Monday, May 17, 2010

In Germany Again

So I'm in Germany again, this time not for a conference, as I was 2 years ago, but instead for a meeting at the European Space Agency's operations center (ESOC) in Darmstadt. I'll be visiting with some people from the Mars Express mission, and also, primarily, with a lot of people from the ExoMars 2016 orbiter mission. We're trying to figure out some of the details of what's what, as it is a joint mission between NASA and ESA, with general rules for division of responsibilities, and we'll be trying to crisp those rules up a little.

The flights over were pretty straightforward. I bounced through San Francisco, and even though my flight was 45 minutes late out of Burbank, which caused no small amount of concern on my part, we made it in plenty of time for me to catch the non-stop flight to Frankfurt. I actually was fairly comfortable in the plane ... ever since I lost weight, I fit in those little seats a lot better ...

I tried to sleep on the way, but sleep was elusive because the guy sitting behind me kept getting up every 20 minutes, and pulled on my chair to get himself out of his. The jolting back and forth was not conducive to a nice slumber. Even so, I managed to get a little bit of rest, and while I wasn't resting, I watched some of the in-flight movies (Desperate Measures and Invictus and ... um ... something forgettable). I also read a lot. I would've used my laptop for something more constructive, but I'm a little shy when there's somebody inches away who can see everything I type.

So, anyway, I got on the ground and turned on my phone (got it activated for international calling, thank heavens!) only to receive a text message from the ESOC visitor desk, who said there was a taxi standing by to bring me from the airport to ESOC in Darmstadt. I had asked about it last week, but hadn't heard anything, so I was totally planning on taking a bus (for 8 Euros), but I couldn't very well turn the guy away. It certainly was convenient, but I forked over 40 Euros for it. My inward miser groaned, but gratefully I'll get reimbursed for that through work. To top it off, he dropped me off at ESOC, not at my hotel, which he proclaimed was only 100 meters away. Uh huh. It was more like 300 (I looked it up)! Not a big deal, really, but I was hauling wheeled luggage over cobblestone, and it would've taken him, like, 30 seconds to drive me over there.

So, I got into the hotel and happily my room was available so they could let me check in early. It's about 11:30 am at this point, but to me it's 2:30 in the morning. I'm a little weirded out, but still moving, so after I'm dismayed that internet access is going to be 15 Euros per day (again, work will reimburse!) I head out to go find something to eat. It's a little weird walking around in the bright sunshine where you don't speak the language looking for lunch in the middle of the night.

Turns out that Darmstadt is really quite a pretty little town. It's industrialized, don't get me wrong. It's a city, after all, with the crowding and the crime (there's a lot of graffiti), but it also has all the fun things about a city -- a lot of places to shop (which would be better if, you know, I actually liked to shop), big buildings to look at, lots of people to watch hurrying along their way unknowingly telling outsiders a bit about their culture. So, get this, after one afternoon, I figure the following:

* The only people who seem to smile are those that are pushing little children in strollers.
* Most people with children appear to be of Middle Eastern descent -- it's true what I've read about how there's an identity crisis here because of the massive in-flux of Muslim people ... and if the birth rate among the Germanic people doesn't rise (don't hold your breath) ...
* The other people who smile are teenagers who are just goofing off.
* Speaking of the teenagers, it seems they will invariably be wearing black, have a tattoo, or have a body piercing somewhere. Many have all three.
* I think they hide all the kids that are in the in-between ages.
* All the stores open no earlier than 9 and close by 7. But the bars, of course, stay open quite late -- I'm absolutely positive that there's a correlation between those two sentences.
* I saw no obese people. Not one. I'm sure that's because they walk practically everywhere and eat less than we Americans do, even though it seems practically everything is deep fried.
* There are a lot of "pedestrian" cyclists with sturdy bicycles (and baskets!), who use them to get around town. I contrast this with back home where most cyclists have flimsy "street" bikes and ride recreationally. Back home some cyclists get pretty pretentious about it all, with their outfits and their attitudes, but here it's just a good way to get around.
* Far too many people here have a smoking habit. If one were to say "everybody" smokes here, from my observations, they wouldn't be too far off the mark.

A few other randoms:
* Here it is 9 pm and it still isn't dark outside. This "high" latitude thing is really weird, coming from Southern California.
* I had to go buy an electric adapter from an electronics store so I could plug my laptop/phone/razor in to the wall because the old adapter I had doesn't fit the standard outlet anymore (I bought it ten years ago, and things have changed here ...). In the process, I got harangued in broken English by the guy behind the counter because I didn't know what voltage my electronics require ... seriously, who just knows that off the top of their head?!
* I forgot my comb, so I have to go buy one tomorrow.
* I've been to McDonald's twice for meals, because I'm a little intimidated going somewhere else and having to order something when I can't even read the stinkin' menu!
* The hotel has an "Ironing Room" (no joke!) -- basically a closet with an old ironing board and an iron. I still need to go iron all my wrinkled clothes.
* I notice that it's really green here, with stuff growing anywhere that's not concreted or bricked (and even there sometimes). Explains why there's a lot of paving ...

Anyway, it's going to be an interesting visit. Tomorrow, I plan to go on walkabout again, to see what there is to see. I have a meeting at 3 pm with the Mars Express folks, and then dinner with my co-workers at 6:30 pm. Should be good!

I'll be waking up at 3 am to "skype" my family back home around dinnertime. It'll be good to see them.

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