Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

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!

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

“Winter” (spring) break

So, we had the first full week of March off for our “Winter” break here in Bavaria (it’s really spring break, but whatever I’m not arguing details) and my original plan was to travel solely to Portugal. Then due to a culmination of factors, including but not limited to cheap flights, gatherings of friends, Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day, and travel opportunities, I decided to add New Jersey/New York into the mix. I left early Friday morning (mind you, I hosted an American drinking games seminar at my place Thursday night- not the best timing on my part) and landed in Newark, New Jersey Friday afternoon! First time back in the US in over six months and it was exciting but weird- not to speak English, but to hear others around me always speaking English as well as seeing my friends again. Looking back on it, the whole thing feels like it was just a dream.

After I landed, I made my way over to Hoboken where I stayed with three of my guy friends who went to BC. Various other additions of friends as well as people I didn’t know proceeded to make their way over to the apartment throughout the night and it ended up being a good time. Mind you, I was proud that I somehow stayed awake until midnight without napping which proved to be the best thing to fight off any potential jet lag. Saturday morning we were up early (about 7) and ready to take the first Irish car bombs at 8.

Girls celebrating St. Paddy's

Hoboken celebrates St. Patrick’s Day the first Saturday in March (like U of I and Unofficial) and I was not disappointed. I felt like I was back in college- in a very good way. I headed to the bar around 9.45 (yes, a.m.) and met up with some of my other friends- a few of the boys didn’t read their email very closely and didn’t know I was coming which made for a great unexpected surprise. The rest of the day was great just catching up with friends and everyone attempting to relive the glory days (so long ago… less than a year)

Sunday the weather perfectly reflected everyone’s hangovers moods and proceeded to downpour the entire day. I said bye to Jersey and headed into Manhattan. Had a casual night of sushi and New York style pizza for dinner while watching bad reality tv with most of the group from the bar the day before. Monday wasn’t too exciting except that I finally got my laptop fixed! I wholly appreciate the Genius Bar as well as the ability to explain the problems in English. I took advantage of being in the city and the nice weather and explored a bit (but not too much since I was lugging my suitcase everywhere) and later met up with Becky (my other half while studying abroad) after work! We met up with another friend for drinks after work (it feels so grown up saying that) then off to dinner where yet another friend joined us. Seriously, it was a great extended weekend for seeing/catching up with friends.

Tuesday came and after a relaxing morning and extensive shopping in Soho (Forever21 anyone?) it was time for me to leave the US yet again, at least until July. But don’t worry, my spring break adventure isn’t over yet. After my overnight flight, I landed in Lisbon Wednesday morning! I wasn’t meeting up with my friend until later so I explored the city by myself for most of the day. I took the Santa Justa lift (100 year old elevator which still functions) up to a platform for a great view of the city, then walked around to find some ruins and a cathedral (of course) which I went in and walked around (you’re welcome, dad). I walked down to the harbor/port and sat there for a while enjoying the warm weather. Later I met up with Philipp, a German friend of mine who I stayed with, and we went out to dinner at this great Brazilian-style restaurant. The plate comes with raw meat, a side of sauces, and a steaming hot stone on which you grill your own meat. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe how good it was. Afterwards, we bought some beer and enjoyed an even better view of the city at night (the views just kept getting better).

view of Lisbon

Thursday Philipp took me around the city and it’s safe to say I’m in love with Lisbon. I knew absolutely nothing about it before going, had no expectations, and now I would definitely go back in a heartbeat. We rode the old classic streetcars which are from the early twentieth century and are not really modernized at all. Lisbon may seem small at first glance, especially from some of the lookout points, but it’s deceiving. It’s made up of a series of hills (I think 7?) which makes it much bigger- and confusing- than I thought. The streetcars ride all over up and down the hills and were probably one of my favorite parts (along with the great views). Grabbed some coffee/breakfast in a park then did some more streetcar riding to various beautiful parts of the city. We took the metro out to the World’s Fair grounds (Lisbon hosted in 1998) which is right along the water. As Philipp explained to me, the theme of that year’s worlds fair was the ocean and everything was somehow connected to it.

Jesus, up close

Thursday was much more relaxing (not that any of this is stressful). Philipp had an interview for an internship so one of his roommates offered to make me lunch. She made some traditional Brazilian food (there was no shortage of good food this trip) and Philipp returned by the time we were done. Since he had rented a car for the day, we went to one of the premier attractions- the mall! We met up with two other friends of his since they had to go wetsuit shopping. The three of them were going to learn how to surf on Sunday at their friend’s beach house (yeah, their study abroad year has been really tough). After that fun excursion the four of us drove across the bridge to Cristo-Rei, or the Jesus statue. Yes, it looks exactly like the one in Rio de Janeiro but was surprisingly built after (and is 2 meters shorter, I think).

Thursday night we all went over to one of the guy’s apartments to cook dinner together- shrimp scampi, I was impressed, not to mention all of the seafood is incredibly fresh! We went out that night in Bairro Alto, a really fun area and right by the apartment, and I somehow woke up on time for my flight the next morning. Back in Germany it’s been cloudy and not as sunny, and I’m longing to go back to Lisbon already. This next week will definitely keep me busy (and hopefully give nicer weather?): I leave tomorrow for Berlin since we’ve got a week long seminar there for the Fulbright program. More updates after I get back!

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pre-Christmas (by Mom)

This is the last of the family updates, and it’s out of order. Sorry. Chronologically, this one should come first but then the rest all fall into place. It’s been nice and easy having ‘guest bloggers’; now I’ll have to go back to actually writing and updating. Anyway, here’s mom’s take on our few days before Christmas:

Whew!  I wasn’t quite sure if we were going to make it to Germany for Christmas this year.  But on the day we flew out, they had just re-opened the Frankfurt airport, so I knew all was well.

Maura and I had an uneventful flight after that.  We caught our connection in Amsterdam, although I wish our layover had been longer- I would have loved to have done some shopping at that airport.   We landed in Frankfurt, connected with Tim and Cala, but  looked frantically for our luggage for 2 hours. Fortunately, those scanning baggage claim tickets saved us and Maura would be able to see Germany (she packed her daily contacts in her checked suitcase)  Off to the train to Wurzburg to see Colleen!!

We found our way to the hotel, settled in and Colleen came over after her lacrosse practice.  We headed off to a quaint pub/restaurant for dinner, where I took her suggestion and had currywurst, and the rest dined on schnitzel (veal,) and pasta and toasted  the holidays with their great beers. Off to slumber early as it was a long day.

Wednesday we had planned to attend an authentic Christkindl (Weihnachts) market and we definitely weren’t disappointed.  The weather was perfect, cold and a little snow to add to the atmosphere, just like Chicago. We walked around the market, enjoyed some Gluhwein, Cala found a place for chocolate crepes, and did some souvenouir shopping for friends back home. Colleen’s friend Jessie was arriving that day, so she went to meet her at the train station while we continued shopping. Our plan was to meet at 3:00pm at the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, Würzburg’s Residenz.

 

This is one of the most important Castles in Europe (so they say about all of them, don’t they?). Built in 1720-1744 based on the design by Balthasar Neuman  with help from L.von Hildebrandt and M.von Welsh of Mainz. Not destroyed in 1945 were the magnificent staircase with its self-supporting vault and the brilliant ceiling painting by the Venetian artist G.B Tiepolo. Also known for its ornate stucco ornamentation by A. Bossi. This is also the site where they were filming the 3 Musketeers with Orlando Bloom, Colleen does claim a sighting of him during the production (not claim, it really happened. And I ran into him and his wife Miranda Kerr at our outdoor market. My only celeb sighting but pretty awesome).

On our way back to the hotel, we opted to stop for coffee/hot chocolate at a cute little place. We warmed up, then headed back out into the cold, back to our hotel.  We asked at the desk for dinner recommendations and they suggested a great Italian restaurant within walking distance.( No wonder the people are thin, they do walk a lot, but their one bad vice is smoking!) Everyone was able to find something on the menu that tempted their tastebuds, as well as dad,  though he wouldn’t quite splurge for a 50 Euro bottle of red wine, which led us to out last stop for the evening, a very nice Rathskellar. We did indulge in a very nice red (can’t quite remember the name) but the bottle was intriguing (note from Colleen: I’ll look for a picture but all of the wine bottles here in Franken are shaped differently than normal ones- see here if you’re really curious).  The shape reminded me of a fatter Hershey syrup container, short and fuller in the middle, but the wine was delicious, the conversation was constant and the company was priceless!  Back to the hotel to get ready for Christmas.

(for real continuity, you can refer back to Cala’s blog from here, if you’re desparate). I’ll add in pictures when I can; unfortunately the wi-fi on my laptop isn’t working but once I move (Feb 1st!) it’ll all get settled. Some brief updates other than the move:

– currently working on my mid-term report for Fulbright. It’s due by the end of the month (whoops)

– successfully applied to grad schools and am waiting to hear back

– teaching is going well. We dont start our new semester until the end of February so I’m on the same schedule until then.

– We’re working on getting a few scrimmages/practice games scheduled for lacrosse which would be awesome

– I have no idea where I can watch the NFC championship tonight (it doesn’t start until 9pm here.. uh oh). But  GO BEARS!

January 23, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Venice

I’m just sitting here enjoying some Italian pizza and red wine here in Venice. It’s wonderful. But let me backtrack…. Becky and I stayed in Munich the night we got in and our hostel was very nice. It was called Wombats and we’d definitely recommend it to anyone who ever stops in Munich. We got up early the next morning and got to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) with plenty of time to catch our train to Venice. I’m usually one for falling asleep within 5 minutes on a moving vehicle, but I am so glad I stayed awake for this ride. The scenery through the Alps of Southern Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy was beautiful. Austria

Apologies for my reflection off the glass. I took this one while we were going through Austria. We arrived safely at the train station in Venice and made it to our hostel around 9 pm. It’s definitely not like the last one; we’re pretty much in trailers. But hey, we’re young and trying to save money and it is clean. So today we ventured into Venice. Our hostel is on the main land and it’s about a 15 minute ferry ride over to the island (we can walk to the ferry from our hostel). Venice is absolutely amazing. It’s carnivale here, their mardi gras celebration, and the costumes were intricate and beautiful. I’ll just post a few but they’re unbelievable.

carnival

masked man

Venice as a city is amazing, and we walked around for the entire day never tiring of the sights. We ate lunch at a cute little cafe and they have the best coffee here. People were walking around everywhere in costume or just with masks, and we were lucky enough to have been there on a day of costume judging which consisted of people walking a runway in costumes for an hour. The Plaza San Marco was gorgeous as was the basilica. I could go on and on but just leave you a few pictures instead as time’s running out (I had to pay for an hour of internet here; it’s not free like the last one). We’re onto Florence tomorrow. Ciao!

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February 20, 2009 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment