Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Struggle With Yoga

I have tried to do yoga a number of times in my relatively short lifetime.  Each time I tried it, I enjoyed it immensely and without fail, I think to myself, "I should do this more often!"  And then the next day, I drop the ball.  Last year while I was living on campus, i had to take a physical education class (I still feel like that's really dumb at the college level, but I digress) and I needed an activity to do outside of class that would keep me active.  One day, we did yoga and my interest flared up again, so much so that when I got back to my dorm that night, I went on Amazon and bought myself a yoga mat.  I think I did yoga two days in a row and stopped.  And now I was stuck with a yoga mat.

Actually, in hindsight, I'm glad I still had that yoga mat even after I stopped doing it consistently.  It's a constant reminder that, "Hey, you were passionate about this a couple weeks ago.  Get off your bum and come back to the mat."  It's not just the voice in the back of my head telling me that either.  It's a physical presence.  Every time I see that mat leaning against my desk, I'm reminded.  And it's not exactly hidden, so I see it a lot.

My problem isn't that I'm just not interested in yoga.  On the contrary, I think this is the only exercise that I've attempted to do more than once.  I like yoga because it encourages me to slow down and be really aware of what my body is doing and feeling,  Yoga allows me to stop and listen and push forward not just physically, but mentally too.  You have to hold poses for what feels like forever, but because the lady in the video hasn't put her foot down or used her knees to push into cobra pose, you don't want to do that either.  So you push yourself through the pain and through the urge to do the modified pose.

My problem isn't that yoga and I don't get along, because I find it very satisfying, but my problem is that I lack the drive to do it consistently, which is when it would work the best for me.  I started yoga again this year with the intent to keep it up.  So after unpacking from my semester and cleaning my room, I broke out my yoga mat and a couple weeks ago, my mom and I did yoga together in our basement, streaming YouTube through the Wii.  We found a series of YouTube videos on the channel Yoga With Adriene called 30 Days of Yoga.  I'm determined to make it through those videos, but even though I've been at it a couple of weeks, I've only finished four videos.  So really, my progress sucks, but also, I can't be completely ashamed of this.  This is the best streak I've had in any attempt I've made to make yoga a daily part of my life.  It's no where near perfect, but it's progress.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fall 2014 in Numbers and Lists

I was thinking about this on my flight back to Amsterdam from Italy: what if I posted numbers, to the best of my knowledge, about the places I traveled and things I experienced during my semester abroad?  Once I started "crunching the numbers," I was kind of floored by what this semester consisted of (in a good way), so I thought I'd share with you too!

Day-to-Day Things

Number of Hours Spent in Class per week (between 6 classes): 14.25 hours
Longest Class: Political Philosophy (2.75 hours, consistently once a week)
Shortest Class: History of Modern Philosophy (1.5 hours, consistently once a week)
List of Classes: History of Modern Philosophy, Political Philosophy, The Netherlands and Its European Context, Drawing in Leiden, The Art of Photography, History of the Low-Countries
Time From School To My Leiden Home: 5 minutes (biking) or 15 minutes (walking)
Total Number of Days Away From U.S. Home: 131 days
Amount of Money Spent on Food for Roughly Two Weeks:  20 euro (about $26)
Cost of a Normal-Sized Bottle of Wine: 2-6 euro, depending on the brand (that's between $2.66 and $8)

The Netherlands

Number of Cities Visited in the Netherlands: 10
Number of Cities Visited Listed: Leiden, Amsterdam, Leeuwarden, Breda, Haarlem, Rotterdam, Texel, Katwijk, Appeldoorn, The Hague
Longest In-Country Train Ride (From Leiden): 3 hours-- Leeuwarden
Shortest In-Country Train Ride (From Leiden): 15 minutes-- Haarlem, The Hague


Number of Planes Taken (including U.S. to Netherlands and all return journeys): 12
Long Distance Trains Taken (to and from destination): 4
Total Distance Traveled Between Plane and Long Distance Train: 15,818 miles
Countries Visited: 8
List of Countries: Netherlands, England, Germany, Belgium, France, Morocco, Italy, Vatican City
Number of Languages Spoken: 7
List of Languages: Dutch, English, German, French, Flemish, Arabic, Italian
Languages I Had A Grasp On: 3 (Dutch, French, English)
Languages I Didn't Know But Tried Any Way: 2 (Italian, German)
Number of Hostels Stayed In: 7
Number of Hotels/Bed and Breakfasts/Apartments: 7

If there are any other statistics you want to know that I didn't think of, leave a comment down below and I'll figure out that number to add to this post.

Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reflecting on My 2014 Goals

I've realized something about myself.  I'm pretty consistent when it comes to making posts about my goals and resolutions for the new year, but I'm not very good at reporting on them and keeping myself accountable.  So I think that around the start of the new year, I need to not only post my new goals, but write about what I did the previous year, if only for my own reference, as well.  So here we go!

My reading goals for 2014 were to:

  1. Read 50 books in a year.
  2. Read more sci-fi.
  3. Read more graphic novels.
  4. Listen to more audio books.
  5. Read more of the books that I already own.
While I wasn't very good at keeping a running list of the books I finished, this blog does that for me every time I add a book review tag at the end of the post.  I did read 50 books in 2014, although not all of the reviews have been posted yet.

I don't think I fulfilled my goals to read/listen to more sci-fi or to read more graphic novels.  I blame at least the lack of graphic novels on my being away from home.  I had a Nook e-reader with me, but my Nook is not ideal for reading anything with pictures, which includes graphic novels.  I might have to upgrade to a kindle at some point.  But not now.

I did listen to quite a few audio books, although I don't think I can attest to listening to 15 of them.  I listened to audio books over the summer while I was working on campus in the flower beds.  I'd load about four or five audio books onto my iPod at a time so that I could have a constant flow of people reading to me.  It was really nice.  Kept my mind engaged too.

I read some books that I own, but being at school and being in Europe away from home made it difficult to read a ton of books off of my shelf.  I think I can safely say that I failed to meet this goal.

My blogging goals for 2014 were:
  1. Post one review a week.
  2. Post more about the things going on in my life (outside of reading).
  3. Chronicle my study abroad adventure (before, during, and after).
  4. Review more movies.
I succeeded in posting a review every week.  I'm really happy that I was able to stick to this goal.  It helped to have a surplus and then I could take my time reading something else and write reviews about those over the course of a few weeks or longer.  It was nice to be able to do this and still feel like I had time away from this blog.  I don't think I want to fulfill this goal again in the coming years.  It's just nice to know that if I want to write a review every week, I'm capable of doing so.

I think this year, two and three were one and the same.  I successfully blogged about my adventures in and around the Netherlands while I was there.  I still have to blog about after my time in the Netherlands, but there's lots of "after" time.  I fulfilled the "time sensitive" part of this goal.

I reviewed no movies in 2014.  This blog is very much a book blog, what can I say?  I don't have a big authority on movies, I guess, even if I really enjoy them.  That doesn't mean I can't talk about them in the future, it just means that I probably won't make movie reviews a priority any more.  And that's okay.  I can't do everything.

My life goals for 2014 were:
  1. Do more yoga.
  2. Learn Basic Dutch.
  3. Take more photos.
Yoga was something that I did in the very beginning of the year... and then never again.  I'm re-attempting this goal again in 2015 and I will post about my progress every once in a while.  

I did learn basic Dutch!  Enough to survive the grocery store, order food, and be nice to people.  Dank u wel, Rene!

I took A LOT of photos in 2014.  Holy cow.  I'm still a little afraid to know exactly how many I took, since I'm eventually going to print a bunch of them.  I think I'd like to keep up this goal this year too, now that I know I'm capable of taking decent pictures.

2014 was an amazing year and I've made some incredible memories.  2015 is going to bring some challenges and changes, I'm sure, but I think that I'm ready for them.

Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Netherlands Adventures!: Visiting Berlin


A few days after Jack and Matt arrived in the Netherlands, we all took off for Berlin where we would stay until 4 January.  As soon as we took off, I burst into tears as I watched Amsterdam get farther and farther away.  I had to remind myself that I would see Amsterdam again.  It didn't help that when we flew over Berlin and the surrounding area, I saw snow covering everything and it was at least twenty degrees (Fahrenheit) colder than it was in Amsterdam.  I should have been excited about going back to Germany (I went to Munich, Germany in November), but I was just sad.  

The first day we didn't do too much.  We arrived at the apartment where we were staying and stayed for a while.  Naps were had and then Matt and I went out into Berlin (Jack was too tired and stayed behind the first night).  Since Matt is now my future father-in-law, I thought it would be a good time to get to know him better and also it was a good time to go out and see Berlin for the first time.  In retrospect, I think Berlin is more beautiful at night than it is during the day.


Our first full day in Berlin, we ventured out of the apartment late, but we still ventured out.  We started at the Sony Center which was basically a big mall, technically outside, but it was covered so it had that indoor feel as well.

There really wasn't a place we wanted to visit inside, so we walked around the outside of the Sony Center.  There, we found a giant LEGO giraffe.  I made a friend.

Jack made some friends too :)
After finding lunch and exploring this area more, we went down to the train station to catch a train to go back to our apartment.  In the train station, they have these long tubes protruding from the ceiling.  It's basically an extending skylight.  I thought it was really neat.
We went back to the apartment to rest up a bit before going back out into Berlin to ring in the New Year.  When we did go back out, we decided that we would go to Brandenburg Gate because there was going to be a bunch of live music playing and fireworks.

It was actually a little terrifying to be out at night in Berlin on New Year's Eve.  There didn't seem to be any rules about where you can set off your own fireworks or how big they can be.  People were setting off fireworks that I can see at the Fourth of July displays at home on the side of the road in a public place.  A couple of times, we got dangerously close, not intentionally, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If the fireworks weren't being set off near us, they were exploding not too far from us.  It's terrible.  The only thing I can think to compare it with is a war zone and that's not a fair comparison at all (especially since I've, thank goodness, never been in an actual war zone).  

As we got closer to Brandenburg Gate, you can imagine that it got a lot more crowded.  We had to go through two security checkpoints so get anywhere near the monument.  It was a lot of sensory overload.  Too many people, so much music playing at once, lots of smells, and on top of that, trying to maneuver everything while holding a cup of Gluhwein and a pretzel.  Dinner of champions.  Gluhwein was actually decent.  I really don't like red wine, but I discovered that it's not bad when it's hot and has things like cinnamon and small fruit (raisins, usually) in it.  I drank it faster than I should have though.  I was really tipsy afterwards and that didn't help my overwhelmed cause.

We stayed for a while, but didn't stay until midnight.  It was too cold and being introverts, all three of us, it was exhausting to be there, stuck in the middle of a crowd.  It was fun to see and we can say that we were there, but I was relieved when we left.  We rang in the New Year in our apartment, which was perfect.  It was quiet and the person who owns the apartment/hotel place left a bottle of champagne for us, so that was nice.  I was able to go right to bed afterwards.  It was glorious.


The next morning when we left the apartment, we bore witness to all the wreckage left in the street.  Hundreds of euros worth of fireworks sitting used up in the street.  I couldn't help but wonder who would come to clean it up and I was surprised that the people who were shooting them off didn't clean them up themselves.

We ventured our way back to Brandenburg Gate, where we were last night.  I had found a self-guided walking tour on TripAdvisor that would take us to see Third Reich sites around Berlin.  We picked and chose and edited our route before and throughout the day.  The forecast said that it was going to be some of the nicest weather of our trip (it turned out to be just one nice day out of an unexpected few nice days), so we spent the day outside as per my request.

A large timeline of the rise and fall of the Third Reich, near Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate
Reichstag, which is the seat of government.  It's a very beautiful building.
A memorial to the government officials who resisted Nazi rule.

We walked through the park nearby.  There was a lot of construction because the structures used for New Years the night before were being dismantled.  We found a monument to musicians such as Beethoven and Mozart.  You can still see bullet holes left from World War II.
One of the stops on the self-guided tour was this former site of a euthanasia hospital used during World War II.  Another scary part of that war...
A relic of the former East Germany.
There is also an entire street where there are markers for where the Nazi leaders once had their offices.  Hitler's bunker (where he ultimately committed suicide) used to be in this area, but it was filled in and is now a parking lot.
Our last stop of the day, since it was getting dark out, was the Holocaust Memorial.  This was a very surreal memorial.  It looks like there are just blocks of cement that you walk between, and that's true, but there's no visual cue that the ground angles downward so suddenly you're standing between these blocks of cement that are three or four times your height (or at least, that's how it feels).  Since we were walking through this at night, it was especially scary, which seems appropriate, given what those who suffered through the Holocaust, whether they were Jews or another enemy of the Nazi party, suffered through.


Friday we headed over to the area near the Berlin wall that separates the former East Germany from the former West Germany.  In this area, there was a lot of street art.  Actually, street art is pretty ubiquitous around Berlin.

Our ultimate goal by being in this area was to go to the museum of technology.  This was on Jack's list to see.  We didn't realize before going just how vast this museum is.  If I remember correctly, there are four floors (possibly five) filled with things to look at, everything from airplanes to parts of ships and entire smaller boats, and train engines and some cars.  There were also smaller things like cameras and video equipment.

Jack is very into computers (one of his minors is in computer science... smarty).
An entire computer.  Thank goodness they don't come this big any more, am I right?
I like using computers, but I don't care to know the complete history and evolution of computers.  So Jack left me in the area and I built this.
This bike is not my size... I'm too short.
We moved on to trains and it was strange, but I found this part really interesting.  I've never really taken a huge interest in trains before, but this part of the museum was cool for me.

I thought it looked like the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter :)
Nazi train :(
This was rather surprising for me to find, but they had one of the train cars there that used to transport Jews to concentration camps.  Jack insisted that I be part of the picture, but it didn't feel appropriate to stand in this car and smile, because I'm sure that those who were cramped in this car before me were not smiling.  They were more likely to be scared, whether they knew what was going to happen or not.
We moved on to flying objects after.  Jack likes flying objects much better than trains or boats.

Omnomnomnom.... yummy plane.
After the museum, we headed over to another, smaller, museum called Topography of Terror.  It outlines how the National Socialist German Worker's party took hold and what they did to perpetuate fear everywhere.  Before we went inside though, there were a couple interesting things just outside.  First of all, there was an expanse of the Berlin wall that was mostly intact.  Below, there was the ruins of the Gestapo.


"Astrid, maybe someday we will be together."
Former Gestapo headquarters
As we were trying to find Checkpoint Charlie, we came across this mural.

We went on a bit of a walk afterwards because I wanted to see the memorial to the book burning that happened in Berlin.  It was in front of one of the Humboldt University buildings.  I thought that the memorial would be a little more obvious, but it's mainly underground.  It's a stark white room filled with empty bookshelves.  No books, no libraries.  No knowledge.  It was a very moving memorial.


One of the things that I wanted to do while in Berlin was go to see a concentration camp.  I hoped that I would get to see Bergen-Belsen where Anne Frank and her sister Margot died an untimely death just a short amount of time before the camp was liberated.  But when I looked up directions on how to get there, it was a three and a half hour train ride away.  So it seemed that this hope of mine was dead, at least for this trip.  Not only is Bergen-Belsen very far away from Berlin, but I seemed to be the only one out of the three of us that wanted to go.  Then Jack chimed in and said that just the two of us would go.  But we didn't go to Bergen-Belsen, because it didn't get any closer to Berlin.  Instead, we went to a former camp called Sachsenhausen.  It was only about an hour and a half away from Berlin, in Oranienburg.  

The train ride wasn't so bad.  We got to Oranienburg station and then we had to walk a ways to get to the former camp itself.  It was strange walking through this residential area and then having it end in this camp.  And I know that this camp at one point had "ovens," so I wonder, how much did people living here at the time actually see?  Did they know what was happening behind the walls of the camp?

Those who were imprisoned in this camp were subject to a death march.

This prisoners of this camp were a mixture of Jewish people and Soviet prisoners of war.  Most of the camp has been bombed by now, leaving only a handful of buildings to give you an idea of what life was like here.  The "infirmary" was still standing and I think a barracks (although we didn't go in) and then some houses of the people who acted as wardens (I can't remember the title that went with them, and really, does it matter?).

Shattered stove in a broken kitchen.

A map of what the camp used to look like when it was intact.
After a while, we realized that it was getting late and we still had some things that we wanted to see in Berlin.  Besides, when visiting a concentration camp, it's not a light-hearted experience.  We're just fortunate that we get to leave whenever we please.

We took the train back to Berlin and walked to the base of the TV Tower, one of Berlin's icons.

I'm so nice... what an attractive picture.  Those pretzels were totally delicious though.  Completely worth it.
A trashcan that says "Thank you for the hot dogs."  I actually laughed out loud, this was so adorable :)
After taking in the TV tower and finishing our pretzels and a croissant that we shared, we walked ove to the DDR museum, which is a museum that is very interactive and gives you an idea of what it was like to live in East Germany when it was its own country.  Some of their ideas were good, but other ideas were just scary to me...

How a typical East German home was set up.
Children were essentially trained for war from a young age.

Really heavy helmet that was part of the East German army!

There was a simulation where you could try driving an East German car on the roads.  It's a very touchy car... one guy before us somehow managed to flip the car over and got stuck... I don't get it.


Sunday was the day we were to fly back to Amsterdam from Berlin, but we had a little time in the morning.  Jack's dad heard about this car place where people store their fancy cars and come to work on them whenever they want.  So it's kind of like a free fancy car museum.

How creepy...

I definitely touched most of the cars I looked at... one guy even left the doors of the car unlocked.  How silly of him!  He was just asking for his car to be touched!

Any way, we hopped on the train to get back to the airport and we flew back to Amsterdam for our last night in Europe.  I was happy to leave Berlin, but I knew that once I got back to Amsterdam, that was basically it.  That was hard for me to handle.  I wasn't ready to leave Europe yet.  I'm sitting at home in Minneapolis as I write this and I'm still not done with Europe.  I'm especially not done with the Netherlands.

I guess with this last post, this is it for my study abroad adventures.  I still hope to keep writing about this life-changing experience that I've had, but those posts won't be the same as the posts I've been posting with tons of pictures and a recap of what I did and such.  The things I write about my study abroad experience from here on out will mostly be thoughts, I think.  I might have to physically be back in the U.S., but my mind can keep going back as much as it wants.

With that, a final Tot Ziens!  Thanks for Reading!  We'll see where this blog goes after this...