exploring dresden (plus snow pictures!)

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

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

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The view from my window

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

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

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Our balcony view… the Russian Church is so pretty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trees in front of this house looked like lace.

The trees in front of this house looked like lace.

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

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

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

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

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

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london part 2: literally walking right out of my shoes

When we last saw our hero, she was getting ready for Day 3 in London…

Saturday: Since I missed the East End Tour on Friday, I decided to go on Saturday instead! The tour started at Liverpool Street Station, so I headed there first thing. Luckily, there is a Starbucks in the station so I was able to get a few messages out to Joey suggesting a few places to meet for tea later in the day. The tour was smaller than the first I’d taken… it was me, a family of 4, two college-age students from Australia, and an English dad and his son, all led by our tour guide, who had a fantastic mustache.

Starting the tour with some German flair... this monument thanks the English, on behalf of the international Jewish community, for sheltering thousands of Jewish children from central and eastern Europe who came to London via Liverpool Street Station during WWII.

Starting the tour with some German flair… this monument thanks the English, on behalf of the international Jewish community, for sheltering thousands of Jewish children from central and eastern Europe who came to London via Liverpool Street Station during WWII.

Now, I wasn’t incredibly crazy about this tour, but we did get to learn some interesting history: apparently the Liverpool Street Station was originally Bethlehem Mental Hospital (colloquially called “Bedlam,” which is where we got the phrase meaning “madness”) back in the days when mental hospitals weren’t incredibly common. Then, apparently, the wonders of capitalism opened up the hospital for tourism! What an awful thought.

We walked into the actual city of London, which is really a tiny, tiny area governed entirely by banks. The bankers do apparently have a disturbing amount of power in Parliament. We saw Old Spitalfield Market, which was cool because I actually learned about Victorian London food systems in a class I took last year, as well as some really, really old ruins of the burial grounds that used to surround the hospital that Spitalfield was named for. And we learned as much as we could about Jack the Ripper, which really isn’t much because no one really knows anything about him.

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Then we saw some street art, which I guess was cool but isn’t really my jam. I’d say my main takeaway from this tour was the general feel I got for the East End, past and present: a real melting pot of immigrants, lower-class people figuring out how to get by in such a huge, international, at times incredibly unsafe city. The danger comes from many places: poverty, violence, fire, raw sewage flowing down your street… I got to see parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, or known what to make of, or wouldn’t have probably felt comfortable walking through all alone.

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I then made my way back to Starbucks to see what kind of plan Joey had formed in my absence. Not a great one, it turned out, since we had decided on an even worse meeting place than the previous day’s… the Tube stop in the neighborhood where we’d be having tea. It turns out that a Tube stop is actually the worst place to meet someone if you won’t be able to call each other and you aren’t exactly sure what time you will arrive. But we finally found each other and walked to the cutest little tea place.

This is probably my biggest concrete endorsement for things to do in London: GO TO THE MUFFIN MAN TEA SHOP IN KENSINGTON. There are lots of walking tours, and I’m sure they’re all great; there are lots of museums, and I know they’re all great. But seriously, if you are on a budget and you want to experience a quaint, delicious, affordable tea, this is the place you need to go. It was adorable. Their carrot cake was probably the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Mom and Ms. Lynn). The clotted cream I stole from Joey was delicious. And you can have a decent English high tea for 5-7 £. (At this point, my camera decided to die, so Joey has all the pictures.)

As we enjoyed our tea, scones, and cake, Joey and I conversed about our common UT experience, our study abroad experience, and other random life things. It was nice and relaxed. However, during this time I was also fiddling with my shoe and actually loosened the heel such that it was definitely about to come off. I figured I could get through the next day and then get them repaired in Dresden.

After tea, we walked around in the incredibly posh surrounding neighborhoods of Chelsea, Kensington, and Notting Hill. If you wanted to go into a really cute book shop or antique shop or something, I guess this is where you’d do it. I think this is the area Princess Diana is from, and of course it’s where the cinema classic Notting Hill took place so you know it’s legit.

At this point, I think we headed to the British Museum with the intent of actually seeing a few exhibits, but by the time we got there, it was just closing, so we changed our plan a little bit. We walked over to the nearby Piccadilly Circus to see what all the fuss was about. From what I could tell, it’s like London’s version of Time’s Square… some big screens around, lots of big commercial things like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and some theaters… we decided it would be best to find a pub somewhere and sit down with a beer.

Trafalgar Square by night

Trafalgar Square by night

Figuring that most places in this area would be super expensive, we were very choosy and ended up finding a Pret first and getting a sandwich.  Pret is weird in that they charge you more for your food if you’re planning to eat in the restaurant, so we took our food outside. We ended up getting really cold and just going into the nearest bar, which was actually a great decision, because the beer was delicious and very affordable! So we enjoyed our beer and some more great conversation, casually observing everyone else’s ridiculous Halloween costumes. Then we headed back to our respective homes after deciding on a sane and reasonable meeting place for the next day: the church next to my hostel.

Sunday: As it turned out, my hostel was actually right next door to an apparently well known Anglican Use Church. I had never been to an Anglican Use Mass before, but a friend of mine wrote his Plan II thesis about Anglican Use in Texas, so I knew a little about it, and because it was so close by (to me, not to Joey at all), it was the natural option for Sunday Mass. It was really beautiful (despite the interesting use of space in the church, haha). They used wonderful music and the visiting priest gave a great homily.

Afterwards, we stayed for tea and biscuits with some of the parishioners. One very friendly guy told us all about Our Lady of Walsingham, an apparition of Mary very important to the Anglo-Catholic Church, and introduced us to the organist, who promptly made it weird by asking if we were visiting the church because we wanted to get married there. After uncomfortably laughing our way through the explanation that we are just friends from college, we decided to leave and get some lunch, which was not as easy as I had expected because all the restaurants on the main street in Battersea were apparently closed for Sunday lunch. So we ended up going into town, where I made things difficult by being incredibly indecisive… we ended up getting deciding on an Asian fast food place, of sorts.

Then, we finally made it to the British Museum, where we perused their Europe exhibit, which was simultaneously interesting and disappointing. For instance, they had a whole room devoted to clocks and watches through the years, and then a room half the size devoted to the entire 20th century, which mainly included Russian plates and cutlery that looked like it was from Ikea (and which did not reference either of the World Wars). There was one big room displaying items from Europe between 1400-1800 and William Shakespeare didn’t get a single mention. It was odd.

Meanwhile, I admired some teapots.

Meanwhile, I admired some teapots.

We then bopped around north central London for a bit, walking through a couple of parks on our way to King’s Cross Station, which it turns out isn’t really near anything, but any self-respecting Harry Potter fan needs to go to take the touristy picture near Platform 9 3/4, so that’s what we did! We waited in a line filled with children and their parents, proudly donned our chosen House’s scarves (Ravenclaw all the way!), and posed for professional photographs we were too cheap to pay for while also forgetting to turn on the flash of our own cameras, rendering our personal photos entirely too blurry. But, alas, it happened and we were very excited.

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Then we walked around the surrounding neighborhood for about 25 minutes (it seemed like an eternity because my feet were absolutely killing me!) looking for somewhere that would sell us dessert. Joey had a craving for a chocolate souffle, of all things, and while that request may have been entirely unrealistic, we didn’t find a single (open) place that even served food. So we headed back to the station and ate there. I had a strawberry tart and some tea and it was glorious.

However, during this time I also realized that during our trek through London, the heel of my boot (like, the bottom rubber-y part, not the entire heel) had entirely fallen off. So that was a bummer, but I was leaving the next morning, so I guess it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. (I did take the boots to a cobbler yesterday, and it was surprisingly affordable to fix BOTH shoes, as it looks like the other heel is about to go, as well. So no worries, I won’t be without my black boots this winter!)

As it started to get late, I realized that I should probably figure out how I would go about getting to the airport in the morning. Luckily, as we were at King’s Cross, I could buy a train ticket to the airport right there, so I did, and we slowly made our way back home. It was really great to spend some time with a friend from home, and Joey was a great host in his new city. It’s a lot of fun to travel solo and explore a new city on your own, but it is a different kind of fun to share it with a friend.

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(And I suppose it’s worth mentioning that at my hostel gave a half-price drink ticket to all guests, and I made the fantastic decision to have a Lynchburg Lemonade before I went to bed. Whiskey makes everything better.)