Saturday, April 15, 2006

Team Taylor

Though the words “crazy,” “nuts” and “pschyo” have come out of my mouth in reference to my sister's marathon running, the truth is that not even the ocean could keep me from watching her race. I came over the ocean on Tuesday and yesterday morning my family headed north to Boston, where Katie will run the famous and infamous Boston Marathon on Monday. This year’s 110th running is even more special for my family because my Uncle Dave, Aunt Lisa and Katie will all be participating! And when I write running, I really do mean running. They will all run every mile of the marathon faster than I run one! Wahnsinn!

Instead of a long entry today, I think I will stick with pictures and captions. More tomorrow…

Ever since my grandpa passed away we have often seen a rainbow before important moments for our family. We think Thursday night's rainbow is a clear sign that he will be watching over the runners on Monday! If you look closely, you can see a second one.

The race starts 26.2 miles (42K) outside of Boston in a sleepy little town called Hopkinton. The town is woken up once a year by the sound of 20,000 runners pounding the pavement crossing this starting line.

There will be around 500 port-a-potties near the starting line for the runners. Honestly, I don't think that is enough. You do the math!

Anything that might be confused as a port-a-potty has been roped off... eewwwww

Grandpa Lee, Granny, me, Dad and Mom in Hopkington... checking out the course for the runners. We gave it our seal of approval!

Katie wanted a "Boston Running Bean" t-shirt, so my mom designed it and Team Taylor will be sporting them on race day! Who needs to be sponsored by Nike or Adidas, when you've got Team Taylor;-)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Back to the States and More

Here’s an “American in Berlin” posting from the good old US of A. I’m back in the States for Easter and to watch Katie and my aunt and uncle run the Boston Marathon.

I think I am really getting the hang of jetting between countries:-) But it did feel odd to be leaving Berlin after just returning from the study trip —my clothes didn’t quite dry before I repacked them.
The trip was great; I even had a whole row of seats to myself.

The only “fun” part of my trip was at check-in. At the risk of stereotyping, let me describe:
French employee: “oh this bag is too heavy, this is a problem.”
Erin: “oh I am sure it is under the weight limit. I am confident.”
(flash a friendly smile)
Frenchy: “well we will just see, won’t we”
Erin: “Bring it on Frenchy. Didn’t your mother every tell you that if you make ugly faces like that it might stick one day?” (okay, actually that was just my internal monologue.)
Lo and behold, the bag was under the limit:-P
Frenchy: Who else touched your bag?
Frenchy: To whom did you loan your computer?
Frenchy: What other things are you carrying for other people?
In essence, he was asking the same questions as the nice German employee at Christmas, but yesterday’s guy was very accusatory. It was not a good American-French interaction!

In other news, spring has sprung in Berlin and love is in the air…
My friend Lexy, another fellow, just got engaged! I hope that she and her fiancé don’t mind me sharing their good news on the internet:-) Congratulations Lexy and Emil!! You can tell that Lexy and I were meant to be friends because in the email she sent to announce her engagement, she talked more about the tomato spaetzle and cheese sauce she made for dinner (I’m not joking!)

Meanwhile, in Wilmersdorf, I have a bird nesting in my Christmas greens and the crocus are blooming outside my apartment. The trees have that slight pink tinge to them, a little preview of what’s to come. Everything should really be blooming by the time I return next week. I think Springtime for Erin will be a good thing!

Monday, April 10, 2006

The last study trip posting

Day #1 in Brussels was spent in meetings at the European Commission. We had briefings on everything from the common foreign and security policy and Turkey to religion and the EU. On the one hand, the day was interesting because I know a reasonable amount about the EU. On the other hand though, many of the presenters couldn’t say much more than, “we spend lots of time in meetings and don’t have any idea when reform, the admission of Turkey, etc… will be realized.” I also found it difficult to follow some of the presentations because people were using a mix of foreign and English “alphabet soup” acronyms. "Decisions about the CFSP, otherwise known as GASP are made in working groups, which report to the PSK, which reports to COREPER, which reports to Council."

Embassy Reunion!

After the meetings were over, I dashed to the German Embassy to meet up with Wiebke, a former colleague who now works for the German ambassador in Brussels. It was a surreal experience to be at a German embassy somewhere other than Washington. There was a familiarity and level of comfort that was odd and inviting at the same time. The ambassador was extremely nice and sat down with me for a good 10 minutes or so to hear about my project. Wiebke and I then met up with Roric, another former colleague. The evening was filled with good conversation, good food and good friends, what could be better!

Friday was my day—briefings at my favorite international institution, NATO. (Yes, I have a favorite international institution… it’s the geek equivalent of having a favorite fussball or football team;-)) Anyway, NATO seemed to have more tangible goals than the EU, but is also in a period of reform and change. Surprisingly, the Russians had lots of questions about the NATO-Russian relationship, but the meeting was not as charged as when we went to the defense ministry in Bonn. The highlight of the day was lunch at the German ambassador to NATO’s residence. If lunch was a window into the world of a diplomat working in Europe, I want in! The first course was a filo dough basket filled with asparagus, sesame crusted langoustines and leeks in a lobster cream sauce. The main course was salmon wrapped in leek leaves with a corn fritter, tempura red pepper and something else that I can’t remember. The main course got a few minus points because each plate was served with a giant crawfish. Though surely a delicacy, I prefer my lunch plate to be face free! Dessert was a strawberry and mint mousse topped with fresh raspberries and served with warm brownies and mint tea. If it had been remotely appropriate, I would have taken a picture of each course. I think I might still be full!

With the 14-day study trip finished on Saturday, I headed to the US embassy to take the Foreign Service written exam, AGAIN. Hopefully I will be offered a job based on my most recent interview. But since the written test is only offered once/year, I decided that I should test again to keep myself eligible to another interview if need be. It might have been a bit more difficult than in years past, but overall not too bad.

After a quick stroll through the Grand Place and a waffle to celebrate the conclusion of the test, I met Wiebke and we took the train to Gent. Gent is a marvelous Flemish city 30 minutes north of Brussels that is most famous for its cathedral containing Jan van Eyck’s “The Adoration of the Lamb” altarpiece. Wiebke and I raced to get to the church before it closed and spent a good 45 minutes examining the paintings. It was by far the most magnificent work of art I have ever seen. The colors were vibrant, the details meticulous and the symbolism and history fascinating. The rest of Gent is also fantastic. My hotel, though a bit run down, overlooked a castle where bagpipers played until sunset. The old houses lining the canals have not changed a bit since the Dutch masters first painted them in their pictures centuries ago.

there were bikes EVERYWHERE!

boat tour

On Sunday, I visited the city’s many open-air markets and took a small boat tour. Then it was back to Brussels to catch a train to Cologne. I had time to say a quick hi to Torsten and then catch my plane to Berlin. The final part of my adventure was landing at Tempelhof airport. Used to facilitate the Berlin Airlift after WWII, the airport is a historic landmark. It will probably be closed soon, so it was neat to land there once. The main terminal looks like it is straight out of the 50’s. The view of the TV tower as we landed was also incredible.

So now I am back in Berlin. One load of laundry is finished; one’s in the washing machine and a third is waiting. Hopefully everything will be dry by late afternoon so I can pack my suitcase again and leave for the States tomorrow. The slight kink in my plans is that I think I discovered a leak in my bathroom ceiling. I guess the landlady will be my first call of the day. Always an adventure!