Sunday, February 17, 2013

three weekends in february

Hi folks!

I know, I've been slacking on the whole blogging thing recently because, well, life is busy.  And since life has been busy, there's nothing super thrilling to report on, no trips to far off and exotic places, etc.  Nonetheless, I'll give you a brief update in the form of accounts of three brief activities on each of the past three weekends (this one included).

Act 1: Ground Hog's Day
Ground Hog's day is perhaps not one of the most devotedly celebrated holidays in the US, but I decided to celebrate it in Germany.  Translation: some of my labmates and I decided we desperately wanted to eat pancakes.  So I declared Friday, Feb. 1 (as the closest work day to ground hog's day) as the day for celebrating this holiday by partaking in the very American tradition of a Pancake Breakfast.  (If anyone asks you if this is a traditional celebration for the shadow-observing of the famed rodent, please do not deny it).

I made two kinds of pancakes: standard and gingerbread (from the 200th Anniversary King Arthur Flour cookbook) and into a subset of each mixed blueberries or sliced bananas.  Now, there are somewhere between 12 and 20 people who frequent our lab and its kitchen when you include the technicians and the assorted staff people on the floor, so that is a lot of pancakes. 
Good thing we have a big table.

Where did I cook them, you might wonder? Well, our kitchen has two tolerable electric burners, and a labmate brought in a nice skillet for me to use, I brought in my massive pan (often used for simmering entire cut up chickens with large amounts of rice, etc.) and induction burner, and from another of my labmates (from the US, thus someone who understands pancake cooking), an electric skillet. 

I was flipping the pancakes out as fast as I could, and I think that everyone had 2-3 (possibly 4) and was duly satisfied for a mid-morning snack and brief pause in the work day.  While I didn't really get a chance to sit down with everyone (I didn't want to serve pre-cooked, soggy pancakes) I was quite pleased that others did the dishes for me.

Act 2: Mathematics in Giessen
The following Saturday, my German class went on a field trip to a museum in Giessen called the Mathematicum.  Now, my German class (taken through the language center at the University, in an evening course scheduled for grad students and post-docs) is pretty small; there were only 5 of us who showed up anything approaching regularly and our instructor, but that was cool, because we are all mostly competent at communicating our needs in German, and just wanted an opportunity to increase our vocabulary and comfort, and mostly to just have forced practice time (given that I'm living in Germany, it is pretty impressive how little German I speak during the average week).  Thus, classes were nice and mostly low-key (quite an achievement in a country that loves rules and structure) and was peppered with useful context-based practice opportunities such as: cookie baking at my apartment and a trip to a museum in Giessen.
So, Sasha and I met the others when the train stopped at the south train station (easier to get to from our apartment) and we took the 20ish minute train ride into Giessen, got off at the Hbf (hauptbahnhof = main train station, but since the signs all say Hbf, Sasha and I have started calling them that, although I guess hupf really means to hop, in German...) and walked over the the museum, which was a lot like the Science museums that I've been to in the states (lots of interactive exhibits and displays) except they were all about math.  Some were a bit forced (half a dozen stations trying to visually demonstrate the Pythagorean theorum) but lots of the exhibits were quite fun: a camera connected to a computer in which you walked towards and away from the camera (your position plotted on the y axis) as the spot representing you moved steadily along the x-axis (representing time- you were "acting out a function").

I think this was Sasha's favorite: giant soap bubbles demonstrating that bubbles take on as surface-area minimizing a shape as possible. I'm not sure we really absorbed the scientific lesson, but standing in a soap bubble is cool.

And this was mine:  it's a machine with only one function: you turn it on by flipping a switch, and a little while later a hand pops out of a slot and turns itself off....I laughed every time for about a dozen times, at which point Sasha cut me off because he worried that I was scaring the locals.
I totally want one.  After, what, 100 or so times, I expect I'd be able to get some work done again. Maybe.

There were tons of other fun things, but I'll leave you to go explore them.  Let me hint by saying, if anyone wants to send me a box of tongue depressors, I totally want to build my own "Leonardo Bridge"...since our attempt at that station was disrupted by hovering, impatient Germans.

After the museum, we wandered around town window shopping, before taking the train back to Marburg. Awesome.

Act 3: Amöneburg, or "Find a castle" again

The SUN came out for a bit this morning, so Sasha and I decided to go for a bike ride, and thus went to a castle ruin that has been towering above us for months.  Fairly literally, since it's built on the top of a cone of an extinct volcano.  The bike ride up is a good schlep on a bike, and in my current out-of-shape state, took a lot of hard work even in my easiest gear on my compact-crank bearing cross bike... Full disclosure: I visited it a month or so ago on my own, and that's when I took the pictures, but it was worth it going up with my husband.  The ruins are cute and fairly extensive as these things go (at least for the ones that don't charge admission).  Unfortunately, the door leading up the tower was locked, so no climbing the tower this week. 

The best part of the trip, though, was that in the Marktplatz, on the way back down, there was what looked like an open bakery on a Sunday...which turned out to be a cafe with all sorts of cakes and pastries and ice cream.  Naturally, we stopped.  One cream puff and 2 hot chocolates later, and we were back on our bikes, happily heading down the rest of the hill.  We debated whether semi-regularly occurring trips up Amöneburg would be a net-gain or loss in calories for the day; if the big slices of cake would outweigh the steep bike ride or not (although, really, we might stop for cake elsewhere, anyway, but without the biking, so perhaps that makes it a loss)...

We then split up; I went to check out the castle in Schweinsburg, which is quite awesome, but also totally privately owned, so you can only peer enviously in through the very closed gates) and Sasha went home to get some more work done.  I did stop by lab on the way back, so I did some work too, mostly in pre-departure guilt for our trip to the Alps next weekend.

And there, I guess I ruined a report of three very minor adventures by hinting at the big one to follow next weekend as Sasha and I head to Ramsau to SKI!!! Stay tuned for more details once we get safely home.

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