Europe current locationWhen I got out of bed this morning, I was really curious if it had snowed last night. Rene had mentioned it was in the forecast, so I put my hands to the glass to try and peer out into the pitch black outdoors. The tree…might have… ice on it…. I thought, but there didn’t seem to be anything on the grass below. The room was chilly enough for it, though.

The shower hit critical mass today. At some points the water dropped all the way down to just a trickle of blisteringly hot water. I considered turning on the other faucet, but I doubted highly that this would do any good. I had to wait for the pressure to return to normal before rinsing. Thank goodness I didn’t need to shave.

I pulled the car up the parking garage, but wasn’t able to get as close a space this time. It was still a bit of a walk. At least I wasn’t in the completely exposed cold outside. I took the entrance into the gym area, said “Guten Morgen” to the clerk, who responded in kind, then went upstairs to the restaurant. My morning breakfast looked odd in the blue light; I could only find a table in the section further in the back of the restaurant. Some Americans beside me were chatting. It sounded like they had just arrived last night, as they were talking about sleep problems and the like. They started to bother me, though, as things they were mentioning cultural differences and how “stupid” they were. The two men were acting like what I guess people expect of Americans: loud, obnoxious, and expecting the world to cater to them. They mentioned other places around the world as well, which really surprised me, since this made them out to be world travelers, and they were *still* acting like this. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a high respect for cultures other than my own, and here, for instance, I still try and learn at least some of the language and follow the procedures that the culture dictates. I don’t like to stand out. It drives my nuts when people don’t follow this mentality, I guess, so they were really getting on my nerves. I gathered my coat and walked out to the car.

I noticed again the reserved spots and this time I knew what they were for. I’d looked it up in the phrase book. “Frauenparkplatz” is a “parking space for women”! They have a bunch of these right by the front door, next to the “Behindertenparkplatz” – disabled parking spots. Makes perfect sense in English, huh?

I drove out of the underground, instantly aware of the situation. The roads were very icy this morning. Fortunately I was expecting this, so I was driving very, very carefully. The highways seemed to be find, but the bits of cobblestone in the normal roads had all gathered sleet the night before and had become “slippery slopes of sudden swerves”. I saw more than one car slide around on them. I didn’t have much trouble really in getting to the plant’s lot, but I was really conscious the whole time of the icy areas. Even the roads on the campus were bad; I saw a car go swerving out of control, and a guy walking into the building in front of me had to catch himself from tumbling to the ground on the icy pavement. Today I wore my sweater, so walking to the entrance wasn’t nearly as bad. The wind wasn’t doing much either.

Right after I got inside, Michel, Rene, and I went to the lab. Rene is going to take over my stuff if necessary after I leave, so I have to give him an overview. We spent the morning down there discussing the project and making sure Rene had a good grasp on it. He did. At 10am we had a meeting with the entire group, just as last week. I’m still just not a meeting person, but at least this time I was involved a little more. Last time I was totally unprepared and had to speak about subjects I wasn’t entirely sure I had answers to, so it really threw me off. Once the meeting was over, I walked to the cafeteria to get a cappuccino. I’d had the good stuff, and nothing else was going to do at this point! As I returned to the room, I said, “Man, Janice, why’d you have to show me that coffee machine??” She laughed.

Lunch rolled around soon after I’d finished my coffee. I’m usually not hungry at this time, but it’s either eat now or be hungry later. As we walked to the cantin, Rayko started talking about his upcoming trip to Austin. It had just been confirmed by email that he’s going to visit in late February, so he was again talking about what he was going to do when he got there. He wants to rent a new Mustang, if possible, but I didn’t know if they were already renting those. Plus, the cars the rental places usually have don’t have the nice engines. I suggested we go one evening and test drive one. They’d certainly let me do so, and at the very least, he’d get a nice ride. “They do this for free?” he asked, and I told him that if they didn’t make a copy of your driver’s license, you could practically run off with the car.

The choices were slim today. We all ended up getting some skewered fried meat thing, which was not all that great, everyone agreed. Michael was using his fork to remove the meat from the skewer across from Rene, with a great deal of force. Rene was certain he was going to get splattered with the sauce around it, so he backed up, avoiding the possible cleaning bill.

“I am definitely going to get some of this on my new blue shirt,” he said, and Michael acted like he was going to fling some in his direction, laughing. We cut into the tough chunks of meat, and Rayko was making a list of the different restaurants he wanted to eat at.

“I’m definitely going to go eat at Chuy’s,” he said, and I agreed that was a good idea. He’d eaten there the last time he was in Austin and loved it. I suggested other Austin-ey places such as Kerbey Lane, Magnolia Cafe, and the Salt Lick, which is a barbecue place in the middle of nowhere south of town that serves all-you-can eat meat until you say stop. Doug wasn’t as fond of Salt Lick, saying it was not as good as fifteen years ago, and preferred County Line for barbecue. Rayko then started asking about Houston, and how far it was to visit.

“It depends on where in Houston you’re going to,” explained Doug. Houston is fifty some-odd miles across, and so the time it takes to get anywhere is very much in relation to how far you have to go. Rayko wanted to visit NASA, so it was a good three and a half hour drive. We tried to explain that there’s not *all* that much to do in Houston, but NASA’s worth a visit. It’s not the same as it used to be when I was a kid, but it’s still pretty neat. Seems that everything is more commercial now. We returned to the room, still discussing Houston, and put on our coats for the post-lunch “roam”. Texas destinations remained the topic of discussion, and Rayko and I started to plan what we might do when he actually got to Austin.

As we walked back up the stairwell, I told Rayko he might prefer San Antonio as a good place to visit in lieu of Houston. It’s much nicer than Houston, really. The River Walk is beautiful, and there are many historical things to see, not the least of which is the Alamo. He thought this was an interesting prospect.

My next lab was coming up, but Michel had gone out at lunch. I asked Janice if she’d walk me down to the test lab to get me access, and she didn’t mind. As we walked, we were talking about the American obesity problem, and she compared it to here. “If you notice, everyone takes the stairs here. They’re wide, very light and open, and inviting, not like in the US,” she pointed out. They also go for brisk walks around campus, and generally are more active. I wouldn’t say the food is any healthier here, although the portions are smaller, just as they are around the world. I mentioned to her about the coffee being small here, and how there’s no such size as Venti in any other country’s Starbucks (that I’d seen). She noted that the “super size” phenomenon was really very indicative of American culture.

The second daily session went fine; Rene came down and joined me a little later. I was going to work late, but it wasn’t possible to work too much beyond normal end since we were going to the Opera that night. At 5:20, Rene and I decided to quickly get some food at Burger King, since it was on the way, so we could get to the opera house by 6:30. “So, what time should we leave?” I asked.

“Well, I’m thinking it should be soon,” Rene responded.

“So, ‘now’, is what you’re saying.”

“Yes, I think that would be a good idea!” he exclaimed. He helped me clean up the work, then we ran upstairs to get our things and see if anyone else wanted to go. Doug was hungry, but was pretty much tied to Janice, and she wasn’t at all interested in the hamburger chain. She suggested we bring him something, but he insisted it would be cold by the time he got it. I asked Janice for my ticket, but she didn’t have one. Dirk, who had bought the tickets, had bought them, and he’d told me she had it. After a lot of discussion, it was determined that Dirk and Janice were there together buying the tickts (as Janice was getting some for another night as well) and he’d assumed that she had bought her own. She hadn’t, so she kept and paid for one of the five he’d bought. Janice was insanely nice, though, and donated her ticket to me saying she could probably get one at the door. I thanked her immensely. The other problem was what to do with my backpack, which contained my laptop. I wasn’t too keen about leaving it in my car. We thought about going by the hotel, but it was pretty crazy getting in and out in such a short period of time. On Janice’s suggestion, we decided that I would ride with Rene, and he would leave his laptop in my car as well, safely stowed in the plant’s secure parking lot. He lives close by, so it wasn’t a problem to bring me back here afterwards. Slowly backing out of the door, we asked several times if others were following, and there was some murmuring about it, but we just gave up and left. We needed to get a move on!

We dropped by my car, and left both our laptops in the trunk. I’d not brought the EOS today; I didn’t want to carry it into the theater nor leave it in the car. I put the A75 in my pocket though, as it was small and I could probably hide it well. Rene tore out of the parking lot and we were on our way.

He took the exit after Dresden-Wildermann, then turned left towards the city. We turned left again by a Media Mart, which is a big electronics store in Germany. I hadn’t seen any indication that he was allowed to turn, and asked him how he knew to do it. “You can see that the indicators are before the cross,” meaning that the light poles are right where you stop your car. “This is difficult to see, as you must look over to the right to know when to start.” I’ve really been annoyed by this. The traffic signal ends up being right behind the rear view mirror in my line of sight, and I have to crane my neck to view it. Rene, like everyone else I’d seen, started to accelerate on the warning yellow before the green. I mentioned this, and he said it was nice to know when it was going to change, but I don’t think it’s legal, really.

He turned right at another corner on which was the Burger King. As soon as he turned, I recognized the intersection. It was Meissner Strasse, which I’d just taken back from the restaurant the night before. “Oh man, I know exactly where we are!” I exclaimed. Rene pulled into the Burger King parking lot and stopped the car. As he stepped inside, he was still attempting to rib me about my food photography.

“You should take a picture of the Burger King,” he called to me, as I was a few steps behind.

“Too late, already done,” I said, and smiled. Rene looked at me like I was insane. He thought I’d left the camera in the car. Inside, he ordered a Chicken Supreme, and I stared at the menu. It was all in German, but of course, how hard is it to figure out a fast food menu. I just didn’t know how to ask for a meal versus a sandwich. I also was debating what I wanted, as it had been quite some time since I’d eaten in a fast food place, much less a Burger King. I ended up choosing the Chili Cheese Burger meal, which doesn’t actually have chili on it. That refers to jalepenos. I didn’t really want to the fries, either, but it was the easiest way to order the drink. I picked the double, picturing in my mind the burgers they have in Japan and thinking it was going to be small. It listed a gram count, but I wasn’t able to visualize the weight in my mind. (darn American culture rejecting the metric system) I figured the easiest way to order was to do what everyone else does in Japan. I pointed at the menu.

“Ah, the double chili cheese burger,” the woman said, in English. Duh. Man, I am a moron. I should just anticipate that everyone speaks English, but that goes against my foreign culture travel beliefs, so it’s really difficult to accept. “Would you like ketchup or mayonnaise?” she asked, and I assumed she meant on the burger. She prepared the tray of food for me and I was surprised on two accounts. One, the burger was in fact full size, and therefore was massive, and two, the mayo I’d asked for was for the *French fries*, not the burger. She gave me a package for squirting out and using on the fries.

We carried our trays upstairs to the non-smoking section (wait, doesn’t smoke go *up*?) and took a seat near a very attractive woman who was chasing her small child around. As we sat down, I mentioned to Rene that I forgot that Europeans used mayo on deep fried potato products. He didn’t respond to this, though, and, although I was sharing my fries with him, he didn’t use any. I did a couple of times, just for kicks, but really will always prefer ketchup or nothing. The funniest thing, outside of the mayo, was the French fry fork. The burger was okay, but way, way to big, and I found that I couldn’t not eat it due to my desire to not waste food. Just a common problem really. I ended up feeling really gross afterwards, and we didn’t even finish the fries between the two of us.

We realized it was almost 6:30, so we raced out of the place, leaving our trays in a little individual rack; there were no trash cans to speak of. Back in the car, we headed down Meissner towards downtown. After a length search for a parking spot, Rene located a small pay lot a ways down the river from the opera house. He approached the parking ticket machine, where he put in money and ejected it, trying to find the proper amount for the time we needed. The screen showed the time at which your paid period would expire, and it kept jumping from 7:30PM to 8:00 am. I guess past a certain point, you got overnight parking. I didn’t notice this then, but later I found out he got a ticket from the machine which he put on his dashboard for easy viewing. Thus the parking was paid, and we headed at full walking pace to the opera house. To the left of us was the Yiddish church, which looks very boxy, and a small park, wherein some glass blocks existed, illuminated by blue light.

We took the long walk back to the opera house as quickly as possible, and we arrived a good twenty minutes before the curtain. No problem. As we rounded the corner, I swiftly kicked myself for not bringing the EOS. The buildings here were gorgeous – the same one’s I’d taken a long-distance shot of on the first night in Dresden. The opera house was to the right, the Frauenkirche to the left, and several other gothic-looking buildings were around. My eyes spotted a number of beautiful layouts for shots, but I wasn’t able to capture them with the A75 and without a tripod, as much as I tried. So very, very sad. We walked into the opera house a moment later. The coat check ended up being 1.30, which seems steep considering we’d already paid 38 Euros for the ticket! Wasn’t really any other option though. Rene asked about pictures and I wondered if I should leave my camera. He was off doing this when I dropped off the jacket, though, so I brought it just in case. He ended up finding out that pictures inside are only allowed with paid permission. Bleh.

This actually was a huge problem. The building was beyond fantastic. Marble columns supported the arched roof, which was decorated with mural after mural. Wood walls were ornately decorated, and dangling chandeliers provided just the correct amount of light. My mouth gaped as I looked around, and unable to keep myself from doing so, I discreetly shot a few pictures. We had already located Janice, Doug, and Dirk, and were only waiting on Michel. He’d been here before though, so he knew where it was.

We wandered about looking at the architecture and attempting to locate our seats. Janice had bought a ticket at the door, which is a way to get a cheaper seat, if any are available. She was in luck today, and got a ticket for half of what we’d paid, although she was up a little higher than we were. We split off from her and found our seats. These were only 8 rows back from the stage and were prime for good viewing. Again, I found myself aghast at the scenery, and quietly snapped some covert pictures. Using my legs as a tripod, I was able to get some stable shots in the lower light environment without using a flash. I’ve been trying hard to not use flash in any of my pictures, but it’s been rough, in particular with the A75.

The time came for the production to start, and a buzzer sounded outside. Eventually the lights dimmed and the show began. The opera was La Clemenza di Tito by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I’d never seen it (might have been something I studied in high school music theory 4, but I don’t remember), and fortunately Doug had provided me with a printed synopsis. It wasn’t line by line, but it was better than the titles, which were in German. I won’t go into details about the story, but the production was very contemporary, with abstract sets, lots of steel panels, and glowing red lights. The opera is set in Roman times, but each cast member was wearing 18th century German clothing. I enjoyed it, but I have a real problem with live performances, any live performances, not just opera. I always want to see them, but immediately find myself wanting to leave and go talk about it. If I could jump forward in time to the period just after, I always would. No idea why that is.

The first act ended, and the intermission began. We met Janice on the second floor, who had already procured a champagne from the refreshment stand. She was wondering what kind of stone it was on the walls, and she set off to find out. I chided Doug for breaking into work talk with Dirk, as this was well outside the confines of the office. Doug blamed Dirk, whose question it was that prompted the job speak. I ended up wandering off, checking out all the grandiose beauty of the place. The buzzer finally sounded again, and we all returned to our seats for the second act. Janice waved to us from the King’s Box above, and we returned the greeting.

The second act felt longer than the first, but again, my body is ready to leave right away. Dirk’s paid program had a much better English.synopsis than the paper Doug had printed out, but it was white-on-black and was impossible to read in the dark. The opera came to a close, and I was seriously taken aback by the number of curtain calls made. I think the mains came out at least five times in different settings for more applause. As we walked out, I mentioned this, and Dirk said, “This is the required amount of time. On other days, the applause goes on much longer.”

We all retrieved our coats, and Janice returned with an interesting fact – the “stone” wasn’t stone at all, it was another material painted to look like marble. The wood, in fact, was not wood at all; the original opera house had burned, and they weren’t taking any chances with this reconstruction, so they made the whole thing out of non-flammable materials. I walked over to a wall and rapped with a knuckle in disbelief. “Are you *sure*?” I asked Janice. “This sure sounds like wood to me!” She insisted it wasn’t, and introduced us to the employee who gave us this information.

As we all walked out, Rene tried to organize a beer run to one of the local pubs nearby. Nobody really was interested, so after a photo, we all went off in separate directions. Rene took me around the other side of the Frauenkirche, where he showed me a massively long mural of all the kings of Saxony. The mural is composed of several thousand tiles, all building up to make a whole. We walked past this historical item, and I noted how it was hard to believe that all these buildings were rubble 60 years ago.

We passed the Hilton, where Doug and Janice are both staying, and I was amazed at how close to the center it is. We turned left past here and walked beyond the bars Rene had recommended out to the river and turned right to head back to the car. I read off a sign in German from an apartment building, and simply by reading I was able to tell it was “newly available”, effectively. The words looked like this, and I was surprised it was so simple. “See, German is EASY… compared with Japanese!” Along the river, a flock of birds had gathered on one of the boats, and I could have sworn they were seagulls. However, we were miles from any body of water (outside of the river) so I didn’t see how this was possible! We arrived back at the car, and as we drove off, Rene explained the parking system so that I understood. I’d just not seen him return to the car. As we drove off, I asked Rene how to pronounce a word on a sign nearby, and it turns out it mean Saxony, which is the Federal State that Dresden is in. Germany has states, like the US, such as Bavaria, for instance.

We drove back to the plant, talking about varying subjects, and eventually talked about debit cards, and how the US is such a card-oriented society now. It was interesting to hear, and he was surprised to hear that most Americans now had at least one credit card, even if it was just a debit card to their checking account. He turned into the plant, which had reconfigured the front gate for night access. At first Rene thought his badge was in the trunk, and he stopped the car to get out and look for it. It was in his other bag, though, which was in the car and so the trip in the cold was pointless, unfortunately. He took me back to my car, we got his laptop out of the trunk, and I showed him my debit cards for reference to our previous conversations. At that, we said good night, and we drove off in separate directions.

The road to the hotel was deserted. This was not surprising considering it was past 11pm. I hurried my way back to the room, where I didn’t do much but go straight to bed. It was a long day, and I was glad to have not used any dishes to clean in the morning!

-- Hik