Thursday, February 28, 2013

Martes Madness

or: Children at Heart

Tuesday, some of the exchange students went to an “Espectaculo Uruguayo” with some Uruguayan students who kind of served as guides. Of course I didn’t wanna miss out on that and since Becci would have sat at home all alone and bored I decided to invite her. Actually, she’s not that bad a charity case but since she is doing her practical semester at the German school in Montevideo and the school year hasn’t started yet she didn’t know that many people yet. To be fair, neither did I until I started my language class on Monday. Anyway, we decided to join the fun and go check out Uruguayan Carnaval.

In order to get to the place of the Espectaculo, we all met at the main entrance of the university and from there we all went together to the “Velodromo” which is a bike track in the park next to where I live. On our way there we passed a lot of people wearing black-and-yellow, which are the colors of Peñarol, one of Montevideo’s main soccer clubs. Apparently there was a game that night and, as Becci fittingly described them,  they seemed like swarms of bees buzzing around their “beehive”, a.k.a. the Estadio Centenario.  But let’s continue with the actual story: the Espectaculo Uruguayo.

Some of us with two of the Carnaval artists

Upon arrival at the velodromo we found that the Espectaculo was some sort of “Carnaval” thing. Unfortunately we didn’t really understand much of what the people on stage were talking/singin about and that’s why it was mostly a night of getting to know some people and having fun. The show was really colorful but it wasn’t like you imagine for example the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Not at all. But as I mentioned before we didn’t actually pay too much attention to the show.

How do you say "Cheese" in Spanish? (Hint: it's not Queso)

When we got there we first took the obligatory group picture. After that a lot of us decided to have something to eat. They had some typical Uruguayan/Latinamerican foods which all looked pretty delicious. Becci and I shared some “Empanadas” which is some sort of pastry with different fillings. We tried Carne (beef),  Jamón y Queso (ham and cheese) and Queso y Langzanita (Cheese and some sort of peperoni). I gotta say I have fallen for Empanadas really bad and so far my favorite is with Carne.

After that we shared some fun conversations with the Uruguayan students where we learned some interesting expressions. And of course we taught them some German ones that they have probably forgotten about by now. But for everyones enjoyment, I recorded them saying a drinking toast in German.

One for the boys...

...and one for the girls!

After that I really wanted to go “sledding”. Of course there was no snow involved since we had really nice weather. But when we first got to the velodromo, I was amazed by some children going down the slopes of the bik track on cardboard and naturally the child in me wanted to try it. So we went over to the kids and asked if they would let us use their pieces of cardboard for a bit and down the slope we went.

First attempt (note the little boy in the back)

Smooth landing

After a first try, a little boy (you can see him in the first picture) came up to us and straight up told us that we were going too slow because we are too heavy. Big laugh here.

Becci got stuck... Augustín had to help out

But we didn’t let that kid discourage us and tried again and got some practice. And oh the fun we had! At some point a little girl came up to us and told us that it is even more fun if you sit on an empty plastic bottle because that way you go a lot faster. Of course we had to try that as well and believe it or not it was even more awesome. Or “salado” as a Uruguayan fella named Pablo told me is the expression for “great” or “awesome”. Not sure if I can trust him on that but I guess I’ll find out at some point. Anyway, I enjoyed our sledding experience a lot. 

Maxime and I going Pro

Speed accelerator: the Plastic Bottle!

It’s incredible how much fun you can have with such cheap means. Who needs toys if you got a plastic bottle and a bike track?!   

After our sledding experience we sat down and had some more conversations and enjoyed some “churros” (sweet fried pastry). Those are also very delicious just like all the other Uruguayan food. And just in case you haven’t noticed, I do enjoy the food here a lot and I am probably going to gain a bit of weight but it’s definitely worth every pound.

In the end, when we decided to head home we had our first “how do we get home?” experience. We have heard from all kinds of people that girls shouldn’t walk home alone at night because “es muy peligroso!” (translation: it’s very dangerous!). However, Becci and I don’t live very far from the velodromo. To be exact we really only had to get out of the park, cross a street and turn right. And normally I would have walked home.

But as I have mentioned earlier, that night there had been a soccer game in the Estadio Centenario which is pretty much right next to the velodromo. Now, if Peñarol is playing that isn’t just any soccer game. Of course not. Uruguayans are nuts about soccer and one of their favorite teams is Peñarol. That is probably why Peñarol fans are of the most extreme kind.  And it just so happens that they had lost the game earlier that night. Accordingly, they were in a very bad mood and felt the need to express their anger. It just so happened, that when we got out of the velodromo, the buses of the rivaling team went by. Bottles were thrown and one of the reputable gentleman of Peñarol division grabbed his man parts to show them what he thinks of them.

We realized that the insistent warnings not to go home alone that night at all were probably not made up out of thin air. Luckily, our Uruguayan friends were very helpful here. Some of them had their cars parked nearby and so we waited for them to get the cars and got a ride. Down the street, two turns and back home we were. Safe and sound and with lots of good memories.

P.S.: And the answer to what Uruguayans say instead of "Cheese" when taking a picture: Whiskey!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting Groceries.. Trust me, it's not as boring as it sounds!

Today was another lazy day in Montevideo. Originally we had planned to explore the city a little, but the weather is just kind of blah so due to a lack of motivation my roommate Becci and I decided to stay in and enjoy the sun from our rooftop terrace.

First though, I went to get some groceries. Sounds boring? Well, let me tell you it ain’t as easy if you don’t know the language very well. Getting all the things you have on your grocery list isn’t as hard because we live in a world of pictures. I may not understand every single word but some things just look the same in every country. Some however don’t. My favorite example here is milk. In Germany milk is usually sold boxed or bottled. In the US you’ll probably find it in (half)gallon sized plastic canisters. In Uruguay however, you get things like milk, juice or jogurt in plastic bags. Much similar to the ones used for frozen vegetables.  But see yourself.

Leche Fresca... in a bag!

Weird, huh? I thought so too, which is why initially Becci and I decided to buy the one brand of milk that comes in cartons. But when I visited our local supermercado today, they were out of boxed milk. So what do I do? Of course I buy the bagged kind. More about that later on in this post.

So I went on with my shopping and just before I cam to the check-out I found some German goodness: Milka chocolate and Haribo gummy bears. However here in Uruguay, them good ole Goldbears are named “Ositos de Oro” which roughly translates to “Little Bears of Gold”. I think that's the cutest version of “Goldbears”.  I was tempted. But then I saw the price and decided that I probably shouldn’t splurge. The current exchange rate is at about 25 Uruguayan pesos for 1 Euro, or in Dollar terms 20 pesos for a Dollar. For those of you who are too lazy to do the math, that would be about 2.25€ / $2.50 for the chocolate and €1.80 / $2.20 for the gummybears. Which I find a little expensive, knowing that I can get them in Germany for less than half of the price they charge here. 

Sweet temptation...

When I was done getting the things I needed and marvelling at the German candy, I of course went to the cash register. Seeing that the lady who served us the last time we were at that store was working, I decided not to go to her line. She had enough trouble with our dollar-peso mix of payment the last time already. So I spared her another adventure and waited in another line. 

This time however, it wasn’t half bad. I forgot to get my vegetables and fruits weighed so the lady explained to me in very fast Spanish that I had to get that done so she could check the things out. I didn’t understand much of what she said so I told her that my Spanish wasn’t as good and if she could repeat what she just said a little more slowly. She did and I understood perfectly. So while a bunch of people were waiting in line behind me I went to said guy who weighs groceries and got back to the cash register. Now in Germany, that would have annoyed everyone in line. People would have gone ballistic if they had to wait because some idiot like me forgot to weigh their vegetables and caused them to wait. In Uruguay? Not a problem! The people here have all the time in the world and aren’t rushing around to get things done. If they have to wait, well that ain’t no problem. I have to say I really like this mentality.

Back at home we decided it was coffee time. The first thought was that using milk from a bag can’t be that much different, since apparently everyone here is buying milk like that. As seen in the fridge, our roommates bought juice in bags as well. Because however plastic bags with milk or juice can’t stand upright, they simply leave the juice/milk/whatever in their plastic bags and put those bags in jugs in order to minimize the cleaning efforts. Becci and I decided to do the same with our bagged milk. Aaand we failed! To say this way of storing milk is inconvenient is quite an understatement. It is very unpractical and my first attempt was stopped after causing a milk spill. So for now it’s easier for us to pour the milk from the bag into a jug and put said jug less the bag in the fridge. Less spilled milk in the kitchen, more cleaning for us.

Spanish way vs. German way

After our milk-adventure, I went up to our rooftop terrace and enjoyed the sun some more. And of course I don’t want to keep that from you. But don’t think it’s all fun and vacation. As you can see there were some clouds in the sky and there was a slight breeze going. I thought it was quite nice because the sun is very strong here in Uruguay.

Working on my tan

Later Becci and I had dinner on the roof as well cause it’s so nice outside. Earlier we had watched crowds of people, mainly dressed in black-and-yellow jerseys on their way to the "Estadio Centenario" across the street. Montevideo’s biggest soccer stadium that is. Apparently, Peñarol was playing. And even though I don't like their color combination, I have to say it was quite entertaining to listen to the crowd. During dinner, we were entertained by the noises that came from the stadium. And since Peñarol is one of Montevideo’s main soccer clubs, the fan chants were quite audible. I found it pretty funny to guess what’s going on on the soccer field based on the crowd’s noise. Whistles? Sounds like a foul. 

 See them floodlights and that tower? That's "Estadio Centenario"

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jean Reno and Philipp Lahm

Today was a lazy kind of day. Since it had about 25°C / 80°F my roommates and I were headed to the beach. After a short bus ride we arrived at Playa Honda which was the recommendation of Adrien and Eduardo. Because it is already late summer here in Montevideo there won’t be many more sunny days like today and so they said it would be better to go to a beach that is not as central because it won’t be as crowded. And luckily it wasn’t.


Upon arrival Becci and I immediately jumped into the waves and enjoyed the nicely tempered water for a while. After that we were just lazing in the sun for a while, working on our tan. In contrast to all the Uruguayan people and our roommates we are still royally pale. Since it was a sandy white beach I thought we were probably invisible like chameleons because our skin was almost the exact same color as the sand. 

But apparently we weren’t. On the contrary we  were very eye-catching with our lack of melanin and we soon got talked to by a rather odd guy with swim shorts that were way too short. Luckily we can still play the “No comprendo! No hablo mucho español!” card very well and the guy soon left us alone.

Unlike that guy, there was also a man at the bus station who apparently didn’t realize at first glance that we were no locals. While waiting for our bus a man came to us and asked whether or not a certain bus was stopping at this particular bus station. Of course we had no clue and our roommates smilingly gave him an answer.

After we got back from the beach, Becci and I decided we were hungry as wolves. Because our stove ran out of gas yesterday we decided to visit a little Pizza place nearby.

Montevideo is blooming! Snapped this beauty on our way to the Pizza place. 

Shortly after we sat down a waiter came to our table and told us the special. I told him that we didn’t speak Spanish very well and that he was talking a little too fast and so he repeated it more slowly.  We asked for a menu since we didn’t know what food they had in general. Soon after that a guy who spoke Spanish waited on us and tried to explain the whole menu. Apparently we had big questionmarks over our heads and so he simply brought examples of food to our table so we could see and then they even brought us a plate of Fainá (some sort of hearty pancake) and Pizza with Mozzarella to try it. We were amazed at how sincere and generous they were and decided that this earned them a great tip. I am sure there is no place in Germany where they would bring you a plate full of free food to try just because you don’t exactly understand the menu. Way to go, Montevideo!

We decided to have Pizza with Mozzarella which was one of the specials so we got two slices for the price of one. Pretty good deal.

Since we sat at a table by the window we had a great view at a street crossing with a bus stop. We just couldn’t help people watching. 

Waiting on the bus

One of the most amazing persons around was this fella with a guitar who was waiting on a bus. Since the bus took some time to arrive he just started playing his guitar and singing to it. Soon a guy who was hanging around took a piece of cardboard and they started jamming together with the guitar and a makeshift cardboard drum set. We gestured them whether or not it was ok to take pictures and it was, so I won’t keep that sight from you.

Guitar guy and a Jean-Reno-lookalike jamming at the bus station

Later after we had eaten we headed back home and guess who we found on the sidewalk! Philipp Lahm – lying in the dirt. The Uruguayan people are extremely enthusiastic for soccer but apparently they can’t appreciate a great German player like Philipp. Well, I guess we gotta show them next year in Brazil..

Whatcha doing down there, Philipp?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Arriving in Montevideo

Upon arriving at the house I first met my roommate Becci who is from Germany like me. She studies to become a teacher and spends a practical semester teaching at the German school in Montevideo. From my first impression I have a feeling that we’re gonna get along great. 

After getting to know each other a bit I hopped in the shower and we went to get some food. There is a little kiosk right outside our house but we found it a bit too small to get what we needed. So we went into a direction that we thought was right. On our way a butcher suggested we should buy some meat at his place. We weren’t in the mood for meat so we asked him where the next supermarket was. He gave us directions to go down the road and then turn into the second street to the left which we understood even though he mumbled a bit. So we went there and surprisingly we found the supermarket which was pretty well sorted.

Of course we didn’t have any idea of how much pesos are worth but we figured our money would be enough so we got all we needed and went to the cash register. Becci was going to pay since she had some pesos on her. I only brought a few dollars just in case. And of course that case happened. As it turned out she didn’t have enough pesos so we asked the girl at the register if we could pay half-half in pesos and dollars. Unfortunately Becci’s Spanish is even worse than mine so it took a while and many “lo siento”s to get what we wanted.

While waiting for the cashier to proceed our slightly inconvenient request of payment, I also met my other two roomates, Adrien and Eduardo, who came to buy some food just as we were about to leave the store.

After we got home Becci and I cooked the most basic food of all, Spaghetti and tomato sauce, and chatted a bit. Afterwards she had to do some homework for Spanish so I decided to join Adrien and Eduardo in the living room for the Arsenal-Munich game.

Whilst watching it I also found out that Adrien is from France but works in Chile since January. He came to Montevideo for a visit and will be leaving for Chile again soon. Eduardo is a civic engineer from Madrid but since jobs are hard to find in Spain right now he decided to go to Montevideo and try his luck here. They seemed pretty nice and tried their best to talk slow so I could understand them. I really liked that they never gave up on me when I didn’t understand something but they kept trying to explain until I finally got it. Which I admit, sometimes wasn’t so easy.

Later out landlord Martín came by to give me my keys and show me around. Of course Becci had already done that but I didn’t mind checking out the rooftop terrace again. As the house is pretty close to the Estadio Centenario, Montevideo’s biggest soccer stadium we got a view of it (but not a very spectacular one) from the terrace. There was a game going on and they lit fireworks which to me was pretty odd. It was too early for the game to be over so I asked Martín why they did it and he told me they lit fireworks at the beginning and end of every game and whenever they scored. Apparently we had just witnessed the beginning of the game Uruguay against Ecuador (or so I think).

Martín also seems very nice and helpful to me. He offered me to rent a bike from him and was also very patient when I didn’t understand something right away.  In contrast to Adrien and Eduardo, he talked a lot more English with Becci and me. I found it a little weird that he is still pretty young. From what he looks like I would guess he’s twenty-something which is a rather unusual age for a landlord. But he’s nice and very uncomplicated so I really don’t mind.

Since I haven’t really unpacked yet I didn’t have the chance to take pictures. The place isn't exactly the most luxurious and it would probably need a little refurbishing here and there but it will just fine for one semester. I’ll try and snap some pictures soon so you guys know what I am talking about.

Later today my plans are to meet Sebastian. Since I really don’t know my way around I would guess there might be some interesting stories to tell afterwards, so stay tuned!

Meeting Anton

Or: My childhood is a lie.

Because that is what I found out during my layover in Miami. 

Now you’re probably wondering what a stay at an airport has to do with my childhood. I’m going to tell you but in case you are from Germany and grew up loving the “Michel” movies based on Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books, you read this at your own risk. I warned you and I will not be held liable if this wrecks your childhood. I warned you.

But let’s start at the beginning. 

Upon arriving at a US airport you have to go through immigration and then go pick up your luggage, give it to some airport employee (and pray that they will check it through correctly to your final travel destination) and then go through security and proceed to your gate. At first, I was a little bummed out because my layover lasted seven (very long) hours and airports without free wi-fi really aren’t that much fun for seven hours. 

But then I met a young lad from Sweden whilst going through immigration. He was headed for Montego, Jamaica and had a two hour layover in Miami. Not as long as mine but at least I had some entertainment for a while. We chatted all the way through immigration and then found our suitcases after some searching. He even was a gentleman and took one of mine for my convenience. After giving the suitcases to some airport employee (and praying that they would get checked through to our final destinations correctly) we went on and mocked the inefficiency of the airport procedures whilst waiting in line. Eventually we grabbed a cup of coffee at the worlds slowest Starbucks venue and hung out at his departure gate.

At this point, let me introduce to you Anton from Vimmerby, Sweden.

Now, those of you who know the movie “Michel aus Lönneberga” (or any of its sequels) will know that it takes place in that same area where my airport friend comes from and that Michel’s dad is called Anton. So naturally we got to talk about those movies. 

I’ve got to mention here that those movies are very memorable to me and that I used to watch them whenever they were on TV (which in Germany means every year at Easter and Christmas). For those of you who do not know the movies, it is based on the ventures of the titular character Michel. He is a little boy who lives with his family, a farm laborer and a milkmaid on a farm in Småland, Sweden. And even though he never means any harm he always ends up driving his surroundings crazy with all the pranks he deliberately or accidentally plays on them. And to me it always seemed like Michel was such an iconic figure. I simply associated the name “Michel” with a little rascall.

Enter my airport friend Anton from Vimmerby. 

As I he told me, in the original version of the movies (and books) “Michel” is actually called “Emil”. 

I was shocked. 

I don’t think I can ever watch that movie again because now I’d have to constantly think “Emil from Lönneberga”. Which just doesn’t seem to fit. Emil isn't a name I associate with all the prank-playing blonde kid from Sweden. Michel is such a name. But I can't help wondering what my opinion on this would be if they hadn't changed the names for the German version. And why did they change it at all? After all, all the other characters got to keep their names and Emil isn't a name that would be uncommon to use in Germany.

There are just so many questions. And my broken heart. Shattered together with my childhood.

...and this is the story of how an airport encounter ruined my childhood and leaves a very difficult question:

(click images for sources)

Flying to Montevideo

My trip to Uruguay started on Monday very early in the morning. To be exact, my parents and I left for the airport in Munich at 4am. Needless to say I was a little late because I’m not exactly the definition of a morning person. But it didn’t matter because we were still at the airport on time and because my plane didn’t leave until 15 minutes after its scheduled time because they had to defrost the wings or something like that. 

After a short flight I arrived in sunny London. There I had to change into a bigger plane and on went the travels. The following flight to Miami was rather ordinary. The movie selection wasn’t the best so I stuck to reading “The fault in our stars” by John Green which I can highly recommend you to read. Food was also rather crappy as I guess plane food is supposed to be but at least they served shortbread. 

Upon arrival in Miami I had to go through immigration as required in the US. Then I had to pick up my luggage just to hand it back to an airport employee. And please do not ask why that is because the sense behind this procedure is a complete mystery to me. 

Now, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to my layover in Miami because it lasted  for seven very long hours. You may wonder why I didn’t use those seven hours to explore the city of Miami and to be honest I actually contemplated that option. But since I didn’t know whether the airport was far outside of Miami or more to the city center (the latter of which is the case) I figured I better stayed where I was. After all I am not the most punctual person and there was a 90% chance I’d find a very fast way to Miami Beach and then end up not making it back on time for my connecting flight. 

Luckily I met a law student named Anton from Sweden who was partly responsible for my staying at the airport. If I hadn’t had a nice conversation going with him (and I admit he was pretty cute) I might have ended up making the snap decision to leave against any good reason. 

But Anton kept me entertained until he had to catch his flight to Montego and after that it was really not a question anymore whether or not I should go. I was really thankful for this encounter, even though a specific conversation with him completely shattered my childhood. But this is a whole different story and I will write about it in my next blogpost. 

After Anton had left I still had about 5 hours of boredom in front of me. I soon finished "The fault in our stars" (again: recommend it!) and of course my laptop wasn’t much use either since the airport doesn’t have free wi-fi and I didn’t bring the right adapter with me to plug it in. Due to the weak battery I couldn’t even watch a movie. So I actually looked into my Spanish book and tried to study some past tense Spanish grammar. But I soon gave up on it and went to a corner store where I got myself a magazine to read. And somehow time went by and I got on the last plane: Miami to Montevideo.

At first I thought it would be even worse than the transatlantic flight from London to Miami because the seats didn’t have individual screens for watching movies or TV-series but there were only a few monitors in the middle (which showed very weird looking movies). Call me spoiled but I believe it isn't too much to ask for such luxury on an eight hour flight. But again I made a fortunate encounter. 

This time I met a girl named Joon who was from Korea but living in Cincinnati. She was on her way to traveling around South America with two of her friends. We had a nice conversation and the flight didn’t seem as long to me. Maybe that was also due to the fact that it was night time and I got to sleep a little.  Eventually we arrived in Montevideo. 

Upon arrival I had to go through immigration and get my tourist visa form stamped. The line in front of the passport control was maybe even longer than the one at the US immigration and even though I didn’t have a Swedish fella with me this time it seemed to move faster. And they handed out chocolate which of course menas I felt welcome!

After that I got my luggage and found me a shared taxi to my place. It took a while to find more passengers but in the end I got directly to my new place. I’ll save a description of it and an introduction of my roommates and landlord for another blogpost. This one is already pretty long.... was the flight. 

 Layover time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hello there Ladies and Gentlemen...

...allow me to introduce this Blog to you! 

This is the place where I shall share all my small and big adventures with you. Mostly they will be about my ventures abroad and the people and peculiarities I meet along the way.

I intend to post on a regular basis, even if it’s just about my day-to-day life. Because let’s be honest. nothing is really day-to-day when you’re living in a whole different country. I also find it easier to digest small posts instead of long ones with ten incredible incidents squeezed into one terribly long blogpost. And let's be honest, don't we all have the attention span of a squirrel? ;-)

I also want this blog to be a means of communication. I do respond to emails but when I spent one year in the US, I found it hard to remember what story I told to which friend or family member. It is simply an easy way for me to know what I have told you about already in order not to get confused when writing emails.

By writing this blog my intention is also that everyone who would like to know how I am doing in South America is only one click away from doing so. This does not mean you shouldn't keep in contact with me! On the contrary, I want you to know what's up and I hope to interest you in my ventures. So if you want to know more details about a specific adventure of mine or just want to know how I am doing, you are whole-heartedly welcome to leave me a comment or shoot me an email.

Let the adventure begin!