Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

Cinque Terre (aka my dream trip)

Cinque Terre is someplace I’ve wanted to go ever since before I left to study abroad in the spring of 2009. When I said I’d be traveling around, more than one person highly recommended Cinque Terre in Italy, a cluster of five small towns along the west coast between Genova and Pisa. After doing a bit of research I immediately wanted to go and vowed I would get there at some point. It worked out perfectly that Amanda had scheduled her spring break to end there and I was more than happy to accompany her and her friends.

I’m really not going to talk too much about it since the pictures speak for themselves (and more). We had four days there, did the hike through the five towns on our second day, relaxed on the beach the third, and left the fourth. It was absolutely perfect, the weather couldn’t have been better, it’s right before the tourist season so it wasn’t too crowded, the pizza and gelato were delicious, and it exceeded all of my expectations. I would recommend this place to absolutely anyone and if you’re ever planning a trip to Europe, you have to stop here. Enjoy the pictures! (and yes, you can click on individual ones to make them bigger in a new window)

The first town, Monterosso, and the beach we were at

Lookout from the first town

Amanda and I with Vernazza in the back

Vernazza, town #2

BC pride in front of Corniglia (town #3)

Corniglia

Riomaggiore, home sweet home

view from right outside the hostel

Perfect ending to vacation

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Easter Break- part 1

Okay well on a much lighter note… I had the last two weeks free for Easter break!! I could really get used to the German school system here, about 6 or 7 weeks of school then a 1 or 2 week break. I’ve got another 2 week break coming up in June, travel suggestions welcome. So the first week of break was relatively uneventful, just stayed in Würzburg and caught up on some rest, tv, made carrot cake (!! my cooking skills are steadily improving) then jetted off for the second week. Landed in Malta late Friday night and after ten very anxious minutes of me not being able to get into my hostel, all was well.  How did I end up deciding to go to Malta you ask? I decided to join up with Amanda, a family friend who is studying abroad in France, and a group of her friends- all Notre Dame students by the way- and despite my BC status we got along well. Explored Valletta, the capital city, by myself the first few days since the girls weren’t getting in until Sunday/Monday. Went to a disappointingly small and not very ornate Easter mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, enjoyed the sun at an outdoor cafe, went to a few museums (National Museum of Fine Art- good exhibit on Mucha, the Czech father of Art Nouveau and National Museum of Archeology, which was basically like Guns Germs and Steel -Malta style-in museum form. Sidenote- I recommend that book for anyone interested in human geography/sociology/in general) The island is beautiful and although not very large, still has a lot to offer.

street in Valletta

Monday I did a day trip to the center of the island (I was staying on the East coast) to the towns Mdina and Rabat. I use the term “day trip” loosely because it took about 30 mins by bus to get there, but is still considered a trip on the island. Mdina is a tiny city, completely walled, no cars allowed. Took me about 20 minutes to walk the entire thing- went in the cathedral (of course) and the museum where I actually found myself liking Dürer’s wood-carving prints (never thought I’d say that after my Art in Munich course). Walked over to Rabat and went down into St. Paul’s catacombs- the thing’s pretty big! (obviously can’t be compared to the catacombs in Paris, but still) Almost all “attractions” in Rabat are named after St. Paul since he was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta and supposedly spent time in Rabat.

Malta reminded me of a mixture between Egypt and Portugal. Which, after my visit to the Archaeology Museum, proved not to be too bad of a theory (Malta was invaded/taken over by various groups from both Europe and Northern Africa). The driving is much safer than in Cairo (no fend-for-your-life defensive driving) but they still don’t follow road signs/lane lines. The city was mostly a tan/brown color (also like Cairo) but really hilly (Lisbon). The port/seaside was beautiful (Lisbon, also Alexandria), but given the fact I was there on a holiday weekend, it was hard to get a feel for the city life since not a lot was open.

Harbor in Sliema

Tuesday I met up with the Notre Dame girls and it rained, therefore ruining our beach plans.So we just hung out for the day, read, chatted, and made our own dinner (great fajitas and guacamole). Wednesday we were up and ready to go for our day trip to Gozo, an island off the northwest coast of mainland Malta. We weren’t deterred by the clouds in the morning (which again made the SPF 50 I had put on completely irrelevant). Yes, I had SPF 50 due to the following conversation at the CVS-equivalent in Germany before I left:

Me (to salesperson): Hi I was just wondering if this suntan lotion protects against UVA and UVB because it only says UVA (this is SPF 30, just fyi)

Saleswoman: Oh yes it protects against both. *looks me and my pale Irish skin up and down*… Where exactly are you traveling?

Me: I’ll be in Malta for 6 days then going to Italy!

Saleswoman: Yeah… you’re going to want to buy SPF 50 to use at least for the first few days then you can shift down to SPF 30.

We underestimated the time it would take for us to get up to the north coast on the bus, take a ferry, take a bus to the center of Gozo, and another bus/walk to the beach we wanted to go to. Our destination was Ramla Bay, and eight of us started off the day together. We left two in Victoria, the main town in Gozo, and left 3 more after we reached this point:

Ramla Bay, in the distance

See that cove all the way in the back? Yes, we trekked there. And I mean trekked. The bus only runs during the high tourist months (June-September). The road was long and winding and would have taken much too long so we found a footpath through the land which looked promising.

Improvisation

Well the footpath ended about halfway down, forcing us to.. improvise. 20 minutes later, covered in mud, sweaty, a bit scraped, and providing entertainment to those who watch CC-TV in Malta, we arrived at Ramla Bay! It was definitely well worth the trek. Pictures are really the only thing that will do it justice. The guidebook had said how red the sand was and blue the water would be, but it’s hard to imagine unless you see it yourself. And, after coming all that way, we had to go for a quick swim in the Mediterranean (even though it was freezing) followed by a great cheap meal at the cafe. We made it back on time for the ferry and we all celebrated the end of Malta together over dinner at a restaurant. I’d say Malta was a successful trip and I really liked it despite knowing nearly nothing beforehand (I feel that’s a theme of mine…) and I was ready to head off to Italy! But that definitely deserves its own post (and pictures)

Ramla Bay

Success!

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holidays in Hamburg

I swear the closer we get to Christmas, the more slowly time moves. I can’t believe I was in Hamburg only last weekend! After school on Thursday, I booked it to the train station as quickly as possible to make sure I made it up to Hamburg in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Brendan, an American Fulbrighter from BC, graciously offered to play host to me for the weekend, ensuring I wouldn’t be spending such an important American holiday alone. I made it up with plenty of time to spare, and joined the group of four American Fulbrighters in Hamburg and one American Fulbrighter visiting from Berlin. Our group grew to a size of 8, including a French Fulbrighter as well as a German who wandered into the kitchen claiming that ‘it smelled good and he was just curious to see what was going on’. (of course you can’t turn anyone away at Thanksgiving…)

Fulbrighters and our Thanksgiving meal!

What may be most impressive is the fact that the group of boys cooked the entire meal! We had a turkey that I think was about 4kg (so 9lbs), mashed potatoes, carrots in brown sugar, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and to top it all off, a pumpkin cheesecake complete with a walnut maple glaze. This whole time, mind you, we two girls sat at the table, chatted and drank wine- a welcome change of pace! The meal turned out really well; everything tasted wonderful. We even all ended up going around the table and saying what we were thankful for- it started off as half-joking but we all had a lot to appreciate- that much was clear by the end.

Oh I should also mention that Germany has perfect timing in welcoming the winter season. Thanksgiving day was the first day it snowed over here, and it’s snowed at least every 2 days since. Granted, we don’t have a huge accumulation of snow but it definitely helps get you in the Christmas spirit. That being said, the next day Brendan and I went out and enjoyed Hamburg in the snow. Hamburg is different from any German city I’ve visited for a number of reasons:

It’s actually the second largest city in Germany with about 2 million people. (Berlin is first with I think 3 mil and Munich comes in 3rd with a little over 1 mil). Hamburg is a huge shipping port and there was no shortage of boats/barges/cruise ships out on the water. Due to its proximity to a major body of water, seafood is abundant. That translated to fish sandwiches for breakfast, something I wasn’t totally on board with at first but ended up being pretty good (I still prefer the southern German breakfast of bread and butter/jam/nutella/cheese/meat). So we walked around the harbor for a while and then took a ferry ride so I could see a little bit more of the city. Stopped in St. Michael’s Church (because every good self-respecting German city has at least one must-see church), walked through town some more before finally ending up at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market).

at the Weihnachtsmarkt

Almost every German city has a Weihnachtsmarkt, with the one in Nuremburg being the largest and most famous. They tend to open the weekend before the first Sunday of advent and stay open until the 23rd or Christmas Eve.

The stalls at the Weihnachtsmarkt sell anything from socks to cooking utensils to the more traditional ornaments and candles. We spent a good amount of time just walking around, taking everything in before warming up with some Glühwein. There really is no American equivalent for Glühwein, though the Brits call it “mulled wine”. It’s basically warm wine with spices. This was the first Weihnachtsmarkt where I saw white wine Glühwein (though it turns out they also have it here in Würzburg). You have to pay a 2.50 Euro deposit for your mug, but that’s because each city, or sometimes even stall, has unique mugs which they use to serve the Glühwein in. (obviously I thought 2.50 was a good price for the mug and took mine with me).

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the same manner (Glühwein, walking around Hamburg, back to the Weihnachtsmarkt) before going out that night with other American, French, and Spanish Fulbrighters. That was one thing I was really jealous about, that there’s such a contingent of Fulbrighters/international students in Hamburg. Then again, it is a much larger city, but still.

Hamburg town hall and Weihnachtsmarkt

This week back in Würzburg was actually pretty busy too. It snowed here as well, we had our usual lacrosse practices three times this week (two of which are outside. yes in the snow and negative-celsius-degree weather), our Weihnachtsmarkt is open, I signed my subletter-lease for my apartment AND successfully celebrated my 23rd birthday! A group of girls from the lacrosse team joined me in celebrating which included Glühwein, beer, champagne at midnight on the bridge over the Main river, and dancing away until the late hours of the night/early hours of the morning. Very successful overall.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bamberg: A vision of pre-war Germany

I’ve finally figured out my plans for Thanksgiving- I’ll be going up north to Hamburg to celebrate with another Fulbrighter and some other Americans! I’m heading out right after my classes tomorrow to make it just in time for dinner. It’ll be really nice to be with other Americans, especially since I know everyone back home is getting together with their families and friends.Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, since it’s one of the few that isn’t so commercially based (even if the day right after it is), and more focused on appreciation and everyone being together.

After our lacrosse “team night” on Thursday, we struggled through practice Friday, and I went out with the two British teaching assistants in my town Friday night. Saturday, however, I wanted to do something a little bit different. There’s a Fulbrighter, who I met at orientation, currently living/teaching in Bamberg, a town about an hour east of Würzburg. I’ve been thinking about heading over there for a while, and all of the Germans I’ve told this to have emphatically recommended it.

Altes Rathaus (former town hall)

Würzburg was about 90% was destroyed in WWII just weeks before they surrendered to American forces. Würzburg was actually more completely destroyed than Dresden- for those of you who have seen the pictures, that’s hard to imagine. Bamberg, on the other hand, wasn’t touched at all due to a nearby artillery factory. So, many Germans idealize Bamberg since they feel it represents a typical German town pre-World War II. The whole town is actually a UNESCO world heritage site, which I think is pretty cool.

'little Venice'

Once I get in to the train station, my fellow Fulbrighter meets me there and we just walk around town for most of the day. The Altes Rathaus is beautiful, complete with paintings on the side. We also visited the Old Palace, the cathedral (of course), stopped at the lookout point, and walked along the river. Apparently Bamberg is known as Germany’s ‘little Venice’ and it wasn’t hard to see why with all of the houses and boats along the river.

Of course no visit to a German town is complete without sampling the local beer. I’m told that Bamberg itself has about 9 breweries and the area around it about 40 or so. Bamberg is best known for its Rauchbier, or smoked beer. It’s a dark beer and they dry the malt over open flames (hence the smoke flavor). If you’re more interested in the brewing procedures click here. As far as taste goes, the best way I can describe it is that it’s like drinking beer and bacon together, in one drink. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s all I’ve got. I enjoyed it, but it’s definitely not a beer you drink quickly or have five of in a night (at least not for me). Also, the tavern we went to have drinks at is 1. also a brewery and 2. one of the more famous ones in Bamberg (see picture below). It’s called the Schlankeria, just in case anyone’s planning on making a trip.

Bamberg was a really nice town to visit and I’m glad I got the opportunity to go. This week has gone pretty well so far. I had a ‘trial lesson’ yesterday at the language school in town because I’ve decided to… start taking French lessons. Yes, you read that right. I figured there’s a better chance of learning it here, in a closer vicinity to France, than at home. And why French you ask? I figure with public health it will be useful (Haiti, West Africa), and I enjoy learning languages. My language tutor looked like a scholarly Thierry Henry (hey, I’m not complaining). But the lessons really help my German as well since I’m learning French in the context of German (talk about confusing). Henry doesn’t speak any English so I’m forced to resort to German/French. We’ll see how it goes!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

November 24, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Egypt part II: Cairo and Alexandria

Sorry for the delay in posting, I’ve gotten a little preoccupied with other things (getting a bike, applying to grad school and the peace corps) but more on those later….

So day two in Cairo: Jessie and I get up and ride the metro to Coptic Cairo. The Copts are Egyptian Christians, and the Coptic area is rumored to have been visited by the Holy Family.

hanging church

hanging church

We first went to the Hanging Church which appears to be grounded at first glance but due to some sort of architectural magic it’s suspended over a passage. It was, of course, beautifully and intricately decorated, complete with ivory fillings in wooden carvings. From there we walk around the rest of the area which includes more churches and even a synagogue, which was apparently right near the spot where Moses was found in the reeds.

We ride the metro back to downtown and walk around for a bit. I should mention the metro experience- they have separate cars for men and women, and Jessie told me that’s a good thing; we want to be in the women’s car. It gets so crowded in the mens car with people pressed up against each other whereas the women’s car has much more space (due to less women riding the metro than men). We stop for lunch and get koshari, a traditional Egyptian food. It’s really cheap, but really filling due to the fact that it’s mostly carbs. I think it was a combination of pasta, rice, lentils, onions, and chickpeas with a garlic and hot sauce. SO good. Then we (thankfully) proceeded to walk around for a few hours to burn off our bajillion carbs.

It turns out to be one of Jessie’s roommates birthdays, so we all go out for the night to celebrate. We start off by chartering a felucca on the Nile. A felucca is basically a big Egyptian sailboat. The view was amazing, the weather was warm, and I was riding a boat on the Nile at night. Can’t complain.

birthday group

We all went out to a club afterwards and continued to celebrate probably a little too late into the night. 3 hours later we’re up and rushing off to the train station with a friend of Jessie’s, hoping we don’t miss our train to Alexandria. We make it there fine and pass out the entire duration of the 2.5 hour trip.

Alexandria is absolutely beautiful. I liked Cairo a lot, but I could see myself living in Alexandria. Right on the water, not as big/crowded as Cairo, great library (obviously a plus for Jessie also). First things first, we get lost trying to find the Roman ruins but wander through a great market nonetheless. Find our way to the Roman ruins, including the Roman Theater, and some of the areas were roped off since there’s still excavation going on. After a confusing cab ride, we arrive at the greatest juice place ever. It’s called “King of Mango” and if anyone is ever in Alexandria I insist you go.

 

From there we walk to a restaurant for lunch which provides another miraculously delicious meal. We selected fresh seabass and crayfish (I think? Not a seafood expert), sit down, and are provided with an array of appetizers- Egyptian bread and a few hummus-like dips. They bring out the seafood and it’s amazing. We didn’t order anything special, just picked the food, and they chose how to cook it for us, complete with spices. After lunch, we walk along el corniche (the waterfront) to the library.

library from the outside

The library of Alexandria is a marvel for both its architecture and its content. It’s second in the world only to the US Library of Congress, and it used to be the biggest/most significant library of the ancient world, before it was destroyed. For anyone who knows Jessie well, you’ll know she loves libraries (especially Bapst) so this was fun for her too. Although, she did say she doesn’t know how much studying she could do there, since there’s tourists coming in and out all the time and taking pictures.

We stop for some tea/coffee then make our way back to the train station. Since it’s my last night, Jessie and I go out to a really nice restaurant for dinner. She lives in a section of Cairo called Zamalek, which is an island in the Nile. The restaurant was on the tip of the island, so it’s surrounded by water on three sides.

library from the inside

It’s decorated beautifully with billowing white sheets and candles and of course, the food is wonderful. (sushi for Jessie, kabobs for me). Fall break was definitely a success and I’m so glad I not only got to experience Cairo and Egypt but see and spend time with one of my really good friends.

Since I’ve been back, nothing too exciting has been going on but it’s starting to pick up. The Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) is under construction and opens any day now which I am so excited for! I’m also hoping to get to Nuremberg for a day to see the big one there. Teaching has been going well, the 11th grade is getting into units on America so for the next few weeks I get to explain the voting process, electoral college (ugh) and civil rights. Any suggestions?

I’ve also gotten a bike- one of the teacher’s from the school has loaned it to me for the year- which makes getting into town much quicker (although about equal for the way back home since it’s an uphill ride). Lacrosse continues to go well, I’m scheduling a meeting with the head of University Sport next week to see if we can get our own practice times. We had a “team evening” yesterday with the boys team, and it was fun to get to know everyone/see them in clothes other than workout gear. We’ve got practice tonight, then it’s officially the weekend!

 

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Germany, Travel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The much-awaited Cairo.. Part I

I made it back from Cairo safe and sound and it was absolutely AMAZING! Jessie and I crammed a week’s worth of activities into 3 days and since there’s so much to tell/show I’m doing two separate entries (otherwise I’ll probably lose everyone’s attention, including my own)

I flew into Cairo from Frankfurt last Tuesday and met Jessie at the airport (after a few delays on both sides). Jessie is one of my roommates from college who studied abroad in Cairo and lives there now. It was so unbelievably good to see her. We grabbed some shawarma for dinner on the way back to her apartment (a döner, in German) and just hung out since I got in kind of late. Also- a disproportionate amount of this blog will be dedicated to food. Apologies if you’re hungry.

Wednesday we’re up and off to the pyramids in Giza by 10am. Contrary to popular belief, Giza isn’t that far away from downtown Cairo at all. pyramid Jessie mentioned how it’s actually a little disappointing to see the pyramids next to some of the bigger buildings of Cairo- we felt they kind of deserved their own space. They’re intimidating in person. I knew they would be big, I just had no idea exactly how tall they were. (And yes Cala, and all you Despicable Me fans, they were real). Only one of the main three has some of the original limestone covering left- the rest was stolen to be used as decoration in palaces around the city. The big three were built to be tombs for kings while the smaller ones were for the queens (typical). The pyramids are right in the desert, and in order to get a good view of all of them you have to walk a ways. There were plenty of chances for camel rides and I figured, when in Egypt, and made Jessie ride a camel with me out to the viewpoint. Top ten terrifying moments of my life: when a camel gets up and/or kneels down. I was 90 percent sure I was going to fall. Our guide felt comfortable enough with letting me guide our camel “pepsi” and once I got over my fear of falling off it was pretty cool. (yes, that is me- the tiny person in front of the pyramid, about 1/3 way from the left)

camel So after our camel ride we see the Sphinx and head back into the city. We then embark on a tour of Jessie’s favorite part of the city: Islamic Cairo. (I apologize in advance for the lack of knowledge about the names of the mosques. If I find them I will gladly put them in). We decided to make our way from the north end of the city to the south-  those are the locations of Cairo’s two main gates successfully used to protect the city from invaders (you can even see where they spilled hot oil from). Our first stop on the trail of mosques had absolutely beautiful doors (Jessie’s favorite part)- and she tells me that in ancient times, doors were taken and brought back to the city as a symbol of victory.

The first mosque was one of my favorites (along with the last one, which is Jessie’s favorite). This one had a huge open courtyard with a big fountain in the middle- each mosque has a fountain so people can wash their hands and feet before they pray. Almost every inch in the mosque, aside from the courtyard, was intricately decorated. mosque You would think all of the patterns and designs would make it look too busy, but it all flowed together really well. Islam doesn’t allow idols or images in the mosques, so instead everything is expressed geometrically, and the hexagon is especially predominant. There were also intricate wooden carvings that used to be filled with ivory, but the ivory was stripped and sold at one point when the mosques were raided.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant which (thankfully) had air conditioning upstairs- Jessie complained it was “cold” aka 80 degrees. Jessie ordered (yay Arabic skills) for us- a hummus-like dip with garlic and pita bread, and a cheese fatir which we split. The fatir is kind of like an Egyptian calzone but has a flaky dough layer on top. Kind of like what you’d find on baklava but not sweet. Oh and we also had good mango juice. Then back through the rest of the market and onto the mosques. We must have gone in at least 7 or 8. Each one was unique- but most had an open-air courtyard of sorts which I really appreciated (it only rains twice a year in Cairo). We even climbed up one of the minarets of one of the mosques which was another one of my top ten terrifying experiences. But the rickety staircase held up and proved to be worth the climb. We could see for miles from the top- I didn’t really grasp the fact that Cairo really is in the middle of a desert until then. Everything’s pretty sand-colored but still nice to look at. We could see the bigger mosques, the path we had walked, and the “westernized” part of town (mostly composed of hotels where foreigners stay).

We (safely) climbed back down and went to Jessie’s favorite mosque. It was really beautiful with a huge open courtyard, billowing curtains, and a white marble floor. j's mosque I can definitely see why she loves it. We relaxed there for a while (not to mention our feet were tired from all the walking) before moving onto the city gate. From there we made our way back into the maze of the bazaar to Fishawi’s- a famous coffeehouse. It’s been open for 300 years (it’s open 24 hours, only closed during Ramadan) and is a favorite spot for both tourists and native Egyptians (which is what I think makes it so cool). I had some tea (with mint!) before we met up with one of Jessie’s friends from work to go see a Sufi whirling show.

The Sufi are whirling dirvishes who spin to get closer to God. There were musicians too- mostly on drums and an oboe-like instrument- and then a few men who spun. It sounds kind of boring, watching people spin around for over an hour but it was actually really entertaining. The first guy spun for almost half an hour by himself! I have no idea how he didn’t fall flat on his face. The “spinners” wore colorful outfits and multiple layers of large skirts which spun with them, and they removed at certain points throughout the performance. I did get a few pictures where they look still but I feel the ones in motion give a better feel for it. whirling dirvish

Okay so all of that happened in ONE day (Jessie literally is a master of leading sightseeing). Needless to say we were exhausted, ordered in food and went to bed to prepare for the next few days (more Cairo and Alexandria)! Since this blog has taken me way too long to write (I blame uploading the large-file pictures) I’m going to end it here but I’ll get to part II tomorrow or Saturday!

Other random updates:

I got a package from home today!! … and I’ve been stuffing my face with peanut butter cups and oreos ever since. amazing.

Since Germans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas season is in full swing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but it feels a bit early for everything….

My attempts to build a lacrosse team are going well- we had 12 girls at practice yesterday which was the same amount the guys had- hah!

November 11, 2010 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment