Saturday, May 5, 2018

Red Tape for Days

... a.k.a., the Saga of Moving to Germany.

I've been in Germany for 3 months now, and with the receipt of my Aufenthaltstitel (residence permit card) I can proudly say I've finally waded through all the bureaucratic red tape and officially reside in Germany for the next 3 years.

It all started off with a simple application to a PhD position I'd seen posted on the web: the opportunity to do some hydrology/fluvial geomorphology work in Tibet based through a German university, to which I merrily sent off my resume and letter of interest. A skype-like interview and research presentation followed, and then the notification that I'd been selected for the position. From there it was all downhill.

The worst part of the whole process of getting to Germany was getting the visa on the US side. Americans can technically wait until they get to Germany to apply for a work visa, but I needed to have the visa processed before I could sign my job contract and start working. So I had to set an appointment a month out to go to the German consulate in Atlanta in-person. I carefully prepared all the materials listed on the consulate's website ("documents you need for the working visa"), stayed overnight in Atlanta, showed up on time... only to have the woman working there inform me that she wanted a whole slough of other documents that weren't on that list. "Each case is different; the list is only a suggestion!" she coldly informed me, and gave me an hour to run around and find a print/copy shop (God bless you, free Marriott wi-fi and FedEx).

Meanwhile, my job position is a civil servant position, which means my salary is set by a very specific set of German standards. In particular, you get paid more for having previous job experience, which you document by showing mysterious documents called "job contracts." As an American, I thought a job contract referred to an offer letter (you know, the binding document that sets your salary and job title and start date), which I happily produced for some previous positions. Apparently the offer letters don't quite cut it in the German bureacracy, for reasons I don't understand at all since my own job contract here is not that different from an offer letter... anyways, I had to get signed letters from HR documenting some past positions, not too difficult except that for some reason a lot of HR people really suck at their jobs.

Speaking of job contracts, when I signed my official job contract with the university, I ended up signing about a BILLION papers, all in highly technical German that my supervisor loosely translated for me. Somehow, either through the job contract or from signing up with my health insurance company, I was registered for a tax identification number and signed up for unemployment insurance and some other social benefits programs with German names that I don't fully understand the implications of.

I also had to register with the Buerger service in the city: anytime you move or change addresses in Germany, you have to register with your local municipality (even German citizens). Not too difficult a process, but you have to have some official paperwork each time you go. Naturally.

And finally, with the extension of my visa (because the one in Atlanta was only issued for 6 months), I am officially here as a resident through 2021, with a cool pink and blue card. Hip hip hooray!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

More Mobile Art

As in, art in Mobile (moh-BEEL), not art on your phone.

I'm not sure the Dude "roll tides" as this street art would suggest, but it was still cool to see in downtown Mobile.

Part of a larger street art/graffiti work on Dauphin Street. Never forgett-i.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Mile-High Trip Without the High

ATL en route to DEN
 I went to Denver to visit the bro and sis-in-law in January and had a pretty good time.

View from the Capitol dome
Denver and the surrounding Front Range cities didn't look like what I was expecting, being much more sprawly and spread out than the cozy mountain Alp-style towns I had envisioned, but I suppose that makes sense given their Western history and unconstrained locations (a.k.a., no reason to confine themselves or build up rather than out). There were lots of young people in Denver, which meant there was a lot of great cuisine and drinks, and lots of active, fitness-minded people, which was a nice break from Mobile. Because it's kinda spread out and still pretty car-centric, Denver doesn't feel like a big city... until you realize how many people there are everywhere you try to go, and then it's clear that it -is- a big city.
Rare rose onyx marble in Capitol that used up all the world's supply

Capitol ceiling

Official mile high marker: lowest metal marker, with original site engraved in the middle

I had an action-packed few days, on the first day seeing the Capitol building and the official "one mile" marker (and 2 previously official ones) on the Capitol steps (and learning that Colorado has 2 of the most boring state songs ever); visiting Red Rocks; going on the Friday night Art Walk and sampling tasty vegan curry from a food truck.
Official summer sport of Colorado: pack burro racing
Red Rocks amphitheatre

Rock formation at Red Rocks

CCC memorial marker to commemorate the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who built the amphitheatre

On day two, hitting up the Free Day at the Art Museum (where I was particulary struck by how many people there are in Denver); visiting Washington Park; enjoying a local tea house.

RMNP panorama
Day three, passing through Boulder to go hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park to Bear Lake, Dream Lake, and ultimately Emerald Lake (braving possibly 60mph wind gusts? and 20 degree base temperatures without the wind and lots of clouds and snow that blocked the views of all the surrounding peaks); Lowdown Brewery for games and drinkies.
Black-billed magpie
Last day: brunch at the infamous Snooze with nary a wait; wandering around Cherry Creek State Park and seeing black-billed magpies, a nesting pair of bald eages (!!), and deer.
Frozen Cherry Creek reservoir (?)
I'd definitely give Denver another visit sometime.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Southern Winter

Things got a little chilly in the South this December and January, reminiscent of the Polar Vortex of 2013-2014... which I like.

And when I say chilly, I mean there were days where the high was below freezing, which is a big deal for the South. (Heck, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Mobile all got snow! Cue the massive freaking out.) The nice part about winter in the South is that even when it's cold out (and maybe even -especially- when it's really cold out), the skies are clear and the sun shines bright, unlike the gloomy grey European winters we all know and love.

 Obligatory picture of the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattavegas.

Mushroom Rock on Signal Mountain, that Evan and I took a very chilly ~20 degree hike to.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Beignets and Krampusnacht

New Orleans, round two.

Here are the numbers:
1 - nights stayed in New Orleans
2 - hours drive from Mobile to NOLA
2 - Second annual Beignet fest.. essentially just an excuse to eat beignets and listen to music.
3 - Neighborhoods visited (maybe more like 4 or 5, actually), including Bywater, the Garden District, Central Business District, Audubon, City Park, and everywhere in between that our Uber Lyft or St. Charles trolley path took us.
2 - delicious restaurants eaten at: Ethiopian and Costa Rican, both on Magazine Street
3 - cool bars visited: Parleaux Beer Lab (microbrewery), Bar Redux, Circle Bar
1 - first annual Krampus fest
2 - universities next to each other visited in the Garden District (Tulane and Loyola)
1 - crazy man talking to us on the St. Charles streetcar
1000 - number of fog/clouds

It was a foggy day when Evan and I arrived in New Orleans, which ended up being the perfect setting for the first annual Krampus parade in Bywater. We stayed at the Hotel Modern in Lee Square, infamous for its undercover removal of the Robert E. Lee statue this year.
Lee Square, minus Lee
We ate delicious Ethiopian food for dinner and breakfast at Surrey's cafe on Magazine Street; rode the St. Charles streetcar through the Garden District; walked around Audubon park, Tulane, and Loyola; and had a crazy man insist that we too were "other folks from Annapolis" a.k.a. FBI or something.

Audubon Park was a lovely place to walk, and we saw several bird species there, including mallards, wood ducks, coots, and whistling ducks (all pictured above). Tulane University had a nice campus; it even had a study break party in its quad with snow available to play in (the palm tree with ferns was also on campus, for contrast):

We didn't hit up the Breaux Mart; I just thought it was a funny name, especially since there were so many breauxs heading in for a beer run (or at least that's what I like to think).

Friday, December 15, 2017

My first animated GIF

... which I refuse to pronounce "jif."

Melanoides tuberculata, or red-rimmed melania, for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Further Nature-inspired Art and Amusements

One post wasn't enough for the entertaining signs and amusements I've seen around Louisiana and Alabama. So without further ado, here are some of the more "nature-inspired" things I saw around.
Barnacle-covered driftwood on Dauphin Island, Alabama

Magnolia flower from outside my apartment

Cypress knees from our lab aquarium covered with dried (probable) cyanobacteria

African iris (Dietes) planted around Baton Rouge

Water hyacinth covering the swamp at Buffalo Cove

Chanterelle mushroom found near the office and its light spore print

American beautyberry, one of my favorites

Small snake in the middle of the log.. hard to tell from the pic, but I think it was a water snake (Nerodia)

Roseate spoonbill feather that probably belonged to the bird that I saw fly off as we approached in the boat

Giant crawdad statue at the LSU Hatchery

Pumpkin butt scarecrow

Ducks at the LSU lakes (mallards + muscovy)

The total (partial) eclipse, viewed on a sheet of paper through my binoculars