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!

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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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a weekend with no photos? inconceivable!

Yes, it’s true. I was in Braunschweig this weekend for a DAAD conference/meeting and I didn’t take a single picture! Which is a shame because I enjoy taking probably too many photos while traveling, but I have all the memories in my mind, and due to this boring blog post, they will be documented here for all of eternity… [it’s late as I write this, and since I have to make this interesting without photos, I guess melodramatic rambling will do the trick.]

In October, we had a similar meeting in Köln, but that was only for the North American (US + Canada) scholarship holders. This weekend’s conference was one of four “universal” DAAD conferences: every international DAAD scholarship holder currently in Germany was invited to attend one! They were broken down by topic; I seem to have been lucky in that I got my first choice, “Climate Politics, Food Security, and Natural Resources” or something like that.

It turns out that there are a lot of international DAAD folks… there were over 400 just at this weekend’s conference! Of course, I was the only American from Dresden as Felicitas had already been to the meeting in April, and I was one of only 7 Americans in total this weekend. As it turns out, the developing world far outnumbers the developed world when it comes to these scholarships, as getting money to attend school in Germany offers a huge draw to people whose home countries can’t provide the same level of education.

For a lot of the weekend, I was really out of my comfort zone… mingling with large groups of people I don’t know is very difficult. (I know it’s probably hard for most people and they somehow get over it.) Luckily, the American group was really cool, and there were built-in ways for us to spend time with those from our own geographic area. And some of them seemed much more at home in the large, lively, and international atmosphere, so they were able to meet interesting friends to invite to our table during meals! In particular, several of the American guys spoke some level of Russian, so we got to know a few Russians who were especially entertaining at the conference-wide “disco” on Saturday night. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

After a day of conference-opening and keynote sessions on Friday (the keynote speaker gave a surprisingly good talk on the pros and cons of biofuels which I particularly appreciated) and several chances to bond with our fellow countrymen, Saturday morning was filled with typical “conference” activities: breakout sessions, coffee breaks, and a cafeteria lunch.

My first breakout session was a fascinating presentation by a professor from Braunschweig about the potential for sustainable waste management. I love it when environmental scientists and engineers are able to be optimistic and innovative instead of talking gloom and doom all the time. I would love to see the future of self-sustaining apartment buildings that run on energy created from their own recycled waste. “Urban mining” was also a topic of interest: making use of resources that have already been converted into consumer goods for a secondary life as energy sources!

Luckily, the “conference” as such ended midday. After lunch, we were bussed into downtown Braunschweig for guided tours through the city! At this point, I really wished I had grabbed my camera, which was useless in my hotel room. The city is mid-sized, medieval, and gorgeous. How medieval? Its founder (around the 10th century) was nicknamed “the Lion.” Between that and the cobblestone roads punctuated by Romanesque buildings, Braunschweig seems like it would be the home of German Robin Hood.

Braunschweig boasts Germany’s “newest castle,” rebuilt in 2007 after being destroyed in WWII. There are also several Romanesque and Gothic style churches, as well as multiple city halls in the Renaissance style. (Because Braunschweig was originally five different cities, there are multiples of important landmarks.) During the tour, an open-air performance of West Side Story had just begun in one of the town squares, so as we were led around by our tour guide, we could hear snippets of the music; most amusingly, “I like to be in America.” There were also a few huge pro-Palestine rallies happening in various parts of town.

After the tour, a few of us grabbed ice cream (for the girls) and beer (for the guys) as we waited for the buses to arrive to pick us back up… after a few misunderstandings and a bit of running around, we finally found them and we made it back to the hotel for a small break before dinner.

On the bus to dinner, I reconnected with a few other Americans. As there were over 400 of us, we couldn’t imagine what kind of place they had found that would fit all of us! (Until this point, we had just eaten at the university’s dining hall.) We eventually arrived at a huge green warehouse… yep, that seemed about right. The place had been decked out with a big buffet table, dozens of smaller tables for seating, and a dance floor. We joked that it seemed like prom! We considered taking prom photos with our American-Russian coalition, but that never happened.

The food was delicious, and we each got three drink coupons, which could be used to purchase beer and wine, so that kept things lively! I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the other scholarship holders and hear about their experiences: where they come from in the US, what experiences they’ve had in Germany, what they study. It’s always good to have a bit of solidarity, especially during an experience that can be as solitary as I’ve found this year to be.

And the dancing… the dancing was fun. I was skeptical about the idea of what had been billed as “clubbing,” but it was fun in the cheesiest way. The music selection was eclectic, and we speculated that it had been chosen to appeal to people from over 100 countries! (Over 100 countries! Can we just take that in? Where else could you find such a group?) In any case, I’m sure that the Backstreet Boys would be proud to know that their 1998 hit “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” is still widely known and loved by twenty- and thirty-somethings around the world.

I can’t come up with an adequate closer, so I suppose I’ll leave it at that! I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to have been in such esteemed and diverse company this weekend. It’s good work that the DAAD is doing and I’m proud to be a part of it.

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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germany or america: where am I better traveled?

Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of my home country thanks to my Dad’s affinity for cross-country road trips, and the generous dispersal of our family and friends throughout the Lower 48.

And during the past three years, I’ve been able to travel through Germany quite a bit too!

So I think it’s time for a light-hearted game of: Where Am I Better Traveled?

This game will be purely based on the states/Bundesländer of each country. The USA has 50 states + DC, and Germany has 16 Bundesländer. So the question is… in which country have I visited the highest percentage? Continue reading

should i stay or should i go?

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have been in Germany for all of June and will continue to be so for the next 6 days that remain of the month, which is crazy. And really the only “travel” I’ve done during this month was that little trip to Jena and Weimar, which was just a day trip. So it’s got me thinking about a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot during my time in Dresden: balancing traveling with staying put.

Of course, staying in Dresden (especially on such a sunny and beautiful day) is a tempting notion

Of course, staying in Dresden (especially on such a sunny and beautiful day) is a tempting notion

This truly is a champagne problem, but it’s one that’s caused me a bit of undue stress at times. While I’m abroad and have the time/funds/ability, I want to travel, see different places, and experience different things. And my incentive to do so, as an American living for a limited time in Europe, is much higher than that of a European living elsewhere in Europe and definitely higher than a German just plain living at home.

But I am also living in Dresden, my home for the past 9.5 months and the next 1.25 months, and I want to actually live here, rather than using it as a “home base” between travels… which it has been, at times, specifically during March and May, my crazy travel months. If I’m always gone on crazy trips, when will I have the time to be a normal Dresdner, making friends and shopping at the grocery store and going to class and church and watching World Cup games?

(a small interjection: USA USA USA! So excited for tomorrow's game!!)

(a small interjection: USA USA USA! So excited for tomorrow’s game!! I’ll be watching in enemy territory at a Biergarten in Blasewitz…)

And so there is this pull between traveling to just one or two more places, or staying in Dresden to soak up more of the life here. I do think I’ve done a good job balancing, but I won’t lie that I haven’t had a few ridiculous (and believe me, I know I am ridiculous and spoiled by my fabulous life) moments of “But I want to go on another trip!” while I am in Dresden, or “But why can’t I just sleep in my own bed?” while traveling.

The difference that I mentioned about my perspective on European travel versus the perspectives of my friends and acquaintances here is also sometimes… challenging. I’ve felt at times that I’ve had to apologize for or explain my desire to travel yet again. I’ve since realized that it’s crazy to feel guilty for taking advantage of the opportunities I’ve been given. But still there has been this internal calculation in my mind whenever I’ve planned a trip… what will I miss at home when I’m gone? But when will I ever have the chance to see this place or that place if I don’t get there now???

In the end, a lot of it comes down to being satisfied in the here and now versus always being worried that you’re missing out on something. Choosing to do one thing always means indirectly choosing not to do other things, and I realize that. Even me being in Germany this year means that I’m not a) completing my first year of my Master’s, b) living closer to my family, c) any number of things that could have alternatively happened; and when I studied abroad I even missed my brother’s high school graduation. Life is a series of choices and choices have consequences and in the end the choice to travel or not is such an inconsequential one that it’s kind of hilarious I’ve just typed so many paragraphs about it.

I haven’t used my blog as an outlet for my emotions in a while, I think. I’m normally careful not to get too… whiney or personal, because I assume you guys don’t want to read that. I’ve mostly dealt with this internal battle since it started surfacing a few months ago. But I think it’s something that most people living/studying abroad, or most people who are living anywhere for a limited time, experience. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I’m torn between spending time doing one thing as opposed to another. And one function of my blog (optimistically) is as an outlet for commiseration between people experiencing the same things in expat life. So maybe my little internal monologue will help someone else? Who knows.

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That being said, July is lookin’ good on the time balance front, hopefully. I’m gone basically every weekend, but no trip is longer than a weekend. (The week-long trips I took this spring, while enjoyable and wonderful, really sapped my energy and added up to a lot of time not on a normal, home-life schedule!) I’ll be visiting Budapest, Braunschweig (wikipedia link because it’s one of those pesky German cities that Americans have no idea what it is), and Freiburg, my first German home! I’ve reserved my last weekend in Germany for relaxing Dresden time, probably a going-away party of some sort, and definitely packing and last-minute errands. As if that weren’t enough traveling, I just planned one more trip… for next week, if you can believe it… just one day in Göttingen, where I am meeting Ayse, who lived with my parents during the school year when she was a student-teacher at my high school! I’m excited I finally get to meet her.

The fact that all of my time until I leave is basically booked is a little… overwhelming, if I have to be honest. But at least now I know the score, and I can focus on writing and cherishing while I’m in Dresden, and I can focus on having an amazing time while I’m traveling.

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

gnome hunting in poland

Our next stop was Wroclaw [pronounced approximately frot-suave], Poland! It is also called Breslau in German, so that’s what I called it for months until I finally learned the correct Polish pronunciation for the way it is also spelled in English! Basically, this part of the world is confusing because the borders have been drawn and re-drawn so many times and the names changed accordingly.

Anyway, Wroclaw is the hometown of Saints Hedwig and Edith Stein, as well as the Red Baron of World War I fame, and I was only vaguely aware of it until I started researching fun places to go when Daniel visited! He suggested Prague but as I’d been there twice, I offered Wroclaw as an alternative. And it paid off nicely.

We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday, withdrew 400 zloty (about 100 euros), and proceeded to have the most fun and cheapest weekend I’ve experienced in a while! My number one priority our first evening was to get my hands on some pierogies, and I had already found a restaurant entirely dedicated to the Polish dumplings of my childhood when we arrived… so we headed straight there! It was right on the main square so we were able to have a nice look around before our pierogie adventure.

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9 pierogies for about 5 Euros! We definitely could have settled for the “small” option rather than “large.” Of course, no pierogies come close to my Babi’s, but these also didn’t quite measure up to the pierogie platter I shared with Niki in Krakow.

Stuffed, we proceeded to wander around the square a bit. We saw the intricate and beautiful town hall and the colorful gabled houses surrounding the square.

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And we spotted our first gnome! Reportedly there are over 200 of these guys scattered around town, and even though we had read all about them (including the fact that they are “easy to overlook”), you really don’t know how many things “hidden in plain sight” you pass by if you just aren’t paying attention! So, we only found one on that first evening.

We also leisurely perused the market stalls offering various wares. I was mostly interested in the Polish amber jewelry. It really is incredibly gorgeous. And true to form, we tracked down a place to get our hands on some good beer. Our trusty tourist map led us to a place that served craft beer from Poland and around the world… we probably could have chosen better (Daniel didn’t like his and mine wasn’t quite what I expected either so we just switched, and lesson learned) but evening conversations over beers with my favorite guy are always welcome.

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The beers may have been stronger than we thought because as Daniel navigated us back to the hostel, we ended up walking twice as far as necessary and all the way back to the train station!!! But in the end, I think we needed the exercise to work off all those pierogies we’d eaten.

Day 2, as expected, was jam packed full of activity, so we started off early! We’d made it to the market square by 9… which was maybe a bit too early because almost nothing was open yet!! So we started off with a solid hour of gnome-searching, and were paid off handsomely now that we were actually paying attention:

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Daniel is one of the most competitive people I know, so I should have predicted that he would take the hidden gnomes as a very serious challenge. He was very driven the entire day to find more and more of them, and he took a picture of every single one we found! It kept me laughing all day… and before long I was sucked into the challenge, as well!

We saw the Church of Mary Magdelene (not super impressive and under construction) and walked past the University, which was indeed very beautiful, all the while looking for gnomes. There was a very charming professor gnome at the University, as well as some pretty buildings with shiny doors.

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Wroclaw is known for its bridges, given that the city is built on a series of several islands, so we crossed over to Sand Island, where we took a little river cruise!

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A view of Cathedral Island, and the cathedral itself, from the river

Crossing yet another bridge to Cathedral Island, we encountered this view, which I think is the most gorgeous in the whole city.

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The cathedral was beautiful, as well. It was great to be in Poland where the churches are plentiful and Catholic! I even spotted some priests (or seminarians) walking about town in cassocks… so cool!

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Soaking in the last day of the Month of Mary 

We wound our way back to the main square in search of some more Polish food. Of course I had to suggest kielbasa, which was being sold from carts on the square. The kielbasa was good, but I prefer eating it cold with horseradish, a Swaintek tradition that, when I informed Daniel of it, made him absolutely gag. Finally we were able to fill up the empty water bottle we’d been carrying around all day… the sun had finally come out as you can see from the pictures, and we were so dehydrated!!! And I ended up having a headache for the rest of the afternoon, which was just lovely…. We wound our way through the parts of the center square we hadn’t seen yet in search of more gnomes, and in addition we found a lovely little flower market.

Daniel got me this daisy which didn't cure my headache but it did brighten my day! :)

Daniel got me this daisy which didn’t cure my headache but it did brighten my day! 🙂

Next, we were finally able to go into the Basilica of St. Elizabeth. As we went inside, we saw that May 31 was a special day… the anniversary of its founding, and an opportunity to get a plenary indulgence by attending Mass there at the church! What a crazy coincidence. We scrambled to figure out how we could make it work… but all the Mass information and everything was written in Polish and my headache was getting worse and we had already both gotten a plenary indulgence the previous month at the canonization so we decided not to worry about it. Instead we decided to climb up the tower of the basilica to enjoy the view, an experience that would have admittedly been better were my head not pounding with every step! But hey… it cost like a Euro (gotta love Polish inflation?) and I got pictures like this:DSC05910So I don’t really regret it. However, our next stop was our hostel so I could take a nap and be in pain for about an hour until Daniel realized that he did in fact have a few ibuprofen tablets!!! My hero.

We had a very lovely dinner at a little café near the main square and, since we still had a good number of zloty left, we splurged: a cocktail and a dessert each!! We enjoyed one last walk around town, people watching and spotting a few more gnomes, bringing our total up to 36, I believe, by the time we left the next morning.

Even though Daniel and I haven’t seen each other this year as much as we obviously would have liked, it pays off nicely when we are able to spend time in exotic locations and eat fancy dinners and have new adventures together. This trip was especially special for me because in a way Poland is my “motherland”… I’m only half-Polish and I don’t speak the language but it’s the heritage I associate with the most, so it was nice to be able to spend some time there and introduce Daniel to the culture and the food a little bit. It was a lovely weekend… and we highly recommend Wroclaw!

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