Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Break 2007: Enid, Oklahoma is OK

Hey all, long time no blog. I figured I'd share my spring break with anyone who's interested.

This spring break I opted to go on a service trip instead of driving all over the place. I wound up going to the town of Enid, Oklahoma to build a house with 13 other students from Marquette. We got pretty far.

That's on Day 1, just before we started work. A group before us had put up the exterior walls, but the rest was up to us.

We started slow, but by the end of the week the vast majority of the possible unskilled labor that could be done on the house had been completed. Everyone in Enid was great to our group-- we slept in a church basement, and all of our meals were provided to us by local resturaunts. We were on the front page of the local paper, and random people would stop by and give us everything from donuts to t-shirts to commemorative coins (that was the mayor) to pants for some reason.

That's the house at the end of the final day of work. We got all of the interior walls up, faced the entire house in plywood and wrapped it in an insulating sheet, and got everything ready to be decked, sided, and covered in sheetrock. Not bad for a 1200-square-foot shotgun house!

It was a really rewarding way to spend my spring break-- 32 hours of driving, 40 hours of housebuilding, and a whole lot of getting to know new people and Southern hospitality. I'd reccommend going on a service trip for spring break to anyone... the experience will be with me for a very long time. Nothing is better than giving up your time and money to go and help people. You could really feel the appreciation from everyone involved. Enid Habitat for Humanity doesn't have an applicant for the house that meets their criteria yet (it's a pretty strict applications process), but they have some good leads. It's cool to think that some needy family will be living in my group's handiwork for a long time to come.

Bonus shot of Laruen and me playing around with the chop saw. Spring break rocks!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Berlin: A Wonderful Weeklong Misadventure, or Why Cigarettes Blow

So...Spring Break has come and gone. I spent my first Saturday of temporary freedom up till yesterday (March 3rd) in Berlin, Germany. And you know, it was decent.

I kind of went into this trip not really knowing anything about Berlin, save that it was the capital of Germany and that there was some Wall or something there during the latter half of the 1900's and...well, my knowledge of what to expect out of Germany was very limited in comparison to what I knew to expect out of France. Armed with what I knew about Paris, I went into Berlin expecting a whole bunch of the exact same sort of amazingness.

Shouldn't have done that. Berlin's a very new city, seeing as it's been reunited for only about two decades, and Russia wasn't exactly that kind to its part of the city. Lots of new architecture is present. I mean, you get to Museum Island or Schloss Charlottenburg, and you'll see some of the stuff that I saw in Paris: stuff reminiscient of the Arc de Triomphe, le Grand Palais, Musee de Louvre, etc. But you also get the really crazy, funky buildings that look like space-age relatives of washing machines. It's an interesting blend.

So my classmates and I arrived in Berlin Saturday morning, jetlagged and wondering what to expect. Tegel Airport is not exactly in the nicest area of town; lots of barbed wire, graffiti-laden walls, etc. in the neighborhood surrounding it. Also, instead of the pristine bus trip from Charles de Gaulle to the Left Bank (where you see the French Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and tons of golden statues adorning numerous bridges), we took the U-Bahn from a neighborhood bus stop to the youth hostel we would be staying at. The U-Bahn is one portion of Berlin's pretty sweet Metro system. There's the U-Bahn, which works primarily underground (if not exclusively), and is for getting around the city. The S-Bahn, which goes both underground and on elevated platforms in the city, functions both as transportation for city-dwellers, but also for commuters; it goes out to Potsdam, Sachsen, and other places. Then there's the Strasse-bahn (Like the MAX, but completely above ground). There are also city buses. All in all, the transportation is extensive.

This is the U-bahn, as seen from our youth hostel's stop.

It was a terrific trip. We got to go to the Bundestag (Parliament building), we got to go the Senate of sorts (Berlin functions as its own state) and talk to two senators, we went to an Opera at the operahouse on Unter den Linden, got a tour of the Jewish Museum from a really knowledgeable guy...I guess I'll elaborate on some of these things.

The Unter den Linden is a really swanky street in East Berlin. Lots of Touristy stuff. There's a place called Museum Island in the east part of the city with...well, museums (of which we visited a few). The island is spectacularly pretty, and has a wonderful mixture of modern and more classical architecture on it. Anyway, Unter den Linden starts there and heads West toward the Bundestag and Chancellor's building. The American and French Embassies are either on this street or right nearby. A really nice operahouse is on this street, along with Humboldt University. It's too bad we visited in the winter time; this city would have looked fantastic during the spring/summer.

This is the Bundestag. Very nice place. I especially liked the dome at the top, which you can climb from the inside, because...

...I thought it was kind of cool.

Yeah, we did a lot of stuff. It was very fun exploring the city. However, I find myself a bit disappointed when all is said and done.

Firstly, I was sick from beginning to end. I had a fever Thursday night, left Friday afternoon, and got no sleep Friday night (stupid transatlantic flight). Jetlag combined with fever and intestinal problems made for an unpleasant couple of days.
We went to have lunch Saturday at noon, and I couldn't eat anything; the stomach, it was unhappy. So I went back to the youth hostel while everybody else went to Alexanderplatz and saw the Berliner Dom:

Stupid intestinal malfunctions. For a while, I just couldn't eat much, seeing as the majority of traditional German food I encountered involved rich and fatty meat, decadent starchy desserts, and pickled/fermented vegetables...none of which were exactly enthralling to my stomach. But that's not Berlin's fault.

HOWEVER, the RIDICULOUS amount of smoking EVERYWHERE, while really the fault of the individual persons who smoke, is an issue I in which have no problem blaming Berlin in general. I currently have bronchitis. People smoke almost everywhere. I mean, in museums and government buildings, there's a bit of a reprieve, but in my hostel? On the various bahn's? At restaurants? At bars (well, duh)? Good Lord, I don't think I had 12 hours free of secondhand smoke. I guess I wouldn't have minded if I hadn't been on the mend from illness, but as I was, this was enough to send me into a different illness. Blech.

I loved the group I was with. We were a small group, so we pretty much did our nightly activities together. I mean, that was cool, because all the people were pretty chill, and it was a great opportunity to get to know them better, but it involved staying out until 4 or going to bars (hmmm....usually both happened, actually) almost every night. And I dunno, I guess it's cool to be cosmopolitan, but I really loved wandering the streets of Paris last year, and hoped to do it again, but it didn't happen. So I was a bit disappointed.

But yeah, it was a good experience. Got to see some cool palaces, too. Here's a photo from a palace on the very Westernmost limits of Berlin. It's called Schloss Charlottenburg:

Some friends and I took the opportunity to go to Sachschenhaus, which was a concentration camp during WWII and turned into a Soviet-operated one during the Cold War. That wasn't a very fun day, and it rained a lot, but it was fitting, and it was an intense experience. Glad I went.

Also, we got to go to Potsdam for a day. That was a really fun time. There was another palace out there. I am wary about posting too many photos in one go...lemme know if you wanna see pictures, though, and I'll either put them up here or email them to you or something (I'm avoiding Facebook).

Anyway, that's my week in Berlin: different, chic, cool, tobacco-smoke-intensive, bar-heavy, plagued by illness...but still a good experience. Too bad it rained for half the week.

Oh, I also have a few Paris pictures, too, if people want to see them...I kind of was a bum and didn't post a one last year.

One last picture...
This is the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn of the bigger stops.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Top Five (Albums)

1. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
2. London Calling
3. On the Beach
4. The Glow Pt.2
5. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan