Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brühl. Brooool!

The great thing about visiting my friend Laura was that she is from a smaller town outside of Cologne, called Brühl , so I got to see how Carnival is celebrated in a more traditional ways, outside of the big show in Koln.

We started the day at one of her friends houses, with a big group of her friends from back in high school. Naturally, I sat there like a dumbo listening to all the german and understanding nothing. My 30 word German vocabulary doesn't lend too well to conversations. I'm pretty good at tuning people out now while they speak foreign languages in which I have no clue what is being said, and just seem interject when a thought pops into my head. Better than being a mute the entire time in some instances, which lends itself to not getting to know anyone. Since it is a smaller town most of her friends speak some English, but were not so confident in their abilities. That meant they more or less didn't pay too much attention to my humble presence unless coerced into talking via questions. Then they finally realize, after  reassurance that their English is ok, that a conversation is perfectly possible.

Big breakfasts seem to be a pretty German thing in my experience, and Carnival breakfasts don't disappoint. The table spread was massive. prosciutto, salamis, cheeses, fresh breads, jams, butter, nutella, and deserts such as Berliners (which is like a jelly roll donut). During carnival they also have a somewhat special food which is essentially raw ground beef. Spread it over a nice roll, and it is quite scrumptious indeed. I topped that off on a roll in addition to prosciutto and salami and they looked at me like I was from Mars. We stopped at the bakery beforehand and picked up some sweets to bring, but generously the host supplied nearly everything for a bloat inducing breakfast. She showed me her box of costumes from her and her dad's stuff from the last 30 years, they really get into it. I borrowed a black robe with some Japanese writing on it, stuck with the fish on my head, and settled for sushi chef (lame?). At least the fish on my head made me look like a buffoon.

Brühl is a tiny town of 50,000 or less. And for that size, they throw a heck of a parade. It seemed to last for at least 3 hours or so, and it felt like pretty much the whole town was out for it.With Lautaro also coming in from Luxembourg, we partook vigorously, like little kids, and tried to get a bit of everything they threw out (Lautaro enjoyed beating the kids to the candy). Apples, oranges, kids tshirts, coffee creamer, candy, kleenex, and plenty of other random things. Our group had a massive bag at the end. The resemblance to Halloween, sans parade, is certainly there.

Only in a small town can you take a photo with people in the parade!

You can drink beer on the street (well...like most countries on Earth).

I caught an orange!

These guys came right after the Texas redneck float. I'm not sure if the irony was planned.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Über Deutcheness

My jaunt across the border to Cologne wouldn't be complete without some hearty german meals. Not for those on a diet or veggie only eaters. Sausages, sliced fried potatoes, fried egg, a smattering of salad vegetables with a tzatziki-like white sauce, a creamed spinach dish, and topped off with a kölsch beer (just make sure to put the coaster on top of the glass after you finish or you get automatic refills). Marvel at it's unexpected deliciousness then let the bowling ball feeling settle in for the remainder of the day while you walk it off. Mmmmmm.
I overloaded on grilled bratwursts. Served with a few tiny slices of bread and mustard on the side.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cologne Carnival

Cologne (Köln) Carnival. It's like halloween meets St. Patrick's day on steroids, mixed with Lousiana Mardi Gras and lasting full on for 6 days (sans lewd guys trying to get girls to show their boobs on balconies, but including a wave of 'carnival babies' 9 months later). Comparing carnival in Koln to that of Rio is a bit useless. The one in Koln is definitely unique into it's own. It's one of the biggest in Europe, and the Germans in North-Rheine Westphalia, the state Cologne is in, definitely go all out over it. They even call it their 'fifth season', because technically their celebrations start in November and don't end until Ash Wednesday. Every small town in this state seems to have their own parade. Even the Monday before Ash Wednesday is a state holiday so people can attend the big parade in Cologne.

And in those 6 days you'll see it all. You can walk down many a street in the afternoon, seeing packed lines on the sidewalks so people can get out of the cold and into bars. People in Bert and Ernie costumes or dressed as clowns with their butts pressed up against the steamy glass windows as they dance on a bench to some classic German Oompah carnival songs with a tiny kölsch beer in their hand (kölsch is a style of beer specific to only Cologne, highly akin to water and served in mini .2 L glasses, contrasting completely with it's famous Bavarian counterparts). Trying to find a bar for a nice drink where you can talk easily in the city during Carnival, now that is a challenge which we failed miserably at.

But it's not just for people in their 20s. You will see all ages dressed up and out, from people pushing their dressed up stroller kids to 85 year olds. It's a real tradition, and people get seriously into it. There are the traditional Carnival costumes, like the clowns with the patchwork fabric, or more conservative but still festive suits and dresses for men/women, plus plenty of non-traditional ones, like a group of ghostbusters, for example. Pirates, military guys, dumbo, Jesus, anything with makeup, it's all there.

On Monday ('Rose Monday'), there is a parade in Cologne that lasts 6 hours or so, with something like 1 million people out and about in the streets. They throw out candies from the floats during the parade, mostly. Also, things like oranges, single flowers, and stranger junk like coffee creamer, t-shirts, masks, etc. And not just the kids yell for them to throw stuff, so the atmosphere is quite lively with many people shouting and laughing and excited. Nothing as gaudy and hot and sweaty as Rio, but certainly as festive. I even felt a bit out of place one day not wearing any sort of costume walking around the city.

My friend Laura, whom I met last semester in Gent and is from a city just outside Cologne, was there to show me around. We saw some parades, went to some bars, ate some quintissential german food, and did a bunch of other touristy stuff while at it, even spending a day at her hometown 30 minutes away, Bruhl, for their celebration. One day, Lautaro, my friend from Buenos Aires, joined us, and another evening Monika, who is also from Germany but living here in Gent, joined us. I bought a stupid looking fish hat in Gent, and was given a black robe with some japanese signage, so I went as a sushi chef.  
The sight as you leave the train station.

Smaller neighborhood parade.

Random Person with a bloody face eating a bunny

Monika & Laura

Cool Glasses. Nice fishhead.

Main parade in Cologne. It was pretty difficult to get close..
Germans seem to be professionals at dancing on elevated surfaces.

I exceptionally enjoy the hilarity of the guy on the left and right in this picture.

Group Costume

Hundreds of people seemed to enjoy wearing ponchos, sombrero's and massive fake mustaches.

The Cologne cathedral meets carnival

Monday, February 13, 2012

Medieval Mailboxes

Proud to say I mailed something in this monolithic mailbox recently. There are a few of them around Gent. I think I'll drop all of my mail in here in the future, just for fun. When you look forward to dropping something off in the mailbox just to see the box, life must be good (...or maybe you're just a weirdo with a penchant for mailboxes that look incredibly old...).


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Church or Cathedral?

I was reminded recently by a Belgian friend on the distinction of a church and a cathedral. It should be a no-brainer, shouldn't it? It seems that since I've been here in Gent, with all the massive and impressive churches, I'd just taken to calling them all cathedrals. On the other hand, I can't name a single cathedral in the bay area off the top of my head. They just all seem all relatively simple plain structures, so why not call them a church? I mean, you need at least a few gargoyles and cool arches to elevate it to cathedral status, right? I'm just religiously challenged. Complicated stuff (highly important, as well). 

There is a church less than 2 blocks from me, which towers over a massive plaza. Nobody seems to ever be coming or going. The bells ring, and ring, and ring, and ring. The plaza is always buzzing with events, but the church seems ever so static. For that reason, I never decided to go inside this massive domed thing in 4 months of last year. I recently made the effort and walked the two blocks to check it out. And if this is only a church, it just makes me wonder how filthy rich the Catholic Church has been over the centuries to create structures so detailed and impressive which still were not even considered the regional centers of church life. This is essentially a neighborhood church. Check it.

Clergy Approved.

Nice backdrop for a festival.

Nice backdrop for some sitting action.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

And so it goes...

 It's always tough to see good friends leave. Especially in this international program, you spend so much time with people in what feels like such a short time; countless of hours over classes, studying, dinners, drinks, etc; become good friends, then time seems to expire and people must go their different ways. Such a mix of different people coming together quite closely probably wouldn't be so possible in many other ways except an Erasmus program like this. Today, Netsanet had to leave for Edinburgh. Dennis and Mark left a few weeks back also to Edinburgh. Laura is leaving to Germany. Andrej was here for a few weeks and now moved back to Lund. And while it is a bit sad to see everyone go, especially after spending one to one and a half years with each, I know that I'll see them again, hopefully in Costa Rica, Canada, Germany, Ethiopia, Slovenia, etc... (and at the very least, for graduation). In any case, I look forward to new experiences and better friendships with all the fire students, oceanography students, and others who are staying in Gent.
Me, Andrej, Brecht, and Mark on the Slovenian coast.

Hands down, challenger for photo of the year. Funny Germans. Laura & Monika.
Some coffee with Nets this summer in Addis Ababa

Well, my beard is hilariously huge. Mark, Helene, Hernan, Dennis, Rita.
Purchasing Beer Belgian style with Dennis.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Light Festival

Things like this are part of what makes Gent such a unique and fun city to live in. They are always putting on creative events and festivals which use the amazing space and landscape of the city so effectively. From the floating string orchestra accompanied by a laser light show on the canal in the middle of the city last October, to this 4 day light festival, which transformed the entire city center into a showcase of artist designed light shows melted into the city's incredible architecture. 
Thats the main building in the city center.
The castle

One of the city's churches.