Tourist Info Desk

Welcome to Fernweh, a blog concerning the (mis)adventures of one Fulbrighter during a year spent in Europe teaching English.
If you'd like to know what's going on, please see the welcome message here.
If you're wondering what the book reviews are about, I direct your attention to the reading list/classic lit challenge here.
Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ready, Set, Wait!

Ahh, bureaucracy.

I've received my grant authorization from the Fulbright Commission, along with several packets of important-looking and suitably stern legal notices of precisely what the Commission will and will not pay for, do, or take responsibility for. Then I'm to sign four pieces of paper to agree that yes, I do actually really certainly definitely (for reals this time guys, seriously) want to do this. I feel vaguely like I've signed my soul away, and I should've been zapped by lightning or turned into a muskrat or something when my pen left the paper.

Oh, and on the last page, they happen to mention that they want two more passport-sized photos. Good Lord, how many photos of me could they possibly need? Do they just receive them, glance at them, throw them in the paper shredder, promptly forget what I look like and (seeing as how my appearance is critically important to whether I'm a qualified candidate, which should be clear at this stage anyway) desperately motion to their overworked secretaries to (sternly) order me to provide two more?

I know I shouldn't be complaining about this sort of thing, since they're going to be paying for my life for the next year, which is very kind of them and I'm quite grateful. I simply can't stuff down this feeling of itchy impatience to be away at last, but my way is still blockaded by several barriers, foremost of which is the completion of my senior thesis which, thanks to the kind and patient advice of one Dr. Stayskal, I might finally have a shot at finishing. Then there's the road trip to Oregon and Cali, which is less of a barrier and more of a slip'n'slide made entirely of squee, and then moving out of Serenity House, and then, five days later, I'll be at last in the air on my way to a new everything, assuming Eyjafjallajokull doesn't decide to sneeze again. (I did indeed have to look that up; thanks to the miracle of technology, all I had to do was type "Ey" into Google and the Interwebs read my mind. Which is good, because "Ey" is all I could remember.)

All this to say...there's not much new going on here. I feel almost exactly like I'm on a very rickety roller coaster, slowly and jerkily lurching my way up to the top of the first drop. The approaching peak looks an awful lot like a freefall into space, which may or may not have track underneath it, but either way I've forgotten to pack a parachute, so all I can do is hang on to the bar and brace myself.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book: The Catcher in the Rye

Author: J.D. Salinger
First Published: 1951, America
Original Language: English
Topics: Childhood, adulthood, insanity, bitterness, loneliness, sexuality, disaffected teenagers

Book: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
First published: 1925, America
Original Language: English
Topics: Marriage, high society, New York, America, adultery, deception

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This is getting complicated

The persistent problem with planning a trip (besides the obvious, like logistics, practicality, and money) is definitely the bewildering array of options. How do you narrow down everything you want to see and do in a foreign country into the main, oh, four to six locations that'll fit in a two-to-three-week crash course?

I could quite happily spend the entire summer wandering around Britain. If it were only up to me, that's probably what I'd do. As it is, I have only the aforementioned two to three weeks. I'd originally wanted to see England, Wales, and Scotland, but now I'm thinking that that would only be doable if I had no interest in actually seeing or doing anything. Since I'd much rather take my time, I'll probably confine my exploration to southern-ish England, and, a la Rick Steves, assume that I'll be back. Because I will be.

Right, so, that narrows down what I have/need/want to see to only half a country (plus a dash of Wales) instead of three. I only have three definite and immovable dates, illustrated in bold below. The rest is just a sketch outline, and can and probably will change suddenly and without warning.

6/26: Arrive in London
6/27: Bath (Avebury/Wells?)
6/28: Bath (Glastonbury)
6/29: Meet Shannon in Cardiff
6/30: Bath (Bristol?)
7/1: London
7/2: London (Brighton)
7/3: London (Canterbury and Dover)
7/4: London
7/5: London
7/6: London
7/7: London
7/8: Oxford
7/9: Oxford (Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwick)
7/10: Oxford (Gloucester)
7/11: Oxford (Cotswolds, Blenheim)
7/12: Oxford
7/13: Cambridge
7/14: Cambridge
7/15: Cambridge
7/16: Meet Mom and Janna in Frankfurt

View Epic England Trip in a larger map

Likewise, I had originally been planning to go to some of the southern countries for the second part of this epic journey, but I'm rethinking that as well. I don't really want to deal with long days of traveling from one far-flung city to the next, and the southern part of Europe will be hotter in August than the north. Therefore, I may confine my solo August trip to the north and west of Europe: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and back to Britain, if I can't make myself stay away. I don't have a schedule for this one yet, because it's too insubstantial. But I'm working on it. Promise.

In other news, I had a false alarm the other day: my mother called to tell me that she had received a letter telling me the town in Germany where I'd been placed. Unfortunately, it turned out that this was, in fact, the grant authorization from Fulbright, so my ultimate destination is still shrouded in mystery. Hooray.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The best-laid plans

I officially have a departure date: June 25th, 2010.

I will be flying out of the Vancouver, BC, airport to London Gatwick. Then I'll be on my own (for the most part) in Great Britain for about two and a half weeks, until I fly back to Frankfurt and meet my mother and her friend Janna. We'll travel together for about three weeks, then I'm on my own again until I meet the other Fulbrighters in Frankfurt (again) for orientation.

Whew. It's both a shock and a relief to have a real, solid date. It also feels strange to have a plane ticket to Europe when it's (1) not even to the country I'm going to be living in and (2) I don't even know where exactly I'm going to be. It also leads, occasionally, to some pretty hefty reality overload.

A reality overload is a charming consequence of the fact that my mind tends to ignore unpleasant things. I rather suspect it is just human nature to want to avoid thinking about things that make us upset, nervous, guilty, sad, or angry, so we just push them under the surface and go whistling on our way about our lives. This is how I generally deal with anything that I don't want to handle, like, say, my as-yet-incomplete senior project writeup. (Oh dear.) Anyway, I was in a shop with a friend last Friday, and as we were perusing the merchandise, my brain happily engaged elsewhere and unawares, reality decided to smack me in the face. All in an instant, the sudden and unavoidable realization that I am flying, at this point blindly, to the other side of the world where I know almost no one and don't speak the language fluently, with no plan, all on my own, deluged my mind. It's a pure shot of perspective--heady stuff. I had to step outside and remember how to breathe while the waters receded, and as I write this I'm back to blissfully ignoring the future.

In any case, I can't help but be excited for the next month of my life. First of all, three friends and I are taking a week-long road trip down the West Coast states, first to Portland, then to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (we're seeing Twelfth Night), then on to San Francisco, where I may get to meet a friend from my days in Marburg. Then we retrace our steps: back to Ashland for more Shakespeare, Hamlet this time, back through Portland and home to Washington. Immediately after, we'll move out of our house in Bellingham, leaving Serenity House forever.

I'll be home for only five days before I'm scheduled to depart for London. Of course, this is making me a little bit nervous: that unpronounceable volcano is apparently still at it. I really hope it cuts it out before I'm flying over, because having that flight canceled would really suck.

The main issue I have to resolve now in terms of planning is where to go after Mom and Janna return to America. I'll have about a month complete between their departure and my required arrival in Frankfurt for the orientation; four whole weeks of freedom to go anywhere. The problem is: where? Where do I want to go in August? It's the height of the summer and of the tourist season, so I've got to consider that. I'm considering either the northern European countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, etc) or the eastern part of Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Russia, etc). I'd really like to do the Mediterranean countries that I haven't seen, which is most of them, especially Croatia, Albania, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, but I'm not sure that that won't be suicidal in the heat.

Anyway, I've still got a while to figure that one out. In the meantime, there're other things to be happy about: God and volcano willing, I should be in Britain for the series finale of Doctor Who, and I've entered my name on the reserve list for tickets to see Top Gear filming. A bit obsessive, perhaps? Well, yes. But just a bit. I'm quite proud of my geekiness. :)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book: Jane Eyre

Author: Charlotte Brontë
First published: 1847, England
Original Language:
Topics: Marriage, schools, role of women, romance, courtship, disability

Book: Ethan Frome

Author: Edith Wharton
First published: 1911, United States
Original Language: English
Topics: Adultery, marriage, New England life, disability

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book: Diary of a Young Girl

Author: Anne Frank
First published: 1974, Holland
Original Language: Dutch
Topics: World War II, Nazi occupation, persecution of Jews, coming of age, family