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Monthly Archives: October 2013

October’s Teaching Misadventures

Hello everybody!

I’ve been meaning to write this latest blog for about three days now, but the days have gotten busier and time keeps on flying by!

I’ve had two weeks back at school now. My first day back was Thanksgiving Monday, and I told some students about how in Canada, nobody was at work or school that day, and they were taking the time to give thanks for all of the things they have in their lives. The night before that, Seb and I made a Thanksgiving Dinner of sorts for ourselves – we decided to not take on a turkey, but each had a chicken breast wrapped in bacon, as well as mashed potatoes, gravy and corn. We also made our own stuffing from scratch, but unfortunately it was more like soup than stuffing. I was too lazy to even think about making my own pumpkin pie (it’s a pretty non-existent thing here) so we fried bananas in sugar and cinnamon for dessert. It was a great meal and a nice way to celebrate the holiday. We even lit a candle!

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Unfortunately, I had quite a bad cold during my first week back at work. Not that drinking beer for three days and staying in a tent in October had anything to do with that. At one point I was doing group-work with students and started coughing enough that tears were pouring out of my eyes, and the students were mildly alarmed. But I managed to have Thursday and Friday off, and made sure to buy some juice (vitamin C!) and cough drops too. That plus lots of sleep made for a quick recovery.

My first week back at school meant that I had my first Conversation Course session. I came all prepared with an episode of Two and a Half Men where they celebrate Thanksgiving. I had been quite nervous, but another teacher helped me set up the projector and speakers to my laptop. I had tried to publicize the course a bit earlier in the week, but had also been worried that I would have a huge class full of kids that I wouldn’t be able to handle. No need to worry: three showed up. One of them was from grade 7, and I was surprised that he came since usually in class he’s too shy to try speaking English. The other two were from grade 10, although unfortunately one of them had to leave halfway through. We started watching the episode, but I had no concept of how much the characters murmur and how fast they speak. I had to stop it about five times to summarize what was going on for the kids, and by then any trace of humour was pretty much gone from the story. In the show, Charlie pays Jake to be overly friendly to this girl that he wants to be with. I tried to teach the kids the definition of “bribing” but in the end one of them said “so, if you were to say to someone: ‘do this or I will beat you up’ that’s a bribe?” and suddenly the show didn’t seem nearly as light and funny. So after we gave up on that, the students and I discussed different holidays. I asked which ones were their favourites, and described a few Canadian ones. The one guy had to leave around then, and he said he would like for the class to be on a different day of the week – unfortunately I think I’ll have to keep it the same though, since it’s taking so long for word to get out so that students attend. At this school, classes are 90 minutes long as opposed to 45. I tried to let the other students go home early once the one guy had left, but they were still having a good time and wanted to talk more. We discussed all sorts of things, from what they did on their holidays to what they like to read, to their siblings and families. The older girl told me she’s been working on a book, and told me all about the details of the plot. The younger student didn’t always understand what was going on, but he was good at answering questions directed at him, and didn’t seem discouraged by what he didn’t know. Sometimes the girl would translate what we were saying into German for him. The fact that there were only the three of us in the big classroom meant that silences felt really big and awkward, but everytime I tried to offer for the kids to go early, they weren’t into it. The girl actually kept talking past when class was supposed to end. I definitely take this as a compliment – they enjoyed themselves so much that they didn’t want to leave. I definitely consider that to be a successful first class!

On the weekend, I spent a lot of time putting together my Canadian presentation that I promised various English teachers I would make. One of them told me she would be absent this Thursday, and suggested that I use that class to give the presentation. I was nervous at the idea of running a class without her, but agreed. On Sunday I submitted the presentation to another teacher to look over, and on Monday he had lots of tips for how I could make it better.

This week has consisted of a lot of new “firsts” for me. On Monday, the grade seven students began learning about Scotland. So, I brought in some photos of my previous trips to Scotland, and also brought in my bagpipes. During the photos, the kids were excited to learn that Edinburgh is where J.K. Rowling supposedly wrote part of her book, and were also excited to see the bridge in Glenfinnan where part of Harry Potter was filmed. They were quite intrigued by a picture of “Iron Bru” I showed at a grocery store, and none of them have tried it or heard of it before – it is very Scottish! They enjoyed the pictures of bagpipers, especially one that I took at the World’s showing hundreds of pipers for massed bands, and one that has me in it with my uniform on. Every time I showed them a picture with a body of water in it, they said “there’s Loch Ness!” and I didn’t bother correcting them.

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While the photos were enjoyable, the part everyone was most excited about was obviously the bagpipe playing. I first tuned my drones to show them that part of how it sounds, and then told them about how bagpipers squeeze the bag when taking a breath. I then put in the chanter, and warned everyone that it would be very loud. I told them that if they plugged their ears, I wouldn’t be offended. We were set up in the computer lab since we had been looking at pictures, and that room fortunately had a carpet to absorb a bit of the sound. When I played the first note, a lot of the kids shot back in their chairs, but as they got used to it fewer and fewer had their hands over their ears. I just played Scotland the Brave then stopped, and they all went crazy. It was a good thing I had shown them the photos before playing, because after that they were hardly quiet enough for me to say anything else. But they asked a few questions about the pipes, like how much they cost, and a few of them asked how long I’ll be in Germany for (maybe they want me out of the country right away now that I’ve revealed this instrument?) After that, before we went back to the classroom I laid out the pipes and let them come and have a look. The teacher was equally excited about the whole thing, and said it was the first time she’s heard that type of music live. When we were back in class, small groups of students were sent out in the hallway to speak with me. A few of the students got really excited about that and wanted to go first, and it was a very happy moment for me to see them so enthused about interacting with me.

On Tuesday, the teacher that I normally work with had to leave school quite suddenly. So another teacher gave me a stack of papers and told me what the students were expected to do. It took me a long time to understand what she was telling me in German, but the message got across eventually. It was a grade 10 Honours class, so they behaved exceedingly well for the entire class. The students first had to read an article about Alice Munro, so I read out the first part and then got different students to read the rest. After that they had to answer questions about the reading, and I sat there nervously wondering how on earth I was supposed to pass an entire 90 minutes with them. At one point I saw a student glowering at me, but I’m fairly sure that was more out of boredom than any personal anger. Once they were all done, I asked different students what the answers were. I didn’t have too much creative or original to add, but I like to think that I didn’t do too poorly considering the lack of notice. Then the students had to read a short story by Alice Munro. I asked whether they would prefer to read it individually or all together, and seeing as a few had already started we settled on individually. What I didn’t realize was that this meant some of them would be finished way before the others. The story took a lot longer for me to read than I expected, and in the end everyone was finished only 10 minutes before the end of class. I asked a few questions about it, such as what the students thought about it and if they preferred novels or short stories. In the end, I don’t think the students were riveted by my amazing teaching skills, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t bored out of their minds either.

After this class, I went and spoke with the vice principal about what would happen in the next class I was supposed to teach with the absent teacher. He told me that the principal was going to give the students a test (the teacher had already set up the test, it’s not like the principal was just being cruel), and after that I could supervise the students while the principal worked in his office. So he came in and gave the students their exam, and told them that if they looked over at someone else’s paper, I would take it away from them. He made me sound good and menacing, so the students never really found out that I’m a softie. It’s amazing how much power simple supervision has. I have hardly any teaching experience and don’t have much authority within the school system, but my simply being there and attentive meant that no students dared look at one another’s papers. When there was about half an hour left in class, I told students that once they were done their papers they could raise their hands and I would collect them. Unfortunately after that, some of the students started making noise. I had a complete flashback to those moments in my school days, when students around me were done and started chatting away about random things while I was staring at my paper in paralyzed fear, willing the last few answers to pop into my mind. So I tried to make the students be quiet. Every once in a while I would say something like “guys, some people still aren’t done their papers. No talking.” or “Come on guys, some people still aren’t done. Read quietly or work on something else”. But there unfortunately was no stopping them. In the end I said “ok guys. If you are extremely quiet, you can go now. But don’t talk until you’re out of the room.” They seemed pleasantly surprised, and managed to leave without making an obscene amount of noise. I hope that the students still working had gotten enough silence, but I’m not really sure. One of them said good-bye to me as she left, which I found very friendly. The embarrassing part is I didn’t notice she was saying good-bye, and sort of had my finger in my ear. Either way, I still take student interactions to be a good sign. It makes me really happy whenever one of them says hello to me in the hallway, and I love that the more I work here the more faces I recognize in the school.

So, the day of my working spontaneously alone was a success. Normally I will not be teaching classes alone, but I was happy that I could help out when teachers were in a tight spot.

One teacher sent me an email early in the week asking if I could come to his grade eleven class on Wednesday. The kids had a big exam the next day and it would be helpful to have two teachers helping them with their practice exams. I think that class went well, although a lot of students weren’t ready with a draft for me to look over until the last few minutes of class. I still haven’t gotten the hang of being forward and demanding they share their work with me earlier. I still feel quite guilty though – one student gave me her work and I basically ripped it to shreds. I was trying to fix all these details to make her writing better, and didn’t realize she would be so discouraged when she got it back. But eventually the other teacher worked with her and I like to think he made her feel better about her progress. From then on I made sure to only work on a few general things instead of fixating on every detail! One student unfortunately had such messy writing that I skimmed it over and made about two comments to make it seem like i knew what it was all about. Either way, I like to think that in the end I was a bit of a help. One student wanted to know the difference between “many” and “much” and thanks to my days in copyediting class I know that answer quite well.

After that, it was conversation course time again. I had serious doubts that anyone would attend, since all three people from the last week were only about to make it every second week. But lo and behold, the grade seven student was able to make it since something else got cancelled. A bit of a shame that I couldn’t go home 90 minutes early, but helping with English is what I’m getting paid for! For this week, I had printed out the lyrics to the Barenaked Ladies “If I had a Million Dollars” and I played it for him. We then spent some time discussing what we would do if we had a million dollars, and then we got onto the topic of pets. That proved to be a conversational jackpot, since he has a guinea pig, a dog, two mice, and a rabbit. There were a lot of times when we didn’t know how exactly to get our message across, so we resorted to dictionaries and drawing on the board. At one point he was telling me about his two pets that are now dead, but I didn’t realize the dead part until a while later. I’m not actually sure of how many pets he has at this moment. But either way, it was a good class!

After school, I had orchestra practice. Next week there will be an Organ concert featuring the new organ that the school bought. Since our band’s conductor found a piece for bagpipes and organ, I’ve been asked to play in the concert. I brought both my small pipes and my normal pipes to practice so we could try it out. It turns out that the big bagpipes are just a bit off key from the organ, but the small pipes were just right. The plan now is that I will play Scotland the Brave on my big pipes at the beginning of the concert, just to frighten the bejeezes out of the audience. Then once they’ve recovered, I’ll play a lovely duet with my small pipes and the organ. It should be a good time! After practice we all went out for Greek food. I’m enjoying the chance to play music and speak German on Wednesday nights, and I’m very glad it’s part of my weekly schedule!

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The photo above is my Mom and I playing small pipes at a wedding this summer – just in case you didn’t know what small pipes look like. I think they were a lovely, subtle way to add music to the wedding, and after borrowing a friend’s small pipes for this performance I really wanted a set of my own (and then I was given my own set right before coming to Germany!)

Thursday was a very big day for me this week. After having made all sorts of changes to my Canadian presentation, this was the first day I actually got to deliver it! All of these hours of time preparing a powerpoint and a handout and a reading and notes and a lesson plan outlining how I would spend every minute…and I would spend 90 minutes trying to get a grade ten class to be quiet enough so that I could teach it all. In the end, it went very well. The morning started off shaky when the copier broke down halfway through my food information sheet, but fortunately I had gotten enough copies of the fill-in-the-blanks form. When I got to the class, there was a computer that usually teachers use to hook up to the projector, but no one had told me the password for accessing that system. Luckily I had brought my own laptop, and was able to hook that up fairly efficiently instead. But from that point on, the presentation went very well. It doesn’t include as much personal information about my background as I would have liked, but I think it’s a good general introduction to Canadian culture. I was surprised by what things the class found exceedingly interesting in contrast with what they were bored by – especially in the celebrity section. They couldn’t care less that Deadmau5 came from Canada, but thought it was awesome that Seth Rogen was Canadian. Unfortunately none of them have seen “Austin Powers” so the Mike Myers reference wasn’t as cool as I would have hoped. The only thing I didn’t handle very well was their assignment at the end. They had to work in pairs to make a dialogue about coming to Canada and what they would see and do, but when I made them present from their seats, no one else paid attention. So next time, I’ll have to make sure they go to the front of class and everyone else is silent. Some of them just said “we’re not done yet” and it was a way to get out of presenting. One student asked how old I am, and when I told him I’m 22 he told me I look like I’m about 15 or 18. I’ll take that as a compliment! Either way, I was extremely pleased with how it went.

After that, I had a class helping out with grade nine students. The class had to make a dialogue about going to Australia, and so the teacher and I did an example dialogue to start them off. The students certainly got a kick out of that, especially when the (male) teacher chose the words “come party with me!” It’s interesting what things kids decide to pick up on. We had basically a standing ovation at the end of it, so that was fun.

After class, I headed off to my very first German class. I should explain that a bit though.

As most of you know, one of the things I hoped to do as part of my stay in Berlin is learn as much German as possible. The university that my boyfriend attends, TU, offers German language courses that are a fair bit cheaper than they would be elsewhere in Berlin. I picked out a course that I felt would be a good fit for me – it was on Thursdays shortly after I finished work, and it was at the B1 level (the levels are basically A1, A2, B1…up to C2). Unfortunately, when the courses opened up for people to apply, they were only open to TU students. I was basically informed that, if there was any room left by the time the course began, I could possibly take it. But the one I wanted to take became full before I was able to apply. However, I decided to show up to the first one and see how it went.

The train ride from my school to the University is quite gorgeous. I get to pass the Berliner Dom, the fancy TV tower, the government building, and the statue of the golden woman. Those names were not very accurate, but either way I loved the view. Here’s a few photos of those attractions in case you’re unsure of what I’m talking about.

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Once I got to the class, I asked the teacher (in German) if I could stay even though I wasn’t registered. She said that it was no problem, and if someone else were to leave the class I could likely take their place. We started off the class with a German proficiency test, and a few students were told that their results were good enough that they could move up to a B2 level course. One of them decided to do that, and at that point the teacher wrote me a note to give to the receptionist, saying that I could take this student’s place and I should be entered in the TU system. I’m really hoping that this works out and I can register for this class, but I have to wait until tomorrow to try because the receptionist was out of the office and wouldn’t be back until Monday.

The class itself was thoroughly enjoyable. There were only about 15 students, and all communication happened in German. Whenever the teacher was teaching us the definition of something, she would use German to explain it instead of translating it to English. There were people there from Poland, Bulgaria, China, Iran, and many more – it would be really cool to get to know people from such unique places. I would have to get used to having homework again, but since it’s yet another way for me to use German within my week it would be really good. Plus, it’s not like I’m going for an A in this course – I would love to do well, but it’s not a mark going towards some sort of degree. If I got to take this course, that would mean I speak German Wednesday evenings with my band, then Thursday evenings in class, and probably use it on the weekends with friends. I’ll keep you posted about if I’m able to get in!

The class lasted 3 hours, and afterwards I met Sebastien at the library. Thursday was the “Lange Nacht der Bibliothek” which basically meant that several libraries throughout the city were open for people to come and see them. Sebastien’s university library was partaking, so we saw a few lectures going on and walked around. I asked a bit about if there were practicums available at the library, but was told that school libraries primarily hire students from the school itself. We then went to another library that was absolutely breathtaking, and apparently houses some of the most diverse records in the world. I tried asking there as well, but was told that it’s very competitive to get work at that library because of it’s reputation. After that Sebastien and I went to the mystery movie night we check out every week, and got to check out Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (I don’t feel like checking the spelling, sorry!) try to get out of prison.

So there you have it. I’m really sorry if you found this report a bit tedious, but those were the adventures of my week! I hear that it has snowed in Calgary, but here in Berlin the weather is still treating us really well. I’m loving the fall and all of the gorgeous falling leaves. Tomorrow I will try and get into that German course, and after that I’m going to try and ask about volunteering at the library that is really close to my house. I’m also going to start practicing my bagpipes intensely in preparation for my performance this week. On Tuesday I’m checking out a tour of dungeons in Berlin, which supposedly has a Halloween theme. It could be interesting!

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Tschüss!

-Robyn

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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Adventures in Barcelona

Hello there!

It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a week since I returned from Oktoberfest! It’s crazy how a span of time can feel so short and yet so long all at once.

As you may recall, teachers in Germany (including me!) have a two week break from teaching in October. While I knew I would spend part of my first week off in Munich, I had no plans for the second week – and once Sebastien realized he would be done his thesis a bit early, it was established that he also had a week of free time before his university started up again. Before I had left for Munich, I told him that if he were to book a small trip somewhere during the second week, I would pay for half and willingly go wherever it was. We contemplated France, Spain, Italy, England, somewhere in Germany…but I left the final decision up to him (since I hate decisions!) I had told him that my only condition was I would love to see a cultural library or bookstore wherever we went.

So last Thursday as he was picking me up from the bus station, Seb told me he had booked a trip for us. He wouldn’t tell me anything else about it though until Saturday, at which point he figured we should start getting prepared. Turns out he had booked a flight for Barcelona, Spain! As you can imagine, I was absolutely ecstatic. Seb had found a good deal on a flight leaving Tuesday morning and returning Thursday night. He had even booked a hotel right around the corner from Catalunya’s National Library! I had a hard time believing we were really going so quickly, but the day of our departure soon arrived.

The flight to Barcelona was direct, although on the way home we would have to change planes in Munich. It’s been a while since I took a 2.5 hour direct flight anywhere in Canada, but I don’t remember there being a significant amount of food accompanying the journey. What a happy girl I was when the stewardess came around offering a choice of spinach and cheese ravioli or currywurst, and I was provided with the same amount of food I usually get on a flight from Calgary to Berlin.

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Salad with dressing, a bun with butter, ravioli, cheese, chocolate, and cake. Plus juice and two refills of tea. How awesome is that!

Sorry for that boring interlude, I swear the rest of my trip was much more interesting!

The first moment when the trip started reminding me of Disneyland was when they made all of the safety announcements in Spanish. The second was when we got off the plane and saw palm trees everywhere! While we had left a cloudy and cold Berlin that morning, we were greeted with warmth and sunshine in Barcelona. The bus ride into town from the airport was extremely pleasant, with all sorts of things to see. The roads seemed pretty darn narrow for our bus to be getting through, but I guess that’s why it was the driver driving and not me. I was also introduced to Southern European driving culture when a taxi driver was taking his sweet time getting out of his cab and the bus just about drove over him. Fortunately he didn’t seem perturbed by having to flatten himself between the bus and the cab. Here are a few pictures of what we drove by on the way into the city.

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We disembarked from the bus at the Placa de Catalunya, and began finding our way to the hotel. Or to put it more accurately, Seb figured out where our hotel was while I took hundreds of photos and tried not to fall behind.

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We walked up one square that is famous for selling goods – while there is one way traffic on either side, there are gardening and tourist stores lining the pathway where throngs of people walk through.

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After that, we walked through about three different side streets before we reached our hotel. We got checked in using a mixture of English and Sebastien’s Spanish, and marvelled at the view from our room. Our window looked into that of a lot of Spanish local apartments – I don’t know how they could deal with having tourists constantly looking in on their daily lives! But we also climbed up on the roof, where there was an area to suntan or look out at the city.

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There sure is a lot of laundry hanging from the windows in Barcelona through the narrow streets. I figure Seb and I should have grabbed a pole and poked at the clothes until they fell – it’s like thrift shopping except without consent! In any case, we left the hotel by about 3:30 and started exploring the city.

There are an amazing amount of small side streets in Barcelona – on some there is only enough room for a car driving in one direction, and on the rest there is only enough room for vespas or bicycles. I think that vespas (or scooters) are to Barcelona what bicycles are to Amsterdam – absolutely everyone drives one! With all the side streets, it makes sense that it’s the fastest way to get around. There were also a lot of motorized bicycles – I suppose it’s just like a vespa except that it has a similar frame to a bicycle. It was weird to see one woman bike by with her legs crossed instead of pedalling.

It was fascinating to walk through the small streets and see the shopping districts – there were lots of jewelry stores and I got to see a pretty big Buddha.

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Eventually we reached a decent sized street, and headed towards the beach. The pedestrian crossings in Barcelona are pretty crazy – similar to Canada, pedestrians are given a blinking light when their time to walk is coming to an end, but here it’s pretty darn short before it turns to red. One time, a few people thought that no traffic was coming and crossed the street even though the light was red, and a vespa started honking wildly at them because he was about to zoom on through. It all worked out fine, but we never got too cocky in our street crossings!

The day was absolutely gorgeous, and when we finally reached the beach we wished we had brought our swimsuits. There were a fair number of people trying to sell mojitoes or pieces of coconut, but they weren’t too pushy. We did dip our feet in the ocean, which was nice and warm.

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After that, we ventured over to a park that was in Seb’s guide book. We were searching for the parliament building, believing that it would be a significant sight, but in the end it was fairly closed off and not very visible. However, the park itself was gorgeous. We sat under a palm tree for a short while, and stumbled upon a grandeur fountain representing a goddess. I won’t write the facts here because I don’t really remember the particulars. Either way, in the picture from Seb’s book, the statue was mainly black, whereas it is now all gold. We climbed up the stairs to get the view from the top, which was interesting as well.

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After that, we found an arch that was also in Seb’s book. We decided to eat dinner around there so that once it got dark we could check out the lighting around the arch, but in the end the arch wasn’t actually lit up. There was a pathway leading up to it that was though. The place we ate dinner at was unfortunately horrendous – while it was the most expensive thing we ate on our entire trip, I’m pretty sure my meal was made by tossing a bit of half-raw ground beef on some noodles with BBQ sauce. However, Seb and I agreed that this experience set our standards really low for how good the next meal might be!

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After this, we went back through the park – the wind was almost a bit cold, but I still was doing fine in just a t-shirt. Seb had told me that in Spain, the cities come to life at night because of the extreme heat during the day. As we walked through the park, there were several fitness classes going on, as well as people doing tricks on their bicycles or skateboards. We then wandered through more small streets, and noticed the varying hours of shops and restaurants. It seems that there is never a time when all the stores are open at once – while some are open in the morning, some are only getting started at nightfall. We stumbled upon a really cool music hall, although at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated how artistically elaborate it was.

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We then went and bought a small drink, and took it to the Placa de Catalunya where we sat and took in the atmosphere. A few people were trying to sell these small lights that you toss into the air with a slingshot, so they were constantly launching them up and trying to lure in tourists (that was another similarity to Disneyland! People outside our hotel were selling them as well). There was also a man making huge bubbles which children would then pop, but usually a few would get away and drift towards the trees. Once we were done sipping on our drinks, we headed back to the hotel and finally gave our feet a proper rest for the night.

The next morning, we set off for a department store near our hotel. A friend of Sebastien’s spent a year in Barcelona and recommended a cafe at the top of the store – she said that the view was amazing, but the prices were good because hardly anyone knew about the cafe’s existence. We found it easily enough, and were able to order through pointing at pictures and speaking little bits of Spanish. Believe it or not, I spoke way more German in my attempt to communicate than I did English. When I try to think “what’s the word for this that’s not English?” German instantly pops into my head. I remember my very first day of German class, suddenly I could remember all sorts of French that I hadn’t used in three years for the same reason. In any case, we enjoyed our breakfasts and the spectacular view. The only intimidating part was when Seb pointed out the hill we would be climbing later in the day, and I figured it looked a little scarier than he had made it sound.

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After that, we tackled the hill (you can see it in the first picture above). It wasn’t actually too bad of a hike – I wore my running shoes and at the end of it all felt a sense of accomplishment that we had walked the whole way instead of taking a bus like most tourists. There was an impressive fortress at the top, and the view was incredible. We were able to spot the department store we had just eaten at, as well as a statue of Christopher Columbus.

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After that, it was finally time to check out the library! It was just around the corner from our hotel, and was within an area walled off from the other stores. The walled-off spot had a few buildings and a courtyard, and there were a few students hanging around strumming guitars. The library we entered had previously been a hospital, and we could see photos of what it used to look like (I didn’t take any photos inside the library itself for fear of being yelled at in Spanish). There were some things we were unable to see without being members of the library, but there were a few old books on display. This library specializes in historical national documents, and it was pretty fascinating to see. When I saw the staircase labelled “library staff only” I got all excited thinking that someday that could be me!

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After that, we headed back to the beach. Ironically enough, the sunshine that had been around all morning (and was not the most welcome on the extremely warm hike up the hill) disappeared as we made our way to the beach. We sat in the sand for a little while, hoping that it would come back, but in the end we went swimming despite the clouds. The sun did come out once in a while, but by the end of it I was excited to have a hot shower in the hotel room and put my jeans back on.

We had dinner outside at a “sports bar” we had walked by earlier in the day. The special of the day was mussels with potatoes and a spicy sauce plus a drink; while I am not known for enjoying seafood, I was developing a craving for it and decided to go ahead and order it. Sebastien got a paella, and we agreed that if I didn’t like the mussels we could figure out some sort of trade. Paella is a very well known Spanish dish, with seasoned rice and either meat or veggies or seafood. Seb tried the mixture of seafood and meat, and got to try scampi and calamari, as well as one mussel of his own. I loved my meal – the mussels had a great buttery sauce and Seb and I both sipped on sangria.

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After our very satisfying dinner, we once again bought a drink at a grocery store and went to the Placa de Catalunya (I finally memorized how to spell that, so I’m going to use it as often as I can) and sat on a bench. The people selling flying lights were out again, as well as the bubble man. We also noticed quite a few mice scurrying around in the bushes that we had failed to notice the day before (and the similarities to Disneyland continue – should have named one of the mice Mickey). There were a few fancy fountains that we watched, and we saw them shut off at about 11.

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The next morning would be our last in Barcelona, so we set off early to see the rest of the important sights. We checked out a cathedral in the area, which had an impressive courtyard with several swans. We later took a break outside of the King’s old living area, and enjoyed soaking up the sun that had made a grand return.

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With our remaining time, we went to the park to lie in the grass before going for lunch. We found a rustic restaurant that had a paella special of the day, so I finally tried my own paella. Unfortunately it turns out I don’t really like paella – there are so many different things that I was terrified of eating a chicken bone or scampi leg along with the rice. But it was certainly an experience!

After that, we headed for the airport. It was sad to go, but I think we definitely made the most of the time we had there. To do any other touristy things would have involved a lot more money and travelling to the outskirts of the city. And leaving in the afternoon on the last day meant that we still got to do a lot of things in the city before heading home.

I hope that I haven’t left out any important details (or perhaps included too many?) and that you’ve enjoyed the read! I certainly enjoyed the trip, and am happy to say I have finally been to Spain. On Monday school resumes, and on Wednesday I will be teaching my very first “conversation course.” It’s been a fantastic break, but I am excited to get back into my routine. Seb will be beginning his Master’s this week too, which is very exciting! Hopefully I will have lots of entertaining things within the next while to tell you about here.

Thanks for reading!

Auf Wiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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OKTOBERFEST!

Hello everyone!

As the title of this post suggests, I have returned from my Oktoberfest adventure in Munich, and would love to tell you all about it!

I suppose I should begin by telling you how the whole Oktoberfest journey came about. When I was at the teaching orientation back in August, I spoke with multiple people about Oktoberfest. Practically everyone expressed a desire to go, but only one person had actually booked herself a trip already. A few months back, she and her boyfriend had reserved a bus trip that included their transportation and accommodation. She told me about how trying to find your own accommodation by that time of the year (a month away from Oktoberfest) would be practically impossible – even cheap hostels would charge 100 euros per night, because they knew that everyone would want to stay in Munich for Oktoberfest. I very quickly realized that Oktoberfest probably wouldn’t happen for me – I hadn’t booked accommodation, and had no desire to pay mass amounts of money for the experience. Sebastien also described to me how the event itself was so extremely crowded, you would have to get in line for the beer tents at 7am if you expected to get a table. Once we left orientation and formed Facebook groups based on where in Germany we were staying, the other foreigners continued to discuss Oktoberfest plans, but no one could really come up with an ideal solution. All accommodation was booked, and transportation looked fairly expensive.

I was not overly disappointed with the idea of not going – I knew that Sebastien and I would likely go to a smaller Oktoberfest in Berlin, and in his opinion it was more fun to do that then go to the huge one in Munich anyway. I also figured it would be better to save the money for other things. I decided that if anyone took charge and told me an exact plan, I would take part. But if not, I wouldn’t be heartbroken.

One day I was looking through the Facebook group posts, and noticed that one girl had posted a very detailed plan about how we could make Oktoberfest happen. She told us a bus company we could book with for only 22 euros each way (since it was still a few weeks in advance) and she provided the details for a campsite where we could stay in tents in groups of four, and only pay 45 euros for a total of three nights. While other Oktoberfest ideas I had heard of involved me leaving on Sebastien’s birthday, this plan involved the Monday to Thursday afterwards – all of us teachers have two weeks off this month so we could go during the week. Considering that it was fairly cheap, arranged by someone else, involved a fun group of people, and might be my best chance to ever experience Oktoberfest, I agreed to do it. The only unfortunate thing about taking the trip was that Sebastien would be unable to come. His thesis due date was coming up fairly soon, and by the time we had to make our campground reservation, he still didn’t know whether he would be done or not. I wished that he could come with me, but we agreed that this was a great chance for me to experience Oktoberfest and I should still go. In the end, we really enjoyed the Berlin Oktoberfest together, and I made sure to call him regularly from Munich.

The group ended up with a total of three tents (so twelve people), and I booked my bus trip for early Monday morning with the group, and 1pm on Thursday back to Berlin. I didn’t realize the rest of the group had booked their trip on Thursday for midnight – I figured it would be nice to get home at a decent hour and sleep in a normal bed that night.

So I showed up on Monday at the bus station, all ready to go. There were 11 of us travelling on the same bus, and a spot was saved for me on the second level. I had horrific memories of last year’s bus journey from Berlin to London, but this bus ride was extremely pleasant! The group had a great time talking together, and we resorted to “I spy with my little eye” when we got bored. A few people almost got left behind at the rest stop when we were only given ten minutes to find food and use the washroom, but luckily we were able to get the bus driver to wait for them. I had brought enough of my own snacks to last almost the entire trip, so I was all set food-wise. I thought it was so cool to travel on a double-decker bus!

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We were all a little groggy when we arrived at the Munich bus station, and I was very happy that I had managed to pack my belongings in two suitcases. Some people had their sleeping bags and other pieces of luggage loose, and it got a bit tricky to keep track of everything while we tried to figure out which train to take to our campsite. It was a very crowded station, since it was the same one people used to get to Oktoberfest. Needless to say, there were loads of people in dirndls and lederhosen every way we looked! Eventually we found our way, and were soon at the campsite and checked in.

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I think we all experienced a moment of fear and dread when we realized just how small these “four person tents” were. There was a bit of an outer part where we could put our shoes and suitcases, but then within the tent there was only enough room for our sleeping bags.

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That’s a picture of the four people in the tent next to mine. In our tent we slept with our heads opposite the entrance, but the fellow in this picture was too long to fit that way, so they slept sideways.

Once we got all set up, the situation looked better. We realized we wouldn’t spend our “downtime” hanging around the tents, but it would suffice for a place to sleep. Also, I had been dreading a situation in which there would be no towels or soap or toilet paper available in the bathrooms, but all three things were there and accessible. Even better: the soap wasn’t just plain, but a lovely coconut scent.

We went to the small cafeteria-like place on the campground for a bite to eat (although personally I stuck with the multiple snacks I had brought) and decided to head out shortly after. The way from our campsite to Oktoberfest was fairly simple – it was a bit of a walk to the train station, but once we boarded, there were no transfers involved. Once we got off the train, it was very easy to follow the mass amounts of people headed towards the event.

My first impression of Oktoberfest was that it was extremely similar to the Calgary Stampede. There were interesting foods available, overpriced rides, and a few corny games.

first look into Oktoberfest

first look into Oktoberfest

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It was really interesting to see all these different things, and smell the overwhelming sweetness coming from the stores selling candy apples and sugar nuts.

But of course, the major difference between the Calgary Stampede and Oktoberfest was the lack of horses, and instead, the multitude of beer tents. I had no expectations of being able to get into a beer tent that evening – like I said, Sebastien had me under the impression that you could never find a table if you were not there by 7am. But what neither Sebastien or I knew was the fact that a Monday is not nearly as busy as the weekend. I will never forget that first moment when I walked into the beer tent; from the outside it looked so unassuming, but once I was inside it was a whole new place. There was live music playing, and it was decorated in vivid colours. People in lederhosen and dirndls were all dancing on benches, and it was a rather inviting atmosphere.

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Our group was separated into two as there were only segments of benches available for sitting (dancing) at, but we were still pretty close to each other. We quickly ordered a round of drinks, and before long were also dancing on top of the benches. The band played everything from traditional German songs to more recent things such as “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. I never thought I would hear that song from trumpets and trombones, but there you go. And of course, there was a round of “Ein Prosit” once in a while, at which point everyone would cheers with everyone else around them.

our friends dancing on benches

our friends dancing on benches

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It felt as though things in that tent shut down fairly early, but in reality I think we had just arrived quite late. But we then went back outside and checked out a few rides. The only ride I did was the swings, which went extremely high. It was 5 euros for a pretty short trip, but it actually provided an amazing view of the city.

the swings!

the swings!

Shortly after that, we began the journey back to the campground. Getting changed and ready for bed was interesting, but with my sweater and socks on I didn’t notice the cold too much. I woke up once or twice in the night because my head felt quite cold, but I was able to tuck it in my sleeping bag and fall back to sleep without much difficulty.

The next morning, we headed back to Oktoberfest for more merriment. While hardly anyone in my group had worn their lederhosen or dirndls the night before (it was too cold and dark by the time we set out) basically everyone did that day. The two guys who had not bought lederhosen decided to take the plunge and purchase them, so they were off on their own for a good part of the morning. I still decided not to buy a dirndl – they were 50 euros minimum from what I could tell, and it was too cold to wear one anyway.

no entry fee!

no entry fee!

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It was pretty amazing to see Oktoberfest in daylight! We did a bit of walking around the event, before settling on a beer tent with a big huge lion out front. Not a real lion of course, but one that moved it’s tail and once in a while made a “euuuuuuuuuhhh. euuuuuuuuuuh” sound that was supposedly similar to a roar.

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Once again, the inside of the beer tent proved to be much more fantastical than the outside would suggest. And luckily, we were able to find a table for our entire group! We ended up staying there quite a while (although we were mostly sitting instead of dancing, since it was still early) and enjoyed absorbing the music and the atmosphere.

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Sorry to lump the photos all together, but it is way faster for me to do it that way! As you can see, pretty much everyone was all dressed up. Even though I wasn’t wearing my dirndl, I made sure to wear my Calgary Stampede shirt! There were people walking around selling things, and as you can tell in my photo, you could buy pretzels bigger than a normal person’s head. They were also selling Oktoberfest t-shirts and various souvenirs, and one of the more impressive (but overpriced, I’m sure) souvenirs was a hat that would twitch around and looked exactly like the sorting hat from Harry Potter. I can see how the event makes a ton of money when drunken people think these purchases are a good idea – I bet the plush lion-shaped hats will look like a great choice to wear out of the house on an everyday basis.

At one point, I ran into a group of people from Saskatchewan! We found this very exciting, and when I pointed out that I was wearing a Calgary Stampede shirt, they pointed out that they were wearing Saskatchewan Roughriders shirt. I would say “small world!” but everyone knows that Canadians love Oktoberfest.

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Eventually, our group left the tent. A few of the people with us had gone out because there was an hour in which all rides were half off. Usually I love going on rides, but I hadn’t exactly put “5 euro rides” in my Oktoberfest budget. But we got to walk around outside a bit, and at one point had a dancing session which several tourists thought was pretty cool. They kept taking photos of us, and eventually we were asked for our Facebook page. I guess we should have been asking for tips!

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some people in our group went on that!

some people in our group went on that!

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As of this point, our group was once again united. So we searched around for another beer tent. In the end, we settled in the beer gardens outside the Lion tent. Things were starting to get a bit more full! We stayed there for quite a while, and everything became funnier with the more we drank. But eventually we headed back to the campsite, although we were missing one person by the time we went to bed.

Unfortunately that night I woke up with cold feet, and once I was awake I realized I really had to pee. I lay there for probably an hour, trying to convince myself that I didn’t have to pee, but knowing that I would never fall back asleep until I faced facts and left the warm tent in search of the bathroom. But eventually I completed my quest, and the tent felt that much warmer once I returned. The bathrooms were quite toasty though – two people in our group found the tents cold enough that they slept in the bathroom for the three days we were there.

At 8 the next morning, the guy we had been missing finally turned up. He had apparently boarded a train for our campsite, but fallen asleep and finally woken up miles away from Munich. He then found out there wouldn’t be another train going back to Munich until 5am, so he spent the next two hours trying to stay warm in a bar and, once the bar closed, an elevator. At 5, he caught the train back to Munich, where he once again fell asleep and missed the stop for the campground. But finally he made it back to us, at which point he entered the tent next to ours and was told “don’t come in here with your shoes on!” He had a really terrible night, but it’s a pretty amazing drunken story to tell at parties.

On Wednesday, we broke into two groups – one that went sight-seeing around the city, and another that went back to Oktoberfest. I went with the Oktoberfest group, but perhaps would have changed my decision if I knew how crowded it was going to be. While Monday and Tuesday had been regular work days for most people in Germany, apparently Thursday was a holiday – and a lot of people started celebrating on Wednesday! In the morning, we got a table outside in a beer tent because of all the sunshine. Unfortunately it got cold fairly quickly despite the sun, and we decided to move inside. However, there was not a free table to be found anywhere. A lot of places were reserved, and we got shuffled around with all the other crowds also walking around. Eventually we left the tent, and continued in vain to try and find a spot for ourselves somewhere. One member of our group had the intention of meeting up with his friends inside a tent, but it was so full that he waited in line for an hour before giving up. And that line was just to get in the tent, not even a guaranteed spot at a table. My favourite part about that day was that we ended up seeing way more of the grounds than we had before, since we were trying to find tents further away from the entrance. I took a lot of pictures of different rides as we went by. I also ate a schnitzel on a bun that was absolutely delicious. Myself and the British people I was with agreed that food is better in Germany. Not that food is terrible elsewhere, but even on a fairground they still take their food quality seriously.

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A few people in our group found a spot to sit, and left us to try and find somewhere else. In the end, about six of us decided to leave the Oktoberfest and head to Marienplatz, which is known to have a spectacular beer hall. We saw some pretty neat tourist sites on the way, but unfortunately couldn’t find a spot in the beer hall (walking through it was quite cool though!) We settled on taking a break in “The Hard Rock Cafe” and then met up with the group that had been sightseeing all day.

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As you can tell from the photos, there was a live band inside the beer hall, and the ceilings looked pretty amazing! But it was nice to finally sit down in a restaurant and take a breath. We ended up breaking into two groups for dinner – a few of the people tried to go back to the beer hall but failed to find a spot again (go figure) and then resorted to a German restaurant. I went with a few other people for sushi – I know that it doesn’t sound like a very German thing to do, but it sure was nice to have fresh food with real vegetables again. Then we met up with the people in the German restaurant, found a bigger table, and sat and sipped beer for the rest of the evening.

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A few of the people had wanted to try going back to Oktoberfest, but I had absolutely no confidence that we would find a table there if we had been having such luck earlier in the day. We eventually headed back to the tent, and found that the others had also made it there safely. It was a gorgeous clear night, which unfortunately meant I had a very hard time sleeping because it was so cold. But I’m sure it was helpful that I was wearing my toque, sweater, and scarf in my sleeping bag.

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On Thursday morning, we all woke up and started packing our things. I made sure to charge both of my phones (I was very happy to discover there was a place to charge our electronics while we were there! Also, one day I had taken a shower, and was pleasantly surprised with the amount of hot water there was) and then ate some more of the food I had brought with me for breakfast. At the Oktoberfest itself there had been elaborate meals involving duck or chicken, but I’m still happy that I brought enough of my own food that I didn’t end up paying for that type of thing. Once we had all rolled up our sleeping bags and checked out, we were given our 20 dollar deposits back. It was a pleasant surprise to be 20 dollars richer again!

As I mentioned earlier, everyone else’s bus was at midnight whereas mine would leave at about 1:30. One other girl in the group was taking a bus at 3, so we headed to the bus station together while the rest of the group went to put their things in lockers so they could continue to explore the city. I later found out that they had gotten into the beer hall we had seen the day before, but had not enjoyed the bus ride at all. It was once again quite stuffy on the top floor of the bus, so they had a hard time sleeping.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip home! My one friend and I grabbed a bite to eat before my bus took off, and I got a seat on the bottom of the bus instead of on the top. As I suspected, it turned out to be way less stuffy on the bottom. I also lucked out and had two seats to myself instead of just one. One advantage of leaving in the afternoon was that I could see lots of cool things out the window – first in Munich as we were leaving, and then I got to see the rolling hillsides as the sunset approached. I made sure to be really quick in the washroom when we got to the rest stop, because I was terrified of being left behind!

When I reached Berlin, I gave Sebastien a call – I had been secretly hoping he would meet me at the bus station even though we hadn’t agreed on that, and indeed he was there to meet me! We stopped at a cheap pizza place on the way home, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first real meal in about three days (and left out the beer!)

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We then went home, and I have never enjoyed being inside a normal house that much. And sleeping in a real bed, with an actual mattress! I didn’t even have to leave the house to go to the bathroom. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

In conclusion to this marathon of a story, I had an absolute blast at Oktoberfest. I couldn’t be happier that I have finally experienced it for myself! It’s one of the few “bucket-list” things I had hoped to do someday. The atmosphere and elaborateness of the place were amazing, and it was so cool to be enveloped in so much culture. I don’t think I would need to go back to Munich for another Oktoberfest though – the crowds are a little difficult to take, and if I did go back it would not be to stay in a tent! But I was able to pull off the entire trip spending less than 300 euros for travel, accommodation, and food, and that was only possible because I’m young and therefore willing to sacrifice a few perks.

And thus concludes the most elaborate blog post in history. Thank you so much for reading about my adventure!

Tschüss!

-Robyn

But

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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