Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brussels with Arthur and a flying visit to Luxembourg

random street in Brussels
Friday evening I arrived at Brussels to stay with Arthur, another Belgian AFS exchange student who was in Wellington in 2010. He lives kind of central in Brussels, in another awesome tall narrow house. His parents both did AFS to the USA, so they speak good english but with American accents, sometimes I forgot what country I was in talking to them! After dinner we headed into town, firstly to the amazing Grand Plaza, surrounded by tall and ornate buildings, even after Madrid I was really awed, this sqaure is more impressive and by night with all of the lights it was beautiful. We walked past Manneken Pis, the little statue of a boy taking a leak, and went to Delirium, the bar with the Guiness World Record for most beers on sale, 2004 when they last counted.

Former Belgian palace
We didn't drink much but we were both exhausted so we slept until midday on Saturday before dragging ourselves out of bed to look around Brussels. Brussels is actually not flat, there is a higher section on a hill so we started there, unfortunately the weather was terrible so the view wasnt great. We walked around a lot looking at the different monuments, churches and parks in Brussels, it really is a nice city, one of my favourites so far. The buildings here are really amazing, all old, tall and made of elaborately carved stone. We found somewhere that does asian meals where you chose your meat, veges and sauce and they cook it up for you, cool because I am going crazy for good asian and indian food here, so we had a really late lunch and then headed back home.

Mohawk time!
We were heading for a pink-themed birthday party that night and Arthur was quite keen to sport a bright pink mohawk, so I happily took scissors in hand and hacked his hair off before his extended family came around for dinner, they all took this quite calmly really! Dinner was amazing, I forget what the dish we had as a main was called but it was traditional and I really liked it, and Arthurs mum made pavlova for dessert! I was also really impressed at everyones level of english, even his grandparents spoke really well, makes you realise how terrible we are in NZ at learning other languages.

Perhaps I should give a bit of info on Belgium here, the country has three official languages, French, Flemish (dutch) and German, although the German-speaking population is really small. Geographically, the top half of Belgium (Flanders) speaks Flemish and the bottom (Wallonia) speaks French, and Brussels is like a french-speaking island in the Flanders part. In Brussels, you really need to speak both French and Flemish to work, and english as well now that Belgium is one of the centres of the European Parliament and so many other international institutions. The language and cultural differences make the political system really complex, I bring it up whenever I can but I still haven't gotten my head around it all, governance is seperated into things done federally, things done by community (based on language) and things done by region. Constitutionally, there needs to be the same number of Flemish and French ministers, so they have to work together, but the last election was in June last year and they are still waiting on a government to be formed as there are so many disagreements between the two sides, I think one of the main points is the Flemish side now wanting to control their own social security instead of doing it federally, as at the moment the Flemish side is richer and feels like they are subsidizing the French side too heavily. Yesterday they broke the record (formerly held by Iraq) for the longest wait for a government to be formed. In the meantime, nothing is getting done and everyone is really pissed off about it, and it isnt helping unity between the two sides. It all fascinates me, I do feel that cultures in NZ are a lot more unified and understanding of each other in, but then I keep trying to picture NZ with the same kind of cultural/geographical divide, like if one island was english speaking and the other maori-speaking.

Boulevard in Brussels
So anyway, after dinner we spray-painted Arthurs hair and headed off to this birthday party. Ive already described the drinking culture here in Belgium, and this night was no different. The good side is that drunk people are a lot more willing to give speaking english a go than sober people, so I had a lot of people to talk too! Arthur's hair went down really well. We spent the night there and helped clean up in the morning (ie Arthur cleaned and I lay on the couch recuperating), as this girl lives outside of Belgium it was quite a cool trek back through some smaller villages. We arrived in time for lunch with Arthur's parents before I collapsed into bed, reappearing only in time for dinner again! We ate a kind of food that is typically eaten when you are skiing and its really cold, pretty much meat, potatoes and heaps of cheese mixed together, like two big rounds of it. Im beginning to realise we really dont do cheese well in NZ! I spent the rest of the evening sorting stuff out and repacking. I have far, far too much stuff, and I am already sick of unpacking and repacking every couple of days. Each time I try to work out what to ditch, but I really dont have much clothing so I can never bring myself to part with anything!

shield of Luxembourg
Monday morning we were up early and I was off to Luxembourg! This is another country that fascinates me, as its so tiny but still so rich and the culture is a mish-mash of many influences, the Romans, Spanish, French, Germans and Dutch all ruled there at one point. They speak French for administration and business, German at school and in the media, and Luxembourgish (a mixture of German, French with a little english thrown in) to each other in the street and at home.

I think Luxembourg is often missed by tourists, but I would really recommend this country, its amazing. I only visited the capital, but I would love to come back with a car and drive around the countryside to see the villages and castles. I arrived around lunchtime, checked into the hostel and then joined a tour for the afternoon. Unlike most of Europe its really hilly, and Luxembourg city is based on hills and valleys, with huge bridges linking different parts of it. The fortress here used to be one of the most fortified in Europe and a lot of it remains, like old walls and towers from the 900s, scattered around moats and streams and monk's gardens. A lot of the old roads and buildings remain as well, really this city was probably the most beautiful I've seen and my words don't do it justice, if you're on Facebook you can check out my photos instead here.

The tour took about three hours, we saw a lot of the city. The government buildings were really cool as they are so small compared to everywhere else! The Swiss President was in town, we saw him walk past, and then the Luxembourgish prime minister walked past and said hello to the tour guide, it was quite funny. There were only five of us on the tour, three older people and a young guy who turned out to be from Australia, so we spent most of the time talking and went to get food together afterwards. I still haven't met any kiwis anywhere, maybe in Paris I will, but I am tripping over aussies everywhere! And most people here assume I am from America, when I correct them and say NZ the responses are often things like, "ah, Australia" or "yes, the Netherlands".

I walked around some more, Luxembourg is a great city for strolling around as its surrounded by parks, and then as it started to rain I headed back to the hostel for dinner. I had planned to go out again to photograph the views by night and try to meet some locals, but I was quite sick with a cold and it kept raining, so I just did my laundry and went to bed early instead!

In the morning I was off really early to get back to Brussels in time to leave with Tim for the coast, but I really enjoyed my brief look around here, I really could live in this city, its so beautiful and the people are so friendly, and there are so many foreigners here for the European Parliament, making it quite interesting.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Liège, Lena and a day trip to the Netherlands

Lena's house
Lena is a former exchange student, she lived in Wellington mid 2009-mid 2010. Her city Liège is kind of near the border with Germany. I love her house, its in the centre of the city and is three stories tall but narrow, I find it really crazy compared to our bungalows in NZ. The buildings here are mostly brick or plaster, and grey or brown, I like it because its different but really I guess its a bit dreary. The people here are more of a melting pot than those in places like Mainz were, there is a lot more migration from places like Africa, I guess because its French-speaking, this neighbourhood particularly reminds me of Newtown back home in Wellington. Lena's mum speaks quite good english, her dad not so much but as a former actor he was pretty good at conveying things without words. He is always joking around but with so little english it was really hard for me to tell what was meant to be a joke and what wasn't!

Friday night we had a traditional dish from Liège, giant meatballs with fries, and just relaxed catching up and watched a movie. Saturday morning I woke up to possibly the best discovery of my trip so far; Speculoos. Speculoos are a kind of biscuit traditionally made for St Nicholas Eve in early December, but now eaten all year, they are pretty good (remember me talking about the Lotus biscuits me and Hauke had in Austria, they were Speculoos actually, Lotus is a brand) but a million times better is Speculoos spread that you put on bread. I can't even describe it, its more amazing than anything I've ever tasted, its maybe like a caramel KitKat chunky on bread. Awesome. After breakfast we walked around the city to explore, with Lena showing me all of her favourite places and bars. The bars here are all centered around a few narrow pedestrian only alleyways that Lena calls The Square, its apparently very famous (a lot of exchange students here in Belgium say they came here because they heard about the square). I had a few Belgian beers, one tasted like banana that was quite weird. We popped our heads inside the Cathedral here but its the outside that amazed me, its filthy! You can really see the effect of pollution on the buildings here, old ones have a layer of thick black except where grafitti has been removed. The whole city is quite dirty actually, the streets as well, as people just throw their rubbish on the ground. That night Lena's parents left us the house so that Lena could throw a party for her friends to meet me and to celebrate the end of their exams, except that most of her friends don't really speak english, or at least they were too shy to do so in front of so many people. Another former exchange student, Adrien came, cool to see a familiar face!
part of the market
We woke up pretty late on Sunday and then rushed around because Lena's mum reminded us that the market was on, its over a mile long stretched out along the bank of the Meuse River and is the oldest market in Europe. I am getting much better now at not spending money, so we mostly looked at all of the different types of food and weird things like heaps of birds in cages. I did get a kind of cape thing for 3euro. We visited a museum that her mum was really passionate about me seeing, but we were really too hungover for it and just strolled through getting lost and making jokes about things. They had a pretty cool exhibition of glasswork, it made me really want to start collecting glass artefacts but I've already learnt that glass and travelling don't go well together. We walked around some more, to see part of Lena's university (heaps prettier than Hauke's in Mainz!) and the statue of Tchantchesis, according to folklore a puppet that appeared from a crack in the ground in 760 and only would drink Pékèt, a kind of gin. Kind of random. Lena is a funny tour guide, she really knows nothing about this city!

Monday I had to fly back to Madrid to go to my appointment with the Foreigners Office, so we just had a picnic lunch in the botanic gardens and then I jumped on a train, we were running late so Lena didn't get a chance to explain to me where the hell I was going or how to use my ten-trip ticket. The trains here are really cheap, as I'm under 26 I got ten trips within a year for 50euros, so that works out as 10 NZ dollars per trip of any distance, much cheaper than any other country I am visiting. I flew out of another middle-of-no-where airport with Ryanair. I really have a love-hate relationship with that airline, I love paying 20 dollars for an international flight, but I hate flying with a company thats so useless! We had to wait for ages on a staircase between going through the gate and getting on the plane here, and this Spanish lady in front of me was geting so worked up, pacing back and forwards and sighing loudly, she got me really annoyed and I wanted to tell her to either deal with the long waits or stop flying with Ryanair. She also skipped in front of me in the line, Spanish people are so huge on that, but I got her back by beating her onto the plane anyway - you don't have seats allocated on Ryanair and often they overbook the planes and refuse passage to some people, so its like a race to get onboard.

Anne-Marie and me

Madrid was hot! It was 18° when I landed at 10pm, and the Metro underground is even hotter. Its only the beginning of February and I found it too hot, I can't imagine what summer will be like. Anne-Marie, girl who went to Costa Rica with me was in town on holiday, and I hadn't seen her for five years so I picked her up, dropped my stuff off and we went out in search of a beer. In fairness to Madrid it was a Monday but we seemed to spend quite a lot of time walking around looking for an open bar for a city of that size and reputation! Its funny how you can go five years without seeing someone but still hang out like nothing changed, and its good talking to someone who has kinda gone through the same stuff as you, like what we experienced returning to NZ after doing an exchange. As I am staying with families in most of the countries I am visiting, it often feels like being an exchange student, trying to fit in when not knowing the culture, language or that family's particular way of doing things. Anne-Marie called it 'The State of Confusion', when you have no idea whats going on but you stop stressing about it, like you don't know where you're going or what you are going to do when you get there, but you get in the car along with everybody else anyway. I am getting really good at just smiling all the time and coping what other people do!

Lena, me and Adrien on Saturday
For all it was a Monday night, I had sworn never to drink before travelling, and I had to both deal with the Foreigners Office and catch an international flight the next day, I ended up back at home at 6am and was not impressed with myself when Miguel woke me up at 8am to go to my appointment. This started off badly, the lady at the last office made it for me but didn't give me the reference number so the security guard wouldn't let me in the door without a fight. This time I only waited for half a hour, but again the lady insisted she couldn't do anything for me and suggested I go back to the last one or try the police. Despite a fierce hangover that made me want to do nothing except curl up in a ball I kept fighting her and eventually got to go upstairs to see her boss, who said that after I had been at the other office the last time, they had decided that that same office actually would give us ID cards, she showed me an internal memo about this from last Friday. Trip to Madrid for nothing! The NZ Embassy keep emailing me to see what's happening, but I might leave it for now until I'm back in March, I don't feel like wasting any more money going to Madrid and I doubt that they have a template for the ID cards ready yet! Oh Spain...

Then it was back to the airport, a nap for a couple of hours in the air, then a couple more hours on a train back to Liège before Lena was rushing me out the door again to go out. We headed back to The Square, and ran from one bar to another ripping out coupons from flyers given to the uni students for drink specials. Bars here are gross, they floors are sticky and covered in ciggarette butts, and I can't work out where all of the toilet seats disappear too. I really have to explain here about drinking in Belgium, I think NZ's reputation for a bad drinking culture is un-deserved when you look at this country. The legal age for drinking is 16, but many young people start going to bars at about 14. At University, they have a crazy system, similar to fraternities but insead of being people who live together it is based on what faculty you study in. The students undergo around 2 or 3 months of torturous initiation activities, things like eating catfood and live goldfish and staying for a hour in the cold on your knees with your hands in the air singing songs, and excessive amounts of drinking. Every fraternity has a competition to see who can skull the most beers in five minutes, and then all the fraternities compete against each other, some guys get up in the 50s so thats about a beer every five seconds right? They just puke and then keep drinking. At parties, they skull beer as a way of saying hello to people they bump into. To me it all seems sick, so either I am getting too old for that kind of thing, or young Belgians really are crazier than young NZers.

Apart from watching all of this crazy drinking around me, the night was pretty standard, until I saw a guy wearing a hoodie with a NZ flag on it! He had spent a year on exchange in Hamilton and was as surprized to meet a kiwi in Liège as I was to see a NZ flag. He was quite cool, I spent a lot of the night talking to him and his friends. For us Wednesday only begun around lunch-time and was pretty quiet. We visited some friends of Lena, and then spent the evening hanging around the house and watching a movie.


On Thursday we went to the Netherlands. It took us 30 minutes by train to reach the city of Maastricht, it really is an unreal feeling to jump out of the train after such a short amount of time and suddenly everything is in another language! That was quite funny actually, after my three weeks in German speaking countries I could understand Dutch better than Lena could! After yet another amazing kebab we wandered into the city and had a look around. The first thing you notice is the bikes, everyone was biking everywhere, and no one wears a helmet which still seems strange to me. It was much cleaner than Liège as well, and there are a lot of english speakers around who attend university there.

Red, yellow and green decorations on everything
We checked out the market place, the town square and some churches. Everything was covered in red, yellow and green decorations, the first couple of times I wondered what that was for Lena reckoned it was just because they are the Rastafari colours and the Netherlands is quite into pot, but even places like optometrists had these decorations, so I reckon they were from a festival or something. I brought my obligatory wooden clogs, tried Dutch beer, and then we took a train back in time for Lena to go to work.


Friday I accompanied Lena to one of her psychology lectures, her university is outside of Liège surrounded by woods, quite strange, but the buildings were similar to those in NZ, more like Canterbury Uni than Wellington in that its more spread out. The only real difference between uni in NZ and here that I noticed was that people here talk throughout the entire lecture, I couldn't believe it, just chatting to their friends. In NZ the lecturer would have stopped the lecture and refused to talk over so many other voices. After eating possibly the worlds largest 'small size' sandwidges we rushed back home so I could pack before meeting Daniel, the colombian AFS student that Lena is looking after at a Latino bar. It was cool to meet him and to see Lena having the same kind of conversation with him that I used to have with her back in New Zealand. We were running really late when we flew back to the house to get my stuff and head back to the train station, and Lena's mum kept insisting there was no way I would catch my train to Brussels, but I arrived only two minutes late and the train was still at the platform. Now off to Brussels to visit Arthur!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A night in Cologne

narrow dark solitary cell
Thursday morning I left Hauke's place in Mainz and headed of to Cologne. I really wanted to visit this city even though I didn't have friends to catch up with there, so I stayed in a hostel - my first visit to somewhere all by myself! Remembering this was my last day in Germany, I had currywurst for lunch one last time, I don't know if I mentioned it before, chopped sausage with curry sauce and fries, an awesome combination, and then checked out El De Haus, a prison used by the Gestapo to interrogate and torture people before releasing them, sending them to a concentration camp, or less likely, releasing them. The cells are really well preserved, they are tiny and its mindblowing to imagine 30 people all crowded into one, some only 15 years old. A lot of their writing on the walls is still there and talks about the conditions and torture that they indured. I am getting quite tired of visiting museums, but this one of the best so far.

I am also getting a bit over visiting churches, but the Cologne Cathedral really is in a league of its own. Begun in 1248 and finished in 1880 for awhile it was the tallest building in the world, and it still is the biggest Gothic style church. Its size is phenominal, and the gothic style and dark colour make it really quite creepy from the outside. I climbed all 509 steps to the viewing platform 98 metres up, the view of Cologne was pretty cool despite the grey sky and winter pollution. To put it in perspective, the stairs up the Christchurch Cathedral go up 30 metres. Those windy staircase with tiny steps are definitely not designed for people whose feet are as big as mine, coming down was trickier than getting up!

view over Cologne
After all of the climbing, I took the rest of the afternoon off to sleep and eat vegemite on toast for dinner. The hostel was pretty cool, better than the one in Berlin as it was right next to the train station, had heaps of free stuff like coffee and internet, and I had the whole dorm room to myself. I met three guys there, an American guy who was possibly the dumbest person I ever met (apparently Aborigines are all so unhappy with their situation they've made a universal pact to stop reproducing...), dumb as in highly unintelligent, not dumb as in annoying, an economics student who called himself Russian despite having lived in Germany since he was seven, and a German who worked in a nuclear power plant "like Homer Simpson" and spoke very little english but didn't mind me laughing at his frequent attempts to tell me things. They are all based in Cologne but drink in the hostel bar to meet foreigners (sound familar Wellingtonians??) so I headed out with them and we had a pretty quiet night out at a Russian pub.

Friday morning I headed out with my ridiculous tourist map in hand ready to see all of the sights, however that thing was so useless that even with my good sense of direction I seemed to spend a lot of time walking around in circles!

The museum of Cologne
I saw some old towers and wall from the period where the Romans ruled there, in the early centries of AD, a couple more churches (if you're into church architecture then Cologne is the place to visit!), a museum of Cologne's history, and the 4711 house. The story isn't as simple as 'Eau De Cologne' was invented there, it was actually invented somewhere else under a different brand name, but when the decendant had to change the brand name later on he changed it to 4711, his house number (when the French invaded they gave everyhouse its own number rather than doing it by street). Some fun facts; in Finland 4711 is the number of the poisons information hotline, and in WWII the Germany navymen were given eau de cologne to use as they couldn't bathe very frequently.

  I headed into the altstadt, or old town, in the middle of Cologne in hunt of a kebab, for years Ive been told that the kebabs you get in NZ are nothing compared to those in Germany, and honestly the kebab I ordered in my limited German (ie I point to the menu board and then nod everytime he asks a question) was amazing. I dont think I can eat NZ kebabs again! I have to say, the altstadt here was quite disappointing compared to others Ive visited, probably because Cologne was so heavily bombed in the war. I think the smaller towns in Germany are a lot prettier than the main tourist attractions, Hann. Münden being the prettiest I think I visited, and definitely the tiny villages are amazing. I walked over the bridge to the Deutz, the 'wrong' side of the Rhine, but it was on the verge of rain so I headed back across another bridge straight away.

locks on the bridge
This one has padlocks all along it, left by couples to signify their love, its quite a pretty sight with all of their different colours. Finally in the late afternoon I jumped onto a train into Belgium, to visit Lena in Liege. I really did love Germany, despite not having had too much interest in this country before and being quite skeptical about the language and people. I found picking up German easier than I expected, and the people were all very friendly and helpful, and the place just so beautiful and amazing, I've fallen in love with this country in a way that I really didn't with Madrid, and I really hope I can work things out so that I am back here later on with a working visa.

climbing up the cathedral
Final note, I said that I recieved no reply from the NZ Embassy in Spain when I forwarded them the useless email the Spanish Embassy in NZ sent me, but Ive since had a phone call and email from them to say they've been in contact with the Embassy themselves who are very apologetic and will now asist individuals who encounter any difficulties with their visa. We shall see what happens on my next trip to the foreign office...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mainz, Würzburg, and Mainz again - catching up with the AFS German Interns

Accordian bus!
I know Hauke and Emil as they lived in NZ for a year in 2008-2009 working as interns at the AFS National Office for their German Civilian Service. I landed back at Frankfurt Hann airport on Friday afternoon and caught the bus back to Mainz. Despite Haukes offer to come and meet me at the train station, and despite it being dark and me only having taken 
this tram to the house once during daylight, I had insisted I could catch the tram and find the way myself - luckily I could! We had dinner about 7pm (I wasnt hungry and couldnt eat much) and Hauke went to sleep around 9pm (I wasnt tired and couldnt sleep). 
Roman aquaduct ruins
Around 11pm I got really, really hungry at 2am still couldnt sleep - thanks Spain! Saturday was pretty cruisy, we went for coffee and lunch with some old friends of Hauke from Göttingen who were in town, and then checked out his university - I got to ride on an accordian bus for the first time! Even Haukes embarrassment couldnt dampen my excitement. Haukes university is probably the ugliest I have ever seen, but we made up for that by walking home past some ruins of a old roman aquaduct. 

The rest of Saturday night has become a bit of a blur. Hauke works as a bartender and is currently learning cocktails, so we trotted off to the supermarket in search of spirits and fruitjuice that we could mix. Unfortunately, I think mixed far to many spirits and not enough juice! We had dinner with his flatmates, Raclette, which is a method using a electronic thing with a heated stone on top for cooking meat, and a grill directly underneath where you put the cooked meat with cheese and potato and other stuff to melt. Quite cool, and the drinking continued with the flatmates. We played the same game that got me into trouble in Austria, with the dice and the numbers and me not knowing the rules and therefore constantly losing and having to drink, and at some point tumbled out the door with them into a tram to town. Hauke and I headed to the bar he works in again, and from then onwards the night is a bit messy. I know we got home around 6am, so when I woke up four hours later to catch my train I was still in less than perfect condition. I will spare you all of the details, except to say that I missed my train, puked in places I shouldn't have, was miserable all day, and swear that I will never drink the night before I travel to a new location ever again!

I arrived at Würzburg late and still sick but happy to see Emil! We headed back to his and spent the rest of the evening recuperating, going for a really long walk along the riverside and catching up. Monday morning we headed up to the Festung (Fortress) Marienberg, built in the 700s AD, reconstructed in the 1600s and used as a castle for Prince-Bishops and as a fort. There is a really good view of Würzburg from up there. On the way back Emil introduced me to a kind of pancake (sorry I forgot the word!) for lunch at a cafe on the riverside, and then I headed out to a small town, Bad Kissingen, to catch up with Claire, a French girl who had been in NZ on an AFS 2-month exchange in 2009 and is now doing a full-year exchange in Germany. This was an interesting train trip, as I didn't really know where I had to 
Catching up with Claire Chervin
catch connections from and the local trains don't have english translations like the bigger ones do, and it freaked me out a little to arrive in this tiny station and find Claire wasn't already there, but luckily she was just running late! It was really cool to talk about Germany and Germans with someone else who has an outsiders perspective.

Tuesday morning we headed to the Würzburg Residenz, a palace from the 1700s that is now a UNESCO heritage site. I quite like the marble used in it, and the huge stone foyer with a vaulted ceiling, but it made the place really cold! Emil went off to uni and I wandered around exploring and shopping for awhile, I found a New Zealand shop run by a German woman who hasn't lived in NZ but reckons NZers are much sunnier, upbeat and happy than Germans, 
Würzburg Residenz
and is therefore trying to bring a little of NZ into Germany. I have been hanging out for marmite, so I admit to paying 10euro, or about $20 for a jar of vegemite, the closest she had. I also ordered lunch for the first time by myself, admittedly just by pointing at something on a menu and hoping for the best, but I am still quite impressed with myself! Hand gestures also go a long way!

Wednesday morning we woke up to a little bit of snow! I checked out the Kulturspeicher museum, only the art half was open but I really liked that, all artworks done by people who had come from or lived in Würzburg. The smaller works portraying Würzburg itself impressed me more than some of the big, more famous stuff Ive seen here recently. Würzburg 
houses on the riverside in Würzburg
really is quite pretty, the buildings are different to further north, no framework on the houses, but they are all different colours and I like how the line the river. There are also a huge number of churches here that survived or were rebuilt after the war.

After another successful attempt at ordering my own lunch I said goodbye to Emil and headed back to Mainz. My first train was late, so I missed my connection, and as I was standing there searching for the next one on the board some quite scary-looking Germans actually came up to me and asked if I needed help! Made my day! I headed back to Hauke's to dump my stuff and went out to enjoy the snow some more, walking back into town. Hauke is a big patron of the Irish Pub here, and I wanted to see what he is always talking about, so I killed time waiting for him to 
Apparently 1 doesn't mean first...
finish at uni by sitting there chatting away to the owner. I find it weird now to talk to someone who has English as a first language! We finished off the night by going bowling with some friends of his, again our identical shoe sizes caused much disbelief and later a few laughs. My attempt at bowling was no laughing matter! I can't believe how poorly I did, on our third game I actually sat on 1, i.e. 1 pin for three or four rounds. Hauke reckons my arm physically isn't straight!

Tomorrow I am off to Colonge, hopefully our sobriety tonight will mean I have a much mroe succesful departure from Mainz this time around, and can enjoy my night there before I head into Belgium on Friday.

Anyone who wants to check out the video we made of Hauke skiing, its on facebook here although you might have to be friends with him to see it due to his privacy settings.
Würzburg, Festung Marienberg on the hill

Two more weeks in Madrid

Plaza Mayor
On Tuesday I woke up feeling terrible, and the week really just went downhill from there, I spend most of the week in bed with a bad cold, only leaving to go to more Foreign Offices. I made a bit of a scene at one office and got an "information appointment", with a woman who also told me that this type of visa didn´t exist, but then success, the woman next to her butted in to say that it did! After their boss made calls for about half an hour she told me to make an appointment at another office for a student visa, and just lie on the phone so that they made me the appointment!

Other than that week two here was pretty boring, one of the highlights was discovering the button on the TV remote that changes programmes from being dubbed into Spanish back to their original english! TV is weird here, they have less advertisement breaks than the TV shows were designed for, so the programmes keep going through the parts where they´d designed a pause until some random point, often mid-conversation, when they whack in a really long break. Strange. While most people don´t finish work until 9pm here, there is a really active life in the evenings, its still winter so I keep getting told that it will be much busier in summer time! We (well Miguel and Ricardo) entertain here a lot in the evenings, so most nights we´ve had people around for dinner and a few drinks. I don´t know how everyone operates on so little sleep, although I guess if you sleep during siesta its ok. Speaking spanish all of the time has worn me out quite a bit since I´ve been here too. This has made sightseeing harder than in Germany, as by the time I get up there is only a few hours until everything closes for siesta, and I dont really like heading out to see things after siesta when it is dark, not that I feel unsafe here, just that you cant see things as well, it would be really different if it were summer time.

Plaza Mayor

On Saturday morning Miguel headed to Prague for four days, and Ricardo went back to Ciudad Real for his brother´s birthday, so I had my first night alone in five weeks, a weird feeling! Funnily it was also the worst night´s sleep I´ve had, I am just not used to the silence anymore! On Saturday I spent a lot of time cleaning, washing and sorting out my stuff, and then went to the Museum of Dress, they have stuff there documenting changes in dress from the 1600s until now, and traditional dress from the different regions of Spain. I also found a supermarket with a asian food section (i.e. one shelf), so I will be able to cook some proper stirfrys and noodles this week. I really miss the nice mix of foods that we have in NZ, here everything is really traditional and heavily based on rice and meat, I really miss eating vegetables. If I could find somewhere here that sells curry and proper chilli powder then I would really be happy!

Line at the museum I didn't visit...
Sunday I headed off to the Museum of the Americas, a collection of things from Spain´s former colonies. I am really into Latin America and have studied different cultures from there quite a bit, so I found this quite a good museum. I was really excited to see a Quipu, the collection of knotted ropes used by the Incas to record things and communicate, these always fascinated me, and now I really want to visit Peru, but the collection was quite strange in that it skipped over the whole colonization part of their history! I had a picnic lunch in the Parque del buen Retiro, a big park in the middle of Madrid that used to be the private park of the royal family. Even if it must have been around 5degrees there was a lot of people in the park, and I got quite excited watching squirrels run around - the simple things that we dont have in New Zealand really amuse me! Because it used to be royal property it is full of statues and sculptures, every 20m or so is another, but there is a really massive monument thing in the middle overlooking a lake that you can row boats out onto, I am quite keen to take one out when it is warmer. I planned on going to the Museo del Prado afterwards, a really famous museum of art here, as its free for a couple of hours, but once I saw the line I decided I would rather come back early one morning and pay the entrance fee!

Palacio Real

Monday is museum-free day in most of europe (it keeps catching me out!) so I went to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena. The Palacio Real was begun in the 1700s by a king who wanted to have a bigger and cooler palace than all of the other European kings. The current royal family lives somewhere smaller, so most days you can walk around the palace and check out things like the Royal Pharmacy and Royal Armoury. The Cathedral opposite is huge, and if you pay the museum entrace you can climb to the top. You arent supposed to take photos but I figured if I stood with my back to the security cameras and did it on the sly it would be ok - most of the photos really didnt work out! But the view was amazing. Around the corner I found a crypt under the Cathedral, and this was one of my favourite church visits, although I find it quite creepy that they bury everyone under the floor and then everyone who attends service there walks over them. Tuesday I continued with the church theme and visited the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, this was really cool as a crazy guy who resembled a Spanish version of Mr Bean runs a constant circut tour of the place and explains everything. I stopped in at another Basilica afterwards but without a tour it wasnt as impressive.

View from the Catedral de Nuestra Senora

My plans for Wednesday all went out the window as a lot of places let EU and Latin American citizins in for free on Wednesdays, everywhere was either already full or had massive lines, so I gave up and ran errands instead. I ran the NZ embassy here, speaking to a kiwi was quite funny, but he really wasnt helpful - he admitted that they had had phone calls from other NZers in this position, but they cant do anything about it except advise me to email the Spanish embassy in NZ that issued the visa. I pointed out that the deal they signed is based on reciprocity and it isnt fair that over a hundred Spaniards have already completed a year in NZ with no problems while we cant work here, but he just gave me his email to Bcc him in. Finally Thursday rolled around, and I was off again to see a third Spanish Foreign Office for an appointment that I had been assured would resolve my visa issues. I was determined not to leave without progress being made, and was prepared to take various peoples advice that crying and/or refusing to leave would get me somewhere. I had an appointment at 12 and arrived at 11.45, only to be issued a ticket with the number 92 on it...they were up to number 58. My plan of making a scene got a little scary when I saw someone refuse to leave when they refused to give her an appointment, with security phoning the police who came and arrested her!
Basilica de San Francisco
Over a hour later (what is the point of even having appointments!!!) I saw someone, who tried the whole "your visa doesnt exist" thing again, before someone else pointed out that it did, but that while the two governments had signed the agreement (a Working Holiday Agreement has also been signed with Canada) no one had ever instructed the offices on how to process the visa. They dont know how to document things, or how to give me paperwork and an ID card that shows I can work, and until someone works that out and creates the new national ID card template etc, they are just taking peoples names and saying they will ring them when its sorted...this list has been running since September with no resolution as yet! At this point, I jumped up and stood in the middle of the office crying, shouting and generally making a scene! The woman then decided that maybe it would be easier to resolve the situation with the NZers than the Canadians, so she would talk to someone else if I sat and waited. Another hour later everyone had been seen to and left, and the staff were leaving for their lunch/siesta, and I was still sitting there! Finally she came back out with a man and said that if I went to another Office and got them to give me papers to say I could work, I could come back to her office and get an ID card. She ended up being quite nice and at my insistence, even made the appointment with them for me.

Graves in the crypt
Unfortunately this appointment is when I am supposed to be in Belgium (I am actually not allowed to leave Spain until I have my Spanish ID card, but as I am staying in the Shengen area and my passport will never get stamped anywhere I am leaving anyway). I am really dubious that this appointment will work, given they couldnt work it out in the last five months for other people and only worked it out during a hour for me, and I have been temped to throw in the towel at this point, just finish my trip around and come back to NZ or look for something else, Ive been offered a few weeks of manual labour in Belgium or I could get a working holiday visa in Germany and try my luck getting a job without speaking any German. But, as Ryanair had 60euro return flights from Brussels to Madrid I decided to give it one last go. I am doubtful that it will work, and even if they do give me the papers to say I can work, I guess I then will have to go to Madrid from Paris or something to try and get the ID card, or risk leaving it until I return in late March only to have them question why I took so long! This will be the fourth Spanish Foreign Office Ive visited, and there are only six here in Madrid! The Spanish Embassy in NZ emailed be back, just to say that the Foreign Office is now aware of the problem and they are sure it will be resolved shortly - seems to me that they were aware back in September as well, and the Spanish definition of shortly is very different to the NZ definition! I forwarded this onto the NZ embassy here but didnt get a response - I figure if I am still unable to get my visa processed by late March when I am back in Madrid, by which point I will be here illegally, I will see if I can get a newspaper in NZ to write about the situation and see if that prompts the Spanish embassy into doing something!
Palacio de Comunicaciones

This meeting put me in rather a bad mood, so I just went back to the appartment and consoled myself with cheap spanish beer all afternoon, until a whole bunch of other people came around and we watched the elimination on Spanish Big Brother - possibly the worst reality show Ive ever seen! And then Friday morning it was off to the airport to head back to Germany...