springtime musings and scenery

Springtime has come to Germany! I’m resisting so many urges to make “The Producers”-inspired jokes that would not go over well so I’ll refrain from wishing that it remain “winter in Poland and France”…

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anyway…

The signs of spring are everywhere! I finally remembered to bring my camera with me to the library the other day so I could document the Kleinigkeiten before they disappear… the bloom is already mostly off the pretty, formerly-blossoming tree right outside my apartment and I didn’t want to miss any more chances!

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I realized that I haven’t had a real spring in quite some time (probably a side effect of not having had a real winter, either). Spring in Texas comes in approximately mid-January, if there was ever a winter, or fall, to speak of. But real spring, the real season that inspires imagery of new life and rebirth and the joy of experiencing what you’ve been anticipating for so long, is really something.

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This is the closest thing I’ll be seeing to bluebonnets this year, though.

A few disclaimers: Europe had its mildest winter of probably the last century this year, and it seems I was in Spain when spring actually sprang in Dresden because I came back to new flowers and warm weather, so it’s possible I have no idea what I’m talking about.

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But every day when I go outside, I see a few new blooms in the ground and blossoms on the trees. Things change so slowly yet so suddenly at the same time. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, the sun actually waits the evening to set. The nice days are interspersed with colder, more blustery ones, just to keep us on our toes because it’s not like this is summer yet!

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There’s a subtlety to the season. Everything doesn’t bloom at once. The trees are bare and it may take a few weeks for them to burst forth; slowly but surely, the leaves emerge and the flowers bloom. I am reminded to be patient, and my patience is rewarded with such beauty!

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Spring has definitely arrived, and with it, it brings:

Later sunsets, finally, thanks to Daylight Savings Time which came 3 weeks after it did in the US.

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Easter eggs on bushes and trees, because Germans are festive.

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Picnics and cook-outs along the Elbe. Grillen is one of my favorite German pastimes and I’m glad we have such a gorgeous place to enjoy it!

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Adventures in the Sächsische Schweiz! This week, Felicitas and I took the train to Rathen and hiked up to see the Bastei Brücke, this old, amazing bridge built right into the cliffs.

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I’m excited for this new season and the new semester that starts tomorrow! I have a lot of work to do and I do have some travel planned, but right now I’m most excited about soaking in the wonder that surrounds me every day! Happy Spring!

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salamanca (the highlights)

I spent about 10 days in Salamanca, because that’s where Daniel is studying. It felt initially like a looooong time to spend in one place. (I got to know the staff of my hostel very well.) Because it was an extended trip, it was much more like visiting my boyfriend than being a tourist, and we had a wonderful time!

I’m sure you don’t want to read a play-by-play recap, and neither do I want to write one, so I won’t. I’ll just tell you about what we did!

We ate. A lot. We ate churros and chocolate, montaditos and bocadillos, jamón and chorizo and lomo, every under-10-Euro lunch menu in town, paella, tapas, gelato, and lots of bread. DSC04164DSC04225

We drank. We especially enjoyed the “cubito” deals at various cervecerías that get you a bucket of 5 bottles of beer for just a few Euros. We searched everywhere for sangría and finally found it. We scored an entire bottle of wine with our 6.50 lunch special one day and walked out of the restaurant quite tipsy. DSC04397DSC04166

We walked. The streets of Salamanca are winding and a little confusing, but we didn’t care if we got lost (except if we were on our way to catch a bus). We searched for and finally found the little hidden garden behind the cathedral. We walked across the Roman Bridge to get a good view of the whole city. DSC04191DSC04177DSC04096DSC04398

We saw beautiful buildings. Salamanca’s skyline is dominated by a HUGE cathedral, which is actually two cathedrals in one. We didn’t actually see it together (on the inside), because we procrastinated and I ended up going to daily Mass on my last day to see it for free!DSC04207DSC04402

We took a tour of the Pontifical University, an old Jesuit school and seminary, and enjoyed stunning views from the domes.DSC04122DSC04108

One of the city’s iconic buildings is the Casa de las Conchas, the Shell Building, which is a public library. I (sometimes) worked there in the mornings while Daniel was in class.DSC04154DSC04158

And of course the University, which is turning 800 years old in 2018. We met there every day after Daniel was done with his classes. We found the frog (with some help). DSC04181DSC04183

We lounged. We people-watched. We talked and enjoyed each other’s company. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. DSC04409

And I was wrong. It wasn’t a long time, or it didn’t seem like it. It went by in a second.

wanderlust

How handy are those German loanwords, amirite? Anyway, the point is I have a serious case of wanderlust. Very well-timed as of the next four weeks, I’ll be traveling for three!

Flashback to almost 3 years ago in Vienna (who could believe it's been that long)!

Flashback to almost 3 years ago in Vienna (who could believe it’s been that long)!

I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve gotten to see so many amazing places in the past few years. As far as major European cities go, I’ve visited (in reverse chronological order)

not to mention smaller-but-often-more-delightful places in every country represented on that list.

About to dig into a huge plate of pierogi in Krakow. Of course the food is a vital part of any travel experience.

About to dig into a huge plate of pierogi in Krakow. Of course the food is a vital part of any travel experience.

And coming down the pipeline I can look forward to

  • Madrid (actually, I’m on the way there now, as you read this!! Woohoo!)
  • Salamanca
  • Lisbon
  • Athens
  • Patras
  • Hamburg
  • Rome (again!)
  • Amsterdam
  • Bruges
  • Paris (again!)

And with this list, I think I will have satisfied many of the countries/cities/regions I’ve dreamed of visiting. I am psyched to see Greece and the Netherlands especially!

Candidly captured in front of the Strahov Library in Prague, a real highlight

Candidly captured in front of the Strahov Library in Prague, a real highlight

But for every city I visit, I learn or experience something new that sparks fresh travel inspiration. When I read Kristin Lavransdatter this summer, it made me want to go to Norway something fierce. And once I’m there, why not see Sweden as well, and maybe Copenhagen on the way back! I’m hoping I’ll have enough time in June for this trip… I’ll have to write extra quickly during April if I want to make it happen!

History, mystery, and color, 3 of Europe's great appeals! (Kölner Dom)

History, mystery, and color, 3 of Europe’s great appeals! (Kölner Dom)

And this month, L’Angelus, a pretty sweet Catholic-Cajun band, has been releasing some awesome new songs (available fo’ free), including a rendition of a Scottish folk song that I just can’t stop listening to. This is probably a low point as far as a) my general nerdiness and b) any travel inspiration ever, but man would it be cool to see Scotland! And, you know, once I’m there, Ireland and Wales and the rest of the British countryside?? (On second thought, I guess finally watching Downton Abbey the past few months has contributed a bit. Branson’s accent, my goodness!) This trip will probably not happen this time around, but I’ve found it helpful to keep some travel inspiration tucked away for the future. Always gotta have something in the works…

exploring dresden (plus snow pictures!)

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

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

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The view from my window

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

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

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Our balcony view… the Russian Church is so pretty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trees in front of this house looked like lace.

The trees in front of this house looked like lace.

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

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

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

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

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

there’s really no way to reach me, ’cause i’m already gone

The International Club here at the University of Freiburg is a pretty big deal. One thing they do is host Studitours, trips around Europe, for students. I decided to join the group going to Vienna, Austria this past weekend. After the initial sticker shock (I had to pay 220 Euro up front), I started to get pretty excited about it, because I hadn’t been to Austria at all yet and didn’t know when I’d have the chance to get there on my own. Then, I started to get scared, because I didn’t know anyone else going… my friend who first suggested the trip had to drop out due to a prior commitment. Ahhh!

Luckily, everything turned out fantastically. The price ended up being way worth it (it covered transportation, hostels, and entrance to a few of the attractions we saw during the course of the weekend), I got to go to one of my favorite cities I’ve visited yet, and I met some pretty awesome people in the process!

(A few of them are Canadians who go to York University in Toronto. I worked with a few Yorkies last summer, and because of this I know their whole fight song. Turns out York students are normally not very school spirited so I actually knew more of the chant than they did… I think I scared them. U U Y-U Y-U! U U Y-U Y-U!!!!)

The one bummer about this trip was the long bus ride. We left at about 7:30 PM on Wednesday night (Thursday was a holiday) and got to Vienna at about 6 the next morning; on the way back we did about the same thing. This is a horrible time for a bus ride, but at least we didn’t waste 24 hours of daylight in a bus.

Some of the highlights of the trip: a walking tour of the city, a (very touristy and probably overpriced) Mozart concert in the hall where young Wolfgang gave his first concert at age 6, Donauinselfest, authentic Wienerschnitzel, Mozart’s grave, a tour of Schönbrunn palace and gardens, Sachentorte at a Viennese coffeehouse, the Austrian National Library, and several delicious Radlers.

The city itself was beautiful, albeit a bit under construction at the present. Of all the cities I’ve seen, it seems to be the most architecturally “together”, if that makes sense… all the buildings have this majestic, imperial feel to them, not just the ones who were actually once imperial. The Opera House was gorgeous, as expected, the palaces (the Hofburg especially) and the “ring” of current government buildings were imposing and grandiose, and the cobblestone streets are filled with horse-drawn carriages.

My first night there, Thursday, some of us decided to try to go to the Opera. Looking back, I think we may have been duped into believing that there weren’t any standing-room tickets left, so we ended up going to a string quartet concert performing pieces by Mozart and Strauss. It was great nonetheless, and a good alternative to the planned amusement-park activity, since it rained the whole evening.

The Schönbrunn tour Friday morning was great. It was smaller than some of the other palaces I’ve been to, but what I really loved about it was how authentically the rooms were decorated and displayed. We were also entertained by this hilarious Asian tourist family who insisted on taking pictures, which was strictly forbidden, and hence got chewed out by the guards several times, responding each time, “I just learned! I just learned!” The gardens were really beautiful, too, and my new friend Ashley and I also ventured up to the top of the Gloriette, a huge arch built by Maria Theresia during her reign, to take in the view and take some goofy pictures.

During some down-time, I decided to walk around a bit by myself, which is always one of my favorite things about traveling… just seeing where the city takes me. I ended up in St. Stephan’s Cathedral, thinking I could catch a 6 PM Mass, only to find that the schedule had been changed because of an ordination! I just happened to walk in right during the laying on of hands, which was pretty awesome. I came back like an hour later just to see the church and caught the end of the Mass, so I was able to see all the new priests processing out and greeting their well-wishers. It was incredible. And the church itself was beautiful.

Friday night, we attended Donauinselfest, a GINORMOUS music festival on the island in the middle of the Danube River (hence the name). I don’t think any of us expected it to be such a big deal. From the information I’d been given about the festival beforehand, I was just expecting some sort of reggae concert. Which would have been cool. But when we got there, we discovered that it was, in fact, a huge deal, with more than 20 stages and carnival food of every sort and SO MANY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. When I picked up a program and started flipping through it, one of the band names was familiar… Train. I love Train. I have loved train since I was like 10 years old. At first I was like, “Nooo, no way are they here at this random music festival in Vienna,” but decided to go over to Stage 6 anyway. We got there right in time to hear the announcers introduce the next “Grammy award winning” band (at which point I realized that it actually was the correct band) and for me to go completely crazy because they played one of my favorite songs as their opener. I may have scared some of the completely nonchalant Austrians around me. But that’s ok because I got to see Train live. FOR FREE. And I got to hear Pat Monahan try to speak German to the crowd. So awesome.

On Saturday, I went with a few girls from our group to the Austrian National Library, which really was a highlight of my entire trip to Europe. It was absolutely beautiful, and the museum exhibit set up inside, which details the history of the Austrian Empire, was awesome. I really can’t explain what made it so cool. So don’t take my word for it, you should totally go yourself if you ever get the chance.

Mozart’s grave was quite anticlimactic, but walking through such an old cemetery was certainly thought-provoking. The way I see it, the deaths of the people buried there cease to be sad, but rather historic; the overgrown vegetation throughout gave it kind of a romantic, “Secret Garden” type look, too. Seeing the grave triggered some thoughts about the course of history, too–the fact that it’s even possible that a man whom we now regard as a genius was penniless at the time of his death and thrown in a mass pauper’s grave, and now we have to guess whereabouts he was probably buried in order to honor him.

We ended the trip on a tasty note–first, at a Viennese coffee house (not overhyped at all!!! SO AWESOME) partaking in their trademark chocolate cake, Sachertorte, and then dinner: Wienerschnitzel as big as your face. Quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

This was my one of my last big trips during my time in Europe. Kind of bittersweet–but overall I absolutely loved my time in Vienna. I’m in Freiburg for the next 2 weekends, which, frankly, I am stoked about! Tonight I’m headed to a bonfire/barbecue in honor of the Feast of St. John the Baptist (which was a few days ago… but whatevs!) and tomorrow I’m celebrating Canada Day!

not all who wander are lost

Let me begin by telling you a bit about myself.

I fancy myself to be a pretty good writer.

I am a perfectionist and a romantic, especially when it comes to writing.

I am additionally quite verbose, if you haven’t noticed.

Until less than 12 hours ago, I didn’t have Internet in my room yet. (Sidenote: BUT I DO NOW!! Praise the Lord!)

and

I rarely save documents on my computer.

You may be wondering what these things have in common. It doesn’t seem like they fit together, but believe you me, they do.

See, I went on a grand Schwarzwald adventure last weekend, and I wanted to write an awesome post telling you about my experience and what I did and what I learned. So I did!

It was awesome, trust me. I interspersed pictures throughout, told you about my day on Sunday (which, in case you were wondering, included a museum with cuckoo clocks and regional art, a 10-km hike with one of the most beautiful views of my life, and a pretty church), connected some past life experiences to my Schwarzwald story, and then wrapped the whole thing up with a grand realization I made about Divine Providence. I was really proud of it. I couldn’t wait to post it, but I had to, because, you see, the Internet company has taken forever to get me connected.

As I told you, I rarely save documents on my computer, and if you have ever borrowed my computer and been horrified at how many windows I keep open at once, you can imagine that it gets a little overwhelming and confusing. This is the part of the story where tragedy strikes. Between the completion of the brilliant post and my next Internet trip to McDonalds, my computer decided to shut itself down. And delete my beautiful writing.

Undeterred, I sat down again and reproduced my original post, rather accurately, from memory.

And then my computer died again.

And so I gave up.

So instead, here are some pictures from my day on Sunday. First, I took a train and a bus to St. Märgen, a small provincial town built around and named after this monastery.

The monastery is now partially a museum. They have lots of cuckoo clocks there, because the cuckoo clock is native to this area of the Schwarzwald. Here’s one.

After I got bored of looking at cuckoo clocks, I headed out on the Panoramaweg, a trail through the forest and the hills.

The view was spectacular.

There were a couple little chapels along the way. They were pretty neat.

"Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and grant us peace."

There were also a lot of passive-aggressive trail signs. Very funny, German sign writers.

"Man is good and the world is beautiful on holiday in the hills of the Black Forest. Don't forget to praise God for them and to throw away your trash!"

I determined that all forests, no matter where in the world they are, smell the same. And, to some extent, look the same.

This tree, specifically, reminded me of good ol' Big Sandy... activity trees, anyone? #Pinesonthemind

The Panoramaweg led me to St. Peter, another small monastery town. The inside of the church was beautiful!

It was nice to have a chance to sit down after all that hiking.

The kneelers were PADDED. Take note, other churches of Europe.

So there you go, friends. I apologize for the lack of deep thoughts, amusing childhood anecdotes, and romantic language. But really, if you use your imagination, this is almost as good.

Random fact of the day: iTunes rounds up when determining song lengths! Who knew? Now you do!

new passions

Apparently living in Freiburg has made me into a photographer. At least, it has made me think that I am a photographer by providing me with lots of beautiful things to photograph.

Also, I have found that I really miss two-stepping and Mexican food. I can just feel my eight-year-old Pennsylvanian self cringing at how much of a Texan I am. I get my country music fix by listening to Pat Green while I run, but when it comes to the Tex-Mex, I guess I’ll just have to ask someone to Fed-Ex me some queso.