Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Big Moving Day

I couldn't stay in cute little Hotel Stadtnah forever, plus I was getting sick of the pale yellow walls, blankets, everything, so today was moving day. For the semester, I have a room in BA Woschi, a dorm-style apartment sort of thing (as close as you can get to a dorm without actually being operated by the university). I have my own (pretty spacious) bedroom with a large desk, large wardrobe, a large window and a small window, and large shelf, a sink and single bed. I share showers, toilet, and kitchen with the 6 other residents on my half of the wing. But anyway, I had to get here first, with all my luggage. All 60 pounds of it. This morning I woke up, said a Hail Mary for my sanity (just kidding, but really I took some extra deep breaths), and trekked over to sign my rental contract.

 A few signatures, and a short train ride later I was back at my hotel, map in hand, ready to check out and go find this place. I had been told which bus to take by the rental people, but when I asked my receptionist for clarification she said (with a stern German finger) "No! No! No bus! You walk! You be fine. Walk is good. No bus! Here, on map, I show you. Not too far." I pointed out that I had all my luggage, and wasn't sure if walking was such a good idea, but she was adamant, and when an older German lady tells you to do something, by God, you do it! So I set out on foot hauling my 40 pound suitcase, and my 20 pound backpack, map in hand, and the words "No bus!" echoing in my head. It wasn't too bad for the first block, but when I turned left, it started going uphill. I actually was doing pretty good navigating with the map, and at first there was a shimmer of hope, until 4 hills later and an uphill view mixed with cobblestone streets and tiled sidewalks punched that hope in the face until it had a bloody nose and black eye. I was getting to the point of sitting down every other block in order not to pass out. But I was getting close! No funerals for this girl. I didn't take a 20 hour trip just to have a couple miles and heavy luggage drag me down! Especially with the view....

So I kept on going, and I could almost see the light at the end of the mountain when my suitcase started slipping on something... oh, wait, something brown that strangely enough looks like dog poop. Upon second inspection, sure enough, it was a pile of dog poop that my suitcase just rolled through and dragged halfway down the sidewalk. Guess I didn't see the poop, and I didn't really care either. I figured the next batch of cobblestones would take care of it. The last leg of the journey, my suitcase started making weird squeaking noises, sort of like a dying cat mixed with a whiny baby. I stopped to inspect, and upon touching the wheel, the first three layers of my skin discovered that it was a hair away from combusting into flames. I literally burned my finger on my suitcase wheel. Or what was left of a wheel. 

 But I made it!! All the way to the locked door, of which I had no key. When the janitor saw me and let me inside, I made my way down to the caretaker to get the keys. But of course, since I walked, I was late and he was no longer there. A while back, I had wisely decided to suspend my phone service starting with, oh wait, TODAY. So no way to call him, and no one to let me in. I sat down on the floor for a couple minutes in defeat, being utterly at the mercy of God. No phone, no internet, no keys. Another resident luckily came down at this time and called the man for me, and after 30 minutes, I was all set up in my room.
The next step was to get some necessary supplies, such as bedding, food, etc. So my nice new German floormates set me up with a fool proof bus route to get me to the store and back. I took the bus to Porta! möbel und mehr, a store very similar to IKEA, that is probably the most fantastic thing I've ever seen. It's a 95,000 square foot monstrosity of a home store in which one can buy everything from bedding to couches to mirrors to you name it. (I found these photos online of the Aachen porta!) Yeah, that's a coffee shop underneath the giant spiral ramp. Also, yeah, that's a child's playground outside the store. 

I left Porta! with my giant bag holding my pillow, hangers, etc. and the other giant bag containing my comforter. Being mentally incompetent, I got right back on the bus that took me there...going in the same direction out of town. 15 kilometers, an accidental nap, and two small towns later, I realized this bus was NOT making a large circle, and I should probably get off and go back to Aachen. A little more than an hour later, I was back in my room, eating the entire can of Pringles I bought earlier and thrilled that I was not dead. All in all, a successful day. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Willkommen zu Aachen

Well, I made it! One extremely long, extremely exhausting, lets's-never-do-that-again-alone-if-we-can-help-it trip. I honestly feel like that was a marathon or climbing Mount Everest or anything similarly hard and awful. Except there was no one with a giant ribbon or medal to give to me when I finished. Just a nice German man who held the door for me at my hotel. My route was St. Louis to New York (JFK) to Paris to Köln to Aachen. But first things first.

My flight from STL was at 11:45. I spent Departure Eve (aka Wednesday night) at Harrah's casino in St. Louis, which was a combination winner of price and location to the airport, so I wouldn't have to wake-up so early (which turned out to be a life-saver, I can't imagine leaving my house at 6 in the morning and proceeding with the trip...shudder). Instead of getting a nice king-bed room to relax and sleep in, they messed up my booking, and I got a two double-beds room. Oh well, it was still nice, and I took a nice long bath in the gigantic tub. Although I was tempted to play all those $35,283 penny slots, it turns out I had absolutely no change with me. So I didn't waste a single dime gambling. It was more fun walking around and people watching anyway.

D-Day (aka Thursday), I had my last American sausage biscuit at Mickey D's (little did I know how soon I would eat you again!) and headed to the airport. Everything went really smoothly and I checked in in about 5 minutes time. My suitcase was out of my hands so quickly, I didn't even get to say goodbye to it, or take a picture, or even register the fact that I might never see it again. (PS, this was what I dragged all the way through Aachen.. You can see more of it here). -->

So I still had about 2 hours left to kill. Not-so-luckily for me, the weather was a balmy 60 degrees. I was wearing a cardigan, corduroy jacket, and my winter coat so that I didn't have to pack as much. Lets just say I carried the coat, the jacket got tied to my backpack, and I took the cardigan off at most times. Security, although the line was really short, wasn't so easy. I took up about 5 baskets with my coats, scarf, belt, phone, wallet, suitcase keys, sunglasses, kindle, and laptop + the carry-on camera bag and Osprey backpack (that thing is a beast and weighed probably 30 pounds).

 The flight to JFK in NYC was uneventful, but really pretty! It felt almost surreal, like I was Queen Frostine and I lived in a world of cotton balls. Or maybe that was just the airplane drinks..

JFK was a gigantic place. Not for nothing is it America's biggest city's biggest airport. When I walked off the plane, there were just hordes of people everywhere, which was a gigantic change from STL. I stopped for a while at on of the bar-style tables where they have iPads for your convenient usage. It was pretty awesome. Sort of like a cafe, but just tables filled with iPads (and free of charge, which I appreciated once I found the 2-Euro-per-15-minute-computers in Paris, boo!). There was a pigeon walking around in the airport too! Just one lonely bird, surrounded by throngs of people. The flight from New York to Paris was expectedly long. And airplane food is just as bad as it's cracked up to be. My pasta dish was worse than those $0.72 banquet meals at Walmart. They did come around about a million times with drinks though, which although nice, just made everybody have to pee that much more. The Dramamine I packed did NOT make me drowsy whatsoever, and I couldn't fall asleep (because it was 7:00pm local time) so I decided to have a glass of wine with it (package warning: avoid alcoholic drinks with this medicine as it increases drowsiness). So, WHAM, I fell into a self-induced half coma, wherein I was still  awake. I'll give the drug some credit, it did it's best to put me to sleep, but dude, my body was like hell-to-the-no I'm not falling asleep. So I just sort of laid there like a dead carcass and half assessed how much feeling would be left in my legs when I finally landed. 7ish hours later, we landed in the most foggy, desolate, ugly place possible, Paris.
This was my first and only view of the most romantic city on Earth. I had a 5 hour layover here, which was uneventful, cold, and really boring. My backpack weighed 1830236 lbs, so I didn't feel like doing any shopping, or even standing in line to eat something, so I just parked in an uncomfortable green chair staring wistfully at the duty-free cheese, and to tried to sleep. Note: the main Paris airport is huge and awesome looking, but my terminal was this little off site place where nothing happened.

When my gate was finally announced 20 minutes prior to departure, I hurried off to walk outside onto the tarmac to find a bus sitting there. Remembering my trip to Chicago in which the return train trip was cancelled and we were put on a bus, I was thinking OH DEAR GOD PLEASE NOT A BUS ALL THE WAY TO KöLN. But the bus shuttled us off even further into no-man's-land tarmac and we got on this beast of a prop plane.
 My flight from Paris to Köln was filled with this one really loud, obnoxious German family that kept yelling from the front of the plane to the back, but luckily I had my own seat next to the window.I couldn't sleep over the din of the children screaming and the noise of the wind through my (I swear it was cracked) window. By the time I got to the Köln airport, I felt like I was never going to make it, and due to the lack of sleep or lack of food or something, I was kind of twitching like a crack addict which was embarrassing. The Köln airport was basically like no-man's land. There was hardly anyone there. I followed the signs to the trains, and got on a train to the actual train station. That was an ordeal in itself, because I didn't have any 5 or 10 Euro bills, so I had to go buy something, come back and buy a ticket, then get on the wrong train where I couldn't lift my suitcase up the steps due to the weak arms and twitching (a nice German man helped me) and  my ticket wasn't even checked. (Insert deep breath here). I finally made it to the Köln train station where I trekked to the opposite end to find the information desk, and was informed that a speed train was leaving in six minutes. So I raced (or whatever you call hobbling with weak arms dragging my suitcase and camera bag and million pound backpack with all my layers of clothing and sweating) all the way back to the other end. I took the escalator up to the platforms only to find out I was on the wrong side of the tracks. So I went back down and came up on the right side, boarded the train that was already there, and sat down in the first seat available. Turns out that seat was first class and cost 18 more Euro than second class. But a stampede of elephants was not going to make me pick up my bags and move, so I gladly handed over the money and made it to Aachen. Praise Jesus, my hotel was right across the street from the exit of the train station, so I walked over to it, dragging my baggage across the cobblestone street while the wheels rattled like they were about to die. Here's a picture of my hotel (I didn't take this though).
 The door was locked when I got to it, so I followed the sign around the corner to another hotel to get the key from the receptionist there. He was a nice English speaking German man who gave me a map to the city and held the door open for me and my luggage.

 It also turns out that the first floor in Germany really means the second floor, as it goes Ground, 1, 2, 3...etc.

After a grueling 20 hour trip, I had no desire to brave the local German cafes and instead opted for the only thing I could remember how to say, "McChicken".

 For breakfast this morning, I ate in the little breakfast nook where they had a buffet of bread, cheeses, fruit, cereal, and weird eggs in cups that I didn't understand, so I didn't eat those. A lady offered me the choice of Kaffee oder Tee, so I had a nice cup of hot tea as well as some freshly squeezed orange juice. All in all, it definitely feels like I'm in Europe.Wilkommen zu Aachen!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Suitcase Makeover

Packing for 5 months is a difficult task. Especially if all your belongings must fit into the confines of 50 lbs or less and a specifically small size. My biggest fear in anticipating my trip is whether or not I will ever see my suitcase full of belongings again once I get to Germany. I pray with every fiber of my being that it shows up on that luggage return in Köln. Because if not, I get to spend 5 months with only the supplies in my carry-on and the small reimbursement from my travel insurance. Not one to leave things to chance, I am taking every precaution. Nobody else is walking away with my suitcase thinking it's theirs! I was planning on taking my medium/large sized navy suitcase with me to Aachen. Keyword "was". Now I'm planning on taking my laguna blue/kiwi chevroned suitcase with me to Aachen. No, I didn't buy a new suitcase. I PAINTED IT!

Some well-placed advice from friend-travel-gurus got my gears cranking...how can I make my suitcase stand out amongst the hoards of other navy/black suitcases in an airport the size of New York's JFK and Paris' Charles de Gaulle? I thought about doing the whole ribbons or stickers thing, but I felt like breaking out the paintbrushes. At least this way I don't have to worry about some angry French businessman with a Missouri State sticker stuck to his briefcase or my ribbons grabbing six other suitcases along the way. Anyway, now I get to sport a screaming loud striped suitcase through Europe. And hopefully if it doesn't get lost, I should spot it right away on the luggage carrel! Sounds fun, right? 

I figured I would make a sort-of DIY of my project, because several people were asking me about it. Feel free to adapt and let me know what worked and what didn't! I apologize for the sort of crappy photos, but I did the whole project at night, and didn't really feel like gettin' all artsy. Regardless, it works. :) 

I spent a grand total of, wait for it, $11.82  (plus some painters tape that I had laying around the house, two paper plates, and my cheap-o suitcase)! I think the price could even come down if I would have used primer, because I had to buy two bottles of paint in each color due to the layers upon layers of paint used on my thirsty canvas case.

It took me about four days to complete-1 day for painting and drying each color of chevron, and I did both the front and back. Although it's not a hugely time consuming project, you will have to allow for a lot of time to dry between coats. It took about 30 minutes to measure and tape off each time, and the painting took maybe 3 minutes each coat with about 1 hour dry time between coats with a fan.

    You need:
   -2 8oz bottles of each color Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint  (I used Laguna and Kiwi, although I think dark colors would have covered with less coats and show less dirt).
   -Scotch blue painters tape
   -paper plates (2-3 depending on how environmentally friendly you want to be-- you can honestly use 1 plate, if you just let the paint dry and reuse)
   -small foam brushes  (I used two $0.97 packs of four each because I was lazy and didn't always wash them out right away)
   -ruler or measuring tape (if your suitcase is larger) or both
   -a suitcase in need of a makeover! 

My suitcase had some weird stitching on the front (you can tell in the very first photo) so it limited what I could paint, but I taped off the section I wanted to design, and started measuring for my chevron pattern. The photos below are of the back of my suitcase, which was a lot easier to measure and paint on.

Deciding, measuring, and marking for the chevron pattern was the most difficult of the whole project, and it was hardly difficult at all (just a little lengthy for perfectionists). I decided I wanted 2in thick stripes. Starting at the top left corner, I used the marker to put a small mark every 2 inches. Repeat on the right side, making sure the markings are level from L to R.
 *Be careful if using light colored paint, as I had to add extra coats to my green stripes to make sure they covered the permanent marker.

Next, decide how steep you want the chevron to be. I settled on a relatively shallow chevron. There's probably an easier more engineer-type way to measure this but here's how I did it. I did a really bad paint diagram of how to measure. Th red dots are where you should make marks, and the thin black lines (not the arrows) are where you should connect the dots.

1. The top of my chevron valley is 3 inches below the edges of the top left edge of the chevron. I measured and made a mark in the center (along the seam of my suitcase) 3 inches below the top left and right marks. I took a ruler and drew the connecting line to both side creating a 'V'
2. Because the width of the stripe is two inches, I measured from the bottom center point of the 'V' and marked every two inches to the bottom of the suitcase. Because the top chevron is too thick, I needed to measure 2 inches up from the top line of the top chevron and mark lines there too.
 If you look closely, you can see the marker.

3. Once you have all your lines marked off, tape off your chevrons like so:

4. Start painting! I used about 5 coats of each color to get the desired opacity and color. I used a TON of paint for the first coat (and I mean globbed it on there) because the canvas just soaks it up. It took about 2-3 coats to even get a good base to paint on.
**I would recommend using some sort of primer instead of trying to paint 5 coats of each color because it's very time consuming.

5. Now, take off your tape, and tape over the chevrons that you just painted. Get ready to repeat the process all over again! (My tape didn't work so well with the canvas, so I had some leaks but they touched up really well when all was said and done.)

6. You should end up with a suitcase that looks like this! 

Friday, February 10, 2012


Aachen. The beautiful, mysterious city that haunts my dreams. A place I've only glimpsed in online searches, and read magical things about. And in two weeks, I'll be living there with only one suitcase full of belongings. In case you didn't read the About Me section just yet, you should go and do so right... now!
I'll be going to school at Fachochschule Aachen (FH-Aachen for short).  It's a university that offers really smart sounding degrees in Aerospace Engineering, Architecture, Biomedical Engineering, etc... 

I, however, will be taking Business classes.

WHOA, business. Yeah, I'm taking a semester break from my Biology major to study the world of International Management and other businessey things. Most of all, I hope to take lots of German classes so I can come home and babble about nice things and you all will think I'm yelling profanities with my awesome German accent. The beautiful city of Aachen is a technological center, and home to several colleges. It is a little bigger than Springfield, and a heck of a lot older. The picture at the top of the post is the Aachener Dom, the cathedral built by Charlemagne (click here for a 360 view of the inside) You can realize how giant it is by looking at the tops of the buildings around it. Now look at the picture to the right and below. They are all at least four stories!

Now you can see why Aachen haunts my dreams. I want to ditch this February weather and go have some German food in the outdoor cafes with a fountain and a giant cathedral. Too bad Aachen weather is about the same as here, except with a lot more rain. Luckily for me, I'll be there from February-July, so I get to experience most of their climate changes. Not so luckily, I'll have to pack for ALL the weather. I am, however, looking forward to buying some European clothing. After watching a couple episodes of Sorority Girls and the crazy outfits that the British girls wear, I'm not so sure anymore...

Anyway, for more information on Aachen, click here.

About Me

Hi! I'm Allison, a 21 year old college student. I've decided to leave my home, my school, and my friends to move to Germany all by myself. Here, I'm an international student of business at Fachochschule Aachen (Aachen University of Applied Sciences). Don't worry guys, I'll only be here for five months! I plan on doing a lot of things during this adventure- namely, travel, drink lots of beer, travel some more, learn (eh, maybe...) drink some more beer, and soak up everything there is! I adore food and dessert, making artsy things, jogging, taking pictures, and meeting new people. I can't wait to get out there and enjoy everything and the spontaneous beauty it holds! 

  I've taken a leaf from a friend's book, and decided to make a list of some of the things I   want to accomplish  while I'm in Deutschland and beyond! When I've accomplished something, if it has a photo, it will appear as a link! 

 2. Figure out public transit.
 ✔ 7. Try something that I think looks or sounds gross (i.e. weisswurst -->see photo here) 
 ✔ 8. Visit Ireland.
    9. Find my European friends and say hi!
 ✔ 10. Have a conversation with the locals.
 ✔ 11. Have a conversation with the locals in German!
 ✔ 13. Write a letter.
    15. Make an adult friend(s).
  16. Buy a distinctly European piece of clothing.
    17. See my favorite dutch band, Acda en de Munnik, live .
    19. Volunteer.
  20. Collect sand/rocks from the different beaches/oceans I visit (example)
 ✔ 21.Watch fußball.
 ✔ 23. Go to a German club. 
  24. Do something I wouldn't dream of doing in the US.
 ✔ 25. Ride in a German car (BMW, VW, Audi, etc.).
 ✔ 26. Visit a museum.
 ✔ 27.Go to the spa in Aachen, Carolus Thermen.
    28. Eat Schwarzwald Kuchen (preferably in the Black Forest).
 ✔ 29. Sing karaoke somewhere.  
 ✔ 30. Visit a brewery 
 ✔ 31. Visit a concentration camp.
 ✔ 32. Visit a famous location of some sort. 
 ✔ 33. Take a trip by myself

 PS. Here are photo's of my new kitchen (that I share with 6 other Germans). 

Apple Cider Caramel Cookies

So.. I know this is a travel blog, and my first post is about cookies...made right here in my homey kitchen with my family. NOT TRAVEL, you say.I can feel your skepticism, but I couldn't help but share these fabulous concoctions (recipe below). I'm justifying this post by using it as practice! Or you can pretend I found out about this marvelous treat in Germany..whatever makes you happy :)

 I found the recipe for these cookies on Pinterest, and the original source is by Scrambled Henfruit (here). I was craving something baked and delicious, and these turned out to be the perfect treat. The cookie has a tangy-sweet apple cider flavor (which is something I've never had in a cookie before), and the inside is gooey melted caramel. They were a humongous success with my family, even the uber-picky sister!

Most of the ingredients were found in my pantry. The only things I had to buy were the bag of Kraft caramels and the Alpine Spiced Cider, but hey, if I made these in October or November, I wouldn't have had to buy anything!

These were delicious with tea (or coffee if you're like my dad), and best eaten warm. In fact, if you aren't eating them out of the oven, I'd recommend a zap with the microwave beforehand.

 Hungry by  now? Here you go! Hurry! Run and make these!!!

Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies
1 cup softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 box (7.4 oz) Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink mix -not sugar free- all 10 packets (I found this in my grocery store near the hot chocolate mixes.)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups all purpose flour
1 bag Kraft Caramels (14 oz)

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. (I was out of parchment paper, so I just put them on a cookie sheet coated in cooking spray, although I would strongly recommend the paper if you have it!)
  • In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.
  • With your mixer (or an energetic spoon) cream together butter, sugar, salt and all 10 packages of apple cider drink mix powder, until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and mix well.
  • Gradually add flour mixture to butter/egg mixture. Mix until just combined.
  • Refrigerate for about an hour. (If you're really impatient like me,you don't have to do this, but it makes it so much easier to work with. I made the first batch of cookies at room temperature, but placed the bowl in the fridge while they were cooking. Normally I would ball the rest of the dough while they bake, but this helps because after the first batch, you can adjust the amount of dough to put around the caramel.)
  • When you are ready to bake, unwrap your caramels. 
  • Scoop out cookie dough ball about the size of a walnut. (I used a rounded cookie scoop-full. My scoop holds about a Tablespoon and I used a little more than that.)
  • Flatten the ball of dough slightly in the palm of your hand. Press the unwrapped caramel into the center of your dough and seal the dough around it, covering it completely. Place on parchment covered cookie sheets 2 inches apart.
  • Bake 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Please don't over-bake! Once the cookies are done, slide the parchment off of the baking sheet right out onto the counter. Allow cookies to partially cool on the parchment. When cookies are cool enough to be firm but still slightly warm, carefully twist off of parchment and allow to finish cooling upside down (either on the parchment or on a rack.) If you forget about them and they cool too much and stick to your parchment, put them into the freezer for a few minutes and they'll pop right off. **since I didn't have parchment paper, I scraped them off the pan right away and let them start to cool on a plate, then when cool enough to handle, popped them onto my rack.**
  • Yield: about 4 dozen, depending on how large you make your cookies (or how many caramels have been snitched out of your bag before you begin.) Store in an airtight container.