Monday, May 27, 2013

Ciao da bella Firenze!

I am just about a week into my study abroad experience and I am loving every second of it. Leaving this beautiful city will be very hard, although I am excited to get back to Dayton and join my fellow stews as a River’s Institute Intern!

Running through Florence is the Arno river, which I am fortunate to be staying only a block away from. Each morning I cross a bridge to get to my classes, and through my classes I have learned a lot of the significance of the Arno River in Florence’s history. Unlike many of the other Tuscan towns which are located on hilltops, Florence is in a valley. Florence was never troubled with water shortages, the sanitation and hygienic practices were historically superior than other cities, fish was a staple product, and mills along the river allowed for manufacturing. Despite all the benefits, the river still is prone to flooding, and there are chronicles dating back to the medieval times of the devastation caused by the floods at least once or twice each century. The most recent massive flood occurred on November 4th, 1966, and was considered to be the worst flood since 1557.  The floodwaters reached over 6.7 meters (22 feet) at some places. This flood had a lasting impact on the city, and restoration work is still being done to this day.

While walking around the city, I found one of the high water markers from the flood. Looks very similar to what we have in downtown Dayton!

Another cool thing about Florence is all the parks and gardens available for the citizens and tourists. I happened to pick up a newspaper in Florence that was written in English, and there was a short article about the green space in the city. Here is quote from the mayor of Florence: “There are 376 gardens and 25 parks in Florence, totaling more than 3.5 million square meters of public green space… we have also approved a ‘zero volume’ structural plan, which means putting a stop to land consumption, and ensuring there is a park or garden no more than 10 minutes away from the house of every Florentine.” Awesome!

 Arno at sunset

The Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") 

The low dam

River Love, 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From Dayton to Bloomington to California to India

Happy summer everyone! I can't believe I'm not a baby stew anymore this year as a river steward has flown by and I must say it was spectacular. I learned so so much about the the waters that surround us at UD and how they can impact a campus and a city by increasing the feel of ownership and community for everyone. I can't wait to keep learning next year, and even though I am cooping in Cincinnati next semester, I am going to be as involved as possible and I hope. I hope I get a chance to work with the RiverMobile giving tours and such because I had a blast the last time during Stander.

So this past year I've learned a lot about the aquifer and how lucky we are to have such clean water, and it's been really interesting to apply that knowledge to other places I go. When I go home to Bloomington, water isn't something that gets talked about a lot. B-town is pretty hippy to start with, so there is a lot of environmental awareness in the community. However, we always talk about the trees and the air when we talk about environmental issues, and it's very rare that I ever hear about water. I am pretty sure we don't have any kind of clean water scarcity issues, so I think that people just don't even consider how lucky we are.

I just went to Redlands California for about a week to visit one of my best friends that goes to school there. In Redlands they get a lot of pollution from LA, so they have a lot of clean air and water issues. Everyone makes sure to use water purifiers and drinking tap water is just asking to get sick, according to the students I talked to. It was yet another wake up call for me when I was chastised for filling my glass up in the sink like I would do in Dayton. The idea that tap water isn't drinkable was so alien to me, and it's so sad that so many people can't just drink water from their sink. I told everyone about our aquifer and how lucky we are to have such awesome clean water and everyone decided the next time I visit I need to bring some Dayton tap water so they can taste it for themselves.

In a couple days I leave for my 10 week ETHOS immersion to India. I'm excited and a little nervous for this new adventure and I'm interested to see what I will learn and experience water wise while I am there. I am not supposed to drink any local water or eat anything that was soaked or made in local water because of the diseases that travel in the water there. In the class I took preparing us for this trip, I was taught that in many places in the world people get sick and die from dirty infected water every single day. I knew that many places don't have clean water, but that was the first time I really thought about the fact that some people's only source of drinking water, which everyone needs to survive, is also the cause of serious sickness and death. It's unbelievable to think about and yet again makes me realize how lucky we are and that we need to appreciate it to the fullest.

Another thing I got the chance to experience this semester was the love that so many people have for the city of Dayton. One of my favorite volunteering experiences this semester was at OctoberFest, watching the bikes people could leave while they wandered around listening to the awesome live music, seeing the cool art in the tents, and sampling the beer. The lady we worked with was part of BikeDayton and she was just so excited about the Dayton community and everything it has to offer. The other people volunteering with us were the same way and everyone surrounding us at the event was friendly and wanted to talk about all the great things Dayton has to offer, many of which are hidden and not widely known. It was great to be around such a great community full of love and respect for their city and everything it has to offer, and I hope that I continue to become part of that great community serving and giving back to Dayton and UD.


Mechanical Engineering

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Le Jardin Botanique

Greetings from mainland Europe! I feel very fortunate to be in such a beautiful place.

While friends back home are wrapping up the Spring semester I am obliged to continue with my studies in Geneva, Switzerland. In cahoots with the other students in my program, I decided to opt out of attending my one remaining French language class and even though I enjoyed the professor's quirky sense of fashion and sometimes equally far out teaching methods, the thought of no exam has lighted the study burden considerably. In any event I still manage to meet twice weekly to practice French with my tandem language partner, an African man studying for his master's degree in environmental science.

Now I want to talk about my newest intrigue: garden hopping. As an alternative to reading in my flat and also in face of a few cloudy and windy days, I have been regularly riding my bike to Le Jardin Botanique. Le Jardin Botanique is a beautiful conservatory and trail park on the left bank of Lake Geneva. Specifically, the garden is connected to at least 5 other parks bordering the lake.
Below, see some photos of various flora and plant life invading the greenhouse.
The garden features plenty of eco-friendly practices. For example, stashed near the entrance stand several compost bins and independent garden plots, presumably meant for locals to harvest produce of their own.

After passing through the bulk of the garden, one runs into Lake Geneva which sports a 100m jet fountain as well as nude spa goers when the weather happens to turn for the better. Given the Alpine origins of its water, the lake is the bluest of blues. I'm told that it's pleasant for a swim (nude or non-nude) in the summertime.

But despite the lake's popularity, my most desperate wish is to float down a portion of one of the two rivers that empty into its banks. When I brought up the idea of planning a trip to swim in the river at some point, one of my flatmates, a sunny Salvadoran named Carolina, told me that the water is probably far too cold for this.
"But, it looks too good to resist!" I replied. She only laughed.

happy Springtime (and belatedly Earth Day!),
Ashley Niemeier