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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pancakes, waffles, and crepes (oh my): part 2

Well, this installment of my travel updates is about 2 weeks late because I snuck the Amsterdam post in just hours before coming down with some weird 24-hour bug that Laura and I both seem to have gotten. While I recovered, I had to plan a class presentation in German, and then the next day I took the bus to meet Daniel at the Berlin airport! Then he spent the next week here with me in Germany (plus a weekend in Poland)… So I’ll do my best to play catch-up now! While diligently working on my research, of course. I only have about 7 weeks left here in Dresden 😦 and I have to make up for lost time on my writing!! I’ll try to make writing travel posts a nice reward for a hard day’s work. Anyway, here is part 2!

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The “waffles” portion of the week: Bruges, Belgium! Going from Amsterdam to Bruges was an interesting transition. You maybe wouldn’t foresee this, but Bruges is much more touristy than Amsterdam, just by virtue of being much smaller and almost solely dependent on tourism. So it was a strange change of pace. As it would happen, we once again had to walk almost all the way through town to get to our hostel, but we rushed through under the weight of our backpacks.

After checking in and depositing our stuff, our first objective was to go on a tour of Bruges’ only remaining brewery within city limits.We wanted to get a spot in a tour group but knew it would only get more crowded as the day went on, given that it was a Saturday. So we got our tickets for the next hour’s tour and went on a leisurely stroll around that area of town as we waited.

The Begijnhof complete with the famous swans:DSC05316

And the famous Church of Our Lady:

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The brewery tour itself was such a fantastic decision. Our tour guide was hilarious (she seemed to be a Bruges native). Learning about the history of the brewery, a family operation, as well as the process of brewing beer and the Belgian outlook on the whole thing was fascinating.

A few snippets:

“We are very careful not to burn the malt while drying it. If some does end up burnt, don’t worry, we use those only for exports to France.”

“The daily amount brewed at the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam is equivalent to how much we brew annually. The only difference is that we brew beer.”

We also got a great view of the whole town! A great budget option for anyone who wants to go to Bruges in the future: don’t pay 8 euros to climb to the top of the tower; go on the 6.25-euro brewery tour which already includes the cost of one beer (delicious, by the way)!

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For our walk back to the main square, we grabbed a famous Belgian waffle from a street stand. The locals eat them plain or just with powdered sugar (we got some chocolate, as well, but we saw some tourists going crazy with the toppings) and always as a mid-afternoon treat as opposed to for breakfast.

Then we made the rounds of the main Bruges sights: the Burg square (I think… it’s been so long now!!) with the gorgeous, medieval town hall (and a much newer hotel, which was built on the historic site on the condition that the public would be free to descend to the basement to see ruins of Bruges’ first cathedral). Following the advice of our favorite travel guide Rick Steves, we did a 360-degree turn in the square and witnessed 5 different architectural styles all at once! During the month of May, Bruges was also hosting an accordion festival, so they had a big stage set up, as well.

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Nearby is the main square, which is home to rows of multicolored buildings, an elaborate post office building, and the famous lookout tower (name? Is this town hall? Who can remember….). We also got lost and made it down to the Cathedral, one of the other defining towers of the city, along with the “town hall” tower and Church of Our Lady.

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By the time we made it to a lot of the sights we wanted to see, besides the ruins in the hotel basement, they had closed for the day, so we made a plan for the following day to hit everything we wanted to see and headed to dinner at an off-the-beaten-path type place near our hostel… I had some delicious pork and mashed potatoes, my favorite 🙂

On Sunday, we made our way first thing to the town hall, where we were the first visitors of the day. The interior was truly stunning: a medieval meeting room adorned with murals telling the story of the city, with almost too much detail to take in! It was definitely worth the price. Highly recommended.

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We headed next door for Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which does indeed house a relic of the Holy Blood, which we were able to venerate after a [liturgically questionable] “International Mass” in the gorgeous basilica. Gotta love Europe 😉

Venerating the Holy Blood, brought to Bruges during the Crusades

Venerating the Holy Blood, brought to Bruges during the Crusades. “Blood of Christ, inebriate me”

Next on our lists: obtaining some Belgian chocolates! We went to a little mom-and-pop place which seems to have maintained its quality and originality even after being recommended by a bunch of travel guides… we bought a small box and proceeded to ration the chocolates for the remainder of our trip! Between these and our Dutch stroopwaffels, we were never low on sweets!

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Our main event for the day was a short excursion to the outlying town of Damme, so we quickly returned to our hostel to change into bike-appropriate outfits before making a quick stop at the nearby grocery store to get the picnic essentials: bread, cheese, fruit, and a few Trappist beers! We rented two bikes for the day and set out on our merry way in pursuit of windmills–which we found about 5 kilometers down the road (or, more accurately, down the canal).

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We got to go inside this working windmill just outside Damme, which was awesome! Laura tried to bond with the operator about the soccer game he was listening to on the radio, but he didn’t speak any English.

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Then we made our way to our picnic location: Damme’s cathedral! We had a little adventure trying to open our beers. I thought I had acquired enough German knowhow to be able to open a beer bottle with my keys, but apparently not, since we created enough of a ruckus with our failed efforts to attract the attention of some nearby folks, including (luckily) one guy with a bottle opener as a keychain. I really should get one of those. But it was worth it because the beers (one Doppel and one Trippel) were delicious!

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After a quick look inside the cathedral and a fast cruise through the town center, we headed back to Amsterdam, this way by a more scenic path: we saw sheep, cows, and 3 more windmills! I wouldn’t be surprised if these weren’t operational but they were still pretty… and very close to our hostel, surprisingly! So we stopped by our room quickly to eat a few chocolates and make a plan for the afternoon.

We still had our bikes until the shop closed at 8, so we decided to make use of them. We biked into town, watched a few accordion performances at the festival, and then went on a haphazard bike tour of Bruges, just going wherever we felt like, orienting ourselves based on the towers, and getting a new perspective on the city. We even saw a Texas flag, a little taste of home!

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After one last drive-by of the windmills, we turned in our bikes and headed for another delicious Belgian dinner. I enjoyed pork again (I didn’t realize the pattern until afterwards but it was delicious regardless), and we ended up talking to the guy at the next table, who was German (from Munich/Bavaria). We had met some Germans at our brewery tour, as well; I suppose Belgium is a popular “nearby” destination?

With our stomachs full, we turned in for the night, looking forward to our journey to Paris the next day. When we booked our [expensive, ugh] tickets to Paris, the cheaper [kind of] option had been to depart later in the morning rather than earlier, so the next day we lounged around in a park nearby the train station, reflecting on our trip thus far, before catching our train.

Bruges was certainly a change of pace from Amsterdam–and couldn’t be more different from Paris, as we would find out–but it is really a lovely town once you get past the incredible touristy-ness of it. It is all GORGEOUS because of the town’s giant efforts several decades ago to focus on restoring its gorgeous architecture in anticipation of a tourism boom… and what a gift those restorations have been! It’s nice to get a little blast from the past, to imagine how life would have been in a different time and place.

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The reason I’m in Germany in the first place is because I received a scholarship from the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst (or German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD). In case you don’t know what that means, it’s basically like a Fulbright, except instead of being supported by the American taxpayers, my research is being funded by the Germans. So, you’re welcome, American friends. I settled for a less prestigious program just for you 😉

The DAAD is headquartered in Bonn (the old capital city of West Germany), which really isn’t that big of a city, so our scholarship group’s orientation was held in the nearby city of Köln (Cologne, in English). The group is made up of grantees from Canada and the USA, and there were about 120 of us. That’s a lot of people, and I definitely didn’t get to meet everyone, but everyone I did meet was lovely.

I'm over-utilizing this map, but I won't assume that everyone has Germany's geography memorized so I'll include it again

I’m over-utilizing this map, but I won’t assume that everyone has Germany’s geography memorized so I’ll include it again

If my Plan II education prepared me for anything, it was this weekend. I was able to have conversations with Classics scholars and engineers alike, asking them about their research and answering their questions about mine. We found common bonds: hometowns in the US, grievances with the German system, love of Köln’s signature beer, Kölsch.

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I really enjoyed my time with the other Stipendiaten. It was clear that everyone there (whether they were undergrad students, master’s students, PhD candidates, or people like me who are just along for the ride) was brilliant and passionate about what they do. I had an awesome discussion with a recent Stanford grad studying in Münster about the impact that studying the liberal arts has had on our life decisions, and the fact that being in Germany for a year is going to give us a lot of perspective about what we really want to do in the future. I was able to commiserate about the bureaucracy involved in attending school in Germany, hear about other people’s host cities, and swap travel stories. It was totally weird to be speaking English, with Americans, in the middle of Germany, but it was awesome to be able to interact with so many different people.

Couples place a lock bearing their names (and maybe their anniversary) on the bridge and then throw the key in the Rhine, indicating the eternity of their love.

Couples place a lock bearing their names (and maybe their anniversary) on the bridge and then throw the key in the Rhine, indicating the eternity of their love.

The world is a small place, and the more you travel, the more you realize that fact. I met a guy who got his Master’s from UW-Madison, where I will be in a year, who offered me some advice about finding housing. I also met someone from Kutztown, PA, within hailing distance from where I was born and grew up, and (finally!) the only other grantee from Dresden!! We were very relieved to find each other… it’s lonely all the way over here in the east!

I spotted my favorite German bakery in the train station... I think it's an exclusively-Western establishment, or at least a non-Dresden one

I spotted my favorite German bakery in the train station… I think it’s an exclusively-Western establishment, or at least a non-Dresden one

Throughout the weekend, we had several informational sessions that educated us about different facets of the program and life in Germany. We heard a general summary of the DAAD’s programming and objectives, and we learned about the landscape of higher education and research in Germany. The DAAD staff members tried to answer our questions about funding, bureaucracy, etc. as patiently as possible. We also heard presentations from two Stipendiaten in their second year, offering some insight about what it’s like to live abroad and study in Germany.

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As part of the program, we also got to take a guided tour of Köln together. I’m interspersing pictures throughout the post so you can see some of what I got to see. I had wanted to take a German tour, but alas, an English one was available and I went for it. It paid off, because our tour guide was highly amusing.

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Köln is directly on the Rhine River and was once part of the Roman empire. That fact really informs a lot of the history of the city. It’s crazy how regional differences define German cities so much, but it’s true; the country has only been united as “Germany” since 1871, and each little kingdom or principality had already spent hundreds of years developing its own customs, cuisine, language….

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The most famous landmark in Köln is the cathedral, the Kölner Dom. It has an incredibly complicated history–because of a string of political and religious events, it was completed in the 19th century (many thanks to Napoleon), about 500 years after its foundation was laid. It is said to house relics of the 3 wise men. It is unbelievably large, incredibly intricate, and absolutely beautiful.

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Beautiful city, stimulating company, and delicious beer. A great 24 hours all the way out west!

a few adventures

{maybe a few too many, given my current self-inflicted house arrest due to sickness. I blame the terrible gene pool recombinations that gifted me with misbehaving sinuses, but I’m doing some reading, drinking some tea, and finding some time to write; all good things and nothing much to complain about!}

Anyway. I’ve been out and about a bit the past week, first on a trip to the Sächsische Schweiz with my host family.DSC03311The Sächsiche Schweiz (or Saxon Switzerland) is a region just outside of Dresden known for striking hills and cliffs, and the Elbe River runs through it. The region extends into the Czech Republic (though the Czech region is known as the Böhmische Schweiz).

Our first stop was a trip to Festung Königsfeld, a former Saxon fortress. 200 years ago it was besieged by Napoleon’s army! But it’s way older than that, of course. We walked around the edges of the fortress walls, taking in a panorama of amazing views of the countryside! I was hoping the landscape would be a little more autumnal than it turned out to be, but there were some red and orange leaves to be seen.DSC03332Within the fortress, we got to see restored and/or museum-ized versions of many of its buildings. We saw the well (water collection is the most important aspect of life in an isolated community like a fortress!), which collects water from a remarkable depth: it took several minutes for the collection bucket to rise from the water level to us at the mouth of the well, and when the tour guide threw some water back down, it took 16 seconds to hit the bottom! We also saw the treasury, the church, the ammunition magazine, and the beer cellar (which would have held HUGE casks of beer: think several people high!)

A few centuries ago, beer would certainly have been safer than water direct from the well!

A few centuries ago, beer would certainly have been safer than water direct from the well!

After our adventure at Königstein, we headed to the Czech side of the border for some hiking! First, we stopped for lunch at a little touristy restaurant where I sampled Knödel alongside my pork and gravy. Knödel are “white bread dumplings” and they are just about as heavy and starchy as they sound. I guess I had to try ’em once, considering they’re a Czech staple, but I will probably not be eating them again 😉 I’ll stick with potatoes, please.

The trail we hiked was a series of cliffs and rock formations, starting with a stunning view of the valley:DSC03343

DSC03348We had a little key telling us the “names” of each rock formation, even though it seems they messed up the numbering somehow, since none of the rocks looked like they were supposed to, and the numbering didn’t match what was on the paper. We had fun trying to figure out how that could possibly be “Hercules,” or “Elephant Leg” or whatever. It turns out if someone tells you a rock looks like something, you’ll be able to see it.DSC03358The next day, I set out for Prague with my roommate (as of next week!) and some of her friends. They were nice enough to let me tag along on their vacation. I was reminded of my trip to New Mexico/Colorado with my own BFFs back home. Good times, friends. Good times.

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Taken from the hood of a car thanks to auto-timer! As all good group photos are…

The first notable thing about this trip was how little it cost to get to and from. Most of us were students, and our student IDs could get us (for free) from Dresden to the German border. That was about half the trip already, so the remaining price wasn’t much at all!

On Saturday, we started off with a self-guided walking tour around the city. We hit all the landmarks: the castle overlooking the city, the cathedral, the Senate building and gardens, the famous Karlsbrücke bridge, Old Town square bustling with tourists food vendors (whole pigs roasting on spits! Imagine it!), the Astronomical Clock in the Altstadt, so many old, majestic buildings and shops… there is just so much to see!! We walked around for hours.DSC03442

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DSC03415After a short rest at our hostel, some of us headed back out to the Altstadt to see a marching band parade! It was exactly what it sounds like. My roommate Agnes’ sister and dad are in a marching band back in their hometown, and this very weekend, many bands from around the region all participated in a parade around Prague! It was fun to experience such a fun and lively environment and hear some music.

We recovered from the afternoon in our hostel, writing and addressing postcards we’d bought along the way and drinking some beer, of course. We found a restaurant near the hostel and treated ourselves to some delicious Czech food. {because of my aversion to Knödel, I opted for Prague sausage with potato pancakes.} As we digested our meal, we took a quick climb back up to the castle to view the city at night. Just as stunning, albeit more difficult to photograph.DSC03491We ended the night with drinks: more beer, of course, and a Czech plum liquor called Slavovitz. I was not a fan, but you have to try everything at least once, yes?

On Sunday, we had to check out of our hostel early, so we stashed our bags to pick them up later. {I learned my lesson this trip about overpacking. I brought way too much stuff! I know better now.}

Most of the group went to an art museum in the city; some went exploring in parts of the town we hadn’t seen yet; and I went to Mass at Our Lady of Victory Church, which is famous for the Infant Jesus of Prague. It was beautiful, yet under construction, so that kind of takes away from the beauty. I didn’t take any pictures inside, because Mass, but google it and you’ll see a better representation of its beauty than I got to!

Funny story: I was just sitting in the pew, minding my own business and waiting for Czech mass to finish (for some reason, despite the reported 10 AM start time, it went right up till noon when the English mass started) when the woman coordinating Mass came up to me, asked me if I would be staying for English Mass. When I said yes, she asked me if I’d like to read the first reading! Of course I said yes, but it was just the weirdest thing. The guy behind me (also American) read the second reading. We processed up together at the right time, coats and bags in tow to prevent theft by wandering tourists, and probably confused everyone with our American accents. The whole thing was just hilarious to me; I would go to Mass in Prague and be needed to do a reading. Definitely a fun and unique story. (Sorry for the lead-up in the last post and the subsequent self-explanatory story. It turns out there wasn’t much to it.)

The whole group met up at 1, at which time we went on a little hike. Up to a tower on the hill overlooking Prague, which promised a panoramic view of the city.

{One funny thing about living in a foreign language, at least in my experience, is that making and/or discussing plans is especially challenging. My host dad was gone for a week on business and I had no idea where he was until after he got back, and not for a lack of people talking about it. You think you know exactly what is happening, so you don’t ask questions, but it turns out you’ve missed essential details without knowing it.}

So the whole time, when people had been discussing the plan for the afternoon, I thought we’d be doing the thing where you pay to go up to the top of the tower of the cathedral, or something. For such an activity, I was adequately dressed. But for a hike to the top of a hill and then further climbing of stairs, I was not equipped. My too-heavy-already winter jacket was too hot; my boots were definitely not of the hiking variety; I could totally have left my huge purse behind. But alas, we survive, and have pictures like these to show for our efforts:DSC03529After lunch, we made record time in getting ourselves to the main train station… it was a haul, and we made our train by six minutes. There were some tense moments on the way there, but it happened, and we made it back to Dresden.

Not before I had come down with something, unfortunately, so I spent Monday rehabilitating before heading to Berlin on Tuesday to see my dad. I probably should have stayed home and rested, but I already had my bus ticket, and when else will someone in my family be in Europe in the next 2 months, and I knew my fleece jacket and other goodies would also be waiting in dad’s hotel room. And so I went. Several minor snafus later (who opens an Astoria Hotel 10 minutes away from the Waldorf Astoria? You are facilitating frustration on the part of cab drivers and confused daughters everywhere), we found each other and commenced the party* in Berlin.

*In this instance, “party” constitutes drinking tea, eating necessary comfort food, getting lost on the way to the Brandenburg Gate, seeing 3 Berlin things, getting tired due to sickness/jetlag, and going to bed at 8 pm.

i’ll be me, you’ll be you

First of all, anyone who can name the song gets 50 points!

I just got back from my Pfingstpause trip. I had so much fun this week that my body can’t take it anymore and is going to collapse from exhaustion, but I figured I’d write a little about the first part of my vacation before I let that happen.

On Friday, I took the train to meet my dad in Frankfurt. Because of crazy weather delays and subsequent luggage misplacement, I beat him there. Then, because I’m such a loving daughter, I did my jet-lagged dad the service of keeping him out until 1 AM Friday night by getting us lost on the U-Bahn. Love ya, dad!

Once all bags had been accounted for on Saturday morning, we headed for Würzburg. We stashed our obscene amount of luggage in a locker at the train station and then set out for the Würzburg Residenz, the former home of the Prince-Bishop. My dad insisted that we go on the German tour instead of the English one, so I translated for him.

The Residenz was beautiful and much more manageable than the one in Munich, which was huge! All of the artwork was gorgeous, and it was extra impressive because most of it (including the incredibly ornate Spiegelkabinett) had to be re-furnished after WWII, when the building was largely destroyed. After our tour, we saw the cathedral (which I thought was pretty, but really spastically decorated), the Marktplatz (which was really lively–my dad was super impressed by it), the bridge (filled with people enjoying afternoon cocktails), and the old fortress across the river (from afar).

My engineer father trying to figure out the purpose of the dam

Next stop after Würzburg was Rothenberg ob der Tauber, a little walled-in medieval city that retains all of its charm despite outrageous touristy-ness. We were lucky enough to be there the weekend of the Meistertrunk festival, so it truly felt like we stepped back in time: everywhere we looked, there were locals in period dress riding horses, singing old German songs, and generally being rowdy. It was awesome. We got to walk on the old city walls, explore some “ruins,” see the old castle gardens and beautiful views, and continue my dad’s quest to try a different type of beer in each city.

On Sunday we headed to Heidelberg. I didn’t have high hopes for this one, since my trusty German guidebook gave it a bad rap, saying that it’s overhyped by Americans. But we really enjoyed ourselves! Heidelberg is known as the Birthplace of Romanticism because of all the artists and philosophers who used to hang out there, but now the main attraction of the city is the castle, a good hike up the hill from old town. We weren’t able to tour the inside of the castle, but the outside was quite impressive and the views were gorgeous. We enjoyed a delicious Italian meal, walked along the Rhein, and stumbled upon the prison (whoops…). I also introduced my dad to German pastries and he was immediately hooked. It doesn’t take much!

Monday, my dad flew out of Frankfurt to Austria, so returned to the big city. I said Auf Wiedersehen to dad, who headed for the airport, and checked into my hostel, which was a convenient distance of about 350 meters away from the train station. I spent that afternoon wandering around Frankfurt, which was actually much nicer than I’d expected it to be. I spent a little while on the Main River reading my book, which was quite pleasant, went to Mass at the Cathedral (it turned out that it was actually a holy day of obligation, so score one for the Holy Spirit telling me what to do), and explored some Roman ruins that were actually unearthed by bombs during WWII. I had to get to bed early because I had an early flight to catch the next day… to Poland! More about that later, though!

humility on tap

So, I don’t really drink beer. I just turned 20, and it’s just not a taste I’ve cared to acquire as of yet. But before I left the US, my dad insisted on starting me on a beer-drinking regimen in order to prepare to enjoy the Best Beer in the World in Germany. The strictly-scheduled routine my dad initially envisioned didn’t really happen, but I did share a Yuengling with him every once in a while to get used to the taste.

Then, once we got to Europe, my mom and I would order a beer at the bar in our hotel, for instance. We went to a microbrewery our first night in Freiburg, and the food and beer were delicious. I was beginning to get used to the taste and maybe actually enjoy it, though there are certain types that I know I definitely do not prefer.

One night, on my way back to my dorm, I passed this cute little touristy restaurant and I was pretty hungry, not having eaten dinner, so I decided to stop, even though I was by myself. So I ordered some Spätzle and a salad… and a beer. Just because I could. A Radler. It sounded pretty legit to me. And I really liked it! There was just something different about it. I felt really cool, because there I was… a mature adult eating mature, adult food and drinking mature, adult drinks, by myself, of course, because that’s just what mature adults do.

On Monday I went to a concert with my friend Sascha, and we went to order drinks. I saw that I could order another Radler, so I did. We got our drinks and took our seats, and Sascha asked what I had ordered. So I told him. He turned to me and went, “Do you know what that is?” Of course, at this point, I was really worried that I’d been drinking some funky or potentially-lethal beer. So I answered cautiously.

Me: Uhhh… I don’t know, I mean I had one last week, it’s pretty good I guess…

Him: Well… it’s just beer mixed with Sprite. Like, half and half.

Me: Hmm. Oh. Well. I guess that’s why I like it so much.

Him: And do you know why they call it a Radler?

Me: Uh. Yeah. No.

Him: Well, in Germany they joke that if you’re driving, you should just drink water. And if you’re riding a bike [ein Rad] then you can drink beer, but it has to be mixed with something else. And you can drink regular beer if you’re just walking.

Me: Um. Yes. Well thanks for informing me. Too bad I still don’t have a bike.

So yes. Apparently I only really like beer if it is watered down by lemon-lime soda. This brought me back down to size, for sure… I’m just glad I found out what I’ve actually been drinking so I don’t form an unrealistic opinion about my ability to hold alcohol. Because that could potentially be bad.

For now, I definitely need to keep working on my taste acquisition, I guess.  But when I do eventually get a bike, at least I’ll know which drinks are culturally acceptable.