Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Oktoberfest!

In the weeks following the news about Emily, I was so touched and grateful for all my wonderful friends who reached out to me. My friends from back home were amazing as they called, Facebooked, and emailed me constantly to check in on me and keep my spirits up. I am so grateful to have wonderful people like you all in my life.

I was also so touched that my friends here in Bavaria reached out to me, encouraging me to get out of the house, do fun things, invited me out for lunch...all these small gestures meant the world to me as I tried to process this news. Just to know that people cared enough to reach out to me, even people who haven't known me that long, was so incredibly helpful and wonderful of them. People are really amazing sometimes.

The past two weeks have mostly been filled with local stuff, though as I mentioned I've been spending a lot of time with my new friends here-taking some art classes, going shopping, and having much needed "girl time". We met two new wives without kids, so the 5 of us spent a Saturday in Regensburg and visited a local wine festival for tasty Federweisser wine (a fizzy, slightly sweet wine). Last week Amanda and I made a funfetti cake from scratch for our friend Carly's birthday. We got her husband in on it and surprised her at a local restaurant. A Bavarian guy playing the accordion even came over and played Happy Birthday for us! That was such a fun night.

Last weekend was also great because my awesome friend Chelsea came to visit! Chelsea studied with me in Marburg and we both got internships in Berlin last summer, which is when we became close. She still lives in Berlin, and we've been trying to make plans to see each other for months. She decided to come down for Oktoberfest, and let me say-we had an awesome time!

Chelsea got in late Friday night and was our very first guest to break in our guest bedroom (she gave it a thumbs up!). Saturday we had a lazy morning before putting on our dirndls and hopping the train to Munich. Fionn wasn't too keen on Oktoberfest, so we left him to his video games.

We got to Oktoberfest, where we met her friends Elli and Mark. We managed to find a seat in the Biergarten, ordered our Maß beers, and started chatting with our table mates. The couple next to us was from Wurzburg, and they were so nice and funny! We ended up speaking German with them most of the night. The other end of the table was a revolving door of people, but we met some nice ones, especially the Turkish couple who sat down last. I was defintely feeling the Oktoberfest love by that point, which is probably why I hugged the woman and told her Turkey was the coolest place I'd ever visited and how much I loved it. She seemed really pleased by that and told me I had "made her heart so big" by telling her that :)



Before we knew it it was 9pm and we realized we were fast running out of trains to catch back home. So we grudgingly left our table and new friends and raced to the train station to catch a train home. Luckily Fionn was waiting on us when we got to our town and gave us a ride home. He's great :)

The next morning we had headaches but good memories, and we enjoyed sleeping in. We showed Chelsea around, bought some American food, and made tasty fajitas for dinner. Then it was off to bed so Chelsea could catch her train the next morning. Too short of a trip! :(

There are still two weeks left in Oktoberfest, so maybe we'll go again? Don't know yet...this weekend is my first Military Ball, so expect an update on that.

Thank God for wonderful friends both near and far. I'm so thankful for all the love in my life.

Some words on Emily

I know, I know, the blog has been neglected lately. Part of that has been we haven't done anything too exciting lately, but I've also been sad lately and haven't felt like writing very much.

When we got back from Latvia I heard the tragic news that a good friend of mine from back in Savannah, Emily Pickels, had been killed in what appears to be a cruel and random act of violence. Emily and I had been friends since high school and she was like a little sister to me. We worked at the Davenport House Museum together and participated in a lot of their living history activities. Since we lived in the same suburb of Savannah, we would often carpool and would spent the 45 minute drive talking, laughing, and trading advice.

Emily and I working at a living history program when we were still in high school

Emily, or "Pickels" as I often called her, was full of life and spunk, and as she got older she really came into herself. I was studying in France when she went to college, and she would skype me and tell me all about her new life in college. It always made me grin to see her number pop up on my phone because I knew zany Emily would have an interesting story to tell.

She eventually took a break from school and came back to Savannah, where she found work as a tour guide. That girl was a hard worker, no doubt. Last time I saw her, she had FIVE jobs. Five! That was the kind of person she was-determined to make her own way, pay her own bills, be her own woman. She took the break from college until she could save money to pay for it herself. There was a hardiness about Emily, and even when things got tough, she never complained or whined. She'd make a joke, shrug it off, and get back on track.

I also loved that she was so open and honest about things. We'd always laugh and say, "Geez girl! You have no filter!" But that's what was great about her! She told it like it was. She didn't take crap and she didn't sugarcoat. It was exactly what I needed sometimes, and even though I rolled my eyes when she'd tell it like it was, I was listening.

When I came back to Savannah for the wedding a few months ago, Emily was definitely high up on my list of people to visit back home. When I attended the DH's Garden Party, she spotted me as I walked in the gate, let out a shriek of delight and ran through the crowd to tackle hug me. It was the best "Welcome Home" I could've asked for. She of course looked amazing-she grew up into a beautiful woman and always looked so stunning and glamorous. I felt like every time I saw her I was saying, "You are always so glam, Pickels!"


I'm so happy she was able to make it to my wedding, to dance with me and our friends and I'm so glad I have so many great pictures of her looking beautiful, laughing and talking and tearing up the dance floor. At least I have that.




The last time I saw Emily was my last night in Savannah. We ran into her unexpectedly downtown at a bar everyone liked. She sat down for a drink, gave me a hug, and we promised we'd meet up again the next time I came home. If only I'd known then, huh?


If you want to read the news story on her death, here it is. I don't want to talk about it myself, because I want this to be about her life, not her death.


Still, it makes me angry that my hometown of Savannah, Georgia has such an incredible crime problem that they REFUSE to deal with. I lived there almost 10 years, and each year the crime gets worse and no one says anything. They want to keep their image of a cute little historic city, they want the tourists to come, they want the SCAD and AASU and SSU students to move into the cheap apartments that are for rent. They want parents to keep sending money to their college kids, and they don't want anyone scared off.

But ask anyone who lives downtown or has lived downtown, and they'll tell you they've got a story. Just in the years I went to college in Savannah I had friends robbed, mugged, car jacked, house broken in to, and murdered-first Jonathan David Brazell, a friend of mine from college who was gunned down as he walked home from a friend's house. He committed no crime, he was just a sweet, big guy who kept to himself and liked living without a car. Was it a crime to walk home by himself that night? No, but someone thought it was reason enough to shoot him and leave him for dead.

Now, not even a year after Jon's death, I get news of Emily being gunned down as she sat outside her house. Listen, Savannah, these weren't people involved in bad things, as the Police Chief so insensitively implied a few weeks ago during a press conference following Emily's murder. These were people LIVING THEIR LIVES and they were targeted for no reason. And as much as the City would have you believe these were rare occurrences, they weren't. Anyone living downtown can tell you that crazy stuff happens all the time. But we brush it under the rug, or insist they must have been "up to something" or the city government gets bogged down fighting over politics or personal agenda or issues that are 50 years old.

So when is enough enough, Savannah? How many more friends do I have to lose before you decide that this isn't the city you want anymore? How many more people have to be killed or injured or robbed before the tourists stop coming back? Or the students? Or before the locals start moving away? We can't just give up our city to criminals. It's time to take action, and I mean REALLY take action.

The Police are always claiming that they're "doing everything they can" but I would disagree. I went to college in Savannah, and I spent a lot of time doing what 20something college kids do-i.e. partying at night downtown. I NEVER felt safe downtown. To say there is a "police presence" there is laughable. The only police I ever saw were the ones posted outside the most popular bars and clubs to make sure there wasn't underage drinking. Occasionally a police car would drive by. But where were the patrols just walking around? Keeping an eye out? Downtown Savannah definitely has a feeling of "get away with what you can until you see blue lights-then scatter". On multiple occasions I saw things get out of hand downtown-people getting into fights, getting too drunk, acting crazy. Too many people, too much booze, and no authority in sight to keep them in check. You think you're doing a good job Mayor Edna Jackson and Police Chief Willie Lovett? I would invite you to go in plain clothes to City Market or Congress Street or Ellis Square around 1 am on a Saturday night. Tell me how safe you feel.

And this is in the populated area of downtown!! Imagine how the rest of the city feels at night?

Look, I don't know what it's like to be mayor or police chief, but OBVIOUSLY something needs to change. What you've been doing just simply ISN'T ENOUGH. People are DYING, the city is UNSAFE, and you all are more worried about making money off Saint Patrick's or whether or not to sell alcohol on Sundays than the important issues.

So Emily, I'm sorry. I'm sorry your life was cruelly cut short at 21 years old. I'm sorry I didn't get to dance at YOUR wedding. I'm sorry the city you loved and represented so well didn't do enough to stop criminals from doing things like this. I'm sorry I never got to go on one of your awesome Segway tours, because I bet you were hilarious and informative.

I love my hometown of Savannah. It's a beautiful, wonderful place with charm, culture, and amazing people. But these recent events make me sick. And it's time for some real change.

Rest in Peace, Emily Jean Pickels.
March 29, 1991 - September 1, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekend in Latvia

Work is really revving up for Fionn, so last weekend was going to be our last four day weekend for a while. While trying to think up places to go, Fionn suddenly suggested Latvia.

"...Latvia?" was pretty much my first reaction, but he explained he had a friend in college from Latvia who was getting married soon, but since he was working during the wedding it would be cool to fly up and visit the guy and his fiancee on our 4 day weekend. I was excited-I didn't know anything about Latvia and I never thought I'd have a reason to go there, so I was on board with the idea.

A 2 hour flight brought us to Riga, Latvia's capital. We made our way into the historic part of the city (where our hotel was) and tried to make some first impressions. Riga is very pretty, though you can still see some remnants of Soviet influence. Overall though, the city felt very cosmopolitan and slighty Scandinavian.

Fionn's friend Aleksandr met up with us and after we checked into our hotel, he took us to a restaurant he worked at as a teenager and we tried some typical Latvian food. They also had some Russian specialties (Russia is their neighbor) so Fionn was excited to eat all the things he'd grown to like when he lived in Russia. I took Alex's food advice and wasn't disappointed. I liked the kvass, which is this fermented drink that tastes almost like beer but sweet...it's made from rye bread and yeast. Difficult to explain but still good!

After that Alex drove us through the neighborhood he grew up in and showed us his school. Almost everything in that area was built by the Soviets during the Cold War, which gives it that uniform, Soviet look. He also pointed out that next to his school was an identical school, except that one was (and still is!) a school only for Russian children.

We drove back to the Old City where we met Alex's fiancee and saw some more sights, including a beautiful view of the city from a famous church.





After that we split up and Fionn and I wandered around, had some local food, and went to bed early (since we woke up at 3am for our red eye flight!)




The next day, Alex took drove us to a town near the border of Lithuania. Outside the town is this thing called the Aerodium-basically it's this huge engine that can suspend you in the air, kind of like a free fall. Don't get it? Ok, here's pictures! :)

And no, I didn't go because I was wearing contacts and was worried about messing them up. I've got terrible eyes-a lost contact would've meant the end of our trip!




The guys had fun though-they both went really high!

After that we went to the nearby city of Sigulda to see their castle. It was pretty cool, especially the places they'd rebuilt where you could climb around and play with the medieval armor and weapons they had out. That stuff was crazy heavy.




After that we had lunch and then visited where Alex works. After that he invited us to his house for a barbeque with his fiancee's family. It was so nice of them and they were all very friendly, despite the language barrier :)



Sunday we spent the morning walking around and taking pictures. By lunchtime, Alex invited us to come mushroom picking with his fiancee and her two girls. Apparently it's a big tradition in Latvia (even though Fionn was a little skeptical about wild mushrooms). We learned a few things-red ones with spots are BAD, ones that grow on trees are no good, and people are serious about their mushroom picking and getting there first. We brought along their new puppy, Bella, and afterwards we walked along the beach and looked at the Baltic Sea. We ran into their uncle who was parasailing. It was very windy, so I thought he was pretty brave!






After that we shot some air guns (i actually hit a target!) and the guys talked about guy stuff. Then we said goodbye to Alex and thanked him for his amazing hospitality and headed back to our hotel.

Our last day in Latvia we visited the Occupation Museum, bought a few souveniers, and hit up a giant market so Fionn could get his Russian food fix before we left. Then it was back to Bayern!

All in all, very fun trip. If you're looking for somewhere to go, why not Riga?