Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Leipzig, Germany—Mainz, Germany—Days 248/249

Today I had all the intentions of going back to the zoo and getting the photos of the hippos before heading down to see Elizabeth in Weimar at 10am. Well that didn’t happen. Because I was up until 1:30am sorting other hippo photos out, I didn’t get my things together until about 8:30 and wasn’t really on the road to the train station (where I thought I would drop off my things at a locker and then go to the zoo from there) until a bit later after checking out and everything and didn’t get to the train station until twenty minutes before my train was supposed to leave for Weimar.

Because I knew Elizabeth was waiting for me on the other side of the train (when I arrived into Weimar she would be waiting for me) I thought that the best thing to do would be to actually go down to Weimar, meet up with Elizabeth, and then come back up to Leipzig.

So I got on the train and forty five minutes later was in Weimar. Elizabeth didn’t show up for another half and hour (she had a meeting that ran late) but we eventually met up again and I told her my plan to go back. She decided to come with me but first we had to go get her things from the place where she was staying. So we took the bus over to where she was staying (at a friend of the families) and after talking with Helena, the family friend who is from Portugal and had some good advice for me for when I get there, we literally raced down to catch the bus back to the train station.

Riding a bus with luggage is always an adventure. Especially when you have a huge suitcase like Elizabeth’s or several heavy smaller ones like mine. Not only do you have to maneuver getting the luggage down the isle without blocking it or hitting anyone, which always seems to be done while the bus is moving. This makes you look quite ridiculous as you are trying to maintain your balance while moving your luggage while trying not to fall on other passengers.

We got to the train station and had just enough time to get a bite to eat at a restaurant down the road. We then dragged Elizabeth’s suitcase up the hill to the train station and found our train. Luckily we had stored my luggage (which I brought down with me from Leipzig) in a locker on the same track that we were departing from. So I got my stuff out of the locker and we waited for our train to come. Soon we were heading back to Leipzig.

We made it back and after a fiasco of trying to shove Elizabeth’s bag into a locker at the Leipzig train station. By this time it was three o’clock—much later than I had hoped to be at the train station—and feeding time was at 3:30. I wanted to get to the zoo and with all of Elizabeth’s heaving and trying to shove her luggage into the tiny locker I knew at this rate we weren’t going to make it one time. Clearly there was no other option.

Elizabeth’s suitcase would come with us to the zoo.

So we started walking to the zoo (remember the tram is under construction so that wasn’t an option) and it took us about twenty minutes to find and get to the zoo. Too bad it was ROASTING outside. We were both so hot from walking and from dragging the suitcase. We made it to the zoo and bought our tickets—after standing it line for what seemed like ages as the people in line in front of me decided to buy annual passes. Didn’t they know that I HAD to get in by 3:30!?!?!

I got the tickets and went over to the entrance where Elizabeth had asked if she was allowed to bring in her suitcase. She was, thank god, and we headed into the zoo straight for the hippos. Having Elizabeth’s suitcase was just ridiculous and we couldn’t stop laughing. Who does that? Who else would bring their suitcase into a zoo? It was hilarious, especially when we had to go through sand.

We found the hippos and already a huge crowd had gathered. I threw down my bag and raced over to the enclosure but couldn’t for the life of me squeeze my way through. I was getting desperate and there just seemed to be people EVERYWHERE. Luckily Elizabeth intervened and asked two incredibly tall people who were in the way to move so that I could get in. She then went off in search of a keeper while I held my post.

She came back and had talked to the keeper who said that he would let me in behind the scenes! I was thrilled. So we waited for a bit as the crowd grew and finally the keeper showed up and beckoned us over to him. We went over and he gestured for us to climb over and under a gate and into the keeper’s area behind the hippos.

Two keepers took me and Elizabeth over and around the back area of the pool that the hippos were in. We were taken up to the gate where the hippos were to be let out into their feeding area. The angle was great but unfortunately really dark. The keepers let the hippos out and I took pictures as they walked towards me and then over to the feeding area in front of us. Problem was that now their backsides were facing us rather than the front. I asked if we could move around the front to get a better view and they said yes.

So we walked around and back out where we came from. The crowd had grown and people were probably wondering what the heck was going on. Elizabeth and one keeper stayed back as I went on with the other keeper. They told me to over and over again walk slowly (Elizabeth translated for me) because the hippos are scared of people standing in front of their eating area for some reason. So with the keeper in front of me, I followed him as sloooooowly as I could, almost tip-toeing my way over, until we were close enough to get some good pictures of the hippos.

That’s when Brandy freaked out.

It all happened so fast that literally, as my camera documented, it was all a blur. Brandy just freaked out and started to desperately make her way out of the feeding area and into the pool again, but Stenek was in the way. This meant that she literally ran into Stenek and her sudden force pushed Stenek around. They both dashed into the water so quickly that I hardly had time to even to register what was going on.

Basically I scared the hippos away.

The keeper brought me back over to where the other keeper and Elizabeth were standing. They told me that we would have to wait now for another fifteen minutes for the hippos to come out of the water again.

Great, so I scared the hippos AND ruined feeding time for the crowd.

We thanked the keepers and watched the hippos for a bit. After a while Stenek appeared and opened up his mouth for the keepers (several of which were leaning over and watching) and I was let in again to the keeper’s area to take pictures of Stenek. He didn’t seem all that happy to see me again—he wouldn’t take his eyes off of me and it was hard not to notice the angry look he was giving me and the whites of his eyes. I was pretty shaky and felt for sure that Stenek would leap out at me. But I kept taking pictures and got some great pictures. I then went back out front the keeper’s area and stood with the masses to wait for Brandy and Stenek to come out of the water again.

As time passed, the crowd dispersed. Even though they didn’t get to see the hippos eating, they sure did stick around to see what on earth I was doing. Elizabeth and I waited for the hippos to come out again and it took almost a half an hour for Stenek to even attempt to get out of the water. He came out once, went into the feeding area but not even halfway in, turned around, marked his territory, and went back out again.

Ten or so minutes later he attempted to get out again, taking his time and sniffing out the entire area before he deemed it safe to eat again. Only when he was out eating did Brandy even show her face, circling around the pool a good many times before finally deciding it was safe to go out. Stenek turned around and almost beckoned her out (perhaps showing her that it was in fact safe to get out again) and after quite some time she eventually did.

Needless to say, all of this provided great photo opts for me, although I was horrified that I scared them so much. I felt really badly for them but was fascinated by their behavior.

When I was satisfied with the photos, Elizabeth and I left and headed back to the train station. We dragged the luggage across the city and made it back just in time to catch our five o’clock train to Mainz, where Elizabeth’s good friend Tommy lives (Tommy is from Scotland but is now living in Mainz for the year). Unfortunately because we had to go back to the Leipzig zoo, our plans to spend the day with Tommy were scrapped and our new arrival time into Mainz was pushed back to nine thirty.

We arrived into Mainz and met Tommy on the platform, made our way back to his apartment on the bus and then went out for a bite to eat down the road. We woke up the next morning and spent the day walking around Mainz with Tommy as our fantastic tour guide. We checked out the famous Stephanskirche with the amazing blue stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall as well as the Gutenberg-Museum. Mainz is where Gutenburg was born and where he created the first printing press. The museum was great and by the time we were done looking around it was time to get something to eat. We found a great little local place to eat and dined amongst the locals (who were probably wondering who we were) and then stopped for a few drinks along the way back to Tommy’s apartment. Tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning (we have to catch a bus at 4:20am and get a taxi to the station at 3:45—eek) we will head to Barcelona for a few days for a little sun-drenched break from life in Germany.