an hour, what we did not know was how irritating it would be. The vehicles are designed to have windows in two layers and absolutely no air condition or any other air ventilation system. Since Europe has been experiencing new record temperatures, this ride was no fun. Covent Garden itself was a rather small station which would just be very crowded in the evenings mostly. We arrived around 11.20am and decided to just walk around for a while. Since the heat was draining, it was time for lunch. Was it really? Not for London. All the restaurants would open at 12 noon and not one single minute earlier. We were going to get some Indian food but after being told by one restaurant owner that the restaurant was still closed even though it was two minutes before noon, we went for the local English baked potato place and did not regret it. Not being a fan of baked potatoes, I ordered a ham and cheese ciabatta and was well content. After Covent Garden, we took the Piccadilly Line heading for the airport but got off at Hyde Park Station to hang out a little in the park. I always found London to be one of the spots to be to witness permanent new fashion trends – if you like to call them that. One hour in Hyde Park gave me plenty of new impressions in that department. Dehydrated and tired from getting up so early we were again on our way to the airport. Another 45 minutes of near-torture including the obligatory "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform"-comment through the intercom system of the train at just about every other stop at a station.

London Heathrow, if I’m not mistaken the busiest airport in Europe, did not impress me at all. I found it to be rather dark and uninviting. Especially Terminal 1, where we got our boarding passes for the next flight at the South African counter. The terminal seemed to be much too small for such a huge number of passengers. There were no lines, there were just piles of people – to exaggerate a little. The woman behind the counter must have either been new or extremely meticulous because she seemed to check the baggage tags over and over again (hint to something which will be discussed later). Unfortunately, we had about 4 hours to kill so we decided to roam the terminal and ended up sipping two cappuccinos and having quite a bit of fun with it. Details will probably follow with the photo evidence.

The flight was to leave at 9.05pm and boarding time was set to be at 8.05pm. Unfortunately, the gate would not be announced until 30 minutes prior to the departure time. That is a little controversy. Especially because we were supposed to meet Nicola (another one of the volunteers) at 7.30pm at the (unknown) gate. She would have to be the one to find us because she knew what we looked like. Before we boarded the plane we did meet her and got to chat a little while. We were not sitting together because she had her seats reserved for her before we did.

Once inside the airplane I was positively surprised. I knew which type of aircraft we would be flying with but this was the first time that I was going to fly with an airline which offered an Inflight Entertainment with Video On Demand. This means that the passenger has the possibility to watch what he wants, when he wants and for how long he wants it. He can pause, rewind, restart, etc anytime he wants and the offered movies, series and music was very good.
We took off a few minutes late because at that time, many planes are heading back to their countries, most of them almost as far away as South Africa.

Once in the air we were served dinner – chicken breast, rice and potatoes. Pretty good actually. Even though I was tired, I could not sleep until the lights were switched off, and that took a while. More than an hour – just enough time for me to finish watching Ice Age 2. The flight attendants were friendly. An English rugby team was also on the flight and apparently I must look like I play rugby, since I was asked by one of the flight attendants on my way to the toilet: "Are you Sir on the rugby team also?"

I was able to sleep for a while, even though it was as uncomfortable as predicted. It did shock me though that we had just flew a little more than half of the route when I woke up. 6 hours to go – accompanied with a few turbulences here an there. 2 hours before landing we were served breakfast. Eggs, ham, some kind of potato thing – very tasty again. By 10 am sharp we were on the ground.

Capetown Airport is modern and not very large. Only a few international airlines fly here directly. After passing immigration we were a the baggage claim waiting for our luggage. Now we come back to the lady in London checking the tags so meticulously. Irena’s bag was not on the belt. It was not even on the plane. It had never left Frankfurt as a matter of fact. It was sent through the scanner again and apparently they found something which made them keep the suitcase out of the airplane. The woman behind the desk assured us though, that the suitcase would be sent directly to the Ashanti Lodge right when it gets here.
We were the last ones in the terminal so it came as no surprise to hear our names being called out over the speakers. We still had our declaration form to fill out. Once we headed out we could not find anyone there to check our bags, so we obviously had ‘nothing to declare’.
With the driver there were four more volunteers waiting. Two guys and two girls – all from England. Very lively people. The weather in Capetown was rather grey and rather chilly. The drive from the airport to the lodge took about 15 minutes and we got a first impression of the so called ‘most beautiful city in the world’. I must say that until now, I am not blown away, but then again I did not see anything yet. Tomorrow will probably be a different story.
The Ashanti Lodge is situated right at the foot of the Table Mountain – more or less. However, the view is spectacular. We had to check in and got our rooms right away. Turns out that there were already two girls in the room with us. I thought greeting them with a "hello" was the right thing to do, but then I noticed that the German equivalent would have worked just as well. It seems that Germans are everywhere (London included, if I forgot to mention that before). The ‘new girls’ are Julia and Katarina, also very nice people. You might have noticed something and yes – if I fast forward a little – I am staying in a room full of girls. I was hoping that there would be at least one more representative of the male species but that is not the case. For reasons which I will come to in a bit.

The two others had arrived one day earlier and had already seen a little more of the city. Since we did not have any idea where the stores were or a surpermarket, we followed their lead. Which leads me to my first impressions of Capetown. For one thing, pedestrian lights are always red. There is a little button to press but by now I have the impression that it is just a decoy to separate the tourists from the South Africans. Our new strategy now was to look straight ahead (make sure no cars will drive over you) and just walk over the red light as if it was a green one. This really works. The next impression I got was that Capetown really is a city of contrasts. You pretty much see every car you know from Europe including models of Volkswagen which are close to breaking down and which I am not even sure Volkswagen built these models – ever. Right behind cars like that you will find Jaguars, Maseratis and Mercedes Benz cars. It could not be more constrasting.

The mall was pretty much European looking. The shops are neat and there are security people standing around every now and then. I had forgotten the fact that I have to be more careful here. I took off my wrist watch and moved my wallet from the back to the front pocket. Cameras and such things should also be left out of sight. Another feature was that you hear at least 5 languages spoken at all times, but English will work fine of course. One thing which struck me right away was the fact that I couldn’t say whether I have the feeling that Capetown is exotic or rather familiar. It was actually a mixture of both.
After coming back from the mall we had a first meeting with some of the project coordinators - really friendly and really funny. They just gave us a little welcome and introduced us to some very basics of what we are to expect. Without giving away too much she told us about things we have to mind, such as safety precautions etc. Especially should we mind the African Time. Generally meaning that ‘on time’ is a word with a very flexible meaning.

A few examples:
Now - can be now, can be in 30 mins
Now now – I’ll see you soon
I’ll see you soon – I might not see you at all
I’ll see you in a minute – I’ll see you in an hour

I also learned some details about my host family. The woman has a daughter who also has a daughter. I’m not sure whether the husband is also staying there or not, but from all the things I learned today, it would take even more hours to type them all down right away. I am sure the coming weeks will be more informative.

In the evening we went to the bar which is inside the lodge and ordered ourselves some pizza. It seemed that the evening went on for a long time but that is only because it gets dark here at 5.30pm.

I should probably mention one more thing: the showers. Basically, they seem to be alright. Except for the fact that you stand there and stare at the two knobs, one reading ‘HOT’ and the other ‘H’. Russian roulette, it seemed. The best part however was that they were both cold…at first.

This wraps up the first day and the next is right around the corner.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Next stop...


This will now be the last post from mainland Europe. I will let you know what the world looks like from down under. Time to look South!


Thursday, July 20, 2006

A good view guaranteed

I will do everything possible to get a window seat. Maybe it has something to do with me not being able to sit in the back of a car without starting to feel nauseous. However, I don't think so. It's the view. Yes, it's definitely the view. What a surprise!

What I didn't know was that you 'are' able to reserve your seats prior to check-in. Once again, it all depends on the person who you are talking to because previously I've been told that with South African, this would be impossible. Which has the consequence that I'll be sitting in row 71. Right in the back of the longest passenger plane available - exactly where the plane's oscillations are best perceivable. Perhaps the fact that I will get sick in just about every other way of transportation except for flying will again prove to be my best card. I do hope so. On the flight back to Frankfurt I'll be sitting in row row 51, which would be close to perfect. Just 'close to perfect' due to the fact that I will still be seated in economy class. If anyone would like to help me out in this department, please feel free to do so. I'll be glad to email you my bank information but cash is - of course - also accepted. Thanks!

Time to pack my bags? Well, I'd like to say nah, however this proves to be quite a task now that I'm restricted to 20kgs. The problem is that I have to decide between (essential) electronic equipment and (essential) ...other things. We'll see about that.

To summarize the developments so far: Baggage problems, 3 days to go. And yes, window seat. All is good!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Look South...

After a few months of silence, it's time for another update.

Finally, I will get to fly again! What can be more exciting than sitting cramped inside an airplane for more than 10 hours? Actually - this once - I'm not being sarcastic. It has been years since I last visited a place which was actually far away enough to fly to. Perhaps distance wise, you may not be able to visit very many other places which are more South than South Africa. Sounds good to me.

I will be spending 9 weeks down there to complete my obligatory 8 week stay in an English speaking country. This is part of the requirements for my studies. I will be spending those weeks in and around Capetown. The first week will be an introductory week, where we'll (hopefully) be learning just about everything important about the country, the people, the culture etc. Also, we'll be able to visit a few of the places Capetown is famous for. And I will certainly do everything to get onto the Table Mountain!

After spending the first week in a hostel in Capetown itself, we will all be brought to our guest families where we will be living for the next 8 weeks. I say we, because I won't be travelling on my own, well, technically, not really. Irena, a fellow student who has also decided to spend the 8 weeks in South Africa, will be taking part in the same project. We'll be living in separate families but working in the same project: The Ikaya Secondary School located in the Township of Kayamandi (near the city of Stellenbosch - for all those who would like to take a closer look), not too far away from Capetown, which is probably going to be the place where place we'll be hanging out on the one or the other weekend.

As a late consequence of the (post) Apartheid era, the situation in South Africa is split into two halves - if you can call it that. Capetown is said to be the most European-type of city with a high-standard of living. Travelling to the townships - which is generally any area where the standard of living is on the other end of the scale - is said to be rather dangerous. I have read and heard lots of stories about everything that could happen down there and I'll try to be as cautious as possible without having any prejudices. Although I am sure that after the first week in Capetown, the experience in the townships will be a sort of 'contrast program'. Nevertheless, I see it as a challenge and I'm very much looking forward to working and living there. There are always two sides of a medal they say, and I'm intrigued to see both.

I do not know how often I will be able to actually post on here because I don't know how often I'll be having access to the internet. Possibly once a week - if I can find an internet café. I'll try to stay in touch.

Our flight to Capetown leaves around 9pm in London. London? Yes. The direct flight from Frankfurt was already fully booked, so we'll be taking a little 'detour' - which will last 12 hours. So, I'll be able to spend some time in London before seeing South Africa.

So much for the basic information. Updates will follow as soon as possible.

9 days left. Should I start packing my bags? Nah, it's still plenty of time!

On July 24th - don't forget to Look South!

- Heiko

Edit: The weblog in German:

Monday, August 29, 2005

Photo Update

I finally managed to upload some more pictures. They can be found on my website in the Gallery section. Of course that is just a simple selection of all the photos which I had available. The quality and size is of course limited due to webspace reasons. Anyone who wants either a certain picture in its full size or the rest of the pictures, let me know and I'll send them out. Of course it someone finds him or herself on one of the pictures and feels somehow offended or just doesn't want the picture to be available to the public can also write me and let me know so I can remove his or her picture, although I doubt that this will be the case, right? : )

Other than that, I'll try to update my blog every now and then. I'll try to limit my posts to fairly important or interesting things. Have a good day, week, ... all of you.

- Heiko

Friday, August 26, 2005

August 24 - Back home

After the three weeks of almost non-stop events, I'm glad to be back home and glad to finally get what I seem to have missed out for so long: a good portion of sleep, 14 hours to be precise) The fact that you wake up in the middle of the day not knowing where you are makes you wonder.

Now it's back to my 'usual' routine, but first of all I need to sort things out, get back into the rhythm of what used to be my daily routine. I will update the lacking three days of my journey once I find the time. For now, all I can say is that it was a great experience and I had an even greater time in Scotland but it's just as nice to be back in Germany. As the Scots would say: Cheerio.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

August 23 – Day 20 – Arrival Bochum

Once again, the night was too short; despite the fact that we had to turn our clocks forward an hour. We were expecting to be at least woken by the same tune like last time. Instead a loud bell like sound accompanied by the voice of a man telling us that the four season restaurant is now open for breakfast guests woke us. Still I managed to get up first and have my shower. Now this was the actual surprise: the shower was an actual shower, the only luxury which was missing in Stirling.

About an hour later we were all pretty much ready to disembark (don’t you just love official terms?). Still we took our time to at least have a coffee before slowly making our way to the passenger bridge and use all those lovely stairs down to the immigration. No further problems there so we stepped out and found ourselves right at the same spot where we started off almost three weeks before. All that was left to do was to wait for our bus. Once we were on board, this meant that if everything went smoothly, we would be back in Bochum in approximately three hours.

We had checked and compared the weather in Germany to the weather in Scotland, and we found out that lately while we were still in Scotland, we were missing out the big heat wave. Now that we were back on the mainland there was of course nothing left of that heat wave. All these hours of travelling behind us now which did seem to pass rather quickly, the next three were tough as bubble gum; they just didn’t seem to end. Still in the Netherlands we took a half an hour break. The perfect chance to once again get to know the local cuisine: yes, you guessed right, McDonald’s. Unfortunately the big M seemed to be on the other side of the highway, so we set out to find our way. The weather was miserable, but the hunger was bigger. Once inside we faced the next problem: How to order, in English or German? Or perhaps even experimenting with a little Dutch? The result was something like: “Ein BigMac with Fritjes bitte.”

Back on the road, even the most tired ones of us were up and couldn’t wait to get back home. The border to Germany of course is an open one but still you can immediately see when you crossed the border. The infrastructure changes and all license plates change from yellow and black to white and black again. Just around 50 kilometres left, passing Duisburg and Essen, then finally reaching Bochum and driving on the now familiar road back to the university. The final kilometres the entire bus was chanting some of the Scottish songs we had learned in the past few weeks. Quite a perfect way to end our trip. As the bus pulled up into the parking lot, we were all glad to be back, despite all the experiences we took with us. It’s good to be home.

August 22 – Day 19 – Departure Stirling

Three weeks gone by in the blink of an eye it seems, or perhaps because I just got four hours of sleep? We all got up at 7.30 a.m. leaving us two hours more to gather all our things together and get ready for the final trip back home. We had to leave so many things behind, food wise. Many groceries including rice, noodles, soups we left behind simply because we didn’t have the space for it all.

At 9.30 a.m. John, our bus driver (the same guy who already drove us here), loaded all of our bags into the trunk and got his well earned applause. Considering that half of the stuff was probably stuff you wouldn’t even have needed in the first place. Also one thing which always strikes me: No matter how many bags a group brings along, somehow, they always fit exactly into the bus.

The moment we got on the bus I was already dreading the six hour ahead of us. You might have noticed by now that I’m not a big fan of bus rides, so I got on my knees and prayed for… well, okay, it wasn’t quite as dramatic. Particularly not because I managed to get a chewing gum from one of the girls which was supposed to help against nausea. Armed with an unfinished book, a music player and food we started. After two hours we took our first stop. A lovely place whose name I forgot, but what was important was the fact that it had a souvenir shop. While some of us ordered their burgers at Burger King, others were still going through the store trying to use the last chance to buy some gifts for the people at home. I really should have remembered the name of the place, especially because it had the “Loo of the year 2003”. Yes, I am proud to say that I was able to go to the toilet of the year 2003 in Scotland. Although I wasn’t one of the last ones to order my burgers, I was one of those who had to wait the longest. We didn’t want to torture the others in the bus with the smell so we ate as fast as possible then got back on the bus.

After another three long hours on the road our next stop was already in England, for just ten minutes before heading back to where we started from: the port town Hull. Now we were in for a surprise. The usual procedure: passports and ID cards passed along and we then got our key cards to the rooms. But this time we had to get back on the bus, drive around the corner to a smaller hall, get back off; just so a few friendly English officials could inspect the bus. Not just that, they also took out six randomly picked bags from the trunk to x-ray it and have the owners open it. Again, not just that, some of us got a free body search. Absolutely ridiculous because everyone knew that this was just something they had to do, for the statistics. After about half an hour we were allowed to continue onto the ferry.

We again picked our rooms together, matching up in the same constellation as on our first day. This time already knowing our way around the ferry a little bit, and not so much in hunt for places which serve food…I decided to not get the buffet like I did previously. £ 18 just wasn’t worth it. Instead I had a hotdog which…did not taste good. But oh well, it was food alright. At 9 p.m. we went up on the deck again to watch the departure into the night. Again the scenery was just amazing.

In the evening we ended up in the lounge with the stage. All in all we saw two performances and a music quiz game which is simply not worth mentioning at this point. What might be interesting though instead is the fact that after the second performance the space in front of the stage was turned into a dance floor. Not many people were dancing at first, just a few totally crazy English men who had clearly had a few beers too many, but, they certainly were entertaining. Also entertaining was the little show put on by this one couple. Imagine a men in his 40s, a little on the heavy side, bald, moustache (yes, a pimp is also what I thought) accompanied by this early 20s girl dressed in the shortest white dress. She was one of the few who were jumping around on the floor (I am trying to stay away from calling it dancing) All the time it was obvious that she was trying to get her ‘partner’ to join her, but instead he had his cigar and took pictures. The entire crowd was watching her being hit on by others. Until finally one of the English guys tried to drag Mr Pimp onto the dance floor. This of course must have made him a little angry, and he left her sitting there all alone. The entire crowd was cheering. She did look kind of sad though. Will she perhaps only get half of the money now?

After that show more of our group decided to take it to the dance floor until the entire floor was filled with no one but us. Without me of course. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m the lousiest dancer ever and I chose to stay away from there. By 1.30 a.m. I went to bed because I couldn’t get rid of my headache. At 3 a.m. all the others came and that woke me of course, and of course there was no way that I could go back to sleep without having discussed the day’s events. Close to 4 a.m. we were all asleep.

August 21 – Day 18 – Glasgow

What would a trip to Scotland be without having seen its largest city. And again we have a motto for the day: Scotland with style – Glasgow. Our bus was waiting at 10 a.m. Yet we ended up in the usual rush after breakfast but managed to be there on time. We were on the road a few minutes after. Our destination was of course Glasgow but we took a little detour to New Lanark. New Lanark is a world heritage village, which was built over 200 years ago when David Dale (a supposedly well-known industrialist) decided to built mills close to the river Clyde. We split into several groups, some chose to visit the museum, others went for the 15 minute walk to the Clyde Falls. I was in the latter group. The path led us right along the river and up a few stairs until we reached a small platform from where we had a good view of the falls. We only had a few minutes for pictures before we headed back to the bus to take the first and only picture of the entire group. Right afterwards, we were back on the road to Glasgow.

What can be said about Glasgow? Again I’m not quite sure what I expected but what struck me the most was just how different Glasgow was from Edinburgh. You can clearly see the difference of both cities as soon as you take a closer look beneath the surface. Apart from the size (Glasgow of course being larger), the entire flair of the city is different. I should perhaps mention that this was the first day of our trip where we didn’t have so much luck with the weather. The sky was grey and this of course didn’t help convey a positive flair of the city. We did manage to take some nice pictures of the place before we started out to explore the city. Something I almost missed for the past few weeks: traffic. No doubt that this is a major city. The main centre, the shopping mile is huge, with a vast variety of shops and stores. Everything except…souvenir shops (another major difference to Edinburgh), the one thing which I needed most. As a matter of fact, because I was still in need of some things to bring back home. The more time we spent exploring, the less the charm of the city gets. Of course it’s a lovely city and worth seeing but I missed the certain atmosphere. Glasgow seemed to be a city like any other, with all its dirt and garbage. I’m probably painting a too negative picture of it. Glasgow is a city worth seeing; I just wish that I’d seen it while the sun was shining.

We ended up having lunch in a not so typical Scottish restaurant: Pizza Hut. Others were hesitant, but in my ears, the word pizza was simply music. One thing which I never gotten used to in those three weeks was the fact that you have to stop and wait for someone to tell you where to sit, no matter how empty the place is. Of course we forgot to wait and just headed for the next table when this nice lady came up to us and asked if she could help us. What do you reply to something so obvious? Oh well, we did manage to finally be given a few tables for all of us and ordered. Spencer and I had something called the 4 for all pizza. You have a square pizza, already cut into four pieces each with a different topping. In the end, all that’s left to say is that it’s a complete rip off. It was barely enough for us two, there is no way 4 people could have enough. So much about Scottish food culture for today :)

After our hour long stroll through various malls and stores, we ended up sitting in one of the local pubs again just when it started raining. Our fate for the day it seemed. Luckily we did bring along our jackets and umbrellas or else we would have gotten a free shower on our way back to the bus which was already waiting for us at 6 p.m. One thing I almost forgot to mention: In Glasgow it was also the first time I saw a pedestrian light which counts down the seconds before it turns green again. Fascinating.

The drive back was just a bit over an hour and what was left to do back in our flat other than to pack our bags for tomorrow. A little bonus for the evening: the much talked about math flat threw a little surprise party for Julia and bought her a Winnie the Pooh cake (far too sweet for me but it did look interesting). I didn’t get to bed before 3.30 a.m. after discussing various topics from airplanes to cars with Lara.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

August 20 – Day 17 – Final exams, mountain hiking

What better way to spend your Saturday than to write a final exam. The good thing about this day of course was that I really did get to sleep almost three hours longer than I’m used to. After having breakfast at around 10 a.m. I was on my way to the exam. Denise and Turgay were already there because they had their literature exam right before the one I had to write. Spencer and Christopher decided to go for the second option and skip the exam and write a term paper instead. The funny thing about the exam was that I really didn’t need to write it, I didn’t even need to attend the course because the points I earn don’t fit into the module that I will be taking up in the coming semester. Nevertheless, I guess it never is a bad thing to learn new things.

Still it was a good feeling to have the rest of the day off, knowing that we don’t have more studying to do for the next day, and what was even better: the weather was great. On our way back to the flat we bumped into Malte. He asked if we wanted to join him hiking up the mountain (which can be seen on almost every picture of the campus). It was a rather spontaneous decision to say yes, but I figured that I did, after all, I really only had three more days to go. The others didn’t feel like going so it was just Malte and I, and two other girls.

It’s funny that you only seem to get to know all the people at the end of a trip like this. The girls who joined us were two I had never really talked to before: Anna and Nadine. So we started out trip. We didn’t really have a clue where the right path was, so we just headed into the most obvious direction (you can’t really oversee a mountain like that). After about a quarter hour we headed up a road and bumped into a gate which said ‘private property’. We weren’t sure that this was really the right way so we turned around and met another guy who was also on his way up and asked him if he knew if this was the right way. The good thing about Germans talking English is that you can almost always tell that they’re Germans by their accent. So after talking English for a few minutes I asked where he was from, and we were right. He said that this was the right way and that in Scotland the term ‘private’ was a rather flexible one. He joined us for a bit before taking off. He obviously had done this before.

To sum up the next 1 ½ hours, it would take more words than I have time to write now. The view was literally breathtaking. Perhaps it even took us 2 hours or even more because we stopped so many times to take so many pictures. I will upload more pictures on the site when I am back at home, for now, the pictures in this post will have to suffice. On the peak we had the most amazing view over Stirling and the surrounding landscape. On the horizon we could see the transition from the Lowlands to the Highlands. Really amazing. We sat at a sort of small cliff for maybe half an hour and enjoyed the breeze and the view before heading back down. The descent again took us just about as long as our climb and this time we took a completely different way down, but not less amazing. I was really glad that I chose to spend my day like this, even though my feet and my knee hurt like crazy once I got to sit down, it was worth it.

Saturday night is party night. More or less. Tomorrow we will be in Glasgow and packing our stuff for Monday’s departure so there won’t be any chance for us to go out but today. At 10 p.m. we headed to the ‘Meadow Park’, the local pub here, again. Every single one of the group was there at some point which was really great. Everyone was caught up in conversations, drinking and having fun before we had to leave at the usual time of night: 1 a.m. Some of the others had already previously decided to go to the city centre and go to a club. I wasn’t one of them. With a small group I headed back to the flat and was invited to have a late night snack over at the other flat. Perhaps I should call it a meal, rather than a snack. We watched two Friends episodes while eating spaghetti. Quite a day. I wasn’t in bed before 3 a.m.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

August 19 – Day 16 – Last day of Classes

If I didn’t hate the phrase TGIF so much, this would probably be the point where I’d post it. Too late. Amazing how time passes. The first two days seemed to never end and all of a sudden two entire weeks are just gone in an instant. Today is the last day of our classes, bringing us to a total of 11. That is a rough equivalent to the normal number of classes we would have in an entire semester, although of course spread over a few more weeks.

Already yesterday we, or rather some of the others, came up with an idea for a sort of game. We were all to get a piece of paper with a word or phrase written on it and our task was to include these words in the class, in what we say, without the lecturer noticing. So before we stepped into the classroom we each got our word. While it began rather slowly, more and more people really participated and we all had to chuckle every time a word totally out of context came up. Naturally, Mr Niederhoff did notice something at some point. Not just because there was an unusual vivid participation in class, but also because things such as Bonnie & Clyde, Pimp up my style, Trojan Horse and Ladies’ Toilet were not really the part of the usual vocabulary in a Literature class. But we had to admit that he was a good sport and played along even though he knew that something funny was going on.

After the usual routine of day we wrote our final translation exam later in the afternoon. Ninety minutes to translate a text about Gwyneth Paltrow directing her first movie. Most of us don’t even know if they passed their other exams which are essential to be able to take this exam we took today. But since we’re all very optimistic people, we’ll just hope for the best.

It was said that in the evening a soccer match would be held with all the lecturers joining in. I didn’t go to the field to see how it went, although the prospect of possibly getting a picture of my lecturers chasing a ball did sound good. In the end it turned out that it probably wasn’t the worst idea to stay home because it started raining and none of the lecturers played anyway.

Many of us decided not to study for the upcoming exam tomorrow simply because they don’t have to take it. We have the option to either take the exam or write and submit a thesis paper. Those who take the exam and flunk it can still submit the paper afterwards and still pass the course. Some of us went out last night when others stayed home and did some studying. I find it hard to study for something when I more or less already know that I am going to submit a paper anyway, perhaps to get a better grade. But since I already spent everyday sitting in those classes I might as well just give it a shot. And for the first time so far, I can sleep almost as long as I want.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

August 18 – Day 15 – Classes / Scottish Food

Today’s motto: A treat for the eyes and the belly. With the last few days remaining it was time to learn about the Scottish culture the best we could and that of course also includes the food. As part of our Cultural Studies class, each group had to choose a certain topic to present. Today was of course also the day where we held our glorious presentation about the Health System in Scotland. We had prepared intensely for days now (as you might know) and we just couldn’t wait to get it over with. In the end it wasn’t as bad as expected.

The last two groups were of course those who chose to talk about the local food culture. Not just talk about it but also prepare something for everyone. So basically that’s what we were all waiting for after class. But what were we to do in the meantime while waiting? Finding something else to eat, of course. At 7.30 p.m. we set out armed with plates and forks, headed for the two flats who prepared some Scottish dishes. I can’t quite remember the names, but one has to be mentioned for sure: fudge. Perhaps the picture which comes with this post doesn’t really animate one’s appetite, but as you all know: the inner values matter most. And I think it’s fair to say that that stuff really gives you some rush. It’s extremely sweet and I doubt that anyone sane would eat more than two or three spoonfuls.

The rest of the evening was a rather ordinary one, however with quite an evening sky. Sticking to the tradition, we again didn’t make it to bed before 2 a.m. Tomorrow should provide us with more to talk and write about.

August 17 – Day 14 – Classes / Scottish Folk Music

A lively day this Wednesday was to become. For some reason I have made it into a (involuntary) habit of sleeping longer than I should. But as already mentioned in previous posts, if it wasn’t for Denise the rest of our flat would probably not get up at all.

Once again, nothing special happened during our classes. Only that this was the last day we had to prepare our presentation for tomorrow. One has to eat though. So that’s what we did after class then headed back to the flat to… pretty much do everything but what we should be doing. Christopher went grocery shopping, something we desperately needed.

What all of us had planned for this evening was an evening of Scottish Folk Music. Our friendly neighbors (the previously mentioned Math-flat) came over to do some rehearsing and singing, because each flat was to prepare one song. To make a long story short: We really tried. An hour before we were to meet we were sitting in our flat trying to rehearse the Scottish National Anthem, the song we had originally picked out. We even recorded ourselves singing and listened to that...awful noise. You wouldn’t be able to call it music no matter how hard you tried, but: It was hilarious. At this point I should perhaps introduce the (I think it’s fair to say) official theme song of our flat... “Gib’s mir ricktick, ganz egal bo!” It is an insider, but you might want to listen to a song called Kimnotyze by DJ Tomekk to get an impression of what we mean.

We were of course (following our tradition) one of the last ones to arrive. They had arranged all of the chairs into a large circle leaving the centre of the room empty for the performances. We started off with a couple of warming up songs before starting the song contest, if you want to call it that. Each flat presented their songs. Every flat except ours. We simply couldn’t get it together. Highlights of the evening were perhaps the duet of Mr Geisen and Mrs Schoenefeld, the performance of Mrs Niederhoff and her daughters, and of course the last two flats who had an entire performance ready, including real Scottish outfits made of bedsheets.

The evening ended with a few more songs sung by everyone together. Afterwards we were off to finally get some work done, at 10.30 p.m. And we really managed. It didn’t take very long so the others still had some time to hang out in other flats while some of us spent the next couple of hours caught up in almost philosophical conversations before heading to bed at 3 a.m.

August 16 – Day 13 – Classes

Today is Tuesday and we have just a few more days to go before our final exams. There isn’t really much to write about today. We spent our usual time in the brig… No, let me rephrase that. Our situation has now slightly improved. During our first course a lovely lady came into the room asking us to please move because the room we were in was reserved for an exam. It turned out that the room we’ve been staying in for the past seven days has been the wrong one right from the start. So after the course we moved to the room right next door and imagine that: this one even has a window.

We are having slight problems with coping with the work load. It seems that we have to get too much done in too little time. We still had to prepare our presentation about the Health System here in Scotland for our Cultural Studies class. We were supposed to go to the Medical Centre here on campus but couldn’t find out its opening hours so instead we spoke to the pharmacist in the building who was able to give us quite a lot of information.

The late afternoon and evening we spent studying, and getting some of our work done: translations, writing introductions etc. Wasn’t there something about a presentation too? Right, we will have to deal with that tomorrow then.

The rest of the evening we were more or less on the hunt for something to eat. We used to be The Flat which had more than enough to eat and now we are running dry. Another task for tomorrow: Grocery shopping.

Not much else happened besides Denise panicking because of a cute little insect flying around the room. Maybe I should add that it was interestingly large, something like a flying peanut with wings.

Monday, August 15, 2005

August 15 - Day 12 - Classes / Tour of Stirling

For the first time I had real difficulties getting up in the morning. I did hear my alarm go off and of course I turned it off. Usually, it takes me a minute to get on my feet and stroll down to the bathroom but not today. If it wasn’t for Denise’s knocking, I would have probably slept even longer. Half an hour late I tried to hurry and catch up with the rest. But even the others had their difficulties. However, we did make it to the courses on time.

I always take my notebook with me so I can get some work done in my spare hour between classes. Then I found out that we were meeting at the bus stop for the Stirling tour right after class. The thought of taking my computer on the tour wasn’t really what I had in mind so I rushed back to the flat after class and left it. Spencer joined me and everyone was passing us by saying that we’ll be late again but we actually did make it on time because even in England, the buses aren’t always on time.

The tour was part of a presentation for our Cultural Studies class. One group volunteered to take the rest on a short trip around the town to show us some of the sights. Finally, the bus came and there were 45 students trying to get into the same bus, each one of us having to buy a ticket. The driver was not amused.

We got off on our first stop: Stirling Bridge. It was actually quite interesting. For those of you who have (again) seen Braveheart, you may perhaps know what it was all about. William Wallace led the Scottish forces against the English army. Stirling was the town where he and his men achieved probably the most prominent victory. Stirling Bridge was as that point the only possibility of crossing the river to the Highlands and this was exactly where Wallace and his men found the weak spot in the English attack. He was vastly outnumbered but managed to defeat the superior English forces right here in Stirling. The bridge back then was just a wooden construction which either collapsed by the weight of the large number of men, or, as some claim, the Scots cut it down to prevent the English troops from fleeing, or again, as some other claim, the English cut it down to stop the Scottish from following and slaughtering them.

Our next stop was the Old Town Jail. We had to walk quite a bit through Stirling and up a hill to the jail. Somehow I did not feel the urge to take a whole lot of pictures, which was strange. Maybe the fact that I almost got run over by a car helped in giving me a bad mood. Our entire group was crossing a street when a car came around the corner, slowed down a little, did not stop, but instead drove right into our group. I couldn’t believe it so I stopped and looked at the driver, a lovely woman as I might add with irony. Still she just drove on and if it wasn’t for that one inch left, I would have had one toe less. I finally moved because I didn’t really want to go to the hospital with a injured rib case after being hit by the side mirror. Some of us moved behind the car and instead of driving on, that lovely woman just let the car roll back even before driving off. Without being rude, I can only hope that it was simply a bad case of pms on that day.

Back to the Old Town Jail. It was an old jail. There isn’t really much to say about it. You can take a guided tour where you will be locked inside it and can experience the “atmosphere” of being locked away. But there wasn’t really much that interested me at that point. Our third stop was on top of an old cemetery. There were a lot of graves dating back to the 19th century even, large tomb stones and a nice church. From the spot where we stayed we had a nice view of Stirling Castle, which wasn’t even a 200 meters away. Perhaps I will still see it up close in the next days but I doubt it. The tour inside would cost us £ 8, and I doubt that it would really be worth that much money.

After listening to the rest of the group giving us some information about Stirling itself we headed back into the town centre. Some of us decided to have a drink in one of the very typical pubs. After all, no matter who you ask in Scotland what is worth seeing, they will all tell you to go to a pub. After sitting there having a drink for another hour we headed back to the university, this time taking one of the interesting buses which have two decks. Needless to mention, we sat on top and it was quite a ride. Almost felt as if the bus would fall to the side any minute now.

Not much left of the day, and since that Ghost Walk we had planned on visiting was even later in the evening, we decided to stay home and get some studying done. The problem with that is always the same. Too many people who understand each other too well and end up good conversation instead of working. Although I did manage to get some done, it wasn’t as much as I probably should have. But tomorrow is another day.

August 14 – Day 11 – The Highlands

After having our second day where we were able to sleep a little longer, we realized that again we had to hurry with our breakfast to catch the bus. However, this time we were all on time but the bus wasn’t. Nevertheless we were on the road shortly after 9.30 a.m. driving up north to the Highlands, probably one of the most popular things associated with Scotland.

Since I’m not such a big fan of sitting in a bus for hours and hour, I was really dreading the trip right from the beginning on. After about one and a half hours we took our first break at the Green Welly Stop. For all those who always have problems finding the perfect present, worry no more, I now know where you can find The Perfect Present: In Scotland. Perhaps I should add that The Perfect Present is the name of the souvenir shop at the Green Welly. Back on the road we finally had the first hills in sight. It was already said that we won’t be making so many stops simply because we don’t have the time and anyway, how does that old saying go: The journey is the actual goal. So there was basically not much left for us to stare out of the window the whole time, oh, and try to not get nauseous. The roads through the mountains had quite a few curves which shook us up quite a bit at times. But the view was simply beautiful. Finally we did make a stop at a small parking space. When driving onto the lot we could already see the bag pipe player standing there with the mountains right behind him. Needless to mention everyone was making their way to the chap, taking pictures and listening to him playing. A funny man when he said that ‘clapping hands no good, money is good.’ I wanted a picture of him standing there alone with all the mountains in the background but that never worked out, there were always all sort of people next to him. Once he found out that we were from Germany, he just gave us a wink and started playing the German national anthem on the bagpipe. Pretty nice.

Back on the road, we headed further North or North West, looking from the left to the right, passing one mountain larger than the other. I swear I could even see Duncan MacLeod making his way through one of the valleys. Well, maybe not quite, but it really does tickle your imagination if you try to put yourself into the situation a few centuries ago when people were really running or really had to run across the Highlands to get from one place to another.

Our next stop was at Glencoe. A place which had a place for caravans, a restaurant and all sort of other shops. The actual plan was that we would have around two hours to maybe even go a little mountain climbing, but they had closed the road where we wanted to go, so we couldn’t do that. Instead a few of us tried going up the hill right next to Glencoe. The word hill may not sound very tiring, but even an inclination of such a small mountain makes you sweat. Having seen and passed all those mountains I really had the urge to go climbing. It’s funny, but now I really understand the German saying ‘Der Berg ruft’, the mountain is calling.

After being back on the road and having driven on for around ten minutes we had to turn back because someone had forgotten his camera. Luckily we weren’t that far away yet and he really was able to get his camera back, so it was all worth the extra round, and you can never get enough of the scenery, the lakes, the rivers, the seas.

By 2 p.m. we reached Oban, a little picturesque town on the East coast of Scotland. Again, we were so lucky to have such great weather that day. When walking around the small harbour and through the streets, I had the feeling that I was in France or somewhere else rather than in Scotland. Again, the scenery was just really beautiful, the sea, the rather old fashioned but packed streets. We didn’t really have very much time to explore, and we hadn’t had lunch yet. So eight of us decided to go to this little place for lunch. It’s funny. You have to wait until someone tells you where to sit, even though there is clearly enough space for everyone. So we sat there and were trying to figure out what we could eat. Some of us had the wonderful Fish and Chips again (you know what I think of it), and four of the guys, including me, we ordered something called the Buffalo burger. Unfortunately, the waitress had to come back and tell us that they only had meat for 3. Hmm. Turgay decided to go for the Chicken Burger instead. Naturally, we had our little difficulties understanding the girl. And polite as we Germans are, Turgay simply blurted out a polite “What?” We all cracked up. We only had 25 minutes left before we were to meet the other again and our food wasn’t there yet. When it did get there, I was pretty amazed. What did they do, really slaughter an entire buffalo? The burger was huge. But to my surprise, not as good as it looked.

4.29 p.m. we reached the bus thinking that we were the last ones again, but there were still three others missing. A few minutes later we were back on the road. I was again dreading the thought of sitting there for another 3-4 hours all the way back, what I didn’t know was that we were to take another stop in a little town called Inverary which is South of Oban. Again we were able to go out for half an hour to catch some fresh air and take pictures. Scotland is absolutely beautiful, at least the tourist spots that we’ve been to so far.

What’s the best way to kill some time? I decided to get out my sweater and raincoat (which I brought along because I thought that we wouldn’t have that much luck with the weather), used them as a pillow, and to sleep I went. I woke up when we were just entering Stirling again. Perfect.

After working a bit on our assignments for the next day, I went back out to check for emails and when I got back to the flat, it was again time for a late night snack. Soon Christopher joined me, then Turgay and a few minutes later Spencer, who was studying in his room but had to come out because he heard us laughing all the time. Sitting in the kitchen we spent another hour and a half a talking and not before 1.45 a.m. it was bed time.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

August 13 – Day 10 – Sightseeing in Stirling

Getting up at 8.25 a.m. was the plan. We have a mutual understanding that if one doesn’t wake up that the others will take over the function as the manual alarm clock. Unfortunately, today everyone seemed to be knocked out. I wonder why. So I was the only one up at 8.30 a.m. The plan was that we were to meet with Mrs Schoenefeld at 10 a.m. to climb up a mountain, and then go see the Wallace Monument which is overlooking the university, and later on to Stirling castle. It was raining all morning. As I’m typing this, the sun is back out at 11 a.m. and it’s time for breakfast.

It took us three more hours before we were able to decide just what we were going to do with our day. Everyone else seemed to have a lot of plans, either heading to Stirling itself or Glasgow perhaps. Since we were thinking about climbing this mountain right next to the campus and also seeing the famous William Wallace monument (I’m sure most of you have seen the movie Braveheart), perhaps even going for an extended walk to Stirling Castle. As we were sitting around waiting for the weather to get better, we realized just how much more work we have to do for our courses and finally we decided to just take the ‘short’ trip to the Wallace Monument.

The monument is this tower overlooking the campus, located on a hill right behind the university. As we packed our bags and headed out we soon realized that it really isn’t just around the corner. According to information that we got a day earlier it was said that it shouldn’t take us longer than 25 minutes to get there. Well, after finding the way and around 40 minutes later we arrived at the foot of the hill from where the road up to the monument started. We didn’t expect this to be quite the tourist spot, including coaches and cars full of tourists waiting to see what we were there for as well. We skipped the gift shop and made our way up to the tower. That is where I again felt just how old I’m getting. Well, not quite yet, but it was quite something, especially with this rather small van passing us by all the time driving people up to the monument and back down.

Once we reached the top we were presented with quite an impressive overview of Stirling. What we didn’t know was that they wanted £4,50 for students to enter the tower. We had thought that the monument was smaller and that it was for free to see. We finally decided not to go in and just took a few pictures of it before heading back down.

What I forgot to mention is probably the most interesting thing of all. Right in front of the gift shop there was this statue of William Wallace, supposedly. I wasn’t quite sure but the statue looked a lot like Mel Gibson and also the title ‘Freedom’ at the bottom and perhaps even the title ‘Braveheart’ on the shield kind of reminded us of the movie Braveheart, I wonder why. Especially after having learned that the story portrayed in the movie was complete rubbish and never took place like that, the fact that they would put up a statue like that just to attract more tourists is actually quite a scam, but oh well.

As we were making our way back to the campus we came across another major problem: hunger. Spencer and Christopher had found an advertisement of a local pizza place, so that was what we had in mind. I wanted to go around the other side of the lake on the campus just to see what it’s like. After walking 10 minutes we realized just how large it is and turned around. The hunger made us reconsider, you may say. Once we got back we were on the phone ordering pizza.

I couldn’t decide which one to go for, most were around £5,00 – 6,00 with all sort of toppings, since my favourite topping is ham, that’s what I ordered and had to pay £6,50. What a rip-off. But who is to complain if you’re hungry? We were 6 people all in all and decided to buy the other dish Scotland is famous for: Haggis. For those of you who don’t know what that is (I didn’t either), it’s something like…well...sheep stomach stuffed with intestines. Sounds utterly disgusting, I agree, but what the heck. We ordered one for all to try. We were surprised that it looked like a sort of wrap and it tasted… not as bad as it sounded. The others liked it more than I did though. But at least we can say that we at least had a taste.

Afterwards we just sat around again and had our usual daily contemplations and chats about all sort of subjects and topics. We didn’t even get to the studying that we had in mind so we will have a lot of catching up to do once we get back home tomorrow. For now it’s bedtime once more.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

August 12 – Day 9 – Classes and the weekend

Our first real weekend. But of course before we could relax and take our minds off the studying, we had to go through the usual procedure in the morning and early afternoon. On our way back to the flat we noticed that some of the lecture theatres were open this time. We of course had to take a look and… let’s just say that a semester fee of £15,000 (I think it was) is worth it. The theatres or halls look more like a high-tech cinema with the most comfortable seats. Also you would think that the Scottish students have better manners since none of the tables had any marks or writings on them. Other than in Bochum where you literally have to find a (wooden) seat which isn’t broken. I stress the wooden because what they have here is heaven to your butt.

Today was wash day. Denise had been asking for a couple of days now if we shouldn’t throw our stuff together and go for a wash. While Christopher and Spencer were out with Mr Geisen going grocery shopping again, Denise, Turgay and I went to the laundrette right across the street. A whole bunch of machines and driers. Denise already had bought the card which you need to operate the machine. You throw your stuff in and sit there and wait. I must say, if anything else is pulling one person down, then it’s the absolutely boring act of sitting and watching your clothes being spun in circles.

At around 7p.m. everyone else had a barbecue right between our flats on the grass. The five of us had already had dinner, but we of course went down there too. The weather was great and so was the atmosphere. Mrs Schoenefeld and Mr Geisen were also there, talking to us and eating some. What did surprise us all a little was that Mr Niederhoff also joined us all a bit later with a six-pack of beer. Asked if someone could take a picture of him he simply asked: “With the beer or without?” All in all it was a great get-together. But since it started getting a bit cooler and everyone else had already planned on going to the pub again, we ended the barbecue around 11p.m. Only problem was that pubs here close at 1a.m. Is going really worth it?

So, as I was ordering something called Snakebite… I did make sure that it wouldn’t knock me out… those of us who decided to go sat together and were just talking. Snakebite is Guinness with Cranberry juice, tastes a little sweet and actually, pretty good, and for £1,60 I wasn’t going to complain. As the others were ordering more and more drinks I was still sitting there nipping at mine. You know the story about Asians and that they lack a certain enzyme which breaks down the alcohol, right?
I actually had my doubts that I would enjoy the pub because I do prefer the quieter evenings in quieter less smoky places, but I don’t want to stay in the house all the time, and if you’re with a group then it really can be fun. I had a great time talking to the others and didn’t even realize that it was 1a.m., not until the nice bouncer told us to shove our behinds out of there.

It was raining, when suddenly a whole herd of bulls came marching out the pub. By bulls I mean Scottish…probably Rugby players. Between 5’8 and 6’4 in height and 4’0 in width. Of course all of us guys started to evaluate the situation and decided to go for the “Alright guys, let’s take them out.” Of course we made sure that no one heard us say that. The thing which we didn’t see coming was that all the girls with us were fascinated by those, weigh-lifting, doping, un-natural ...chaps.

Right around the corner was the discotheque and the girls made clear that that is where they wanted to go. I didn’t think of it as the best idea (ya know me) but since we were missing three of us they said that they just wanted to take a peek inside. With peek inside, I didn’t think that we would actually pay to get in. Quicker than I realized it everyone was storming inside and paying £4 to do so. Well, what the heck is there to do other than to say crap and follow them in.

The club wasn’t the biggest, but surely one of the loudest I’ve ever been to. The good thing was the long sofa on the left and right wall facing the dance floor. Nice and comfortable, perfect for someone like me. Denise also doesn’t dance so at least I had one partner in crime. While a few others were on the dance floor, the rest was sitting around, probably waiting for better music. By 2.30a.m. Christopher also wanted to head back and we were joined by Lara and Julia. It was still raining and of course we had no umbrella. Lara was wearing open shoes and decided to go barefooted.

Once we got back, almost soaking wet, I settled for one last late night snack just when everyone else came home too. By 4 a.m. I retired, while the others were still up.

August 11 – Day 8 – Classes

It’s Thursday and my first week in Scotland is almost over. I will just spare you the boring details of my daily morning rituals and events unless something interesting happens. This not being the case today I’ll move on to the afternoon.

You would think that students travelling to another country to study are really there to study but you would of course be wrong. Many of our entire group are here to study and party (perhaps not necessarily in that order). I may not really agree with that, especially not since we’re not at home. This doesn’t happen very often in one’s life and I wouldn’t want to be here in Scotland and not go out to see things other than the local pub or discotheque… during the week I should specify.

Although if we have a day like Thursday and it’s been said that the pub will be full on this day rather than on the weekends, you will of course have students streaming there even though they have classes in the morning. I settled with watching two episodes of Friends in the “Math-flat” and then heading to bed at midnight.

August 10 – Day 7 – Classes

Another day in Scotland begins at the usual time. Normally, after getting up, I never find the time to have a proper breakfast. Here, things are way different, and I’m starting to get used to it. Sitting there, having your coffee or tea, a bowl of cereal, sandwiches or bread and good company.

Since they locked the large computer room which was accessible to everyone after that congress ended, we were only able to use the computers in the library. Since I already tried talking to some of the people there, I thought I’d take another shot. The woman looked friendlier than the one I talked to the other day, so I sat there asked about the access to the wireless network, she didn’t know for sure so she asked this other guy. To make a long story short, it was still a no. Although the Scottish are more than polite… (Example 1: You step on their foot and they say sorry. Example 2: They sneeze and apologize. Example 3: A normal ‘thanks’ will not suffice. You will more than likely always hear a ‘thank you very much’. You buy a postcard and no matter what you do, you’re being thanked for it.) Although they are normally so polite, this man really was something. All I did was ask just why we would get no access, since everything will be monitored and all we needed is a guest pass. His reply simply was: “We don’t have to give a reason. That’s how it is. No more questions.” What a lovely way to say ‘Get the f*ck out.’

The rest of the day pretty much was just like every other day. Studying, dinner, some more studying and then basically talking until we were all too busy to stay up. Occasionally we always have visitors from the other flats hanging out where we are. I don’t think we’ve really been to other flats, at least not to really hang out. Oh well, time to get some sleep for the day ahead.

August 9 – Day 6 – Classes

Another day in Scotland. I’m sure that some of you have seen or at least heard of the movie Groundhog Day. This is slowly becoming exactly my groundhog week, I should almost say. So far, the mornings have been the same, classes have been the same and probably will continue to follow this certain scheme. But if we come to think about it, then this really is a good opportunity. What I have here are three courses for an entire semester bundled in two weeks time, including the final exams. Should I pass them, then I need not take these courses for the next or even the one after the next semester again.

All of us have slowly gotten into a certain daily rhythm. Going to bed late, getting up early, classes, and back home. Since I’m only taking up three of the four which are offered, I can always take an hour off in between the first and third course. By the time of the fourth course though, I have difficulties keeping my eyes open.

In the afternoon we decided that it was time to go grocery shopping again. “We decided” of course meaning that we realized that we had nothing more to drink and only a few slices of bread left to eat. We asked Mr Geisen again if he would take us with him and he agreed. Perhaps at this point it’s appropriate to tell you a little more about Mr Geisen. He has just turned 60, cycles, plays tennis and sings in a choir. This of course means that he likes classic music. So I wasn’t very surprised to sit in front with him and Denise in the back, with loud classical music playing and with him talking and occasionally singing along.

We reached Sainsbury’s again and he dropped us off and drove back to pick up others. A little bit about Scottish supermarkets: What struck me immediately was the vast variety of goods that they’re selling. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen such a large variety before. The prices are high and the cashiers are slow. With slow I mean slooow. I swear that you can watch the grass grow if you stand there watching those girls pull the goods over the scanner. Maybe it was just the one girl who was that slow? No, every time we went shopping, we had the same…problem. On the other hand, another feature you won’t find in Germany is the fact that if you ask one of the employees where to find a certain good, they won’t just point it out to you. What will happen is that they immediately stop doing whatever it was that they were doing and literally lead you right to it. It’s funny in a way because it really does look like a robot which has just gotten a new command.

Half an hour later and £50 poorer we headed out to wait for Mr Geisen. Since we had two carts full, we let another one of us go on the first ‘trip’. Mr Geisen, or rather Herbert (I did mention that he offered us all his first name?) promised to be back soon. It started raining and almost 45 minutes later we were starting to get just a little pissed because it didn’t really take longer than 6 minutes from the university to the store with the car. While it was raining we saw a small almost filthy looking car pull up and park. Out of it steps this little old man in the most traditional Scottish outfit that you can imagine. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me. Almost an hour later after Mr Geisen left, he finally appeared and soon after we were dragging our plastic bags up the stairs. All that followed was a nice dinner and another short night.

Friday, August 12, 2005

August 8 – Day 5 – Classes

Monday, 7.30 a.m. in Scotland. Five students literally dragging their butts out of bed for the translation class at 9.15 a.m. Since I chose not to take the literature course, I had one free hour after the translation class.

This was when I headed to the library to ask about the wireless lan connection. I was told that it was not a problem at all, so I headed back home to get the notebook. Back in the library I was sent to the people in charge of the network and computer systems and that’s when they told me that we would not get any access. That was weird. But I wasn’t going to give up just yet. So Christopher and I approached a girl who seemed to be a student here in Stirling. We told her our problem and she gave us her username and password. We thanked her but that of course didn’t suffice simply because we needed the client software to log into the network. Unfortunately, this program is also just available to students here at Stirling.

By 12.45 p.m. I was back with the others in my Cultural Studies course and afterwards the Communication course. 4 p.m. we were on our way out after a short stop in the computer lab. The rest of the evening we all spent studying for our courses. Dinner in between and more studying, more conversations and more laughter before heading to bed in the middle of the night again.