Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baby, I can see your Halo!

First off, I am so sorry for being so inconsistent with blogging. But in my defense, I have already written the next post but I am still waiting on some pictures that my friend Izzie took on our wine and bike tour in Mendoza. Unfortunately my camera’s battery died that day so I don’t have very many pictures of my own. I really don’t want to upload that post without any good photos and that’s why it’s taking me so long. But I’m hoping Izzie will get the pictures to me soon-ish. In her defense, she was out of town the past two weekends. 

But enough of the apologizing. And moving on to the important stuff: I have seen a LUNAR HALO yesterday!! And not just that. I saw it TWICE. In one night.

Now I didn’t exactly know about such a phenomenon before witnessing it yesterday. I still don’t know exactly how it works. I could insert some highly complicated and smart explanation here but I suppose it’s a lot easier if you just look it up on Wikipedia. Short version is that it has something to do with the reflection of the moon’s light and how its light is broken by a specific type of clouds.

The sky here in South America is truly amazing me over and over again. The most starriest of nights in Cabo Polonio, incredibly colorful sunsets, the most three-dimensional cloud constellations. And now this beauty?

Ok, the picture doesn’t really capture it. 
But ask my dear friend Google for pictures and be jealous!

For those of you, who don’t know what a lunar halo is, basically it looks like the moon has a halo. I think it only works with a full moon and it looks simply beautiful. I was stunned. Unfortunately I was too busy being amazed by it so I didn’t get to take a picture the first time around when we could see it very clearly. I suggest you google for reference pictures and be amazed yourself.

And then it vanished and left us very happy that we got to see it because according to my friend Eduardo from Mexico (who was the only one of us who had seen it before) it is doesn’t happen frequently. Makes sense since I think it only happens at full moon. So pretty much you can only witness it once a month and even then the weather conditions need to be just right. And according to Wikipedia it is more common for colder areas like Alaska or the poles. Well lucky us!

The second time around it was not as clear and distinctly visible. I got my camera anyway and crafted a makeshift tripod (using a saltshaker and a table) to make sure my camera wasn’t moving during the 13 seconds of exposure I set my camera to in order  to take a decent photo. And by the time I managed to do all that, it had gone from full circle to half circle. But it’s still pretty darn cool thing to see so I definitely hadto share that with you.

And because I got it stuck in my head all day, enjoy this video of Beyoncé and an incredible acoustic version of her song "Halo":

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Semana Santa Travelogues: First Impressions of Mendoza

I would like to use this blogpost to introduce the beautiful city of Mendoza to you because I am guessing that most of you haven’t heard of that place before. So let's start with map to show he geograhical location. 

Mendoza is the name of a province in Argentina as well as its capital city where we stayed during our trip. And from the beginning on, I couldn’t help but adore the city with all its charm. It has kind of a southern European vibe and at the same time it’s very adorable. To me the whole city felt like vacation. And not just because I actually was on vacation, but because I kinda felt like it would just be too odd to live there because it’s such a vacation-y place. Very unreal. In the most positive way.

Plaza Independencia

And our hostel fit perfectly into that vacation-y flair. I am fairly sure that it is the best Hostel in all of Mendoza. And the fact that it was completely booked kind of underlines that. When we got to said Hostel, our room wasn’t quite ready for us to move in yet and so we just hung out outside on the patio for a while.  We met two girls, one from England and one from Belgium (and altogether it was a pretty international crowd there), who shared their experiences with us and we found out that you could just take a ladder and pick your own grapes from the grapevines that grew all over the patio to provide shade. They also recommended that we do a bike and wine tour where you rent some bikes and then cycle from one winery to the next and try some of Mendoza’s wine. So we added that to our to-do list. After all Mendoza is Argentina’s most famous wine growing province.

If you ever go to Mendoza, I can only recommend you to stay at this place

Part of the patio

After a little while, our room was ready and we moved in. Typical hostel room so nothing too fancy here. Bunk beds and lockers. Though we had a room with direct access to the patio which was pretty sweet. However, we also had the room with the worst wifi signal. But location tops internet connection anyways.

Following that we went to check out the city for a while and found a square named Plaza Independencia near our hostel. It was super pretty with lots of trees and a fountain in the middle. And that fountain combined with the brightly shining sun resulted in a beautiful rainbow. 

Not sure if that little boy running in the way ruined the picture or made it way more awesome

After checking out our surroundings we decided to  have some ice cream and coffee. And let me tell you, the ice cream was good! I had pistachio and super dulce de leche. It was divine! We pretty much spent all afternoon hanging out in that café, talking and enjoying our vacations.

In the evening the hostel organized a Pizza party and we decided to join it. And that was a wise decision because we were hungry and there were almost unlimited supplies of pizza with all kinds of different toppings. We also got to know some of the people that stayed in the hostel. It was a pretty mixed group but mostly it was people who spent half a year in South America, travelling around, going on adventures and enjoying life.

In the end most of the people went to bed and the only ones remaining were a guy named Patricio from Buenos Aires, another one named Daniel from Canada and Rachel, Izzie, Erin and I. At some point we decided to ask for a deck of cards at the reception and play some card games. After an unsuccessful attempt to explain a game that only one of us knew we decided that poker would probably be the best option, because everybody kind of knew how it works. But then we encountered a new problem : What should we use as a currency? We didn’t want to play for money and strip poker was also out of the question, so what should we do?

Izzie, Rachel, Patricio, Daniel and Erin

Eventually we found a creative solution to our currency problem. Since it was nice weather we were sitting outside beneath a sky of grapevines. So why not use grapes? After all, the hostel encourages their guests to pick their own grapes.  So we pokered for grapes.  Which is kind of weird when you think of it. But then again grapes are the biggest capital of the province of Mendoza. The only problem here was that we couldn’t snack on the grapes because that would be like eating our money. But since we had incredible amounts of pizza earlier we weren’t exactly hungry anyway. And after many rounds of “Uva-Poker” (uva = Spanish word for grape) we went to bed in order to get some sleep so we would be well-rested for the next day’s adventure.

A nice game of Uva-Poker

P.S. This was the second part of my “Semana Santa Travelogues”. If you haven’t read the first one yet, go check it out HERE

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tricolor! Tricolor! Tricolor!

I was actually planning on continuing with my Semana Santa series of travelogues today.. And then life kind of got in the way. But that's the beauty of it, so here we go with a post  on a completely unrelated topic: Soccer!

Now you are probably thinking "Again?!". And I can't blame you because I just blogged about that topic two posts ago. But then again it IS a very important subject here in Uruguay. 

And I haven't simply been to another soccer game. I was part of a new World Record! 

Now, here in Montevideo it seems that there are only two options for soccer clubs to support: Nacional or Peñarol. And since I have visited the stadium of Nacional with Pablo before, I kind of got directed into that direction of fandom. Additionally, I don't like the idea of suppporting a Club that has the colors black and yellow because it reminds me of the one German soccer club I like the least. And since I find Peñarol fans slightly too aggressive for my liking. So I decided for myself that I would go for Nacional. Go Tricolor! (another nickname as their colors are red, white and blue)

Even the sky showed Nacionals colors red and blue

And let me tell you, the Uruguay vs. Paraguay game was pretty much boring compared to the great atmosphere I experienced when Nacional played against Toluca, a team from Mexico in the Copa Libertadores. The South American version of the Champions League that is. 

First off, Pablo who was taking me to the game with his family and some friends picked me up at my place. Now normally that would be like a 20 min detour because Nacional's home stadium is close to my university here. But since the Nacional fans were planning to set a record that day, the game took place in Estadio Centenario which is bigger and more suitable for the record that they wanted to break. And it is pretty much right next to my place so no detours.

Of course for such an occasion I couldn't go without any fan gear. And luckily Pablo and his Family are like the biggest Nacional fans which means he had some spare jerseys, one of which I could wear to the game so that I was properly dressed up to be part of a world record in the making.


Now, what was this world record about? 

For about one and a half years Nacionals fans crafted a giant fan banner that they were going to unfold and that was going to cover almost all the fans. So for that purpose it wasn't just big, it was gigantic! The official measurements are 600x50 meters but I suppose you can't picture how big that really is. I'll try to give you a mental picture because the helicopter that was supposed to fly over the stadium and take pictures of the whole thing got sabotaged and couldn't take off. So picture this: the flag came all the way down the tribunes and went all the way round three quarters of the stadium. Only one tribune out of four was not covered by  the flag. And we're talking about Uruguay's biggest soccer stadium that holds about 65,000 people. And that is only slightly less than what fits into stadiums like Munich's Allianz Arena!

Check out this website for more infos and pictures.

 And my personal favorite -  the 360 degree interactive picture of the fans (without banner). Can you spot me? 

Now the unfolding happened twice, once before the game to greet the players when they entered the field, and once during the halftime. And both times it was a lot of fun! And in between there was of course the game which I think was pretty good as well.

This (smallest) tribune was the only part of the stadium that was not covered by the banner..

...but all of this was covered with the flag was this part
(which looks empty because the picture was taken pretty early on)

...and of course we were covered as well!

Obviously, Nacional had a pretty good motivation to give their all since they have the most amazing fans who spent one and a half years crafting a gigantic flag. So unsurprisingly they won. And they didn't just win barely. They scored four times and ended with a result of 4:0! Quite impressive I'd say.

Penalty and  GOOOOOOL!!

And the atmosphere was just overwhelming and there were a lot of fun different fan chants. My favorite was "Poropopo poropopo el que no salta es de Peñarol!". Which translates to "Poropopo poropopo  the one who doesn't jump is from Peñarol!". Which is practically the worst thing to be. And so while singing that you have to jump. Because obviously you don't want to be associated with Peñarol.

And my absolute highlight was a little boy who sat in front of us. He was completely into the game and his facial expressions just cracked me up everytime. So hilarious and so expressionate. Unfortunately it was impossible to catch with the camera so a back-view must do.

This little man pretty much made my day

Altogether the game was pretty spectacular and I did not for one minute regret skipping class in order to go to the game. But at least I wasn't the only one because Pablos's sister missed her class as well. I'd say it's a matter of priorities and Lucía and I definitely have ours straight.

The truants

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Semana Santa Travelogues: Trip to Mendoza

Writing about everything that I have experienced this past week is pretty much impossible. I have gained so many new impressions and I don’t think I can fit them all into one blogpost.

Which is why I decided to divide it up a bit; First off, some details about the trip and the trippers, then the various adventures we had in Mendoza, after that the trip back with a short stay in Buenos Aires, and last but not least a weekend in Piriápolis.

And just so you all know that I am not just vacationing here, I did start with school but since Easter is really early this year we only had two weeks of school before we went off for Easter break. Or “Semana Santa” as it is called here. Since that left not a lot of planning time in advance I spontaneously decided to join four other exchange students at Universidad Católica on their trip to Mendoza, Argentina.

Namely those were Erin from Texas, Rachel from Minnesota, Izzie from Georgia and Bridget from Oregon. Now if you know your states, you might have recognized that I was the only German within that group of Americans. But I guess I could pass for Kansan if I wanted to.

Bridget                                                    Rachel

Izzie                                                       Erin

Now to begin with the planning, one of the girls who travelled with me, Erin, gave me the details about the buses/ferry and the hostel. In Argentina it is quite cheap-ish to travel around in overland buses. That is why we went to Buenos Aires first where there is a pretty big bus terminal from where you can go practically everywhere in and around Argentina. And since the cheapest manner to get to Argentina is to go to a place called Colonia (in Uruguay) first and then take a ferry to Buenos Airesfrom there, we chose to do it that way. Erin also gave me the name of the hostel they were staying in, so I could book that as well.

As soon as I had all the details I started making arrangements. Booking the hostel was easy. No problems there. But then the website for the overland bus in Argentina didn’t like my credit card. So I skyped with my mommy and soon thereafter the bus was booked via her credit card. Problem solved. And finally I had to get me the tickets for the bus and ferry in Uruguay which was easiest done at the bus terminal “Tres Cruces” here in Montevideo. But of course that day it rained all day and due to the lack of an umbrella I decided to reschedule for the next day. That day there was no rain and Pablo offered to help me buy the tickets. Theoretically that meant that nothing could go wrong, right? Well, not exactly. The girl at the counter for the ferry tickets apparently thought I was from “Armenia” instead of “Alemania”. And apart from the fact that both start and end with an A, I don’t think they sound alike. Anyway, I didn’t find out about it until I checked it at home and so I had to go back and have it changed. Which worked out fine and I didn’t have any problems getting out of and back into the country.

So after that I was all set for the trip and super excited for school to be out and vacation to be in. Ok, in between school and vacations I went to see the Uruguay vs. Paraguay soccer match that I have blogged about earlier but the morning following the game I finally got to go on my Semana Santa adventure! Which started Saturday morning at around 11ish at the bus terminal in Montevideo where my four companions and I got on the bus to Colonia.

Now during the bus ride to Colonia I didn’t sit by the others because we booked our tickets separately. I guess there is not a lot to write about that part of the trip. Though I have to mention one thing: Overland buses in South America are waaaay more comfortable than the ones we have in Europe! The seats were so comfortable and there was leg space en masse!  

Later, upon arrival in Colonia we had some coffee and continued to the ferry terminal which was just down the street from the bus terminal. We went through all the check-in and leaving-the-country procedures and got on board of the ferry that would take us to Argentina.

I was pretty excited then until I wanted to take a picture of Bridget being silly… and almost got a heart attack right there. I had forgotten the memory card for my camera! In order to even be able to take lots of pictures I had saved them all onto the computer in the morning and apparently I had forgotten to take the card out of my computer and put it back into the camera. Major bummer. I mean what’s a trip when you have a great camera but can’t use it to document everything?

Luckily Izzie saved my trip right there because she had brought a spare memory card and was willing to lend it to me for the trip. For me that meant the world, and for you that means tons of pictures to look at.

Now, off the ferry, through a very brief immigration/security check and into two taxis. Because we were five persons and taxis don’t transport more than four, we had to split up. So Rachel, Izzie and I went on the first taxi and got a ride through possibly one of the ugliest parts of Buenos Aires. After a short drive we arrived at the bus terminal “Retiro” from where our bus to Mendoza would leave, and thought we’d just wait a couple minutes for the other two to arrive. After all they had gotten into the taxi right behind ours.

But we waited and waited and there was no sight of them. So we did some investigation and found that it was impossible to find the others because the terminal is just so incredibly huge. We quickly decided to have us some food before the last big part of our journey and so we went to find a restaurant. And guess who we found on the way! Erin and Bridget, the two we had lost earlier.

After some food we went back to the terminal and waited for our bus to come. Nothing too spectacular happened here. We got on the bus and smart as I am I booked a seat at the top-front of the bus so I could get a great first view of Mendoza. And a great view I got. After I slept deeply in my very comfy and spacey seat.

And I woke up just in time to get a first glance of the Andes and the Mendoza province. I also got to talk to the guy in the seat next to mine who told me that he is from Mendoza but works as a marine at Ushuaia in the “Tierra del Fuego” region. In the very south of South America. The end of the world.

First glance of the Andes... and some dirt on from the bus window. 

Said Mendocinian guy was called Javier and gave me some tips on what to do in Mendoza. Since we hadn’t really planned out all of our time and were travelling rather spontaneously I figured that could be quite handy.

And finally after a thirteen-and-a-half hour busride we got to Mendoza. The destination of our journey. 

P.S. There's gonna be more pictures in my next post. Pinky promise!