Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

21 Things That Studying Abroad Has Taught Me

Monday, December 8th, 2014

And now the fall semester is winding to a close, and as I look back on my summer semester abroad, I am reminded of all the things that studying abroad has taught me and has helped me grow as a person.  Although there are probably more things than what I have written about, this is what came to mind first.

 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”  – Mark Twain

 

  1. It’s OK to be on your own sometimes.

    DSCF8307While living in Germany, I lived in an apartment with three other German girls, none of whom ever spoke to me. It was the equivalent of living on your own, but only in a one-room apartment.  Since I am an only child, the quiet didn’t seem to bother me that much, but when it did get to me on occasion, the fact that I was living alone just made me have to get out of my apartment and visit friends, or explore the city.  Travelling on your own gives you a chance to actually take in everything around you, instead of being distracted by your friends’ conversation.

  2. It builds confidence.

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    Whether it was figuring out the rail system, or looking for cheap and clean hostels, you learn to be confident in yourself and trust your own instincts.  Especially when everything is in another language, it can be a bit intimidating, but you have to know (or at least look like you know) what you are doing.

  3. Anytime is the right time for a Bratwurst.

    Anytime of day, whether it’s lunchtime, dinnertime, or almost midnight, you somehow find room for a €1 Bratwurst from Domplatz.  Even though some Germans said that they weren’t that great, they were the cheapest Bratwursts in Erfurt, and very rarely would you get a stale Brötchen – that only happened if it was almost closing, or if they were at the end of a bag…

  4. It’s never too late to discover new places.

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    Even during my last few days in Erfurt, I discovered a new park, and a new alternate route into the Altstadt!  Even after living in one place from years (or in this case months), you can still find new places to explore.  The world is such a fascinating place!

  5. Take advantage of the proximity to other European countries.

    Everything is relatively close together in Europe!  Use this to your advantage, and travel to other countries.  Since we were only allowed to miss two classes of each course, and each course met only once a week, you could technically skip a full week of classes and go backpacking!  This is exactly what I and three other friends did!  We skipped a week of classes and travelled to Rome!  With the help of cheap travel and accommodations, it was a relatively cheap trip!  We found round-trip train and airfare for less than €100, and 6 days in a bed-and-breakfast was around €250 per person!  If you walk around the city, you are really only paying for food and souvenirs during your trip.
    After classes were completed and before I flew back to the United States, I had a little over a week to carry out any last ditch travel plans, and that’s exactly what Anneka and I ended up doing.  It wasn’t really spontaneous, since we did have to plan in advance for this, but it was definitely worth it!  We bought a ticket that allowed us to use any train (including high-speed trains!) for 5 travel days within two months.  Our ticket package included Benelux and Germany, and we definitely took advantage of the opportunity in front of us.  We travelled through Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany: 11 cities within 6 days.  (I know it seems a little ambitious, but we did it!)  The cities we visited were (in this order): Luxembourg, Brugges, Bruxelles, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Münster, Dortmund, Essen, Düsseldorf, Köln, and Bonn.

  6. Trains are almost never on time…

    I had many late trains while travelling abroad. You just have to be patient and know that you will get through this hassle.  From our Benelux trip, Deutsche Bahn was the only train company that was late. Trains in other countries were very punctual compared to Germany.  The worst train delay we had was on our return journey, from Bonn, back to Erfurt.  We had to travel from Bonn to Mainz, where we would catch a connecting train that would take us back to Erfurt.  However, there were MAJOR delays and our first train was over an hour late.  We had no chance of catching our connection and it was the last valid day for our ticket! AHHH!!  Since we had no idea what to do, we hopped on a train to Frankfurt, in hopes that there would be possibly more connections since it was a bigger city.  While on the train, we asked a ticket collector what our best option was, and thanks to her, we were able to catch a train the next morning back to Erfurt with very little hassle!  The downside to that, we had to spend another night in a train station.

  7. Sleeping in a train station is not ideal, but doable.

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    When you are in a bind, and the next train isn’t coming until the morning, if push comes to shove, you can sleep at the train station  Just be sure that you are travelling with at least one other person, so that you can take turns staying awake and keeping watch on your bags and surroundings.  If you plan on doing this as part of your trip, it can get pretty chilly at night, so either be prepared for cold, or pack an extra jacket.  Or both.

  8. HOLA is a great thing when you want to watch your American shows that are blocked by GEMA.

    No other explanation is needed.  This little app that works within your browser, changes the VPN of your computer to think that it’s in another country.  This was a life saver when I needed to catch up on Grimm and The Walking Dead while abroad.

  9. Making friends with other international students is one of the best parts of studying abroad.

    DSCF6020Most likely, they are in the same situation that you are, so they are your support system and understand what you are going through.  You will also have lifelong friends from all over the world once your semester/ year abroad is complete.

  10. Travelling pushes buttons you didn’t know you had.


    From my experiences abroad, I learned that I am such a pain when it comes to finding the hostel from the train station.  Anneka can vouch for this, since we have now travelled through 6 different countries together, and everytime, without fail, I would get fed up with the crappy directions that google gave us, and get really moody until we found the hostel.  Then everything would be fine.

  11. Wanderlust is an actual condition that you can never get rid of.

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    Ever since returning from Europe, all I can think about is when I will go back, and where I will go next trip, and which of my new international friends I will visit first.  Also since returning, I have been reading so many lists about travelling, and secretly agreeing with every point they make.  Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
    EX 1
    EX 2
    EX 3
    EX 4
    I have then proceeded to look at maps like THIS and think, “Wow… I need to see more places and travel more within the United States.”

  12. Your travel companions will be your new lifelong friends.

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    Maybe this is because you bond over the same travel experiences, or maybe because you are all the other person has, but you definitely become very close friends and will always have a travel buddy, even once you return home.  Luckily for me, my travel buddy goes to the same Uni as me! (Talking about you Anneka!)

  13. Pack lightly when backpacking.

    The only way not to kill your back while travelling is to pack light.  The only way to do this is to wear the same outfit for multiple days.  No one will notice if you change your scarf or jacket for the pictures!  Other travelers will understand, and this is completely acceptable in my book!

  14. Keep a souvenir from each city you visit.

    Choose one method and stick with it.  For me, I have collected postcards from every city that I have visited, and now I can look back through them and remember all of the places I have seen and things I have experienced.

  15. Studying abroad is less about the studying and more about the experience in a foreign country.

    DSCF5441Much to the dismay of my professors, I spent more time travelling and exploring new places than I did actually studying for the classes I took.  All of my classes abroad were fairly easy, and the teachers were not as strict as the ones at my home university.  I think that they understood that we were international students and just wanted to get a side of education with our travels.

  16. A phone is really not that important.

    After living a full 5 months without a phone was a nice break from the electronic device being surgically attached to every other American at home.  It is why I agree with videos like THIS and THIS and believe that there is a world that exists beyond the 4-inch screen, 12 inches from our face.

  17. Culture shock does exist.

    I did experience some culture shock; however, mine was not when I arrived in Germany.  I had reverse culture shock when I got back to the States.  The only problem I encountered upon arrival in Germany was jet lag, and getting used to the time difference.  The biggest culture shock, which I had to overcome, was the workload at my home Uni.  The courses are so much more rigorous here than they were in Germany.  I struggled to manage my time and focus on how much work I actually had to do to pass my classes at home!  It has taken some time to get used to the workload again, but I think by next semester, I will be fully acclimated again.  There was also the shock of having to drive everywhere, when I was so used to taking the tram and train everywhere.  This shock I got over pretty quickly, though.

  18. In theory, a blog is a great way to document your adventures abroad, but in reality, I let mine fall by the wayside.

    When I first left the country, I blogged almost every week to try to keep my website updated.  Slowly my blogs began to be spaced further and further apart, until I started to fully neglect my blog around late June.  It was at this point that I just posted my pictures on Facebook, and neither posted pics, nor updated entries.  I failed to share about my experiences about Berlin, Rome, Benelux, and my ordeal with my return flight home.  Although I shared these stories with family and friends by word of mouth, these memories never made it to page.
    Long stories short: You need at least a week to experience all of Berlin.  Warm and sunny Rome was a nice change from rainy Germany and the Colosseum IS as great as they say it is.  Benelux was such a whirlwind trip that I would like to go back and spend more time in each city.  Luxembourg had an extensive system of Casemates that holds a lot of history for such a small country.  Belgium has great beer, chocolate, and fries.  The Netherlands have great cheese (Gouda!) and lots of tulip fields (although I did not get to experience these tulip fields, it is on my bucket list and I will definitely go back when they are in season!)  The Kölner Dom is huge, and the Rheinturm in Düsseldorf has amazing views at night.  You can see for miles from up there! (Although I was only up in the tower at night, I think you can see the Kölner Dom from there during the day!!)  My return flight was cancelled, and I was booked on another flight, compensated for a night in a hotel, upgraded to economy plus, then upgraded to Business class at the terminal.  (I would now recommend Lufthansa to anyone who asks! Such a pleasant flight, once everything was sorted out with United…)

  19. Trust your gut.

    This was the first time that I travelled internationally by myself, and it is a completely different creature than travelling within the United States.  You have to have faith in yourself that you can accomplish anything!  When my United return flight was cancelled, I was rescheduled on Lufthansa and upgraded to Economy plus.  When I got to the airport the next morning, security was more of a hassle than usual – Once through normal security, I was “randomly” pulled aside to do a full body scan, where they had to swab the screens of all of my electronic devices, and then I had to power all of them on (I was flying about 1 month after THIS new law was added).  Once getting through that hassle, of course my gate was at the VERY end of the terminal, and it was a 10 minute walk there, with the rolling walkways.  Once at the terminal, I proceeded to stand in the line for the people at the desk without thinking about it.  By the time I reached the front of the line thoughts of getting out of line versus staying in line had all run through my brain.  Of course I decided to stay in line, just verify that I was booked on this flight, since my previous flight was cancelled.  It was here, that the woman upgraded me to Business class, at no extra charge!  I was one happy camper once on the plane!  We got to board first, and then they served us drinks while Economy class was still boarding!  The 3-course meal was served on REAL plates and we had a choice for each course.  They also served us complimentary wine, if that was what we chose to drink.  I was smiling from ear to ear the entire flight, and there was nothing that could stop me!  Once we landed at Dulles, we deplaned faster than economy, which meant that the customs line was substantially shorter and I got my luggage and got through customs faster than my parents could get to the airport from work!  I ended up waiting on them! (That never happens with international flights!)  Was all of this just luck? Or was it because of a gut feeling?  Even if your gut tells you to stand in a line for no reason whatsoever, trust that feeling… It may get you a $2,200 upgrade at no cost to you!

  20. Have no regrets.

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    This one is a little hard for me, because I had one major regret at the end of my semester abroad.  In the middle of the semester, a group of friends decided to go on a road trip to Croatia.  It was a long weekend, and I had a paper due when classes started back up on Tuesday.  I stayed behind in Erfurt to write my paper.  I regret not going to Croatia with them.  From their stories and photos, they had a phenomenal time and I wish that I had gone too.  Instead of staying behind to translate one stupid paper, I wish that I had asked for an extension and went to Croatia with them.  For most people, even getting the chance to study abroad is a once in a lifetime experience.  Take advantage of every opportunity that you get.  Don’t let any pass you by.

  21. Never stop travelling.

    As I write this, I am saddened by the fact that I am no longer in Europe for all of the festive holiday traditions, including Oktoberfest and Weihnachtsmarkt.  I yearn for the day that I can return to Germany for the holiday season and experience the real thing.  I made so many great memories that will last a lifetime and many good friends, with whom I hope to stay in contact for years to come.  The world is such an incredible place and I just want to see it all!  I have grown and matured so much throughout my travels, and the more I travel, the more I hope to grow and thrive on this breathtaking planet we call Earth.  In the wise words of Saint Augustine, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”  Never lose that wanderlust.

 

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people.  Let your memory be your travel bag.”  – Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

So much to do, so much to see!

Monday, June 30th, 2014

I would like to publicly apologize for how long it has been since my last post… These past few weeks have been incredibly busy with schoolwork, travel, and sightseeing! I simply have not had enough time to sit down and write a post!

Anyway, where do I begin? How about where I left off…

The weekend of May 23 – 25, Anneka and I traveled to Innsbruck, Austria and Neuschwanstein! That’s right folks, we went to another country!! AUSTRIA! We left after our Friday class, around 13:30, and arrived in Innsbruck around 20:00. We had to change trains a few times, but we got there!

Off to Austria.. OOH!

Off to Austria.. OOH!

First impression of Innsbruck: smelly. Smell was not what I was expecting, arriving in a city that I had heard so many good things about! Anneka and I first had to find the hostel before we did anything else. After about a 45 minute walk and 2.3 miles, we finally found it. At this point, it’s almost 22:00, and we’re both starving. We found a cute little Italian restaurant and decided to eat there – a glass of wine and half of a pizza.. you can’t go wrong with that, can you?

Fancy dinner with Anneka

Fancy dinner with Anneka

We woke up early, so we would have all day to explore the city. The sight of the surrounding mountains was breathtaking!! I kept taking pictures of the same mountains because it was just so majestic! Once we left the hostel, we headed toward the city center, and we first encountered the Zeughaus museum, but we decided not to tour it, and we said we would rather spend our time seeing the sights of the city, than inside a museum. So we ventured onward. Next we had a look inside of the Jesuit church, and then out to look around town!

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VonTrapp escape route.. (For you, Dad!!)

VonTrapp escape route.. (For you, Dad!!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wandered into the Bundesgarten/ Hofgarten behind the Landestheater, and discovered a knarly tree, great for pictures, and a jumbo chess set! The chess pieces were in a covered shelter-type area. Since the floor was wood, there were no markings for a board, so we set up the pieces and just imagined the squares. Although our board was a little larger than it should have been — our was 8×11, instead of 8×8, woops! We actually almost played a full game! I was about one move away from checkmate when two men asked if they could use the pieces to play a game. Since there were two sets of pieces, we said yes, but then they started taking the pieces we were playing with! It was only then that we realized that the boards were just outside of the shelter, around a group of benches… It was time to move on anyway, so we just called it a checkmate and went on our merry way.

 

Giant chess!

Giant chess!

It was a gorgeous day! The clouds just seemed to float through the sky and the light breeze was quite refreshing! We decided to take a break from exploring and sat down in a cafe and had a cappuccino and cake! I ordered an Apfelkuchen and Anneka got a Sachertorte. We split both of them, and the Sachertorte was delicious! It was my first time eating one, so I was surprised at how much I liked it. For those of you that know me, you know that I don’t really like chocolate cake, or chocolate flavored things. (I’d much rather just have a bar of chocolate than a chocolate cupcake or chocolate ice cream.)

Afternoon snack - Cappuccino mit Apfelkuchen und Sachertorte.. YUM!

Afternoon snack – Cappuccino mit Apfelkuchen und Sachertorte.. YUM!

After visiting the Grassmayr Bell Company, we wanted to visit the Ambras castle, but on our walk there, we realized that it was too far away and we were too ambitious to try to make it all that way and back to town before our train left. However, along the way we did run into the Olympic Ice Stadium and Tivoli Stadium! The Olympic Ice Stadium was home to the 1964 and ’76 Winter Olympics, and although we didn’t go inside, it was cool to snap a picture of the Olympic rings!

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After a day of walking all over Innsbruck, it was time to head back to the train station to catch our train to our next destination: Füssen! Füssen is the village that is closest to Schloss Neuschwanstein. We arrived in the village around 23:30, so we didn’t really have any time to see the town before heading to the hostel. The next morning, we were up and out pretty early. Since it was a Sunday, not much was open. On top of that, it was about 07:30, so it was still too early for the places that would be open. Anneka and I eventually found a little cafe that was open, and grabbed a pastry and coffee for breakfast. After that, it was off the the castle! It was about 09:30 when we arrived, and we still had to buy tickets, then make the hike up the mountain to actually get to the castle.

Our tour was at 10:25, but only about 30 minutes long. Since King Ludwig II died before completion, construction ended abruptly, and the castle remains only 1/3 completed. I would’ve loved to have seen the unfinished parts of the castle and it also would have been interesting to see what the castle would have looked like if it was 100% completed. Neuschwanstein is already huge, but if it was three times that size, it would be gigantic! Sadly, you can’t take pictures inside the castle, but the view from up there was incredible! Although it was a little hazy, you could see for miles! (Or should I say kilometers?) After our tour, we made another hike, up even further, to the Marienbrücke, or Mary’s Bridge, which is from where most pictures of the castle are taken. Once we hiked back down to the bus pick-up point, we rode back to Füssen just in time to catch our train and start our long journey home. I would like to go back to Füssen and explore the village itself, because there is also a castle there (Hohes Schloss), along with a few other sites that I wish we had time to see. We also did not have enough time to visit Hohenschwangau, the home of King Ludwig I, A.K.A. the parent’s castle.

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For more information on Innsbruck, click here.

For more information on Füssen, click here.

For more information on Neuschwanstein, click here.

 

The following Thursday, 29 May, was a holiday and we didn’t have classes, so Anneka and I spent the afternoon in Saalfeld, visiting Feengrotten, which literally translates to “Fairy Grottoes.” Feengrotten is a cave attraction in southeastern Thüringen, so we were able to get there for free with our student IDs. It was a dreary day and it had rained all morning and continued to rain the entire time we were there. Even though we were underground in the caves, it was still cold and damp, so it wasn’t the best experience that i could’ve had, but I’m still glad that I went! There were great photos though! However, I do have to say that it was not my favorite cave system.. That would still be Mammoth Cave in Kentucky!

29 May was a holiday in Germany, so it was like another Sunday – almost all stores were closed and the only places open were bars, pubs, and some cafes. What holiday could this possibly be, you ask?  It would be Männertag, or in English, Men’s Day. It’s the German version of Father’s Day, but it is celebrated VERY differently. Here, it’s a day where men venture out and the women and children tend to stay inside. The men enjoy a day full of drinking and bar hopping. Some even pull wagons full of beer with them! Originally, the men would actually go hiking and camping on Männertag, but I think nowadays, most men just go out drinking. On our way home, Anneka and I did see some men with camping gear on the train, and we applauded them for actually camping on such a cold and dreary Thursday!

For more information on Feengrotten, click here.

On 31 May, I decided to explore a part of Erfurt that I hadn’t seen yet. Jill and I rode the tram to the old town, got off, and got lost in the streets, findings new places and discovering new things. It was such a lovely afternoon and the weather was just perfect! After exploring a part of the city, Jill and I met a few other friends in Nordpark to grill and we had a picnic!

9 June was also a holiday, and since it was a long weekend, a group of exchange students decided to take a road trip to Croatia! I really wanted to go, but sadly, I had a 10 page take-home translation that was due in a few days, so I opted to stay behind. Another group of exchange students decided to dress up and go out to eat, and so we have dubbed this as “Fancy Friday.” On 6 June those of us that stayed in Erfurt dressed up in fancy clothes, took lots of nice pictures, and then went out for burgers. That was probably a sight to see: fancy people chowing down on a big ol’ burger… The next day, Anneka, Katie and I spent the afternoon at a spa. It was such a relaxing day! Sunday and Monday, however, I spent all day working on my translation. I had to translate into German, so it required a lot of effort and time. Sunday and Monday were incredibly hot! It was at least 32 degrees here! (That’s roughly 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and I have no AC… yuck!) When I went to class the following Tuesday, a handful of the class wanted to turn it in late, and the instructor was completely fine with that! If I had known this before the others left for Croatia, I definitely would have joined them. Not going to Croatia is the one thing that I regret thus far..

The weekend of 13 – 15 June was Krämerbrückenfest in Erfurt. The closest comparison that I could think of was a Medieval version of a Renaissance Fair. It was all there: the dress, the festival food, the vendors, the masses of people, everything! I have never seen that many people in Erfurt before. I actually did not enjoy the masses either. After Krämerbrückenfest, it just reinforced the idea that I made the right choice in choosing to study in Erfurt! :)

For more information on Krämerbrückenfest, click here.

Saturday, 14 June, I visited the Thüringer Zoopark right here in Erfurt! It was raining on and off throughout the day, but it was quite an experience for Erik, Anni, Alena, and me! Within the first five minutes of being inside the park, Erik was pooped on by a bird! Being from Finland, Anni had never seen a giraffe, elephant, or rhino before, so when we approached their exhibits, Anni became really excited and couldn’t hold back the smiles! There was also a nature trail in the park, and Ali and Erik ran ahead further down the trail, while Anni and I studied the map, since we didn’t have a lot of time until the park closed. When we started to catch up to them, Erik and Ali jumped out from behind a bush and scared Anni so much that she actually threw her phone a good 3 feet in front of her! (Or should I say 1 meter in front of her…) I was right behind Anni, opening a bottle of water, and if it had been a few seconds later, Anni would have had water all over the back of her hair… The major difference between zoos in the USA and Zoopark is that you could actually walk through some of the enclosures where the animals were! There was no glass or fence between you and the animals! We walked through the enclosures of White-tailed deer (in the North American section of the zoo…), Kangaroos, Monkeys, and Lemurs. There was also a ‘petting zoo’ section with Billy Goats, some of which were very photogenic. The elephants’ enclosure was very small for such large creatures, but the zoo is in the midst of building a new, much larger exhibit for them! We stayed at the zoo until it closed, but we did manage to see everything there! Later that night, we met a larger group of exchange students to watch the fireworks that were happening over St. Petersberg. What a display! Since July 4th is not celebrated in Europe, I’ve had my fill of fireworks to make up for the ones I will miss in the States. :)

Sunday, 15 June, David and I used our student IDs to travel to another Thüringen town: Gera. We only spent about 2-3 hours there. It was a very small town, and it definitely needs some TLC. The architecture around the city was quite interesting – one building would be renovated and taken care of, and the neighboring building would be falling apart, with paint peeling, fading colors, and other signs of decay. It is very apparent that the city has not fully recovered from WWII. Nevertheless, it was still a decent way to spend a Sunday, avoiding doing homework..

Following this post, there will be photos from all of these places posted! Go take a look!

Würzburg

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

This post is LONG overdue, but better late than never, right? A few weekends ago, a group of 9 of us took a day trip to Würzburg. It was 17 May, to be exact. Since the town was in Bayern, we bought a few Schönes Wochenende Tickets and headed south! The ticket allows you to travel on all regional trains throughout Germany, and up to 5 people can ride on one ticket. With 5 people, it only costs about 9 Euro per person!

It was about  2.5 hour ride there, so we left around 9:30 and arrived in Würzburg around noon. Anni read (just on Wikipedia) that the oldest pizzeria in Germany was in Würzburg, so we thought that would be a cool place for lunch.  However, once we got off the train, most of the group just started towards the city with no plan of where we were going or where this pizza place was. After a minor debate, and directions on an smart phone, we were on our way to pizza. Of course things did not go according to plan… We stumbled upon the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Palace, so of course we had to stop for pictures! There were beautiful gardens on the grounds surrounding the palace as well. We asked someone to take a group picture of us in front of the palace, but like all Germans do, they literally just took a picture of us, with no palace in the background…

Exhibit A:

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After a stroll through the gardens (I felt like I was in “Gnomeo & Juliet” with all of the trimmed and shaped hedges.), we made our way to Kiliansdom and had a look around the cathedral. Anneka mentioned that she thought it was very modern for a church – the entire inside was white!

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At this point, we had already wandered around part of town, seen a few sights, but we still had not found the pizzeria, and it was already after 14:00! We were all hungry, and instead of trying to find this place, we agreed to split up, find food on our own, and meet afterwards to continue our adventures through the city. Anneka and I came across a farmers’ market happening on Marktplatz (their version of Erfurt’s Domplatz), so we found a small stand and had Currywurst for lunch, yum! Anneka had mentioned to me earlier, that she loves seeing/ visiting all of the different churches and there was another church located on Marktplatz (Marienkapelle), so we were going to have a look inside, except a wedding had just come out of the church, and we didn’t feel like we should explore.

Anneka and I were a few minutes early to the meeting place and time, so I left my stuff (including my camera) with Anneka, while I ran to the bathroom. It wasn’t until I returned to Erfurt Saturday evening that I found the lovely pictures Anneka took with my camera. Here’s a few for your enjoyment: :)

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It’s 15:00, and time to meet up with the others. Since we were in the city centre, we were surrounded by churches and when the clock struck 15:00, you knew..

DSCF4805 (only audio, I left the cap on my camera, so you only have to listen. PS – don’t mind Anneka’s comment about the pigeons walking around… )

Next we headed towards Festung Marienberg, which was a huge fortress overlooking the entire city! As we crossed the Alte Mainbrücke, there were a ton of people on the bridge, but none of us knew what was going on. I finally got close enough to the rail to see that there were a bunch of plastic ducks in the river! Erfurt also had an event similar to this; People decorate plastic ducks, and then they are all placed in the water, and the first duck to cross the finish line wins. I don’t really know all of the logistics behind the event, but that’s the gist of it.

It was a major hike to get to the fortress on top of the hill. (On the way down, Jill and I counted and we think there was about 250+ steps to the top.) Halfway up, we found a bench, but only the Europeans stopped to rest, while the Americans continued upward. So much for the lazy American stereotype!!

Ewa, Alena, Anni, & Minna (Poland, Slovakia, Finland and Finland) take a break ;)

Ewa, Alena, Anni, & Minna (Poland, Slovakia, Finland and Finland) take a break ;)

Earlier in the day, I had wished for an overlook of the city, and I think I got my wish from atop the fortress. The view was spectacular! Pictures do not do it justice!

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After a long but exciting day in Würzburg, it was time to catch the train home. I had an amazing time in Würzburg and would definitely go back another time and see the rest of the city that I didn’t see during this trip.

Erik all tuckered out on the train home.

Erik all tuckered out on the train home.

 

Fun Story!!

Anneka and I witnessed a full wedding while in Würzburg! In the morning, the bride rode past the palace in a old fashioned convertable. After lunch we saw the couple just after the kiss, once they exited the church. And then we saw the party guests going to the reception at the fortress, followed by the wedding party driving by, once we had descended the fortress!! We joked that we pretty much attended the wedding, the bride and groom just didn’t realize it. :)

More pictures from Würzburg can be found here.

 

Walpurgisnacht & Wartburg

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Wednesday was the last day of April, and it is also a German ‘holiday.’ Walpurgisnacht always falls on April 30, no matter what day of the week it is. This year, there was a huge celebration on Domplatz ON A WEDNESDAY NIGHT!! I’m not sure all of my facts are true, but from what I understand, Walpurgisnacht is a celebration, welcoming warmer weather and spring. They have a bonfire to symbolize burning witches and getting rid of the cold winter weather. May 1st is always a bank holiday, so everything is closed, including school (no classes, woo hoo!), so the Germans can party and stay up as late as their hearts desire. The bonfire on Domplatz was so massive that it puts ANY bonfire YOU HAVE EVER HAD to shame. We were standing at least 60-100 ft away from the fire and it the heat was so intense that we had to move further away. From where I was standing, and the pictures I took, the fire looks almost as tall as the cathedral behind it!

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I know it’s really fast movement, but this video gives you an idea about how massive this celebration actually is!

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The next day, Thursday, May Day, whatever you would like to call it, I ventured out to Eisenach for a day trip with other exchange students. Eisenach is home to the Wartburg Castle. This is where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German. Before then, there were many different dialects and variations of the German language. After Luther translated the New Testament, that became the most widespread variation of the language and modern German language stems from this variation. Not many languages can point to one location and say, “Our language started/ was born here.” For the Germans, Wartburg is that one place.

It was overcast all morning, and I was glad that I decided to bring along my rain coat, just in case. It’s about an hour train ride to Eisenach, so we left Erfurt around 11am. By the time we arrived in Eisenach around 12, and there was a 1:30 tour of the castle in English. Most of the others (including non-Americans) wanted to take the tour in English instead of German, and by the time the bus dropped us and we made the hike up to the castle, we had 5 minutes to spare! The sun came out for our hike up the mountain, and it was really nice weather when we started the tour! However, when we ended the tour, it was dark, dreary, cold, and raining. The pictures still turned out OK though! My original plan was to wander around the town of Eisenach once we were finished at the castle, but since the weather headed south, and everything was closed, I said I could come back another weekend, since it is still in Thüringen and it’s free transportation with my student ID.

When I returned to Erfurt, I was disappointed at the thought of going to class the next day, and had wished that May 1 would have fallen on a Friday… If it had, it would have been a 4 day weekend, and I would have planned a bigger trip to somewhere a little bit further away, like Berlin or Prague. I have the rest of the summer to plan one of those trips though!

Pictures from Walpurgisnacht can be found under the Erfurt page.

Pictures from the Wartburg can be found under the Photos page.

Until next time,

–N

Petersberg, Easter, Classes, and Birthdays, Oh My!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

A lot has happened over the past week, and all of the highlights will be covered!

First up, Petersberg.

Last Saturday I took a walk up to Zitadelle Petersberg, a landmark in Erfurt, with amazing views above the city. To view photos, click here. I chose a perfect day to go. Frühlingsfest was happening on Domplatz on this day, so there is a fair in some of the pictures! This would be an awesome place to have a picnic on a warm, sunny summer day. It was clear blue skies while at Petersberg, and as soon as I made it back to Donaustrasse, it started to thunder, and downpour rain. Perfect timing!

Petersberg has a lot of history related to it, but I’m not all that familiar with it, so I will not ramble on about any fun facts. Here are two different links that are about Petersberg if you would like to learn more about it.  Link 1  Link 2

Next up, Easter:

Being 4,000 miles away, and 6 hours ahead of my family, I didn’t want to spend Easter alone, especially since everywhere was closed. I wanted to invite some of the other exchange students over for dinner. I started to compile a list of people to send a Facebook message to, but after inventorying my food, I decided that I didn’t have enough to feed everyone I wanted to invite. So my list dwindled dramatically. :( It was a wonderful small gathering, with only five of us in my humble little abode. We had pasta, rice, and a few other sides. Erik brought a bottle of wine for us to share, but I did not have a bottle opener (it was a cork top). So, Valentin found a somewhat messy way to open the red wine… We won’t go into details, but let’s just say we had to wipe down part of the kitchen after it was opened. ;)

Classes started on Tuesday, since Easter Monday is a holiday here. When I signed up for classes, they were in two-hour blocks (i.e. 8-10, 10-12, 12-14,14-16, etc.). Wednesdays I have three classes in a row, so naturally, I thought I would not have time for lunch on those days. I was under the impression that I would be in class, with maybe 10 minute breaks in between, for 6 hours straight. Tuesday I arrived to my 8am class about 10 minutes early, not really knowing what to expect being in a foreign country and all. I was shocked when the instructor did not show up until 8:15. Apparently, the unspoken rule of classes is that they start at :15 and end at :45, unless your instructor says otherwise. So instead of 10 minutes between classes, like at UMW, I have 30 minutes between back-to-back classes. Classes also only meet once per week, instead of two or three times, like UMW. I could get used to this…

This past weekend was also my 20th birthday weekend. Other international students are shocked when I tell them that I’m only 20 – I have discovered that Anneka and I are some of the youngest exchange students. I had a blast celebrating with my new friends. I had a party Saturday night and everyone came over – there was about 15 or so people in one tiny room! Apparently in German culture, it’s bad luck to wish someone happy birthday before their actual day. So as soon as that clock struck midnight, everyone burst out singing to me!

On Sunday, my actual birthday, Hang, my tutor came over in the afternoon and brought a bouquet of white tulips and homemade muffins! We were planning to go into the city and go to a cafe, but it thunderstormed all morning and early afternoon. Hang thought that the cafes might be closed because of the weather, so we had cappuccino and just watched it storm instead. The thunder was so loud that it shook the windows.. It was really intense! Later, I went over to Anneka’s and had dinner with her and her flatmate, Katie. After dinner, the three of us, along with their other flatmate Lourdes, watched Die Eiskönigin. (For those that don’t know, that’s Frozen, but the German version.) Overall, I had an awesome and unforgettable 20th birthday, and I’m glad that I got to spend it with new friends from around the world.

Final Week of Prep Course!

Monday, April 21st, 2014

The second week of April was our third and final week of the preparatory course and meetings. During that week, Lourdes and Laura both were in Italy visiting their former roommate Fede, so I had the whole flat to myself. 

On Monday, we had a meeting about understanding and learning about all of the cultures here at University. We talked about German stereotypes and what “culture” means to us. Everyone immediately considered punctuality as the main German stereotype. We eventually finished the meeting and went our separate ways to eat lunch. Since it was a girl’s birthday in our exchange group, we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant “Roma” that evening. There was a total of 17 people who showed up to celebrate Jill’s birthday. It was nice to see how close each of us had actually become. The service at the restaurant was wonderful, for the server gave us all a free round of drinks and dessert. Because I had been cooking pasta as my main meal for the last three weeks, I decided to order pizza. It was fairly cheap and decent, and I had enough leftovers to eat it for both lunch and dinner the next day. I tried Jill’s gnocchi, and while it was good, I didn’t think that it was the best I’ve ever had. All-in-all, it was a really good night, and it was really nice to be able to bond with so many of my classmates. 

On Wednesday, we were supposed to meet to get a visa, but the appointment time was changed to April 30th. Therefore, I got to sleep in a little bit and just spend my day participating in the prep course. 

Valentin, an exchange student from Argentina, had a birthday as well, so we all met after class and had a picnic. He made us traditional Argentinian tea, Mate, and we played charades.

Afterwards, Nora and I went back to my dorm in Plauener Weg and talked for three hours before she went back to eat dinner. During that time, an exchange student from Russia, Dima, came over and asked to borrow sugar and butter so that he could make pancakes. When he brought back my supplies, he brought me a few of the pancakes he made, so I had breakfast for the next day. They were really good, but I found them more like crepes than what I would consider a pancake. 

It got hard for me that week to motivate myself to cook since it was only me. I also found myself doing dishes less since I didn’t have anyone depending on me keep them clean. I missed my roommates even though I had only been away from them for a few days. I missed talking to Lourdes about my, usually uneventful, day.

That week really showed how close the exchange students have grown as a group and how great the semester will be with all of us together. It also gave me a chance to spend more time with them since I got lonely without my roommates. 

Appointments Galore

Monday, April 21st, 2014

My second week of the prep course gradually got easier and easier. However, throughout the week, us exchange students had several appointments to attend for one reason or another. 

Our first appointment was for non-European students to purchase German health insurance. All would have been well if not for the fact that every American already had some sort of insurance previously provided to them. For instance, Nora, Jordan, and I each had purchased insurance from Mary Washington, but we were told it was better to get the German insurance since our coverage information was not clear. We emailed the study abroad office at UMW and eventually got it all figured out so that our original insurance is enough to cover us for our time here. 

In order to prepare for my next appointment, I needed a passport photo since I had forgotten mine at home. I met up with my tutor, Lukas, on Monday to set up my German bank account and get passport photos. We went to Deutsche Bank and ended up meeting with someone who spoke English so that I could fully understand everything about my account. Afterwords, we walked to a photo shop and both got passport photos since he needed them as well in order to come to Mary Washington in the fall. I was surprised by how many photos I was given for such a cheap price. We parted ways so that he could continue working on his paper he was writing and so that I could begin getting all of my paperwork together for the next appointment.

The next day, I brought all of my paperwork to the international office where I filled out my foreigner information so that I can later get a visa. Nothing eventful really happened there since all we did was make copies to save for an appointment for another day in the future. That afternoon, Lourdes and I went to a Steve Mccurry photography exhibit in the art hall in downtown Erfurt. 

Throughout the week, we learned more about the process of registering for courses and opportunities to speak and practice German offered to us around the Erfurt community. 

The registration process is much more difficult than I had ever imagined, and I now feel guilty to have ever complained about registering for classes at Mary Washington. Basically, you must pick your classes you want to take and register for them before they begin. However, if you want to receive any credit for them, then you must book the class after it has begun and visit your adviser provided to you so that he or she can sign it and give you the allotted credit points for the semester. After that meeting, I went back to pick my courses and just used trial and error, for the most part, to actually figure out what courses I wanted to take and where to find them. 

Nora and I met up that afternoon and went to the park outside of the Dubliner since we had recently discovered that there were trampolines.

Sadly, after those pictures, my camera decided to not work, but did Nora took some pictures of me jumping on a trampoline for the first time.

My weekend ended up as pretty average. I just went to the Dubliner (the Irish pub) with other exchange students on Saturday. There, karaoke was sung again and this times a few people had enough courage to actually choose songs and sing them with the microphone. It was comforting to know that I’ve become pretty close with all of the people there and that we were able to go out and just have fun with each other. On Sunday, it was a beautiful day, so my roommate Lourdes and I went to a nearby park and read. To my wonderful surprise, the park had hammocks right in the sun.  

Lourdes on her phone before reading her German book she brought with her. I sadly forgot my book, so I ended up studying for our test in the prep course and just enjoying the wonderful weather. 

I was starting to get used to life and studying in Germany, and I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with Lourdes. 

Never-ending Paperwork

Friday, April 18th, 2014

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog, so I’ll be making a few posts of my activities and thoughts that I’ve had from week to week. The main reason it’s taken me so long is that my camera hasn’t really been functioning very well, so I haven’t been able to take many of the photos I’ve wanted. With that said, I’ll start by sharing my experiences with that paperwork I’ve done here and the beginning of the German preparatory course. 

Before we started the prep course, we took a placement test to see in which group we should be: Group A with Frau Völz or Group B with Frau Färber. I thought the test was fairly simple, although I realized my vocabulary is still not very good. Afterwards, the group of exchange students took the fastest tour I’ve ever been on of the campus since no one ended up asking any questions. I’d say it’s about the same size as Mary Washington, but in more of a square than a rectangle. 

The next day, I began my prep course in Group A (the beginner course) with Jordan and a few other exchange students I had previously met over the weekend. Nora was in Group B, though I thought it made sense considering Jordan and I were at the same level before we came here and Nora was already ahead of us. Over the week, it was very simple since I had already learned what we were doing, but I was happy for the review. The course also helped me study different vocabulary that I’ve had a tendency to forget. 

That week, I bought my semester ticket, or Semesterbeitrages, which allows me to ride the public transportation in Thüringia for free. I also set up my rental and internet agreement with Frau Lindner, the head of Plauener Weg where I am living. On Thursday, Nora and I went downtown so pick up some essentials. She also helped me register as a citizen in Erfurt for the time being. I was surprised at how long we had to wait since the appointment didn’t actually take more than ten minutes, but the time went by quickly as we shared our first experiences of Erfurt. We ended up eating our first Thüringen Bratwurst, which was amazing, and eating an ice cream cone for dessert, which was also amazing. 

I concluded my week with a “Pub Crawl.” I met Jordan and my tutor Lukas at the University tram stop and went, for the second time, to Cafe Neerly where several other exchange students were.

Here’s the group of us before we walked to the Dubliner, the Irish pub. It was a karaoke night, so a few of the group wanted to participate though were afraid of trying a German song. I found karaoke fascinating since even though we are in a different country, the whole idea and feeling of it is very much the same. The night, and my weekend, ended with me, Jordan, and Lukas leaving around 1 in the morning.

The street next to the Kirchen (churches) and the view from…

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014




The street next to the Kirchen (churches) and the view from above.

Severikirche’s inside and outside

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014












Severikirche’s inside and outside