Friday, September 24, 2004

Koln, Germany--Day 237

Today Elizabeth and I headed straight to the Koln Zoo. Luckily the Zoo is on the S-Bahn line and we were able to take public transportation directly to the zoo. We had bought a transportation pass the night before and were not entirely sure if our ticket was still valid the next day since we had forgotten to validate it the night before. Just as we were going to get on the first tram that pulled up we noticed ticket checkers get on and because we were not exactly sure about our ticket, we decided to wait for the next tram.

We eventually got to the zoo and bought our tickets. The day was a little chilly and it started to drizzle on and off while we were there. But we found the four hippos--Jenny, Afro, Albert and Kiwanga. Yes, a hippo named Afro! Too good to be true.

What also was too good to be true was that the keeper came out of the hippo house just as we walked up and Elizabeth was able to talk to him in German about the project so that we could get their names. He told us about them (with Elizabeth translating back to me) and was able to point out who was who. The other great thing was that as we walked up the hippos took this opportunity for three of them to get out of the water and walk around outside of the pool, making it a perfect chance to take the pictures. I was so excited and as Elizabeth chatted with the keeper, I took pictures.

Albert, the biggest of the four, stayed in the water but I was able to get some great pictures of him doing his own thing. We thanked the keeper as he went back to what he was doing before we stopped him and promised him that we would check out the new Elephant Haus which had just opened not even a week ago.

Once all four hippos made it back into the water, we left and spent some time watching the sea lions for a bit and dodging the rain by getting hot chocolate. When the rain stopped, we went and looked at the new Elephant Haus which, ironically, is a "green" building--the type of eco-friendly architecture that Elizabeth is so fond of. It had a roof garden and everything. We walked around and took pictures of the building before heading back out of the zoo, stopping at several other animals on our way, including the massive community of monkeys which were quite a site to watch.

We stopped at the gift shop and gathered some information about the design of the Elephant Haus and were on our way back into Koln. We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the Dom (one of the biggest cathedrals in Germany--supposedly the sarcophagus behind the altar contains the remains of the Three Kings...) and climbed the 500+ stairs up the South Tower to get a view over Koln. Not only did you have to climb up a huge spiral staircase (and in huge I mean long--the stairs were not all that big) but once you thought you just were about there, you had to climb this massive iron staircase that basically went around in a square fashion, straight up in this huge room. Definitely not something for those with fear of heights. It was a lot of work, but we eventually made it to the top. The view was amazing (with that many stairs it really should be!) and we stayed up at the top, checking out green rooftops of course and trying to find where our hotel was.

We walked back down--which is almost even more than a challenge going up. Not only are you trying to go down fast which makes you incredibly dizzy from the spiral staircase, but you have to deal with the people passing you on their way up and with people who are barreling down the stairs faster than you are, which can be quite something when two huge men are basically on your back the entire time.

But our shaky legs got us down and I have to admit I was relieved to make it! We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Koln which is a really nice little city. It is where Eau de Cologne was first made (Koln in English is Cologne). Everything in Koln is actually relatively close to everything which makes it completely confusing for Elizabeth and I for some reason. I guess we assume that things are farther distances than they really are, and this just has thrown our whole sense of direction and distance off. But we do eventually figure things out and end up at our destination more determined than we set out, but also a lot later than we had hoped. We spent the rest of the evening out on the town making some friends along the way...

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Frankfurt, Germany--Koln, Germany--Day 236

Eliz and I spent the day walking around Frankfurt and chilling out in a coffee shop before catching an ICE train--the Intercity Express train--to Koln. The weather in Frankfurt was drizzly and raining, but that didn't stop us from walking around with our umbrellas and going to the train station to figure out Elizabeth's train tickets for this month as well as get reservations for the train to Koln. We were able to leave our stuff at the hotel for the day, after we checked out and went back to get it an hour before our train.

The train to Koln was fast and we got there in just over an hour. The train station in Koln is located right in the city center--right next to the magnificent Dom Cathedral which is truly an amazing site. Built in the 1300s, it wasn't ever finished until 1500 years later due to lack of funding, finally completed in the 1800s. Amazing! We took the U-Bahn to where we assumed our hotel to be, found the hotel and checked in and then went back out on the town. Dinner consisted of amazing sushi and beer, and we explored the night life of Koln which found us seated at a smoky jazz club listening to a great, if not on the older side, live jazz band who probably have played there every night for the past thirty years. The night was definitely a hit and we wandered back to our hotel in the wee hours ready to hit the zoo in the morning.

German word for the day--Schmeckt. It means, it tastes good!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Frankfurt, Germany--Day 235

Entschuldigung. That means "excuse me" in German. One of the first of many phrases that I am busy learning now that Elizabeth is here. We spent the day today walking around Frankfurt with me practicing my new phrases. Elizabeth's German is amazing (she is so modest about it) and its definitely nice to have her here.

According to her family back in San Francisco, they now refer to me as "the hippopotamus friend." I guess that really could not have been avoided, but despite all of this hippo-ing, I do not think that I am actually beginning to resemble anything like them. At least, I hope so.

Anyways, Elzabeth's jet lag proved to be a nice excuse for me sleeping in and we up and at em pretty late this morning. We headed to the downtown area on the U-Bahn and emerged to find a big festicval going on. There were street vendors selling all sorts of wonderful things---bratwurst, cheese, cakes, you name it--and what seemed to be a farm fair, with tractors and farm animals in pens on display. Booths selling homemade honey soaps and wooden kitchen utensils lined the streets. We made our way down to the internet cafe sampling food along the way. After checking email, we stopped to figure out what our next move was going to be and ended up at the modern art museum. It was a nice big building--Elizabethäs interests lie in green architecture--making buildings that are environmentally friendly--like using skylights instead of electricity and having garden roofs be the "environmental footprint" (replacing the greenery that it got rid of by being built by making a rooftop garden. Anyways, Elizabeth was excited about the buildingäs use of natural light and design so I was equally impressed to hear all about what she had to say about it.

The exhibits were ok--we found much of them to be under construction and temporarily unavailable. I guess the newest exhibit was going to open up this Friday so the museum was in the process of setting up the new exhibits. We then headed back out to the rainy weather and walked around, crossing the bridge over to the other side of Frankfurt. We then found a cafe, spent a few hours drinking coffee and catching up. Elizabeth ordered me a "heisse milch mit honig" which is hot milk with honey (which I have declared as my new favorite drink). We then walked around a bit more in search of these green roofed buildings that apparently Frankfurt is famous for. Elizabeth claimed that 60% of Frankfurt has gardens on their roofs, but the architecture company that we stopped at to ask was not sure about that. But the recommended that we go to this galleria and find a good lookout spot to see for ourselves. So we did, climbing up to the top lookout and only spotting one green rooftop. But that didnät deter us--we spotted an even higher building that people seemed to be on top of and decided to find out how to get up to the roof of that building.

So we set out in the rain and eventually found the building and the sky tower lookout that it boasted. Climbing in the elevator "with a lift boy" (as opposed to the one that didnät have a lift boy) we made it to the top and braved the wind and rain to get to the lookout. And there we immediately spotted numerous green rooftops all over the city. It was quite exciting and I think I was just as excited as Elizabeth was about our findings.

We stayed up there for a while before we came back down and went in search for a WC, which led us back to the building that our first lookout location was. We then hopped on the U-Bahn and got off in an area that we had heard had nice places for dinner and walked around for a while, in the rain, trying to find somewhere. We eventually settled on a Persian food place which was excellent--and we were the only people in there the whole time!

Since it was early we U-Bahn-ed it back to the hotel, determined to head back out on the town when it got a little bit later but after changing into sweats and settling into bed, this was not going to be the case. We were both out by 10 p.m. with no chance of making it out again until the morning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Frankfurt, Germany--Day 234

This morning I got up, ready to meet Elizabeth at the airport at at half past ten. I got ready and went to get breakfast at the hotel when I saw a note just outside of my door. The note told me that Elizabeth's plane ahd been delayed and that she wouldn't be in Frankfurt until 5:45 this evening!

So I ate breakfast and decided to go to the zoo for a second time to see what Mikael, Petra and Kiboko were up to. I got to the zoo just after it opened at 9am and headed to the hippos, finding the three in the same places they were yesterday, with Mikael outside and Kiboko and Petra inside. So I was able to get pictures of mother and baby just before they went into the water, which was key since once they are in the water they are blocked by bars making it difficult to get pictures of them, and of Mikael outside eating grass.

It started raining on and off--first a sprinkle and then turning into a downpour at some points, and so I kept having to take refuge inside the indoor enclosure which clearly hadnät been cleaned of the previous nights, well, dung. The whole place stank and of course Kiboko and Petra didnät seem to mind, but it was definitely overpowering. People kept coming in and commenting on the smell but there was no where else to stay dry.

When the rain let up, I went back and forth between the two hippo enclosures taking pictures and about two hours later decided to head out ot the yoo. I then went down to the main historical plaza area of Frankfurt and walked around--going in the Cathedral which was the only thing that didnät get bombed during WWII. Pretty amazing. I then went to a museum and cehcked out thier new art exhibit and wandered around by the river until I found something for lunch. Went back to the hotel, make copies of the hippo photos from Frankfurt, and then headed to the airport to find Elizabeth.

I took the S-Bahn (the light rail train system) and got to the airport probably about 30 minutes before she was supposed to land. I walked over to the Terminal that she was arriving in and waited amongst the other family members and chauffeurs. I even made a sign with Elizabethäs name on it just for kicks. Finally the display board showed that her flight had landed and I had to just keep waiting.

What seemed like forever turned into forever plus some and I got really anxious. Was she really going to make it?!?! I kept seeing other people on different flights that landed after Elizabethäs coming through--even the flight attendants and pilots!--but no Elizabeth.

But finally, lo and behold, she appeared. Her luggage was lost but at least she made it. What a relief! We sorted out her luggage being delivered to the hotel and headed back to it to drop off her things before going back on the town to get a late dinner.

Elizabeth will be joining me throughout Germany and I am so so excited. Elizabeth is busy teaching me all sorts of things in German, while I will be busy teaching her one or two things about hippos...
Happy Birthday Lissy!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Stuttgart, Germany--Frankfurt, Germany--Day 233

Today I headed up from Stuttgart to Frankfurt, stopping in at Karlsruhe on the way. After checking out the hotel in Stuttgart, I headed down the cobblestone pedestrian walkway to the subway (quite interesting when wheeling luggage) and bought my ticket for the central train station, got on the train and was disappointed to find that the acappella singers were not on for the day. Dang. I made it to the train station nonetheless and got a bit lost actually figuring out how to get up from the subway to the trains. But I did and found the next train to Karlsruhe and hopped on.

An hour later I was back at the zoo--which is across the street from the train station. I knew that I had two things to do--get pictures and find out the REAL name of one of the hippos. I was sure that one was something along the lines of "Platsh" or something (I could not read the handwriting of the woman who wrote it for me) and was almost certain that the other hippos name was not Nema like she had told me. I had a suspicion because I had seen a sign that I thought said that Nema had been moved to a some other zoo in Belgium--one that I had not visited!

So I went back to the enclosure and found three zoo workers cleaning their enclosure and the hippos were in a smaller pool to the left of the enclosure. I asked the keepers the hippos names and got Platsch (the correct spelling!) and Cathy. Ah-ha.

I took more pictures of the two hippos and when I had my fill, I went back to the train station and caught the next train to Frankfurt. I then got a taxi to my hotel which is called "Alexander Am Zoo" so you can just guess why I chose to stay there.

After checking in, I set out for the zoo which was right across the street from the hotel. I went in and found three hippos--Mikael, Petra and two month old Kiboko. Mikael was outside while Petra and her baby Kiboko were inside, making it difficult to take pictures of them. But I tried and eventually left the zoo around five thirty with the intentions of coming back tomorrow to get more pictures. Hopefully they will rotate Kiboko and Petra to the outside enclosure where I can get better pictures of them.

We will see. I spent the rest of the early evening wandering around downtown Frankfurt on a mission to find contact solution. Which which you might think was not all that hard, but I found it to be. I kept going into different chemists and stores that sold just about everything else EXCEPT what I needed. Eventually, I found what I wanted. I dined on bratwurst for dinner and called it a night. Tomorrow my friend Elizabeth is coming to join me on the hippo adventure for a few weeks. I am so excited, I can hardly sleep!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Stuttgart, Germany—Day 232

I woke up this morning and headed to the Stuttgart Zoo, which is just a short metro ride away from my hotel. The tram here is fantastic—not only is it fast but there were a cappella singers not on the tram, but recorded on the tram’s announcement system so whenever we would get to a new stop, they would start singing its name. It was hilarious—I’ve never seen (or rather heard) anything like it.

I got to the zoo stop and got off and walked over to the zoo entrance where I bought my ticket. The zoo turned out to be huge and not only just a zoo but these botanical gardens as well, so I had to navigate through the gardens until I finally came upon the hippos.

There were two hippos in an outdoor enclosure which seemed to be a bit small for them. Both were circling around a bit—one more active than the other, and it seemed to be that they were expecting something—perhaps to be fed. One hippo (the female based on the male’s dung spreading behavior) got out of the water a few times to stand near the door to their indoor enclosure.

I took pictures of course and then headed inside where I found this huge thing of food waiting for them. Carrots, potatoes, hay, grass—it was like a hippo’s dream. It also seemd on display almost—you weren’t really sure if they were actually going to be fed it or if it was just for show for the visitors. I took pictures and also found posters on the wall with the hippos’ names, Rosi and Mike.

I headed back outside and Rosi and Mike were still moving around. It started to rain but I stood there and took pictures of them and eventually the rain let up. When it appeared that the hippos weren’t going to be fed anytime soon (based on keepers coming by and then leaving again) I decided that I had my pictures and found my way out of the zoo, stopping at the small kiosk selling all sorts of trinkets. I picked out this small dish with the zoo’s name on it, some postcards and then left.

I got to the tram station just a little too late—and missed it by a few seconds. I waited for the next tram, got on a few minutes later, greeted by the a cappella group again.

I got off at my stop and went back to my hotel where I spent the afternoon working on my hippo photos and blogs, and then finally went out and got dinner at a local pizza place down the road.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.