Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Field Trippin'

I finally did it. I went on my first field trip as a teacher. Last Thursday another teacher and I took 35 students and 4 other adults to a Mets game. While I would like to say that it wasn't stressful, it totally was!!

The initial plan was to take 2 classes - which both this other teacher and I have. One of the classes decided they just didn't want to get their crap together so they got kicked off the trip. We had to take 30 kids to go, so I just bought 35 tickets and spent a frantic week trying to get enough kids who could 1) come and 2) pay the $8.

The day of the trip, I ended up with 41 people - more students and more adults than I expected. It was crazy trying to gather everyone together from all over the building, collect money, collect permission slips, find missing students, etc...especially since the other teacher wasn't beeing much of a help.

Our school's principal has recently decided to reinstate the uniform "rules" at school and checks to make sure kids have them when they go on field trips. I told my kids that they had to wear it at school but I didn't care about after that. Thank God they all listened to me! They were trying to take them off before we left and I told them that I just knew our Gutless Leader would be outside and we wouldn't be able to go. They all begrudgingly obliged me and pull their uniforms out of the bottoms of their backpacks and put them on. As a potential twist of fate, Mercedes (the principal) was just parking his car and walking into the building as we walked out. My students seamlessly pushed the few non-uniformed kids to the inside of the group and surrounded them in their white and blue 390 t-shirts. We were all smiles and "Good Morning Mr. Mercedes", "Have a great day Mr. Mercedes".... It was glorious.
Of course, by the time we got to the subway, most of the shirts were gone, but oh well. I was amazed at how these crazy little people could be so different once they were out of the building. I would have never imagined how scared some of them could be about riding the subway. Granted our subway ride was long and we had to transfer at a busy station, but we survived.

We were supposed to arrive at 11 for an hour long educational program but we came late, along with most of the other schools by the looks of it. Bygones really as we were there for the game or more likely to get out of school.
The game was great too and I am no huge fan of baseball. The Mets were trailing the Cubs 5 to 1 in the bottom of the 9th and out of nowhere they got 3 runs in a row, then another run, and then a home run. It was beautiful! My kids were so glad that we didn't duck out in the 7th inning like most of the stadium.

At any rate, it was a great experience. It made me realize that I might actually like my students. Heck, I might actually like being their teacher. Go figure.

Mets Field Trip

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Expose: Deutchland April '07

I know this is over a month late, but hey...I have had things to do. Please note: the retelling of this grand adventure is not for the faint-of-reading heart! Also, if it's possible, I suggest you go to the photo album link at the bottom of the blog and open the pics in another window. That way you can kind of follow along with the story...

Let me take you back to a time and place - April 1st at the JFK Airport. This is where our adventure begins. The crew consisted of Carla, Sidney, Heather, and me. We are all teachers so we were all in desperate need of a good time. Where better to find that time than beautiful Cologne, Germany? Cologne is located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and lies along the border of Germany and Belgium.

After a delightful 2.5 hour subway/shuttle/train trip to lovely Newark, we had great times navigating international airport goodness. Once we got bags checked, money exchanged, and food in our stomachs we were pleased to see that we were well dressed for the whole group thing - we were all wearing green or purple or a combination of the 2. The flight was almost 8 hours plus and extra time to get into the city of Cologne. We decided to start right in on the adventures.

When we walked up out of the train station, Carla's Germany came in handy for asking directions to our hostel. About a block from there we saw a giant map posted on a wall and attempted to use it to help us find our way. We ended up walking maybe a mile down that street until we realized that civilization was disappearing and perhaps we had gone too far. We turned around and headed back. It suddenly dawned on me that I had my trusty Lonely Planet and this might possibly have a map in it. With map in hand we were lucky to come across to friendly Germans who rerouted us back in the right direction. Thankfully they were able to point out some good drinking streets along the way.

For your enjoyment I am including a picture of our trusty map...which was located on our original street just a simple 2 blocks away from our hostel.

We stayed at a place called the Meininger that was just off one of the main streets and pretty close to town. Benefits were a 24 hour open bar. I mention this now because I forgot to add an earlier detail that is quite bemusing. Right before we left, I had started my typhoid vaccination (in preparation for China). This seems easy enough but it really wasn't. It is a live vaccination of 3 pills which have to be taken every 48 hours. My last pill was to be taken Monday night...the evening of our arrival in Cologne. Since the vaccination is live, this met taking my final capsule to the airport in a ziploc baggie of ice wrapped in a 2nd bag. At the airport I had to replace the ice much to the bemusement of other airport A&W patrons. While on the plane I had to continuously get fresh ice from the stewardess. When we finally got to the hostel we were too early to check in so we have to leave our bags and check in later. I tried as best I could to explain to the guy what I needed with my pill. This is where the 24 hour bar comes little typhoid buggers got to hang out in the bar's fridge. All was well.

We wandered for a bit after check in and came across part of the old Roman wall and a tower. It is crazy to think that they were built almost 900 years ago! The US has old but this stuff is seriously ancient! After a quick nap and some dinner, we tried some of the local beer, Kolsch. As legend (aka Wikipedia) has it, Germany has been brewing beer since 874 and can only be called Kolsch if it is produced in a brewery that has a view of the Kolner Dom. [Note: The KD will be discussed later.] Lonely Planet says there are over 20 types of Kolsch, but Wiki says there are only 14. Apparently Kolsch is the only beer that cannot be brewed outside the Cologne region. There was a Kolsch Convention in 1986 to establish this - these people are serious about their beer. There are many laws and regulations about this stuff, most of them very boring. What I found interesting, and supposed by Wiki, is that US and Japan have "fake" Kolsch-style beers. When I googled Kolsch, I discovered Pyramid's Summer Ale, Curve Ball, is marketed (at least online) as a Kolsch. Don't believe a word of it! The Dom is big, but I know you cannot in fact see it from Seattle! So, night one ended at our hostel, trying Kolsch #1 Reissdorf.

Germany Day 2 was a day of adventure and mystery. Our first stop of the day was to go to the Kolner Dom. Its sheer size can literally not be described. You can possibly tell from the massive number of pics - it was so big it's impossible to get a clear pic of it from the ground. I have included a pic of it on a post card so you can get a nice bird's eye view too! ANYWAY, the Dom was amazing! We walked around the inside Cathedral area for a bit before heading to the Cathedral Treasury. It is in the Treasury where they keep all of the priceless pieces of Dom history. Next came the lofty ascent of the Dom's South Tower. It was a treacherous 70 meter climb up to the end of the skinny spiral staircase. Then, I (alone) took the next set of stairs to the actual observation platform - 97 meters and 509 steps up. The view was still breathtaking despite the overcast day. There were some great views of the Rhine and the surrounding buildings. After we walked around the entire Dom outside to see all it had to offer, we went to the Romano-Germanic Museum. It was there that we learned how Cologne came to be and about the people who have lived here over the eons. Afterwards, we wandered a bit more around the Dom and came across the Rathaus (City Hall basically). There wasn't much to see there, since its a functioning workplace, but there was some incredibly tacky 70's style architecture and a giant chicken.

Since the museums all closed relatively early, our choices for entertainment were limited. We got some Donner Kabab and wandered. We found The Church of the 12 Apostles, one of many Romanesque churches. This church had amazing modern-looking geometric patterned stained glass windows. We then did some shopping and formulated our Great Plan. The Great Plan was to begin a multiple day Kolsch Krawl wherein we would travel around and try as many of the different Kolsches as we could. In starting this mission, we realized that all of the restaurants/cafes that sold Kolsch, they only sold one kind. Working on the idea that there were 20 different Kolsch breweries, that would mean a lot of barhopping, hence the "multiple day" context of the Krawl. By evening's end, we had tried Gaffel Kolsch (#2), Dom Kolsch (#3), Summer Kolsch (#4), Sion Kolsch (#5), Gilden Kolsch (#6), and Muhlen Kolsch (#7). Before you decide we were bumbling drunks, I will add another interesting fact: Kolsch has its own glass! Kolsch is usually served in tall, skinny glasses called Stagen (pole) that hold anywhere from 2.0L to 3.0L of beir. The fun little glasses are then usually brought around to the tables in a Kranz (wreath) that holds many little glasses all at once. Don't worry, there are pics!

Day 3's main mission was to go to the Chocolate Museum - no explanation needed. It is located on a little island right on the Rhine and it looks like a big boat. There we learned about the origin and cocoa-growing process, took a live-production factory tour, and sampled chocolate out of a delightful flowing chocolate fountain. We then checked out other exhibits on the cultural history of chocolate, advertising, porcelain made especially for the consumption of hot chocolate, Mesoamerica and their love for chocolate, and so much other chocolate-related stuff I can't even recall. Who knew there was so much! At the end you get to go into their Chocolate store and buy chocolates from all over the world. It was glorious.

After those delicious adventures we decided to attempt to find a place called the Praetorium, which we were unsuccessful in finding the previous day. On the way there, we stopped at another Romanesque church, Gross St. Martins. Inside there was an amazing wooden crucifix, a Roman excavation downstairs, and phenomenal spires outside. This time, the Praetorium could not hide from us - we got directions AND we got there before closing hours. The Praetorium was actually an ancient building and now you can go underground and see the building's remains and part of the sewer system. It was all amazingly well preserved for being a "few" hundred years old.

We then hiked to the north end of town in hopes of going to the photography museum but again failed to check ahead of time to see if they were open. It was nice out, there was a pond, and we had curry wurst so it all worked out in the end. Plus, I was able to get closer to some random tower that looks amazingly like the Space Needle in Seattle. (They have a similar tower in New Zealand but that one I went up into!) We then headed back towards the Dom and stopped at what we thought was St. Maria's (from the LP Book) but it actually turned out to be St. Andrews. This would neither be our first (or is it 5th?) church visit nor would it be our last. That evening we met a special friend - our very own Reise Fuhrer Hase (tour guide rabbit), Hans. We "borrowed" him from the hostel bar and he joined us for dinner and drinks. Dinner was exceptional (The Crepe Rachel - how fitting) and Ganser Kolsch (#8) and then later, Fruh Kolsch (#9). The latter being the grossest Kolsch, hands down.

Day 4 started out very well planned. We headed out to see St. Gereon and were slightly surprised to find it was the "St. Christopher's" we had seen the day before. These kinds of things happen when the signs are in German. Thank goodness Carla took some strange classes when she was studying in Germany! The short story is that St. Chris' was destroyed and St. G's was built in its place. Thankfully this time we went inside! The church had amazing stained glass windows, a 4 story decagonal dome and a choir room with remaining ancient wall frescos. I added a post card of the ceiling because it was just that great!

The museum of the day was the ED-DE Museum which was a former Gestapo prison and is currently a tribute to what occurred in Cologne during the Nazi regime. I paid the extra money to get the audio tour which helped since many of the signs were not translated into English. Afterward, we hiked back down the hill to the Rhine waterfront to take an hour long tour. It took us down to the southern edge of Cologne and then back north past our starting point before heading back in. Other than some nice views of the city, it wasn't really that interesting – sad.

Heading back to our hostel, we wandered into an old-looking beir house for Paffgen Kolsch (#10). Then, we hunted down St. Maria im Kapitol (which we had been trying since the beginning) and checked out her really old relics including a wooden door from 1065 carved with the images of the Passion of the Christ.

Back at the hostel we were told that the city virtually shuts down for the Easter holiday on Friday, Sunday, and Monday. In preparation, we got schnitzel for dinner then stocked up on food for the weekend.

Due to Good Friday celebrations, any places were supposed to be closed. As our major plan for Day 5 was to go to the 3pm services at the Kolner Dom, we took the opportunity to catch up on a lot of sleeping. On the way to the Dom we were pleasantly surprised to see many cafes open – food would be available!! The service at the Dom was nice but it was hard not being able to understand anything that was being said. After services we wandered in search of a snack and ended up with Gelato. Success again!

Our evening's entertainment started out as a hunt around our hostel for yet undiscovered Kolsch but nothing came of it. We decided to hike back down to the waterfront and ended up with Peter's Kolsch (#11). We spent the rest of the evening wandering around the city and were informed by a friendly kiosk owner who confirmed many of our Kolsch theories. Only 1 brand of Kolsch can be served at a bar or restaurant, but stores can carry whatever they want. Not all Kolsches are bottled but if there are 14/20 different makers, that would mean we would have to travel the ENTIRE city looking for bars that sold the less-popular makers. All in all the day was a success.

For our 6th day in Germany we decided to take the train out of Cologne to the south to the nearby towns of Bruhl and Bonn. In Bonn we checked out Beethoven's birthplace. There was a small museum there too which was decent. We wandered around the town a bit to see what could be seen. We happened into the Minorite Church which was unimpressive to look at but was where Beethoven played the organ at church services when he was young. Other sites consisted of the Muster Basilika (church), Altes Rathaus (city hall), Post Office, and Beethoven Memorial. Thinking that we'd seen all we could, we headed back north to Bruhl which is just 30 minutes south of Cologne.

The main site in Bruhl is the Schloss Augustusburg – a baroque palace. It was surrounded by a formal English garden and large paths through the gardens surrounded by the fountains. That was about it. Heading back to the train, We saw Geisler Kolsch (#12) and Bischoff Kolsch (#13).

While finishing up some last minute stuff when back in Cologne, we again came across our elusive Giant Pink Building. This time, we went in. It was St. Maria Himmelfahrt. The strange pink building and the heavy fencing outside didn't make sense until we walked inside. Most of the chapel was locked off, but we could see the amazing golden…relic (?) of religions background. There was pretty much gold everywhere, it was incredible! We regretted not being there during the day so we could see more of it!

We had seen 2 clubs down the street from our hostel that had 2 new Kolsches. The sad news was that 1 had a huge line and the other had a huge cover. Salvation came from the corner grocery store were we found 2 bottled new Kolsches – Hansa Kolsch (#14) and Sester Kolsch (#15). This night in Germany was celebrated with delicious falafel…as all good things should be.

Germany Day 7 also just happened to be Easter Sunday. Honestly, we slept in, got up for breakfast, and then went back to bed. This is just how holidays get to be – before we all have families and what not to worry about. It was fabulous. The day's adventure was the Museum Ludwig, the modern art museum. We also made one last fatal attempt to see St. Ursula's…she supposedly had a FABULOUS "Golden Chamber". Her chamber also apparently had visiting hours which we were unaware of so her chamber will remain a secret for now.

Our last day, (day 8) was when we were informed that Holy Easter Monday was the holiest of Christian Holidays and therefore breakfast would be served later (pushing our airport departure time), the grocery stores would be closed (canceling our bottle return plan), and there would be no stops for good coffee on the way out. Before we left, we put Hans in the elevator and sent him to the 4 th floor. We figured someone else could use the tour guide. Our time together was special – Good bye my sweet Hans…

There. I am done. You have made it to the end. My introduction to Germany was fabulous and I can't wait to go back and see some more of the country!! Hope you enjoy the pictures!!

Germany April 07