freiburg (with a strasbourg bonus)

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

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

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

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

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

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And I recreated some old photos from last time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flammkuchen and beer

Flammkuchen and beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some photo highlights!

On the water at dusk

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

Before Mass shot!

Before Mass shot! (That church is the cathedral)

Detail shot of the cathedral

Detail shot of the cathedral

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

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Casually donning an Alsacian costume and headdress

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

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the last hoorah in budapest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Royal Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dresden friends reunited in Budapest!

Dresden friends reunited in Budapest!

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

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

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Poor posture exacerbated by exhaustion

Poor posture exacerbated by exhaustion

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

Before thermal bath

Before thermal bath

After thermal bath

After thermal bath

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

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

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

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cherry picking and other adventures

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

A view of Meissen as we crossed the Elbe

A view of Meissen as we crossed the Elbe

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

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

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

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Probably about a third of our harvest

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

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

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

playing hostess in dresden

Daniel was my first and probably only guest during my time here in Dresden. I was so happy to be able to share my new (is it new anymore?) life with someone, and I’m happy that someone was Daniel because we had such a blast during the 5 days he was here!

This is real life--a picture with my boyfriend on my actual street! haha.

This is real life–a picture with my boyfriend on my actual street! haha.

Sunday

The first thing we did on Sunday was attend evening Mass at the cathedral, kicking off the list of “I’m so glad I can show this to someone” places! I love going to the Dresden cathedral every week. I think it’s gorgeous. We actually ran into several friends of mine there (which made me look incredibly popular, when in reality that never happens!).

The gorgeous cathedral decked out for Pentecost

The gorgeous cathedral decked out for Pentecost

Afterwards, we headed up to Neustadt, the hipper part of town north of the river, to get Indian food. There was a great Indian place near town hall that I used to go to embarrassingly frequently before it unexpectedly closed in December, but they have another location up there that I hadn’t been to yet! It was also a great chance to see Neustadt at a glance.

Monday

Monday morning I kicked into “tiger tour guide” mode again as we did a full cycle of Dresden’s baroque center. I felt relatively well-prepared to give a good tour of “my city” by now, and we made it all the way through in about two hours: Kreuzkirche, Altmarkt, Frauenkirche, “Zitronenpress,” Brühlische Terrasse, Hofkirche, Fürstenzug, Zwinger, Semperoper… and if all of that is just nonsense to you, clearly that is a sign that you should have visited me and gotten a tour yourself! [There’s still time, folks! I’m here till July 31!]

It was really fun to show Daniel the beautiful city and also I loved having a reason to be a total tourist, taking photos and everything! We also had a beautiful day, and I don’t think many of my Dresden-Altstadt photos have had a blue sky so far, so that was great.

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With the Frauenkirche and my beloved Lemon Press in the background

Then we took the Straßenbahn a few stops to the Weisse Gasse, a kind of expensive but very… varied group of restaurants, and helped ourselves to Cuban tapas! And ice cream. I had a Spaghettieis in honor of German immersion, of course.

Later that evening, we had an International Mass at the KSG, so I brought Daniel along to meet a few more of my friends. It was great timing because a lot of the Mass was in English due to the special International event. So that was fun. I also had a great reason to skip the usual lecture afterwards because Daniel doesn’t speak German! 😉

During the day on Monday, my camera died, so I don’t have any pictures from the rest of the week! Daniel has them, and he is having problems uploading them for some reason… so I’ll just talk about what we did Tuesday-Friday with hopes of later posting the highlights of the photos.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, I took Daniel on a little tour around the university and then we had some coffee and cake at one of the cafés on campus before my class at 1.  After my class, we took the Straßenbahn about half an hour north to Bühlau, near where I lived with my host family, to see the castles along the Elbe and go hiking in the Dresden Heath. Neither of us had really been hiking since our Colorado trip, so it was fun to have a little urban wilderness excursion. We followed that up with beer and grilled meat at the Biergarten of one of the castles, of course, while enjoying one of the best views of Dresden.

The Frauenkirche, Dresden's famous domed church. (Obviously I am just dispersing photos and they don't really go with the text at this point)

The Frauenkirche, Dresden’s famous domed church. (Obviously I am just dispersing photos and they don’t really go with the text at this point)

On our way back, we met Felicitas for ice cream– but none of us ended up being hungry, so instead we went to the Großer Garten, Dresden’s biggest park, for a little walk (and a look at another castle in the middle of the park).

Wednesday

We actually started Wednesday off at the Großer Garten as well, with a lovely lunch picnic! It was a nice, leisurely change of pace compared to the previous two days! We watched the park train go by, had spinning contests, and successfully opened a beer bottle sans bottle opener.

This is not the Großer Garten, but rather the Zwinger Palace courtyard

This is not the Großer Garten, but rather the Zwinger Palace courtyard

We had picked the park as our chill-out picnic location because it is right next to the Volkswagen Gläserne Manufaktur (“transparent factory”), a state-of-the-art factory where VW’s only luxury car is manufactured. Every single VW Phaeton in the world (not sold in the US) is assembled there! My friend and tandem partner has an internship there so she gave me all the information about English tours, and it was actually really interesting! The idea of the factory is to involve customers in the manufacturing process, as everything about the Phaetons (and Bentleys) produced there is entirely customized. It is absolutely fascinating (and FANCY), even for two non-“car people” such as ourselves. This video explains it way better than I could on this little Cliffs Notes version of our week.

Thursday

Thursday, our last full day together, was probably one of the most fun! After my morning class, we rented bikes for the day and went riding along the river. The weather was gorgeous and I love being able to see the city from a new vantage point. On our way “out of town” along the bike path, we saw the famous Canaletto View of the town which was immortalized in many paintings in the 18th century. We rode about 5 kilometers east along the Elbe before stopping to take a little break, watch some people flying kites, and enjoy some brews at a Biergarten before heading back the other way.

Our westward destination was the Pfund Molkerei, the so-called “most beautiful dairy in the world.” Basically, it is a dairy shop that sells cheese and other milk products (and a lot of souvenirs because it’s become a tourist destination), but inside it is absolutely beautiful, decked out with painted tiles from floor to ceiling. No photos are allowed, but Daniel was able to get one… I’ll share it when possible! There is a restaurant upstairs, and we each had a milkshake and we shared a piece of quark cake (like cheesecake but made with quark, a dairy product that I’ve never seen in the States).

A view of the castle and cathedral from the Brühlische Terrasse

A view of the castle and cathedral from the Brühlische Terrasse

We passed the cathedral as we biked back through town to the bike rental, and I realized that Thursday adoration was going on! So we stopped by for about half an hour before returning our bikes. That evening, we had dinner at a German restaurant that I actually really liked, despite my German food fatigue. Thanks again, TripAdvisor! I was craving a salad, but Daniel really won with a heaping plate of pork smothered in onions and fried potatoes. And, because we were living large on our last night together… ice cream for dessert!

Friday

Daniel’s bus to Berlin left a little before noon, so we had time to have a nice breakfast together at one of my favorite cafés near campus. Of course I wish he could have stayed longer, but I had such a fabulous week with him and I’m so glad he was able to visit me in my German home. All things considered, this year has worked out wonderfully for us… better than I could have hoped!  We have made so many amazing memories together all throughout Europe.

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Behind us is the Fürstenzug, or “Procession of Princes,” a mosaic mural that shows every prince or elector who has ever ruled in Dresden

We did lots of really fun things while Daniel was in Dresden, but honestly a lot of the best moments were the uneventful ones: making pizza at my apartment and watching 30 Rock episodes while drinking cheap whiskey… or trying to teach him to pronounce German words! It was just the most fun week ever and I’m so glad to have those memories. Pictures of the rest of the week to come soon, I hope!

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.

bikes, “missing moments,” and library creepers

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

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

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

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

 

unsolicited advice: studying in Germany

A few months ago, a friend from college sent me a message on Facebook asking if I would have any advice for a classmate of hers who wanted to study abroad in Germany.  As a fairly opinionated person who feels strongly about study abroad experiences, especially in Germany, I was able to come up with a good number of things that I wish I had known before I first came to Germany, as well as things I’ve learned since I’ve been here that I think would be helpful for someone in the planning stages.

So I’m making my foray into the scary world of online advice blogging! (I do have a few similar posts in the queue, so keep an eye out for those!) I know no one asked, but that’s why it’s called “unsolicited”! Here is a list of things that you should know if you want to live in Germany.

I wrote this list for a student wanting to study abroad, but many items on this list could apply to young adults wanting to get a degree at a German university or work in Germany for a short or long duration, as well!

1. Learn German. Do you already know German? Good. In the time between now and when you set foot on German soil, do everything you can to get more exposure to the language. Read an article or two from Der Spiegel every week. Take or audit a German class at school. Watch a German TV show! (I’ve never seen it, but Türkisch für Anfänger always gets good reviews!)

Wait, what’s that? You don’t know German? Well, there’s no better time to start than right now. I know that plenty of people study abroad with no knowledge of the local language, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, you can get by with English in Germany, but do you really want to just get by during your time abroad? It’s much easier to establish friendships with Germans if you make an effort to learn some German… not to mention being able to orient yourself in your host city and as you travel around. If you learn as much as you can before you leave and keep an open mind during your time there, your language abilities will improve drastically… I know several people who went to Germany with a very limited grasp of the language, and after a year or so of living and working there, were able to converse quite easily! It is possible!

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Here, I’ll help you get started

2. Go for a year or longer! My biggest regret about my semester in Germany during the summer of 2011 was that it was only one semester! I know that a year abroad sounds like a really long time, especially if the norm at your school is to go abroad for 6 weeks, if that (like it was at mine). But a year goes by quicker than you’d expect (especially if you plan to travel), and one semester is barely any time at all to get adjusted to a new country, language, school, city, and culture, not to mention to make friends!

If a year would not be possible for whatever reason, go for as long as possible. Plan to arrive as soon as possible before the semester begins, and stay as long as possible after it ends. Many programs offer a language course before the semester begins (which would help with #1!), which also provides time to get acclimated to the city and maybe meet some people!

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3. Location, location, location. Spend some time deciding where exactly in Germany you want to go, because the city you live in will obviously influence your experience greatly. The different cities and regions in Germany are quite distinct. As you consider, pay particular attention to the size of the city in question, and also whether it is in (former) East Germany or West Germany.

Even 20+ years after Germany’s reunification, there are still some lingering differences between east and west, particularly where language is concerned. In the west, it is much more likely that any given person on the street or in a shop (especially of the older generation) will be able to speak English. If you aren’t yet fluent in German, that could be helpful. However, if you’re trying to BECOME fluent, the atmosphere in the east might be helpful… people may be less likely to automatically switch to English once they hear your accent!

If you will be staying for a year or longer, as I advised you above, choose a larger city as opposed to a small one (or a small city with easy access to a large city). That way, there will be more to explore during your time there. Also, larger cities generally have easy access to smaller outlying towns and attractions and good public transit to get you there.

Basically, do your research to find out whether the city you’re interested in has everything you’re looking for. A few odd tips: living near a border gives you easy access to international travel; living in Berlin will give you an exciting and eclectic, though debatably “un-German” experience; it is really hard to find an apartment in most cities with universities, and Munich is notoriously expensive.

4. Go as an exchange student. (Or directly enroll in a graduate program. Or get a job working with Germans.) Integrate yourself into society!!! I know for some students studying abroad, a university-affiliate or professor-led program is necessary to both study abroad and graduate on time, but if at all possible, do a direct exchange! It will require some proactivity on your part, because all your classes/travel won’t be planned for you, you won’t have a ready-made community of fellow American students, and you’ll probably have to deal with some university bureaucracy, but you will have a more authentic and rewarding experience (and for pretentious folk like me, that’s what it’s all about 😉 ).

5. Be proactive about your living situation. I lived in a terrible student dorm in Freiburg because that’s what I was assigned. However, I have a feeling that if I’d searched around a little more before committing to student housing, I could have found a better option. So before I moved to Dresden, I looked on all the WG websites to find an apartment and roommate. Wohngemeinschafte/living communities are like shared apartments among young people in Germany, and there are plenty of websites to locate people who need to sublet their room. I used wggesucht.de. My roommate, Agnes, is awesome, and living with a German peer has really helped me practice my language skills on a daily basis, make a few friends, and have a nice atmosphere at home rather than the gross, utilitarian dorm of days past 😉

6. Buy a bike. Having a bike gives you flexibility of transportation and allows you to get places quicker so you can do more, plus it’s very scenic and beautiful to ride around during the summer and experience your new city from that vantage point! Hypocrite alert because I don’t have a bike in Dresden (but I might still buy one). This was the most important thing I ever did in Freiburg, though, because I lived far from school and the center of town, and all of my friends had bikes, so if I ever wanted to do something with them, I could just tag along instead of having to meet them somewhere using public transit. Here, the city is big enough that public transit is necessary to get to certain parts of town, and I live within walking distance of most places I go on a daily basis, so I haven’t NEEDED one, but I’m still on the look-out for an affordable used bike, because I love biking!

7. Make German friends. This will help with #1, for sure! It will also help to integrate you into life in Germany. Making friends familiar with your city/region (and fluent in German) is also incredibly helpful as you figure everything out for yourself. It is, in my experience, more difficult to make friends with Germans than to stick in a group with the other Americans/international students (and there is merit to making friends with those people, as well). Two ways I’ve found it helpful to meet people: getting involved at church and taking part in extracurriculars. I’m Catholic, and I’ve been able to meet nice, generous, friendly people at the Katholische Hochschulgemeinde (KHG) in Freiburg and the Katholische Studentengemeinde (KSG) in Dresden. The Protestant groups are called EHG/ESG. And this semester I am finally taking my own advice about the sports/extracurricular activities tactic by taking a dance class! I love dancing and thoroughly enjoyed my classes at UT, so I figured I’d keep it up and meet some people along the way.

8. Travel! Self explanatory. Obviously the requisite trips to London/Paris/Milan/whatever are awesome, and you should go for it, but I also recommend day trips in your area and really getting to know your particular region in Germany, as well, because they’re all very distinct and it will cultivate a real feeling of regional identity, which I quite enjoy 🙂

9. Don’t compare your experience to anyone else’s. Every person’s time abroad will be unique, so don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that your experience is “worse” because you can see on Facebook that your high school friend has visited more cities than you have. Make the most of YOUR experience… explore the areas around where you’re living, go to social outings, do something new every week, take pictures. Focus on making your memories, not glancing at someone else’s to compare.

10. Find a “life abroad” confidant. For those times when it feels like living abroad is the hardest thing you’ve ever done and no one will ever understand you. Obviously parents are wonderful and significant others are great, but if they’ve never studied or lived abroad, they won’t totally understand what you’re gong through. If you keep in touch with a buddy who has had a similar experience, they will be able to affirm that the loneliness, anxiety, or whatever it is you might be feeling is totally normal, and hopefully they will encourage you to power through the tough parts so you can experience the wonder of living abroad! I know this sounds like the ultimate First World Problem but the truth is that it’s tough to live in another language in a new city with new experiences without an outlet for your frustrations or a sounding board to figure your stuff out. (This person should also be able to give you a good reality check and/or swift kick in the behind if you are being unreasonable 😉 ) Overall, living/studying abroad is a POSITIVE, life-affirming, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you should share those moments with your buddy as well, and meet up once you get back to cook foods you miss from abroad, go on bike rides together, and commiserate about reverse culture shock 🙂

Finally, an outlet for my many opinions 😉 If you are itching to study in Germany, or elsewhere in Europe/the world, I hope I’ve encouraged you at least a little bit!

To my fellow study abroad alumni: is there anything I missed?? Anything you disagree with?