Friday, November 8, 2013

I Proudly Present: The All New Wanderstrudel

I am not a stable person. Never have been. I mean of course, in the geographical sense of the word as I do like to think of myself of a mentally very stable person (although, I am sure, some of you probably beg to differ... ). My restless lifestyle - every other message I get from a friend starts with "where are you now?" - seems to have caught up with my blog. So get ready for the big news: Wanderstrudel has moved.
I have struggled, I have fought with Blogger, but in the end, I just had to face the facts: The Blogger platform and I are just not meant to be. As it is sometimes with complicated relationships, there was a lot of passion and a lot of fun, but also huge and long fights. And the cut was fast and deep. It hurt, but it just had to be done. More than for my benefit, actually for yours, dear readers. Because mostly, that is what I am concerned about. As intrigued as you are by my writings, and as willing to forgive the poor layout and design, and even the user enmity of the blogger platform, why not make life easier for you? I feel, as a passionate blogger and as someone who spills my life on you without asking you if you even care, I owe that to you! So let's be honest here, Blogger drives me CRAZY, as crazy as the Britney Spears song. Probably even more so. I don't want to bore you with the all the technical details that I have struggled with in the past year (yes, year. I am very persistent and I really wanted to give this platform a chance ... or two ... or three ... or fifty!), suffice it to say that this blog was trapped in the internet stone age. It was just time to move on. Wanderstrudel has now gone 2.0. And it is sooo exciting, just thinking of all the possibilities out there, it makes my socks shake.
I want to thank you all for being so faithful and patient, but we've heard you. You wanted change (deep down inside, so did we), and now you got it!!!
We proudly present, the all new, the all 2.0 WANDERSTRUDEL ON WORDPRESS! Check us out, comment, complain, rant about the new site - because now you can a) do that easily and b) I can even do something about it! And for the ones of you who are very resistant to change and just like old habits, don't worry. Nothing from the good old Wanderstrudel has been lost or tossed away. Think of it as a  make-over. It's the same foundation, but it looks SO much better.
Goodbye Blogger, see y'all on WordPress!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Move on, USA!



Waiting at the check-in line at the airport, I randomly looked at my waiver visa paper in my passport. For some reason, until that very moment I had never bothered to take a closer look at it - other than checking the date to make sure I wasn't leaving the US on the wrong date. So here, at the Cincinnati airport, it is staring right at me, my waiver visa for: Marinela Potor, from the Federal Republic of Western Germany.
EXCUSE ME??? You GOT to be kidding me! WESTERN Germany??
Almost 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin wall and after almost 25 years of ONE re-united Germany, the US is still caught up in the Cold War? I understand that for a loooong time the US considered anything that went beyond the shade of purple as a huge threat, and Russia and its allies were clearly enemy number 1. This was back in 1967. And in 1982. And probably still in 1988. But this is 2013!!! The world has moved on. So dear USA, it's about time you do it, too!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bye, Cincy

 

 As all good things come to an end, the time has now come for me to say goodbye to Cincinnati, the city that has been my home for the past six months. Even being the travel-addict that I am, saying goodbye to places and people that I have come to love is always hard for me. Therefore, the last few days before leaving a place are also the most stressful— not because I have to prepare for my trip or pack my suitcase, but because there are always still so many things that I just HAVE to do before I leave (with so little time). I leave Cincinnati in five days to fly back to Germany, and I have only worked my way through half of the things on my to-do-before-I-leave list. There are still so many restaurants that I haven't tried, so many museums that I haven't had a chance to see, and so many places to visit in and around Cincinnati that I simply won't be able to get to before I take off. On the other hand, I realize just how many wonderful things I have done in Cincinnati in only six months: I have eaten my way through most of the local chili parlors, I have enjoyed many many nights of great live music, I have been to a baseball game for the first time in my life, I have discovered Frisbee golf as my new favorite sport, I have shot a potato gun, I have tried some original Kentucky bourbon, I have learned how to navigate the streets of Cincinnati (and how to avoid the holes in them), I have come to know quite a bit about the city's German heritage, and most importantly, I have met some wonderful and delightful people that will always have a place in my heart, no matter where I go. However, my Cincinnati experience hasn't always been smooth. There have definitely been some bumps in the road. Especially during my first few months here, I had a hard time adjusting to the Midwest lifestyle of Cincinnati. I hated the oppressive heat outside and the freezing air-conditioned rooms inside; I hated the fact that I had to drive everywhere and couldn't just take a bus or walk as I had done for the past five years; and I hated that everybody always seemed to talk about sports and I was the only one who didn't have a clue. I was desperate: “How am I going to make it through the next six months?!” My friends tried to cheer me up: “Give it some time! Cincinnati is a city that grows on you. You'll see!” In the end, they were right! The longer I stayed and the more of the city's hidden charm I discovered, the better it got. Cincinnati not only grew on me, it won my heart. Now, six months later, I wish I didn't have to leave so soon. A friend I met traveling once said to me: “Don't be upset about all the things you didn't manage to do in a place. See them as an opportunity to return.” In this spirit I can only say: Farewell, Cincinnati. Thank you so much for the wonderful time, and don't worry – I'll be back!









Cincinnati's favorite mascot: Pigs



Monday, October 28, 2013

Creepy Creatures: A Halloween Party in Kentucky

As a journalist and amateur anthropologist, I have a tendency to get myself into really awkward situations pretty much all the time. I attribute this mostly to my innate morbid curiosity, even though I always tell myself that I am doing this for professional purposes ("This will be a great story for my blog.").
The last time I found myself surrounded by a bunch of strange creatures was a couple of days ago at a Halloween party in Kentucky. And it was definitely not the Halloween theme that led to the creepy atmosphere! First off, the party was at an VFW location (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and if you are surrounded by ex-soldiers who served in Vietnam or Korea (judging from the average age at the event), it is not surprising to encounter some ... well, some strange people. Second, it was a Karaoke party so you can already imagine the results of bringing together old war veterans in costumes and a microphone!
It all started with the lady with the missing tooth. She was probably my age, but looked like she had had a very rough life. Which she was very happy to tell me ALL about after sitting next to me and showing me her beer can holder. From this she somehow found an immediate connection to her boyfriend who had died a year ago. Five minutes into the conversation, I knew everything about the relationship (how they had met, how they were going to get married) and his sickness (she didn't leave out ANY details, even though I would have truly appreciated it, I'll tell you that much). I was only saved by her going up on stage to perform a song. Or so I thought ... until she started "singing" an ABBA song. At that point I wasn't sure what was worse: her morbid stories or her dreadful interpretation of Dancing Queen! 
The second creature of the night that caught my attention was the Bag Lady. Yes, she had really dressed up as a bag lady and I am not exactly sure what that meant besides wearing a giant garbage bag. It didn't matter where you were in the room, you could always hear the Bag Lady screaming something. "I am pregnant!" or "Look at my boobs!" Let's just say: She clearly had a lot of fun with the party balloons ...
In the meantime the Karaoke stage attracted another horrible interesting performer. I gave her the nickname Ms. Monotony because I am pretty sure that the song she picked was supposed to have a melody, but her version sounded more like a cross between a newscaster and Bob Dylan on Valium.
As strange as this little ensemble might seem already, the creepy award for the night definitely went to the Devil Man. When we sat down at our table, I noticed the immobile, creepy devil mask in the background, looking directly at us. Imagine my horror when, after one hour of standing still, the devil mask started moving - and I realized it was an actual person. Devil Man never once took of his mask, in about 3 hours, and if you have ever worn a stuffy Halloween mask, you know how impressive that is! After he lost the costume competition for the scariest costume (I am not sure why!), he stormed out and left. One of the regulars at the VFW told me that she had a pretty good idea of who must have been under the mask: An older man who comes every week, stands in a corner of the room, doesn't move and doesn't drink anything, stares at the people all night, and then leaves. Which is pretty much exactly what Devil Man did, just with a devil mask.
Boy, I knew that Halloween was a spooky holiday, but I never knew it could be THAT spooky!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The GWAR experience

It was a rainy afternoon in Santiago, about 2 years ago, when my boyfriend popped the question: "Have you ever heard of GWAR?" - War what??? That was all he needed to hear and before I knew it, I was watching GWAR videos on Youtube, one of them was of a giant spider/ant/space alien sitting on a chair and talking to Jerry Springer about rock concerts and blood. What had I gotten myself into??? Turns out that GWAR is a metal band from Virginia and they have been around since the mid 80s. Wikipedia calls them "a satirical" metal band, probably because their trade mark is to dress up in fantasy animal costumes and spray fake blood into the audience. I guess that's what the British might call a bloody show ...
Fast forward two years. It is the year 2013, I am in Columbus, Ohio. I am surrounded by metal aficionados (most of them male, and most of them have longer hair than me), and we are all waiting for one thing: GWAR. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of cookie monster music (although it has its moments), but I sure love a good show, and after all the YouTube videos I have seen, I REALLY want to see GWAR live and in concert! Since everybody knows that we are all going to be spray-painted, most people are wearing white (come to think of it, this is probably the only metal concert I have ever been to where I have seen more people wear white than black ... or any white at all).
And here they come, the one and only, the mighty ... GWAR. From a more objective perspective, I am seeing a bunch of people on stage dressed up as giant insects. They yell something about attack and aliens (I think...), and then the (g)war already begins: The giant insects play their instruments as if their life depends on it. In the course of the concert, they dissect and kill various other creatures, and spill their "blood" into the audience. I am trying to stay close enough to the stage to catch some "blood" and get a cool pattern on my shirt, and at the same time I want to keep my distance from the mosh pit. (My tip: If you want to get a piece of the action, but not be torn INTO pieces, the safest place at a heavy metal concert is the couple corner, where the boyfriends want to stay close to the pit, but still form a wall to protect their girlfriends.) While GWAR is screaming and shouting and rocking it out on stage, people are going wild in the audience. I am not sure which show is more entertaining: the giants in costumes on stage or the massive show the fans put on that involves screaming, jumping, pushing, shoving and spilling beer all over me. Everything is happening at once. It is loud, it is massive, it is metal, it is GWAR. It is awesome! The only thing I didn't like is that with everything going on on and off stage, it is hard sometimes to pay attention to the music, which is a shame because, dramatic show effects aside, GWAR knows how to make good metal music! Oh well, I guess, I just have to throw myself into the metal madness and the only thing I can tell you for sure after the concert is that I am one colorful, beer smelling, but somehow ecstatic and happy mess!

video



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Apple Wonderland

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in Romania and just LOVED apples. She loved apple cider, she loved apple pie, but more than anything she loved to pick apples off the trees (preferably the neighbor's tree) and eat them until her stomach hurt. Her parents told her many, many times that it wasn't nice to steal the neighbor's apples and also that she shouldn't eat all the apples at once. But the little girl was very stubborn and didn't listen to her parents. She kept eating way too many apples from the neighbor's beautiful apple tree. Even when she grew older, the fall was one of her favorite seasons, because she could just pick apples and eat as many as she wanted. Her friends were very suspicious of her appletite, and laughed at her for eating so many apples all the time. "One day, you'll have an apple tree growing out of your belly," they said. The little girl, who was not so little any more, felt very sad and alone because nobody seemed to understand how delicious apples were that you just picked from a tree. Until one day, about 25 years later, in the city of Detroit, she discovered that she was not the only person in this world who loved apples. She went to an apple orchard, where literally EVERYBODY loved apples.


The girl had never seen anything like it before: Row after row after row after row of apple trees. All bursting with apples, ready to be picked.







And the best part: nobody would get angry at her for picking these apples or eating them. They even drove everybody around in a tractor so they could pick the apples!



The girl had found her magic apple wonderland. She picked as many apples as she could carry, and ate even more. She only stopped when her stomach hurt - just like she used to do when she was little. And the best part, at the very end, she even got to eat apple donuts!



It was probably the happiest apple day in the girl's life!



Monday, October 21, 2013

Detroit: Sleeping Beauty

You have all heard the rumors: Detroit is a bankrupt city, downtown is a deserted hot mess, the roads are a disaster, and then there's always Eminem singing  8 Mile in the background - the soundtrack of this sad city. This is my third time in Detroit, and I can't say that these rumors are just rumors. Walking around the center of the city, I couldn't fight a somewhat nostalgic feeling. I looked at these beautiful, almost majestic constructions - houses that once represented the wealth of Motor City and now stand empty, showing no vital signs. There are many shops and stores along the main drag, but if you look up close, the majority is closed - on a Friday afternoon. I can't decide if the few people in suits that are on their lunch break stand for the city's recovering economy or are just the last rats that haven't left the ship yet. There is a certain beauty to Detroit, there is no denying it, but it is the beauty of a ghost town; its fascination lies in the stories of the past that you make up, stories that show women in fancy dresses and men hurrying to their offices, stories that have been petrified in the now lifeless buildings. And while driving away from downtown Detroit towards the outskirts of the city, past 8 mile, the radio plays Eminem ...















Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just in for the Ride


I am most definitely not the first and by far not the last one who will write about the unforgettable adventure of riding a bus in Bolivia. Still, I would like to dedicate my travel story to the Bolivian Bus (BB) because it not only tells a story of my pain, sufferance and joy, but stands symbolically for how this country grew on me until it conquered me. I was reminded of these "bus rides from hell" that I will probably never forget as I read about another blogger's experience on a another bus from hell - in Mozambique. It hit me that there probably isn't a single traveler out there who does not have his or her own horror bus experience. This is mine: 



Bolivia, August 2011

After one month of countless shaky rides on stony roads in dazzling heights, I have come to dearly love the BB.
Faith brought us together right after crossing the Argentinian border, in the small frontier town of Villazón. About this town, all I can say really is that the bus terminal is hopelessly crowded and that you can only pay for your bus tickets in cash. Another fun fact therefore is that the currency exchange offices close at 6 PM which is why I spent one hour looking for a working (!) ATM machine with money in it (!!!). I admit, my general mood might have been a bit clouded by these little obstacles that I had run into; and the ten hours that I had already spent on a bus that day probably did not help much to improve my mood either. So BB and I had a very brisk first encounter. To be completely honest: it was loathing at first sight. Starting with my backpack that was dragged over the dusty ground to be then tied to the roof by cords, continuing with the over-flooding interior of the bus where I could roughly make out three Bolivian families (meaning: 15 members per family) not including babies, bags, blankets and food that seemed to be meant to nourish these 15-members-families for the next three months, and concluding with the observation that there was no bathroom in the bus. These observations were only topped by my realization that I had to spend the next 15 hours on this bus. Somebody (anybody??) help!!! Hours into this first BB ride, I noticed further troubling details. The lacking bathroom was compensated for by a "restroom" stop every two hours. Restroom stop means: the lights are brutally turned on in the middle of the night JUST when you managed to fall asleep next to the smelly, snoring person next to you, everybody wakes up, everybody moves their bags, babies and food around so they can pile out of the bus, then everybody runs to a public bathroom (meaning: the bushes), after which everybody runs back, re-arranges bags, babies and food, and somehow gets back on their seats again. This process took each time approximately 30 minutes. Detail number two: I could not close the window next to me. Yes, a tiny detail BUT: if you are on 12.000 feet altitude with an outside temperature of -12 degrees Celsius (for Fahrenheit counters: it was freezing!), while the air conditioning in the bus is turned on “cold“, it becomes a crucial detail. (Later on, I would notice that there is not a single BB where ALL windows work and you are always the lucky one who sits right next to the broken one). After 16 hours of this first BB ride (restroom-stop-delayed), I finally got out of the bus, after having spent for sure the coldest night of my life. I could not move my fingers nor my frozen feet. No, that was clearly not the beginning of a wonderful friendship between the BB and me. Having arrived at my destination, Sucre (a beautiful colonial town in Bolivia), I was soon to become acquainted with BB`s little brothers and sisters – the micros (city buses). Here, I have witnessed in awe how agile Bolivians jump on and off a bus (at 50 miles per hour) with suitcases, bags and babies in one hand while handing the bus driver the bus fare with the other one – without falling down or even tripping. Compared to my gringa self, out of 100 bus drives, I tripped, slipped, fell over somebody or spread the content of my entire grocery bags on the floor at least 95 times. I also wasn't able to find out at what street corner the buses would stop. The corners seemed to change every hour and everybody obviously knew about this while I found myself being ignored by microBB after microBB because I was standing on the wrong corner. So I watched and learned. And when it was time for my next big BB trip, I was prepared. After a little inquiry  I had determined the best BB company, that is, the one with the newest (or better: not completely ancient) bus. I reserved an alley seat (furthest away from a possibly broken window) and entered the BB with 3 T-Shirts, 2 sweaters, 1 jacket, 1 safety-jacket and just in case I brought a hat, a scarf as well as gloves – and was immediately struck to the seat by the heat inside the bus. This time, the bus driver had decided to turn the heating on all the way and I could understand the frustration of the Italian lady in front of me who could not OPEN the window next to her. It made me think of the wisest words I have probably heard on my Bolivia trip from a fellow traveler: „In Bolivia you have to be prepared every day. It doesn't matter where you go but you ALWAYS have to have the complete equipment from bathing suite to winter jacket to umbrella.“ "Oh well", I thought, while the Italians still tried to open the window, "then I'll just get rid of three layers of my clothes." Always be prepared!
BB, I thought, this time we are off to a better start. This next ride took me from the mining town Potosí to the south of Bolivia to a city called Uyuni – more or less 8 hours on the BB – on roads without pavement (I am still wondering where those paved roads that the travel guide talked about might be in Bolivia!). On this tour, BB already had the next big surprise waiting for me. In Bolivia, the passengers are asked to be at the bus terminal 30 minutes before departure so one can – even with all the loading and re-loading of bags and bags and more bags and babies and animals – leave on time. Of course, this never works and as usual we were already 30 minutes behind. Getting on the BB in Potosí, three different buses were supposed to leave to Uyuni, as it is a very popular destination. One of these three buses (mine) never came. "Why" – is a question you learn not to ask in Bolivia, so I just gave into the chaos and waited. The bus drivers decided to squeeze everybody into the two buses that were there and they distributed the remaining passengers between the buses according to some mathematical equation that I didn't quite understand. This announcement immediately led to everybody frantically changing seats at least three times. One poor French girl in her desperation started crying and hitting the bus driver. Something had gone wrong in the seating procedure. After having changed my seat four times and after an additional hour of waiting around, we found out that it was actually all my fault. I had gotten on the wrong bus, and while we had to unload my backpack, heave it on the other bus and run to my new seat, I could feel how 50 Bolivians and one French girl hated my guts. I am not sure if the Bolivian relaxed way of life had already gotten to me but I just found the whole situation incredibly funny and was almost looking forward to my next BB ride – since we were almost friends by now. Shortly after that, at the end of my travels throught Bolivia, the time had come where I had to say goodbye to Bolivia and to the BB. Crossing over to Chile was a trip which started one hour late, where my luggage was moved up and down the bus at least three times, where we changed buses twice and finally had to wait for another BB for four hours at the Bolivian-Chilean border. And there came Chile: a highly modern bus arrived, on time, fully equipped with a working air conditioning, just one seat per person, and it even had a TV and blankets. Wow! I was somehow not impressed. Compared to the BB, the Chilean bus has no personality at all! 

I still get very nostalgic thinking about these adventurous bus rides in Bolivia! What about you? What's your worst experience on a bus? 



Saturday, October 12, 2013

Strictly for Men: A Word (or two) on Male Style

This one goes out to the guys, mainly to the Americans that I have seen in the past months, but possibly to a lot more American-like wannabe fashionistas throughout the world. I might have been out of touch for a while, but I think (I hope??) I still have some taste when it comes to clothes. And boys, I am not sure WHAT happened in the US recently, but I think you need a style intervention.
First and most distasteful: What's up with the saggy pants?


When did walking around like you're afraid you won't make it to the restroom in time and, just in case, already starting to let down your pants become fashionable??? Do you really think girls want to see your boxers ALL THE TIME? Not really! And personally, more than anything, I just have this really strong urge to pull the pants up! Oh yeah, and since we're already at it, I got a few questions for the saggers out there: Why do you need to wear saggy pants with a belt? And WHY do you pull the pants up occasionally? You either got saggy pants or you simply don't!
Second and most disturbing: The hipsters. More specifically, the nerdy hipster.

Jaleel White alias Steve Urkel in Family Matters

I remember a time when Steve Urkel's clothing choices used to be a no-go. Now, with his giant glasses and rolled up, way too short pants showing white socks, he'd be the hippest hipster in town. If you start typing "roll up" into Google, the first thing that comes up is "roll up pants" - I can't believe this has become an official denomination in the fashion world! I guess I could live with that ... somehow ... as styles and fashion change so fast and, as Heidi Klum loves to say, "In fashion, one day you´re in and the next day you're out." But it doesn't stop at that! The next hideous item that became stylish is the skinny jeans - for men! For me, the only man who could pull off tight jeans while still looking manly and sexy was James Dean (and mayyyyybe John Travolta in Grease). And there's more! So we got the rolled up, skinny jeans worn with slip on shoes. Loafers? Really? You gotta be kidding me! What's wrong with sneakers? And to really really get to me, the hipsters combine their rolled up skinny jeans and slip on loafers with p-l-a-i-d shirts. Okay, sorry guys, but there is exactly ONE type of man who I like wearing a plaid shirt: the Marlboro type cowboy ... all right, and I guess Hugh Jackman. If you don't fit into one of these two categories, you most likely look hideous in your plaid shirt.
Remember, just because something is "in" doesn't necessarily mean that you a) should wear it or b) can wear it and look good. Kate Moss rocked the Ugg Boots, but they really don't make every woman's legs look sexy! So I'd really really really REALLY appreciate it if you looked deep down into your closets (or heap of clothes on the floor), and sorted one or two (or three or four or five) things out. .
You disagree? You think I am complaining like an old fart that has no idea whatsoever about fashion? Well, there are exactly two possibilities: either I am wrong or you are!





Pictures in this post

Saggy Pants: taken from Cladwell Blog (http://www.cladwell.com/blog/pull-your-pants-up-a-brief-history-of-saggy-pants/)
Steve Urkel Pants: taken from 
http://www.90s411.com/90s-costumes-steve-urkel.html

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just Another Fall Afternoon in the Park ...

I am in love love love with the fall here in Cincinnati. The warm weather, the storms, the smell of crisp air, herbs and firewood, but most of all I love how the leaves are changing colors. These are a few pictures I took today walking around in the park - doesn't it look gorgeous?