30 May 2011

Bremen: week # 2

Being in Bremen is sort of like being on holiday, only my free time keeps being disrupted by work. Today the weather was so nice, it would have been a perfect day for the beach. Bremen is not on the coast unfortunately. Not to mention that I had classes all day. The sun is up from about 5am and does completely disappear until past 10 at night. Which can make sleeping somewhat difficult and increases the feeling that I should only be relaxing and not working. This evening I was fully intending to get to work on an impromptu presentation that I must give explaining some aspect of protein chemistry that I have never heard of before. Shouldn't be too hard though, just find a few textbook explanations on google. But then what would you know but work from Ireland goes and pops its head up, in the form of an abstract for a conference that I am to present at in September. Now don't get me wrong, I am so super excited about the opportunity to present something at a real conference. But this abstract is all wrong. Now I have the huge task of fixing it and delicately explaining why certain aspects of the proposed methods are entirely unfeasible and unnecessary. What a fun night.

In other news, it is very strange to sit in classes again and I don't much like it, especially when the sun is shining. Next week lab work will begin which will be even worse because I will be stuck in a lab for even longer then I am currently stuck in a classroom. Plus I will have to actually try to get my mind on the task of learning as much as possible and producing some results. It is so difficult when there are such better things to think about, like how to spend a very long weekend. Unfortunately I am broke so I don't think I will be travelling to any new countries. The plan that is shaping up is to go on a couple of day trips, check out Hamburg and Berlin. Maybe venture into Poland. Take lots of photos! The sights of Bremen have mostly been seen now and I need new cities to explore.

It is very sad that I have nothing interesting for show and tell today but there is one piece of news that may not have made it to NZ - a terrible bout of food poisoning right here in Germany, including Bremen. Hundreds of people were sick and at least 4 died! I did not here about it for a few days because of course I cannot read or listen to the German news. But do you know what made it such a serious problem and had the entire country, and surrounding countries, concerned? It turned out that the problem was vegetables - not the usual suspect for food poisoning, and suddenly the entire population was worrying about that salad or apple they had eaten. And I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables! When I found out about it I looked it up and scientists reckon that they have localised the bug to being on cucumbers grown on two particular farms in Spain - and organic farms at that. So now the supermarkets have signs above their cucumbers to let everybody know very clearly that they did not come from Spain. I have not stopped eating vegetables, yet I still very slightly gave into the poisoning hysteria and have laid off cucumber, just in case. Still, I think what all of this tells us is that you would be safer just eating ice-cream.

25 May 2011

Updates From Bremen

So far here in Bremen, I have really done nothing at all. For all that you hear of German efficiency this is the most disorganised course I have ever been a part of. You can’t really fault the institute though, they make it perfectly clear that industry and money making enterprises are their first priority and anything that does not result in a profit, such as educating, takes a back seat. The bonus is that I have time to get to know Bremen. The downside is that there has not been much opportunity yet to meet people and socialise, nor learn what Bremen really has to offer. One thing that it has is what every real city has – lots of shops! I must not do as I did in Vienna and give in to my terrible shopping habit. Although I hear that there are a lot of outlet stores around here somewhere so I guess we’ll just wait and see. Aside from shopping, I have had a good look around the city centre, which consists of shoppings streets and old touristy streets. There are two main old areas, one is called the Schnoor, which means the line, because it is a tiny little street with tall skinny houses all cramped together, now filled with little tourist shops and cafes.

Then there is the Bottcherstrasse, the artsy tourist street with interesting brickwork and a giant glockenspiel, which is actually a big lot of bells strung up between a couple of buildings. And when it was playing I couldn't see them moving so maybe it is a recording. There are expensive cafe's and expensive artsy tourist things and a candy shop where you watch them make sweets and get free samples.

There are about four big cathedral-like churches all in the same area, I'm not sure why they were built so close together. I think that three are churches and only one a cathedral - I went inside it, it was nice but just like all other churches. They are not really very exciting. One of them I am not sure about because it has a cross but also a star of david. And I can't read the plaque that is beside the door because it is in German.

There is a big city park here, full of trees and wildlife. I saw a rabbit and a deer. A deer! In the middle of a city! Very strange. There are ducklings too, or perhaps they are duck adolescents, they are quite large and gangly looking.

There are far too many bakery and ice-cream cafes. All the time you see people eating and drinking and so want to do the same. So many pastries and cakes, they all look delicious and sugary, though the cakes are mostly cream with a little sponge. Not really substantial. So you might as well have gelato. Even on campus in the canteen they have gelato and cakes and pastries. I guess the hardworking students need good sustenance.

So yesterday despite there being no class I visited the university in an effort to get my computer fixed and to be shown about the institute that we are supposedly collaborating with. I doubt that they will ever provide much in the way of collaboration considering that they are only out for profit and a couple of PhD projects are unlikely to supply any such thing. It was sort of interesting though; as well as molecular biology stuff the Fraunhofer institute does all sorts of materials science. They are working on electric cars and fancy paint lacquers that are scratch resistant and all sorts of things like that. They make metal things, like they create all sorts of shapes using lasers and construct implants and such things. So a lot of that was interesting but at the same time our tour guide (our absentee collaborator) just kept going on and on about god knows what, the institute this and colleagues that. And random observations made yesterday - on campus I came across two one-armed men in a single day. What are the odds of that?

Today was the first day of the course and it was very long and boring. My internet is still playing up, it does not like some networks but it seems happy enough with the Starbucks wifi so I guess I'll just have to make a habit of frapacinos. For now we are treated pretty well on the course, like a business meeting with tea and coffee and chocolate being supplied. Hope they keep up the chocolate bars. There are only three days of classes this week, then three days next week because there will be a four day weekend. So I guess I’ll have to find some way to fill all my spare time! Maybe a trip away somewhere? Then there will be a couple of weeks of intensive lab work, so lots of fingers crossed that all the analyses that we hope to do actually work and then the course will prove to be productive. Of course lab work is often a case of long periods of waiting, in between tiny short bouts of mixing things together and pipetting stuff from one place to another. Hopefully the company will be good!

22 May 2011

Bremen Adventures: The beginning . . .

So first of all, just so everyone is clear, I am in Bremen, Germany. Maybe I forgot to mention that I was going so soon? I arrived here on Friday night and have been two whole days without the internet! What a nightmare! But then, I checked my email and after sifting through all the junk there was only one real message! How sad is that? Anyhow, enough of the exclamation marks. How is Bremen? Well it is not an adventure for one thing, it is too unprepossessing for that. It is like a town that has spread outward to make a sprawling city. Some of the buildings in the centre are nice, there is a lot of interesting brickwork is rather different from any I have seen before. Maybe it is just because it is Germanic? I probably need to travel still more.

So the cathedrals and town hall are nice, and there are a couple of cute little streets that have the whole medieval thing going on. The main city centre streets are nice too. But we have yet to see if Bremen is going to be overly amazing. Vienna was great, but it is rated as one of the best cities in the world to live in. I'm not sure where Bremen stands. When I get my stupid computer and internet sorted it will be better because I will feel more connected to the world, not to mention the stupid mobile phone. The course I am doing does not start till Tuesday so it is nice to have some free time but there is no chance to meet people and have fun yet. The first week should not be too busy, but then I should probably try to be un-lazy and spend that free time studying. We'll see . . .

So good points so far about Bremen? First, I forgot how much cheaper food is over here. There are gelateria and eis-cafe's everywhere - who needs real food when there is ice-cream?! The weather is warm, and though it rained today it was still not so bad. The city centre is cute and the tram system manageable. The room I am living in is in the house of a middle aged lady with a humongous dog - she stands against me and leans her head against my stomach.

There are two cats too and the furniture in my bedroom is really old, victorian sort of style, all small and wooden. It is lucky that I am no taller or I would not fit in the bed! It is nice to have a break and change of scenery. As soon as I get my own computer sorted I will add pictures and hopefully soon there will be interesting things to talk about. If not, I'll just put up photos instead. They do speak a thousand words after all.

15 May 2011

Walking up a mountain

Today I finally went walking up one of these Irish 'mountains'. My friend said to me the other day  would I like to go walking with her on the weekend? I said sure, where? She had heard something called the 12 Bens. Called so because of the Irish word for mountains - basically it is a mountain range of 12 mountains. An experienced climber might do it as a challenge. Perhaps in one day, like a 16 hour walk. So it took a lot of convincing to get this weekend walk down to just one or two peaks. She thought it would be a sunny day, a nice sunday stroll. Luckily I convinced her to bring a friend with lots of experience.

So of course being Ireland it has been raining for weeks so even if today was dry, the ground would have been soaked. As it was, it pissed down. The tops of the mountains were covered in fog. Which once you are in it, is awful gusting rain. So we began to walk, not overly well prepared because of course we don't have proper walking shoes. And my waterproof gear has never been subject to quite so much water - turns out it's not very waterproof. The walk up was cold and wet and I was soaked so immedietely. Mountains here are not covered in forest - they begin with bog and grass and end in rock. So the boggy bit was not really my cup of tea - even on a nice day I don't like walking uphill like that. Finally we got to the rocky bit and that was much better. More like climbing. We got to the top! It took about two hours, I think it is about 750 metres or something like that. And the wind was so much worse up there!

So we went back down. But before I knew it we were going up again! By this stage I was getting a little clumsy, my legs were getting tired. But I got up, and up the next slope too. Finally, time to go down for good! We had climbed two mountains! I don't know their names. If I did I wouldn't be able to spell them anyway. The downhill was not so bad, the slope we took was more gentle. Lucky we had an experienced friend to navigate though because visibility was zero! Eventually we were so low down the mountain we came mostly out of the cloud and could see again! Only now we were out of the rocks and it turns out that a month or so ago there had been a fire, all the heather and shrubs had burnt away. So it was charred vegetation and heaps of mud. I spent about half of the rest of the way down sliding on my bum. Luckily I was soaked already, and while my gear didn't keep the water out it did keep most of the mud out! It was great to get to the bottom. Once we were on the road again the rain stopped fully and the sun came out a little, I dried off somewhat. By the time we got back to the car, took the wet gear off and got dry stuff on, sat for the drive home with the heater on, and everything was all better. Except later I found that the dirt was somewhat ingrained into my hands, had to use the scourer to get clean again!

Now I have dinner on and I am warm and clean. I will be very glad to go to bed tonight. There were no photos taken, it was too wet, I didn't dare take it out. Shouldn't have even taken it up the mountain though, I fell one time too many, now there is a small crack in the screen. It's still fine though, there has been a crack in the screen of my phone for months and that's not a problem. I must begin to be more careful of my things.

05 May 2011

New, somewhat expensive hobby:

So I have begun learning how to ride a horse. It all began with going on a trek, just for fun, and my friend who had never been on a horse before got so enthused that she wanted lessons. And I love animals so while I can afford it I guess I will get lessons too. So lesson 1 was a lot of trotting and a little bit of cantering, only I got stuck with a lazy slow horse that would barely trot and mostly refused to canter. Next time I want a faster horse. I doubt I will be doing it for long though, it is too pricey!

It has gotten cold here, our good weather lasted a few weeks and now it is overcast, a bit wet, and very windy. The forecast keeps telling me there will be thunderstorms but so far there have been none. A good thunderstorm would be fun so long as it doesn't catch me out of doors. And of course there is nothing to worry about, sure it was unexpected that there would be  tornado in NZ but there definately won't be one here, the only disaster that Ireland is in danger of is being drowned in all the rain! I also just found out that despite being continental Bremen doesn't get much warmer than here so what a disappointment! I need some summer! Or maybe I need to stop making skirts and dresses and learn how to make warm tops and pants?

Speaking of making things I just made a new dress in celebration of all the good weather (so of course that is probably why it ended, not to mention I killed a spider). I brought an overlocker the other day because I really wanted one, it seemed a good deal, secondhand but a really good brand. Only the tension is all screwy and the light flickers so I took it back and it will be looked at by a mechanic. But the thing is if it can't work properly I want my money back and it is only a small shop so I don't think they want to give me my money back, they want to give me a new machine and for me to pay just a little more to cover it. Only I can't afford to pay more, another hundred is not actually a small and reasonable amount. I already spent more than I should, because it seems all my hobbies are expensive. Sewing machines, fabric, patterns, cotton. I know it is cheaper to buy clothes but I do like to make them. Next I want a mannequin. They're expensive too. It is high time I won the lotto or found some long lost and very rich relative.