pancakes and waffles and crepes (oh my): part 1

pancakes

And yes, while in Amsterdam we did eat pancakes… every morning for breakfast! Dutch pancakes are delicious with Nutella.

Please forgive me for that terrible title, but once I thought of it, I had to.

A for Annie and Amsterdam!

A for Annie and Amsterdam!

Part 1 of Annie and Laura’s Excellent Adventure found us in Amsterdam for just about 2 days. I took a night train (my first ever) to meet Laura at the Amsterdam train station at about 10 AM on Thursday morning. The train left at about 9 from Dresden, and while it was perfect timing to arrive shortly after Laura’s transatlantic flight, I was too cheap to book a bed reservation so I endured several painful hours of sleeping in odd positions, and I have vowed to never do a night train again before I have the necessary $$$ to get an actual bed!

We started our trip auspiciously, kicking off our pattern of being very ambitious on our first day in every city; just doing as much as humanly possible! The walk to our hostel was long but it took us through the heart of Amsterdam and gave us a taste of what was to come. We had to wait a few hours to check into our hostel, so we ate a long-awaited “breakfast” after not having eaten for way too long on both of our parts. Then we explored the nearby Vondelpark, home of one of several “I Amsterdam” signs:

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After checking in, we hit the streets hard! We followed Rick Steves’ walking tour — but backwards, because it ended at the Rijksmuseum, which was very nearby to our hostel. This led to some fun “wait, left or right? Did we already pass it??” moments, but overall we were able to see so much.

The Rijksmuseum itself is striking; there we saw the “more famous” I Amsterdam as well as our only Holland tulips sighting!

 

Of course the canals are striking and unique. There are several large, bustling squares full of shops, restaurants, and “coffee shops” interspersed, and as you wind your way through the streets you are just as likely to stumble upon a flower stand as you are a marijuana-dispersing shop or a 500-year-old church.  One of the defining features of the landscape, besides the canals, are the old towers which used to be parts of the city walls, but which now stand out as the tallest structures in the city for the most part.

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One interesting concept we first encountered in Amsterdam and also later in Bruges was a “Begijnhof,” living communities which used to house groups consecrated Catholic women who weren’t members of religious orders. The Amsterdam Begijnhof was very hidden, and on our way to finding it we stumbled into probably the most beautiful or my favorite church I’ve ever seen in Europe. It was built in a Gothic style but was lighter inside than most Gothic churches because of the bright colors of its decor. Eventually we did find the Begijnhof and we were able to go to Adoration for a little bit in the church there.

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After we finished half of Rick Steves’ tour, we caught a boat tour through the canals which was really great. It was by no means a comprehensive view of the city, but it offered a very unique perspective to the city and allowed us to hear about the transformation of Amsterdam’s layout throughout the centuries: which canal houses the richest residents (and the mayor), which bridges are the oldest, how to distinguish between gables shapes, etc.

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We had a goal of getting to the Anne Frank House 1.5-2 hours before it closed, so we headed in that direction with the idea of eating dinner along the way, which proved…. challenging. We eventually found an affordable Indonesian option, which was really delicious, surprisingly! And we made it to the Anne Frank House in time to make the full rounds.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the House, which is definitely one of the more famous attractions in Amsterdam and one that I have been aware of since I was very small and my dad visited it (and brought back souvenirs for us). On the one hand, I find Anne Frank’s story incredibly inspiring and intriguing, and I’ve read her diary several times. On the other hand, what could really  be conveyed about her story and the history of the Holocaust just through an ordinary house? Also, through my experiences seeing concentration camps and other WWII/Holocaust sites, I was familiar with the odd sensation of viewing something historically tragic yet being unable to process, or indeed access, the “appropriate” emotions to go along with them. But anyway, the Anne Frank House was really interesting and, in an odd way, moving.

The bottom levels of the warehouse, Mr. Frank’s place of business, are furnished in approximations of how they would have been, and you can see displays detailing the history of the family and the business: when the Franks emigrated to the Netherlands from Germany, how the different colleagues came to work there and befriend each other, how the German invasion impacted the daily lives of Dutch Jews, and how the Franks’ and Van Pels’ hiding was coordinated years in advance. There are also several videos, accounts years later from the different non-Jewish coworkers who helped to hide the Franks about what happened in those years. One of the most chilling things on the lower levels was hearing the ceiling above squeak under the footfalls of the other museum visitors; how easy it must have been for the hide-outs in the Annex to slip up and alert a warehouse worker!

The humble exterior

The humble exterior

Upstairs, in the secret annex (stepping through the secret bookcase, the original, was a surreal moment), there are no furnishings, though before entering we were able to see a scale model of how the rooms would have looked in the 40s. Being physically in the spaces was another experience of that surreal detachment. I could appreciate that a young Anne had taken it upon herself to decorate her walls, and I noticed how tiny Peter’s staircase room seemed (but noted that he was the only one with his very own room), and it was obvious how oppressive it must have been to spend two whole years in this tiny space with no sunlight and minimal connections to the outside world.

But it wasn’t until the very end of the exhibit, reading about Otto Frank’s survival of the concentration camp and his single-minded determination to get Anne’s diary published, that it hit me: this man sacrificed everything, his whole life, to protect his family, to get them into hiding, to save them from the inevitable. And he was the only one who survived. What a heartbreaking thought. But what an amazing testament to the impact of a single person’s life on the world! He did what was at his disposal: finding a publisher and an audience for his young daughter’s diaries. What a small task, but one unique to him, that only he had the power to accomplish! And see how he changed the world through that act of love.

On Friday, we got going bright and early thanks to a somewhat unwelcome wakeup call in our hostel room. We resumed the Rick Steves tour where we had left off: we saw the National Monument which recognizes victims of the Holocaust / WWII, as well as the New Church (not gonna try the Dutch spelling… I can almost understand spoken Dutch and reading it is fine but spelling is just a totally different animal), an old, ornate pedestrian market turned shopping center, and one of the most intriguing finds of the day, a “hidden church” from the times of Protestant oppression of Catholic practices, still in operation, right across from a McDonalds!

 

A selection of Amsterdam's gorgeous history: this is the pedestrian shopping center

A selection of Amsterdam’s gorgeous history: this is the pedestrian shopping center

And the frankly odd National Monument

And the frankly odd National Monument

We made our way back to the central station to check out trains to Bruges the next day and accidentally wandered into the Red Light District on the way back before realizing where we were, but I guess that’s something we can check off the list!

At this point, we had barreled through so many of the Amsterdam “musts” that we had a bit more freedom to follow our whims. And you know this was the ultimate “girls’ week(end)” when our first “whim” was to go on a free tour of a diamond workshop!!!

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It really was incredible. Laura listed it as one of her favorite things of the whole week, and I’m not one to complain about spending an hour looking at beautiful, shiny things! We learned all about the 4 C’s of diamonds and got to see sample gems cut at the workshop there in Amsterdam, some of which were worth thousands of Euros! Then we saw some “finished” jewelry pieces and even got to try some of them on.

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Then we wandered to the southeast portion of town, which is now considered the “green museum quarter” (because of the many parks and museums) and was also historically a predominantly Jewish area. We enjoyed delicious sandwiches right near the Dutch Theater, which is a gorgeous building with a chilling past, as it was used as a mass deportation site during the German occupation. After exploring the surrounding area, we took a little rest in a nearby park along a canal.

The Dutch Theater

The Dutch Theater

 

We stocked up on grocery store bread, cheese, fruit, and several discounted packages of Stroopwafels, which are as far as I’m concerned the Netherlands’ greatest contribution to humanity, and ended our second amazing day in Amsterdam in the Vondelpark with a picnic.

Two days seemed short to me, and I could have spent more time in Amsterdam, I think. It seems like such a small town — and really, it is… I think I remember hearing that fewer than a million people actually live in the city? Some things about it… the ever-present weed smell, for one… are not my favorite, but what a charming, eclectic, and beautiful city Amsterdam is! I am certainly glad to have experienced it.

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And with one of my best friends, no less!

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Next… Bruges!

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epic May trips part 2

About this time last year I was getting ready to graduate from the University of Texas

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and go on an epic road trip to Colorado with 8 of my very best friends

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and about this time this year, I am getting ready to go on an epic trip through northwestern Europe with one of my very best friends

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and it’s going to be the best trip ever or at least since since 2013!

The timing of this trip is the result of a huge fail on my part since I referred to last year’s academic calendar instead of this year’s and thought that I would have next week off… when in fact our Pentecost break isn’t for a few more weeks because Easter was late this year!!

But it’s too late to turn back now!!!

bikes, “missing moments,” and library creepers

I’ve been up to some really fun and exciting Dresden stuff and some really boring and aggravating research stuff lately,  but I don’t have the time/energy to write a full post at this exact moment, plus I haven’t uploaded photos! Luckily, Felicitas posted a bunch of photos from the past 6 months or so that reminded me of some moments I haven’t documented.

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This is from my lovely birthday celebration. Flitzi and I had a picnic, rented bikes, and went for a ride along the Elbe, which was so fun that I am insisting that Daniel and I do this while he is here in less than a month! This picture is also a nice reminder that I don’t actually have my own bike even after being here for almost 8 months, but since it was cold for most of those and because my tram/bus tickets for the year are included in my tuition expenses, I guess that’s mostly fine, but part of me does wish that a magical genie could just grant me a bike so I could save on the (negligible) expense and inevitable internet searches and possible creepiness involved in internet transactions.

Speaking of creepiness, I have been dealing with more than usual unwanted attention at the library, which is a sure sign I am spending too much time there/here (guess where I am now)… today the same guy approached me for the second time while I was sitting at the same table where I was when he last wanted to chat about my computer and whether I think it’s too big… and of course he thought I was British. The one that takes the cake (and that I maybe feel bad about?) is the guy that struck up a conversation last week about being able to connect to the internet, but then he ended up insisting that he add me on Facebook which what do you even say to that to not sound rude? So I put him on restricted profile, but then he started messaging me (and of course he spelled my name wrong, come on dude), so I unfriended him. since then he has sent me a message to inform me that it is “unpolite [sic] to just unfriend someone like that [….] how hard is it to maintain a Facebook friendship?” …No comment.

So, raging social life. I know you’re jealous.

 

seven quick takes…

…which are totally pointless but at least tangentially related to my work/research/productive things, so this can totally count as progress, right?

Basically, boring week = boring post.

1. I became a student member of the International Water Association to attend that conference in Patras, and now I get their magazine every two months, which is pretty cool. The current edition’s cover story is about “Hamburg’s lead on water and energy,” which gives me hope that maybe one day I could live or work at least part-time in Hamburg… because I’d be down with that.

2. Also, I’ve only read about three pages so far, but the frequency with which the “water-energy nexus” has already been discussed is very encouraging, since I’ll be focusing my master’s research on the interconnectedness of water and energy to some extent!

3. I really long for the day when I will actually feel motivated to work. It’s been rough goings here lately, but my report is coming along… even if the pace is glacial. (Geography puns!!!!!!!) My professor even liked my first chapter, and the revisions for that are coming along! However, my day-to-day motivation to actually get to the library, first of all, and then to remain focused when I get there… are… I don’t want to say non-existent…

4. Ok, that was headed in a bad way, so we’ll change gears. People who knew me in college will know that my favorite day of the whole semester was the day when the new course schedules would come out, so I could plan my projected classes for the next semester… color-coded and prioritized into plans A, B, and C, of course. I’ve started the process for my first semester of graduate school, and there wasn’t all that much to decide, but who knows what kind of obstacles I’ll run into when it comes time to register? As I have it drawn up now, I’ll be taking the intro class for my Energy Analysis and Policy certificate, Energy Economics, Benefit Cost Analysis, and Water Resources Institutions and Policies. I know that probably sounds super boring to everyone but me, but I’m pretty jazzed about it!

5. I’m giving a group presentation in my Physical Geography of North America class about water use, demand, and resources in North America/the US! It should be really interesting. We’re starting work this week.  Of course it will all be in German but if I was able to totally make a fool of myself in fluent German this week in class with little to no preparation, I think it will go over nicely with 2ish weeks of prep.

6. One slide in our lecture today was a big map of the transport (train) networks of the US, and all I could think of was playing Ticket to Ride with family and friends… standing on chairs for a full view of the map, crying in the corner due to a missed connection et al. (hehehe.) All the major junctions were the same, but notably Sault Ste. Marie was NOT included. We may never find out what made it important enough to include in the first place…

The only way to fully appreciate the entire map and thus create a bonafide railway empire

The only way to fully appreciate the entire map and thus create a bonafide railway empire (stealthily passing cards under the table while the parentals aren’t looking notwithstanding)

7. I should really be working on my revisions right now so I’ll bring this post to a premature HALT… if anyone could go ahead and send me some packaged or bottled motivation of some sort… that would be great.

eating together: sharing conversation and culture

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.”

-Michael Pollan

I read a book about understanding literature before my first year of college, and it emphasized the importance of any event that involves characters sharing a meal. Because of the communal (as in, being in communion) aspect of eating together, and the inherent intimacy of such an act, eating together is a fundamental human interaction.

Especially while abroad, I’ve found that the very best way to enjoy the presence of friends is to prepare and enjoy a meal together!

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Felicitas and Riccarda literally breaking bread in Struppen

Food is an important aspect of culture, and what better way to share your own traditions from home with your new friends abroad? Several times, my friend Domi, from Hungary, had a group of us over to enjoy a traditional Hungarian meal that he had prepared. We listened to Hungarian music and learned some limited Hungarian. For instance, Egészségére! means Cheers!

And that is all that I know.

And that is all that I know.

In late November and early December, I celebrated Thanksgiving not once, but twice, as a way of bringing new German and international friends into our American holiday tradition and to express to them how grateful I was for their friendship! Food and fellowship are two of the main facets of the holiday, are they not?

Thanksgiving Part 1 in Dresden, hosted by Felicitas and myself

Thanksgiving Part 1 in Dresden, hosted by Felicitas and myself

Thanksgiving part 2 in Jena, hosted by our fellow American Allie

Thanksgiving Part 2 in Jena, hosted by our fellow American Allie

Of course, preparing the food is an important part of the experience. Because I’ve had the time this year, I’ve started to really love exploring new recipes and experimenting with different ingredients. And cooking with friends is even more fun!

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Cooking Thanksgiving turkey in our tiny kitchen!

Felicitas and I in Jena. We cook together on a regular basis, but just never take any pictures of our efforts...

Felicitas and me in Jena. We cook together on a regular basis, but just never take any pictures of our efforts…

A community or potluck dinner really is the perfect atmosphere, I’ve found, for getting to know new friends, because a dinner party is centered on conversation. This is especially a perk when you’re working on your language skills! You learn so much about the people you dine with if you are able to foster lively conversation.

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For this dinner, I cooked “Cajun chicken pasta” and then had trouble explaining what exactly “Cajun” means…

Plus, group dinners widen your social circle. You invite your friends, someone brings his girlfriend along, someone else invites their roommate, and pretty soon you have a party! I’ve learned a lot this year about making conversation with people I may not know well, but who are undoubtedly interesting and worth talking to! It turns out small talk doesn’t come any more naturally to me in German as in English, but it’s worth it when you keep interesting company.

Of course, some of the best meals are provided free by the DAAD ;)

Of course, some of the best meals are provided free by the DAAD 😉

For anyone wanting to know how to build a stronger friend group or community, I’d recommend starting a tradition of regular dinner parties with your friends and acquaintances! And I say this even as the staunchest introvert… it’s worth the effort to put yourself out there and invite people to share a meal with you, especially one you’ve cooked. (Plus, cooking for yourself and your friends really cuts down on how much you spend at restaurants, which is a great frugal bonus.)

And we all know that every good dinner ends in dessert, so make sure to plan for that, too!

The cameraman caught me eyeing dessert... busted!

The cameraman caught me eyeing the dessert… busted!

problems viewing the page…?

I’ve had more traffic today and yesterday, I assume because of my new layout and the extra retroactive tagging I did. I’m glad you guys are still with me! I’m trying to write something new soon. However, I was informed by my mother that she was having trouble with content overlap with the new layout (which I really love)… is anyone else having this problem, and with what internet browser, if so? I use Chrome and I’m not having any issues. 

[this is the kind of thing that, were I a fancy blog with my own blog Facebook page or something, wouldn’t require its own post, but… alas.]