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!

Guys, I Ate a Snail

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


I hope the title doesn’t scare you. Maybe you’ve done it, too. Either way, today’s post is about my final destination during a summer trip to France: the city of Lyon.

We arrived at our rental apartment located on the Saône River in Lyon, right in the midst of some historical buildings. We set out to do some late-day exploring in the nearby streets. All of the streets apart from the one right next to the river were largely free of cars, and instead filled with both locals and annoying tourists like ourselves.

We checked out Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon, otherwise known as the Lyon Cathedral.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon

What was most exciting for me about this cathedral is that there is an astronomical clock there. People who know me are familiar with my excitement about the astronomical clock in Prague, so you all can guess how enchanted I was by this one. It is located inside the cathedral, but was not working at the time that I visited (big letdown, I know…).

Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon Astronomical ClockCathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon Astronomical Clock

When we had sufficiently explored the nearby streets, we picked a restaurant for dinner. We wanted to try Bouchon (if you don’t know what it is, try Googling it to get a sense), so our wonderful French friend figured out which restaurant we should go to. She picked well, and we enjoyed our fill at Le Comptoir de Boeuf.

Although the name suggests this is a restaurant big on beef, everyone was able to find a meal that made them happy, including our vegetarian friend and myself with my food allergies. Even better than the meal though was the dessert. I don’t remember the details of anything else I ate that night apart from the stolen spoonfuls of a pear cooked in red wine that A had ordered. Yum. I’m totally not salivating at the memory of this.

The next morning we headed across the river and into the city. We did a lot of walking on this day, and quite a bit of it uphill early on. We took a look at Saint-Nizier Church which was not so visually stunning, but happens to have quite a turbulent history if you check into it (don’t worry, I won’t bore you with history today).

In the Streets of Lyon

We checked out a number of shops as we headed towards the Croix-Rousse Quarter. There, we visited a really spectacular mural, Mur des Canut. The mural is so vivid that you aren’t sure what is part of the building or what is just a painting. It looks so three-dimensional until you reach out and touch it. If you’re ever in Lyon, check it out for yourself.

Eventually, we headed back in the direction of our apartment. While on the way to our home-base area, our little group decided that we should try some snails. We stopped by a restaurant where we only ordered a single dish of snails to share like a bunch of crazy tourists.

My honest opinion? Snails are not for me. The texture is just too much, and I also didn’t really find them to be so flavorful that I’d actually choose to order or cook them of my own volition. Sorry if I’m offending anyone out there; snails simply aren’t for this gal.

So, finally, we can discuss the grand finale of our short stay in Lyon. Up the hill from where we were staying is a basilica which is stunning and filled with gold accents everywhere. It’s like someone was given unlimited gold paint and went a little overboard with decorating La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

Outside, you can take in a view of the city since the basilica is at the top of the hill. When you’re ready to head indoors, just remember to look up.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière

The main hall is a feast for the eyes, but there’s even more! Head downstairs to the basement of the basilica to discover another chamber of wonder. From there, you can walk out of the back of the basilica to the outlook again, or you can do like we did and frolic happily down the garden on the hillside just in time to return for dinner.

And that was pretty much our trip to Lyon. Short, sweet, and to the point. After one additional night, we rose in the morning and made the long drive back to Germany. I have to say, I was very happy to be back to a land where I halfway understood the language. All the same, thanks for the good time, France!

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!

DSCN2400

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!

Where Exactly Was I?

Alright. I think it’s about time to get something straight. Contrary to popular belief, I haven’t spent the past three months in Ireland. Yes, I did travel to Ireland, but I’ve actually been living in Northern Ireland. What’s the difference?

Before I explain, I’d like to point out that I’m not an expert. I can only relay what I learned in my politics class and what I learned through personal experience. I hereby make the disclaimer that anything I say is what I observed, and not an attack on or defense of anything that has happened in the region. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Northern Ireland is a part of the island of Ireland. You can see it is the dark part shown below. Even though it’s on the island, it’s technically a part of the United Kingdom. In case you didn’t know, the official name of the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In all, the UK has four parts: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Image from BBC

So that means I was really living on British territory the whole time? Yes! But what about the rest of the island? The rest of the island is what we commonly think of as “Ireland.” It is officially called the Republic of Ireland.

Now you’re probably wondering how on Earth Northern Ireland came to be a part of the UK. Let me give you a brief history.

In the beginning, of this history lesson at least, Ireland was an island ruled by various clans and families. There was no centralized government and Ireland wasn’t really a country; however, across the Irish Sea was England, a powerful neighbor.

So do you remember that crazy English king that had all those wives? King Henry VIII was his name. If you’ll recall, he was desperate for the same thing all kings wanted: a male heir. The problem was, his wife, Catherine of Aragon, didn’t give him one. So, Henry VIII asked the pope for a divorce which was denied. Obviously, that didn’t make the king happy and led to England’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church.

As a result of the separation, England is a Protestant country. You probably remember a certain saint, St. Patrick, who was one of many missionaries in Ireland. So by this time, most of Ireland had been converted to Catholicism.

At the beginning of Henry VIII’s time on the throne, England had already established their rule in some parts of Ireland, including Ulster where I was studying. Henry made the decision to conquer all the rest of Ireland during his rule. Like I said, there wasn’t a central Irish government and there certainly wasn’t an Irish Army, so after some fighting Henry actually did manage to conquer all of Ireland.

Now, add colonialism. At the same time that Jamestown was being established in America, a plantation was also being established in Ulster. In Ulster, there was a strong loyalty to England, so some declared themselves Protestants as a show of loyalty. Being Catholic was to be against the king (you know, especially since the king was still mad about that divorce-rejection thing).

As you have probably figured out, this leads to the concentration of Protestants with British loyalty in the northeast part of Ireland with the rest of Ireland remaining solidly Roman Catholic and against British rule.

Fast forward through history a little and we arrive at World War I. The Irish, who were still ruled by the British, were sent to fight in the war. Fighting side-by-side resulted in a temporary stabilizing effect for the duration of the war. After the war, especially with all of Woodrow Wilson’s talk about national self-determination, the Irish wanted more than ever to address the issue of their nationality once and for all.

Britain took a look at the island of Ireland and thought, well, overall the majority of the island wants to be their own nation. In six of the northern counties, however, the majorities wanted to remain a part of Britain. Thus, we have partition in 1920 with the Government of Ireland Act. This effectively said there will be a Northern Ireland and a Southern Ireland, each to be governed separately with their own Home Rule, but still a part of British territory.

As you can imagine, the Irish in the South still weren’t happy, and they launched an Irish War of Independence. This eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which made the South their own Irish nation in 1922. In 1949, it officially declared itself the Republic of Ireland, which is what we are familiar with today.

But… What about Northern Ireland? Like I said, they were majority Protestant, loyalists, unionists. (Okay, majority by gerrymandering.) Most of them wanted to be ruled by Britain instead of this Home Rule stuff they were being given. So no, they weren’t happy either. But it wasn’t just that simple.

The minority was Catholic (this “side” was also referred to as nationalists and republicans), and they wanted a united Ireland. In reality, though it seems like the problem was solved, it was really just being managed and ignored with some easy solution that neither side was really happy with.

Enter Northern Irish Conflict, otherwise known as “The Troubles.”

Mural in West Belfast featuring Bobby Sands.

There was a lot of turmoil and unrest, and in Londonderry / Derry on 5 October 1968 tensions finally boiled over at a civil rights march. Marches and parades were common during this time, and the riots and violence they caused eventually led to the British Army coming to Northern Ireland in 1969. With things getting ever worse, in 1972 Northern Ireland returned to Direct Rule by the British.

At this point the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a nationalist paramilitary, was in for “the long war,” willing to accept nothing other than British withdrawal and a united Ireland. So, a period of several decades of violence ensued. There were bombings, open warfare in the streets, and other horrible acts of violence.

I won’t sugar coat it. This time of roughly thirty years (up to 1998) was awful. If you don’t know anything about the history of the conflict, I would encourage you to do some reading on it, watch some videos, and be ever mindful of the prejudices from both sides while doing so.

From the Troubles, on display in Linen Hall Library.

This period of conflict was a horrible cycle of “you bombed us so now we will bomb you” on both sides. Paramilitary organizations were often the local “protectors,” acting as police, jury, and executioner all at once. Parades continued, as did the riots.

A couple of stabs at peace were made, including the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In this, the British government and the Irish government agreed to work together on containing the situation in Northern Ireland, work on issues of reconciliation, and provide international support for the region. It held up, but it didn’t bring peace.

It wasn’t until the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) in 1998 that the peace, or at least a framework for it, seemed to have arrived. Even with the agreement, there were still considerable issues to be addressed, including rights and equality, policing, parades, prisoners, victims, and decommissioning of weapons.

There are some successes here. Decommissioning is complete and the permanent disbanding of the paramilitaries has occurred. A police force, called the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI), is functioning fully today. Many prisoners have been released, with limitations. And in 2007, Northern Ireland was able to finally have a devolved government again.

However, many questions still remain. Who counts as a victim? What about the prisoners who were treated unfairly? Is the PSNI actually better, or is it just the same people who were active in paramilitaries performing the same discrimination as before? Which flags do you fly, and when, and where? Who can have parades, and is it okay to do them along the historical routes, even if they go through areas that aren’t of the same community? Should the peace walls come down? How should issues of housing be addressed? Should the school system be integrated?

Yeah, Northern Ireland isn’t perfect. But as a foreigner who lived there for several months, I can tell you that it’s gorgeous, the people are the nicest I’ve ever met, it’s safe and it’s recovering. It hasn’t even been ten years since Northern Ireland got a devolved government, and not yet twenty since the Good Friday Agreement, but I would definitely say it’s healing and well worth a visit.

Beautiful Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, in the background.

Which side was ultimately right? I’ll let you decide that for yourself.

Cheers!

Scotland in Four Days

I mentioned earlier that I was going on a longer trip to Scotland, four days in fact, and indeed I have! A German friend and I woke up early to catch our flight to Edinburgh. Once we landed, we made our way to the city center and the first thing we did was jump right into tourism mode by going up the Scott Monument.

 

The Scott Monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and has 287 steps, making it a whopping 60 meters high. So, as you can imagine, it was quite an interesting climb. Want to think about the implications of climbing a Gothic-style monument built in the 1800’s? Let’s.

First, spiral stairs:

Second, no proper windows, so you’re definitely dizzy:

Finally, the stairs get narrower as you go up, so much that even I was getting a bit panicked by the lack of space. But, once we reached the top, the views were lovely, so I was happy!

Then, we took a walk up towards Edinburgh Castle. From up there, you can see the lovely building and lawn that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts and Quidditch Pitch.

We took a look at the castle as well, but only from the outside. We weren’t particularly interested in spending more money to tour the castle when we could be spending our time out and about in the city.

However, some of what we saw was a bit strange and I’m still not sure what to think of it:

I think even this mural was surprised it existed…

Then, I had a little bit more Harry Potter excitement as we went past The Elephant House, where Rowling started writing the Harry Potter series. So here’s a photo of me being rather excited about this, but annoyed by the wind and ready to warm up somewhere that didn’t have a mile-long que.

We ended up heading to our hostel, cooking lunch for ourselves, and taking a much needed nap before heading out into the dark for a trip up Calton Hill. From Calton Hill, you can see a lot of the city below, and it was especially gorgeous at night.

We spent the rest of the night enjoying Edinburgh night life (indoors, where it was warm, of course).

The next morning led us on a trip to climb up the Salisbury Crags. On the way, we made a very special stop just for me. The destination was a graveyard. Why was I so excited about a graveyard? Well, you see, Edinburgh was the epicenter of the Scottish Enlightenment, which featured a number of prominent thinkers. As an economics student, I am most excited about one thinker in particular: Adam Smith. Thus, I present to you, my little visit to his grave, and my one shoe photo from the trip (yes, really only one this time)!

More than a little excited to have found this….

Oh, and yes, we did go to the crags. They were quite windy so we basically went up a way, took some photos, enjoyed the view, and came right back down to search for a place to thaw our hands.

I really must tell you about the place we found. We saw a little tea room and decided to give it a go. It was straight up adorable inside. The place is called “Clarinda’s Tea Room,” and all of their desserts were made fresh, from scratch, that very day. They also had amazingly tasty soup made fresh, from scratch, that very day.

Oh dear, I think I am perhaps too excited about this tea room. Posting food isn’t exactly something I normally do on this blog, but here is the delicious meal I had….

Are you jealous now?

I had the lentil soup, and my friend had a very nice tomato soup. We shared a pot of passion fruit and orange tea that was equally satisfying. The moral of this story is, if you go to Edinburgh, check out this amazing tea room!

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the city before packing up and heading to the Highlands. We made one quick stop on the way out of town for my friend to take some photos of the Forth Railway Bridge. Here’s a little peek of what that looked like:

So onto the Highlands! We drove up to a little town called Aviemore. It is right by the Cairngorms National Park, which we visited on day three. The night leading up to that day was full of rain. We joke that we were being punished for leaving the city because the weather only turned rotten when we left town.

What do two university students do in a National Park in the rain? It was only logical to grab a few mountain bikes and hit the trails. (No, it really wasn’t logical, but that’s what we did.) So, just to give you an idea of what a soaking wet Lynnae looks like, I’d like to provide you with this flattering visual….

Rain poncho and MBC hoodie plus a lot of layers kept me warm.

Really though, it wasn’t that bad. I complain, but in actuality I had a really good time. The park was gorgeous.

My legs were killing me at this point…

After our mountain biking adventure we packed up to head to the next destination. By this time, it was raining dismally. We were planning to head to a national park west of Edinburgh, but our plans didn’t work out. What happened is that the road we were going down, the only way to go without a five hour detour, was closed due to a landslide from the excessive rain.

We changed our hostel for the night and the next morning made our way back the direction we came from and just did little things, including enjoying the drive. On the way out, we could see the awesome power of the flood waters coming down the mountains and streams.

The water here was super high and the dam had every flood gate open.

One place we took a stop at was the Wallace Monument. It looked daunting from afar and we hiked up the hill to where it was to stretch our legs after being in the car for so long.

 

The other place we stopped before hitting the airport was Blackness Castle. It was rainy so we just looked around a bit and took a few photos before moving on.

 

That’s the story of our four days in Scotland! We saw a lot, had a phenomenal time, and it was money well spent. But seriously, go to that tea room.

Cheers!