Posted by: davidofcali | January 28, 2011

Closure to the Most Amazing Year of My Life

In the year of 2010 I visited 23 countries and traveled well over 25,000 Miles.  This abundance of travel gave me the unique chance to explore many different and unique cultures throughout Europe and meet so many wonderful people.  When I think of the vast variety of individuals I’ve encountered on these journeys, it simply blows my mind.  One of the reasons for creating this blog is for me to remember these special times and people I shared them with.  It was a life changing experience that I will never forget.

Being able to travel so often and so cheaply was something truly special and unique to Europe.  In America, one could never find the train connections and ridiculously cheap flights that they have in Europe.  RyanAir and EuRail/InterRail passes were truly the way to go.  I am amazed that I accomplished all that I did with the extremely small budget of saved up money I had.  It all truly comes down to planning efficiently and being able to roll with the punches as nothing ever goes 100% as planned.  Below is a map tracking every journey I’ve taken throughout Europe.  Click on the image or the link below in order to view an interactive map.

http://www.wayfaring.com/maps/widescreen/65443

During my time in Deggendorf, my home city, I felt as if I had been adopted by my wonderful host family, the Löffelmans.  The university in Deggendorf has a program where they match up international students with a local family in the community.  I visited my family usually once a week to spend half the day with them, eat and go on local excursions.  Being so far away from “home”, I began to feel as if I were “home” with the Löffelmans.  We established a bond that will be carried many years into the future I’m sure.  When I left for Germany a year ago, I was saying goodbye to my family with the idea of seeing them in a year.  Now here I was in Germany, saying Goodbye to my “family” once again saying, I’ll see you summer of 2012!

For the entire year Sabine, mom of Nadine, a girlon the softball team I helped coach, was kind enough to invite me over once a month to her house to cut my hair.  It was things like this that made me really start to feel part of the community in Deggendorf and not just an International Student at the University.  I’m very thankful to Sabine for going out of her way to do such a nice thing!

Of course, being my last night in Deggendorf, we celebrated it to commemorate all the wonderful memories of the past year.   Lucas and I put on a going away party for the two of us at the local dormitory common rooms which eventually made its way to the local bars downtown.  It was a wonderful last night to have one final goodbye to all my amazing friends.  Many people left goodbye notes which for Lucas or Me which I didn’t open until I was waiting for a connection in Chicago.  When I did read them, I literally broke out into tears as people shared how much I had touched their lives as they had likewise done to mine….

When I look back on it, it’s truly the people who I met from all over the world that made my year in Germany so amazing.  The environment we lived in was something truly unique.  Having people from all corners of the world together in one small German town sharing a similar experience of living abroad was something special.  I wish every young person could experience this once in their lives because it’s at times like these that all stereotypes, social/political barriers and discriminations completely vanish and people are appreciated for who they are and not judged by where they come from, their faith, background or the current or historical actions of their country.  Something that is incredibly hard to ever find back at “home”.

Nearly the entire baseball and softball team showed up the final night and even brought an American flag-stamped Leberkäss, my favorite Bavarian food.  Nadine painted for me a beautiful baseball portrait and Flo put together a framed college of baseball memories throughout the past season.  At the end of the season I had turned my jersey in thinking I would never see it again, but received it back as a gift signed by every member of the team with personal messages.  Today, this hangs on my wall and is one of my most cherished physical items from Europe.  I bonded so much with this Deggendorf Dragons baseball and softball family that it’s difficult to even put into words.  These guys became true friends of mine and we all shared tears as we gave our last hugs….. it was a difficult night in that respect.  I look forward to playing baseball with these guys again in the summer of 2012 when I will be back in Germany.

The city of Deggendorf really grew on me.  It is such a beautiful small little city on the Danube River at the foot of the Bavarian Forest.  I began to see Deggendorf as a European version of Chico, California as these two small university cities share a lot in common.  Sometimes Deggendorf feels as if it is even my “home”.  Here are some photos of beautiful Deggendorf that I took in the weeks before leaving.

I’ve signified the word “home” in this post because as I returning back to the States, I was seriously confused inside what really was my home and where I felt at “home”.   This feeling of “homelessness” and confusion lasted for months after being back in America and the reality is, “home” will never be the same as it was before.  After speaking with other Americans who have assimilated into another culture I’ve heard similar responses in the fact that once you truly see your “home” from an outside perspective, it never does feel the same as before once going back.

As for now, my European story is on pause.  I’ve returned to California where I’m finishing up my bachelors degree in Business Administration focusing in Logistics.  I have loaded my course load up with 21 units each semester in order to finish as soon as possible and return to Europe.  I am in the process now of preparing to apply for masters programs in Germany, France and Scandinavia.  I’m confident that when I go back to Europe in 2012 it will be for the long haul as I don’t have any plans to return to the US in the near future.  My goal as of now is to finish my Master’s Degree in Europe and than begin working abroad.

To end this final post I’d like to share two videos with you.  The first is a collection of photos where I tried to find a photo with every single person I met in Europe.  The second is a piece of art I created with all the photography I’ve taken over the past few years, most of which is from this past year in Europe.  Thank you all who took the time to read my blog, it was always nice to see the view count shoot up after every new post as I knew people were actually having a look into this amazing adventure :)  I encourage everyone to get out there and experience this beautiful world we live in.  Step outside of your comfort zone, establish connections with others from around the world and get to truly know a culture other than your own.  It will enrich your life in ways you can’t even imagine and be a memorable experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Video #1 “Most Amazing Year of My Life”http://vimeo.com/26953539  Video could not be embedded but may be seen at the link!

Video #2 “A Photographic Journey”

http://vimeo.com/24407134 Video could not be embedded but may be seen at the link!

Posted by: davidofcali | January 8, 2011

End of Second Semester

The end of my second semester In Deggendorf was filled with events.  First of all, I was recruited for our University intramural basketball team.  The highlight of this was a state-wide university tournament.  While we didn’t win the tournament or really come close for that matter, it was a great opportunity to play side by side with guys.  We were quite the international bunch with players from Russia, Brazil, Korea, Turkey and Iraq.  At one point in the tournament there was a rough foul and a German player on the opposing team got pretty heated.  He began chewing out a guy in our team in German and while most of us only understood half of the words coming out of his mouth, he sure as hell wasn’t going to mess with us!

During the second semester in Deggendorf there were two other American students who were from Ohio.  The three of us took the upper hand in putting together a Thanksgiving Pot-Luck dinner together for everyone.  This was something really special for me.  Students from all over the world took part in what was for many of them their first Thanksgiving.  We had the traditional food of course but also cuisine from all over the world. At one point I gave a little thank you speech for everyone who came and explained how this meant so much to me as Thanksgiving has always been a very holiday in my life back in the US.

I also wanted to include here a photo from the local Karaoke bar.  About once a month all the international students would get together and take over “Sam’s Bar”.  It a bar for somewhat of the older crowd and they occasionally got frustrated with so many crazy kids on the microphone all the time.  At times like this, the DJ would play a traditional Bavarian song which we would of course butcher the heck out of.  However, in the end, it was all good fun with many laughs.

The student organization AKI at Deggendorf University organized an end of the semester trip to Munich.  Munich was a city that most of us had been visited many times before, however, this time there was a convention for all international students across Europe.  An entire hostel was rented out and the weekend was full of festivals and fun for students from all over the world.

Another AKI organized event was a trip to Nürnberg to Germany’s largest Christmas Market.  Nearly every international student attended, dressed in Santa caps, while consuming a large amount of the traditional holiday Glühwein.

Another nice thing about Deggendorf is that it’s so close to the Bavarian forest.  One day in January I was able to board the train in Deggendorf and one hour later I was on the mountain skiing.  The solo ski trip was icy but my first time skiing in Europe.  I had purchased my skis for 25 euros off Ebay in the summer and found boots at the local swap meet in Deggendorf.

Returning home from this trip brought the final semester of studies to an end.  In Germany, finals are take place at the end of January and the beginning of February.  My biggest accomplishment of the semester was completing level B1 German.  When I arrived in Germany I was enrolled in A1 and completed within only one year levels A1, A2 and B1.

 

Posted by: davidofcali | January 5, 2011

Baseball – League Champions!

The baseball season followed the same time as the MLB in the USA, so as the second semester was starting at the university in October, the baseball season was coming to an end.  The Deggendorf Dragons had been in this position many times before where they had a chance to win league but never pulled through.  In their complete existence, this had never been accomplished, however, this was the year.  The Dragons were champions of the Bavarian League and were promoted to the Regional League of Southeastern Germany.  This being the 3rd highest league of baseball in the entire country.

The news was spread through the town papers and our entire team was personally congratulated by the mayor of the city at the annual sports banquet.

(listen closely to hear how my name is pronounced in German)

The local university also wanted to see some more of this baseball action so one of my professors organized a game where the players mixed in with two teams, one with professors and one with grad students from the university.  Here is a photo of me with Professor Schmieder, my Art of Negotiation professor.  He had previously taught courses in Santa Clara, California, and was fascinated by this American sport.

I also spent some of my free time coaching the Deggendorf Dragons softball team.  I filled the role of assistant coach when schedules weren’t conflicting.  They were almost as successful as us, only falling short in the last double header to finish second in league.

As celebration, we all took a team overnight trip to Pilsen, Czech Republic where we went paintballing and made a ruck of the town at night.

Here is a video of one of our team vans en-route to an away game with some classical Bavarian music…. driver’s choice

The end of the year statistics showed our dominance over the other teams as many of us from the team labeled DEG were atop the leaders.  I went ahead and highlighted myself in the document below.

The times that I had with these guys were truly amazing.  My teammates on the Deggendorf Dragons were some of my first friends in Deggendorf and turned out to be some of my best.  Through them, I got to really feel part of the Deggendorf community.  They accepted me into their lives on and off the baseball field.  Playing in Deggendorf was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball and I will forever look back on what wonderful memories I had with this team and the baseball family in Deggendorf.

After having such a wonderful experience playing baseball in Germany I wrote up a little summary of everything you would need to know to do such a thing.  I posted it on facebook and sent it to my high school baseball coach and I will post it on here as well.  I hope other kids can have the chance to have such a wonderful experience as I did.

CHANCE OF A LIFETIME TO PLAY BASEBALL, STUDY AND LIVE IN GERMANY AT LESS COST THAN IN THE USA

In 2010 I discovered this unique gem and it was truly an amazing experience.  Therefore, I want to share this with the rest of you in hopes that you may want to try something similar yourselves!

Here is the university in Germany:

Deggendorf University of Applied Science (FH Deggendorf)

http://www.fh-deggendorf.de/index.en.html

The study program offered 100% in English there is International Management.  The course is 50% German students and 50% Internationals.  International students take German courses on the side of their International Management classes.  American students can fulfill their GE and lower division bachelor units and transfer them back to the CSU system for credit.  American students can also obtain their entire Bachelors in Deggendorf.  Tuition costs for full-time students are 400-500 EUR a semester while the tuition is usually waved for foreign students—I didn’t pay a penny in tuition the 2 semesters I was there.  The contact for foreign students at the university is Lisa Hirtreiter< lisa.hirtreiter@fh-deggendorf.de>.  The city of Deggendorf is a beautiful little college town in Bavaria located right on the Donau River about 1 ½ hours north of Munich, 30 minutes from Austria and 45 minutes from the Czech Republic.  The campus is literally right on the waterfront.

As Deggendorf is a smaller city, housing is much cheaper than you would think.  Students live in a common building with small single apartments only 5 minutes by foot from campus.  Cost in 2010 was 225 EUR/month all inclusive (water,elec,tv,etc.).  You can get anywhere and everywhere you need in the city with a bike.

http://www.deggendorfer-studentenviertel.de/index_eng.html

The baseball team in Deggendorf is in the third highest league in the country.  They are the Deggendorf Dragons.  It’s a wood-bat league that travels throughout southern Germany for games.  The team has team vans used to go to and from games.  The season runs parallel to the MLB season with spring training in March and regular season games from April to October.  Games are usually played on Saturdays and Sundays and any week games are usually night games in the local area.  Practice is held 2-3 times a week.

Deggendorf Dragons Website:

http://dragons-baseball.de/

Deggendorf Dragons Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Deggendorf-Dragons/217419765671?ref=ts

The head coach is Tom Achatz and the assistant is Stefan Brückner, both great coaches, ballplayers and quality people.

Thomas Achatz <thomas.achatz2202@web.de>

Stefan Brückner <s.brueckner@gmx.net>

Possibilities to work in Deggendorf are not too bad for a foreigner.  American students can work for English professors correcting English papers on the side and make around 400-500 EUR a semester just for that.  The Dragons also have a softball team, as well as a lower division baseball team and a youth team that are always in need of a good coach.  As almost all the Germans speak English, many international students also find common jobs at a local bar or fast-food place.

The experience to play the sport we all love abroad is unique in its own right, but the chance to live abroad, get to know a new culture, learn a new language and make connections from all over the world is priceless.  It will without a doubt be something you won’t regret and will remember forever.  My experience with this baseball team, university and the city of Deggendorf without a doubt changed my life so I want to share this with others in hopes they might explore something of the same.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me:

David Simmons 530-520-1320     davidofcali@gmail.com

Posted by: davidofcali | January 3, 2011

Luxembourg and Brussels – New Years Eve

After a great Christmas in southern France, I was headed to Brussels, via Luxembourg, to meet up with Lucas and Cassia, and stay with Valentine. Lucas and Cassia both study with me in Deggendorf and Valentine is a girl that Lucas and I met this summer while in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I arrived in Luxembourg and waited for Lucas and Cassia– who were coming from Germany.  With all the snow storms, their train connections were delayed and our time in Luxembourg was cut short.  A planned visit to the German and American cemeteries in Luxembourg was swapped out for a simply a photo with the Christmas tree outside the Luxembourg train station.  We hopped on another train and made our way to Brussels.

In Brussels we met Valentine and she warningly opened her home to us for the few days.   During the day Valentine had to work however Lucas, Cassia and I spent that time exploring the city.  Brussels is a “small Big City” and we were able to walk through most parts of the city.  The whole time we were trying to find the famous “Belgium Balls” as I liked to call it.  They were these reflective balls formed together in the shape of an atom that I had see previously in an online film and knew they were in Brussels.

Eventually we found the “Belgium Balls” and discovered that they are an Exploratorium in which visitors can actually travel up inside the balls and look out over the city.  The day was cloudy and the prices where I so we opted not to go up inside but certainly took plenty of photos from the outside.   Funny enough, the metro line to get to these “Balls” was titled something that looked remarkable close to “Simmons”.   I should have known they marked the subway system out for my visit!!

Belgium is also very famous for their waffles and the peeing baby statue called Manican Piss.  We found manican piss but the statue proved to be very small and uninteresting.  What was more exciting happened to be the giant chocolate replicas around the site standing outside waffle vendor shops.

In the evening after Valentine was finished with work all 4 of us explored the local Christmas market.  There they had set up a giant Farris wheel and we decided to enjoy a ride.  It gave a great view of the city at night and had to have been the first Farris wheel ride I have ridden since I was about 8 years old a the local county fair!

While staying at Valentine’s, Lucas and I did our best effort to prepare a meal for everyone.  Really I should give us some more credit because nearly a year now of practice cooking for ourselves in Germany has taught us some good skills.  However, the next night we found a Brazilian restaurant and Cassia, Lucas and I took Valentine (who was actually born in Brazil!) out to eat.  It was also my first time eating authentic Brazilian food!

Some plans were changed and we ended up spending New Years with Valentine and her friends in Brussels.  Some of her friends came over to her house and we drank and then went up to the rooftop for the countdown to midnight.  Unfortunately, the night was quite foggy but it was really great to be near the city center and hearing/seeing fireworks going off in all directions around you.

After enjoying the fireworks some of us went out to a club in town.  By the time we got there the cashier was so drunk or so out of it that I simply walked in free.  Good thing since the entrance was a ridiculous 16 euros or something.  They should’ve put the sober ones on the entrance!

The night came to an end late the next morning.  We made our way home by subway and went to bed.  Lucas and Cassia didn’t go out as they boarded a 10 am train to Copenhagen, Denmark.  I slept in and had breakfast with Valentine as my train back to Deggendorf was not until 2pm.  However, after I said my goodbyes and made my way to the metro to go to the train station, I ran into a ticket machine that only accepted coins and 5 and 10 euro bills.  I was 60 cents short in change and only had bills in multiples of 20’s.  I begged for someone to change my money but no one could.  So after 15 minutes of failing to change money I was too late to make my train.  In that case, I ended up going back to Valentines for one more day and taking the next train home the following day.

We had a nice evening at the house, cooked a meal together and then I made it home easy the next day without any train issues.  On the international train from Brussels to Frankfurt the workers were all German however spoke French.  It was a really cool situation where I could use any of my three languages to communicate with them.  I chose French as they checked my tickets : )

This ended my last trip after nearly year of literally traveling all over the continent of Europe- while of course studying at the German University! I will post one more blog update as a closing piece of my time in Europe.  It will include a sum-up of baseball, show more of the beautiful city of Deggendorf, my day trip to go skiing and my final going away party.  Thank you all my family and friends who have taken interest into my blog.  It has been a fun piece for me to fill out as I’ve gone along my journey here and hopefully you have enjoyed it too.

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Posted by: davidofcali | December 27, 2010

Final Excursion – France (Christmas)

I arrived in Bayonne a few days before Christmas.   The same place where the Fete de Bayonne was this summer.  It was my first time to truly have a “white Christmas” living in Germany but instead we enjoyed beautiful weather, sunny skies and no snow!  At this same time they were having some of the worst storms in Germany and Northern France.  Some of my friends were stuck in Frankfurt Hbf for almost 2 days due to snow.  I was lucky to be in the only warm pocket north of Spain!

While being away from my family in the US, I feel so fortunate to have such a family as the Lopes to spend this “family-orientated” holiday with.  At the same time, it was great to experience Christmas in a foreign country.  Grandpa “Papi” dressed up as Santa and the whole family took part in singing as the kids began to open presents.  Opening presents was nothing like I’d experienced at home.  The kids just go at it with no patience.  I was accustomed to the one at a time and make the event draw out as long as possible but this was fun to see!  The main course we ate was the Bambi that Papi had shot himself!  It was wonderful speaking to Papi the whole night and he really took a liking to me.  Someone told me I was the first American he had ever spoken with in his entire life.

The days after Christmas Coralie, Antoine and I drove down the French coast in the direction to Spain.  The weather here and the views were amazing.  At one point, we were standing on the Oceanside and you could look up and see the snow in the mountaintops.  A pretty cool experience!

After nearly a week here in France,  I boarded a night train up to Luxembourg through Paris where I was to meet Lucas and Cassia and carry out the rest of my trip and New Years with them.

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Posted by: davidofcali | December 21, 2010

Final Excursion – Spain

As the my amazing year began in Europe was quickly winding to an end, I had one last big trip to go one during my European experience.  I was certainly going out with a bang!  During my winter holidays, I first flew to Valencia, Spain on the east coast of Spain – Once again with RyanAir.  My plan was to fly to Spain on December 14th and then make my way back up through Spain, France, Luxemburg and Belgium by train en route back home to Deggendorf sometime after New Years.  In Spain, I visited and stayed with students who I’d met in Deggendorf during their my first semester and who were already back at their home universities.

In Valencia, I stayed with my Dutch friend Laure.  She was kind enough to take me through Valencia for a day and show me this beautiful city.  This place was truly amazing.  There is such a distinction between historic and modernistic here.  Flying in at night I saw some of the amazing buildings on the outskirts of the city but to see them in person was mind blowing.

First of course, was the old town and more historic sites of Valencia where the whole city center is closed off to cars.  Some photos here are from atop the old city gate that used to protect the city.

Then by foot made it to the modern side of Valencia.  The path there is through what is today a park but used to be a water way.

Now, this destination is amazing.  There is a planetarium and some science museums but the architecture is just mind blowing.  It looks computer generated!!  Words can’t explain but pictures can.

After a great day in Valencia I took 1 hour train south to Gandia to visit Francis.  Francis was my neighbor my first semester in Deggendorf and one of my first friends at the university.  This small university town on the beach is a dream location for studying.  I can understand why you might want to stay in college here an extra year or two.  While it was nearly Christmas time but yet it was still sunny and 15C!  A lot better than snow, rain and ice in Germany.  In Gandia I saw many Spanish students from my first semester in Deggendorf such as Florencia and Nuria and students who studied in Deg the semester before I came.  We all went out to celebrate being back together and had a great time.  I really hope I get to see these friends again.  It’s always such a fun, enjoyable atmosphere together.  They will all be missed!

Now, the true train travels began.  My plan was to make it back to Bayonne with the Lopes family where I was this summer for Christmas.  On the way, I stopped for a few days in Madrid to see Marien, a girl who played on my softball team in Deggendorf and studied there too.  With her girlfriends and roommate we cooked some great meals together and did our last minute Christmas shopping.  Madrid had a great open market that weekend and was packed with people.  This was my second time to Madrid this year and it only strengthened my position as finding Madrid a much more beautiful and enjoyable city than Barcelona!  But maybe that’s influence by having such great connections there too :)

While in Madrid, Marien, her friend from France and I saw an English showing of “The Town” and I thought it was a great film!  The last night there we met up with Bea and some other friends.  Bea studied in Deggendorf as well and lived in my same building.  This trip was truly great to visit all of my friends from the first semester in their home environment.  I hope one day they come see me in California!

On a rainy Tuesday morning I made my way from Madrid to Bayonne, France.  The “shoe shaped” high-speed trains in Spain were REALLY nice and had movies like an airplane.  They even passed out complementary packaged headphones in a box.  I didn’t even know what this box was at first when they were offering it to me.  There was hardly anyone on these trains as well and better yet, they don’t control on the trains.  Yes, you had to scan your bags and check your tickets at the counter (just like an airplane) but their system is only set up to scan the reservation that I had to additionally purchase from them for a few euros.  So these day travels in Spain did not even take days off my rail pass.  Who would have known?!

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Posted by: davidofcali | November 5, 2010

Vienna

After leaving Zuzana in Bratislava I took a short train ride to Vienna.  In Vienna I met Tristan and his Hungarian girlfriend.  Tristan and I went to high school together and met through studying French.  He is studying in Bordeaux, France this semester and it just worked out that we were in Vienna at the same time.

The time in Vienna was short but it is an extremely clean, organized and beautiful city.  Everything in this city seems to be perfect, in fact, too perfect.  Our tour of Vienna was completely spontaneous without maps and without destinations.  We did stumble upon Schönenbrunn Palace, which proved to be just another exemplary example of the beautiful collection of castles and palaces that Bavaria and Austria have to offer.

Don’t forget that it was around this area in Austria that the Sound of Music was filmed.  The countryside on the way into and out of Vienna is truly a sight to see from the ICE (InnerCityExpress high speed trains in Germany and Austria).  It’s impressive how similar Austria is to Bavaria (as in fact, in history they used to belong together).  One can truly see a difference between Bavaria and n northern Germany.

Hope you enjoy the photo collection below!

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Posted by: davidofcali | November 3, 2010

Slovakia- Zilina, High Tatras, Trenchin

After the closure of the Deg Goes East tour it was back to reality and catching up with classes at the University.  However, Bavarians love their religious holidays.  For Halloween weekend we had two days off from school to celebrate All Saints Day and I had some professors who cancelled class on top of that.  Simultaneously I was talking with Zuzana, who I had met in Bratislava, about visiting her and seeing more of Slovakia.  When talking about dates in winter, we discovered that the best time was actually the upcoming weekend and the corresponding holidays.  Therefore, I picked up my rail pass and jumped on a train bound for Bratislava.

Bratislava is located only about 40 kilometers from Vienna, both of which are on the Donau River, the same one which runs through Deggendorf.  In fact, Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capital cities in the world!  I arrived in Bratislava in the afternoon and met Zuzana where we then took a train together to Zilina in the north, her hometown.

From Zilina we made 3 day trips around northern Slovakia.  First, with Michael, Zuzana’s brother, we went to the High Tatras, the highest mountains in Slovakia.  The city below the mountains was covered in beautiful fall colors but unfortunately it was impossible to take the gondola to the top due to high winds.  Therefore, we hiked through the high lakes located in the mountain range where a winter ski jump was also constructed.

The next day we went to Orava Castle.  This castle is in great condition and located in a beautiful valley with a river passing by.  The site has been used as the setting for several medieval films and is absolutely beautiful.  I later found out that this small village around the castle was where one girl who I studied with in Deggendorf the previous semester lives!  What a coincidence!

Zuzana and I went back to Zilina and saw the town by night.  The city was really special for me to see because it’s about the same size as my hometown Chico so it was a good European perspective of a similar sized city.

Another day we went hiking atop another mountain range with a friend of Zuzana’s.  At the summit it was VERY windy but the views were spectacular.  I was so happy to have these outdoor experiences in Europe as this is what I truly love and appreciate about home in Northern California.  We stopped in a small pretty city in the countryside called Terchova.

The time in Zilina with Zuzana’s family really made me feel touched.  They opened their house to me for 5 days and we shared countless laughs as we mingled between Slovakian, English and German.  It was great that we could share things such as watching movies together with the help of sub-titles.  All of Zuzana’s family was so generous and hospitable that I was truly sad to leave Zilina after such a wonderful time with them.  I have promised that I will return one day in the near future!

The last day we went to Bratislava but through Trenchin.  In Trenchin we stopped for lunch and to meet two friends of mine who were students in Deggendorf in the spring, Dominika and Martin.  We had lunch together, walked through Trenchin, up to the city’s castle, and through the executioner’s house (he is long retired).  At lunch, one of the hot items on the menu was the “Smoked Tongue”.  Not quite sure whether that’s pig, cow, horse or human tongue but I didn’t goûté.

It was so wonderful to see Dominika, Martin, and of course Zuzana all again. When moving to Germany I never would have imagined what truly wonderful friends I would make from Slovakia and Eastern Europe in general.  In fact, my prior knowledge of Eastern Europe was so limited before this year abroad, but I’m so happy that I have educated myself in this part of Europe.  With this trip to visit Zuzana, the Deg-Goes-East tour, and Poland in the summer, I honestly have much more of a desire to continue exploring Eastern Europe than re-visiting popular touristic Western Europe locations.  While the Deg-Goes-East group only got to experience the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava for a short half a day, I am so lucky to have had the chance to experience how truly beautiful of a country Slovakia is and how welcoming and hospitable the Slovakian people are.  I thank Zuzana from the bottom of my heart for making this all possible.  Ďakujem Zuzana a vašu rodinu!

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Posted by: davidofcali | October 15, 2010

Deg Goes East

The third week back in Deggendorf was a HUGE week – The execution of our Deg Goes East project.  Deg Goes East was derived from an International Project Management class from the previous semester.  The entire class was divided into project teams and assigned a project to carry out.  My project team consisted for Lucas, me and 5 German girls (Babsi, Fransi, Annika, Mandy and Vera).  Our project was by far the most extensive of all and therefore required the second semester for execution.

Our task:  Create a week long rally through Eastern Europe visiting partner universities to strengthen the relations between the partners and establish a new partner university along the way.  The rally did not only include our project team but 25 students, representing all the faculties from our university, and 2 professors.  Each team was given a rental car and our project team of 7 traveled in a van.  All aspects of the entire project were designed and carried out by our project team.

***HERE ARE A FEW WONDERFUL RECAP FILMS PUT TOGETHER BY THE MEDIA TECH STUDENTS ON OUR TRIP*** tip: putting the video on full screen turns out much better

The trip began on a Monday morning and we departed for Pilzen, Czech Republic.  In Pilzen we presented to the university before a giant lecture hall of students, had a tour of the university, and then continued on to Prague for the night.

At each University Babsi and I presented before students, professors and/or administration.  We passed the night in Prague – a city so touristic that the only language you hear on the streets in German or English, not Czech.  The next day we toured the city and castle and drove to Bratislava in the evening.  Along the way one team put diesel in a regular gas car and was stranded but we were able to rotate in a new car and get them along their way.  At this point, the two professors returned to Germany and the entire group of 25 students was in the hands of our project team.

In Bratislava we were treated like guests of honor at the University.  First off, we presented in a board roam before the president and other administration of the largest university in Slovakia.  We then discussed issues between Germany, Slovakia, economy and university exchanges and then were fed in a huge dining hall at the university with waiters and everything.  The students gave us a tour of the city which has a unique mix between historic, communistic, and modern architecture.  In Bratislava we met such wonderful people and founded great relationships with the students.

This evening we packed up once again and drove to Budapest, the capital of Hungary.  We stayed two days in Budapest, presented at the university, saw the city and had our first taste of Eastern European nightlife.  Budapest was enjoyable but it lacked the connection with the locals that we had in Bratislava.

We then had a full day’s drive across Hungary to the capital of Croatia, Zagreab.  We stopped half way in the city of Siofok (pronounced “She-O-Fuk”) which is alongside the largest lake in Hungary, the Balaton.  We made it Croatia and presented to the deans of different departments.  The people of Croatia were truly unique.  We were all amazed at how TALL, confident, and good looking the people of Zagreb were on average.  For the first time my life, I was looking every girl straight in the eye and they were not even wearing heals!  Numerous guys were as tall as or taller than me.  I was impressed.  That night there was the opening party for the new semester and hospitality of the local students was amazing.  This night just topped off the amount of times I was impressed by the people from Eastern Europe.

On the last day we visited the countryside near Rijeka, Croatia followed by an evening on the Oceanside.  The next day we drove through Slovenia and Austria and made it home that night, back in Deggendorf.  Before embarking on our week long project, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, however I returned home fascinated with the East.  I can honestly say now that if I had the chance to visit a popular touristic destination like Barcelona or an unequally known city in Eastern Europe, I would much rather go East.  I was truly impressed and hope that my future allows me to experience more of Eastern Europe.

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Posted by: davidofcali | September 27, 2010

Greece and Italy

After our trip to Ireland and Scottland, Lucas and I had a one day passover in Deggendorf and then we flew with Ryan Air to Volos, Greece.  From the sky, this city and airport on the Mediterranean Oceanside looked beautiful.  But from the ground one could see it was a total mess.  We wandered all through the city to find the train station to discover it was impossible to take a train to Athens, so then set our in search for the bus station.  Finally we got everything figured out and boarded a bus to Athens.  We arrived in Athens in the middle of the night in a sketchy part of town.  At this point we first witnessed how so many young Greek people were not willing to help us in English (or German, French, or Portuguese in that fact).  It was a fiasco to figure out the city bus system, where the little kiosks are located to buy tickets and what stops to take, but eventually it all worked out and we found our hostel.

Now I’m typically not a negative person but our first day in Greece delivered some negative perceptions.  After staying in some of the best hostels we’d ever seen in Ireland and Scotland, we found that this hostel in Athens was certainly the one of the worst.  However, surprisingly enough, in our room was a guy from Grass Valley, California.  He was a quiet and shy fellow but I was amazed to meet someone so far away from home that is practically from home.

The next morning, Lucas and I woke up early as it was our only day to see Athens.  We walked by some archeological sites and made our way to the Acropolis.  In fact, we waited as the place opened and were some of the first ones in.  The Acropolis itself was under construction unfortunately, but we enjoyed the beautiful views from atop Athens and the historic importance of the place.  On the way home we discovered the best thing about Athens, the pastries and baklava.  This constituted for our breakfast as we sat on the side of the street enjoying our pastries and watching the Greeks pass by.  We went back to the hostel, gathered our bags and started out to the port to board a ferry.

Finding the port was another fiasco.  We went to the kiosk to buy bus tickets, but they were sold out, second kiosk, same story.  So we ride without a ticket, take our chances.  Now, normally we ask young people for help because we assume they would speak English, however, more than 5 people turned their heads and walked away when we asked for help getting to the metro.  Until, an older couple sitting at the bus stop heard us asking in English, came up and willingly helped us.  They were so kind and even embarked on sharing their life stories with us and the opportunities they had to visit the US when they were younger.  They took the bus with us and showed us which stop to disembark and gave a huge smile and a friendly wave as we left.  Such great people.  Now, we just needed to find the metro from the bus stop.  Unable to spot it right away, David went up to a lady at the bus stop and simply asked “Metro?” and pointed left and right.  The metro entrance was literally 100 feet away to the left hidden behind a kiosk but she shook her head at David and looked away.  A young boy a few seats over saw our predicament and jumped in to help, explaining it was just down to the left.  I thanked him very very much and gave the lady a look with the facial expression like “what the fuck?”.

We found the metro and were amazed that signs were actually in English too!  If you don’t know, Greek is composed in a completely different alphabet making it incredibly hard to navigate alone when you can not even start to pronounce some words.

At the port we boarded a ferry to Mykonos.  In fact, the actually embarking was kind of funny.  We got off port transport bus at the wrong ferry.  Continued to take photos in-front of the ferry and attempted to board.  One  foot in the door, they threw us out and showed us that we were on the completely wrong side of the port!  We found the correct ferry and were on our way.

We spent the whole 2 hour ferry ride on the deck, taking our first sun.  We arrived in Mykonos and were picked up by the Hotel van (yes, our first hotel in the summer of traveling).  Where we stayed was called the Argo Hotel.  It was most likely the nicest 3-star hotel I’d ever seen (not that I’ve seen or stayed in many hotels), but it was extremely cheap and cost only 50% more than a hostel would usually cost per person.  I found this place along with all the other activities for these past two weeks off Tripadvisor.com.  I highly recommend this website.

Now, after we arrived in Mykonos, we discovered something quite funny.  We never were aware of this before, but Mykonos is particularly a gay island.  This was evident by rows of guys laying out on the beach in the afternoons and the one beach part we discovered.  By the end of our time on the island this fact became quite comical for us.  The one night we ate out, the restaurant host gently thanked David for coming there and pet his shoulder as David took his teach.  Our 3 days and 2 nights in Mykonos were spent on the beach, in the water, exploring the coastline of the island and one night out in Mykonos Town.  The video embedded here captures some of our jokes about this “schwul” island.

One day we hiked to the top of Mykonos Town and took photos from above.  Weeks later back in Germany we were watching a music video for the song “Stereo Love” by Edward May and saw that it was filmed in the exact same spot where we were taking photos overlooking the city.  You can imagine the reaction of jubilation jumping out of the chair screaming “AH WE WERE THERE!”

We then boarded another ferry back to Athens.  We stayed in a hostel near the main train station (low quality again, no shower door/curtain, floods, not impressed).  We had a cheeseburger in a local bar where 3 guys were watching football and ordered our food in German.  The next morning we boarded a train to Patras, a port city in the west of Greece.  We arrived in Patras and had some time to kill before our 22 hour ferry ride to Ancona, Italy.  Our rail passes paid for our tickets and all we had to do was pay taxes (16 euros) for the ferry, what a deal.  The ferry was quite impressive.  It was truly amazing how many semi-trucks, RVs, and cars could be fit in this thing.  The ferry was like a small cruise ship with bars, pools, entertainment, etc., however, with our discounted fares we had no cabin, but we were not alone.  It was evident that there were some regulars on here who had already packed up their meals for the journey and brought blow up mattresses to sleep on the decks.  Lucas and I found a nice place on the back of the ferry deck to spend the night however the air was warm and the sky was filled with stars and a beautiful full moon.

In the morning we arrived in Ancona.  In Italy we traveled everywhere by train.  Cities I visited in Italy were Pisa, Rome, Verona and Venice.  In Pisa, the stop was literally only for 2 hours.  Long enough to make it to the Leaning Tower, take silly photos, and get back to the train station.  Verona, the city where Romeo and Juliet was based was a nice medium sized city in Northern Italy.  North of Verona is what I believe is the most beautiful part of Italy.  This mountainous region is filled with valleys of vineyards to make for such a beautiful scenery.   Venice is fairly small, but entertaining navigating through the small alleyways.  One can truly see the whole city in a day and one night.

 

In Rome, Lucas and I spent his birthday there.  The city of Rome and the Vatican City were very beautiful, offered cheap local transport, and great historical sites.  The coliseum seemed most impressive from the outside, but it amazed me how you can just walk down the street and then see ancient ruins.  It was great to see sites that I’d forever learned about in school about or seen in books, but to be there in person truly presents a different experience and education.

Now, after a complete summer of traveling throughout Europe, on the last night of the adventure we experienced our first bout of bad luck.  It was Lucas’ birthday and the next day we were returning home to start the second semester of our studies in Deggendorf.  We went out to several bars and clubs to celebrate Lucas’ birthday and were making our way home around 3 in the morning.  At this time, the metro was already closed so we had to go by foot.  While navigating our way home, we were jumped in the streets.  The guy delivered two punches to the face, a sly snag for David’s gold graduation chain, and was off.

While the situation was unfortunate and presented many mixed emotions, we were truly lucky that nothing worse occurred.  We made it home and caught our train in the morning, swollen lips and all.  Of course no one wants such things to happen in life, but sometimes they do.  It’s another one of life’s experiences and I’m more than happy that I had my best friend there for support.  We made it home fine to Deggendorf and the next morning started our first day of the second semester!

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