Sunday, October 31, 2010

Esslinger Musiknacht!

Last night was the Esslinger Musiknacht. This is our third year in a row going, and just like the previous two years, we had such a blast!
The village of Esslingen organizes the music night in the fall of each year, whereby live bands play at about 30 pubs and restaurants across our beautiful village. It's great, because you get to explore restaurants that you may have never entered before as well as enjoy some fun music. The quality of music could best be described as college bands, but everyone sings and dances along and if the music at a particular place doesn't take your fancy, you just move to the next place on the map!
We visited some cool restaurants that we hadn't been in before, but will probably definitely try, the next time we head down town for an evening. We really liked the Spanish tapas bar, where a woman and a man were dancing some beautiful flamenco on the stage and the lady singing had an incredible voice.
Hope you have a wonderful week! It is a gorgeous day here today.

Love and hugs,

Zev and Fifi xoxo

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Life as a German College Girl

Well, I guess going to school alongside mostly German students, allows me a little insight into what college life is like here. For the most part, it is the same as attending university in Australia, and I imagine in the US as well, however there are some little quirks which I just had to mention and hence the nature of this blog entry today. So here is a narrative of a typical day for us. Because I know you are dying to know what it entails....
Zev and I start our day off with a coffee. We wake up at the same time (6am) and while Zev is getting ready, I make his coffee (heating the Starbucks travel mug up first of course); slice his apple; write his note and pack his pre-made sandwich with his peanut butter crackers and peanut butter granola bar and greek yoghurt into his lunch box. Every single day. I like doing it. It is the little things that count. And I have to say, Zev really likes it too. I look after him; he looks after me. Speaking of...
Have you ever tried a "Pumpkin Spice Latte" from Starbucks? No, I am not trying to plug Starbucks here. There is something almost surreal about how this particular (seasonal) drink simply appeals to my senses, especially when I drink it in Autumn (Fall) time. Something about the smell and taste and texture of the pumpkin spice; the pumpkin; the milk, the coffee and sugar. It truly is amazing. I KNOW that there are readers out there nodding their heads in agreement. Some of you may even be actually DRINKING such a latte right now as you read this. If so, enjoy it. Savour it. Zev treated me to 4 Pumpkin Spice Lattes during our time in New York. The German Starbucks do not serve this drink. The week we got home, Zev surprised me with his home made rendition of my favorite Starbucks drink. It really tastes soooooo good and I actually like it more than the original. For example, if I was out in town and passed a Starbucks, I would wait until I got home to make my own latte now. With Zev's Pumpkin Base. He really should patent it. Basically, it comprises of canned pumpkin mixed with a little vanilla extract and pumpkin spice. After I make the coffee and froth the milk, I stir in a teaspoon of The Base. I've said it before, and don't groan because I'm going to say it again: I love my husband.
Ok, moving on to another topic....
The Right School Bag.
Once I found out that I would be going to uni, I searched online for the Right School Bag. I had many things to take into consideration, including the fact that law books (in every land) are known the Weigh a Lot. Also, I looked for a bag that would also provide protection for a laptop as well as enough space to carry my "extras" (wallet, keys etc etc) AND be comfortable to wear. 
Enter the "TimBuk2" Messenger Bag. I even got to pick out the pattern. I love it. One day it will hopefully double as a diaper bag. I try to be resourceful like that...
The Train Ride. Germany has an EXCELLENT public transport system. So much so that it is more convenient and perhaps even more financially worthwhile to catch the train and the bus, when you add up parking costs and wear and tear on a car. And I get to study on the train and review my notes before class.
 You can pretty much guarantee getting checked for your ticket on every train ride to and from school (Stuttgart to Tuebingen and back). It is about a 45 minute train ride with buses on either end, but all in all it goes by pretty fast. 
I like walking through these hallways on my way to class. The ceilings are so tall and the windows so large. I love to sit down on one of those window seats and just browse the internet for a while or read quietly. You can do a lot of good thinking on those window seats!
Yes, I even took a picture inside one of our lecture theaters "Hoersaal" in German. This lecture was for Criminal Law I, which is interesting for me, because I am constantly comparing the elements of German criminal offenses with American/ Australian ones. It is here that I need to make special mention of this unique German concept known as the "Akademischer Viertelstunde" which means "The Academic Quarter Hour." The first week of class, I kept wondering why all the professors, and even students were always running late. Like at least 15 minutes late. Well, it turns out, that in Germany (the land of precision engineering and punctual people), there is such a thing called the "Akademischer Viertelstunde". What does this mean? Is it sanctioned? Written down somewhere? Not only is it "written down" there is actually a LATIN term for it. As I was explained, when you see a "start time" for a particular lecture or seminar, if it has the letters "c.t" next to the time, that means "Cum Tempore" which translates to "you have 15 minutes leeway AFTER the posted start time to make it to class, get settled in and wait for the professor." Most professors arrive between the 15 and 20 minute after point. If you see the letters "s.t" that means "Sine Tempore" which apparently translates to "be punctual otherwise you will get a talking to for being late. No excuses." So there you have it. Just another little good-to-know-fact should you ever find yourself attending university in Germany. 
Coffee time! Thankfully we get to pay student prices for coffee in the "Studentenwerk" or uni cafeteria. Here are three of my colleagues: Andrea from Brazil to my left; Yaneli from Mexico across from Andrea; and Houssine from Morocco. I feel blessed with an awesome group of fellow candidates.
Since the weather was actually nice this afternoon, I walked to the station from campus. It's actually not very far and I try to walk the route instead of catching the bus. This afternoon was beautiful. Chilly but the sun was shining.
And the best part of today? Zev and I are home at the same time. Off to cook dinner now.
Have a good week,
Zev and Fifi xo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Universität Tübingen

Today was my first day of my Masters of Laws degree at the Universität Tübingen, located about 45 minutes south of Esslingen.
It has been a rather long road getting to this point of being accepted into this program and passing the German language test requisite for university studies here. I couldn't have done it all without God and the help and support of my awesome husband. I also have to thank two awesome German teachers, Ulla and Sonja, who really helped me learn German quickly in order to pass the entrance test to get into the university.
I brought my camera along as I caught the 45 minute train from Esslingen down to Tübingen. Call me crazy, but I was actually really nervous about my first day of school!
 I had performance anxiety, which I prayed about on the train and thankfully by the time I reached the university, I was feeling calmer. I was afraid that my German would be so terrible that people would stare at me and wonder how the heck I got accepted into the program. (Luckily for me, no one stared).
I have written about the beautiful college town of Tübingen in previous posts on this blog. Tübingen was the first "trip" we made when we first moved to Germany, back in August, 2008! I can hardly believe that I am now a college student here.
I like that this is a historic town with a true student vibe. I even like the juxtaposition between the graffiti and protest flags with the middle aged buildings. 
The law school is beautiful and historic. The University itself has 22,000 students and a school for almost every speciality, it seems. Law school, medical school with teaching hospitals and even a theology school (Protestant and Catholic). The current Pope, Joseph Ratzinger was once a professor at Tübingen.
The Masters of Laws (LLM) post-graduate program is made up of only international lawyers. There are a total of 13 of us in this year's course. Five lawyers are from China; 3 from Greece; 1 from Mexico; 1 from Slovakia; 1 from Morocco; 1 from Brazil; and 1 from Australia. Guess who the Australian is. 
I really like my fellow students. They are all so down to earth, friendly and warm. This is going to be a good year. We are all specializing in a different area. My chosen speciality is criminal law.
I had a bit of a headache when I came home tonight, because of the abundance of information and instructions in German that we received. I am bracing myself for German legal textbooks. We will be studying alongside regular German students. I am scared, there I said it. But I trust that everything will work out ok. Zev reassures me of that too. He's good like that. 
Well, I am sure you are probably thinking on the back of your mind that Fifi is one of the biggest geeks you know. If so, that's ok, because I feel really at home reading a book or hanging out in a library. But seriously, I would love to become a college professor and teach law someday.
Today is a happy day. Even better than any experience I had today however, was the good news about the Chilean miners being rescued as I type this post out. Isn't that an awesome praise! Amen! I heard on a CNN video that one of the miners said this as he was pulled out from the mine shaft: "There weren't 33 of us down there but 34. God never left us."
I made sure to take the picture above of Jasmine and I, for our German teachers. Jasmine and I started "B1" German at "IFA" last October. One year later we are in the same LLM Programm!
Hugs and smiles across the miles ;-)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

New York New York!

Well, for a girl who normally has words to describe everything, I am rather lost for words to describe New York City. What a city. Big, bold and breathtaking in terms of grandeur and expanse. There was so much to do and see, that I was overwhelmed at times by the sights, sounds, lights and action.
We spent the last two days of our trip to New York to visit our family and friends, in New York City, which is about a 6 hour drive from Canandaigua, NY. It is really amazing to see how different NYC is from where Zev grew up, in country upstate NY. Prior to flying to NYC, we spent the weekend in Ithaca, NY, not far from Zev's hometown of Canandaigua, NY, where we attended the homecoming/reunion weekend of Zev's alma mater, Ithaca College. We stayed with friends Mike and Deanna, who showed us their trademark exceptional hospitality.
Zev was able to catch up with some old friends at his (dare I say, 20th!?) college reunion. We were lucky to enjoy beautiful weather in weekend for the reunion weekend. We attended a cocktail/social event on Friday night and a football game and "Taste of Ithaca" dinner on Saturday night. Mike and Deanna cooked us awesome meals and really looked after us the entire weekend. We spent the last day in upstate NY with our family. It was nice to spend some quality time with everyone, especially Zev's grandma, Anna, who will be 97 this year. We also really enjoyed watching our sweet niece, Emily, during her weekly horse riding lesson.
Our first stop in NYC was Times Square. We caught the subway from our hotel in Upper West Side to Midtown Manhattan. Riding the subway (for those of you who have visited NYC) was an experience in itself.
My man can navigate us ANYWHERE. TomTom or not!
Zev was pretty excited to be in Times Square. 
 Because Starbucks in Germany does not sell them, we bought two Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks in Times Square. Zev even admitted that they were good. We sat right in the middle of Times Square and watched the world go by. We also had a late lunch at the infamous Stage Deli on Broadway.
Big, triple decker pastrami and corned beef sandwiches with fries. Our friends Mike and Deanna shared their recommendation for this restaurant with us. It's a good thing that they also recommended we share a sandwich, because as you can see, the portions were enormous!
After our Latte we went to see if we could catch a musical on Broadway. As a side note, I have to say that I was impressed at how various venues in NYC took care of military folks. Zev asked for a military discount at the West Side Story ticket booth and we got two second row tickets right in front of the stage in the "Orchestra" seats for the price of the cheapest "nose bleed" seats. And no one sat in front of us! Pretty cool, huh!? The musical was beautiful and very fitting for our stay in NY. It was also fitting that the lead male, playing the role of "Tony" was an Ithaca College graduate! After we bought our tickets, we went on walkabout and just explore more of Manhattan. We ventured out to Bryant Park, where the NY Fashion Week had been held last week, and then on to the New York Public Library which is a gorgeous building and has been featured in many movies.
The inner geek in me felt SO HAPPY in the library and Zev was gracious enough to entertain my excitement over various reading rooms and manuscript rooms. Did you know that an original copy of the Guthenberg Bible is open for display at the NY Public Library? After the library, we visited Grand Central Station and then headed out to watch West Side Story. The next day, we got up and caught the subway to South Street Seaport. We got off at the Wall Street subway stop and walked the length of Wall Street, which was of course heavily guarded and blocked off. It was cool to walk down this famous and important street, but the lack of greenery and nature felt a bit odd.
 The financial district, in fact most of Manhattan really is a concrete jungle. As an outdoors girl, I see why the parks throughout Manhattan, especially Central Park are so important! We walked down to South Street Seaport which is a pretty part of town. We then headed to the site of the World Trade Center, and saw the work underway for the new memorial site and shopping center.
 It is incredible to think that just nine short years ago, terrorists attacked these buildings and so many innocent people including rescue firefighters and other personnel lost their lives. I know that I remember where I was on September 11, 2001, and every New Yorker we spoke to had their story and recollections from that day. We saw some of the plans for the WTC site, and it will be exciting to visit the new site once it is finished. 
 After we visited the WTC site, we caught the subway uptown to the area of the United Nations building, to visit my uncle, Gustavo, who works in the hotel across from the UN building. Gustavo took us to the top of the tower where we had coffees and enjoyed the spectacular 360 degree views from the restaurant on the top!
Our next stop was back down to South Street Seaport, where we took a lively water taxi on the Hudson River including passed Staaten Island and the Staute of Liberty. 
I think seeing a city from the water is one of the best experiences. If you are ever in Sydney, be sure to take the ferry from Circular Quay to Many Beach. One of my favorite things to do in Sydney. And it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
My husband. He's gorgeous, I know.
After our water taxi tour, we walked to Chinatown for dinner and then on to Little Italy which was right next to Chinatown, for dessert! I had gelato and coffee and Zev had New York Cheesecake and coffee. The cheesecake had a great consistency and the gelato was good- the best gelato is still in Italy, especially Venice! It was really nice walking through these parts of New York and just imagining what the walls would say if they could talk! Zev appropriately hummed a Sinatra tune as we walked through Little Italy.He's good like that. Ha!
We finished off our eventful day at the Rockerfeller Center, where we did the Top of the Rock tour. This is a must do in NYC in my opinion. Uncle Gustavo recommended this tour as a great way to see the Empire State Building as well as an outstanding view of all of Manhattan. And another thing- Zev's military discount meant that we got two tickets for the price of one! The lights of Manhattan were impressive. It was a clear night too, so it seemed like the sky scrapers went on as far as the eye could see! And I thought Sydney was a big city...
That's Central Park in the middle. It really stands out at night, because of the relative lack of lighting.
I like this picture that Zev took. If you look closely, you can see the illumination from the top of the Empire State Building all the way into the sky.
Yes, I did think of that scene from Sleepless in Seattle when I saw the Empire State Building. I guess I was in a romantic state of mind...
The story behind the building of the Rockerfeller Building was very interesting as well. We also got to check out the ice-skating rink, where the beautiful Christmas tree is lit every year. Our journey back to our hotel room was made special by some jazz musicians playing in the subway. The things you see in New York City....
And because you are interested, I am posting the video that Zev took of the musicians playing....
On our last day in NYC we got up and went for a run through Central Park. We ran through the Mall, which has also been featured in many movies, and enjoyed being in nature again.
We then headed to the Museum of Natural History, and of course asked the security guards whether they had seen "Night at the Museum." Strangely enough, not all the guards thought that question was as funny as I did.
We are home now and as they say, there is no place like home. Zev and I stayed in our pj's until this afternoon and it was in one word: lovely. Sleep rests the body as well as the soul. He is downstairs making us some homemade pizza dough for our pizza night tonight. Pizza to go along with a Seinfeld marathon, to relieve the NYC experience.

I hope that you are all enjoying a lovely start to the fall (for the northern hemisphere and spring for the southern hemisphere!)

I would like to end this long blog post with a tribute to my beautiful grandmother, Lola (Dolores Christina), who passed away on Sunday, September 26, 2010, aged 86. She was a beautiful, loving and generous woman, whom I was named after (Fiona Christina). Our family in Australia are very close and I just want them to know that Zev and I love them all very much. Sending you guys big hugs and lots of love!
Fifi and Zev