My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 1

For two years I lived in the lakeside city of Konstanz while working on my Master’s degree. I had decided to move there without ever having set foot in Germany before. Having come out the other side, I can safely say that it was a good choice, and I’m quite sad that I don’t still live there.

Back in September of 2017, I handed in my thesis, had a final interview round with the company that ended up hiring me for my first “real” job post-university, and packed up everything to move out of my student apartment. During all of that, I also took some time to explore some parts of the city I had never visited, and I revisited some of my favorite places.

It’s these adventures that I now want to share in this space. Since there is quite a bit that I want to share, I am going to split the information up into several posts.

To provide some context, it had been a very hot summer in which I remember sweating through writing my thesis, hiding in the library when my room began to feel like an oven, and taking a break most days to go for a dip in the refreshing water of the lake. After my thesis and job interviews were complete, the heat broke and rain showers took the place of the sun.

I was quite pleased that the weather chased away many of the tourists and allowed me to explore the streets with relative peace. I had wanted to walk the streets and dedicate some time to take a look at the historic buildings, and then I had the perfect opportunity. Many of the old buildings have a name and building date on them. Some of those dates go back to the 1200s and 1300s.

Zur Mugge, 1422
Zum Leopard, 1399
Zum weissen Bär, 1523 and Zum weissen Adler, 1489
Haus zum roten Korb, Anno 1384
Zur Wage, 1273

It’s nice that these features still exist on the buildings, and you can often see the unevenness of the roofs and different levels of the buildings. If you really want a great view of the Old Town streets, then you can go up the tower of the church there.

The Konstanz Münster (Münster Unserer Lieben Frau) is a church that dates back to about the year 600 CE, though it was destroyed and rebuilt over many centuries. It hosted the Council of Konstanz in 1414-1418 which was the only conclave to be held north of the Alps. It remains one of the largest churches in this region of Germany.

During the warmer months of the year, it is possible to climb the church’s tower for a few Euros. Unlike some of the other church towers I have climbed, the stairs are quite spacious.

There are a few levels to reach. At first, you reach a sort of base of the tower which already affords some nice views of the city and harbor. If you go further, you can reach another level in the tower, with a final option to climb up to the highest indoor part of the tower. Be advised that at the very top you can only see out of some windows (thus, the blurriness of some photos).

While inside the tower, you can also see some of the bells with their historic designs. If you happen to be inside the tower when the bells ring, you’d better cover your ears. As I ascended the tower, it was deafening to hear the bells ringing.

Heading back down the tower, I decided to explore the church one last time, although I had been through it dozens of times in the past. I am not religious, but there is definitely a sense of tranquility and historical significance as you pass through the different areas of the church.

Out by the harbor, you’ll find the Council Building, which is where the actual voting in the papal election took place. Today, there is a restaurant in the lower level that offers seating with views of the lake. On the day that I was making this small tour, the clouds were quite moody although I got a hint of a rainbow.

Speaking of the Council of Konstanz, one of the historical figures during that era was Jan Hus. He was a Czech reformer who was targeted as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415 in Konstanz. There is a museum dedicated to him called Hus-Haus. I spent about an hour exploring there one afternoon, and can recommend it to anyone interested in history. Bonus: Entry is free, and the exhibits are in German, English, and Czech.

Not too far away from the Münster is St. Stephan’s Church. While it’s not as grand as the Münster, it has it’s own charming qualities and a gorgeous painting on the ceiling. Along with the Münster, it is among the oldest and largest churches in Konstanz. If there are a lot of tourists in the city, this church is a good option to step into somewhere quiet and calm while enjoying the surroundings.

Another interesting place in the Altstadt is the Rathaus. (For those who don’t know, a Rathaus is kind of the equivalent of a town hall.) The exterior is covered in paintings, and it has a castle-like appearance to it. You’d almost expect Rapunzel to come to the window. You can step through to the courtyard if you want to explore a bit.

Konstanz is filled with artwork in general. You’ll find paintings on the side of buildings, sculptures, and beautiful architecture all around. Unlike many other parts of Germany, Konstanz avoided heavy bombing in World War II by leaving their lights on at night and pretending to be part of Switzerland. Since it is at the border and a Swiss town bumps right up against Konstanz, they were able to successfully fool the bombers. As a result, much of the historic city remains intact today in ways that you don’t see in all German city centers.

That’s not to say that the Nazis were not active in Konstanz. You will find “stumbling stones” with the names of murdered Jewish citizens throughout Old Town, and there are also monuments to the victims of the Nazi regime such as this one:

Luckily, that dark period of history is gone from Konstanz, and the city has a modern feel mixed in with its historical features. The newest example of modernization before I left Konstanz was this “Way of Live Calculator” (not a spelling mistake). It is an art installation by Andreas Sarow (2017).

With that, I leave you to calculate your life. More about what I explored during my final days in Konstanz is soon to come.

Cheers!

Mountains to Milan

Heya, friends! Today I’m digging back into my travel journal to tell you about my first trip to Italy.

This long weekend back in May of 2017 was… not what I expected. But hey, travel isn’t always perfect 100% of the time, and I have committed to sharing my honest experiences with you all.

I guess the best place to start is, obviously, the beginning. A and I had decided to take a road trip passing through Switzerland. We got up early on a slightly chilly morning in Konstanz, drove through a deserted Altstadt, and then over the border into Switzerland.

The weather was perfect for a roadtrip and the drive was actually pretty enjoyable. We even had gorgeous scenery.

Swiss roadtrip

Driving into Italy, we decided to go up over the mountains instead through the mountain tunnel. At that point, I seriously had never seen so much snow in my life. (I have seen quite a bit more since then!)

After getting over the mountain pass, we arrived in Italy, where it was indeed much warmer than it had been up in the mountains.

We parked outside the city, rode the subway in, and dropped our things at the hostel before heading out to explore.

Oh, Milan. I so wanted to love you. I wanted to bask in your sunshine, listen to the song of the Italian language, devour every morsel of legendary Italian cuisine… But, this didn’t happen.

I’m sure that Milan, like most places, can feel like home for some people. But, Milan is a city where I just wasn’t able to get that this-is-my-kind-of-city feeling in the time we spent there.

I enjoyed walking the streets and trying to imagine the history. I marveled at Sforza Castle, remembering tidbits of history related to the Sforzas.

Milan

I sauntered along in the heat, checking out some marble statues but not feeling any real connection to the art. How can that even be in this country which is so significant to the history of Western art ?

There were a few highlights though. One afternoon we spent well over an hour in a botanical garden, examining each specimen as if my life depended on it… until I would see a butterfly that is.

Milan Botanical Garden

And for anyone who knows me, they could probably guess that my other love in Milan was a cemetery. The Monumental Cemetery. Those Italians know how to make a beautiful cemetery, with sculptures, plants, and such a serene atmosphere.

I may not have fallen in love with Italy on my first visit, but I guess that’s a good enough reason to need to go back and try out some of Italy’s other destinations.

Cheers!

I Didn’t Think I’d Like You, Frankfurt

Back into the travel journal we go! This time we’re heading to Frankfurt in January. Cold, right? It actually snowed while we were there. Maybe that’s a factor in me liking it even more!

Speaking of snow, it’s snowing as I write this, as it has been doing off and on the last months. Anyway, Frankfurt….

Most of the weekend was spent socializing with friends, as one does when visiting friends in other cities. It was also my first time there, and we spent a good part of Saturday running around to take in the nearby sights.

We walked along and crossed over the Main (the river that runs through the city). From there we had a view of the city center which houses all of the tall financial towers.

Coincidentally, on this same weekend not too far from where we were, a bomb from WWII had been found in the river. Finding these old bombs is actually not that uncommon in Germany. They usually just evacuate the area and either defuse the bomb or, in some cases, safely detonate the bomb. The same thing happened not that long ago here in Munich.

We continued on to the Old Town where we passed by the old city hall. As it was quite cold, we didn’t linger. Arriving at the Frankfurt Cathedral, our group made the decision to walk up to the top despite how chilly and windy we suspected it would be.

Indeed, it was freezing up on top of the cathedral, but it also gave great views of the city.

After escaping from the wind, we headed to an indoor market called Kleinmarkthalle (Small Market Hall). You can buy everything from flowers and fresh produce to regional specialties and ready-to-eat snacks. We munched a bit and explored what the vendors had to offer before touring some of the shopping in the city center.

In the evenings we explored the night life a bit. We visited an Irish pub, and the next night a very fancy bar before heading to two ritzy clubs.

Initially, I thought Frankfurt was pretty much just the financial capital of Germany, full of high-minded Germans with advanced degrees in finance and related fields. It is a little bit that, but it’s also something more. Here I found a city that didn’t feel as busy as some I’ve been been in (ehem, Munich…), had great night life, and an excellent mix of walking and shops to keep one occupied for a weekend.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 3 Years, Can It Be True?

It was shortly before my three-year anniversary of living in Germany when I realized it was coming up. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but the calendar says that it is true!

So in the past year, what are the most significant things I’ve done?

1. Got a Job in Munich

Since I handed in my Master’s thesis in early September last year, I also had to get a job. I started applying in July of last year and was very lucky with timing, as I then started working in October.

The challenges of transitioning from academic life to work life are enough to begin with. Add in that I somehow did it in another country, succeeded in changing over my residence permit, and moved to the city (I’m not a city gal), well… That’s pretty impressive for me personally.

Do I love working more than I loved studying and doing research? Nope. But hey, I guess that’s part of your first few years working; you learn what you like and what you don’t.

2.Visited the Family

It was September 2015 when I moved to Germany, and throughout my entire Master’s program I could not afford to make the trip back home. Therefore, going home last December was the first time in over two years that I saw my family in person. It was also the first time in two years that I used US dollars, that everyone I spoke with had a Midwestern accent, and that I was surrounded by American flags everywhere I went. Yes, I suffered from reverse-culture shock.

LOZ

It was a nice little adventure to go back home, although it was the dead of winter. At least my Grandma can’t be upset that I always miss the holidays since I finally made it for Christmas!

3. Distortion in Copenhagen

After several years of A telling me about Copenhagen and how great it is, I finally went. The first few days were filled with bike rides around the city to do all the touristy things. The second half of the week was all about the electronic music festival.

While it’s true that Copenhagen is quite expensive, the city has a great vibe, amazing architecture, and delicious food. I even had my first bagel in several years (my life without bagels is very sad, indeed). Copenhagen is pretty spectacular, one of the few cities in which I can see myself living happily, albeit probably broke.

4. Another Trip to the US

So the trip that I was not planning to make was to head back home in the middle of summer. Living away from home when someone in your family is in poor health is pretty tough. I eventually got to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep stressing in Germany when I have a regular paycheck that can get me over the ocean to check in with my family in person.

Although it’s not what I planned, I now remember how flaming hot and humid Missouri gets in the summer, and why Missourians actually need air conditioning. A more pleasant part of the weather was walking barefoot through a summer storm to pick up my aunt’s car.

Family’s all okay now, too, in case you’re wondering.

5. Isle of Skye

The first trips I made to Scotland were back in 2014, and I documented them on the blog. (Read about them here and here.) Those two trips led me to falling as much in love with Scotland as I already was in with Ireland. One thing that A and I have wanted to do for several years now is to make it to the Isle of Skye. This year was the year to do it.

We rented a car and attempted Ben Nevis before going on to the Isle of Skye. That trip was an absolute dream, and the cool weather was dearly cherished after a brutally hot summer in Munich. I’ll eventually write about it here, but for now, I’ll just say that I can’t wait to go back to Scotland again.

Learnings

So those are the big things, but my international adventures are not the entire takeaway. Here’s a short list of some things I learned this year.

  1. Skiing is not for me. Tried that in Austria on a company ski trip, and the conclusion is that I will just skip straight to sledding and hot cocoa.
  2. I need to put the plant down, and walk away. I now have… seven plants? I think it’s seven, maybe there are more… Having a green thumb doesn’t go away just because one moves abroad!
  3. My German has gotten better. In fact, a few weeks ago I made a trip to the foreigners’ office and spoke in German during the entire appointment with the Munich bureaucrats.
  4. I need to plan a lot of hiking trips. Since I didn’t painstakingly plan out any options, I didn’t end up going on any. I tried to be a bit more relaxed, but it seems that being a planning freak does lead to more adventures into nature.
  5. Legal residence doesn’t get easier with time. In fact, the bureaucracy is so large that it even lost my file, resulting in multiple temporary permits and a long wait until they find my file before they’ll process the application that I already submitted. Never-ending story, this residency thing.
  6. December is too short, and there are too many Christmas markets to visit. Last year, I tried very hard to experience some new markets because I have had a love affair with them since my personal discovery of Christmas markets back in 2014. This year I will have to map out every one that I want to visit and be a bit more calculated in my excursions (and my Glühwein fund).
  7. Forcing myself to live in a city does not mean that I will learn to like it. Nine months into living here, and 12 months into working here, Munich still isn’t my favorite place. If anything, it’s more of a headache. If only I could find Munich-style jobs in the mountains….

Seven seems like a perfectly arbitrary number at which to pause here. So I guess that’s a wrap on year number three in Germany. I don’t really have a lot of plans for the next year yet (apart from Christmas markets), so let’s see where life takes me!

Cheers!

Not My Favorite City in Southern France

Welcome back to my dive into my travel journal. This post is a continuation of the last two posts about my trip to the southern part of France. You can read the first post here.

After four full days on the French countryside, it was time for the next part of our trip. We planned to go to Marseille, a port city on the coast. Initially I was excited about this. Before leaving the States, I tried to read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas several times. Each time I failed, giving up and giving in to my large study workload. (As of one month ago, I now have the book in my possession again and intend to give it another go.) After reading the first half of the book I had an interest in Marseille and Château d’If, the prison setting in the first stage of the novel.

Fiction is a fickle thing, as the city did not give me any of the sense of intrigue as written by Dumas, and (spoiler!) I wasn’t exactly a fan of the city. Still, it’s a part of my travels, and travel isn’t always perfect. Therefore, I will share my experiences with you regardless of how much I (dis)liked the city.

One Hot City

I’m not a city gal, nor am I into hot weather. Marseille was more of a city than I am comfortable with despite being less that a million people. It was so much more busy, crowded, and fast-paced than I expected of an ocean-side city on the Mediterranean. The heat I expected, but I forgot that the buildings would block the sea breeze.

We arrived in the late afternoon and headed to our rented apartment. As it was so hot, our group decided to head out of the flat as soon as possible. We meandered through the streets down to the harbor where there was at least a nice breeze. Walking past all the boats, we decided to give in to our stomachs’ complaints and find some dinner. Since we were in a port city, seafood seemed like the best choice.

Marseille Harbor

We found a place not too far from the harbor and I experienced my first fresh seafood. And by fresh, I mean extremely fresh. This was my first time ever cracking open crab legs and discovering the struggle of trying to get every morsel of succulent meat out. The others had done this before, but the sea snails were new to almost all of us. It was an experience to try the sea snails, but I think I’ll skip them in the future.

After dinner we took a walk around before heading back to the vacation flat and getting some much-needed sleep to prepare for our second day in the city.

Marseille

On the morning of the next day, we decided to take a walking tour around town. We visited the Old Port again before heading east into the heart of the city. We wandered through markets and some streets which did not really appeal to me at all (if you’re into architecture, I’d love to hear your take). We also stopped by the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul, where a statue of the Joan of Arc stands outside. The interior was nice and a chance to cool down, but I was still not impressed by Marseille.

Joan of Arc before the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul

Eventually we got to the Palais Longchamp which fed my soul a bit since I was missing green spaces and trees. We paused here for a while to relax before moving on to a place by the train tracks full of skaters and graffiti. The street art was interesting to see, but it was too hot to enjoy. Instead, we retreated to the shade of some modern skate-style cafe to eat lunch.

Palais Longchamp in Marseille

The Calanques

After lunch, we grabbed the public transport back to our flat for a short rest and to change into our swimsuits. The plan was to visit the calanques and do a bit of swimming. We drove out to a place recommended by the tourist office and parked the car. We then started walking. It was supposed to be a nice easy walk there, but at some point we took a wrong turn and ended up quite high up overlooking two calanques on either side. We took a steep path down in flip-flops and sandals (neither recommended nor safe), finally emerging on the side of one calanque in a quiet, residential area instead of at the main beach which was full of people.

We found a spot on the side of the calanque from which we could relax and swim without the crowds. We laid out our towels on the rocky shore and then headed into the sea. This was my first experience swimming in salt water. All I can say is that the saltiness seemed to end up everywhere in my belongings afterwards and the water seemed slimy compared to fresh water. These were small things though as the view was picture-perfect and the water was clearer than anywhere else I’ve ever swam. (Again, no camera for this day, so you’ll have to settle for a postcard.)

Calanque de Sormiou

As sunset loomed, some locals gave us directions for a trail out of the calanque. They said it was an easy walk and would get us quickly back to the car. Indeed it was faster than our way in, but it was also very steep going up. In wet flip flops, it was a trek for sure. Returning to the car with our wet things, we started driving back to the city. Spying a grocery shop and pizza stand, we stopped to grab breakfast for the morning and eat some dinner.

After dinner, we decided to head to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, the highest point in Marseille and a great place to enjoy a view of the city at night. Of course the church is closed at this point, but there are enough lights both on the hill and in the streets below to keep you satisfied visually. It was also cooler after sundown, so we had a bit more energy to walk up and down the hill.

Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseille

So nice views were the way we closed out the day. In the morning we wandered a bit more, including into some creepy church with many gruesome relics. I personally could have skipped that bit. Before long, we packed up the car and headed out of the city for our final stop in our French get-away. More on that in the next post!

Cheers!