exploring dresden (plus snow pictures!)

I’ve been up to a lot of cool stuff in the past few weeks that I haven’t gotten around to writing about! I’ve gotten to see a bunch of different aspects of what Dresden has to offer, and it has me energized to get out and see even more!

[I have been awful about taking pictures while doing these various things, so enjoy these pictures from our SNOW DAY today! (That might actually be misleading. It was a snow day because it snowed, but life went on as scheduled because it’s not like this is Texas.)]

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The view from my window

If you haven’t caught on yet, I really love Dresden. It is the happiest of accidents that I ended up here! I knew almost nothing about the city before I decided to come here, and the reason I ended up at the university here was correspondence with a professor with whom I’m not even working anymore! The university, the Technical University of Dresden, is one of 12 distinguished universities in Germany as of 2012 (and the only east German school on that list!), so even that was a happy surprise, but as far as cities go, I couldn’t be happier!

Dresden is big enough that there is lots to do, even after several months of being a (fairly) active tourist-slash-resident. But it’s small enough that it doesn’t take 3 hours to travel from one place to another, a la Houston. It’s old enough to have so much fascinating and inspiring history, yet new enough to have a great art, music, and cultural scene. It’s ideally located right between Berlin and Prague (2 hours from each). Basically, I love it here and I’m so glad this is “my” city.

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Our balcony view… the Russian Church is so pretty!

I’ve blogged already about exploring the historic city center, including the Frauenkirche, the Kathedrale, the Christmas markets (when they were there…), and the many museums. (I have yet to make it to the Zwinger Palace! This is my one big, gaping Dresden hole so far!)

Two weekends in a row, some of the “internationals” decided to explore Neustadt. Neustadt (“new city,” literally) is the part of town north of the river where most of the bars/party scene is. I had never really been there… I’m not much of a party gal, but it seems to be pretty much my speed, so I’ve been enjoying getting to know it a bit better.

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One night, Felicitas, Nathaniel, and I got dinner and drinks at one bar where we made fools of ourselves first thing by not knowing how to operate the front door, and then moved on to a magical place called the Schokoladenbar (chocolate bar) where they served wonderful drinks that might as well be dessert! During our wanderings through the Neustadt, we stumbled upon the Kunsthofpassage, where there is a bunch of cool street art and cute little shops. This building supposedly plays music when it rains (though based on this video, that may be an exaggeration… it wasn’t raining when I was there so I can’t confirm)!

The next weekend, a few of us went on an outing to the Erich Kästner Museum, also in Neustadt. The name sounded vaguely familiar to me, but it wasn’t until after we got to the museum that I was reminded that Kästner was the beloved German children’s author who wrote Emil und die Detektive, which I think I read in German 2 or 3 in high school! I definitely remember watching the movie at some point. It turns out that Kästner was born and raised in Dresden Neustadt, not far from the museum building!

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The Lukas Kirche, whose bells wake me up every morning… if you can see the inscription above the door, it says “Glory to God in the Highest” (Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe)

The museum itself was fascinating. It’s an “interactive micro-museum,” which sounds like a strange or hipster-y concept, but really it was the perfect medium for displaying the life and work of a children’s author. It was all housed within one room, which contained 12 “columns” — basically shelves which each had a bunch of color-coded drawers. The drawers contained various items from Kästner’s life… photos, quotes, documents and letters, books… it was a lot of reading and not much of it was translated, so I wouldn’t recommend this museum to people who can’t read German, but for those who can, this museum was amazing, definitely worth 4 Euros and an hour of your day!

One of my favorite artifacts was a letter from Kästner to a children’s theater group in Dresden who were putting on one of his plays and had invited him to their performance. He personally wrote to them to regretfully inform them that he wouldn’t be able to attend, but that he would send his father (the original Emil!) instead! I thought that was so sweet. There were also a few letters of correspondence between Kästner and Astrid Lindgren, who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books (among others).

The trees in front of this house looked like lace.

The trees in front of this house looked like lace.

While we were in the neighborhood, we also popped into a store called “Beyond the Pond” that imports American and British goods — food, beer, books, etc. I didn’t buy anything, it was all pretty expensive, but it was cool to go check out the American things I could easily access if I ever had an emergency Betty Crocker or ranch dressing craving.

As you can see from all these pictures, it snowed basically non-stop yesterday and today. None of that Polar Vortex craziness, just a light little flurry that’s left a blanket of probably 4 or 5 inches all over the place! It’s so pretty! I was such a Texan all day, carrying my camera everywhere to capture the magic before it disappears. I was a little self-conscious about openly taking pictures of things with so many people around… otherwise I would have a lot more.

This is the Schumann-Bau where I have 3 of my classes. I think it's really beautiful. It used to be a prison, which is a little creepy, but also kind of cool.

This is the Schumann-Bau where I have 3 of my classes. I think it’s really beautiful. It used to be a prison, which is a little creepy, but also kind of cool.

But because everything was looking so pretty and magical, I decided it would be fun to go to the Großer Garten before it all melts (hopefully it won’t for a while, but fresh snow is prettier than week-old snow). The Garten (Garden…yay cognates!) is really big and pretty under normal circumstances, but I thought with the snow it would be gorgeous. Unfortunately it was dark before I got there today, but even though the pictures didn’t turn out, it was so beautiful and peaceful to behold! I’ll have to go one day when it’s actually light outside.

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a week (ish) in the life

I’ve had some requests from people to hear about what a typical schedule is like for me. The short answer is that there IS no typical day, which is actually one reason that I haven’t been blogging more. It seems there are 2 speeds to the unpredictability: speed 1 is “don’t leave the house all day due to work and/or laziness,” and speed 2 is “run around all day doing various things, quickly getting worn out.” But the past few days have been pretty eventful, so I won’t promise that they are “typical” of my life, but they do include many of the activities that I may do on a weekly basis.

On Tuesday, I had my first interview with a reservoir manager at the LTV (state reservoir agency). The interview originally conflicted with my appointment at the Bürgeramt where I hoped to finally pick up my residency permit, which would allow me to stay in Germany until August (always good!), so I told the interviewee I would come to his office after my appointment. My appointment was at 1:30, so I spent the morning preparing for the interview later that afternoon. Once I printed out my interview questions, I grabbed my paperwork for the Bürgeramt and headed for the tram.

About 1 stop from the office, I decided to peruse my paperwork and realized that I should have brought my passport — which was back at my apartment! I called the office on the way back, letting them know that I’d be late… but drastically underestimating the time I’d need to retrieve the passport and return to the office. I finally turned up about half an hour late and was promptly told that I was missing a document I’d need from my landlord verifying that I’m allowed to live in my apartment….

But I didn’t have time to worry about that, because I needed to make my way across town to the LTV office! I had decided to dress up for my first interview, so I was wearing slacks and heels. 3 problems: it was raining, so the bottoms of my pants legs got incredibly wet on the way; it was really cold, and dress slacks are not very warm; and heels are actually terrible for walking between buses and offices. I probably lost a total of an hour because of the heels, between walking slower than necessary for comfort’s sake and narrowly missing my bus on the way home because I couldn’t run to catch it!

The interview went really, really well. I enjoyed it a lot, and it was not as difficult as I had thought to conduct an interview in German! It’s mostly listening when you’re not the one being interviewed, anyway! I was greatly assisted by the voice recorder I was able to borrow from the library. I’ll have fun tomorrow transcribing the 1.5 hours of raw interview recordings I’ve accumulated this week!

I was exhausted after the 5-hour ordeal all of this ended up being… my feet were wet and freezing cold, and my plight with public transport had worn at my nerves, especially after I missed the bus on the way home, and I did really not want to cook dinner, so I met up with Felicitas, grabbed dinner, and caught up with her a little bit. 

On Wednesday, I have Spanish class at 11:10, so I headed there after looking over my notes from the previous week. We learned the ordinal numbers, on our way to being able to formulate a plan for our week! I really enjoy that class. My professor is really enthusiastic… this week we actually got to formulate questions to ask him in Spanish, and we learned that his wife is German, he has lived here since 2001, and he has never formally studied German! The class is very interactive, which is nice considering that my other classes are either lectures or seminars (which, because they’re in German, means they might as well be lectures for me… they move too quickly for me to participate much!)

My Spanish class is right near two big libraries, one of which has a Mensa (dining hall) in it, so normally after class I head to the Mensa, eat lunch, and then spend about an hour and a half catching up on work in the library. Luckily, there’s a bus stop right outside the door, so I can take the bus a few stops to my next class at 2:50: Applied Limnology.

Limnology is the ecological studies of water bodies (normally lakes), and this class is pretty interesting if a little too scientific for me. Also, the professor is a bit of a flake… 2 classes so far have been cancelled, 2 have been given by guest lecturers because our professor couldn’t be there, and the very first class of the semester only lasted 10 minutes because he was double-booked. What? How do you double-book yourself the day of your first lecture… when you are the lecturer?? 

Anyway, it’s normally almost dark when that class ends at 4:20, so I head home. This week, I relaxed by catching up on some of my shows before doing a little bit more work on my outline. Then, I headed into town because I was meeting some friends at the City Theater for a play! We had gotten tickets at a really good price, and it was fun to experience some culture and see the gorgeous theater, which I had never visited before. The play itself, Emilia Galotti by Lessing, was… interesting. I didn’t know the story (I don’t think I’ve ever read any Lessing) so I was trying my very best to follow it… to this production’s credit, it seems like the source material is a little bit sick in the first place, but the staging was very modern and in some cases a little bit disturbing. Nevertheless, it was a fun evening with friends that I had to cut short by rushing home, because I had to wake up bright and early on Thursday for yet another interview!

Thursday morning, I had an appointment with Christian Korndörfer, the department chair of the Environmental Department in Dresden. He’s very well-known and important here, and I was only able to get an interview with him because my host dad knows him, so he was able to get me his cell phone number and tell him a little about me so he wouldn’t screen my call! I got there a little early because of a misunderstanding, but in the end the interview went very well! I’m starting to get the hang of it… hopefully I’ll be able to line some more up in the next few weeks!

After the interview ended, I decided to head to my landlord’s office to see if I could resolve the issue with my residency permit. The office is kind of far, but I’m glad I decided to go… I had already set up an appointment for myself on Friday to finally pick up my permit, and I needed the signed agreement before then! In the end, I walked away with a form that myself, my roommate, and the landlord need to sign… so I needed to return on Friday to get the last signature from the landlord before heading to my appointment!

I just barely had time to run home and take a shower before meeting some friends at the Mensa for lunch. I ate quickly so I could afford to head to the copy shop before class to print out the readings… it’s much easier to follow class discussions in my geography seminar if I had the articles in front of me. In class, we discussed catastrophe management strategies, specifically using the example of earthquakes in California. One of the readings was an excerpt from a book, originally written in English, called “The Ecology of Fear,” which sounds really interesting… I might have to pick it up at some point.

After class, I dropped by my apartment to pick up my computer before heading into town to meet Felicitas. She found a café right near the Kreuzkirche, near the main square, that has all glass walls and free internet… somewhere you can get work done while actually remembering that you’re in a beautiful German city! Clearly the best use of my time right now is writing this blog post instead of improving my outline…. but I’ve made a lot of progress so far! The structure of each chapter is really coming together. I’m getting ready to head to my final class of the week, which is regrettably from 6:30-8 on Thursday evenings…

Tomorrow, I’ll get a nice, early start… I’ll need the best train connections I can get to be able to make it to the landlord’s office and get to my Bürgeramt appointment on time! With any luck, I’ll be the owner of a brand-new Aufenhaltserlebnis before noon tomorrow.

merry christmas from the family

Warning, very long post! But there is a point of general interest at the end so you should read the whole thing! 😉

My trip to Prague started out with my phone losing the Google Maps directions I had uploaded to help me get to my family’s hotel, so I had to wait on the steps of the Nicholas Church for half an hour for them to come get me. And my trip ended with me losing my phone somewhere between the hotel in Prague and my apartment in Dresden. But between those two sad, phone-related occasions, I had a fantastic time with everyone in Prague!

This is how much fun I had. But if you think that's out of hand, you should have seen these guys...

This is how much fun I had. But if you think that’s out of hand, you should have seen these guys…IMG_2013

It was definitely a non-traditional Christmas, but in true Lord form we played cards, got lost several times per day, took lots of pictures, and generally had a good time! And in keeping with Swaintek tradition, we did drink a good amount of whiskey and beer, though it was not Yuengling.

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Day 1 was Christmas Eve. We started off the day with a boat tour departing from the famous Charles Bridge. Somehow, the tour was in both English and Russian, which was somewhat amusing. Everyone got their first taste of Glühwein, included with the tour, but it really was not all that great.

After the tour, we walked over to Old Town, which houses the famous astronomical clock on the side of Town Hall, as well as the main Christmas market and several churches of different architectural styles. We shopped around at the Christmas market, enjoyed some Czech sausage and beer, and took photos in front of the giant, yet somehow incredibly sparse, Christmas tree in the center of the square.

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We also saw Wenceslas Square, which is basically a big shopping street and not all that exciting, yet some how we walked all the way over there several different times and managed to get lost almost every time!

After finding a restaurant for our Christmas Eve dinner and making reservations for later that evening, we headed back to our hotel where we played Password (Colleen and my dad are the family Password champs; once, many Christmases ago, they scored ten points when Colleen correctly guessed “pineapple” after only one clue, “tropical.”), opened a few Christmas gifts, and drank my superior homemade Glühwein.

Having had enough Czech food the previous evening, we enjoyed a delicious Italian meal in an adorable little restaurant apparently staffed by only 2 people that night!

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The next morning, we headed to Christmas Mass at the beautiful St. Thomas Church in the Lesser Town where we were staying. It was an English language Mass, and the priest appeared to be from New York! The rest of the family marveled at how cold the church was, but really it was quite comfortable for European standards… there were little heating vents on the back of every pew, which was a game changer.

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We ate lunch and made a quick stop in the other famous church in the neighborhood, Our Lady of Victory, which is better known as the home of the Infant of Prague.

My dad and I took a quick climb up to the castle, which was quite near our hotel, and I tried to show him the Senate gardens, my favorite attraction from my last trip to Prague, but it turns out they’re not open during the winter!

Later that evening, once it was dark, we climbed up to the top of the City Hall to enjoy beautiful, yet awkwardly crowded, views of the Old Town before descending again to catch the clock chiming 7! Every hour, the doors at the top of the clock open to reveal 12 circulating Apostles, while the skeleton figure on the clock dances to celebrate the passage of time and our impending deaths. Then a bugler appears at the top of the tower and plays for a few minutes! It’s pretty cool to see! 

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As we started to make our way to our dinner reservations, we attempted to find a souvenir shop we had browsed in the previous day, which led to us becoming hopelessly lost and all 5 of us thinking we were in a different location of the city, though we were all wrong. Eventually we made it back in time for our reservations at a steakhouse called “Cowboys,” of all things; it was really very delicious, which you maybe wouldn’t expect of a steakhouse in Prague!

The infamous Municipal House, which my dad tricked some of us into thinking was the National Theater, leading us to visualizing ourselves in the totally wrong part of town... ;)

The infamous Municipal House, which my dad tricked some of us into thinking was the National Theater, leading us to visualizing ourselves in the totally wrong part of town… 😉

On the 26th, my mom and I made our way bright and early to Old Town to catch a tour about World War II in Prague. On the way there, we were almost knocked out by a low-flying swan on the Charles Bridge. I am not even joking. We were admiring the beautiful groups of swans skimming the river, when all of a sudden my mom saw something in her peripheral vision and luckily got me to duck when a huge, seemingly asthmatic swan flew inches over our heads! My life flashed before my eyes.

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Anyway, we got lost again on our way to the tour, which it turned out started right from where we had ended up the previous evening but hadn’t known where we were. The tour was definitely way overpriced; we learned some interesting facts about Prague and the Czech Republic during WWII, but since the 26th (St. Stephen’s Day) is a national holiday in Prague, a lot of the sites the tour would have normally seen were closed.

Shortly after our first tour ended, we met up with the rest of the family and our sweet tour guide who would be with us for the next 2 days! I am forgetting her name right now, but she’s a few years older than me and native to Prague. She showed us so many interesting things in the city and just knew so dang much about everything!

I love this shot from the Loretto Chapel

I love this shot from the Loretto Chapel

First stop was the Loretto Chapel, which was so much more amazing than I had expected! It was built around a copy of Mary’s house, the original of which was transported miraculously by angels from Nazareth to Loretto, Italy to save it from desecration. Built around that little shrine is a gorgeous courtyard and church, which house so many beautiful examples of sacred art! [I skipped this the first time I went to Prague because it had an entrance fee and I figured it would just be another church, but I was super wrong. You should go if you ever find yourself in Prague.]

This is Mary's house (or its replica). I really can't remember whether it had a special name...

This is Mary’s house (or its replica). I really can’t remember whether it had a special name…

Later that afternoon we spent all our time at the castle, which is up on a hill overlooking everything.The cathedral, St. Vitus, is part of the castle complex and is the huge gothic building that overtakes most of the castle skyline. It’s absolutely gorgeous inside!

We also saw the old castle building, as well as the very first Romanesque church built on site, and Golden Lane, a small strip of old (tiny) houses where working-class people from the castle complex used to live. Later on, Franz Kafka lived in one of the houses! Now there are a bunch of shops there, as well as an exhibit about armor and weapons through the ages.

After we had made it through everything at the castle, we were incredibly hungry and slowly becoming hangry (mostly me, but everyone else was slowly approaching this point) so we started the long and treacherous journey towards finding a restaurant that fulfilled everyone’s culinary desires, did not smell like smoke, and actually had room for 5 people. Eventually we found a place that would serve German-ish food (though our waitress was terrible and basically tried to fleece us… she brought the 3 of us who ordered beer LITERS of beer, though we noticed that everyone else around us had gotten regular, human sized beverages). Luckily, the Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel was good enough to make up for it!

Feeling good after a liter of beer (though, for the sake of accuracy, only Ryan was able to finish his)

Feeling good after a liter of beer (though, for the sake of accuracy, only Ryan was able to finish his)

The next day, the 27th, we went with our tour guide to Old Town, specifically the Jewish quarter. We saw several important demonstration sites during WWII and the time of Communism, which my mom and I had seen on our tour as well. We also saw several different synagogues — one of which has been turned into a Holocaust memorial of sorts, where the names of the thousands of murdered Jews are painted on the walls. The Spanish Synagogue was particularly beautiful… incredibly ornately decorated! And we saw the Old Jewish Cemetery, in which 12 layers (let’s call them “generations” instead… sounds less morbid and graphic) of deceased Jews from Prague are buried. The headstones all seem so randomly and haphazardly placed!

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We walked through Old Town Square again, seeing the big church on the edge, whose name I forget right now, which really was stunning, and we saw the neighborhood behind the square which dates back to medieval times. It was one of my favorite parts of town, I think.

One of the churches back there has a man’s shriveled hand hanging from the back wall, which supposedly belonged to a thief who tried to steal the gifts that people had bestowed on the statue of Mary. The statue grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go, so they had to cut his hand off, and now his hand serves as a warning to anyone else who would steal from the church!

That’s not why this was my favorite part of town. It was just a really quaint area.

We made our way to Wenceslas Square, where we said goodbye to our sweet tour guide and hopped on the tram, which took us back up to the castle. The rest of the family went on a tour of the old palace of the Lobkowicz family, an old noble family of Bohemia. I was running out of steam at this point (go figure that I would be the first one to shut down… haha) so I headed back to the hotel and took a quick nap before dinner.

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We saw the Lennon Wall earlier in the week and I forgot to mention it! We didn’t sign it, but we did run into some fellow Longhorns! So we can pretend that their inscription of “Texas Forever – December 2013” was also ours.

We ate at the brewery/restaurant of the Strahov Monastery, just uphill from our hotel. We all agreed that it was the best combination of good food, fair prices, and good service of the whole week. Their beer was, unsurprisingly, the best part. We did have to eat outside (inside was too smoky and also full) so we enjoyed the brisk weather and unexpected fireworks from the patio.

The next day was Saturday, our last day in Prague. The boys went on a day trip to a surrounding town while the girls stayed in Prague, did a little shopping, and leisurely made our way around town to take more pictures and enjoy the scenery. When the boys returned, we played a few quick games of Spades, another family favorite game, before heading to a pizza restaurant I had scouted out earlier that week. I was really itching for some pizza, and the place we went was really great… just around the corner from the astronomical clock AND right down the street from the mystical souvenir shop we’d been looking for all week!

Overall, the week was wonderful! It was great to spend time with my family. They are pretty cool and make great sightseeing companions! I now feel like I’ve seen everything Prague has to offer… on to further adventures! This year, I will be traveling to Spain (Madrid and Salamanca) to see Daniel, Rome for the canonization of John Paul II (yay!), Amsterdam and other NW-European cities (Bruges? Paris? We’ll see) with my BFF Laura when she visits in May, possibly Greece for a conference, and hopefully Scandanavia with Felicitas–we both want to go so badly!!

Luckily my research SEEMS to be progressing enough that I should be able to travel this much! I have TWO appointments for interviews next week! I can’t believe it! Now I just have to be disciplined and actually work on my outlines…

I guess that brings me to one last topic…. I have been posting sporadically the past few weeks partly because I’ve been busy and partly because I’ve been incredibly burned out on blogging. When I do summon up the brainpower and energy to write a blog post, the things I find myself wanting to write about tend to be observations, attitudes, and experiences that I would rather internalize and keep to myself. I know that makes me a bad blogger! So for now I am switching to journaling for the day-to-day stuff… but don’t worry, I’ll continue to write blog posts about my travels!