adventure

chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany

Yesterday, after two days of collecting ingredients from various grocery stores, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. It was quite an adventure.

Member of the millennial generation that I am, I documented the experience with my social media accounts. So, dear parents, grandparents, and friends who do not participate in Twitter and Instagram, here is what happened:


Chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany. | Step one: let the block of butter soften on a sunny windowsill.


Compare and sample the two barbaric alternatives to impossible-to-find chocolate chips. Decide they’re passable.


Throw the rest of the ingredients on the counter before you have the chance to wonder any longer if all those German words mean what you think they do.


Spend 20 minutes hacking at baking chocolate with a dull knife and muttering about chocolate chips.

At first I thought the butter was rancid. But then I looked at my innocent, little bag of sugar.


Taste the butter and sugar mixture and discover the loud, citrusy overtones of gelatin sugar for canning. Employ tablespoons of vanillin sugar as an antidote.

A bag of sugar shouldn’t have an ingredients list. This one did:
“Zucker, Geliermittel Pektine, Säuerungsmittel Citronensäure, Konservierungsstoff Sorbinsäure”


Taste the mutant, citrusy dough you’ve created. Add vanillin sugar. Repeat. Again. Don’t let the flatmates see you grimace.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

The equivalent of several tablespoons of vanilla extract, an oven tutorial from one of the flatmates, some Celsius-to-Fahrenheit calculations, a temperature adjustment or two, and three rounds of baking later: speckled chocolate chunk cookies.


Against all odds, place a plate piled high with sweet success – baked at 185° Celsius – on the kitchen table and watch them disappear.

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

They were chewy; there was not even the slightest hint of citrus tang; and they were gone in 18 hours. The end.

 

 

Paris – day 2: Versailles, Rodin, Arches

Paris, day 2: VersaillesClearly, I failed to be brief with my last post. So, no more impossible promises. This is going to be another long one, guys. I certainly won’t be offended if you just ignore all the text and simply flip through the pictures. But, by golly, I enjoyed writing it, just like the last one. Thanks for being the receiving end of my creative outlet.

On the menu for today: the palace and gardens of Versailles, the Rodin Museum, downtown Paris, and the Arc de Triomphe.3.5 days in Paris: day 2

I started my day with cornflakes.

“Everything will be closed on Sunday,” my host had said. “Nah, the museums are open,” I countered. However, I did believe that all other establishments would indeed be shuttered; Europe takes their days of rest seriously. But they take their ready access to fresh bread even more seriously than that, apparently. As soon as I rounded the corner of the apartment block, I regretted my confidence and the banana and cereal already filling my stomach. The corner bakery was open; I could have eaten a croissant instead.

But there was no time to mourn. Daylight savings time had caught me by surprise, and I was already an hour behind schedule. I could just picture the other Versailles visitors already forming lines around the entire palace as they awaited its opening and I waited for my train to the countryside. A throng of fellow tourists piled onto the train with me, and 40 minutes of travel journaling, while the Polish girl next to me on the bright vinyl bench stared over my shoulder between chatting with her mother across from me, brought me and everyone else to the end of the terminus of the train line and the “Versailles Château” platform. Paris, day 2: Versailles

For the umpteenth time of the short duration of my Paris trip, I was thankful for my naturally brisk gait. I grinned to myself as sped past nearly everyone from the train, but when I rounded the corner of a building onto a tree-lined path leading up to the chateau on the low rise ahead, my steps faltered at the sight of the mass of humanity milling around inside the gates of the palace. Stupid daylight savings time.

 

But, as usual, I needn’t have been concerned. The mass of humanity inside the golden gates wasn’t half as massive as I had suspected, and the metal detector line moved efficiently. Inside, however, was a different story. It’s a one-way street inside the palace; you just go with the flow from room to room – or in my case, shuffle along in all-too-narrow corridors, being constantly elbowed and jostled by other tourists desperate to keep up with the guides of their groups. Lacking a deep interest in French history, I stayed in the main stream of people and skipped the multiple, first-floor rooms of dioramas and historical information entirely and inched up the stairs to the suits of rooms of both the king and queen. The crowds thinned out just enough for me to whip through the overwhelmingly luxurious and gilded rooms with their painted ceilings and strangely small furniture, listening to another Rick Steves audio guide all the while. I would attempt to provide you with a more complete description of the chateau of Versailles, but it’s all a blur of crown molding, gold, and fleur de lis. I didn’t like it much. Surrounded by such excess, I find it nearly impossible to picture any real person living in quarters so absurdly sumptuous. And I’m just not a fan of battle scenes painted on ceilings. I’m sure I saw only a tiny fraction of the palace, but when Rick Steves directed me to exit to the gardens shortly after I gawked briefly at the smaller-than-I’d-imagined hall of mirrors, I readily followed his instructions.Paris, day 2: Versailles

I stumbled into the sunlight. What a relief! Space! Air! And, holy cow, the gardens. English needs a separate word to describe the arrow-straight lines of trees, perfectly symmetrical plantings, immaculately trimmed shrubs, and flawless organization of a French “garden;” the word doesn’t do it justice. Nature palace? That’s the best I can come up with.Paris, day 2: Versailles

In any case, the gardens spread out before me, straight back from the palace. My audio tour sent me down the wide boulevard – lined with massive marble urns and statues, of course – around several enormous fountain pools, past numerous alleys of trees and shrubs on either side, and up to the top of the broad, man-made canal. Besides the inevitable tourists, the gardens were alive with people who must’ve been locals, walking their dogs, biking with their kids, jogging, chatting on benches, boating, and generally enjoying the sunshine as if they were just in a giant park. Maybe that’s what the palace grounds are considered to be by the people who live nearby. Sounds fantastic to me!Paris, day 2: Versailles

I hurried on, growing ever more concerned that I would return to Paris too late to fully explore the Musée Rodin, which closed particularly early at 4:45. I couldn’t have walked even a quarter of the length of the gardens, but it took me at least 20 minutes to arrive at the Trianon Palace. But what a lovely, “little” country residence! I could much better picture the royalty of France spending their summer days sprawled across the bright-colored, velvet chairs of the airy, white rooms while their servants scurried to and fro over the squeaky, wooden floors, carrying trays of fruit sorbets and cream puffs, or perhaps strolling through the apple orchards and maze-like rose and tulip gardens just beyond the colonnade.

I didn’t venture too much further beyond the Trianon Palace, just far enough to peek into a few smaller buildings and to get a sense for the spring-time beauty that was just starting to emerge around every bend of the meandering dirt and gravel paths of the gardens. Then I turned back and made for the train station with as much haste as possible, without actually breaking into a run. Happily, a train was waiting for me, and  2:30, I was paused outside the Musée Rodin, taking a brief moment to scarf down some buttery crackers, the only thing I could find to purchase at the solitary convenience store open in the area around the museum.Paris - day 2: Rodin

The Rodin was excellent. A reasonably-sized, two-story house hosts the majority of the sculptures – all by Rodin. Outside are – wait for it – beautifully groomed gardens, which are scattered with bronzes of some of the more famous pieces, the only one of which you’re likely to have heard of being “The Thinker.”

 

Back inside. I love sculptures. During our family trip to Italy in 2012, I discovered my favorite Italian sculptor, Bernini, whose dynamic works captured my fascination in the Borghese Museum in Rome. While both Bernini and Rodin seem to have loved to sculpt freezes of figures right in the midst of movement, Rodin wins: his subjects’ limbs fly in all directions; muscles ripple; hair bounces. It’s so vibrant and alive! And the neatest aspect of the museum was being able to see his sculptures progress from rough, miniature models plasters to detailed terracotta carvings to life-sized bronzes. Pieces from every step of the process are displayed, and on some of them, you can still pick out the marks made by Rodin’s tools as he worked. It was fascinating! A large number of the pieces were featured on the audio guide I rented, but all of the descriptive title placards were translated to English – in glorious contrast with ever other museum or location I visited in Paris – so even without the audio guide’s explanation, you could have an idea of the significance of every carving. Paris - day 2: Rodin

Once I had made two circuits of the museum, I mosey through the gardens and admired the bronzes. The door, depicting scenes from Dante’s Inferno, for which “The Thinker” was originally created, was particularly impressive. Its tormented figures writhed almost in unison, like waves of suffering sweeping across and up the face of the door panels. Though I did make certain that I found and inspected each statue in the garden, I spent the majority of my time sitting on a bench overlooking a circular pool and several bronzes, brushing crumbs out of the pages of my notebook as I travel journaled and munched my way through the rest of my packet of crackers.

Thanks to that unanticipated time change, it wasn’t even close to getting dusky when I left the museum around 4:30, licking my lips parched by cracker salt. So, without even bothering to consult my metro map, I got on the ever-useful yellow line 1 and rode it to its terminus to visit the Arc de Triomphe. The list of stops along the line posted just below the ceiling of the train stated “Grand Arche” in white letters on brown highlighting, which is the way that sightseeing attractions are denoted – same for the Louvre, the Rodin, the Eiffel Tower, et cetera.Paris - day 2: Arches

But when I exited the metro and stepped above ground, I surrounded by skyscrapers. If that wasn’t unexpected enough, one of the glassy, modern buildings was shaped rather like the Arc de Triomphe – only it was huge, and, well, and office building of some kind. Weird. Besides the 20th- or 21st-centuryfied Arc replica, to my left was a giant, bronze thumb sticking up out of the ground and to my right appeared to be a massive indoor shopping mall. I was confused.Paris - day 2: Arches

Over the following two and a half hours, as I explored the Grande Arche de la Défense and its surroundings, my confusion steadily resolved itself. Far in the distance, down a long boulevard of pedestrian-only pavement dotted with little, urban parks between the towering buildings and then down a busy road – the Avenue des Champs-Elysees – was the Arc de Triomphe. The Grande Arche was a reflection of the older monument. Cool.Paris - day 2: Arches

Behind the Grande Arche I discovered a pier-like structure, that stretched out into the city, above an orderly, Secret Garden-like cemetery. People promenaded up and down the wood planks of the walkway, gazing out into the apartment buildings and countryside beyond. After traversing the length of the pier and climbing both sets of white stone steps of the Grande Arche, I returned to the main square out in front of it, which was – for a Sunday, at least – positively bustling with the activity of Parisians enjoying their evening by roller-blading, drifting here and there arm-in-arm, licking ice cream cones, and looking on as a group of people constructed an art installation that appeared to be taking the form of sparkly camping tents.

Paris - day 2: Arches

I ventured inside the mall, which was just as vast and crowded as I had suspected. Sunday must be shopping day in Paris. I found a bakery stand with a lengthy line, and purchased a beignet au chocolat – like a chocolate-filled donut, only better – which I enjoyed as I sat on the edge of a planter in an atrium, taking advantage of the free wifi, since the internet hadn’t been working at the apartment for 36 hours. Then I headed to the real Arc de Triomphe, via a long walk to the end of the pedestrian avenue between the skyscrapers and then via metro.

Since I’d already had my dessert, I felt obligated to stop at another bakery for some real food: a baguette, duh. Alas, this one’s crust was overdone and far too thick and crunchy, so I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the one from the previous day. Nevertheless, I believe I appreciated the bread more than the Arc de Triomphe. That monument is situated in the middle of a traffic circle in a busy intersection. Sure, the ornate reliefs carved on its faces are impressive, but otherwise, I didn’t find it too fascinating. So, I circled one, twice, and left. A brief jaunt down the famed and over-peopled Avenue des Champs-Elysees brought me to a metro stop. And home I went, exceedingly pleased with my accidental visit to the unique, non-touristy, and – shall I say? – authentically Parisian Grande Arche. I felt like I’d discovered the real Paris, where actual Parisians go to relax and escape the tourists. And, accurate or not, that was a happy feeling.

 

Last post in this series: Paris – day 3: churches, gardens, tired feet, the end.

3.5 days in Paris: day 1/2

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Call me crazy, but I saw Paris in three and a half days. And I mean, I saw Paris. At the end of my brief sojourn in that city of picturesque metro entrances and baguette-toting Frenchmen, I could find no reason to be discontent with what I had seen, no tourist attraction I wished I had made the time to visit. And for my first, official trip completely on my own, I couldn’t have chosen a better city to explore. Well, maybe I could have, but I’ll never know now, will I?

My first day in Paris was a half day. Really, it was a fourth of a day, but let’s not be nit-picky now, shall we? I left the closing ceremony – though “ceremony” is a strong word for the pretzel-eating, champagne-drinking, and group picture-taking that occurred after a smattering of two-minute appreciation speeches – of my language course on Friday, March 28th and headed directly to the train station in Freiburg, from which I caught the first of a series of trains at 12:57. One packed lunch, a few pieces of chocolate, multiple hours of travel journaling, and some beautiful countryside later, I arrived at the Gare de l’Est train station in Paris at 4:35. Yes, the times were really that exact.

I found the entrance to the metro station and proceeded to hold up the rush-hour line while I fiddled with the metro ticket vending machine until it produced the set of 10 tickets that I wanted. Following the directions provided my Airbnb host, I rode the metro about 25 minutes to a stop in the north of Paris and walked the block or so to the apartment where I would be staying. In what I believe must’ve been proper apartment fashion, I rang the bell that corresponded to the apartment number and was buzzed inside the outer door. My host met me in the entryway, showed me the apartment, handed over the keys, and provided me with a faded metro map and directions to the Louvre. By 5:45pm, relieved of my overstuffed backpack, I was was letting myself out of the apartment building and retracing my steps to the metro station to take advantage of the Louvre’s Friday night late hours. But first I stopped at a bakery I’d spied on the corner just up from the apartment. There I gestured, nodded, and smiled my way to acquiring my supper: a pain au chocolat. The pastry’s buttery flakes drifted down onto the rather-too-bold-for-Paris stripes of my purse as I wended my way through the metro station, hoping I didn’t have bits of bread in my scarf or chocolate on my mouth.

The “Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre” stop on the yellow line 1 of the metro connected directly to a small but grand underground shopping and dining complex, the Carrousel du Louvre. A few expensive boutiques, a Starbucks, and other pricy, touristy distractions lined the high-ceilinged breezeway and inner atrium, which, oddly enough, included a diminutive and inverted version of one of the ubiquitous, glass Louvre pyramids hanging from the rooftop. I could have entered the Louvre, directly across from the Apple store, but instead I chose to return the way I’d come to find an exit to street level in order to take some pictures of the more recognizable outside of the museum before the sun disappeared entirely, given that I was unsure if I would come back to the Louvre in the daylight before I left Paris (spoiler: I did, twice).

Above ground I snapped the usual photos and selfies. The Louvre is one of the few places on earth where it is entirely socially acceptable to shamelessly turn the camera on yourself. All the other tourists are doing just that, but I still felt as silly as ever – not that you would suspect that, given the number of selfies I take when I travel. But at least I didn’t have an iPhone extended on stick, something I observed far too often.

The sun had mostly hidden itself behind the trees of the gardens beyond the Louvre as I found my way back indoors and to the central space beneath the bizarre pyramid. I snagged an English map from the buffet of pamphlets in various languages at the information desk and stood in line briefly at one of the ticket counters. I had read online that college-aged residents of the EU received free admission to the Louvre and numerous other cultural and historical sites in Paris. Sure enough, the same information was printed, albeit in minuscule font, on a single sign next to the counter, and I referred to it as I slid my Uni Freiburg student ID and a copy of the main page of my passport towards the lady behind the glass of the ticket booth. Rather than handing me a ticket or smashing my hopes, she simply pointed out one of the entrances and instructed me to show my documents to the ticket collector, thereby establishing my protocol for visits to all the other sites in Paris: skip the ticket lines and go straight to the entrance with passport and ID in hand.

So, I stepped away from the ticket lady and into the center of the open space below the pyramid and retrieved my iPod from my trusty bag. With my own lovely headphones – in contrast with the dubiously ragged ones of a rented museum audio guide – clipped on my freakishly small ears and my maps in hand, I began to listen to Rick Steve’s free Louvre audio tour. It was nearing 7:00, and the museum closed at 9:45, so I had my art-gazing cut out for me. Luckily, I’m quite adept at breezing through museums, so I was confident that time would not be an issue, especially since the audio guide claimed to highlight only the most crucial of sculptures and paintings. With the introduction out of the way, I took the stairs up to one of the entrances – there are three or four wings, each with its own stairway – and after gleefully gaining my free entrance, I dove into the Greek and Roman sculpture galleries. From there Rick Steves lead me from room to room, giving short descriptions of key pieces along the way, and, unfortunately, often leaving me utterly baffled, circling a gallery trying to follow his terrible directions to the next stop on the tour.

The audio guide ended with some stops in the Grand Gallery of Renaissance art, one of which was the Mona Lisa, of course. Despite Rick Steve’s assurance that I would find simply by following the noise of the crowd, the room in which it was housed was no more full of people than the rest of the museum. The picture-taking viewers were three deep at most, and I easily skirted them and found a space at the bar in front of the painting to take my own selfies. I’ve never much liked Da Vinci’s paintings, but, as ever, it was neat to behold something so famous in person.

Finished with the audio guide and still with an hour left before closing time, I let myself wander. I perused the entire length of the Grand Gallery and all its adjoining rooms; I listened to a French university student explain the meaning behind an obscure painting in hesitant but accurate English; I re-discovered the sculpture galleries and contemplated some of the marble statues I had missed in my Rick Steves-induced haste. Somehow I ended up in a practically deserted, bottom floor gallery of unique Muslim and Middle Eastern art and artifacts, where I browsed ancient pottery, glassware, oriental rugs, weapons, and manuscripts. All in all, it was a peaceful and happy last hour of exploring, punctuated by my quick strides between galleries and around large tour groups. I was thankful for my independence.

Just after 9:45 I was back on the metro in the direction of the apartment. At the station where I had to change trains, I ended up walking in several frustrating circles, unable to find my way to the correct side of the tracks. In the end I took an incredibly indirect route home, where I finally arrived around 10:30. My host left, not long after I arrived, to start the weekend with a gathering with friends. And I rolled into bed, after reviewing my schedule for the next day and updating social media, of course. (More on how I planned out my trip in a later post.)

Okay, don’t leave yet. Look below this paragraph. See that Youtube video? That’s not an ad. Nope. That’s actually a compilation of videos I took during that first half day in Paris. I’ve decided that I really like video as a medium for sharing experiences; it provides a much better feel for a place. I think you can get a sense of how alive and real Paris – or anywhere – is with a video, whereas still photographs, as wonderful as they are, present merely a frozen image, which can leave a place looking a bit dry and two-dimensional (literally) at times. Anyway, I’ve been taking a lot of videos. There are also videos at the bottom of my posts about my Schwarzwald outing and my hike outside of Freiburg. So, go back and have another look at those posts if you wish. Videos like this will most likely appear at the bottom of all of my travel posts from now on.

 

Next in this series: Paris – day 1: Orsay, Catacombs, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, delicious food.

Schwarzwald: St. Peter, Titisee, Neustadt

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When I was in Peru, one of my Spanish teachers observed that it would be an absurdity to say that I had “seen Peru,” as if the entire country could be checked off a list with the swoop of a checkmark and a satisfied, self-congratulatory pat on the back. That’s what my brother and I tend to do in our ceaseless and increasingly cut-throat contest to visit the most countries. But there’s so much more to a country than its largest cities; there are so many histories and fables to be told about the smallest of towns. You can live in a country for months without even scratching the cultural surface. For that matter, you can live your entire life that way. Every country is just so big – even if it’s one twenty-seventh the size of the US, as Germany is. And I know that. In my mind I know that so far I’ve only seen the tiniest of tiny pieces of Germany, but two weekends ago I took a day trip into the Schwarzwald, and it started to properly sink in.

The language institute (SLI) through which I’m taking my intensive language course this month organizes various trips and outings for us students. The weekend of March 8th – yes, I know, I’m way behind – the trip for Saturday was into the Black Forest to see various churches in various towns, a popular lake, and a ski museum. Since travel would be provided by means of a private bus – and, I presume, a tour guide – it cost €35 or so. Disinclined to spend so much money on a trip that sounded rather uninteresting, I planned not to go. And then, some people I met on the hike up to the top of Schlossberg hill the previous weekend, invited me along on their own little excursion on Saturday. I love it when that happens: other people make the plans, and I just come along. Coincidentally – or not so coincidentally – we ended up going to most of the places on the SLI trip. Indeed, we ran into that group two or three times. But! Our trip was free. Ha!

The handy-dandy “Regiokarte” train, tram, and bus ticket we students purchased for this month of language classes allows for free transportation to a large swath of the Black Forest outside of Freiburg. So, at 9:15am, we met at the main train station, and off we went!

After a brief train journey – say, less than 25 minutes – we disembarked in a small town where we caught a bus a few minutes later. In about 20 minutes this had brought us through several other little towns and up further into the hills of the Schwarzwald to the village of Sankt Peter, and, more importantly, its cathedral. We hopped off the bus into the chilly shadow of the church and made our way up the hill to its ornate door. I say ornate, but all church doors I’ve come across in Europe are beautiful and ornate to some degree or another. Really, this was just another church door. And inside was just another downright gorgeous, stained glass-windowed, towering stone columned, ancient church with the massive paintings of biblical scenes winging their way across the walls and ceiling, as usual. Confession: I’m a cathedral snob. I’m way past the point of saturation when it comes to churches and lofty architecture and awe-inspiring art. It’s a tragic reality.

We breezed our way through the cathedral, and then returned outside to look for the historic library that the SLI group was also going to visit. We circumnavigated the church ground – it used to be a monastery or convent – not once but twice before asking for directions in a little souvenir shop off the plaza in front of the church. She confirmed what I had suspected after seeing some signs inside the cathedral: no public tours of the library on Saturdays. The SLI group had gotten a private tour. I think my traveling companions were rather more disappointed than I was, even though we soon ran into people from the SLI group who informed us that the library was, and I quote, “really cold.” They showed us some pictures of – big surprise – more arched rooms and paintings on walls, along with some old books. Yup, no big loss.

Of course, now we had a bit of a problem. Our bus out of town wasn’t going to come for another hour and a half, we had no library to visit, and it was cold and blustery outside. So, we found a sunny bench overlooking the nearby hillside and pastures, and I started at my map of the Schwarzwald while other two girls consulted (sort of argued?) over the bus schedule and the guy just sat there. I suppose this would be an opportune time to inform you that I was on the trip with two girls – an American exchange student from up north and a Swiss girl from Geneva – and a guy, who’s an American from the northeast. They’re all in the same level of German, which is about two times higher than mine. And we spoke only German.

Eventually, when we had about 45 minutes left before our bus would come, we made a painfully hesitant move to a cafe down the street. Our group ambivalence was becoming slightly maddening. But, inside the cafe, the other three warmed themselves with hot chocolate, and I finally thawed against the warm pane of the sunny window behind our table. We discussed the foods particular to each of our home towns, the upcoming semester, and so on. And then we headed back to the bus stop.

The long-awaited bus took us to another small train station, where we caught a 6-minute ride to the Titisee stop. A 10 minute walk down a road lined with wide sidewalks clearly constructed to accommodate large groups of ambling tourists and the racks of kitschy souvenirs that spilled out from the shops along the way. The lake itself, once we arrived at its breezy shores, was smooth and clear and surrounded by forests and the rising foothills of the Schwarzwald – quite picturesque, and, I’m sure, excellent for swimming in the summer. We found a bench in the sun and ate our lunches: in my case, a giant roll of oddly pungent and sharp smelling but delicious and crusty potato bread, some brie, and an apple.

Our leisurely lunch completed, we concluded that there wasn’t much to be seen in the town, so we wandered back up to the train station. On the way we poked our heads into a touristy shop or two. In one which sold chocolates, all three of my friends insisted that I try a Mozartkugel chocolate, which they claimed were a very traditional sweet made of a chocolate-filled and chocolate-covered marzipan ball. I consented, of course, and felt a bit silly as I purchased my single piece of chocolate from the store. It wasn’t a very impressive sweet. Mostly just sweet, as if someone had compressed a tiny sugar cookie into a ball and then coated it with chocolate. The most notable detail was the foil wrapper, which showed Mozart’s face. Hence the name, “Mozart ball.”

Before we arrived back at the train station, the other two girls had another session of bench sitting and schedule discussing, which concluded with the decision to go to the nearby town of Neustadt – because, why not? So we did. The town was quiet and nearly empty. I suppose everyone was enjoying their Saturday afternoon by staying home. After passing an amusing pair of sculptures of an ear and a mouth – you could speak into one and hear out of the other, like those playground speakers – we ascended a hill up to the town’s church. Though still just another beautiful church, this one’s architecture was unique. Its smooth, curved lines and two-toned stone color scheme seemed modern, but on the ceiling were faded remnants of ancient paintings. It was an odd combination.

After visiting the church, we were essentially finished with Neustadt. We listlessly strolled partway down a street in hopes of finding something of interest but soon turned back and returned to the train station. Our train arrived soon enough for our 40-minute ride back to Freiburg, where we arrived sometime around 5:00pm, tired but content with our day of haphazard exploring one little corner of the Schwarzwald.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was my first little adventure of this grand adventure of being an exchange student.

Next up: Paris, where I went last weekend.


 

hallo, Freiburg

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It finally happened. I went to Germany. I came to Germany. I’m in Germany.

What?!

I’ve been here for a full six days now, so lots has happened – enough to keep me busy enough not to blog, anyway. In the interest of being as succinct and organized as possible, I shall answer some questions I have posed for myself.

How was the trip to Freiburg?
I flew Luftansa straight from Houston to Frankfurt, Germany. Mom dropped me off at the airport around 2:15pm, and after waiting for an hour in an impossibly slow security line – during which time I wondered if the US is the only country in the world allowed to have blue passports or if everyone just likes red better – and another 30 minutes or so in the terminal, I boarded the double-decker plane. That is, we lowly cattle boarded after the  first- and business-class passengers boarded through a separate gate. I shouldn’t have been surprised by such a stringent segregation of the classes, but I was, especially when I discovered to my amusement that both gates lead to the same gangway and door. Anyway, the flight was mostly empty, and as our 4:30 departure approached, I held tightly onto the hope that I would have my row of three seats all to myself. Alas, no. A Hungarian mother and daughter took their places next to me just before the door was closed, sealing my fate: there was no hope of sleep. So, I spent the next 8 hours and 45 minutes mostly watching movies and tv shows, and occasionally attempting to sleep. Sure enough, that never happened. But I finally got to watch Frozen, so I felt that my flight was well-spent, if not restful. By 9:00am, I was walking off the plane and into the enormous Frankfurt airport. And then, by 9:53, I had exchanged money, emailed my parents, picked up my trusty suitcase, bought a train ticket from a kiosk, found the train station, gotten directions to my train platform, and smashed my suitcase on the floor next to me inside the train car. Two hours later I was in Freiburg.

What happened once I got to Freiburg?
From my platform at the train station in Freiburg, I followed the directions given to me by the Sprachlehrinstitut (SLI) and bought a Straßenbahn (streetcar/tram) ticket. I got off two stops later and pulled my giant suitcase across the cobblestone streets and sidewalks in the wrong direction a couple of times before I found the SLI building. Inside, I sat at one of several tables of students while a staff member reviewed the large packet of information she’d handed out: class, dorm, optional activities, regional tram ticket, food, et cetera. After purchasing my month-long tram ticket, I got on the tram to my dorm. 10 minutes later, there I was.

Where am I living?
My dorm is one of 22 of varying sizes that are situated along a small lake, 10 minutes outside of the older part of the city, where the university is located. Our floor has two hallways; each hallway has four single-person rooms, one half bath, and one full bath; and the two hallways both have access to the large kitchen and dining area. I’m allowed to use any of the pots and pans and such in the well-stocked kitchen, though I’ll most likely subsist quite happily on sandwiches alone for the next five months. My room itself has a large window, comfy bed, perfect-size desk, hanger-less closet, bookshelf, pathetic radiator, and sink. All of my flatmates are German, and they seem quite nice and eager to include me in their outings and such.

What are my classes like?
The Sprachkurs that I am taking is split up in to 12 or so levels/classes, and there are 180-odd students from 30 or so countries here to take it. I am in class 5 with a couple of other Americans, at least seven Japanese students, a Brazilian, a Greek, an Italian, a Brit, and a girl from Hong Kong. We have class from 9:15 to 12:45, with a generous 30-minute break thrown in. During class we generally work out of our textbooks, doing fill-in-the-blank exercises, answering reading or listening comprehension questions, or following prompts to have a short discussion with our neighbor about a particular topic. It is frustratingly boring at times, but I hope that it will get better. Our teacher is a nice middle-aged lady who, though unable to explain new words with much success, is patient, enthusiastic, and as engaging as possible, considering the curriculum.

What have I done besides class?
In more or less chronological order:

  • taken a mini tour of the city with a bunch of other students
  • eaten at the Mensa (the student eatery with a single-item menu) with some classmates
  • stumbled across a consignment shop and bought a pair of boots
  • gone grocery shopping every couple of days for fresh bread and fruit
  • been shown important eating spots by our German teacher
  • eaten a proper German bratwurst
  • hung out with my flatmates in the dining area while they spoke German, catching about 45% of what they were saying
  • successfully avoided spending time with students who want to speak English
  •  walked up the hill outside of Freiburg with at least 50 other students to see the town from above
  • met more Japanese students than I can count
  • gone on an excursion to some towns outside of Freiburg with four other students (separate blog post forthcoming)
  • attended a German-English service at a Calvary Chapel
  • wandered here and there in the city without getting lost
  • been generally cold

So, what did I miss, guys? Any burning questions?

the coming adventure: Germany

German scenery from Europe 2012 trip

Who?

Me. Claire. And no one else. There’s not a single other UNC student going to the same university in Germany. No, I don’t mind that. In fact, I prefer it. That way there’s no expectation that I’ll be friends with other UNC in Germany. I’d much rather make friends on my own than have them forced upon me. Speaking of friends, one of my goals while I’m there is to avoid making any friends that speak English as their first language or as a nearly-perfect second language. Obviously, I have no intention of being unfriendly to English speakers, and I’m quite dubious that my resolution will hold. But nevertheless, I’m going to try to befriend people with whom I can only speak Spanish or German. Yeah, there’s no way it’s going to work.

What?

An exchange program! Theoretically, I am being swapped with a German student. My tuition pays for them to take classes at UNC system school, and their tuition pays for me to take classes in Germany. (That makes it a very uneven trade, since university is practically free in Germany. Oh well.) I will live in the dorms and take classes just like any German university student. And, yup, all my classes will be taught entirely in German.

When?

From early March through July. One semester. The academic calendar in Germany is different than ours. The winter semester begins in October and goes through February, to my understanding, while the summer semester starts in April and goes through July. So why am I going in March? Well, all March long there’s an intensive language course for international students coming to the university. We study German at least four hours a day in order to – hopefully – bring our fluency up to the level necessary to survive classes in German. In April the regular German university students return and real classes begin.

Where?

Freiburg, Germany, specifically Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. It’s nearly as south and west as you can possibly go in Germany, right near the boarders with France and Switzerland. From my limited research, the weather appears to be reasonably mild and the scenery verdant and woodsy. More importantly, the university offers classes in all of my areas of study: Linguistics, Spanish, and German.

Why?

That is the question, isn’t it?

Well, I suppose the main reason is that German is my minor, though why that is, I do not really know. I’d wanted to start taking another language at some point in college, but I never intended to start so soon. However, I’m glad I did. At the only half-serious suggestion of my friend, I joined her in German 101, after swapping it for a freshman seminar that I disliked during the first week of freshman year. Of course, I enjoyed it, so I just kept taking classes, and at some point I realized that I had no intention of stopping, so I just declared German as my minor. I’m completely convinced that it’s possible to minor in a subject – especially a language – and graduate without any sort of really useful knowledge about said subject. Therefore, I suppose this exchange program is, to me, a chance to legitimize my German minor – to prove to myself and future employers that I actually have a functional knowledge of German, not just one learned for an hour a day, three days a week in an American classroom.

Besides that, I like Germany. At least, I think I do, based on the grand total of 2.5 days I spent there during our Europe 2012 trip. In fact, I think that’s the real and original reason that I began taking German in the first place. Those few hurried days in Germany in 2012 were quite frustrating: I didn’t understand the language. It’d been ages since I’d traveled somewhere where people spoke a language other than Spanish or English. Not understanding a solitary word of what I heard or read felt like a novelty all over again and frustrated me to no end. But at the same time, I really loved the part of Germany I saw. The Bavarian countryside was lush and rolling. Munich was clean, orderly, and bustling. Good bread and cheese could be found everywhere, as is true throughout much of Europe, I understand. It was all lovely. I determined that I wanted to return to live in Germany someday. Lo and behold, that’s what I’m going to do. But first I took some German. A whole three semesters of it, which brought me up through 4th semester German (that discrepancy is another story).

In addition to my desires to live in Germany, study German, and legitimize my minor, I’m looking forward to (hopefully) taking linguistics and Spanish classes, too. I suspect it will be fascinating to experience linguistics and Spanish classes being taught in German, especially from a pedagogical perspective.

How?

Through a state-to-state student exchange between the university system of the state of North Carolina and the German state of Baden-Württemburg. Other than that, by plane, with my entire life stuffed into a suitcase in tow.

 

So that’s the story, people. Questions?

 

 

water and sunshine on the Amalfi Coast

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We took a day off the day after we visited Pompeii and Herculaneum, Friday. I mostly blogged, hung around the house, cooked part of lunch, and generally did nothing in particular. It was great to relax after ceaseless daily activities since arriving in Europe.

Our day of rest did not extend to the next morning however. We were packed up and in the car on our way out of Sorrento by 8:20, though we could have been ready earlier had the hotel office been open for checkout. Mom scheduled a boating, swimming, and snorkeling excursion in the Mediterranean along the Amalfi Coast, starting in Positano.

The sun beat down on the black sand and pebble beach as we waited for our little rubber boat to arrive. When it arrived our driver helped us on and grabbed the stack of towels thrown at him by another employee of the tour company. For the next three hours we boated between calm coves and cool grottos, snorkeling and swimming as we pleased. Eventually we boated far enough down to see Amalfi itself from the boat. We enjoyed the  glistening, perfectly clear and impossibly blue water and quaint towns with their staircases down the cliffs to the water.

After an unsatisfactory rinse-off in some outdoor showers across feet-burning sand, we drove straight to the airport in Rome to drop off our rental car. From there we took a taxi to our apartment in Rome, where everyone else had already assembled.

And the week in Rome began.