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Back in Deutschland, week 3

August 25th, 2013 No comments

My last week in Germany was even less “eventful” than the first two, but that’s absolutely fine by me. It was nice to just be back in Ichenheim and spending time with all these people again.

Things here are the same as ever, except that Ralf and Myriam have a baby now. Savio is 21-months old and super cute. He was a bit shy at first but warmed up to me pretty quickly and I’ve had fun playing with him. He’s just starting to talk but it’s all pretty much incomprehensible to me with the baby-dialect on top of the Ichener-dialect which is already hard enough to understand. I was able to get him to say a few Japanese words, but I’m sure they won’t stick, and it’s very unlikely he’ll remember me at all the next time I see him. Such is the case with babies.

I spent the days hanging around, going jogging, bicycling around, and (of course) drinking lots of beer. Dieter and Frederick were working on a house they’re building where my grandmother’s old house used to be. Frederick will live in the downstairs part when it’s finished and rent the upstairs to someone. Ursula had to leave on Thursday to go to a rehabilitation clinic in Davos to treat her psoriasis, so I only got to see her for two days. Myriam and Ralf took holidays on Thursday and Friday so I got to spend a bit of extra time with them. And on Saturday night I went to the birthday party of Dietmar and got to see a whole bunch of people including my Aunt Fannie, Gabi, Marius, Melanie and her new husband Timo.

And there’s not much else to say. It may not have been the most interesting vacation of all time, but I certainly enjoyed it. Last year’s vacation was much more “interesting” due to the visa situation, and because of that I had a hard time just enjoying it. I definitely prefer this kind of holiday.

Tomorrow I fly back to Japan. It was nice to get away from that world for awhile, but I’m definitely looking forward to going back.

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Back in Deutschland, week 2

August 20th, 2013 No comments

I’m in Ichenheim again, for the first time in two years. It might as well have only been two weeks for all the noticeable change, except for the one giant difference of there being a 21-month old child here now. Now I’m writing another blog entry from this couch like so many times before, although this one feels like a chore as I’d rather just be relaxing.

There are no interesting stories from my second week of vacation. It’s mostly just been lots of relaxing, drinking delicious beer, eating delicious food, and having interesting or silly conversations. There are hardly even any photos worth posting—it’s mostly just pictures of me and Oliver goofing around while drunk. I’ll just briefly recount what each day consisted of for the sake of the historical archives.

On Saturday we had a little party starting in the late afternoon. Amanda came all the way from Berlin and I got to catch up with her. They also invited a colleague of Oliver named Ma Ren who was a really nice and interesting person I’m glad I got to meet, and a woman named Rune from capoeira who was really nice but didn’t speak much English and tended to steer all discussions in directions I had nothing to contribute to. But that turned out to be somewhat lucky, as I went to bed several hours earlier than most of the others.

The party continued well throughout Sunday, at least for Oliver and me. In spite of his hangover, I was surprised when he opened a beer first thing in the morning, and after breakfast began pouring shots of whiskey into our glasses of tea (though that might have been at my suggestion). We finished off the whole bottle and had one of the maddest Sundays I can remember.

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Oliver needed all of Monday and even a bit of Tuesday to recover, so we just took it easy those days and watched lots of episodes of Game of Thrones. On Wednesday we got everything ready to go for our bicycle tour of Hannover on Thursday, the one thing I most wanted to do while back in Germany. That involved fixing Oliver’s bicycle (we’d already fixed my old bike I’d sold to them when I moved away) and buying a little bike trailer for Buutsch, the dog.

I said we should get up at 9:30 to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Hannover relatively early, but the way Oliver operates made that rather unrealistic. It took forever just to prepare breakfast, clean up, have a shower, pack the car, and finally get going. In Hannover we also had to stop at the house of is friend Kolya who was letting us camp out in his garden house that night. We got the key and headed to the garden house, dropped off our stuff there, had the obligatory beer, and finally got under way at about 4:00 p.m.

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With Buutsch in the little trailer, we made our way to the start of the tour along the river where I used to go jogging. Buutsch hated the trailer and made whimpering noises the whole way. When we were finally at a section of river not too crowded, Oliver let him out and rode with him on the leash ahead. That dog is so full of energy that he ended up pulling Oliver at extreme speeds for the next several kilometers. Oliver had to stop him every now and then just to let me catch up.

The first part of the tour went perfectly. It was dark and cloudy while I would have preferred sunshine, but it was cool to be back in Hannover and to see all the nice parts of it I became so familiar with in my time there. When I’d left I’d hoped to come back and see them again, and now I was finally making that happened.

But after the Herrenhauser Garten and Georgengarten, things started to go wrong. We had to ride through the city a bit to get to the next part of the tour, the Eilenriede (city forest), and there was some construction blocking a part of the route. But Oliver said he knew this area of the city really well and could get us to the Eilenriede without a problem. It turned out he was mistaking it for where he used to live and was completely wrong about where we were, so we ended up going extremely far off course. When we finally checked his iPhone to pinpoint our location, we saw how far we’d gone and because it was starting to rain it seemed like we should just quit and maybe finish the tour the next day. We started to do that and head back to the garden house at Lindener Berg by the most direct route, but Oliver could tell I was upset and decided we should just go to the Eilenriede anyway.

So we got there, found a place to stop and have a beer, but when that was done it was already approaching 7:00 p.m. and I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the tour before dark. So we started heading back to Lindener Berg by way of the Maschsee, and we were able to take a quick detour to the Hiroshima Gedenkhain very quickly so I could get a picture of the plaque explaining it that Lena had accidentally deleted two years ago and promised to get another one but never did.

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When we got to the Maschsee we discovered it was Maschseefest, so it was extremely crowded and we didn’t get too close. In the three years I lived there I never went to Maschseefest, and this made the 4th time I blew it off. Nothing about it looked fun other than the beer, and you could get that anywhere.

We headed back around the Rathaus—also really cool to see in person again—then by my old flat in Calenberger Neustadt so I could see that again. After that we stopped at my favorite Döner Kebab shop to pick up some dinner, then back up to Lindener Berg.

Kolya wanted to come hang out with us there for a bit, and he met us on our cycles on the way back. For the next few hours we hung out with him at his garden house, which turned out to be the most pleasant part of the day. He’s a really nice and interesting guy and he’s interested in Japan so it was great to talk with him. He suggested that he and Oliver come visit me in Japan next year, though I think the odds of that are still very doubtful.

He left us on our own for the night, and we slept in until 11:30 and didn’t get everything packed an underway until an hour later. Oliver didn’t want to ride anymore—his bike saddle hurt his ass too much—but I wanted to finish the tour. We decided to split up and meet somewhere around the Maschsee at 2:00. That gave me plenty of time to head back to the river and ride around the places we hadn’t gone the previous day. It was the nicest part of Hannover (the last territory I’d discovered after moving there) and the day was sunny and much nicer than the previous day. I didn’t have to worry about the dog, and I could put on some music and just get in the zone I used to get it when cycling around while I lived there. That was extremely pleasant, and made up for the previous day’s disappointments.

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We drove back to Delmenhorst at 2:00 and after getting stuck in traffic finally arrived back at almost 5:00 (normally it shouldn’t take more than 1:30), and had another easy night.

On Saturday we drove to Emsland in the afternoon to visit Oliver’s daughters and his 8-month old grandson Finn. I haven’t seen his daughter Nele in two years or Ronja in nearly four. Ronja was 16 the last time I saw her and is now a 20-year-old mother, so she looks twice as old as last time. Nele was 15 and is now 17 so doesn’t look too different. Finn is a cute little baby who seems pretty well-behaved. While the girls were getting ready for their evening plans, Oliver and I took Finn to a nearby lake and played with him for a little while, the first time I’ve played with a baby in as long as I can remember. After that we went back and gave the girls a ride to wherever they were going for the evening, then headed back to Delmenhorst.

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We stopped at the liquor store to pick up some beer, and I bought a bottle of whiskey on a whim, expecting to sip on it casually throughout the next day. Apparently, Oliver got another thing in mind after I bought it, and we ended up finishing off the whole bottle that night, with just a little help from Lena. We were up until 4:30 in the morning going mad, and were both glad to have one more night of that in what will probably be a very long while.

All we did on Sunday was relax and recuperate, and maybe walk Buutsch a few times. But we went to bed pretty early that night and got up at 8:00 the next morning to be able to have breakfast and get me to the train station to catch my 9:53 departure. I said a nice goodbye to both of them and the dog, and boarded the train to the next part of my vacation.

It’s only been a day and I miss them already, but I think two weeks was about enough time. My friendship with Oliver and Lena is one of the strongest I’ve ever made in my life, so it’s important to see them when I can. It may not have been the most interesting or eventful two weeks of vacation-time I’ve ever spent, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Tourists of the Caribbean

May 29th, 2012 No comments

This upcoming Saturday is Sports Day at my school, which means the entire week is nothing but preparation for the event. That means for most of the time I have nothing to do but watch the students prepare, but it at least provides plenty of time to take care of things like writing my much-procrastinated blog entry about the recent sailing trip. So I might as well get that out of the way.

Sunsail Marina, Tortola

Saturday

With a twelve-hour flight the previous day, the four-hour flight from Newark to St. Thomas felt like nothing. After a night of drinking with both my parents and getting to sleep around 11:00, I woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t fall back asleep due to jet-lag. I attempted to sleep on the plane-ride down but wasn’t very successful. Still, the excitement of finally getting back to the Virgin Islands for the first time in ten years was enough to keep me wide awake when we got down there.

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The travelling wasn’t finished when we got to St. Thomas. We first had to get from the airport to the ferry dock, take an hour-and-a-half ferry ride to Road Town Harbour in Tortola, go through customs there, then get from there to the Sunsail Marina a few miles away. Dad and I were both anxious to finally get to the boat, but the ferry ride was enjoyable enough.

At the ferry dock. Nearby water-landing.

After the long and slow-moving customs line, we decided to walk to the marina, stopping for a beer along the way. Dad eventually regretted the decision not to take a taxi, but I was glad for the opportunity to take in some of the Road Town atmosphere. It’s a completely different world on these islands than it is in the tourist-driven harbors around them.

Streets of road-town. The natives playing baseball.

We eventually got to the boat and I said hello to Dad’s brothers Gerry and Ted, and their friend Rob. I hadn’t seen Gerry or Rob since the Antigua trip four years ago and I can’t remember the last time I’d seen Ted. The last member of our crew, John, wouldn’t be getting in until around 11:00.

Our boat, above deck. Below deck.

We spent the evening drinking on the boat, then took a taxi to a nearby restaurant for a delicious first meal. By the time we got back to the boat I was already struggling to stay awake, so I crashed early around 9:00.

Sunday

Left to right: John, Gerry, Rob, Ted.

The first morning consisted of a boat-briefing and a chart-briefing, the latter of which took place in a large air-conditioned room. A British guy named Alan took us through the map of the BVI and told us a little about all of the harbors and important information like where you can or can’t sail. Some of the harbors are privately owned of just very upscale, so they don’t welcome the common rabble on charter boats.

The weather was overcast but still very nice when we were finally freed from the dock and under way, ours being one of the first boats out of there around 11:00.

 

Once we were free of the harbor we put up the sails and I got to experience the joy of pure sailing for the first time in four years. My Dad even let me take the wheel, something I didn’t get to do last time, so I enjoyed the experience even more.

 Captain Dad                 Hoisting the mainsail.        At the wheel.

We stopped at an outcropping of rocks called “The Indians” and took a mooring for a lunch of sandwiches, and taking a little swim in the absurdly refreshing Caribbean water as well.

The Indians

From there it was a quick motor-ride into “The Bight”, home of the infamous Willy T floating bar which is a tradition for them to go to every first night of sailing. We took a mooring there and after a few drinks on board headed onto shore for a few drinks there. We ordered some Painkillers, the signature cocktail of the British Virgin Islands, and sat at a picnic table on the gorgeous beach.

Notorious Willy T On an island.

First round of Painkillers.

We ate dinner on board, and took the dinghy over to Willy T shortly after it became dark. After ordering some more painkillers there I started socializing with a group of people my age there, feeling loose and happy and not particularly more drunk than I usually get at parties.

But as the night went on, shots were ordered and at one point my conscious mind just shut off completely and put me on drunken-autopilot for the rest of the night. I have no recollection whatsoever of anything after that first shot, but I found out the next morning that on the dinghy ride back to the boat I’d decided to go for a little swim, a pretty awful idea considering I still had my camera in my pocket. That camera is now dead, and I was only able to recover the above pictures after purchasing a new one after getting back to Japan. Luckily the memory card survived, but it was still a disastrously expensive mistake.  To add insult to injury, none of the pictures I actually took that night are any good.

At Willy T's. My last photo.

I asked Gerry and Rob to send me the pictures they took from the rest of the week but I haven’t gotten them and don’t know when I will if ever. So there are no more pictures to post on this blog entry, though it’s not so tragic when you consider all the islands and harbors look more or less the same.

Monday

The only hangover I had the whole trip lasted most of Monday for me. I’d apparently been puking a lot the night before, and that continued through Monday morning as my stomach refused to keep anything down including water.

We motored over to Tortola’s west end harbor for supplies, then motored up to a place called White Bay on the island of Jost Van Dyke. This was an absolutely gorgeous little bay with a beautiful beach, which the others say they now consider to be the nicest spot in the BVI. I laid out in a hammock for awhile trying to nap off the rest of the hangover, and being back on solid ground seemed to do the trick.

We had lunch and cocktails at a place called One Love, which the guidebook said makes the best Bushwakers in the BVI, a Bushwacker being a ridiculously delicious cocktail consisting of several different kinds of rum and Bailey’s Irish Cream, giving it the texture and flavor of a milkshake. I declined to participate in the first round, but after tasting some of my Dad’s drink I couldn’t turn down taking part in the second and third.

That was a really pleasant afternoon. We sat around drinking and occasionally going into the water for a swim. After we’d gotten tired of One Love we headed over the Soggy Dollar, the place where the Painkiller was invented but which ironically makes the worst Painkillers I’ve probably ever tasted. We met a group of people from Australia and chatted with them for awhile, they having just sailed up from Antigua and and on their way to Miami.

We ate dinner on the boat again and it was a nice mellow evening, though I took it very easy with the drinking because I still hadn’t fully recovered from the previous night and wanted to feel relatively refreshed the next day.

Tuesday

We started the day off by motoring over to another harbor in Jost Van Dyke to a place called Sydney’s Peace & Love which apparently has the best selection of T-shirts on the island. I didn’t get any but it was fun to look around.

After that we headed over to another little bay on Jost Van Dyke which had a particularly good lunch restaurant. Unfortunately, John was having back problems and dinghy riding was painful for him, so he didn’t join us.

After eating the best fish sandwich I may have ever had, I took with a walk with Dad and Rob to a secluded little area of the island with a tidal pool. It was just as cool to walk through the natural-scenery of the island was it was to dip in the pool.

When we got back to the boat we freed ourselves from the mooring and took a quick hour-long motor-ride back to Tortola to a place called Cane Garden Bay. Some of us went to shore to re-stock on things like ice, beer, and whiskey, and after getting back to the boat and showering most of us went back to shore for a nice dinner at one of the many restaurants there.

Wednesday

With the exception of Monday, it rained for at least a little while every day of the trip, but Wednesday was by far the worst. It rained on and off the whole time we were motoring up to Trellis Bay on Beef Island, a small island connected to Tortola where they also have the BVI’s only airport.

By this time John’s back was really killing him, so Dad and Gerry took him to shore to find out about getting him to a doctor. I stayed on board with Ted and Rob, and we had lunch and basically just laid around and tried to stay out of the rain. When Dad and Gerry came back and finished their lunch we all went to shore, where John had already come back from Road Town having seen a doctor and picked up some subscriptions for painkillers (the pill kind) and muscle-relaxers. He had to decline to join us for Bushwackers though because the doctors were adamant about not mixing the pills with liquor.

It was raining nearly the whole time we were on shore, and everything was pretty subdued without much conversation going on whatsoever. John is the most lively guy out of all of us so without him in an up-beat mood it’s a different atmosphere altogether.

When the rain let up a little we went back to the boat for showers and more drinking, and eventually came back to shore for a dinner at 7:30 which was decent but nothing special.

Thursday

It was nice and clear the next morning, and we sailed up to a group of three small uninhabited islands called The Dogs where Rob went diving and I did my first and only snorkeling of the trip. That was nice, but the coral was mostly dead and there weren’t too many fish around, so it didn’t live up to my memories of particularly awesome snorkeling from the trips ten and fourteen years ago.

I got to do some more sailing in the afternoon as we head up to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, the second-biggest island in the BVI. For whatever reason, sailing up to that harbor is the nicest memory of the trip for me. I was taking in the beauty of the scenery and appreciating the wonderful feeling of sailing more than at any other point.

We took a mooring near a restaurant called The Fat Virgin that Alan at the chart-briefing had said offered “good food at reasonable prices” but when a couple of people came back from shore with a menu and it looked like there was nothing but lunch-food anyway we decided to eat on the boat. It was a pretty good dinner anyway, and afterwards we spent the evening playing a surprisingly fun dice game that Gerry had brought along. Somehow, miraculously, none of the dice ended up in the sea.

While the day had been one of the best of the trip for me, the night turned out to be the worst. Our boat was moored in such a way that the particularly strong winds had us swaying back and forth with the mooring rope rubbing along the booey and making a disastrously annoying sound that Ted and I in the front bunks could hear as though it was right next to our heads. I tried to go up and sleep on the deck but it was too windy and I felt like I’d be blown right off the boat, though I did have a nice time listening to some music on my I-pod and looking up at the brilliant starry sky. I eventually was able to fall asleep in the main room below deck, only moving back to my cabin in the morning and somehow managing to get another hour or two before the noisiness kept me up completely.

Friday

After docking at another North Sound marina to fill our water tanks in the morning, we sailed down back past Virgin Gorda and into a place called Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island, one of the three small islands to the south of Tortola. Manchioneel Bay is a particularly lovely spot, almost as nice as White Bay. It’s also a very popular spot, so we made sure to get there early enough to take a mooring ball. We were among the first to arrive around 11:00 but the rest were taken up within the next two hours.

We had lunch on board and then did our typical routine of going to shore for cocktails (Painkillers again), back to the boat for showers and more beer, and then back to shore again for dinner at the restaurant there. They remember it being one of the best restaurants in the BVI and I would not disagree. The meal we ate there was easily the best of the trip.

Saturday

We had to have the boat back at Sunsail by 3:00 p.m., but that gave us plenty of time from when we all got up around 8:00. The first order of business was to head over to the wreck of the Rhone, the BVI’s most popular diving spot, where Rob—the only active scuba-diver among us—had been wanting to dive.

But when we got there, the swells were enormous and there was nobody else diving. After waiting a good 40-minutes and contemplating whether to go for it or not, Rob ultimately decided not to take the risk. Diving without a buddy in waters with such an extremely strong current is not a good idea, so the rest of the air in the scuba tank he’d rented had to go to waste. Still, it was the smart decision.

The plan was then to head over to a place called Maya Cove on Tortola where we’d stock up on some much-needed beer, have lunch, then sail around a little before heading back to the Sunsail Marina. Maya Cove turned out to have no moorings available, so we motored over to Fat Hog’s Bay which had plenty of moorings and a grocery store on shore to fulfill our beer needs.

John, whose back was thankfully now feeling mostly better, cooked up the rest of the food our boat had been supplied with for lunch, and after that delicious meal we did our last sailing of the trip.

I put on a CD I’d burned of the second half of Dave Gilmour’s live On And Island concert, hoping I’d get to have another one of those Comfortably Numb moments I remembered so well from the last stretch of sailing on the Antigua trip. I managed to have that song playing and me at the wheel for the last eight minutes of actual sailing, and while I certainly enjoyed the hell out of it I’d spent too much time worrying about making the moment perfect to just relax and appreciate it as much as I should have. Still, it was the best possible way to finish sailing.

We docked at the Sunsail Marina and spent the afternoon in the pool area there, drinking Bushwackers and occasionally going swimming.

Dad, Gerry, and I each had a glass of scotch on the boat before heading off to dinner, and during that time we got into a discussion about the first trip I’d gone on back in 1998 which was Gerry’s daughter Melissa’s graduation present. Dad and Gerry were talking about who’d gone on that trip—them, me, Melissa, her friend Jody, and Melissa’s mother Jenny with whom she did not get along. I reminded them that Ed, my Grandpa, was also on the trip, but they didn’t believe me. My dad said he hadn’t been in a position to invite anyone on that trip and Gerry said there’s no way Ed had been there. But I was completely sure of myself, and told Gerry that I bet him $100 that he’d been there. Gerry was apparently so sure of himself that he immediately took my hand and shook on it, and told me to leave the money with my Dad before flying back to Japan. Both he and I were sure we’d just made $100.

In the evening we took a cab to a Pusser’s—a chain restaurant they have down there—the same place where Dad and I stopped for a beer on our walk to the marina that first day. We had a very delicious meal of pub-food there and chatted with a newlywed couple on their honeymoon one table over from us. It was a very pleasant evening and a perfectly nice note on which to end the trip.

Departure

Gerry, Ted, and Rob were all gone by the time I woke up Saturday morning at 7:00. I showered and had a quick breakfast before we had to catch a cab to the ferry dock at 8:00. While sitting there on the boat I considered what a long distance I had to go from there to my apartment in Togane.

After saying goodbye to John and taking the cab to the ferry dock, there was a bit of annoyance there because the ferry company we’d paid round-trip tickets for a week earlier wasn’t running the return-ferry we’d bought the ticket for, so we had to buy a whole new ticket from a different company (though they eventually refunded half the price of our original ticket).

We took the ferry back to St. Thomas and from there a cab back to the airport. It was a three-hour wait there before the four-hour flight back to Newark, but when we finally landed my Dad got a text from Gerry informing us that he’d talked to Melissa and she told him that Ed was definitely on the 1998 trip. So at least I got $100 to off-set the cost of my broken camera.

At the end of the thirteen-hour flight back to Japan the next day I was astonished to make it through immigration, baggage-claim, and customs all in under 20 minutes. Before I knew it I was sitting on the train, looking around me and feeling a strangely comfortably sensation that once again I was now the only American in sight.

All in all, the trip was as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. It didn’t feel like as significant an experience as the last one did, probably because the Antigua trip happened during a particularly significant period of transition in my life, having just moved back to New Jersey from Santa Barbara and still months away from getting the job in Hannover. Back then I still felt like a child, just insanely lucky to be able to have an experience like that. This time, though I was still the youngest guy there by a long-shot, I felt like an adult, and it wasn’t luck that brought me there but my own hard-earned money.

But when all is said and done and you consider how rare the opportunity for an experience like that comes along, especially to share it with my Dad and other rarely-seen friends and family members, I’d consider it money well spent.

Sunset at The Bight.