Woche Fierzehn and Funfzehn

Week Fourteen and Fifteen! Slightly less behind schedule than the other 'living abroad' posts.

The image is the view of the courtyard from my bed. This is the first time I've had an apartment looking onto a courtyard; I'm adding it to my list of 'nice-tohaves' for the next apartment. On weekdays, I'm up and out of the apartment before the sun is up. But on the weekends, I stick around until after sunrise. There are birds in the trees in the courtyard. There's lots of natural light without blinding direct sun. It's nice, is what I'm saying, and I'll miss it when I move out.

Other random thoughts from the past two weeks in Europe:

I realized while I was in Switzerland last weekend: I never see a German flag. We Americans splash them on everything, from t-shirts to water bottles to junk food. Hell, in my neck of the woods, we even splash the Confederate flag on everything; my cousin has one painted on the back of his truck. Similarly, in Switzerland, the white cross was everywhere last weekend. But the German flag? I can't even tell you the correct order of the colors and, between this year and last, I've lived in the country 8 months. Why is this? Well, like most stuff that's happened in Germany in the past century: because of Nazis! Hitler turned German nationlism into a very bad thing. However, in the past few years, it is becoming more accepted, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and, even more so, the World Cup in 2006. It will be interesting to go back to America in a few weeks and be inundated with patriotism again.

Also related to my recent trip to Switzerland: Trains are really, really awesome. Before my three months in Germany last year, I had only ever ridden a train for transportation once: an Amtrak from Effingham, Illinois to Chicago. It was very exciting and my next go-to daydream was living in Chicago, a not insignificant reason being that I could take a train home. It might take as long as driving, but a train meant total freedom - I could read, I could watch a movie. I could take a nap! And now, almost ten years later, this dream is realized. The biggest advantage to trains, though, is the precision. Last weekend, I had six minutes between trains. Six! For me, public transportation always meant airplanes, where you needed a layover of at least 2 hours or you were probably missing your connecting flight because of delays, airport size, and slow/rude fellow passengers. But trains? Six minutes! Additional side note, I spent every weekend last year on a train, usually with at least one connecting train, and never missed a one.

One more notice from the Switzerland trip. Last year, I only stayed at an Airbnb once, preferring to stick to budget hotels or hostels. However, my last weekend in Hamburg, due to a dearth of reasonably-priced other options, I took over an apartment via the site. Then, between my return in July to the end of last year, I stayed at an Airbnb three times - once in St. Louis for a family trip, once for a girls' weekend in Wisconsin, and once for a quick weekend in Miami. And now there is no going back. The Hamburg experience was fine, not particularly better than a hotel. But the family trip and girls' weekend were amazing - we were able to hang out in common spaces and it was so much cheaper than everyone getting a hotel room. The Miami stay had a totally different benefit; we were in a residential area near the beach and our portion of the beach was almost deserted. Later in the weekend, after 'checking out,' we went to the beach near the hotels. Compared to the residential beach area, it was crowded and dirty and noisy. Between these experiences, I'm a total convert to the site now. I've used Airbnb twice so far this year, once in Paris and once in Geneva. Both times it was much more preferable to staying in a hotel. I was able to get a great location without spending too much. I will be using Airbnb again for a trip to Spain in June and my trip to NYC in May. It doesn't work for every city though - when I go to Vienna and Salzburg in a few weeks, the hotels were still a lot cheaper.

And now for one more German topic: Stoplights. Or Ampel, in German. Maybe this is just where I'm from in Indiana and Illinois, but the stoplights back home seem pretty random.  There isn't much of a pattern - some are timed, some have sensors. In Germany, it's basically a Swiss watch. Every single day, on the way to and from work, I hit the exact same lights. I have figured out how to count them off. I turn onto the main road next to my apartment and the second light I pass turns yellow then red just as I pull up to it: 1-2-3-4. Then light two blocks up turns yellow then red just as the light one block up turns and then the block I'm on, etc. They're synchronized with the lights in the area and the trams. This improves the traffic flow immensely. Impressive organization, Germany!