Saturday, March 29, 2008

Springtime, Wiesbaden Sights, and Octoberfest

Updates to my blog lately have not been coming as often. No more stories about chicken slaughter; at least, not for a while. I hope the graphic details did not turn any readers off. The past two weekends, I have spent working overtime to get caught up on my projects. I also came in today, Saturday. One group of projects I manage is force protection for DoDDS schools all throughout Europe. A security needs assessment is conducted for each school every 3 to 4 years. A list of work items needed for each school is noted during the survey such as perimeter fence, exterior lighting, facility stand off distances, blast protection glass on windows and doors, cameras and monitors, mass notification systems, gates, barriers, bollards, etc. Scopes of work, designs, plans and specs, and cost estimates are then generated for each school. I have nearly 20 schools this year, mainly in Germany, which we conducted security needs assessments on. That is 20 separate technical data packages that have to be completed by late April. DoDDS receives funding for these projects in late April. These projects will have to be ready for contract award by mid-May, if funding is approved. Construction period for these projects, for the most part, will require to be performed when school is out, from mid-June to late August. So it has been busy the last couple of weeks and will continue until May. My saving grace is that most of the schools are on their second cycle of assessment. So a majority of the force protection work has already been done during the first cycle. There are only a few schools that have an extensive scope of work.

I still find time to explore new places and venture out, when I can. Tomorrow, I will be attending a Spring Festival in Frankfurt with a couple of friends from work. The weather is getting better, especially today's. It has gotten very cold the last two weeks. We have not had much of a winter, until this. The last two weeks has probably been the coldest spell for the season. Just when it officially became spring, winter weather sets in. There were a couple of days this past week with snow. It would snow on and off, accumulate a little bit, but at the end of day, the snow would all melt away. Then the same cycle begins the next day. I got caught up in the snow conditions this past Tuesday. I had a meeting in Grafenwoehr, which is about a 3 hour drive from Wiesbaden on a normal commute via mostly autobahn driving. When you add the rush hour, all the highway construction along the way, and the snowy weather, it makes for a very long commute. It became a 6 hour commute home for me this past Tuesday; I did not get back to the office until 10PM.

The following picture was taken in Wiesbaden this past Wednesday:

“Spring – an experience in immortality” - Henry David Thoreau

How very true. There something about spring that picks my spirits up and gets me roaring to face life head on. It may be because the arrival of spring means the end of winter. My first winter in Wiesbaden has been very similar to Seattle winters --- dreary, gray, and wet. It was like this way a couple of days ago, well into spring season. Not that I so much hate winter weather, but it’s the prolonged periods of not seeing the sun that can get to me. It’s amazing what changes springtime brings to us. Not only the longer daylight hours, but also the transformation of our environment - nature, that has been fairly dormant for at least the last 3 months.

Today, Saturday, there was some glimmer that spring has arrived. On my walk to work this morning, there was flourish of sunshine. It was so bright. The intense sunshine beckoned me to savor its radiant sunbeams. So much so that I abandoned work after 4 hours and joined the countless people who were outside enjoying the first true spring weather (see my previous blog on Germans going gaga). I hiked to the upper hills of Wiesbaden where you can glimpse at a splendid panorama of the city. I have only recently come across this area, a wooded expanse full of trails. It's not too far from the city center, but it is an uphill and winding hike. The rewards to the arduous hike are a breathtaking view of the city and enjoyment of the natural surroundings.

It's too bad I did not bring my camera along. Which brings me to another point: I haven’t shown too many pictures of Wiesbaden. So here are a few. The first one is a picture of the Kurhaus, taken last July. Kurhaus is where they hold national and international conferences, conventions, and cultural events (opera, concerts, and theater). The second one is old town area at night during Christmas Market time, Dec 2007. The next one is a church in the middle of old town. And the last one shows people playing chess in the park. Last two pictures were taken Aug 2007. All of these Wiesbaden sights are right smack in the city center.

I just booked my tickets for a trip to Ireland and Scotland in late May for 11 days. Ryan Air, which flies to many locations in Europe, offers budget fares. The only catch is that this airline only flies to “secondary” airports, which are usually further out from the city. Also, if you check in baggage, you pay extra. It’s a “no frills” airline. No food or drinks are served, but you can buy snacks and drinks. They even sell lottery tickets on board. I was able to book a flight from Frankfurt to Edinburgh, Glasgow to Cork, and Dublin back to Frankfurt for about $150. My plan is to start in Edinburgh. After a few days there, I then take the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow. From Glasgow fly to Cork, Ireland, and then take the train from Cork to Dublin. And from Dublin, fly back to Frankfurt. I can not wait to take this trip.

I also purchased my ticket for my visit back to Seattle in mid/late June, in time for the annual family camping. I will be stopping in Miami for four days on my way back to Germany. I was not so lucky in finding a good deal for this multi-leg trip. I had to purchase the tickets before it gets even more expensive.

Friends from my work, Europe District’s Corps of Engineers, Engineering Dept. are now planning for this year’s Octoberfest. Munich’s Octoberfest is like a big state fair in the US complete with all the amusement park rides and games, food stalls, and vendors selling a variety of things. The major differences are the large beer halls that dot the fairgrounds and the merriment that abounds. Inside the beer halls is where most of the revelry takes place. Reservations are required to get a seat inside these halls. The reservation will cover the cost of food and 5 liter of beer for each individual for a 4-6 hour period. While most of the places have outdoor seating also, it doesn’t have the coziness as the inside. Also, you get a live “oom pah pah” band inside and you get the experience of joining with the Germans, shoulder to shoulder, swaying and singing (or pretending to sing) their beer drinking songs.

I had attended last year’s beer fest with a few others from our Engineering section. I can’t really tell people that I've lived in Germany and not been to Octoberfest; so this part has been crossed off my list of things to do while in Germany. It’s one of those things that you have to experience at least once. It was wild – great beer, great food, and great party. See picture montage below.

Did I mention the great beer, great food, and great party? Last year, we had reservations at the Hippodrom. It was a fairly tame beer hall compared to the others. We had walked in to the other beer halls after we had finished at the Hippodrom. The other halls seemed to be a bit merrier. For this upcoming festival, we plan on getting reservations at one of the bigger beer halls. Let me know if any of you want to join in this year’s festivities. I can request additional reservations. We will finalize plans by end of April. Seats go fairly quickly.

My apologies - I failed to note Russell’s b-day this past February and Ate Flor’s, earlier in March. I will end this blog with a few family and travel pics.

This is a picture of Jeremiah, taken July 2007. He is growing so quickly. Everytime I see him on my visits to Seattle, he gets bigger and bigger.

The picture was recently sent to me by Rena. Rena has been good in sending me pictures of her three girls, Salia, Paige, and Taia.

The picture above is my father and my late mother dancing in our living room. I would guess that the picture was taken about 1976/1977.

Group picture at Hing Hay Park after a great dinner at Sea Garden Restaurant. Picture was taken in April 2006.

Me in Old Town Strasbourg, France, taken in Sep 2006.

The primary lobby of Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Once you go through the ticket turnstile in the museum, you come across the this lobby. The lobby envelopes you in the different materials, textures, and earthly colors of the museum.

The photo is from the city center of Schwetzengen, Germany, taken in May 2006.

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