a polish-filipino wedding!

Among the wedding party, that’s what we decided that we would call Niki and Io’s wedding if we had a wedding blog. Well, I don’t have a wedding blog, but I have this blog, so that’s how I’ll title my post about the joyous and beautiful wedding of two of my best friends, which I had the pleasure of witnessing last week.

Niki is one of my very best friends from college and she is very dear to me–in fact, she was my wifey first!

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January 2011

Luckily, Io is great enough of a guy that I didn’t think twice about letting my wifey go as she became his actual wife 😉

November 2010

With such a fantastic, holy, fun-loving couple at the center, of course their wedding weekend was nothing short of magical. I’m still basking in the love and joy of the experience! So I wanted to write a little bit about it in case any of my readership is at all interested. (I just wish I had better photos to offer… some of these photos are from Daniel Laprea and Bailey.)

On Thursday I took an early bus from downtown Houston to UT’s campus Austin, and my friend and fellow bridesmaid Ali picked me up. We stopped by Kerbey Lane, a UT essential, for lunch and I got to have my first Tex-Mex of the year! Next, we drove up to Marynia’s (Niki’s sister and MOH’s) house to drop off some bachelorette party essentials, and then Ali and I continued our “girls’ day” at a salon to get manicures and/or pedicures.

After arriving at Ali’s house, the rest of the day consisted of nonstop reunions! First, Justin, Johanna, and Christina (other college friends!) arrived because Johanna would be staying with us, and Christina was coming to the bachelorette party as well. Before I knew it, we were on our way to the Triangle (after dropping Justin off with the guys) for part 1 of the bachelorette party: pottery painting!

It was lovely to be reunited with Niki, our guest of honor, as well as my college roommate, all of the other bridesmaids, and several other lovely ladies who I was either meeting for the first time or seeing for the first time in a while! We all got to bond over our mutual distrust of ourselves to not make a disaster out of the pottery (I made a to-go mug for coffee, which I don’t think I ruined) and mutual love of Chuy’s creamy jalapeño dip! Another really fun part of the evening: this was a true Catholic bachelorette party. We had two infants and two pregnant women in attendance! 🙂

After painting our wares and re-acquainting ourselves as a group, we moved on to the Clay Pit, a fancy Indian restaurant between campus and the Capitol. I’d never been there [too fancy for a normal college meal], and it was fabulous. I got to have some of my beloved chicken korma, Marynia bought a bottle of champagne for us non-pregnant/nursing mamas to share, and we took the opportunity all sitting around a big table to tell stories about Niki, how we met her, and why we love her! It was a wonderful way to kick off the weekend of honoring and cherishing the lovely bride.

Part 3 of the party took place at Marynia’s home, where we (in theory) all drove in a timely manner to watch a movie and drink margaritas… but Bailey, Christina, Johanna, and I made the unfortunate decision to take 35 North, where we sat on the highway for at least half an hour, causing everyone else to delay the movie! Oops!

Regrettably, I don’t think anyone took a single picture during the whole bachelorette party! But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t memorable! (It just makes for wonky blog formatting, oops)

On Friday, I somehow slept until noon! (At the time I was thrilled that I had finally gotten so much sleep a week after my transatlantic flight, but later, this would prove problematic.) I woke up to Ali informing me that everyone would be meeting for lunch soon–as soon as we could all decide on a restaurant. [this part felt like college again. No one can ever decide much to the distress of this choleric.] After a lovely lunch at Hula Hut on Lake Travis, our little group congregated back at Ali’s house to catch up, go jogging (just kidding, only Bailey did that) and eventually get dressed for the rehearsal!

Mission accomplished (partly)

Mission accomplished (partly)

But first: Johanna and I crashed the men’s trip to Addie Roy to pick up the organ they’d be using for the wedding! I just wanted to see the progress of the brand new Schoenstatt Shrine they’re building out there, but it turns out that wearing a white dress to a construction site is maybe a bit ill-advised. Regardless, the menfolk got the organ loaded into a truck and on its way to the chapel, with many thanks to Johanna and myself, I’m sure. 😉 And the shrine looks BEAUTIFUL!

The reunions continued at the church (the chapel at Niki’s high school out in Westlake): college friends served as groomsmen, ushers, and altar servers! The rehearsal was very… thorough… and the chapel was warm… a sign of things to come! But alas, we made it through, and resolved all issues regarding where to stand, when to bow (hint: ALWAYS bow), and whether all the bridesmaids would fit in the first row (we did). And then we were off to Maggianos for dinner and for me to reunite with this guy:

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Eating Italian food while catching up with good friends in a fancy ballroom and watching a slideshow of embarrassing pictures of the bride and groom can’t be bad, right? Right.

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Bailey, Ali, the lovely bride, myself, and Johanna. AKA the “vintage girls”–we’ve been together since freshman year at UT!

Resisting the temptations of an invite to Rainey St., we bridesmaids retired to Ali’s house to watch Say Yes to the Dress (which has a new version totally devoted to the progress of one [inevitably terrible] couple’s wedding, apparently) and go to sleep at a normal hour. Which we all did. And then I didn’t sleep. All night. And then it was 8:30 AM and it was time to drink some coffee, grab our bridesmaid gear, and head to the Bridal Headquarters to get this party started!!

I hadn’t been in a bridal party since exactly 20 years previous, when I was a 3-year-old flower girl in my Aunt Patti’s wedding, so the craziness of the bride’s house the day of was kind of new to me. Brothers and brothers-in-law rushing to Party City last minute for balloons; everyone getting their hair and makeup done, convincing each other to have another bagel or a cup of tea, and soothing crying babies; the bride printing out programs and handing them off to a competent assembly line for folding, hole punching, ribbon tying, and insert stuffing… the most fun kind of insanity.

Half of the bridesmaids are ready!

Half of the bridesmaids are ready to go! [Johanna, Bailey, Ali, and myself, for the viewers at home]

And finally, everyone was ready, or ready enough, and we headed for the church! We girls got dressed in some offices in the school building across from the chapel. Occasionally we’d see members of the men’s contingent out in the hallway and have to shove Niki around the corner so they wouldn’t be able to see her in all her bridal glory…

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(With a nice view of my hair, there, on the left)

And she was glorious!

We had time for a quick prayer all together, led by Marynia (chosen because she would be able to be both “deep and efficient”), and we, sans bride, headed into the church to join the congregation in singing the litany of saints before everything kicked off.

And then we processed. Despite my practice-walking, I did stumble slightly on my dress on my first step… but recovered! It was hot in that church in floor-length navy polyester, let me tell you. [James, who was an usher, informed us that he and Ryan, the other usher, stood at the back the whole mass and “just watched the thermostat rise.”] And someone, probably the aforementioned ushers, didn’t put programs in the bridal party row… so we were lost during the confusing Gloria setting and all the hymns!

But EVEN THAT did not take anything away from the absolute beauty of that wedding mass. The homily by Fr. Brian was thought-provoking and beautiful (a funeral homily, actually, but he pulled it off), the music was simple and gorgeous, and the marriage ceremony was perfect. Especially fitting were the vows: as one could predict, Io was incredibly emotional as he said his part… and then Niki came in in a perfect stage voice 😉 Very them. 

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I remember thinking during Communion… wow! It’s over already? I can only imagine how fast it flies during one’s own wedding! The joy and love just carry you through the ceremony.

After re-hydrating back in the school building, taking an effective and efficient number of family/official/wedding party photos in the church, and driving to the reception site, the wedding party was introduced at the Marriott! My partner, Marynia’s husband/Niki’s brother-in-law, James, was the tallest member of the bridal party, but I held my own in my 4-inch heels.

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This wedding truly was a Polish-Filipino affair, as advertised by the title of this post 😉 Niki, Io, and their families seamlessly integrated traditions from both cultures into the day. For instance, Io’s parents escorted him down the aisle before the Mass in keeping with the Filipino culture’s more predominant role of the groom, and after the ring exchange both sets of parents performed the imposition of the veil and lasso, an Hispanic tradition also used in the Philippines. And at the beginning of the reception, the Polish welcoming was used: guests threw/bestowed money on the newlyweds (their first money as a couple), and the parents of the bride presented them with bread, that they may never know hunger, and salt, that their lives may have flavor.

Then the ceremonial dances… Io and Niki danced to Ben Rector: (My first time hearing this song was actually at a Ben Rector concert with both Io and Niki, a few months before they got engaged, and they got really excited when he played it 😉 I wonder why…)

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Niki and her dad danced to Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof, and Io surprised his mom with Isn’t She Lovely. Both pairs could really dance! I know Niki’s family pretty well, but it was really sweet and wonderful to “get to know” both families during the weekend at the various events and through the fathers’ toasts at the wedding.

I mean, we all know how wedding receptions work at this point, right? Eating, drinking, general merriment, dancing… the dancing in particular was very lively! I was worried about my high heels and my too-long dress, but in the end, it worked out fine! Of course I had the best wedding date, and although Daniel and I hadn’t really danced together for over a year, we were able to bust out some decent two-step, cha-cha, and polka skills. I was very impressed by our polka, I must say. The Poles know how to party, and we kept up! 😉

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It’s not a secret that I had been really, really excited about this wedding for a really long time. The chance to catch up with so many wonderful friends, in such a joyous atmosphere, after being gone for so long was so. much. fun. Our table was Johanna, Bailey, and me, six of our best guy friends from college, and Fr. Brian, who celebrated the Mass. It was awesome swapping Canonization/World Youth Day stories with Daniel and James, laughing at Io’s dad’s crazy toast with all the guys, and looking forward to Justin and Johanna’s wedding next year!

My gentleman friends at our awesome table... Ryan, Daniel (me) and James

My gentleman friends at our awesome table… Ryan, Daniel, (me), and James. And James’ shirt.

At toast time, the DJ opened up the floor for people to offer some remarks (advice, nostalgia, well wishes) to the happy couple. James and I both debated saying something, but were edged out by time constraints. So instead we did this: wedding1

No regrets!

There are no pictures of this yet, but at some point a few members of the wedding party snuck down in the garage to decorate Niki’s car, in which we “sent off” the couple at the end of the night… even though they were staying in the hotel where the reception had taken place. We labeled Io as “whipped” on the driver’s side and Niki as the “ol’ ball & chain” on the passenger’s side. And, the piéce de résistance, on the windshield: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

I keep thinking of fun things from the reception: the “grand march” around the ballroom, dancing to “Love Shack,” someone not knowing that “Twist and Shout” is by the Beatles, so many fun line dances (The Wobble! Copperhead Road!! I love Texas), the 4-year-old who was intent on dancing (very violently) with every bridesmaid, getting the bride and groom up on chairs for the Horah… the list goes on. It was such a fun time with some of the people I love the most.

But probably one of the most beautiful sights came the next morning, after everyone dragged themselves out of bed before 9 to go to Mass at the Cathedral. We took up half of the church, y’all, between the bride’s family, the groom’s family, the couple themselves, and those of us friends who came out. Niki kept saying afterwards, “I can’t believe this many people love us so much!” The joy of the wedding day isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. I can’t wait to experience the joy that Io, Niki, and their new family bring to all of us in the future 🙂

freiburg (with a strasbourg bonus)

Well folks, this is my last travel post! How did we get here? [how the hell? Pan left…] I had about 10 different plans back in October of how I would get back to Freiburg, and in the end I went my second-to-last weekend in Europe, but better late than never! I brought Felicitas along with me and hopefully did not annoy her too much with my constant wonderment at being back.

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And because we procrastinated in finding a hostel/apartment/hotel, we weren’t able to find anywhere in Freiburg for Saturday night. So, we decided to go to Strasbourg for the evening before going our separate ways on Sunday, myself back to Dresden and Flitzi to visit her grandparents in Wiesbaden. It all worked out wonderfully!

We had an early flight from Dresden to Stuttgart on Friday morning and then took a series of regional trains to Freiburg, which took about 4 hours because there isn’t anything direct! Which is a bit ridiculous, but anyway, we made it there by 2 PM. Our hostel was very basic but had an amazing location right off the Dreisam (technically a river, apparently, but more like a creek), adjacent to the Schlossberg hill which overlooks the city. We saw some of the sites as we walked to the hostel, and I began my 24 hours of marveling at how time and memory work.

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I was in Freiburg three years ago. I’m a totally different person now than I was when I left. I’ve spent so much time thinking about Freiburg and missing it and reminiscing about it. And then to be back… it was like no time had passed, but like an eternity had elapsed since I was last there. It’s strange. But in all, it was nice to be back. We’ll leave it at that.

Because we were so nearby, we climbed the Schlossberg first, taking in fabulous views like this one:

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And I recreated some old photos from last time:

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We tried to find the overlook tower but somehow failed, so we descended into the city, bought some bottled water before we died of thirst, and started meandering the familiar (to me) streets.

By the time we got there, the Münster market had mostly already closed and packed up for the day, and we got to briefly see the inside of the cathedral but there was Mass happening so we couldn’t stay for long. After a quick trip to dip our feet in the Dreisam and an even quicker “tour” of the university, we stopped at my very favorite restaurant, Euphrat, a middle eastern place owned by an Afghani family. I ate there close to every day while I lived in Freiburg and I have dreamed (dreamt?) of their food ever since. And it did not disappoint my memory!

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We enjoyed a scoop of ice cream near the theater (which now serves as the end station of most of the tram lines due to major construction in the city center) and jumped on a tram up to my old abode, StuSie. I do not have fond memories of StuSie (my dorm was disgusting and I didn’t have many friends there to speak of), but one good thing about it was always its proximity to the Seepark, a gorgeous park surrounding a huge lake. So that was our destination for the evening.

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My only regret: that I forgot my swimsuit in Dresden!!! It would have been so refreshing to take a dip.

OH!! One other thing I got to check off my Freiburg bucket list–sitting on the Blaue Brücke, a bridge over the train tracks. All the cool kids go sit on the top of the bridge and drink beer, and i never got to do it… until this time! It was incredibly terrifying but hey. I did it. (Minus the beer. Whatever.)

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On Saturday morning, we rented bikes from our hostel first thing so we’d be able to use them all day, and first stopped for breakfast near the university at my favorite bakery, Ihr Backshop. They’d renovated since I was last there, but the pastries are still just as delicious. After making a quick stop at the post office to buy stamps, we set out for our first destination of the morning: the Schönstatt shrine in Merzhausen!

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I seriously wish I had visited the shrine more often when I actually lived in Freiburg! It’s in an absolutely beautiful location, and to be honest I was in a place mentally and spiritually back then that could seriously have benefitted from some more time spent chilling with the Blessed Mother. It was fun being back there and telling Felicitas a little bit about Schönstatt (not easy to do, but she was a great “student”). It was great to be able to re-center myself in a familiar place and hopefully receive some graces as I go through a huge transition in returning home and then moving again!

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One fun bonus: there were blackberry brambles all over the place with ripe fruit!! While we were in Merzhausen we filled up a whole tupperware container with delicious blackberries, which we continued to refill throughout the day as we saw more bushes.

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We cruised back into town, parked our bikes near the Augustiner (it’s a chore to walk them on cobblestone, and foot traffic was way too heavy to ride through the streets) and headed for the Münster and market, which we hadn’t yet seen!

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We did a quick loop through the Münster, which was packed with tourists, before spending some time perusing the market. It’s absolutely insane to me how big the daily market is in Freiburg. Every day with dozens of stands selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, meat, spices, toys, souvenirs… It’s so lively and fun! I spotted a vendor with some tea that we loved when I brought it as a hostess gift to Krakow, so I bought a satchel of it to bring home 🙂

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Euphrat had been so delicious the day before that we opted to eat there for lunch, this time ordering wraps to-go which we ate sitting along the Bächle.

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We continued meandering through the streets, taking in the unique medieval-but-modern charm (and wondering to ourselves how it could be so different from Dresden, yet in the same country!), and I insisted that we stop at the Feierling brewery Biergarten. Felicitas doesn’t drink beer, so I ordered a solitary half-liter because I’m only in Germany for two more weeks and I need to enjoy it while I can! 😉

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself... my  blog, my rules.

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself… my blog, my rules.

With our time winding down until we had to fetch our things from the hostel and head to the train station to catch our bus, we headed again for the Dreisam. It was amazing to spend some time relaxing, wading in the shallow but frigid water, and enjoying the fact that nature and city can coexist so closely! It really is beautiful there.

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The next thing we knew, we were on a bus to Strasbourg, and before long, we were standing in France! Against all odds, we made it to our hotel (we had a private room AND bathroom. LUXURY), changed and freshened up quickly, and walked to the famous Strasbourg cathedral for Saturday night vigil Mass.

Normally I highly endorse going to Mass at beautiful churches to avoid entrance fees and get the authentic experience, but in this case it was literally the only way that Felicitas and I were both going to make it to Mass. Mission accomplished! Luckily we had read the readings ahead of time so we kind of knew what was happening. We did get to have a little fun making up our own words to the Mass parts.

It turns out that things in Strasbourg are expensive, especially food. Luckily, we did happen to stumble upon a restaurant/brewery that was un-touristy enough to only have a French menu and seemed to mainly cater to students and young people. Ergo, affordable Alsatian food for all!

Flammkuchen and beer

Flammkuchen and beer

Strasbourg is a beautiful city, you guys. I’d been there with my mom at the very beginning of my 2011 European adventures, but that was before I really became a conscientious traveler and I hardly remember anything except seeing the astronomical clock and dancing apostles at the cathedral (which, incidentally, was out of order this time due to construction). I don’t recall much else! But it’s gorgeous. Surrounded by a canal from the Rhine, the city has so many beautiful bridges which were even more gorgeous this time of year because of the flowers they’re decorated with!

DSC06549Not to mention stunning gothic architecture and lots of German-style Fachwerk houses.

We got to see a lot of the city in the short time we had by taking a boat tour. It was a little oddly-paced, and at some points we were really low and couldn’t see much that the tour recording was telling us about. Regardless, it was a good choice because we got to see and learn so much in a short period of time.

A few quick facts (with not many accompanying photos because most of our tour was after nightfall and the photos I attempted to take were awful):

  • Strasbourg is part of Alsace-Lorraine, the contested territory between France and Germany. It’s gone back and forth so much, but the truth is that it’s its own distinct region with aspects of French and German culture, architecture, language, etc.
  • Strasbourg is the seat of the EU Capital, which I had no idea about until this weekend! We got to see all of the parliamentary and official buildings, which were stunningly modern and striking, especially at night!
  • It is really awkward to sit in a tour boat both in front of and behind incredibly amorous couples.
  • During the summer, they have light projection shows on the Vauban Barrage (one of the city’s important landmarks) and the cathedral. We got to catch both!

On Sunday morning, I walked Felicitas to the train station as she left for Wiesbaden and I bought my ticket to the airport for later that afternoon. I spent the rest of the day walking around and seeing parts of the town I hadn’t gotten to the day before, taking photos, getting caught in the rain, going inside to cafés and restaurants and paying too much money to avoid the rain, and writing postcards.

Here are some photo highlights!

On the water at dusk

On the water at dusk (that church is not the cathedral)

Before Mass shot!

Before Mass shot! (That church is the cathedral)

Detail shot of the cathedral

Detail shot of the cathedral

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The Covered Bridge, one of Strasbourg’s signature sites, once used as an armory. Cathedral in the background!

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Casually donning an Alsacian costume and headdress

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I would say something meaningful here about this being my last trip of the year, but I’m just as tired and burnt out writing about it as I was at the end of the actual trip. So I guess I’ll just include a little taste of my next destination….

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the last hoorah in budapest

I’m interrupting my regularly-scheduled activities of fact-checking, Works Cited-making, and wearing the same 3 outfits over and over again for the next three weeks to tell the blogosphere all about my fantastic and wonderful and magical trip to Budapest this weekend!! It was my last big international trip before the biggest international trip (home), and what an incredible one it was!!! I truly loved the city and had a fabulous time, and I’m excited to share some of my pictures and stories with y’all!

Felicitas and I chose to go to Budapest because our friend Domi, who studied in Dresden last semester, lives there, which was as good a reason as any to pick one city over another! A few of our friends had gone several weeks ago to visit Domi and we had heard great things from them, so we were really excited for the trip. We used airbnb to book an apartment for the weekend… I think this is a relatively new start-up, or at least new to me, and we had a great experience with the guy we rented from. The best feature of the apartment (besides the great location and totally unreal price) was that it included the use of 2 bikes, which was absolutely clutch. No public transit for us!

We arrived in the early afternoon on Friday (July 4th, for anyone keeping track) and made our way from the airport to the apartment with only some minor confusion, and as soon as we had dropped off our stuff, changed into cooler clothes (it was HOT), and figured out the bikes, we were off to see what Budapest had to offer!

Budapest, if you don’t know, is actually the “fusion” of two cities, Buda and Pest, each lying on one side of the Danube River, so the river dominates the city landscape and most of the major sites are along it. And, like most cities on rivers, the bridges are all-important. It was crazy how much bigger Budapest’s bridges are than Dresden’s, though not surprising when you observe how much bigger the Danube is at Budapest than the Elbe at Dresden (esp. this year).

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We were really hungry and we (I) were (was) starting to get hangry, specifically, so we tried to find somewhere to eat something inexpensive that would still leave us free for dinner a few hours later. We settled for some pastries right before stumbling upon the first of many great discoveries: the Budapest Central Market! We thought it was the train station at first, which should clue you into how big it really is, but it’s just full of stands and kiosks selling fresh produce, dairy products, dried fruit, meats, spices, etc. etc. etc. Absolutely magical. I wish I could shop there every week. With some cherries and nectarines in tow, we set off to see as much of the city as we could before finding a viewing location for Germany’s quarter final World Cup game at 6.

We didn’t get to see MUCH in the limited time we had, especially while getting used to the… not exactly perfect quality of the bikes, but we crossed the famous (and beautiful and massive) Chain Bridge, saw the Citadel up on its hill, and observed the locations of some of Budapest’s more famous sites: the cathedral, fisherman’s bastion, and Parliament. It was great that we were able to cruise up and down the river (well, parallel to it on bike paths) as we oriented ourselves and made plans for the next day. And then, we staked out our World Cup viewing spot, which was hilariously a British pub… on the 4th of July.

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We enjoyed our meal and a few beverages while watching the relatively uneventful game (but GERMANY WON!) and hiding our disdain of the rowdy and rude international clientele at the pub. Then Felicitas discovered that she had lost her iPod, which was a huge bummer. I resolved to take twice as many pictures for the both of us, the results of which promise you have already partially experienced, dear reader.

After the game ended, we continued on our bikes towards the Parliament building to get a closer look, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen in my life. Apparently it is the third largest government building in the world (behind only Buenos Aires and Bucharest, if I remember correctly, so maybe the competition is limited to capitals starting with B?) and has a total of 365 towers. It is the tallest building in Budapest (actually, maybe just in Pest?) and is legally required to remain so. St. Stephen’s Basilica is exactly the same height, although during the Communist era, a red star was placed on top of the Parliament building to signify the state’s dominance over the church. (The star isn’t there anymore, clearly.)

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We rode back to the apartment as the sun was setting and night was falling and experienced the most magical of Budapest experiences: everything lit up at night! It was so gorgeous.

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The next day started bright and early with another trip to the market to stock up on fruit, cheese, and bread for the day, before we headed across to the Buda side of the river. We parked our bikes at the bottom of the Gellert hill and hiked up to the top, where the Citadel is located. We were surprised to learn that the fortress had only been constructed in the 19th century! It has now fallen into disuse, but the Citadel as a symbol of political power was a complicated topic during the Austro-Hungarian Empire years (it was seen as an imposition of Austrian power on the Hungarians), as well as during the Nazi occupation through to the Communist regime. Besides learning some of the history behind the structure, we also enjoyed fantastic views of the city.

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Continuing to follow the Danube north, we climbed up to see the Royal Palace, which is absolutely stunning. It is an imposing but beautiful presence up on its hill, overlooking the river, and the grounds, including the surrounding buildings of the National Gallery, are all very picturesque. We scored some free tap water from the restrooms in the Palace (again, SO HOT. We were staving off dehydration the whole day) and continued walking north to the Cathedral.

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The Royal Palace

St. Matthias’ Cathedral is one of the more distinctive churches I’ve seen. It’s built in a gothic/probably neo-gothic style, but the building itself is very bright because it’s built all in white stone! And it has a colorful, tiled roof. The whole thing was an interesting mix of western (gothic) and eastern (almost byzantine) aesthetics, including the inside! A lot of the decorations were geometric, which reminded us of some Islamic decorations (no graven images).

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Right in front of St. Matthias’ is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a word that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me but I think it’s some sort of fortress or embarkment. Regardless of what its purpose is/was (and I don’t remember actually learning any of the history for this particular structure… oops), it is very unique and striking… and offers some gorgeous views, as well, and it’s one of the defining landmarks of the city.

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After exploring a bit more of the Buda side, we crossed over the Chain Bridge to Pest; first stop, St. Steven’s Basilica. The Basilica is the biggest Catholic church in the city, and it could fit right in in Rome as far as I’m concerned! When we first went in the church, they were getting ready to have a wedding, so we could only see a small part of it. However, a short time later we came back with our walking tour and got to see the whole thing!

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Displayed in the basilica: a relic of St. Stephen (his preserved hand), who converted Hungary to Christianity

Displayed in the basilica: a relic of St. Stephen (his preserved hand), who converted Hungary to Christianity

Our tour was the “Essential Pest” tour and concentrated a lot on sites with historical meaning, so we learned a lot about the history of the Hungarian people, religious milestones, and events during the Communist period from 1945-1990. One interesting fact: the roots of the Hungarian people and language are actually in Asia! They claim Attila the Hun as their great ancestor, and the Hungarian tribe was one of the tribes he ruled. On the tour, in addition to the Basilica, we saw many historical landmarks and statues (many of them Communist but some hearkening back to the Austro-Hungarian days), Liberty Square, a nuclear bunker, the former Hungarian television headquarters (which was closed after it was attacked by protesters in 2006), and Parliament once again.

After the tour was over, we made our way slowly across the city to a church we knew would be having an English mass about an hour later. Domi met us for Mass! It was great to see him again, and to have someone to translate for us!

Dresden friends reunited in Budapest!

Dresden friends reunited in Budapest!

We enjoyed a post-Mass ice cream cone on our way to our next highly-anticipated destination: one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths. Many of these baths were built during the time of Ottoman occupation (Turkish baths, you see), and we definitely wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Our original plan was to buy reduced price tickets starting at 7 and stay for a few hours, but it turns out that the bath closed earlier than we had anticipated. Instead of paying full price for only 45 minutes of bathing time, we decided to wait until one of the baths re-opened at 10 pm.

In the meantime, we headed up to Margaret Island, an island in the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest. It’s named “Margaret” for the daughter of one of Hungary’s kings, who lived in isolation on the island as a nun during her life. (She’s now a saint.) There’s a big fountain on the island, and as we sat down to put our feet in the water, the 8pm water show began! The fountain is synced up with lights and music, and it was such an unexpected surprise! It was nice to be able to sit down and enjoy something relaxing and fun at the end of a long day. We ate the rest of our fruit, and Felicitas and I took a little spin around some of the rest of the park before coming back to enjoy the 9pm show! Some of the music selections: “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel, The Blue Danube, appropriately, and Bruce Springsteen complete with red, white, and blue lights.

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Poor posture exacerbated by exhaustion

Poor posture exacerbated by exhaustion

We returned to the bath in time for the 10pm re-opening, changed into our swimsuits, and bought our tickets (kind of pricy, but worth the splurge). I had no idea what to expect from the baths. It was like being transported to a different world! The bath itself was built in the 16th century, though you would never know from the exterior and the main building, which is modern. The bath itself was a cavernous little room with five separate baths: one in each corner, and a large one in the middle, each one kept at a different temperature. The water is all natural and directly drawn from the earth, though of course it’s cooled and regulated at each temperature. (The whole area smelled faintly of sulphur, a smell that didn’t leave my hair or skin until after my second shower, two days later!) Domi, as he is Hungarian, had been to thermal baths before, and Flitzi had looked up some articles about the best “strategies”: going from the coolest bath to the hottest, then maybe a trip to the steam room or sauna, and then back in the coolest one. We did go in both the steam room and the sauna, though I can’t say I particularly enjoyed either one… I’m more a “cool water” gal. Shortly before leaving, I did take the plunge into the 60-degree “cold tub” which was… only refreshing after having spent time in the 110-degree bath. Overall, I would say it’s absolutely worth it to go to one of these baths while in Budapest. What a crazy and otherworldly experience! I don’t know that I’m really conveying that effectively, and I don’t have any pictures because no cameras were allowed, but I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Before thermal bath

Before thermal bath

After thermal bath

After thermal bath

Shortly after midnight, we bid farewell to Domi (he was catching a flight at 6 am and planned on just staying at the bath until 3 am, which I’m sure was a good alternative to sleeping at the airport) and biked back to our apartment, both absolutely collapsing into bed after such an eventful day. Something about a thermal bath at the end of the night will really take it out of ya!

On Sunday, we “slept in,” got the apartment ready for our departure, and tried in vain to find a good place to eat breakfast. The place we did eat was absolutely terrible and our waiter shortchanged us like CRAZY… but, in our exasperation, we decided not to fight it… we were trying to spend our Hungarian currency, anyway. (We did leave scathing reviews on Tripadvisor after we got home, though.) As we made our way back to the airport and eventually to Dresden by way of Berlin, I was a little sad that this was my last big trip before I return home. However, that sad emotion is always mixed… in this case, I was tired and ready to be in my own bed, as well as knowledgeable of the fact that I will be traveling (just within Germany) for the next two weekends, and of course anticipating my impending trip home!! I can’t believe it’s already mid-July, friends. I just can’t.

One thing I was sure of, though, in leaving Budapest, was that I would love to return one day. I guess I drank the Kool-Aid, but Budapest really was one of my favorite cities… just don’t ask me to list all of my favorites!!! One of my new favorite travel tips is “go to countries with cheap currency,” because seriously… Budapest has all the magic of Paris and all the mystery of Prague for probably half the price! Highly recommended 😉

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a crazy week, but first some photos

This week has been NUTS! I’ll give y’all the Cliff’s Notes version

Saturday and Sunday: the 24th Annual Elbhangfest, a huge festival that stretches the length of the Elbe River from Dresden to Pillnitz. Felicitas and I biked in on Saturday to see live music, browse craft and jewelry booths, and cheer on our friend Daniela in the Dragon Boat Race. Sunday, we explored the part of the festival at Schloss Pillnitz, a palace about 10 km away from Dresden.

This Drachenboot team all dressed up as dragons... wings and all!

This Drachenboot team all dressed up as dragons… wings and all!

A view of the Blauen Wunder bridge from the fair

A view of the Blauen Wunder bridge from the fair

Live music in the rain on Sunday...

Live music in the rain on Sunday…

Monday: Germany vs Algeria in the World Cup! I went to a public viewing of the game along the Elbe and it was crazy fun, emphasis on the crazy because no one scored during regulation and we went into overtime!

Me and Agnes sporting the red, black, and gold

Me and Agnes sporting the red, black, and gold

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Got home around 1:30 AM and had to be on a bus by 7:30 the next morning because…

Tuesday and Wednesday: I was in Göttingen, where I finally got to meet Ayse, my German replacement! She was my high school German teacher’s teaching assistant this year, and she lived with my parents while she was in Sugar Land. We hadn’t met even on Skype before, so I was glad we got to “meet in the middle” of Germany! Ayse’s friend Inga lives in Göttingen so she was very generous to make accommodations for us at her dorm. We watched America sadly lose to Belgium after a hard-fought game.

Displaying our American pride at Göttingen's most famous fountain

Displaying our American pride at Göttingen’s most famous fountain

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Thursday (today): My aforementioned German teacher, Mr. Buck, is in Germany currently with GAPP, an every-other-year exchange between Clements and a Gymnasium in Cologne. Mr Buck is a brave soul to bring 17 high schoolers to Germany for 5 weeks! They were in Dresden today so I went and met up with the young’ns, who were all still in middle school (or even elementary school?? shudder) when I graduated! Several of them have older siblings who were in my class, though. We walked all through the Altstadt and crossed over to the Neustadt before I saw them off on a day trip to Königstein and Rathen and I returned here to write this post 😉 Most of the things we did today, I’d already seen, but one new thing was that I got to go to the top of the Hausmannsturm at the Schloss, which I didn’t even know was an option before. So I’ll leave you with these stunning views of Dresden:

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All the way in the back, you can see the university. See the pointy green building?

time is a toothpaste tube

or, alternatively, “A Day in Thüringen.”

[maybe provocative titles will garner a larger following than i’ve had lately. hi, y’all.]

Palm trees in Germany... totally natural

Palm trees in Germany… totally natural

I have about five more weeks left in Dresden, which is basically unbelievable. So I’ve been trying to get the most out of what little time I have left. The weekend started auspiciously with our cherry-picking adventure, and continued with a really fun dance with the KSG peeps on Saturday night. (It was a bummer to see Germany tie with Ghana after a frustrating game, but dancing took the edge off a bit.)

To round out the weekend, on Sunday, Felicitas and I had planned (or, more accurately, not planned) a spontaneous trip to Jena, where our friend Allie lives. We bought a Thüringen ticket, which allowed us to take any train* in Saxony or Thüringen all day, and cost only 13 euros each.

The German National Theater in Weimar

The German National Theater in Weimar

*Unfortunately, we realized just as we were about to get on the train that we were only allowed to take regional trains with this ticket, so our journey took a bit longer than we had anticipated.

We both slept on the train, which was welcome, but that led to the next unanticipated turn of events: we missed our stop! We reached “Jena-West,” but knew that we were supposed to get off at “Jena-Göschwitz,” so we waited. And waited. And waited as the train continued through huge fields filled with cows, and we guessed that we were, indeed, leaving Jena, which we confirmed with a phone call to Allie. But with a stroke of luck, we discovered that the next stop was Weimar, a town I had wanted to visit but figured that I wouldn’t have the chance!

In front of the Weimar town hall

In front of Weimar’s town hall

And so, we spent about an hour and a half in the charming city of Weimar.  Weimar is famous as the former home of the famous author/philosophers Göthe and Schiller, and it lent its name to the Weimar Republic, the ill-fated German republic formed after World War I. It really was beautiful.

In front of Schiller's home

In front of Schiller’s home

We barely made the next train back to Jena, and Allie met us at the train station. Allie and Flitzi went to Northwestern together and were both athletes there, and it was great to spend a few hours from her and get the full Jena tour.

We saw the university, the famous DDR-era “skyscraper,” the cutest little restaurant-and-kneipe street, two of the four remaining city gates, the town hall, and enjoyed ice cream cones the size of my head as we walked through Paradies-Park. It was a lovely, lovely day in two cities I’ve had on my list to see since November.

Old and new: the "skyscraper" on the right, the town gate on the right

Old and new: the “skyscraper” on the right, the town gate on the right (in the far, far background)

As we waited for our train at the station, we talked about little cultural quirks and observations–how Germans don’t apologize as much as Americans, and maybe even think we are silly for apologizing so much; how, for Americans, asking “how are you?” or “what’s up?” is more of a pleasantry than an actual inquiry (to the exasperation of Germans)–when Allie asked an actual serious question of me: how am I feeling about going back? In the midst of the silly things we’d been discussing, it actually blind-sided me a little!

I gave the standard answer I’ve been thinking of for a while: how, this time, I’ve spent a good amount of time in Germany, and during that time taken advantage of everything I feel I could have gotten out of my time here. I’ve traveled a lot, but I’ve also integrated myself into everyday life here in Dresden, or at least I did that as well as I knew how. I don’t feel I have any regrets, and this year truly has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. So I don’t feel disappointed to be leaving.

Walking down an idyllic Weimar street

Walking down an idyllic Weimar street

(And it does help that I am really excited for the adventure ahead! The wedding of the decade a week after I get back to the US, a transamerican move two weeks after. No shortage on adventure here.)

But after I got home, I looked around my disaster zone of a room and out at the church tower that would wake me up at 7 the next morning with its incessant chiming, and I remembered the sun-dappled train journey through Saxony I’d just enjoyed, and I realized that I will be very sad to leave! It’s crazy how fast time passes–I can barely believe that I graduated college at all, let alone that my graduation was 13 months ago–and the end of a chapter is always bittersweet, isn’t it? But this chapter has been an amazing one, and I’m so blessed to have lived it. So I’m going to keep squeezing every last memory out of my Dresden life before I go.

Among the list of things to look forward to: my sweet kitty hanging out on my bookshelves at home

Among the list of things to look forward to: my sweet kitty hanging out on my bookshelves at home

cherry picking and other adventures

On Friday, Felicitas and I had one simple goal: make it to an orchard to pick cherries. We knew about one orchard outside of Meissen, so we took the S-Bahn to the nearby town. We brought along our bikes because the orchard itself wasn’t walking distance from the train station, as it turned out.

A view of Meissen as we crossed the Elbe

A view of Meissen as we crossed the Elbe

After getting a bit turned around because each of us had assumed that the other one knew how to get to the orchard from Meissen, we ended up on a long, un-bike-friendly, extremely hilly road… and just when we were about to give up…

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Cherry trees! Along the road. We hadn’t actually made it to the orchard, but we spotted a guy picking the cherries from these trees. We confirmed with him that the trees were on public land (and thus, we were entitled to pick cherries from them as long as we didn’t plan on selling them for profit), and that they were edible. And so, amazed at our good fortune, we got to work!

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It was the best happenstance occurrence, because we brought in a huge haul of cherries–which are normally so expensive! And they were all free, as opposed to the almost 4 Euros/kilo we’d have paid at the orchard. Plus, we got the thrill of picking them ourselves!

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Probably about a third of our harvest

After we were satisfied with the fruits of our labors, we coasted down the now-mostly-downhill road back into town. We had planned to hop on the S-Bahn back to Dresden, but before we knew it, we were on the bike trail that would lead us back home, and there were only 26 kilometers left to go! So we decided to continue the adventure and bike along the river.

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We spotted some goats about 10 km from Dresden, and later we caught a glimpse of a windmill! It was a beautiful ride and the weather was wonderful–a massive improvement from the cold and rainy morning we’d had.

DSC05982 What a rush of an unplanned and unexpected adventure!! Now, to figure out how to use my half of the cherries…

an unprecedented month (and many photobooth photos)

Besides the morning of June 1 when I was in/traveling back from Poland, I will be in Germany (mostly Dresden) for all of June! This is the first time I’ve stayed in one place for an entire month, and to be honest, I am a little relieved. I think I wore myself out over the past few months.

But don’t think I’m not keeping busy! Luckily there is a LOT to do in Dresden. Of course, I had a fun-filled and action-packed week with Daniel while he was here, but the fun hasn’t let up since then!

Last week, we had a bit of a heat wave, and it got really uncomfortably hot here on the ninth floor. I looked up as many articles about “staying cool with no air conditioner” as I could find, and because I don’t have a fan nor a south-facing window, I did the best that I could.

Like buying an adorable little baby watermelon at the market!

Like buying an adorable little baby watermelon at the market! And taking several short, cold showers per day.

I went swimming a couple times with Felicitas, once at the crazy fun pool right between the Großer Garten and the soccer stadium and once at a Freibad up in Bühlau, which was a more natural pool (and very very cold)! No pictures, because my camera is still dead. I’ll fix it soon.

During the really hot weekend, I also went to the movies with my friend Daniela! I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned her on here yet… she’s my Tandem partner who I met for the first time in April, right after I got back from Rome. Daniel (yes, this is going to get confusing) had a few Tandem/Intercambio partners while he was in Salamanca, and hearing about his fun experiences with them made me realize that I probably should have found a Tandem during my 7 months here (at the time). So, I found Daniela on Facebook and we hit it off.

Daniela is doing a 6-month practicum/internship at the Gläserne Manufaktur, so it was her who gave me the info for our English tour when Daniel was here, although we didn’t get to see her while we were there. She’s from Saarland, really far west near France, and she’s “new” to Dresden, as well, so we’ve been fast friends and have enjoyed doing fun Dresden things together.

The one photo I have from the Opera, where we saw the Swan Lake ballet!

The one photo I have from the Opera, where we saw the Swan Lake ballet!

We got drinks once in Neustadt, bought cheap, last-minute, standing-room-only tickets to the ballet (so fun!!), we got ice cream together once, and then, while it was so hot out, we went to see Maleficent. There were only about 8 people in the huge 3-D theater, but at least it was cool in there!

This past weekend I also got to go to my first ever German wedding! Agnes’ best friend got married, and I’ve become friendly with the bride and groom while I’ve lived here (plus a lot of their other fun friends!) and they were very generous to invite me to their special day! It was a really, really fun time! And of course… I did not have my camera with me, so here is a gratuitous photo of my wedding attire that I took on Photo Booth before I left. The bride requested that everyone wear something blue, her favorite color, hence the scarf/shawl:

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And finally, last night the World Cup really got going here. Germany played at 6 our time, and up until about 15 minutes before I had no idea where I was going to watch the game, so I was all settled in alone on my couch to try to watch it when Felicitas let me know that her apartment was having a viewing party in their courtyard! So I headed over there, beer in tow, and enjoyed a nice 4-0 Germany win over Portugal. It was way more fun to watch with a big group of people, especially since I am not the world’s biggest soccer fan! It was a bummer that the US didn’t play till midnight, but they won as well… looking forward to the June 26 Germany-USA game! (I’ll be sporting red, white, and blue then, don’t worry!)

Again.. I have more photos but they are Felicitas' so here you have a wonderful Photo Booth photo of my face decorations ;)

Again.. I have more photos but they are Felicitas’ so here you have a wonderful Photo Booth photo of my face decorations 😉