Saturday, January 12, 2013

Welcome (home) !

It is exactly one month to the day (and almost the hour) that I came home from my semester-long adventure in Berlin, Germany. Reacclimating to life in the US is and continues to be a challenge, one that I consider a part of my abroad experience and which I will actively involve myself with so that this growth experience does not need to end.

If this is your first visit to my blog, note that these posts are ordered from the most recent to the earliest. If you want to read them in chronological order, I suggest you make use of the links to the right of the screen. I hope you enjoy reading about my exploits as much as I enjoyed engaging in them.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Ellen

PS- I expect that the travels I have chronicled previous to this post will not be my last. Further adventures will also be scribed on this blog, in the future.

Monday, November 26, 2012

MUSEing in HollyŁódź

Hello and welcome back to my blarg. I am excited to the point of distraction over my adventures in the past week, and so this is how I will proceed. The most exciting part was over the weekend, during which myself and a friend hauled ourselves all the way out to Łódź, Poland to see a concert of our mutual favorite band, MUSE. For reference, the city's name is pronounced "Woodge." (get it? Holly-Woodge?) It's a postage-stamp sized city in the very center of Poland, though it is somehow the second largest metropolitan area in Poland. For comparison's sake, it took 2 hours to walk across Vienna, and 3 days to see the whole thing. It took us half an hour to traverse Łódź, and 18 hours to have seen all of its major sights.



 Here we are four hours into our journey, kicking around Kutno station in Poland. Shortly thereafter, we jumped onto a train going in the wrong direction. Two hours into the second leg of our journey, after three ticket checks mind you, we were halfway to Warsaw, when we needed to be halfway to Krakow. We realized this and got on a train going the right way at this station here, most fittingly named "Wronki." The building was under construction, so we asked a ticket office worker in a tiny construction container for help. She didn't speak a single word of English or German, and so we got our train information from her using sign language, body language, and written numbers.
I can't even begin to blame Doug for it though (he chose the train), or myself for failing to notice anything was wrong (I double-checked it), because look at the language the signs were written in. Here's a thought experiment. Think of a train schedule in your language of choice in a city you don't know. Confusing, right? Now translate it into this, and the word "hopeless" begins to sound apt.

Unfortunately that meant that the two-hour window we had left between our arrival and the concert's door time was eaten up by getting there (as we were at that point 4 hours in the wrong direction with a 45 minute wait for the next train). We rolled up with fifteen minutes before MUSE was to begin playing because, thank goodness, there was an opening act we didn't know.
 The concert itself was, of course, utterly life-changing. I didn't take many pictures because I was more concerned with experiencing the concert than recording it. Here is the best photo I took- you can see that my seat wasn't ideal, but as far as bad seats go it was pretty sick. Following is a detailed debriefing about the concert. If you don't care, feel fee to skip ahead. If you do care, enjoy.

The tour is for the promotion of their new album The 2nd Law. Naturally I recommend you give it a listen if you haven't already. That also means that most of their setlist came from that album, though they did play standards like "Sunburn," "Stockholm Syndrome," several tracks from The Resistance, and a couple from Black Holes & Revelations, which means I finally got to live out my dream of clapping along to "Starlight" at a live MUSE performance. These are my observations.

Chris (the bassist) is actually an excellent singer. He is featured in one or two songs on the new album, and he was good, but man did he kill it live. Also he played harmonica in the intro to "Knights of Cydonia" in a duet with Dom (the drummer), and it just knocked me sideways.

Dominic was just as much of an adorable dork live as he is in the "making of" video. He flailed around and made faces of course, he is the drummer after all, but during "Uprising" he pretended to fight off little animated attackers on that big pyramid screen you see up there (it was inverted at that point), and halfway through the thing he changed into a bright red jumpsuit for some unknowable reason, and was super sweet when the concert was over with thanking everyone and saying how much he loved us all and thanks for coming etc.

Matt Bellamy...what can I say about him that hasn't been said already? He glitters in the moonlight in all senses. For "Madness," he put on these Ray-Ban-looking glasses that I guess had screens on them that mirrored the pyramid behind him, so they lit up with words, that was really cool. Perhaps you all don't know this, but he is just as much of a virtuoso live as he is in studio. His vocal quality and playing of the guitar, keyboard, kaoss pad (an electronic instrument MUSE uses to get some of their electronic musical elements, both live and in the studio), and grand piano (which lit up when he played it by the way) are all unparallelled, and he has such personality. Also he said little Polish phrases here and there, which made the crowd go wild.

While they were setting up I noticed them making the arena as foggy as possible. This meant 3-dimensional lighting effects, and laser shows that formed nets in the air that pulsed with the rhythm of the music.  The lighting and screen setup were great, and the catwalk all around the back of the semicircular stage allowed Matt to frolic around with is guitar while Chris was singing, or to sing directly to the wing sections for a couple of verses. There was a short intermission, during which the pyramid screens played the music video for The 2nd Law: Isolated System, which I think helped to illustrate the overall meaning of the album (which I won't dissect any further here, my non-MUSEr readers have probably heard well enough about this) (they're probably...unaMUSEd. B] ).

 I just can't escape the canons, can I?

Łódź had a few of these beauties, little cute statues scattered around monumentalizing important Polish people. This particular one would play Chopin if you put in coins. The piano he's sitting at looked like something out of Betelgeuse though.
 ALSO THIS SNOW BIKE. The back wheel is a pedal-powered tread, and the front is a ski. You go down snowy mountains on it, and it's the best invention, 2 out of 2 of us agree.
 Doug was fascinated by this vodka "shooter," which was rather a lot of vodka in a bottle shaped like a semi-automatic rifle which came with a hand grenade of brown vodka, 6 shot (ha ha) glasses and a carrying case, for an overall cost of roughly 90 Euros. The difficulty in transporting it home (and my warnings thereabout) discouraged him in the end.
 Łódź is truly a city of decayed magnificence. It is easy to see that many of the buildings there were once lovely Renaissance-style buildings, which were destroyed during the war and never revisited since. One building we saw had the entire third floor and most of the second entirely missing.
 I just liked this thing.
 And then this Venetian-style building popped out of nowhere
 Then we found Moses
 And a church
 And this place, which is and always was clearly the industrial center of the city. Until the 1990's it was a cotton mill, and it is now a mall and a tourist center.
 He caught me talking
 Here's the little shop where we ate a pierogie lunch.

 FOUNTAIN
 DANGER
 And these men with AWESOME MUSTACHES
A story with no accompanying photos: Sunday morning we went ice skating on a rink that was set up in the Manufaktura. After I mimed to the rental guy not only my own shoe size and Doug's (even though he didn't know his shoe size), but also that I wanted hockey skates and not figure skates (that took some doing; it didn't occur to him that a woman would want anything other than figure skates, but we worked it out), I learned that I'm actually a decent skater. My ankles still hurt.

After that we went to the city museum, because it was free on Sundays. We got there and walked past a guard and saw a lot of people standing around, so we went to the lady sitting at a desk with a list and a stack of numbered tickets and asked if the museum is open. She responded "Would you like to be in our movie?" We had strolled ourselves into a film set. There's something to be said for looking like you know what's going on.
Sassy streetlamp statue
(I didn't come up with it)
 Unfortunately (kind of), we just barely missed our train back to Berlin, which meant we had to stay another night in Poland. That was made more difficult by the fact that our hostel and every hostel in the area had suddenly closed without warning. We were fortunate enough to find a new ticket home (for 5:30 AM the next morning) and a nice hostel owner who let us a hostel room for that Sunday night. We had the place to ourselves. Above is the sun rising over Kutno, the same stop we made on the way into Poland. We had no trouble on our way out.
 AND THEN WE FOUND GIANT JESUS, thanks to the kind man sitting with us on the train. This great granite gentleman here is (according to the infallible source of Guy In Train) even larger than the famed "Cristo Redentor" in Rio de Janeiro.
As Super Jesus fades into the distance, so does my tale. I bid you all a fond adieu.

Gemütlichkeit

Hello to anyone who still checks this blog! Your perseverance is laudable indeed. I apologize for my radio silence of late; I came back from a week with little to no internet access and entered two weeks of term papers. Having finished those, I will attempt to reconstruct a picture of my travels.

Edit: I also apologize because this is going to be a very poor entry comparatively. I have had much greater adventures of late, and these images will have to suffice for now. I may add to this later for posterity's sake, but look out for an actual entry about things I've done recently.


I have a feeling that these images are out of order, but here is Ellen from the future to provide commentary. Above pictured are myself and Ali on a frigid bahn platform in Munich. Frigidity was kind of a theme for this trip, hence my choice of titles. Gemütlichkeit is one of those German words your mother warned you about that represents an entire paragraph of meaning in a single word. At its barest essence, it means "coziness with friends in a warm place," a concept we had dire need of for most of this trip. Thus, we clung to it for dear life as the wind, snow, sleet, rain, and freezing temperatures bore down on us, not allowing the elements to ruin our fun or penetrate our gemütlichkeit.
Here is the Rathaus (we stood under it for almost an hour waiting for our tour guide while freezing rain poured down around us and into our unwaterproofed footwear). Beautiful, no? It had a sculpture of a dragon climbing up one side. So sick.
A church with a steeple whose sculptural swirls resembled snails. That's the whole story.
This room was so cool. It was part of the main palace, a summer room that usually looks out into a courtyard. All the decorations you see above are tesselated together from seashells.
Future dining room. I can't even describe the opulence of this room.

This made us laugh really hard.

OH MAN. This is in Vienna, the second leg of our trip. This sculpture I just kind of thought was cool, stuck to a part of the Stephanskirche cathedral I talked about during my first Vienna entry. LITTLE DID I KNOW. This sculpture marks the exit/entrance to an extensive maze of catacombs that spidered out from the church into the square. I got to tour them.

Therein we saw rooms where rich elders were interred in the earlier centuries of the city's history, then also where victims of the plague were stashed when they ran out of space in the graveyards. There were rooms with walls made of femurs and piles of skulls. There were rooms where bodies had simply been tossed in from a hole above, and thus decomposed into an incoherent jumble of bones. There was a room in which the internal organs of the Hapsburg family and other related dignitaries were preserved in alcohol-filled barrels, shelves on which the remains of cardinals were stowed in copper coffins, and plain-old mausoleum-style resting places for modern church officials as well. Storage for life-size sandstone carvings of dignitaries, broken pieces of cathedral sculptures, and carved dragons was there too, as well as a working chapel for members of the clergy and certain Christian groups, which hold meetings regularly. Lurking around every dimly lit corner were marble carvings of Jesus in different states of dying, and some darkened rooms with unmarked coffins on pedestals.

This was hands down one of the coolest things I've ever seen.


Here we have recently discovered ruins under the city dating back to the ancient Roman empire. Do you know that this ruin shows that the ancient Romans had baseboard heating?

I don't even have baseboard heating.

Ein Schmetterling ins Schmetterlinghaus.


Suddenly a Senate building! They really decked it out, let me tell you. The image above pretty much summed up the nation for me in all honesty.


Here is a picture of the historic building in which we saw a Mozart concert in (innacurate, but still charming) period dress. We had very poor seats for the first act as you can see (or in this case cannot see), but we found new ones for act two.

NOW BRATISLAVA
I loved Bratislava. It is the capitol city of Slovakia, and really just look at the pictures it's gorgeous. The people there were very friendly, if not perfect at English- they were just glad you were there, really.
This guy right here is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions (that oughta tell you something). He's a happy soldier popping out of a manhole.
They had a display of photographs depicting humans aging from around the world.
Pan
A cannonball stuck in a church, fired by Napoleanic soldiers.
This is the gate to the city. You can't see out of it though, because the gate incorporates a 90-degree turn. Why? 1) You can't fire an arrow, a cannon, or a catapult around a corner. 2) It really disrupts an army when they're marching in a straight line and then all n-thousand of them have to squeeze around a turn in close quarters. I thought that was utterly brilliant. Under the tower there you can see a brass disc inlaid into the cobblestone, on which lines pointing to various international cities were wrought, with the distance to each city.
Here you can see in the corners of the arch door the places where the portcullis chains used to attach.
A memorial plague for all of the victims of witch burnings in Slovakia. I thought that was great, too.
The castle. Funny story. It survived attacks from the Mongols, the Germans, and (I want to say) the French armies, each at the peak of their strength. But one day some Italian builders came to fix it up a bit, got a little too drunk, and burned it to the ground.
A high school (above) and a church (below) so pretty and cute that they looked like frosted cakes. Apparently there's a waiting list of about a year to get married in that church.

Some magnificent street art. All of that is painted on, by the way.
Entrance to the courtyard of the castle
From here you can see Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Austria. What a view!
Street leading back down the mountain. Very slippery; very cute.
It's stuff like that there that made me love the cities of Eastern Europe. They don't take themselves too seriously- that kind of street art was everywhere- the more run-down a city was, the more common and the more silly it was.
(Back to Vienna now) I finally got a photo of an Eiskaffee- this is the third one I'd had, and it was wunderbar.
In the Wien Naturhistorischesmuseum, I saw this creature. It looked so pleased with its lot it made me feel great, and still does whenever I look at it.
Yes this is a museum. How? I have no idea.
Fancy bird. Wanted to be an Egyptian god one day.
I'm so obsessed with Morpho butterflies you have no idea.

So ends my photojournal of my weeklong excursion. Bye now!