Thursday, 22 May 2014

Maiwoche in Osnabrück

Three months later and I found myself in Germany again. This time I flew to Bremen rather than Berlin or Frankfurt. 12 degrees celcius outside versus the 27 degrees over in Milan. The first day was quite chilly, though it was refreshing driving from Bremen airport to Osnabrück; the concrete structures, roadworks and high rise buildings of Milan were replaced with rolling green hills and doll house-like buildings, each one unique. I cheekily removed my own cast during this trip as it was damp and really itchy, but I will still be taking it easy for a few weeks...

We visited Münster, the so-called "nicer city" when comparing it to Osnabrück. I found the architecture very similar (think of the most stereotypical European toy town), though the cathedral was very different to others I have seen in Europe. Medieval features were either retained, as in the case of the astrological clock, an impressive feat of engineering, and a few baroque features, or replaced with creative contemporary interpretations. The stained glass windows were very different, depicting cartoon like feline friends rather than the normal evangelists, etcetera. We had a late lunch at Krawummel after walking around the centre. This vegan restaurant has great reviews and I has definitely earned them. On offer were several falafel dishes, three burgers, a soup and dish of the day (which sounded great) and many cakes and hot beverages. We both couldn't resist the veggie steak burger and ordered a side dish of potato wedgies and some grapefruit lemonade. The burger was a massive triple layer and came filled with onion rings, barbeque marinated "steak" pieces, sweet chilli and a little bit of salad for good measure. We got vegan sour cream and ketchup for dipping. Seriously yummy place, I would return. In the evening we went to a variety perfomance show. Unexpectedly there were tables and you could order food and drinks from the menu whilst you watched the show. It was a combination of acrobatics, dance and comedy. I didn't understand most of the comedy, though I was told some of it was on the verge between being funny and being unacceptable humour.


Old meets new

Triple veggie burger and wedgies at Krawummel

The next day came as a bit of a surprise to me, as my boyfriend proposed we take a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam... Why not? I hadn't been since I was 11, that time I arrived late with my parents and we ended up staying in a brothel for the first night, much to the amusement of the tourist information the next day. I knew it would be interesting coming back 11 years later. It took just two hours to get there from Osnabrück, on the way we spotted a windmill, and we went into the centre using the park and ride. It struck me how consistently beautiful the city was. The architecture in the city centre reminded me of some parts of Manhatten, particularly East village and lower East side. The buildings were old but again, all unique. The city has retained much of its old charm. The canals are all lined with trees, and bicycles are everywhere. We walked around a few main sites and I wondered how much I would remember, walking under the flat where Anne Frank was hiding from the Nazis, around the red light district and the station I got a few flashbacks, though just images rather than real spacial recognition. At least some part of me hasn't changed in the last 11 years, I still felt extremely sad looking at the prostitutes commodifying themselves in the shop windows. Red lights, pink cushions, bikinis and formulaic flirting techniques which had men drooling, most of these women seemed to be immigrants, likely too poor to have a real say in the matter, even if working out of their own free will. For most prostitutes this job is just a means of earning money. Stag night parties, old men and a great array of sad and lonely individuals seemed to be the main clientel, people who would probably not be there if they could experience the real deal. It seemed as simple as going clothes shopping. I completely agree in the liberalisation of prostitution, in that hopefully there would be less human trafficking, higher taxes on prostitution and more laws to protect worker's safety, but as an industry it really is pretty sad.

The so-called coffee shops are also everywhere, the smell usually comes before the sign and many seem to have neighbouring shops which sell food for those who have the munchies, such as American cakes and fast food. Good business strategy. 

Of course, this kind of scene was common place...

One *very* chilled out kitty

The flat where Anne Frank's family hid

cute little house

We spent a large part of the afternoon chilling in a park by a canal under the sun, after having walked all around the centre. We sought out a cat shelter on a barge, but it was closed by the time we arrived. We had lunch in a cute little burger place near the canals where we got a bagal tapas sharing dish, featuring hummus and vegetarian tuna salad from the vegetarian butcher, which was really weird. Later we munched on vegan sweets bought at candy freaks and dined at Maoz's vegetarian falafel. On the way home we saw a crazy dream-like red moon hovering in the sky. We were not able to capture it on camera. I would love to go back to Amsterdam for more time one day. It's a really beautiful and vibrant city.

juice and veggie bagel tapas

gelatine-free fizzy cola bottles at Candy Freaks

Raw white chocolate-not sure where!

The sun followed us from Amsterdam to Osnabrück the following day, and the 12 degrees celcius went up to 27. We had a mainly veggie barbeque in the garden, with salad, lupin burgers, fresh bread, various dips and soya sausages. In the evening we headed to the centre to take part in the Maiwoche festival, where there were numerous stalls selling food and drink, many drunk people and in the very centre there was a familiar May pole. I tried a strawberry wine drink, erdbeerbowle, which is apparently traditional during this season, an alternative to the beer drank by the masses.We ate fried cauliflower too...

After a tasty and inexpensive breakfast buffet in town on Sunday we went up the many stairs to reach the Marienkirche, from the top I realized how hilly and green Osnabrück really is. As you can see in the photo, urban areas are all separated by parks, gardens and trees. Green spaces are abundent. From the turret we watched a Dutch marching band emerge from a side street into the main square, where they played uplifting music in a very casual manner. I bought some delicious hot sugar nuts from one of the festival street vendors before we cycled home. I guess I won't be able to eat them again until Christmas time, which is a terrible thought. That afternoon we headed to the botanical garden, a place we had already visited in January. An old quarry was converted into a seemingly natural gorge, which is now full of life and an oasis from town life. There was a children's theatre event going on in the garden with very well-done theatre productions aimed at children, but interesting also for us. It felt very familiar to me, despite being in a different country. Again we ate in the garden, eating lentil lasagne and basking in this unexpected sun.

View from the Marienkirche

children's theatre at the botanic garden

On Monday I got a little taster as to what it is like to study cognitive science at university. It was surprising to hear that my soon-to-be final year professor of French literature at Edinburgh university Peter Dayan will be coming to Osnabrück as a guest speaker on neuroscience. I guess he is multi-talented. We ate at the university canteen, which is surprisingly incredible for vegetarians and vegans. Everything is labelled and the menu changes everyday, though there always seem to be chips and a salad bar. I had mushroom and tofu udon noodles with sesame roasted sweet potatoes and cucumber salad, accompanied with a bottle of Mate Charitea. I wish my university had such choice! I used this afternoon to start stocking up on veggie products to take back to Milan, as Germany is brimming with organic shops, including the great bio chain Denn's Biomarkt which sells plenty of interesting meat replacements, herbal teas, dairy free chocolate and fruit bars.

some veggie findings

Tuesday was my last full day, and we used it wisely: a cycle ride through a beautiful green forest to a lake which was surprisingly man-made, where we took a stroll. No photos unfortunately as I forgot... More and more so, I am starting to think that this may be la dolce vita after all. The emphasis on the importance of green spaces, good swimming pools and leisure facilities, organic shops, well-sourced fresh ingredients, colourful buildings and clean streets seems far more widespread here in Germany than in Italy, France or the United Kingdom. There is a definite inclination to keep the citizens of this country happy and healthy. After we headed back to the university canteen and then on to Schlecks, an institution in the town, where you can get ben and jerry's style chunky ice cream made there and then on the spot for you. In the evening we sat down with some friends to watch some inspirational climbing videos on an overscreen projector.

Yummy icecream at Schlecks

Today we went for a light breakfast at a cute and hip coffee shop called barista before walking around yet another pretty and seemingly natural park, catching the flowers whilst in full bloom and inhaling the smell of flower nectar. We then got lunch at a German Italian chain Va piano. From some respects I feel that the quality of Italian food abroad is often better than that found in Italy, in that this place offered really super fresh ingredients which were made on the premises. I left the pitiful little airport at Bremen this evening and eventually arrived home at around 10pm.

I really needed to stay in some cute little colourful town full of green spaces and tasty food and nice people for a bit. The universe seems to have resumed the right course and life is rather lovely. Flying over the now familiar but still majestic alps I was reminded of the fact that I will be seeing them again in 3 weeks when I head back to Scotland.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

miracoloso-metà maggio!

So what has been going on in the first half of May?

First of all, as pre-empted in my previous post, I went to the terme QC di Milano (the thermal baths). Having been born in Bath, I had always been curious about this Roman past time but the British prices were well outside my means and didn’t offer the whole hog. My detailed review can be found on tripadvisor.

I took no photos inside the steam rooms as it was too, well, steamy
Part of the breakfast buffet
A sauna in a tram

The trip was almost perfect, but of course nature had to reconcile this near-perfection with a small mishap. Upon exiting the last sauna of the day I had a little blackout due to the heat and slipped, breaking my right wrist and sacrum. I got to relive the rather monotonous Italian emergency room experience, waiting for a total of nine hours without wifi or a book to entertain me. I now have an annoyingly heavy cast. Aside from the pain and irritation at being incapable of doing anything properly (showering, cooking, itching under the cast), my main stress was caused by the written exam for Italian literature the following day. I was fully prepared for this exam, but apparently my arm was not. Luckily my "legend" of a teacher let me off and asked me to do a short essay instead on one author who wrote before the 19th century and one contemporary author. I am slowly getting there with my awkward one-handed typing.

Climbing or skydiving accident? Eurgh, no, I fell at the terme...

My initial thought as I broke these bones was "oh crap, now I can't go climbing". This is true. I can't swim either as I have a cast which cannot get wet, nor go running. In a nutshell, for the next few weeks I am likely to be quite inactive. If my body will be sedentary however, I have decided my mind will be active. I am continuing to teach English, I have picked up Duolingo again and I am trying to write a few short essays in each of my target languages. What's more, I have enjoyed a few afternoons reading or people watching in public spaces, such as parks and my long overdue finding, my local bio bar. I have made several trips to Viva as cooking is a bit difficult right now. I have been able to be quite the foodie...
rainbow salad

catching up on a bit of reading in my new local
Cappuccino di soia e una brioche integrale ai frutti di bosco.

I am finally finding an opportunity to use my esselunga free cinema tickets, but also taking advantage of the cheap tickets at the film festival. I have been to see Princess Mononoke and Tracks, both dubbed into Italian... I got caught up in a few events around the duomo, including an unexpected street parade.

 Thankfully light walking is still an option and I spent most of yesterday walking from one end of Milan to another in the sun with a good friend after having a lovely vegan breakfast date at Pasticceria Namura. I have also participated in a new tandem project at the university, something which Edinburgh does well and that I really miss.

Cappuccino with almond and rice milk, vegan croissant with dark chocolate

I at some point was standing in piazza del duomo and had a little bit of an unexpected last minute epiphany. The atmosphere seemed surreal, I had just left the cinema after seeing Princess Mononoke and everyone seemed in reggae mood. I watched a buskar sing a slightly discordant rendition of Imagine by John Lennon, surrounded by backpackers, against the backdrop of the cathedral. I realized that maybe I don't dislike being here so much afterall.

Phone quality... #getting a better camera soon

With the exception of one little computer related stress moment, I can honestly say breaking my arm and sacrum wasn't such a negative thing in this instance. I have had some time for me, for friends, for relaxation and recovery.

Today next stop: Deutschland. Then my remaining time here in Italy will be gone in a flash.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Am I still in Italy...?

For the last two weeks I think my sense of geography has been rather bewildered. 

Last weekend I was at the Festival dell’Oriente, a massive annual trade fair in the East in Milan pertaining to various eastern cultures. The exhibition centre was in Novegro, a suburb with a rural feel 5 bus stops after Linate airport. The exhibition showcased cultural elements of China, India, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan and strangely also Italy… 

There were various stalls selling exotic food, incense, kimonos, pashminas, tea, oriental crafts and more.  I took great advantage of the free tea stands and drank way too much (which inevitably led to insomnia) the Japanese matcha and Indian masala chai were particularly good. I attended a Chinese tea ceremony which was very authentic and had a 5 minute Japanese painting tutorial. There was also a great new age presence, offerings including slug face cream (???), vegan food (not complaining about this), and health products.
In most rooms there was at least one show going on, these included martial arts performances and regional dances. 

my first attempt...

It was an interesting event, but considering so many things cost (e.g. the origami class, the dominance of shops in general) I don’t think the 10 euro entrance fee was fully justified. Looking at the programme I had expected some kind of dance/yoga workshops, but this information seemed intentionally vague. 

During the week I worked on the itinerary for the Japanese leg of my summer travel plans, with an interval for climbing, a few teaching slots and my last few lectures at university here.  It will be great to see Maki again and explore the country which inspired a lot of my childhood and adolescence (studio Ghibli, Pokemon, fruits basket, Full metal Alchemist, Death Note… Pourquoi pas?) and see a few more of its facets. 

The expectations for this weekend looked bleak; there has been no internet since Thursday due to some problem which will not be fixed until Monday, I have an exam on Tuesday (for which I am terribly under prepared and need internet), and there’s some sneeze-causing pollen flying around Milan which looks like snow but gets in your nose and mouth whenever you breathe. After exhausting the collection of French films on my hard drive (and films dubbed into French…), my room was starting to look boring. Internet free-time soon proved to be a good occasion to socialise; my Chinese flatmate then invited me to join her for a traditional Chinese ceremony, which soon became a Mandarin lesson and a general talk about Chinese culture. 

I even got to learn a bit of modern slang...

 The next day we decided to visit China town, where we browsed the oriental supermarkets and my friend bought some products. She then took me to a shop specialising in Fresh tofu, or “formaggio di soia” (soya cheese), where I purchased some freshly fried spicy tofu. When I got home I concocted a Sichuan hot pot-inspired soup dish and threw the tofu in at the last minute. 

In response to my title, yes, I am still in Italy. Though not for much longer…  Heading to Germany in a couple of weeks, and then leaving this part of the world indefinitely on June 15th. More to come on this subject in the last few blog posts from my Erasmus year, but ciao for now. Off to the Terme tomorrow!