Germany Thus Far: 11 Months

My eleventh month in Germany has come and gone… while I was in France. Oops! While I’ll get to France later, I still wanted to backtrack and write a little bit about August in Germany.

Studies

I finished up my exams in July, and August was the first month of the semester break. I spent a lot more time playing than reading, and I will just leave my study update at that.

German

I thought my German was getting better. Then, I went to Switzerland and understood absolutely nothing (though, that is more because of the Swiss accent than it is because of my German). The Germans still tell me that my German is getting much better. I suppose that is to be determined at the end of the break after several months without a German class…

Travel

Here is the real substance of this blog post! August was a whirlwind of a month in terms of getting out and about. I started August by heading to Switzerland to see an international couple, a Swiss and an American who met while we were all studying abroad in Northern Ireland, get married. I was so happy to have been able to share that day with two very special friends. I hope that I get to see them in Edinburgh, their new home, in the future.

The next big event was the Konstanz Seenachtsfest (night festival at the lake). The city center was closed to traffic and flooded with people. A village of food and beverage stands had popped up by the lake. People merrily drank their beer while listening to music and waiting for the fireworks. Finally, they started. I was really impressed by the fireworks over the water and the accompanying music that was perfectly aligned with the bursts of light.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

When the Konstanz fireworks ended, another round of fireworks started on the Swiss side. They weren’t as good. After the Swiss fireworks ended, people started to get up to join the party or grab another beer. Suddenly, the Konstanz side shot off some more fireworks and dramatically triumphant music burst from the speakers. I think they made it clear who won that showdown.

About a week later, I grabbed my hiking boots and went to the mountains. It was a bit warm, but at least it was cloudy. A small mountain by Immenstadt was selected for the day. It did not take long before I found myself surrounded by cows. I have seen cow bells at Flohmärkte (flea markets), but this was the first time I saw a lot of cows wearing them. For the entire hike I could hear the sounds of cow bells, as they were in fields all the way up the mountain.

Cows in the Mountains

When we were about ready to head back down the mountain, we saw a sign for a Käserei (cheese maker). With all the cows, we figured why not get a bit of Bergkäse (mountain cheese). I knew that they made the cheese in the form of a cheese wheel. I was surprised to see the size of the giant boards on which cheesemakers set the cheese wheels.

Finally, as I stated above, I closed out the month with a trip to France to visit some friends (also who I met while in Northern Ireland), which I will write more about all in good time. We spent about half of the time on the countryside of southern France. On the first day we visited Avignon. Near the end of the trip, we spent two days each in Marseille and Lyon.

Lynnae in Avignon

So this is how I spent my eleventh month in Europe. Not too shabby.

Cheers!

I Finally Went to Prague: Part II

In my last post I shared a little something about my arrival in Prague. I spent a long weekend there exploring the streets, food, and culture of Prague. Today, I continue with my Prague story.

Lady of Tyn
Church of Our Lady before Týn

My weekend in Prague was spent almost exclusively in the district of Prague simply named “Prague 1.” You can easily find it on any map. It is the heart of the city and the most historic, as far as I am aware.

The most popular place there, and I think in most of Prague, for tourists is Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square). Aside from the Astronomical Clock, which I mentioned in my last post, my other favorite bit of architecture there was the Church of Our Lady before Týn, or Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem. There’s something regal about the turrets, and I absolutely love the golden balls at the tops of them.

You can spend a lot of time wandering around the Old Town Square and nearby streets. I’d recommend popping into a chocolate museum called Choco-Story. While I didn’t actually see the museum, it was fun to look around the shop. Their ice cream is also perfect for a hot day.

While I’m talking food again, here’s a recommendation for Americans living in Europe. If you, like me, miss Mexican-American and Southwestern cuisine, then there is a place in Prague you should not miss! Just down the way from the Astronomical Clock is Las Adelitas, which calls itself a Mexican restaurant. While it’s not exactly traditional Mexican cuisine, it is the best “Mexican food” that I’ve had since coming to Europe. Their margaritas aren’t half-bad either.

Okay, enough food talk. Heading north from Old Town, you end up in Josefov, the old Jewish quarter. I don’t really have any good photos of that part of town, although it’s very relaxing and beautiful on Saturdays if you need to get away from the tourist crowds. You’ll find a number of historic synagogues here as well.

Historical evidence shows that Jews have been living in Prague since before the year 1,000 C.E., and have been experiencing persecution for just as long. As a result, although the synagogues may be old, a lot of the architecture is from the early 1900s. This is because the city demolished most of the quarter from 1893 to 1913 in accordance with their initiative to model the city like Paris. Didn’t feel like Paris to me.

Crossing the river, you find yourself in the district of Malá Strana. While I wasn’t up for standing in a museum on such a nice day, we made a stop outside the Franz Kafka Museum anyway to see the hilarious, although crude, artwork in front of the main entrance. The work features two men standing in a pool of water. The pool’s outline is the border of the Czech Republic. What makes this so crude is that the two men in the pool are each holding their members and rotating their hips back and forth while relieving themselves. Need a visual? Here’s another traveler’s Youtube video. It is quite a funny fountain, true to Franz Kafka himself.

Heading north from there, we then walked down to the river. I was unprepared for how many swans there were. It was slightly alarming since swans aren’t exactly the nicest of creatures, but there were no injuries this day!

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I think we probably sat by the swans, taking in the view and enjoying the day for at least half an hour. Eventually, we wandered south again in search of the Lennon Wall. It took us a little time to find because I kept leading us down the wrong street, but we made it in the end.

The Lennon Wall was swamped with people taking every manner of picture, attempting to read every bit of graffiti and listening to the street musician playing the Beatles. Like everyone else, I was looking for the right place on the wall to have my photo taken. After a while, I found this:

Lennon Wall

When I saw it, I laughed. Since it is my third time studying abroad, I guess I’m a bit of a contradiction.

I know other American students who studied abroad say, “Yeah, I got the travel bug and will be traveling a lot in the future.” In actuality, most don’t travel much after that. Instead, I see Facebook posts about how they hate being stuck in the same town/state/area that they’re from. They say they do not have the money to go where they want, do not know anyone where they want to go and do not want to be too far from their families.

I’m familiar with these excuses, but they are not legitimate. If you want it bad enough, you will work three jobs, make new friends, and Skype or write your family members. People like to make it seem that millennials like me have to choose between career and travel; we absolutely do not. I might not be the brightest in my classes, but I certainly don’t lack a sense of adventure.

That’s a wrap! Life lessons and travel stories for today are over. Part III, the final installment about my weekend in Prague, will be coming up next.

Cheers!

I Finally Went to Prague: Part I

Back in May I finally took a long-awaited trip to Praha (Prague), and now I am finally writing about it. I have already talked on this blog about how I have wanted to go to Prague since I was a tiny student in high school, so I will not explain again why this trip was exciting. Instead, I’ll just show you how amazing my trip to Prague was. Since there was a lot packed into this weekend, I will be writing three posts to avoid one super-long blog post.

Prague Clocktower
Prague Clocktower

After arriving and finally finding our hostel, we set out to explore the city. The first thing I wanted to see, and arguably the reason that I have wanted to go to Prague for so long, was the Astronomical Clock.

Astronomical Clock in Prague
The Astronomical Clock in Prague

This clock dates back to the 1400s and consists of the astronomical dial (the top one), a dial with the calendar on it (the bottom one), two windows at the top from which wooden figures appear and other figures on either side of the dials.

Every hour the clock chimes and wooden figures of apostales come out of the doors. Several of the statues by the dials move, my favorite being the skeleton meant to represent death. Don’t ask what that says about me as a person! Oh, and the golden bird at the top flaps its wings. If you want to get a better idea of all the moving parts, you can find a lot of examples on, where else, Youtube.

Finally at the Astronomical Clock!

Anyway, one of the main reasons for this trip to happen on the particular weekend that it did was because there were students from my undergraduate univerisity spending a May Term in Prague. One of those students is a very good friend of mine who I had not seen since my own graduation day in 2015. Meeting up with her for dinner and hearing all the gossip news from my alma mater was entertaining and refreshing.

So on to the next day! Right down to exploring, as usual. You know I could not resist Charles Bridge right away. The river was calming to be near, and I didn’t feel so claustrophobic like I did in the narrow streets and alleys of Old Town.

Prague Bridges

The medieval-looking bridge on the left is KarlMánesův Most (Mánes Brige). I used both bridges more than once to cross the Vltava River. No idea how any of it is pronounced as I only ever used maps and signs to figure out where I was, and I don’t speak Czech.

While we’re talking about language, you should know that it was no problem getting by in Prague. Just about everyone spoke quite understandable English. However, I will say that while this is the case for many international cities like Prague, it is not the same in villages or smaller cities. I’m looking at you particular Americans who think that everyone in the world (except for Mexicans apparently?) should and does speak English in addition to their native language.

Stereotypes aside, let us continue across the bridge. Over the river you can find more jaw-dropping architecture, touristy shops, and delightful foods. One of those delightful foods that can be found throughout Prague is trdelník.

Trdelník

Trdelník is essentially pastry dough wrapped on thick rods, covered in sugar or cinnamon sugar, and toasted to perfection. Then, the baker slides them off the end and serves them up. Both street vendors and shops made them for take-away. Some places even shoveled fresh fruit or ice cream into the middle. My favorite was to get it with melted chocolate coating the inside. I may have eaten more than one trdelník to savor its many varieties.

Now that I have your mouth watering, I’ll leave you with these happy thoughts of astronomical clocks, bridges and pastries from Prague. Stay tuned for parts II and III.

Cheers!

 

One Month Gone Already

Today marks one month since I arrived. I can’t believe that it’s just gone by like that. I realize that the rest will probably pass just as quickly, and that makes me even more desperate to cherish every precious moment that I still have here.

In celebration of being here one month, I’d like to address some things that flat out confuse me, bewilder me or make me genuinely wonder about myself.

No. 1: Cheese

What is with the cheese here? I wanted to have a little on hand to use, to make a quick little quesadilla snack or to put on bread with lettuce for a quick and easy bite when I’m busy. Problem is, all they have is this white cheddar. It’s everywhere! You can also find a small selection of what I’m guessing are all some kinds of French cheeses, but absolutely no colby jack. No queso fresco. Just white cheddar.

No. 2: Automatic Doors

It seems to me like every door in the main building of our university is an automatic door. So what’s the problem, you ask? The problem is you have to push a button to open it. And I walk past this button often. Or worse, the door is already open, and right when I try to walk through it the door starts to shut… And I do most certainly at that point run into it.

No. 3: Different Sizes of Currency

This one is actually ingenious. Differently valued bills have different sizes. For example, a 5£ note is smaller than a 10£ note. Don’t ask me why this amuses me, because it just does….

No. 4: Driving

Not that I’ve been driving around the UK, and I know that they drive on the left wrong side of the road here, but it’s still strange to actually be in a taxi and be on the left side. Especially if you are sitting in the front seat.

No. 5: Obsession with Fire

This one is just plain weird. I really don’t understand it, but the Northern Irish have some kind of obsession with fire. It goes something like, “You must keep the doors closed at all times because they are fire doors. Fire is very bad. Fire is dangerous. Fire will kill you. So you will keep the doors closed, or you will die.”

We have heard so much about fire safety here, and I find this somewhat ironic because it rains a lot and is super humid here. Therefore, wouldn’t the logical thought be that there is a very low chance of fire?

No. 6: Race

I don’t think I was prepared for this one. When I went to Oaxaca, I knew going into it that I would be part of the racial minority. Mentally, I was ready for that. However, Northern Ireland is different. I know that I am part of a racial majority in my home community, but there is at least some kind of diversity. I also knew ahead of time that there is far less racial diversity here.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how much less diversity there really is. Only 2% of the population is a racial minority in Northern Ireland, and I wonder if anyone here is really aware of their white privilege. Judging from the conversation I heard in the kitchen last week, I know that at least one local is not.

No. 7: Single Rooms

More than anything, I am grateful for this. I have my own room! In the US, you always have at least one roommate if you live on-campus except in extenuating circumstances. But here in Europe, they value privacy (thankfully).

I really enjoy having my own room. Also, having a full communal kitchen which I share with only four other people is really nice. At Baldwin, in the last several dorms I have lived in, the whole dorm shared one kitchen, and in the last dorm that I lived in this kitchen only had a microwave, not even a stove. Go figure.

No. 8: Co-Ed Living

For most of the people here, this probably doesn’t even cross their minds. However, this is a new one for me. In high school, I hung out with basically all guys. Then, I chose to go to a women’s college. Which means that this is the very first time I’ve ever lived in a co-ed dorm.

How do I like having males around me again? I LOVE IT. Having friends again who aren’t just women is fantastic! Being here has made me kind of wish I’d gone to a co-ed college in the first place….

No. 9: International Student Perks

Being an international student means that I get to mix with the other international students. So basically, I know very few locals, but I have great friends from a lot of different countries!

This, I think, is even better than having a lot of Northern Irish friends because I am being exposed to so many more cultures. Either way, everyone who isn’t American has some kind of accent that makes it difficult for me to understand them, so every conversation is a (good) challenge!

No. 10: Tea and Chocolate

I’ve known for a while that I have a chocolate addiction, but let me explain to you how bad it really is. I have four boxes of butter biscuits, three bars of Galaxy with caramel, a bar of Cadbury chocolate with caramel, two bars of Swiss chocolate brought from southern Germany by another international student, and a box of Turkish Delight (ginger stuff covered in dark chocolate).

All of this chocolate is all in my room. I’m going through it rather slowly, and it will be quite a while before I buy more. Just note that I do admit to having a serious chocolate problem.

Not only this, but I’ve developed a tea addiction. Right now I have three different types of tea in the kitchen, and I probably drink at least one mug of tea every day. One day recently I even drank five. I never have liked drinking tea in the States. How did this change come about?

7fd41-teaedit
All the tea…

In conclusion, I’m learning more and more about myself, how I think the world should work, and how some people actually try to make it work. Some of these things (those automatic doors) are frustrating, but a lot of other stuff is intriguing and has been a good learning experience for me.

Cheers!