the mayor of Strasbourg

“You don’t know what you’re talkeeeng about”

“France isn’t what it used to be… you walk around like a foool, somebody cut you”

In search of an Irish pub last night—the most likely nonexistant Irish Times—we met a new “friend” on the way past the cathedral. Some guy—no front teeth, ratty suit—caught up to our group of six just to inform Joe Ireland that he didn’t know what he was talking about. —kept hoping that the guy would shove off quickly, but he followed us for several hundred meters, giving us such important information like telling us that we should watch out, or that he would cut us, or that we shouldn’t walk around like “woooo” (imagine arms flailing in the air), or that his grandparents blood was on the castle. He kept referring to it as his city, so we naturally assumed that he must be the mayor of Strasbourg.

Actually, this was all aimed at Joe. Not a surprise.

Back to class…

What I like about ISU so far…

The mixture of idealism and realism is at an acceptable ratio. I expected many, many more “space cadets” than I have met here. What’s a space cadet? —a discussion for a different day, but I’ll be satisfied with explaining that the other students that I’ve met here in Strasbourg have other interests in addition to space-related interests. This is a huge relief; going to space is an important personal goal, mostly for selfish reasons, but there are other interests that I want to include in my personal and professional life. There is a wonderful variety—and quantity—of experienced and educated people participating in the summer session program. Is it rude to admit that I didn’t expect this much quality from the program? —maybe not rude, but arrogant, certainly arrogant. I barely remember what I expected, but my experiences so far exceed expectations. One example, then I will be off to lunch: many of the lecturers and other faculty—mostly borrowed faculty but some permanent—have real responsibilities in the industry. More later—food now…

ISU opening

From Peter Diamandis’s opening presentation:

The average age of the engineers who built the ships—the propulsion, the structures, the navigation and guidance, the life control systems—the average age of those engineers was—do you know? 26 years old. There was no one there to tell them what could not be done. They had to make it up on their own as they went along. So I want you to remember that anything you want is possible… if you’re committed to making it happen. And I want you to think about this summer session as a chance you have to put behind everything you’ve ever learned before. Forget about what people told you could not be done, what could be done, and figure out what you want to do. This is your chance to explore crazy ideas, wonderful ideas, ideas that in the back of your mind you’ve wondered, “Could I do this? Is this possible?” And the answer is that if you believe it is, it is. If someone tells you it can’t happen, well, it can’t happen for them, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen for you.

From an Uzbekistani flat in Germany

I made it into Germany without any problems. The flight on LTU was delayed an hour out of Orlando, and somewhere along the line an additional hour was lost, bringing me to the Düsseldorf Flughafen two hours later than anticipated. But if a late flight is the worst thing that happened—great. The potential downside: Yunir’s girlfriend, who had never met me before, was waiting for me at the train station in Bochum. The airport at Düsseldorf was easy to navigate, and I found the train station just a few minutes after picking up my bags.

I wish that I had learned more German before arriving; I might have understood the machines that dispensed train tickets. The good news: I found the train that went to Bochum. The bad news: I had purchased a ticket for an entirely different train. But the controller spoke good English, sold me the proper ticket—at a total loss of the other ticket, but better to lose a few euros than to not reach my destination—and all was well… assuming Rosa had waited. She had, even though she had an exam later in the afternoon. We left the train station, taking the 310 local train to Brucknerstraße, just a few blocks from the flat that she shares with Yunir (Yunir, unfortunately, is not in Germany, but is in the US doing something with the Mars Gravity Biosatellite—I’ll have to investigate more).

I hate—hate—that I know so little German, or any other language. One reason is that I would like to go to a restaurant and feel comfortable ordering food, talking to the waittress. But a newer, more substantial reason, came from meeting Rosa. She’s also from Uzbekistan. Her first language is Russian, though she also learned English in school. Since she’s been here at university, German has replaced English as her second language, but this doesn’t mean that her English was bad. In fact, it was really good—slow, but perfectly understood. There I was, feeling small because she was apologizing for poor English that was quite good… I decided that I was going to learn to converse in another language on this trip—French, Spanish, Hindi, whatever. I want to feel out of place speaking with someone else’s first language instead of asking them to speak in mine. If I ever achieve the same quality in one of these languages as Rosa had in English, I’ll be happy.

One problem remains: I need a visa. I misunderstood the visa regulations. I thought that I would need a visa if I wanted to stay only in France for 90 days, but the 90 days includes “Schengen” countries (according to the State Department, Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden). Nominally, my entire stay in Germany, France, and Spain is approximately 105 days. I’ll look up more info later, but if someone has information about getting a visa, I’d appreciate if you left a comment.

(And I successfully called the US via Skype for the first time—good news for the rest of the trip ahead)

Full picture: Rainbow over Florida

Full picture: A view down the street from Yunir’s fourth floor flat in Bochum.

Zero G

G Force One takeoff
Full picture: G-Force One taking off from the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center

On Saturday, Zero G was at the Kennedy Space Center running microgravity flights for Florida teachers. Since I’ve been a bum in Florida for a few days I drove down to Titusville to offer a hand as a volunteer—cheap labor for them and access to interesting activities for me. Besides getting to chat with excited teachers before and after their flights, I also got to watch the Zero G plane—G-Force One—take off from the same runway where the Shuttle lands, tour the inside of the plane with Tim Bailey, and hang out with six-flight Astronaut John Blaha. I have more pictures and some audio, but I’m strapped for time; my flight to Germany leaves in seven hours.

So—next bit of writing comes from Germany.

Düsseldorf to Bochum

I’m here in Florida now, bouncing between Titusville and Daytona Beach, waiting for my flight from Orlando to Düsseldorf which is coming up on Monday 26 June. The reason for flying into Düsseldorf is simple: it’s much less expensive than flying into France—that I get to spend time with friends in Florida and near Düsseldorf finalized the decision.

But getting to Düsseldorf is easy—step inside a plane in Orlando and like magic step back outside into Germany. Now here’s the challenge: first get to Bochum, then get from Bochum to Strasbourg. And keep in mind that my knowledge of German revolves around counting to twelve, saying good morning/evening, and singing a children’s song. In Bochum is my friend Yunir, who recently moved there from Uzbekistan to attend graduate school at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (this is, in fact, the first time I’ve ever had an Uzbekistani friend in Germany).

So here’s the “plan.”

  1. Arrive in Düsseldorf at 8:15am on Tuesday, 27 June
  2. Train from Düsseldorf to Bochum on Tuesday [15€]
  3. Train from Bochum to Strasbourg on Friday, 30 June [72€]

Oh, I just remembered—I can say bier and danke schön. Perhaps ‘beer’ and ‘thank you’ will come in handy…