Sunday, April 18, 2010

European travel + volcano eruption = chaos

With all the technology we have to prevent or minimze the impacts of "force majeurs," it's amazing the amount of extent of disruption a volcano can cause without a solution.

This weekend I drove to Paris with a colleague of mine.  This was a last-minute decision which resulted from the colleague being stranded in Heidelberg with access to a company car and free gas.  In Paris, we were amongst the lucky who got to enjoy the weekend. Many people we encountered were stranded there with no idea when or how they would get home.  The planes won't run again until Thursday at the earliest (according to authorities).  All buses and trains out of Paris are full through next weekend.  Car rental agencies are out of cars.  And hotels are all full.  People are sleeping in train stations. 

A friend of a friend was in Paris for a 1-day business meeting which turned into a 4-day trip (due to the volcano).  As they needed to get home to Finland for business, they were contemplating driving with us to Frankfurt (5 hours), taking the train from Frankfurt to Hamburg (4 hours), then catching a ferry from Hamburg to Finland (20 hours).  Leaving Paris (via car), we encountered numerous people waiting at the freeway entrance with signs saying asking for rides to Copenhagen, Turkey, Italy, Russia, Egypt (all not exactly day drives from Paris).   As it was clear that we were travellers, many other travellers approached us asking if we heard of any new chances to get to [fill in a city name].  Many of these travellers fly to a city for 1 day only (for a business meeting) without any luggage and are now stuck there with only a laptop bag.

10 of my friends are stranded throughout cities in Europe or the US (many got stuck at lay-over cities).   Many more of my work colleagues are stranded and not ableto get to their next business meeting.  The travellers stranded in Germany and France are much better off than other stranded passengers as they are in the center of Europe and have the best chance of getting to their next destination.  The silver lining of the volcano means has lead to cheaper than normal airfare prices for the next months.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Generation gap moment: the car window handle

Today, I had my 1st "generation gap" moment...  This morning I drove 2 friends + their 2 kids to the train station.  The 5 yr. old son was sitting in the back seat next to the window.  Half-way through the ride he asked what the window handle did. 

This is definitely the moment when I realized that I'm grown up. Not only that, but I learned that the younger generation is now old enough to articulate that they have no clue of things that I grew up with (quite a generation gap). 

This has never happened to me before.  I don't have kids or spend enough time around kids to experience this.  All of my friends are about my age, so no generation gap there.  At work, I'm usually the youngest person by 5-10 years so I am usually the person making the generation gaps comments. 

The best part of this generation gap was seeing the 5 yr old understand what the handle did and trying it... it was an "ah ha" moment for him.  He thought it was so cool.  Meanwhile, all of us adults were remembering how impressed we were when power windows were invented.

Teenagers growing up in Europe... what's next for them?

On St. Patty's Day, my friends and I went to the local Irish pub for Irish dancing and green beer.  It seems that we were not the only ones with this idea. Many of the the teenagers from the US base also went to the Irish pub. This is legal as the drinking age in German is 14.

Seeing the teenagers on St. Patty's day made me wonder what life is like for them growing up in Germany.  I was even more curious after I ran into one group of students near the toilet - this group was wearing green Guiness hats, making an especially loud scene (a difficult feat in an already loud Irish pub on St. Patty's day), acting like the rulers of the bar, and already drunk from drinking lots of green beer.  They were all 15-16 years old.  This is common behaviour amongst the US base teenagers.  In a small town* like Heidelberg, it is quite frequent to see teenagers who you know drinking in restaurants, bars , etc. on any given night.  A friend of mine who works with the high schoolers mentioned that she's overheard many of the students discuss how often they drink (frequently) and the best places to sleep when they're drunk and can't go home (to avoid being caught drunk by their parents).  These teenagers are living in an almost surreal world of their making where the options are limitless. 

Typically this type is seen at the beginning of the 1st year college.  Then it tapers off.  If these teenagers are drinking heavily at 15 yrs old, what is next for them?  Do they drink less as they grow older or do they try to top this? What happens to them when they return to the US or when they start college? 

*From the US perspective, Heidelberg is a village.  Locals prefer to call it a city.  Small town is a good compromise.  It's qute frequent to see people you know, or people with whom you work, while out in town.

Peeps Racing in High Heels

This pic above shows the perfect Easter - "Peeps" racing in high heels.  I would love these Peeps wearing the new Christian Louboutin stilettos designed for Barbie. 

Every Easter, the Washington Post holds a contest where contestants create a diarama using Peeps (the Easter marshmellows shaped like chicks, bunnies, etc.).  This diorama(seen above) was one of the semi-finalists from the Washington Post's Peep competition.  Click here to vote for your favorite Peep diorama.