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!

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gnome hunting in poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soaking in the last day of the Month of Mary 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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berlin in the rain

It is currently really, really hot in Dresden [ok, fine, a high of 90 according to the Weather Channel, but it’s stifling in my room] and the air conditioned library is closed today because it’s a holiday… so frequent work breaks are necessary. {it’s so hard to type while fanning oneself with a folded up piece of paper} So here we go.

Daniel flew into Berlin two Wednesdays ago so I took the bus to the airport to meet him. It had been pouring cats and dogs in Dresden for a few days and it seemed to be the same in Berlin, so I brought both of my umbrellas just in case, which really worked out for us 🙂 Despite a bus delay, I made it to the airport just in time to welcome Daniel to Germany for the first time ever! It was so good to see him again; I missed him!

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We caught a regional train from the airport to Alexanderplatz (or Plaza de Alejandro, as I told Daniel so he would understand me 😉 ) and walked in the rain to our hostel from there… the whole time I regretted wearing a dress because it was also really cold! Trying to recall those sensory memories right now… our hostel was super cool and built over a bar, the best type of hostel in my opinion! We really should have just stayed at the bar and enjoyed their happy hour deals, but I was driven and motivated to show Daniel as much of Berlin as possible, rain be damned!

So, after a stop at a Hackescher Hof restaurant for sausage, potato salad, and beer [we like the orange beer!] we did some quick drive-bys of all the important sights: Fernsehturm, Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral, Under den Linden, St. Hedwig’s Catholic Cathedral, the Ampelmann gift shop of course, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. That is a lot of stuff. And the whole time we were cold and wet and needing to alternate holding umbrellas with taking photos. Basically it was pretty ill-advised and we should have just gone to a museum or something, but by golly, we saw everything, if only for a few moments before we decided to move on and get out of the rain.

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We did seek respite at a café where we enjoyed some cake… which was not very good, especially after I had spent about 9 months singing the praises of German bakeries to Daniel. We passed by the English and French Cathedrals shortly after our cake break, and continued on to Checkpoint Charlie, which in addition to being an historical crossing point of the former Berlin Wall also has a McDonalds with a free bathroom!

Lots of people dislike Checkpoint Charlie because it is overhyped and kind of touristy, but I really enjoyed the museum there the last time I was in Berlin, and this time I appreciated it as a good jumping-off point for people who aren’t incredibly knowledgeable about the history of divided and reunified Germany (e.g. Daniel).It’s an easy way to connect to the history via the reconstructed checkpoint and actual signs welcoming you to the American and Soviet sectors respectively, and there is a very informative timeline which explains the events between 1945 and 1990 that we perused under the protection of our umbrellas. I know a lot a lot a lot about that time period (thanks almost 8 years of German in high school and college) but it’s always good to get a quick refresher, and it was nice that Daniel was able to learn some of it via a source other than me giving a very enjoyable lecture. I assume it was nice, anyway. He’ll have to speak for himself.

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I remembered from last time that the Topography of Terror was nearby, so we headed there as our last stop before giving up on productive sightseeing. The Topography of Terror is built on the site of the former S.S. Headquarters, and it consists of a library and indoor exhibit (where I’ve never been) and a free history exhibit situated along a still-standing segment of the Berlin Wall. It covers the very vast timeline between the unification of the German empire in 1871 and the reunification of Germany in 1989-1990, focusing greatly on the Nazi party’s ascent to power. We rushed through the exhibit and agreed not to read any photo captions for the sake of our soaked and sore selves.

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And then I noticed a nearby bar that served Kölsch, Cologne’s signature beer and one of my favorites! (Houston people… St. Arnold’s Lawnmower is a Kölsch and it is delicious!) So we enjoyed a nice half liter (again, for Daniel it didn’t live up to the hype… sigh) and some wonderful conversation before steeling ourselves for one last walk to the U-Bahn station nearby!

The next day it did not rain–but it was still cold and I regretted not packing correctly for that! 😦 Also it was Ascension Thursday which I completely forgot about until right before we went to bed so everything was closed except the tourist shops and it was a bit creepy! We started the day with a nice, long walk to the East Side Gallery. On the way, we also saw the Fernsehturm, again, and the Rotes Rathaus (town hall). The East Side Gallery is a segment of the Berlin Wall which was re-imagined as an art exhibit: in 1990, artists were invited to paint murals on the wall to overcome the ugliness of division and war (and the wall itself frankly) with beauty and color. Apparently the last time I was there in 2011, the wall had recently been renovated to remove large amounts of graffiti, so I was surprised at how much the murals have been defaced since I saw them last. Nevertheless, there are some really cool, striking, and beautiful ones (as well as some frankly strange ones).

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We then took the U-Bahn all the way west to Kurfürstendamm, or KuDamm, the biggest shopping street in the city. There are a few sites there, including a Protestant “memorial church” which is frankly really ugly and there was also a service going on inside so we didn’t go in. Also, since it was Ascension Thursday and everything was closed, there wasn’t really a huge incentive for us to walk down KuDamm so instead we continued past the zoo and aquarium and walked to the Victory Column. It was a very uneventful and kind of cold walk, but it was nice nonetheless… plus, I had never actually seen the Column up close!

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We continued down the long boulevard between the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate (but for half the time we just walked through the Tiergarten instead). On the way we saw the Memorial to the Soviet Soldiers which I just think is funny and a little creepy, and eventually ended back up at the Brandenburg Gate. It was good to be at Pariser Platz when there were actually other people there!

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I had really wanted to make an appointment to see the Reichstag and to go up in the dome, which I have never done before, but I completely forgot until the day before and you need to register at least a week in advance. So that was sad. Instead, we went down into the U-Bahn station near the Brandenburg Gate that now houses a touristic, 2-stop line in memory of the West German U-Bahn workers during the time of the divided Berlin, and also an exhibit about the history of the Brandenburg Gate. Then we hit up Starbucks for some free WiFi to consult Trip Advisor and we found a Prussian-style restaurant nearby. We indulged in some heavy, heavy German food just to say we did it (pork, potatoes and cabbage… the stereotypes have to come from somewhere, don’t they?). Also, more beer. More true stereotypes. Something went wrong at the restaurant and they forgot about our order for a LOOONG time so we did get a free espresso out of it!

Our next stop was the German History Museum, which we had seen the day before on our walk down Unter den Linden. In hindsight we should have gone right then to avoid the rain, but hey, live and learn. The museum is a really impressive account of all German history starting before the Middle Ages… and because “Germany” wasn’t a thing until 1871, the older exhibits are really all-encompassing. Europe was very interconnected what with the Holy Roman Empire and people conquering different lands and marrying each other all the time… hence, the history was very dense and we spent way too much time in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. So by the time the museum was closing, we were rushingrushingrushing to get through World War I and we never even made it to the separate floor that details 1918-present. Which is some of the most interesting stuff. Oops!! I consoled myself with the fact that we’d done a lot of 20th century historical stuff the previous day.

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We made one last walk through the Museum Island/Berlin Cathedral area, admiring the huge advertisements for the X-Men movie on the way. If the weather had been about 8 degrees warmer it would have been lovely to just lounge in the grass, but it was simply too cold to enjoy ourselves outside for too long. So we headed back to the hostel for some R&R before dinner. That was clutch because we got a good restaurant tip from some other guys in our room: a cheap Vietnamese place around the corner, which ended up being really good! We also took advantage of a stellar Ladies’ Night deal at the hostel bar: I got a free shot of Jägermeister (which I actually do like… probably the only liquor that is semi-enjoyable as a shot) plus a pitcher of Tequila Sunrise for a steal! It was a great way to end our time in Berlin for sure… making up for all the sunlight we hadn’t seen while we were there.

Meanwhile, this was the weather we enjoyed while sitting in a bus to Poland for four hours

Meanwhile, this was the weather we enjoyed while sitting in a bus to Poland for four hours

To be continued…