February 23, 2011

Couchsurfing to the Gulf Coast

I left Memphis last weekend, and the day before I leave one city I usually check back with all my possible hosts in the city of my destination. But this time, there weren't any hosts available. I must have overestimated the size of Jackson, Mississippi, and their infrastructure when it comes to backpackers, because their website really does a fabulous marketing job. So I asked a friend I had only met at a nice birthday party the night before, and she immediately got on the case and found me the perfect host! My one night in Mississippi was spent with a family, that lives a beautiful suburban life in a peaceful town in the middle of this rural state of alligators and magnolia trees. The son of the family is currently at a German high school, so when I arrived at their home they were all chatting with him on Skype and jaws dropped when they heard us talk in German for a while. So everybody was quite happy and Mississippi left a very positive memory when I moved on to New Orleans the next day.

Now New Orleans, as you should know is sometimes called a European city, because it has quite a bit of French influence and also it gets a certain flair from tourists running all over the place *g*. You will have heard that it has weathered one of the heaviest catastrophies a city can endure when hurricane Katrina came through and devastated large parts of the area when the levies broke. Yet New Orleans or NOLA is also called The Big Easy and its spirit seems unbroken. From the moment I stepped off the train and breathed the warm air and heard marching bands practicing in schools on my way, I felt relaxed. I spent the first night at a huge hostel that was once an orphanage and that still retained some of the strangely creepy atmosphere that long corridors and high ceilings create in those old buildings. I slept in a 20-bed dormitory which I shared with only one other traveller who had a sad personal story and who I wish the best for the future.

On the second day I met up with an old friend I will call Skye. When we first met she moved into my shared house in Spain and the next day we went on a four-day trip of Andalusia. We immediately found our old vibe and had so many stories to share that it became a wonderful reunion. I will stay at her house until after Mardi Gras (March 8) and see how the city grows more and more insane over this biggest carnival the States have to offer. I will post soon about my adventures in this wonderful place, but for now some initial teaser pictures will have to suffice (see the album to the top right).

Have a great week y'all and take it easy :)

February 17, 2011

Walking in Memphis

The last weekend Leila and I traveled from Knoxville to Nashville, where we spent a couple of great days with her parents. We went to another beautiful cemetary which is one of the activities that come from hanging out with egyptologists that spend months working on papers about writings on ancient tombs :) Cemetaries have a very peculiar and usually very peaceful atmosphere, especially if they are old. And the cemetaries I have been to on this trip have both been from the mid-nineteenth century. Great places for sunny afternoon walks!

So now, since Monday, I am in Memphis. I am staying with a couchsurfer near the University of Memphis, which is one of the two universities in town. The campus is about 10 kilometers from downtown, so I would be a little cut off from the life of the city, if it it wasn't for my great host who lets me borrow his bike. My face is tan and my hair is all sunny and bushy from the driving wind all day. I went geocaching of course, which led me to great places such as Chickasaw Park which I doubt many tourists ever get to see, because it is a secluded rather rich neighbourhood with a lake in the middle. They even have turtles in their pond that disappear under water when one gets too close. Places like these let you forget that Memphis is one of the cities with the highest murder rates in the US.

Everybody I have talked to has warned me of certain things. Don't ride the Greyhound bus (which I have done twice now, without any problems), stay away from the dangerous areas of town, don't you dare to hitchhike (remember: axe-murderers everywhere) and don't come close to the border with Mexico. The drug cartels sometimes kidnap people like me for ransom. So this fear and fright that is ever present when talking to Americans about my trip has left me wondering. Am I really a target? Is this a dangerous country? I agree that there are guns everywhere and every major city in the world has areas you should not be wandering around in at night, but my experience so far has been extremely positive. It's always better to be on the safe side, so I mind every warning I get, but if every driver on the road was an axe-murderer, where do all the normal people drive?

Anyway :) I have installed an album for all who want some pictures to illustrate my stories here in the upper right corner of this blog. Just click on the picture and you are directly transferred to the album at Picasaweb. It's the easiest way for me to constantly update and share pictures with you, so check back with the album every once in a while for updates.

Have a great week everybody!

February 07, 2011

Swing and a Sermon

My days have been incredibly varied. I will pick out two highlights from this past weekend. Saturday evening after watching "Scott Pilgrim vs the world" on DVD (so good! watch it!), Jon, Leila and I went to meet the other swing dancers at a concert. Now when I say we went out to go dancing at a concert don't imagine people bouncing up and down in front of a stage. The place we went to is called "Barley's", a tap hall which has all different kinds of beer, even German ones. It's a huge place and in the middle there is an area for the band and enough room for swing dancers to pull off quite a show. The first band of the evening was "Blair Crimmins and the Hookers", that played awesome bluegrassy, lift-you-off-your-seat-to-dance music, was quite a surprise to a lot of the swing dancers that were gathered there, because they had never heard of it. The second band was local and was founded by a fellow swing dancer back in the day. Today "Christabel and the Jons" have made it onto iTunes. Their also very danceable country bluegrass repertoire was more relaxing after the highspeed ride with Blair Crimmins. BTW, if you have never seen Lindy Hop, you must watch some of this, to give you an idea of the kind of atmosphere the dancers create. We danced and talked from 10 to 2 and had a really great night!

Then yesterday, with slight sleep deprivation, I went to church. Although spirituality is a big topic in my life, I don't feel particularly Christian or as belonging to any other organized religion for that matter. In earlier posts I have discussed some of my views, so suffice it to say that I don't go to church very often. But this time it was quite different, because the advertising for Knoxville's "Knoxlife" church says it is "church for non-church people". Also, it is located in the backroom of my hosts favorite coffee house, which was quite a recommendation. After 20 minutes of Christian rock music (which could have been worse, but will never be my favorite) everybody was free to get coffee and bagels from a buffet. Then the sermon started and Sean, who believes he was told by God to open this church in Knoxville with his wife, surprised me. I had small expectations, but this devout Christian, most of whose beliefs I don't share, got a few points across that I would love to hear from believers of all kind. "You can't make friends with ulterior motifs" was one, and "You can't go out converting people and checking them off your list. That is just weird." was another one. Basically his message was that Christians should first of all be normal people who try to improve their capacity to love other people simply because they are human. Whenever Christianity (or any other religion) helps people to understand that, I am all for it!

I wish all of you a great week!