kölle alaaf

It’s nearly impossible for me to adequately describe Karneval to someone who has never experienced it.

I could say that nearly everyone in the city dresses in costume Thursday through Tuesday. Which is true. My favorite thing is seeing someone’s 80+ year old Opa wearing a red sponge clown nose, or a granny with her hair spiked and dyed Cologne red.

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Or that there are parties (OH ARE THERE PARTIES) where they play seemingly the same fifteen songs over and over again but it just doesn’t matter. There is something about Karneval music that warms my heart and makes me jump around like a fool and sway with the rest of them, regardless of the fact that I rarely know any of the words.

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But in the end, it’s the atmosphere that really makes it. The smile that creeps across my face anytime I see a man dressed as a woman (why this is such a popular costume, I have no idea), random shouts of “Alaaf!” during those six glorious days, the weird traditions that I do not understand (even when they are explained to me) and all the ‘new friends’ that are made, only to be forgotten by the next day.

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It’s this time of year that makes me feel like I never want to leave Cologne. (Give it a few weeks, my mind will change… it always does!)

(I made those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes myself. I’m awesome, I know)

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Sometimes I have little moments where I need to step back and say to myself “Self, your life is really a lot more awesome than you give it credit for.”

Most of the time my life is pretty much the same as it would be living anywhere else: I commute to and from work 5 days a week, I go to the gym and have to force myself to do laundry and don’t vacuum as often as a woman of my age probably should. But when my weekend plans include (for example) going to Munich and not seeing a single touristy thing because I only went to hang out with my friend (and I’ve been there, done that with the tourist stuff anyway) sometimes its easy to forget how cool my life really is.

Here’s a quick recap of the best stuff that happened to me in 2012. Because who doesn’t love a wrap-up in February.

One year ago: I got my nose pierced on a whim on my birthday while on a three-week vacation in India. I would lose it in July sometime during an open-bar-at-a-wedding-induced blackout.

pre nose-piercing

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In April I went back to Hannover for a long weekend. I visited all our favorite spots from the year I lived there: sang karaoke, drank entirely too much beer and had a tuna melt from Henry’s.

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In May I took myself on my first solo vacation, to Nice. And in June I returned to Freiburg only to have my phone stolen whilst I was sleeping.

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In September we had a team-building activity in which we climbed and flew between trees many meters up in the air. I was terrified, hated every second of it, and I will never do it again.

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I had many heart-to-hearts with my dear friend Kelly; some were awkward and some were not. I ran seven-tenths of a 10K through a park at night in September before succumbing to wrenching knee pain, and started wearing contact lenses in October.6

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I’ve already got some crazy things lined up for 2013, we shall see how it pans out!

everybody has the mania

If there is one place I love above all others it is, for sure, Pennsylvania. My mom and I hit some hot spots of Northeastern and Central PA yesterday.

The day started with picking up some Pitza and breads at Senape’s in Hazleton, a personal favorite of mine. I haven’t figured out how they make room temperature bread, tomatoes and a bit of cheese taste so heavenly, but I won’t question it.

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the goods

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mom going in for the kill

After stocking up on fresh-baked goods, we checked out Eckley Miner’s Village, where apparently someone in my family lived at one point. Despite the fact that the road was closed (and snow-covered) and we were only able to see a bit of it, it was still pretty cool to see.

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just some old houses and lots of snow

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thanks to the Verizon repairman for taking this pic

We capped off the journey with a stop in Jim Thorpe (“The Switzerland of America”… no lie) where I had pierogies for lunch at Hotel Switzerland (well, in the pub downstairs, anyway) and bought some awful postcards at the 5 and 10 on Main St.

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I prefer the city’s old name, Mauch Chunk

I return to Germany forty-eight hours from now. Though I have yet to figure out how I’m going to carry all the groceries and Christmas presents I acquired over the last two weeks.

crabs for christmas

As part of my annual ‘need-to-see-everyone’ trip while I am in America, I spent a scant 40 hours or so in Maryland. I spent an evening with my Maryland family, enjoyed some homemade chicken and dumplings and laughed and caught up on the Harford County gossip from the last six months.

On New Years Eve Kelly and I ventured out for lunch at the Owl Bar, where I had the full Bawlmer experience by getting crab cakes and a natty boh (or 2). Then we went to Hampden to see the Christmas lights and had a bison burger at the Golden West Cafe before heading home to watch the ball drop.

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And this song has been stuck in my head since.

HAPPY 2013!

playin in the white stuff

Well, it happened. Nearly a year and a half after moving to Cologne, snow finally fell. And oh boy, did it fall.

started out with an innocent dusting.

started out with an innocent dusting.

When I left my house in the morning, the skies were blue and I remained doubtful that we would get anything more than rain.

By the time I got on my bike to the office 45 minutes later, the snow was falling and during the 7 minute bike ride from the train station the snow became blindingly thick and increasingly awful. I can now check something off my Bucket List which was never on it: ride a bike in a snowstorm.

a few hours later

a few hours later

Thankfully all this snow meant we were allowed to leave work early, but I’m scared to see what the town is like today. Maybe I will just stay safely at home and continue to enjoy the cream of cauliflower soup I made last night and watch ALL the Christmas movies.

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the aftermath

And, its supposed to snow again tomorrow.

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it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s that time of year again, when little wooden huts crop up around Germany’s cities and people walk around with tiny cups of steaming beverages and buy Stollen by the kilo.

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Over the weekend I met up with some friends in Heidelberg, and while we did visit the Christmas market (albeit briefly) we also climbed up to the Schloss (using our expired student IDs to save 2 euros each) had some surprisingly delicious tex-mex for dinner, and ended the night in some of Heidelberg’s finest pubs.

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The next morning I literally gasped when I saw the fresh blanket of snow outside Ben’s apartment. I must concede that it is, in fact, winter around here.

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Last night, I made my maiden voyage to the Christmas markets in Cologne. My mission: a Flammlachs sandwich (salmon filet grilled over an open fire, a few bits of lettuce and a dollop of creme fraiche on a roll) which I had been craving probably since the day after I had one last year.

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After that was accomplished, we wandered around, enjoying some Feuerzangenbowle (though I let my tiny Zuckerhut burn and had to force down the ruined drink) deep-fried apple rings accompanied by hot Apfelwein, and finally capped off with Reibekuchen mit Apfelmus and a cup of Grog.

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or as we used to call it: arts *and farts* and crafts

Either it’s because of the holiday season, or that I keep leaving colored paper and various art supplies just lying around my apartment, but my idle hands have been kept quite busy over the last few weeks.

I made decorations and a star for my foot-and-a-half tall Christmas tree

Redid the decor in my kitchen.

Crafted some (perhaps not entirely politically-correct) Thanksgiving headgear, and made all 8 guests at FFM Thanksgiving don them.

Strung up some mitten garland across my mirror

There is also a green and red paper chain hanging in my entryway and I’m sure there is more to come before I fly back to America on the 21st!