freiburg (with a strasbourg bonus)

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

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

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

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

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

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And I recreated some old photos from last time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flammkuchen and beer

Flammkuchen and beer

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some photo highlights!

On the water at dusk

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

Before Mass shot!

Before Mass shot! (That church is the cathedral)

Detail shot of the cathedral

Detail shot of the cathedral

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

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Casually donning an Alsacian costume and headdress

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

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the grace of home

After our orientation in Köln was over, I headed to Vallendar, the place where Schönstatt was founded 99 years ago this month. Schönstatt is the oldest movement of the Catholic Church, and I got involved in the Austin branch my freshman year of college. You can read about my first visit to the Original Shrine here.

The first Schönstatt sighting on the walk from the train station

The first Schönstatt sighting on the walk from the train station

Vallendar is only about 1 hour south of Köln, so I figured I would use my DAAD-funded train trip across the country to multi-task. Unfortunately, that meant that I missed the October 18 anniversary celebration by only about a week, but I did spend a wonderful ~24 hours enjoying the peace and solitude of such a holy place.

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Buses in Vallendar only run once an hour on Saturdays, so I just walked from the train station to the Schönstatt land. Luckily, I didn’t get lost like I did last time! By the time I reached the land, my feet were really hurting and my luggage felt pretty heavy, but I made it to the Original Shrine. It turned out adoration was going on, which was just a wonderful coincidence!

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One part of the Schönstatt spirituality is the belief that Mary bestows graces on visitors of her shrines. There are three types of graces: the graces of home, inner transformation, and apostolic zeal. I am personally a fan of inner transformation, but this weekend the grace of home was placed on my heart especially.

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The more time I spent in the shrines (there are probably 6 or 7 shrines on the Schönstatt land), the more I felt at peace with my life. I felt a real sense of belonging, and I didn’t want to leave.

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In some cases, I really couldn’t leave; shortly after my arrival at the Shrine of the Ladies of Schönstatt, it started pouring rain, and I just stuck around a little longer until the rain subsided.

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The weekend was very relaxed. I took a nap, I did some reading, I leisurely made my way around to several different shrines and sites on the Schönstatt land. I was only there for about a day, so I took things slowly and didn’t pressure myself to see everything (especially some of the places, like the Fr Kentenich Museum, that I had already seen).

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Of course, I was sure to spend as much time in the Original Shrine as possible. I also climbed up Mount Schönstatt, and made a return visit to the Ladies’ Shrine, which might be my favorite. They have a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux, and it is nestled really beautifully up on a hill among the beautifully-colored fall trees.

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I also made the hike up to the Tabor Shrine, which I think is the special shrine of the youth movement. Because it was also up on a mountain, the view was gorgeous (once it stopped raining and the sky cleared).

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I stayed in Sonnenau, one of the buildings that houses visiting pilgrims. Apparently, there was some sort of children’s event going on, because there were kids everywhere. During meals, I got to eat in a separate little room because I wasn’t part of the children’s group… during each meal, I got to meet some really nice people. At dinner, I got to talk with Sister Anastasia and a visiting woman named Theresia, and the next day at lunch, I ate with a girl who visits every weekend because she works at a hospital in the area. I learned from Sister Anastasia that, even though there isn’t a shrine in Dresden, there is a Schönstatt site out in the Sächsischer Schweiz: a house with an MTA and a sister who lives there. I’ll have to visit sometime!

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By the end of the weekend, I was relaxed and rejuvenated from having spent so much time praying, meditating, and enjoying the amazing feeling, at last, of feeling totally comfortable and at home.

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