From last night at Joker's:

John (talking about what he had to do to get his residence permit): They made me get this special picture, where I couldn't smile. And they collected this ridiculous data on me, like the curve of my nose..."

Scott: "Jesus doesn't know the curve of your nose."
Okay. Now is as good of a time as any to recap my travels from the last month. If I don't do it now, I won't want to do it when school starts, and then it'll never get done. Be forewarned, though; this post covers from March 23, 2006 to the present. This could be a long one.

My aunt arrived in Germany in March, and after a day of sightseeing in Tuebingen, we headed out to Baden-Baden, a small, pleasant city a few hours from here by train and very close to the French border. I'd been to Baden-Baden a few times before, since Jeff's mom's cousin lives near there with her husband and we've visited them a couple times this year. So I'd seen a lot of it before - the pretty gardens, the casino, the upscale shopping, the old Roman bath ruins - but my aunt wanted to go to the spa, which I had never done. I thought this to be a good idea, since it was decently priced and I'd never been to a spa. Plus, Baden-Baden was historically a very popular place to bathe publicly, because of thermal water that is still used in the spas there today. We chose the Friedrichsbad, which was built in a Renaissance style near the Roman ruins. It was then that I realized the two problems I would have with this:

- You had to be completely naked for the entirety of the time in the spa.

- The pools were co-ed on the day we decided to go.

Naturally, I had my reservations about this, having extremely pale skin and not exactly proud of my weight. Being naked in front of women was something that I got used to quick, but being around strange men? Luckily, the atmosphere was such that no one said a thing to each other, or even looked at other people with anything but curious observation. It was very comfortable, and I can rest assured knowing that the only person that I will ever see again from that experience will be my aunt. Oh, and I was very relaxed and rejuvinated after I got out of there - I highly recommend a visit to the Friedrichsbad if you are ever in Baden-Baden.

Related statement: Any sons of mine will be circumcised. End of discussion.

After enjoying a few days in Baden-Baden with surprisingly good weather, my aunt and I made our way to Switzerland, to visit her old host family from a high-school exchange that took place almost forty years ago. It's amazing that they still stay in contact, but once I got there I found out why. These people are the nicest people you will ever meet. The Swiss have a reputation of being cold and stand-offish, much like the Germans, but once you're invited to their home, they are completely different. We stayed for a week, and here are my impressions/experiences, not in any particular order:

Bodensee. Known in English as Lake Constance, the Bodensee is bordered by Germany to the north, Switzerland to the southwest and Austria to the southeast. We took several trips to Konstanz, the German city which was right across the border from the Swiss village we were staying in. (At night, I could see the lights of the city from my bedroom.) We also visited other cities on the Bodensee, most notably Friedrichshafen, where Graf Zeppelin (of Zeppelin balloon fame) was born and developed his air ships. We visited a museum dedicated to him while we were there, and I learned a lot about what I consider to be the fascinating subject of zepplins. This was my first encounter with Bodensee, and I have to say, it's beautiful and I'd love to go again.

Zurich. Staying with the older sister of my aunt's exchange sister, we spent a pleasant evening in Zurich. We went to the Kunsthaus, where I admired Impressionist works and lamented how terribly underdressed I was in comparision to most of the other patrons. Afterwards, we walked around Zurich, looked at the Grossmunster (where my aunt actually went to school), and had a drink before heading home for the night. Zurich is quite a pretty place, and it was different this time from what I remembered it being like from the first time I was there, almost 2 years ago.

Appenzeller Cheese. Appenzell is a quaint, picturesque little Swiss town: cute Fachwerk houses nestled among rolling cow-scattered hills, with snowy mountains in the near distance. They are known for their picturesque quality, their traditions, their dogs, and their cheese. We visited the cheese factory, and sampled the delicious cheese - I recommend Surchoix. You can visit their website for more info, if you care that much.

Winterthur. Since it is one of the larger Swiss towns, my aunt's host sister suggested I go to Winterthur on the day she and my aunt were scheduled to have lunch with 3 of the ladies they went to high school with 40 years ago. It sounded like a better option than the lunch for me, so I went. On that day, we did a lot of car travel, and I felt pretty sick about half an hour before they were going to set me on the bus that would take me to Winterthur, so they almost made me come with them to the lunch. Rather than let a bunch of ladies fret about me, I decided to go to Winterthur anyway. It wasn't a bad decision, but it was kind of boring exploring the city by myself. Basically, I walked the pedestrian zone, shopped, and ducked the rain for 3 hours. Finally, I had a cappiccino, asked where an internet cafe was, and was directed to the State Library, where I ate up the remaining 2 hours by reading magazines.

Swiss German. I swear to you, it was like an entirely different language. Listening to conversations, I picked up about as much as I would have if they had been speaking French. Everything's completely different from Hochdeutsch, or High German, which is what I am used to speaking and hearing. The only difference is that when I spoke High German to anyone, they would switch into it too, because they use High German for reading and writing, both in schools and in newspapers and other written media. So basically, I couldn't understand what was going on, but when I asked questions, they still had the upper hand, even when answering in Hochdeutsch, because it's still their language after all. It was a very weird experience. Also, Swiss German is much throatier, much more gutteral, and generally just a lot uglier than regular German. So if you thought German was ugly, go to Northern Switzerland.

Coffee Machines. Every house that we visited had an awesome coffee machine. The house we stayed at the most had a manual Nespresso machine, where you just added another little Nestle capsule every time you wanted an espresso, and then fired up the machine for as long as you wanted, depending on how strong you wanted your coffee. The one at the sister's house was an automatic, so much more expensive and with more features, but still serving the same basic purpose. The Swiss take their coffee very seriously, as I found out on this trip.

Tante Frene und Tante Griete. These two old members of the family, Aunt Frene and Aunt Griete, were hands-down the coolest old people I have EVER met. (With the exception of Ashley's dad.) The two aunts never married, and have been living together in a little house in a Swiss village since the 50's. They are both in their 90's now, but are still very active - they ride their bicycles and take the bus in to town to go grocery shopping. Mentally, they are very much aware of what is going on around them, and they spoke a very refined High German while I was there, since they knew I didn't understand Swiss German. They asked me lots of questions and referenced literature and spoke about the past and the present - I couldn't believe that I was having this conversation with two little old hunchbacked ladies who were still living on their own. If you can't tell, I was very impressed, and hope I am just like them if I ever make it to 90.

Family dinner. On the last night of my stay in Switzerland, we had a big family reunion in the restaurant owned and operated by the host brother. I basically sat and listened, trying to discern some crumbs of the conversation and failing miserably. So instead, I looked around the table at all the cousins, which was not a bad option because every single boy in that family is super, super cute. Every once in a while, I'd have a short conversation with somebody in either High German or English, but for the most part I just sat, looked around and ate the wonderful Swiss food. I didn't have much of a problem with this, because I knew that if I had some random foreigner at my family reunion, I'd be much more concerned with catching up with the relatives than talking to this guy I didn't know. Plus, it was a wonderful free dinner. So it was all good.

Switzerland is an expensive country. That's all I have to say about that one.

Next major post will cover the main points about the trip to Paris with Jeff and his parents. Right now, I have to get ready to go walking to Bebenhausen with Ronda, who just got back yesterday. I'm super excited, because a. I haven't been to Bebenhausen yet, even though it's right next to Tuebingen, and b. Ronda and I haven't seen each other for more than 6 weeks!

So, till tomorrow. Hopefully.


Sometimes the world is too much, and one little thing will set me over the edge.

Tonight was that kind of night.
Tomorrow is 4/20. To the pot smokers of the world, it's the day to smoke one bowl after another. If you're into that kind of thing.

It's also Hitler's birthday. I've been told that rallies occur in some of the bigger German cities. Scary.

So my question is: Which one is more celebrated here in the Big D? A similar question would be, does this country have more starry-eyed left-leaning liberals, or more radical rights?

I guess I'll find the answers to my questions tomorrow...


Back in Tuebingen, this time for good (or at least until after school starts).

Can't bring myself to be motivated enough to blog. For my sake more than anyone else's, though, I want to blog about my travels as soon as I can.

Til then, I'll continue being lazy...