26 June 2011

Back in Galway

During my first we back in Galway it rained almost constantly. It began nicely enough, then it became torrential, and now on Sunday it has finally stopped. For today at least. I am sad to say though that now I am back it is all work work work and I have no news. I have so much to do and so little time, but on the up-side it looks like I will be going to Belgium in August, to a city called Mons to do a couple of analyses in the lab of another scientist. So my travels are not yet over, yay for me!

Back home I remember we would always have some sort of pot-luck get together in the middle of winter and call it our mid-winter Christmas, and I think it is quite a common idea because I have heard of other people doing a similar thing. Of course, it does make sense considering that all we see of Christmas in the media is in winter. On the other hand, over here they think it is really strange to have Christmas in the middle of summer so naturally there is no equivalent to our mid-winter Christmas. In fact I often get lots of stupid questions along the lines of do we really have Christmas, and what sort of food do we eat, and do we really call it summer or is it just 'the warm season'. Of course the majority of people you meet are convinced that NZ is a small hot tropical island with palm trees and coconuts and what not.

So with after a lot of explaining I managed to hold my own northern-hemisphere mid-summer Christmas last night, the 25th of June! It did meet with some initial confusion and also refusal to eat a big hot wintry meal in the middle of summer. But who do these people think they're fooling? It's so cold here! And like a proper Invers Christmas it was raining a fair bit yesterday so it really was just like Christmas. There was roast chicken because you know I haven't cooked one since sometime before I left NZ! I mean it's not like I generally have a lot of people to feed here so there is just never any need. And I made my amazing lemon cheesecake which I also have not made in years, probably not since the last Christmas that I spent in New Zealand. Only I made it even better than ever with the addition of loads of strawberries on top! And as usual I ate too much and was left feeling terribly full, but that's all good because it was caused by cheesecake.

After a terribly indulgent evening you would think that the next day would be choc-full of doing nothing but on the contrary, today I ran a mini-marathon. Which really shouldn't be given the name marathon at all because it is only 10k but my friend wanted to do it so I said sure why not. It was good, not too hard but I'm glad I had my friend to run with because she is fast, so I ran faster to try keep up. Otherwise maybe I would have stopped and walked, especially because there was a hill! That nearly did me in, I hate hills. Each runner got an electronic tag to attach to their shoe that gives you an accurate time from when you cross the start line to when you cross the finish line. My time has just come in, 59 minutes! So I managed it in an hour but I really need to work harder and training, seeing as now the plan is to do a half-marathon in a few months. And of course now I am absolutely shattered, I was not quite so ready for it as I had anticipated, so I would like very much to go to sleep but it is only 5pm!

19 June 2011

Goodbye Germany

I am right now in the Hamburg airport, waiting to go to my gate to board, and I must say that the Hamburg airport is very dull. There is very little shopping and only a few restaurant's and cafe's. They are very overpriced aswell. Outside there is very little to see because it is raining - it has been on and off for the past few days. Despite that I did try to make the most of my last few days in Bremen and I even managed to get some work done. I am right now in the Hamburg airport, waiting to go to my gate to board, and I must say that the Hamburg airport is very dull. There is very little shopping and only a few restaurant's and cafe's. They are very overpriced aswell. Outside there is very little to see because it is raining - it has been on and off for the past few days. Despite that I did try to make the most of my last few days in Bremen and I even managed to get some work done.

So on Tuesday my friends and I finally went to the restaurant that is in the windmill so that we can say we have eaten at the windmill. Of course, architecture aside it is just a cafe but they did have exceptionally good cake. Mine was custard and strawberries on a sponge base, only here they call custard 'vanilla sauce' and sponge 'biscuit' (pronounced bisqueet). It was sunny but the weather was starting to turn so there was wind and eventually we had to admit that it was too cold and go on our way. Still, it was as nice a place as any to have afternoon-tea, although it was actually much later than afternoon.

On Wednesday there was a total lunar eclipse and apparently the only one like it in the last century, I'm not sure why, something to to with it coinciding with the red moon I think. My friends told me about it and we got all excited about going to see this moon phenomenon, I have not seen an eclipse before I don't think. We checked the internet for the time and the news told us that clear skies were expected for Germany. But what would you know, when we get out of the lab in the afternoon it is overcast and rainy. There were still a few hours for it to clear though so the plan went ahead, but come 7ish it was pretty clear that there would be no lunar eclipse for us. Instead we had dinner at a place called Scharfrichter, which I think means something like heat-scale, and basically at this place you only get sausages, and you choose the degree of spice in your sauce. So I chose the number one because I prefer to actually be able to taste my food. I have an Indian friend who tried the number 6 and could not finish it, it was that spicy. Yet you can go all the way up to level 41. Interesting concept. I think they have some sort of wall of fame. I also think that to order something so strong would just be plain stupid. We stayed out socialising as you do and what would you know but when we finally realise it is time to go it starts absolutely pissing down with rain. We got soaked!

The next evening I had authentic Indian (authentic because it was made by an Indian friend) but of course adapted to the weak tolerance for spice of all us westerners. It was so good I made sure to get a recipe and I must try to reproduce it. To recover from the spice I had made a trifle for desert but it really was just an approximation and I think real trifle with real custard is much better. Of course, as evenings spent with friends generally go we talked for far too long and by the time we left we were too late for the last tram back to the city (our own fault for reading the timetable incorrectly). So we walked from the university to the central station, which took at least half an hour I think, the only bonus being a pretty night-time view of the Universeum museum, which now looks not so much like a UFO as a big ship. It was cold and rainy and I did not get to bed until about 2am!

As for Friday, my last Friday in Germany, all my plans for a good day went out the window. Work did not start until 2 so I would have gone shopping and wandered around town, then after work celebrated the end of the course with the other students. Alas, all my over-endulging on ice-cream and other bad foods finally took it's toll and I spent the day incredibly ill because of these stupid gallstones. I would very much like the Irish health system to hurry up and fix me, I never you to get sick so I am very sick of this. So I missed out completely on Friday, and had to make up for it by going shopping on Saturday. We went to the outlet stores where my friends wanted to buy lots of cheap chocolate at the Lindt outlet but I unfortunately was in no state to be eating chocolate. And while I always quite like looking at shops for once I was under the very rational realisation that I not only am broke but have absolutely no space to spare in my suitcase. Of course, if there had been any absolutely amazing item that was a real bargain I probably would have relented but there wasn't so I was strong and did not buy anything. Instead I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Burgerpark feeding the ducks. There was a really big moth on the ground being attacked by a wasp so we rescued it and squashed the wasp and then found a nice tree for the moth to recuperate on.

For my final evening in Bremen I had pancakes on the pancake ship - called the Pannekoekschip. Despite living in Bremen for two years or more none of my friends had been so it was a new experience for all. It was of course just pancakes but we did expect that after all. It still had to be tried. They were more like pizza's though, they were not thin and rolled up nor were they small and thick and piled up. We each got one large thick pancake with toppings. And luckily the weather was not completely abysmal, there was some sunlight between the rains and clouds - enough to afford me a parting shot of the pancake pirate ship (and yes our waiter was dressed like a pirate),

And another parting shot of the beautiful Bremen architecture.

13 June 2011

Another long weekend

This weekend was three days long and I did very little! Which is of course what a long weekend is for and it was well deserved after such a long week - 5 whole days! Very tedious days too. This long weekend I managed not to sun-burn myself to a crisp so that is an improvement. Of course, it hasn't really been that sunny, which is a bit of a shame. But it did not make a lot of difference to me because I spent a lot of the weekend ignoring the outdoors and staying in bed! I did venture out for a shopping trip though, and I found a pair of shoes that I would have loved, but they were just a teensy bit too small and because they were so very on sale there was of course only the one pair. So I did not get awesome new shoes for only 3 euro. To make up for it I made sure to buy myself an ice-cream. Soon I will return to Ireland where they do not sell delicious gelato on every street-corner so I must make the most of it over the next week!

My only real activity for the weekend was to visit the Universum, Bremen's science museum, which people kept telling me about. Here you can see it below, sometimes it is called the whale because it apparently looks like a big silver whale breaching. I think it looks like a crashed UFO.

Unfortunately in my opinion the Universum was not all it was cracked up to be. But then I don't have much patience for museums in general and this one is largely aimed at children, and other people that do not know the basics of science. So of course it was very full of noisy kids. And it was very big so it took about 5 hours to get through. For me the best exhibits were the last ones, in the Earth section, where they had some cool gadgets like a liquid-metal that forms all sorts of shapes when a magnet is applied, and looking at ice-crystals through polarised glass, which is what the pretty colours are that you see below.

Finally after 5 hours of traipsing around a stuffy museum my friends and I finished off the evening by visiting the park, which is far more my cup of tea, and makes me wish that Galway had a nice park. There is a house made of hedges, with windows to look out of. It is nice but would be nicer if it was made of flowering hedges or roses or something. The park is really big, sort of like a small forest in places, with trees and rabbits and deer. They are small deer, but I still am amazed to see deer in the middle of a city.

So at the park I amused myself by taking pictures of flowers, because that is what I like to do.

Then there were some baby geese that were very cute. There were adults too and the mother goose kept hissing at me. There is a little farm area in the park  you see, with pigs and goats and sheep. Peacocks too, there was one up on the roof of a shed making an awful racket. And there were donkeys, the kind that always look sad, so if I hadn't already eaten my apple I would have offered it to the poor things because they looked so glum. Plus one of them was hugely pregnant and must have been rather uncomfortable - maybe that was why she looked so down.

On the way out of the park I found a tiny frog on the ground. Then I saw more of them and realised that they were everywhere on the paths so then I had to watch my step because I didn't want to stand on them. It was hard to take a photo of one because they kept jumping away. I found some rabbits too but they also didn't appreciate me trying to get closer. So I left them alone, it was getting late anyway, time to go home and now I must get an early night because I have another long week of work ahead, have to be up early. Of course when I say long, it is not really long, because it is only a four day week. My last week in Bremen, so I must try to be less boring and do something interesting, so that I have more to say when people ask me how was Bremen.

05 June 2011

4-day Weekend

It is now Sunday afternoon and my weekend began last Thursday. This public holiday was some sort of religious thing and at the same time Germany's version of Father's day. Which means that all the males, not only fathers, are out getting plastered, and in this enlightened age most of the chicks are too. Luckily for everybody the weather has finally become what I came over here hoping for: hot and sunny! Which makes for better pictures of the city, like the Weser river below which on such a nice day looks somewhat blue, when in reality it is quite a murky brown colour. I made sure to take a stroll through the city centre to take the classic tourist shots of what this small city has to offer - so below the river you see a statue of Roland, who he was I don't know but he is the town protector. Apparently if the statue falls so will the town - which is why they have a replacement squirreled away somewhere for just in case! He stands beside the Rathaus, the town hall, which is really a very nice brick building, a photo doesn't really do it justice.

On the Friday I took a train to Hamburg - it turns out Berlin is far too far away, 5 hours by train! Hamburg is a 45 minute train ride away and has a zoo, the main attraction factor in my travel considerations. Before, the zoo, a brief look at the city was in order. Only a brief one though because I am quite bored of cities. So like all the others this city has a Rathaus, a nice enough looking building but nothing overly spectacular.

There were many churches but my favourite was a realy dark gothic-y looking one, called the St Nikolai. It was all carvings and big windows, lots of arches and a really tall spire. There was an elevator to go up in but really there is not much point, it would be the same old view of a huge sprawling city. Hamburg is on a harbour so maybe there would have been a nice enough view, with a bit of ocean and boats, but really I just wanted to go to the zoo!

The Hamburg Zoo is a good size, it is not too big and easy to see in just an afternoon at a leisurely pace. Some of the enclosures are really nice and the great thing about this time of year is that there are baby animals! First stop was the elephants, there were two small ones and about a half dozen adults. Best thing is that they were all lined up at the edge of the enclosure, reaching over with their trunks to take food from peoples hands. I had not bothered to get any of the specieal food that is sold for them, but if you put your hand out they would have a sniff anyways. I have not before been to a zoo where the elephants are allowed to reach over and touch the visitors.

So my next stop was the tiger enclosure, where we were lucky to see anything because the tiger was sleeping away the heat of the day. So fortunately he had a shady spot in view of all of us spectators and the extreme zoom of my camera means that I can take a nice photo even when the animal is far away. Of course I would much prefer to go on some sort of safari and see such things in the wild but for now there doesn't seem much chance of that happening so I will take what I can get.

Like every zoo there were a lot of random animals that are nothing overly new and exciting but it's still nice to see them anyway. There was a big pond with some interesting birds like pelicans and then perfectly ordinary birds like ducks and geese. But the geese had babies so that makes them far more exciting. One of the goose babies was pretty keen to take a nibble of any fingers offered to it as well. There were chickens, just running about loose outside of the enclosures. I'm not sure why. There were some wild turkeys, also outside of the enclosures, making an awful racket. And there were a couple of peacocks also making an awful racket, but at least peacocks have beautiful colours to make up for it.

There were not so many primates, which is okay because they're really not that exciting. The orangutangs were mostly sitting or sleeping, the baboons were doing the same. Except for the little baby baboons which were running around making a nuisance of themselves. The wall that you look over to see down into the baboon enclosure was unfortunately a little high for me and I could not look directly down, to where the young animals were hiding in the shade, but that's okay because the little ones were moving to fast to capture on camera anyway.

Funnily enough, this zoo also had guinea pigs and rabbits. The little houses you see below actually are little, a tiny little neighbourhood for tiny little animals to live in. One small neighbourhood for the guinea pigs and another for the rabbits.

I had read on the internet that this zoo had polar bears, but this is acutally not quite true. There will be a big artic enclosure, with polar bears in a habitat where they have water and can swim which is apparently quite rare in the world of zoos. But this exhibit won't be open till next year. Sad, but there were other bears, and two cubs, so that made up for it. The bear cubs were playing and the mother was ignoring them and wallowing in the water, to cool off I guess. Then she got out and went for a wander, and next thing you know she turns abruptly and races full tilt towards the side of the enclosure and all the people standing there watching! Despite the obvious fact that the animals cannot get out it is still rather freaky to see a large bear running full tilt in your direction. Of course, that was the same direction as the water and she obviously had just decided that it was too hot to get out of the water after all, and wanted to go back in.

The last major attraction (in my opinion at least) of the zoo was the lion. Also sleeping, which is unsurprising considering the heat. But you might have noticed the use of the singular there, and also with the tiger? Maybe they have more and the other animals were just sleeping elsewhere but it didn't really seem like it. So I guess some of their animals are a bit lonely. I would say that is the one down-side of this zoo, but in saying that it was only a small zoo so they probably don't have much choice about it.

On the upside the enclosures were all really good. There were some small artificial rocky mountains for animals like Thar. Which in my opinion are not that interesting themselves, they are just a type of goat or sheep, but the ecological story of such an animal is really interesting. In their native Himalayas they are endangered, on the brink of extinction, with programmes attempting to bring back their population. But in the exact same area is some sort of wildcat that is also endangered and they also want to save. Unfortunately the cat is a predator and likes to eat the Thar. Then there is the fact that after being introduced to NZ they got completely out of hand on our hills and mountains and we have programmes in place to cull the animals. Wouldn't it be so nice a solution if we could just ship them all out of NZ and back to the Himalayas? Of course you would have to catch them first, then transport them, then deal with genetic drift from such a long separation of populations and such things. But in theory at least it sounds like a good idea.

So after a long day at the zoo, in very hot weather, the plan for Saturday was the beach. There is a place on the Baltic Sea called Cuxhaven, about an hour and a half away by train. It's called a city, although the people who are actually from here would call such a small place a town or a village. It's quiet, and was not what I expected. The beach is long and flat and the ocean is very shallow - the tide receded to leave a huge stretch of mudflats and apparently there is an island that at low tide can be reached just by walking. There was no impressive vista, not golden sands or blue water, and it was rather windy. In retrospect the wind was actually quite a big problem I think, because it made it seem so much cooler, thus possibly providing an excuse for how I managed to lie in the sun reading my book for far too long, forgetting to put sunscreen on the back of my legs. At the time, it was not too hot and I thought nothing of it. Big mistake. Still, eventually I went for a swim, though it is not really a swim when the water remains knee-deep for a kilometre or so. But it was warm, which I was so not expecting. It is one thing in a country like the UAE but the ocean being warm in Germany? Near the shore it was really a bit like a bath. There was parasailing somewhere down the beach so the sky was full of colourful parasails.

After leaving the beach I began to realise how sunburnt I was. It got worse and worse - it's very difficult to sit on a train when the backs of your legs are sunburnt. I have not been so burnt since I was scuba-diving in Oman. And this is worse because I had a much better excuse then, I really didn't realise I would get burnt, we seemed to be so far under the water. This time I was just engrossed in a book. My legs are so bright red and it hurst to bend my knees, and to sit down! It is still very hot outside, it's about 30 degrees, but I have spent the whole day inside (not that it's much cooler in here). It is a little cloudy now and there are sun-showers. It is supposed to thunderstorm but I don't think it will. Tomorrow work begins again and I hope my sunburn has eased a bit or I will be very uncomfortable -  nevertheless I really have to get motivated and get some results, try to ignore the beautiful weather outside, give the sunburn time to heal. Then bring on the next long weekend!