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I'm a homeless illegal immigrant...?

a travel blog by lost_red_balloon

Okay, so it's not that serious. But I had to either leave Germany for a while or extend my residency permit. Simultaneously my housing expired. Home was too expensive. So I went to bum off of friends in other countries.

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Leaving Freiburg

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

Well guys, I'm finally out of here. I got my paper, presentation, internship and packing all finished, so all that's left to do is hop on a plane and leave. My appointment with the Hausmeister was today at about twelve (I didn't sleep at all last night for packing) and I dropped some stuff with some friends to keep until I get back. Went to work because I had nowhere else to go, ran a few errands, and barely made my bus to the airport. So now I'm just waiting for my plane from Basel to London.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on February 27, 2009 from Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
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London Calling

London, United Kingdom

Made it!!!

I got into the London Gatwick airport last night at about 11:30. The train I had booked to get to London Bridge station got detoured or something (there were a lot of "urgent's" everywhere with new directions to places in London I don't know) and the ticket machine wouldn't recognize my card anyway (meaning I couldn't print out my tickets) so I just bought another ticket - this one for the Gatwick Express. Non-stop between Gatwick and Victoria.

The confusion led to me using up a fair amount of my newly bought phone credit (because i can't top-up outside of Germany) trying to get Steph to go to Victoria instead. Which worked. When I got to Victoria I was just putting my luggage down on the platform when AG called. Apparently Steph just didn't recognize me at first - I was wearing a coat (which I don't do at home), my hair was darker, longer, I'm paler, and I was on the phone with someone. I found this concept quite amusing - but it's sad that we hadn't seen each other in that long. :(

ANYWAY, so the weekend was spent in London. The wonderful part was that we didn't have a terribly concrete plan... except to find Banksy pieces. So most of the weekend was spent wandering and getting by (meaning we ate). And we did find Banksy pieces!!! I uh... may have turned into a giddy five year old girl... maybe.... We also found the 100 Club, which is basically the first venue in which punk music was ever played (that wasn't someone's garage or something) and meant to find a few other sites but never got around to it. We did find Platform 9 3/4 as well, which was really entertaining. It's basically half of a luggage cart sticking out of a wall. Picture time!

We met some really awesome people, too. The first night at the hostel was incredibly entertaining - the place is designed for "young backpackers" which I think just translates to party-ish. The place is right above a bar, at any rate. But there was a misunderstanding between Steph and the people there, so we only had it booked for 1 night. Fortunately we took so long trying to figure out the luggage storage place the next day (they said we could keep our luggage there during the day while we found another place) that we were right there when two people from the other hostel connected to the one we were in cancelled. So we shlepped our stuff all the way over, but it was considerably quieter there. Except for the French guys who played guitar and sang all day in the room next door. The guy who worked there was named Fernando and had a CRAZY upbringing: I think he was Portugese, but he'd lived in Germany, China, South Africa, and a couple other places. He was really nice and actually gave us graffiti-finding advice.

Pictures will come soon, I promise.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 1, 2009 from London, United Kingdom
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the land of William Wallace

Stirling, United Kingdom

I can't believe how bizarre it is to be in Scotland. This needs some explanation.

So, there's a stereotype about Germans that they're very blunt and mean. This is a very simplistic and naïve version of something that is, kind of, true. Germans tend to be more private and distant, but only at first. I have met very few mean or unfriendly Germans. It's just that at first it can be hard to get to know anyone, because people don't talk. That whole thing Americans have about just making conversation with the person next to you in a line that's taking too long does not happen. At all. Once you get to know people they are very nice, and very funny and helpful and welcoming and everything like that.

So suddenly being in a place where people make jokes and talk before actual introductions is a HUGE shock for me. The weird part of it is that it's exactly like home. Except with accents. For something that I've missed so much (this incredible openness, helpfulness, friendliness) it shouldn't shock me so much. But it does.

Anyway, on Monday (the 2nd) I caught a noon train headed for Stirling. I've discovered that the English countryside heading up strangely resembles the Midwest... in winter anyway. I slept through most of it (even though I'd promised myself I wouldn't) and woke up just as I started to get into Scotland. I was, for a while, thoroughly confused about the landscape. AG had sent me all of these pictures of Stirling and her university, and they were all in the mountains. So the clock kept ticking away and I kept thinking "there are no mountains!" There was fog and rain and sheep and villages and churches and everything except mountains. Suddenly, about 5 minutes before the train was due in, they suddenly appeared out of the fog. There were no foothills or anything - just flat, and then mountains. Small mountains, granted, but in America they would have had foothills.

My first night here we were supposed to go to a cailidh (the spelling may be wrong, but either way it's pronounced kay-lee) which is a sort of traditional dance. But AG didn't manage to get tickets, so we ended up drinking hot chocolate instead. One night we also went to the Celtic Music Association's meeting (which is just some people playing music and everyone else listening). Seating was rough, but the place was, it claims, the oldest pub in Scotland. Overall it was pretty cool. Minus the sitting on bathroom steps part.

We took "day trips" to Edinburgh and Glasgow (Stirling is about halfway in between). Day trips is in quotes because AG sleeps so late - they were actually more like evening trips. But they were nice, anyway. In Edinburgh we ate dinner at the Elephant House - J.K. Rowling used to go there to sit in the backroom and write. Even without the claim to fame, though, the food was delicious and the building and restaurant itself was absolutely awesome. Our waiter was American and doing his Masters at the university there, but it took everyone a very long to figure out that we were all from the same country. In Glasgow, we basically ate and went to a piercing parlor.

I did have one really awesome experience on the University itself. Their classes are split into lectures and tutorials - lectures are just that. It's almost like watching a performance because there is no interaction at all between the professors and students. I went to a few lectures (LInguistics and Scottish history) because 1) I would have been bored and alone otherwise 2) I was interested and 3) no one would know that I wasn't Scottish let alone not a student. So one day AG was in a tutorial, which are smaller, discussion-based classes I can't sit in on, so I just wandered the loch (yep, they have a loch!) taking nature-y pictures. The trees all had these really cool, twisted silhouettes because of how the light was (sun through fog) and it's still winter. I saw one particularly cool one up the hill from me, and decided to get closer to get a good picture of it.

So I go ahead and start climbing the hill, just in my sneakers, jeans, overcoat, etc. It was mucky and squishy and I've never heard so many sounds come from the ground I've walked on. I had to fight my way through underbrush and around various sorts of plants. Finally at the top near the tree, I break out of a wall of spindly little bushes, kind of stumble out, and look up to find about 5 or 6 people. Swordfighting. In medieval costumes.

There was maybe a full minute of silence in which everyone just stared at each other. I still don't know who was more shocked: me to find medieval sword-fighters, or them to see me fighting my way out of bushes. So I just dusted off my knees, said "Um... have a nice day!" and walked away. When I was finally a good distance away from them (meaning they wouldn't get suspicious) I turned around to take a picture of them against the mountain. (it will be posted soon, promise!)

Other than that, I just spent a lot of time in AG's flat. Her roommates have a really funny dynamic, and I really enjoyed just hanging out with everybody and watching how they interacted with each other.

Anyway, tomorrow I catch a plane from Prestwick to Shannon. Later!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 9, 2009 from Stirling, United Kingdom
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Limerick, Ireland

So I got into Shannon Airport in Ireland at about 7:30 and had to find a bus to Limerick. I find the Irish bus system very confusing, for future reference. I managed, although I had to actually pull the "I'm not from here and I don't know how things work and I'm just a 20 year old girl please don't be mad" kind of act a few times. Strange that I didn't have to do anything of the sort in Eastern Europe, or Spain, or France, or anywhere else. Nope. Just the place where people actually do speak English.

Anyway, I made it to LImerick. Really though I didn't spend much time in Limerick. I spent a few days there - I explored the campus, met some people, sat in on some classes. We did go to a medieval feast in a castle that H.'s program let me tag along to. We had a tour of the castle and the grounds (which have a village set up in the old-fashioned Irish village way). Then we went into the main hall of the castle, sat on benches at really long tables, and had a medieval feast. The whole thing was structured like an actual meal - the courses and traditions were all the same as hundreds of years ago. The food was delicious, but hard to eat without silverware. And the costumes were horrendous and the performances rather cheesy. But overall it was a lot of fun.

Then we set out for some traveling.

First, H. and I went to the Aran Islands. My impression of that trip is that the Islands tend to be kind of overlooked on the Irish tour scene. But the impression I get, both from the extent of my travels and from H.'s recounting of her classes, is that Ireland is falling victim to commercialization. Pubs are becoming chains, music is going a little more mainstream, and people keep moving to cities. We went to Galway first, which was really nice, and had dinner in a pub with live music, then a ferry to the Islands. It was like landing in a completely different place. The landscape is much more rugged, and everything is older. It's almost untouched by the rest of Ireland. We went to the biggest island, Inis Mor, rented bikes, and rode to all of the sights.

First we went to Dún Aonghasa, which is basically a >2000 year old Celtic fort right on the cliffside facing the Atlantic. It was epic. It was a straight shot down to the ocean (and I mean way down) inside this old fort which had pathways and ancient methods of defense. In the middle, right on the edge of the cliff, was a big block of stone which was probably used for ceremonies. Apparently the boundary between land and sea was of huge mythological importance to the ancient tribes there.

From the fort one is SUPPOSED to be able to go to the "Wormhole," which was something H. and I both really wanted to see. But the guy at the bike place told us to just walk straight along the cliffs until we saw it, which would have worked if the cliffs weren't fenced off past the fort. So we walked back down towards the welcome center, trying to figure out how to get to the Wormhole. We considered jumping a gate we passed and just walking, but figured we'd ask at hte welcome center anyway.

At the welcome center, the lady basically told us in a really hushed tone "well, its private property, but no one is ever out there. Just jump the white gate."

So back we went to the gate, and jumped it. This quickly turned into a mile or two hike across cow fields and cross-country along the cliffs. We had to jump a few of the old stone walls Ireland is famous for, by technicality cross a waterfall on the side of the cliff (which was really just a trickle of water onto a ledge, but we enjoyed the literal description) and deal with rocky terrain, bogs, and cow paddies. By the time we were neared the first big inlet, though, we realized we didn't know how far the Wormhole was, and suddenly the expedition turned into a really cool idea. We were out of the area where even the cows can go. We were walking across the cliffs exactly as people have been for thousands of years, looking for a natural landmark. I couldn't believe that I was experiencing this in probably the same way the first person to find the Wormhole did - by just walking and exploring until we found something cool.

We did find it. It was in the second big inlet. The Wormhole is (I know you're dying of curiosity by now) essentially a big, perfectly rectangular hole in a ledge on the cliffside. Naturally made. Perfectly right angles. Crazy. The tide was out when we got there, so we couldn't really see the water in it, but we were tired and decided to sit a while. Turns out the tide was coming in, so we sat there and watched water gradually pour into the rectangle. Then the waves started to crash against the cliffside. H. and I were sitting about 2 feet from the edge (there was a ledge below us, just in case - we checked) leaning against another rock sheltered from the wind. Eventually the waves came in so forcefully that we actually got wet from waves... on top of the cliff. I have a photo that is shot looking straight out from the cliff, and the white foam that takes up most of the frame is the wave. So H. and I sat there together for a good 45 minutes, on the side of a cliff, with no one around and a private few of Ireland and the Atlantic.

From the Aran Islands we took a ferry back to the mainland, then a bus to Doolin. Doolin is a TINY town. As in, our hostel is the place to buy groceries and bus tickets. Doolin is also the closest town to the Cliffs of Moher. We talked to the guy at the hostel and got some advice. We went out to lunch at Fitzgerald's, which was kind of mediocre but good enough to fill a stomach. Then we took the 5:00-ish bus out to the Cliffs, knowing the next one didn't come until 8:30 or so. The Cliffs of Moher are much higher than the cliffs on the islands, and greener, and overall much more impressive, but it's so touristy. There are paved paths, and stairs, and people everywhere, and H. and I were just laughing about how unimpressive the experience of being there was. The Cliffs themselves are awesome, but stairs are nothing to rock walls, and paved pathways are not bogs.

Because we couldn't get a bus back before dark (which was part of the plan) we walked back on the Burren Way, which they tell everyone is a popular biking and hiking trail. What it actually is is no space on the side of a road. At least until a turn-off. But it's really scenic and follows the coast almost all the way back to Doolin. It was actually really fun - just walking along the side of a little country road in Ireland with some rations in our bags. We were most of the way back (we'd been walking for about an hour, and it's only supposed to be an hour an fifteen minute walk) when a car pulled up next to us. Inside was this 70 or 80 year old farmer who offered us a ride. I told Heather I didn't care if we got in or not, because he seemed completely harmless. She said yes, so we hopped in. I did a check to make sure we could get out if we wanted (which is what I do most places I go now, looking at doors, locks, speeds, etc.) but the guy was in an old car with manual locks. And was driving at about 2 miles an hour. He was really nice, but impossible to escape a conversation with. He dropped us off in Doolin.

That night we went to McDougal's pub, which is the only actual traditional Irish pub I've seen, and apparently one of the last ones around. It was dark and dusty with fantastic traditional food - H. had Irish stew and I had vegetable pancakes. There was traditional Irish music and spontaneous step dancing. It was a lot of fun. We did meet a bunch of people from Texas, who were college friends way back when and decided to take a trip together, which meant a lot of talking about American football for a while. It dampened the Irish experience but was fun nonetheless. The next day we headed back to Limerick.

Tuesday we went to Dublin for St. Patrick's Day. The entire town was a madhouse. We couldn't figure out where to go to see the parade, because they did not block things off the way we expected. We got shepherded around, and finally stuck in a spot simply because we could see the reflection of the approaching parade in a window in a building across the street. We managed, somehow, to actually make it to the first and second rows (H. and I let the two shorter girls with us go in front). I don't really know how that came about, but we saw most of the parade up close in the end. It actually looks a lot more like Carnival than anything else. St. Patrick's Day is much more Irish in America. Irony? We found a Lebanese place for lunch because the pubs were all absolutely packed, then a restaurant and bar for dinner. The bar was a lot of fun - everyone in there had had more than enough alcohol (I couldn't convince an Irishman that I was, in fact, not Irish, but from Texas) and there was live music. Overall, awesome.

From Dublin I took a ferry to Holyhead, Wales the next day. The cab driver was really really nice. We talked about literature. The train of conversation went from which boat I was taking to James Joyce (once of the boats from that company is called Ulysses). The cab driver thinks Ulysses is an absurd book and does not understand why Joyce is seen as a god of Irish literature. So I asked him what he would recommend, and he really just talked to me about really obscure Irish authors and playwrights for half an hour. It was so much fun.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 18, 2009 from Limerick, Ireland
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S'mae! Dw'in byw ym Mangor

Bangor, United Kingdom

So I got into Bangor and Steph was waiting on the platform for me. It occurred to me that it had been forever since anyone has really waited for me on any of my travels. Someone picked me up from the airport in Austin for Christmas, of course, but out of the the 11 countries I'd visited before Christmas, and coming back to Germany, and then going to London, Stirling, and Ireland, no one has ever been there waiting for me as I pulled in. At first that was a really lonely feeling - seeing everybody else finding someone, and all of the hugging and crying and smiling and other people carrying luggage for you. But I actually got really used to it, and had forgotten until I saw Steph on the platform how much I missed having someone to greet me.

She and I went back to her flat, which is where I spent most of my time. She lives in the international dorm, so she lives with people from Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Britain, etc. Her best friend there is German, and they play an absurd game where they hide clothespins in the kitchen and wait for other people to find them. I got to join in on all of the games and absurdity. It was a lot of fun in the end.

We took one trip to Portmeirion. This is another story requiring context.

I grew up watching a show called the Prisoner with my dad. It's a spy show from the 1960s, and is incredibly 60's-ish. I think the first time a lava lamp was ever shown on TV was in the Prisoner, so it kind of helped start the craze. The whole thing about the show is that this British secret agent quits his job, goes back to his apartment and starts to pack, and then gas seeps in through the absurdly-large keyhole and knocks him out. This is all during the really intense intro bongo music. He wakes up in a village that is only called The Village, which looks very Mediterranean. Everything is stucco and really colorful, but it's really creepy. Every map of The Village only shows the village, and the surroundings are The Sea, The Mountains, and The Forest. So he has no idea where he is. And he's just given a number, and no one goes by names. And if you try to escape, these great bouncy white ball things chase you down and suffocate you.

Needless to say, when I found out that this was all filmed in a town called Portmeirion in northern Wales, conveniently close to where Steph was studying, I had to go.

It's even hard to get to. We took a bus to a placed called Porthmadog, which neglected to tell us via a sign or anything that we were actually in Porthmadog. From Porthmadog we caught a bus to a placed called Minffrodd, I think, which was the next village over, and from there we had to walk through the woods to the village of Portmeirion.

Even without having watched the show, the village is incredibly surreal. But I'd seen the show, so it was surreal squared. I recognized places and scenes. We even went down to the ridiculously big beach (where in the first episode the main character is chased down by a giant bouncing ball) for a while. Of course, the only time I've ever seen a warning for quicksand would be in The Village, right?

Other than that one trip, Steph and I just explored Bangor a lot. We went to the Yellow Pub a lot (which has an actual name, but it's yellow) because it played good music and had a good atmosphere and good food. And to Herbs, which is a really good Redwall-esque restaurant. Overall, great times.

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 24, 2009 from Bangor, United Kingdom
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Back in Germany

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

Well, I had no problems getting back in. I flew into Basel, took a bus back to Freiburg, killed some time with Krystal, picked up my luggage, etc. I still have to kill about 6 hours in the Freiburg station, though, to catch the midnight train up to Koblenz (where it will arrive at about 5 in the morning) and then take a train to Trier. I'm really tired, but it'll be good to have a home again.

Hopefully will write from Trier!

permalink written by  lost_red_balloon on March 24, 2009 from Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
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